If you enjoy outdoor climbing adventures, then only the best equipment and gear will do, and this includes an investment in the best cams you can buy.
Cams are one of the most important purchases you, as a climber, can make, and it is this form of active protection that helps in keeping you secure during your climb. So how do you go about finding cams that are suitable for your needs?
First, this article will discuss their various parts and features of cams that will help you in the shopping process.
Cams are an investment that is quite affordable, and for the money you spend, you will find the units are durable with a longevity that makes your purchase worth it. When you set out to buy cams, they range in price from $30.00 to $80.00 or more, depending on the branding, features, and the equipment size.
Cam designs share pretty consistent features across branding. Understanding the features of cams will help you in understanding the style of the equipment, how they work, and what you are really paying for when you buy them.
Some cam features are listed here below so you can familiarize yourself with them before you start your search for top of the line safety gear to support you during your next climb.
- Outmoded Rigid Stem Cams: These cams are crafted out of aluminum materials and are the oldest style cams around.
You are not likely to find this style on the market, however, since it was discovered that these cams did not do well when placed horizontally in between cracks and crevices.
- Single-Stem Flexible Cams: These are the type of cams you are most likely going to find when you are shopping for climbing gear; they are made of cable and are far better than their predecessors, since they produce far less walk (this refers to how much the cam moves or shifts when they’re in use).
Walk can prove to be dangerous if the cam dislodges or gets stuck in a position that weakens its hold.
- U-Stem Flexible Cams: These cams have the advantage of being stronger when the trigger retracts, and the cams have a cam head that is wider than the single stem variants.
The wider head might put a limitation on where you can position the cam when using it; these units have u-stems that are connected to two different parts of the cam head.
- Cam Sling: This is the part of the cam where you connect to your rope; it is a loop of webbing positioned at the end of the cam stem.
Sometimes the slings have a special color which, in turn, is indicative of cam size, so you can identify which ones you’ll need for your climb. Bear in mind, that there is no standard color set and sizing arrangement in the industry.
- Cam Trigger: This is a piece that helps in terms of cam operation; the trigger causes trigger wires to make lobes retract. The trigger is found in the cam head’s interior, where it can be pulled against a spring in order to establish tension.
It is important to make sure you can fit your fingers into the device so you can manipulate the trigger without any struggle.
Range & Size of Cams
When you position a cam in between rocks and crevices, it needs to fit properly and lock into position correctly. There are techniques for placing the cams correctly that you will have to familiarize yourself with before actually performing any climbs.
The greater degree of cam range, the more utility you get out of the unit. If you opt for cams that feature the largest ranges, you can limit the number of cams you have to tote around as gear while still maintaining cam versatility in terms of usage.
With the diversity of range, there is less likelihood of the cams walking or getting stuck inside the crevices and cracks you place them in, which is something that may happen when you have excessively large cams and they’re place in a crack that is too small.
With this in mind, if you plan to get into the sport heavily, you might want to speak with those you know or plan to climb with and ask them what equipment they are using, as they can give you a good idea about what brands are the best to choose.
There are specific features you will want to give consideration to as you shop. When looking for the best cams to add to your existing gear, consider the following cam features below.
Cam Expansion Range
The expansion range is exactly that: The amount of expansion a cam is capable of when fully expanding and contracting the lobes. The smaller the range of the cam’s expansion, the fewer places you will be able to use the cams, whereas the cams with the greatest degree of expansion promise the greatest versatility.
Many climbers prefer the larger cams with the greatest amount of expansion simply because it means carrying less gear without compromising one’s ability to climb or limiting the type of climbing one can engage in during an excursion. Fewer cams mean a lighter rack.
Cam Axles Count
When it comes to cam axles there are different designs to choose from; each style has pros and cons associated with it; the choice of axles is basically between single and double axles.
- Double Axle Style Cams: These cams axles permit the greatest degree of expansion range; and because of the dual design, these axles are far more durable than the single-cam counterparts.
You do end up gaining additional weight on these cams because of the double axle style.
- Single Axle Style Cams: Due to the structure of this axle, it is evidently a bit lighter than a cam hosting a double axle; however, what you gain in terms of portability, you lose in terms of the durability of the axle, its strength, and the cam’s expansion range.
Cams Lobes Count
There is only one brand of cams featuring two lobes, and the remaining cams on the market host three and four lobes.
The lobes are spring-loaded and are forced out when you fall during a climb; the downward motion is shifted to the cam’s lobes and these lobes then push outward into the various rocks and cracks they’ve been placed in. So what are the differences between these?
- Cam with Three Lobes: The three-lobe cam is one that has a thinner design than the four lobe counterpart; this means the smaller, leaner design slides into crevices and cracks with a greater degree of ease.
They also fit well in areas known as pin scars: rocks that have been marked by pitons that have been pounded into them. A piton is a special spike rock climber’s use when making a climb so they have something they can grab onto during the endeavor.
Pitons can also serve as support for a climber’s rope. The three lobe cams are far less likely to walk or move out of position once in place. Of course, the lack of a fourth lobe allows for these cams to feature a design lighter than the four lobe cam counterparts as well.
- Cam with Four Lobes: Since there are four lobes in these cams, you end up with a greater degree of lobe-to-surface contact and this promises you a far more secure positioning of the cam. The additional lobe makes this cam heavier, bulkier, and hosts a larger profile, thereby limiting some of the areas the cam can be inserted.
A word on offset cams: The majority of standard cams have lobes that have an even design in shape and size. However, there are cams you can buy that have a couple of lobes one size and the remaining lobes a different size.
The offset in size is intentional so that the cam can position correctly in cracks of a non-uniform design: Those that flare outward or inward or that feature pin scars. The majority of the cams you buy will be standard, but you might want to consider offering a few offset cams into the mix for greater gear diversity.
At one time stems were made with a rigid design, but after discovering this design caused difficulties with cam positioning, the stems were made with a greater degree of flexibility. When weight is applied to the stems, they can bend, and this makes cams placement a lot easier.
As mentioned earlier, you can choose from single or U-stem cams, both of which have advantages and disadvantages.
- Single Cable: Very thin in design, these cams fit easily in very unusually shaped pockets or in narrow crevices and cracks. If you have fairly big hands you’ll likely prefer this option, as they are far easier to handle than the U-stem cams available.
The trigger on these cams takes a bit more effort to manipulate though, whereas the U-stems allow for single finger and thumb operation.
- U-Stem Cams: Clearly, the ease of operation makes U-stems ideal for the climber looking for the easiest to manipulate cams, and these units are equally easy to retract. However, these cams do have a profile that is larger than single cams, and this makes it more difficult to use the units inside smaller areas.
People with larger hands have a hard time using the U-stem variants. Thus, sizing cams before buying is incredibly important: It ensures usability and comfort.
Reviews of The Leading Cams for Climbing
Many types of cams are on the market, including branded and non-branded selections. Below are some of the best choices available today, all of which prove affordable. The cams listed below are considered best based on the materials they are made of, style, design, durability, and function as well.
Reading the reviews shared here can help in narrowing down your choices when you shop, and, at minimum, can give you a clear idea about cam features, function, and availability.
Black Diamond Camalot X4
Weights: 51g, 54g, 75g, 82g, 91g, 112g
Dimensions: 9” x 5” x 3”
Colors: Gray, Purple, and Green
Ranges: 8.4-13.8mm, 9.9-16.5mm, 12.4-21.2mm, 15.5-26.6 mm, 19.8-33.7mm, 24-41.2 mm
Specifications: Four lobes, great expansion range, intense holding power, double axles, narrow cam head, Dyneema sling, cam springs embedded in lobes, Aluminum Armored cable; Symmetric Swage; Hot forged trigger bar.
Best Use: granite wall climbs, desert rock formations, outdoor rock climbing, narrow placements, fingertip pockets, piton scars.
Description: The Black Diamond Camalot X4 has double axle units have a great expansion range, thereby allowing greater usability of the cams during a climb. The head of the cam has a slimmer profile than the original predecessor made by the same manufacturer.
Aluminum beads make the cams far more durable while still allowing the units to remain entirely flexible. The trigger features an ergonomic design for ease of use and your maximum comfort.
These cams are light, and the slings are made of Dyneema materials, thereby making the cams easier to identify when compared to other Camalot models.
The cam heads are embedded into the unit’s lobes, which allows you to make the most of the narrow profile as you position them into tight spaces. The thumb rest has an embedded symmetric swage to help in the eliminations of bucking and to allow for ease of trigger manipulation.
Related: Black Diamond Camalot is a nice alternative with the same name brand, with a price ranging from $57.84 to $124.95. This model is one of the leading cam units sold by the manufacturer; the cams come in a variety of strengths, colors, and ranges; feature double axles, and a cable stem with a continuous C loop design to lend to the cams’ durability.
Black Diamond Camalot C4 Set
Cost: $314.88 – $431.88
Sizes: .3 to 5 (7 Cams); .5 to 3 (5 Cams); .5 to 4 (6 Cams)
Colors: Dark Green, Purple, Gray, Blue, Yellow, Pink, and Slate Gray
Specifications: Colored slings; variety of cams; double axle design; wide range; great expansion; colors are coded; free DVD sold with the units.
Best Use: Outdoor climbing and rock climbing
Description: The Black Diamond Camalot C4 is available in a whole host of colors, and comes with a Blu-Ray Climbing DVD free, but is valued at $39.95. Double axle design allows for a good degree of range when using the cams, and you get far greater durability out of the cams because of the C-loop continuous cable stem structure.
The color coding of the cams make your climb a breeze as you can instantly spot the cam you need based on color.
The range of sizes in the Black Diamond Camalot C4 units varies, so you can find just the right sizes for your comfort and use during your next climbing adventure. These units are highly portable because of their super light design.
Related: An alternative with the same brand name is identified in the original Black Diamond Camalot: these cams are decently priced at $89.95 and feature the same double axle structure as the C4 selections. These same cams share the C-loop continuous rigid stem making them durable and incredibly strong, as well as the sensible color coding of the various sizes.
Metolius Master Cam
Cost: $59.95 – $221.97
Colors: Black, Gray, and Green
Size: Varies 0 to 6
Sling Size: 13 mm
Weight: 2.2 to 3.9 ounces
Specifications: narrow head profile; flexible single stem; thumb piece with molded features; large sling made of a hybrid mix of nylon and Dyneema; cam angle optimized. CE/IUAA certified and tested by manufacturer before sold. Solid lobes; burly feel; rugged design; and very little walk issues.
Best Use: Granite wall climbs, outdoor climbing
Description: The Metolius Master Cam is available in a variety of colors. These single stem flexible cams have a super narrow profile for ease of fitting in cracks and crevices. The thumb portion has a molded, ergonomic design to ensure ease of use and your comfort.
The cams feature a 0.51-inch sling made out of 64% nylon and 36% Dyneema materials to ensure the long term durability of the thick webbed materials. The cam angle has been intentionally optimized for better angling when inserted in tight spots between rocks. Depending on the size of the cam, the units can handle between 1100 and 2250 pounds of weight.
Related: The Metolius Ultralight Master Cam is an affordable alternative by the same maker, priced at $59.95. The color-coded cams make for ease of quick selection and come in red, purple, gray, blue, yellow, orange, and black.
Additional colors include green, light blue and light purple, with each color serving as a separate cam size. These cams are single stem flexible options with incredible holding power.
Metolius Offset Master Cam
Cost: $55.14 – $59.95
Colors: orange, red, purple, gray, red, and black
Weight: 2.2 to 3.3 ounces
Ranges: 0.44 inches to 1.56”
Specifications: offset dual cams; two large lobes; two small lobes; varying sizes; varying ranges; supports weight up to 2250 pounds.
Best Use: Outdoor rock climbing, specifically areas with flares and strange rock formations or piton scarring.
Description: The Metolius Offset Master Cam is available in a slew of colors, each representing cam size. Available colors include orange, red, purple, gray, red, and black. These units feature two lobes that are large and two smaller lobes for ease of use in strangely shaped rock formations, crevices, and openings.
They are perfect for pin scars or fit flared placements. The unit varies in size and can withstand weight ranges of 1100 pounds to 2250 pounds, depending on the cams purchased.
Related: The Metolius Ultralight TCU is an alternative with the same maker behind the product; these cams are priced between $44.96 and $112.78. The cams come in color-coded designs of blue, red, yellow, orange, purple, and gray.
These minicams are the leading cams selling in the world; the super light design and narrow profiles make them perfect for bottoming, narrow, or shallow placements.
DMM Dragon Cam
Cost: $59.95 – $78.95
Colors: Green, Gold, Blue, Red
Dimensions: 9” x 4” x 2” inches
Maximum Strength: 12kN
Specifications: Single Stem; Dual axles; unique thumb grip; trigger bar; light design.
Best Use: Outdoor climes, granite walls.
Description: The DMM Dragon cams come in a whole host of colored coded option for easy spotting of the cams you need without having to think about it. The cams have a light design; dual axle for superior durability and single light stem for ease of use.
The chief advantage of the DMM Dragon Camp cams is they have superior range, great holding power, and exceptional balance. Hot forging process used in design leading to lighter weights.
Related: The DMM Dragon 2 Cam is priced between $67.95 and $84.95. The cams are available in gold, blue, silver, purple, green, and red. These units feature triple grip cam lobes from walking reduction and greater grip overall.
Wild Country Helium Friend Cam w/ Extendable Sling
Cost: $48.99 – $67.50
Colors: Blue, Red, Gold, Silver, Red, Gold, Purple, Blue, and Silver
Sizes: 0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4.
Weights: Vary, according to size; range 87g to 221g.
Ranges: Varies, from 14mm to 101.8mm
Specifications: Forged cams, extended reach; lengthy sling; trigger stops; single axle design; single stem; independent triggering mechanism; short termination.
Best Use: Indoor rock wall climbing; outdoor excursions
Description: The Wild Country Helium Friend Cam features an extendable sling made of 12mm Dyneema materials; this sling promises a better reach when you climb, and the strength of the sling lends to the cam’s durability.
The unit features trigger stops for ease of use, and these hot forged cams also come available in color-coded styles, all of which correlate with product size for quick and easy identification. The cams have a single axle and stem making for ease of cam positioning. The independent triggering device simplifies the use of the unit.
Related: An alternative model is the Wild Country Tech Friends Climbing Cam priced between $119.95 and $139.95. A variety of color-coded options are available; these cams feature a range of 84mm to 138mm in size 5; and 118mm to 194mm in size 6.
Fixe Alien Cams
Size: 1/3 inch; 7/8 inch; 1 inch
Colors: Black, Red, and Gray
Specifications: four cams; narrow profile; internal springs; durable design; color-coded weight/measurement identification system; narrow profile allowing for the function of a three head cam with the durability and greater degree of safety supplied by the four head cam.
Best Use: Indoor climbs; outdoor mountaineering/rock climbing
Description: Fixe Alien Cams are available in 1/3 inch black and 7/8 inch gray units. The units are also available in one-inch red colored versions. These cams are a four cam selection with a super narrow profile.
The springs of the cam are internal and you’ll find you get years of use out of these durable, super flexible, single stem cams for climbing. According to the manufacturer, the Fixe Alien Cams are some of the most narrow and coveted four cam units for sale today.
The narrow profile makes for a closer spacing of the four cam lobes, minimized the width of the cam’s head, and therefore allows positioning in spots where even a normal three head cam won’t quite fit.
Related: From the same manufacturer, you can also opt for the Fix Alien Hybrid Offset Cams at a price of $67.95. Available in several colors indicating weight and size, these cams also host internal springs, a stem that is flexible, and an incredibly narrow, but durable profile.
Omega Pacific Link Cam
Cost: $87.75 – $117.95
Colors: Yellow, Purple, Red, and Green.
Range: 25.4 – 64
Weight: 207 grams
Specifications: ratio of 2.5:1; single axle cam; superior range; spring loaded; structure made of material blend; CE/UIAA certified. Outer links make of aircraft grade metal.
Description: The Omega Pacific Link Cam is a single axle cam made with a metal injection molding process and a blend of materials creating a hybrid material of intense durability. The inner links that are on the cam lobes are made using the metal injection process; this allows greater precision in terms of the cams’ design.
These cams are manufactured with 17-4 aircraft stainless steel so you can rest assured in trusting the product’s longevity. In terms of outer link construction, it is made from a 7000 series aluminum alloy material. The cam angle is 13.5 so you can get the greatest degree of range along with the best holding functionality.
Related: For about $462.95, you can get the entire Omega Pacific Link Cam Set. The set is available in a series of colors including gold, purple, gray, and red. The sizes are 1-4 with varying range sizes and strengths. These cams are single axle four cam lobes devices.
So Many Cam Choices
If you are new to rock climbing endeavors, you might want to limit your investment in cams, at least in the beginning. As you learn and discover you like the sport and you decide to become more serious about climbing, you can then invest in the more expensive variants.
It can be more affordable to invest in off-brand cams earlier on, but you’ll soon have to splurge a bit more for the higher quality cams the more difficult your climbs become.
If you have any suggestions for products that we’ve neglected to mention in this article, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.