The Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing of 2021

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Cams, camming units, and Spring Loaded Camming Device (SLCD): these are some of the names for one of the most critical tools in your toolbox if you’re a traditional—or trad—climber. A form of active protection, these devices function by applying surface friction on the rock surface through rigid lobes attached to a central stem and activated employing a trigger and springs.

If you’re just starting trad climbing or if you’ve been at it for a while and you’re looking for a few new additions to your rack, you’re going to want the best gear at a reasonable price. While buying single cams gives you greater control over the selection, it is also much more expensive. Buying sets from manufacturers is an excellent way to keep costs down while filling out your rack.

While these devices are based on the same standard design, not all cams are equal. Like most other gear for climbing, some tools are made for specific styles of climbing or made for certain situations as well as devices that are designed for general purpose use. In this article, we discuss the best cam sets for trad climbing, backed by reviews from the climbing experts and the consensus of the climbing community.

Because of the wide range of cams and their range of function, for simplicity, we will focus on general-purpose cams, picking our choices from the large/medium and small range.

If you’re looking for other climbing gear to add to your rack, you may want to look into what we think are the best climbing carabiners in this post after.

Our Top Favorite
Black Diamond Camalot C4 - #2 Yellow
Our Top Runner Up
Wild Country Unisex_Adult Friends are The Safety Devices That Have Changed The Climbing Sport Most sustainably, Blue, 3 (EU)
Our Top Value Pick
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam Yellow #2
Cam Set for Trad Climbing
Black Diamond Camalot C4
Wild Country Friends
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam
Prime Eligible?
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Our Top Favorite
Black Diamond Camalot C4 - #2 Yellow
Cam Set for Trad Climbing
Black Diamond Camalot C4
Prime Eligible?
-
Our Top Runner Up
Wild Country Unisex_Adult Friends are The Safety Devices That Have Changed The Climbing Sport Most sustainably, Blue, 3 (EU)
Cam Set for Trad Climbing
Wild Country Friends
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam Yellow #2
Cam Set for Trad Climbing
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam
Prime Eligible?
-

Last update: 2021-05-24 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Our Favorites for the Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing Our Favorites for the Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing

From their simple origins as single lobed cams to today’s vastly engineered and effective cams to the cams in our near future, trad climbing gear is evolving and adapting. With so many players competing for the growing climbing market, dominating the market is an accomplishment not to be taken lightly. Our favorites have the distinction of being the overwhelming favorites of the climbing community.

Black Diamond Camalot C4

  • Large/Medium Cams: #0.5-4

With the introduction of the Black Diamond Camalots, the rapid takeover of the cam market was initiated. Following up with the Camalot C4, the ubiquity of this cam is now complete. While other models are beloved by many climbers, these cams are the workhorse of many a rack.

What made these cams a sensation when they were first introduced, and what keeps them relevant today is the inspired two-axle system. This system allows the cam to operate on a broader range compared to similar-sized single-axle cams. This expansive range enables the cam to be used in more placements allowing the climber to worry less about conserving cams and more on reaching the top. The increased scale, however, also give the cam heads a larger profile making them unsuitable for tight and unusual placements. Cams with smaller profiles, such as Totems, are much better fits for these types of placements.

Camalot C4 cams are built on a four lobe design that provides four points of contact, maximizing the surface area in parallel cracks. The lobes are constructed of a robust and durable aluminum alloy with a unique design, delivering maximum strength while saving weight. Additionally, the edges of the lobes are textured with a pattern designed to maximize grip.

A flexible cable stem terminating in a C-loop provides the strength needed to manipulate the head of the cam enabling them to be fit into tight spaces while being strong and durable to catch the falls over and over without fatigue. Additionally, the flexible stem allows the cam to be effectively used in horizontal cracks. Falls on horizontal cracks, however, will cause the cable to bend as it is not as resilient as other some other cams. Metolius Master Cams and Totems are better choices for horizontal cracks as they have more flexible stems.

Camalot C4 features a thumb loop for ease of handling when you’re placing your cams, especially useful when you’re pumped. In addition to the thumb loop, the wide trigger ensures a firm, secure grasp, that stays out of the way when secured in position. Moreover, the cams are sold with color-coded slings that enable easy identification of the cams when racked. While these aren’t extendable slings such as those found on DMM Dragon, Fixe Alien, and Wild Country Friends, with the addition of a longer sling, any concerns about cam walking are mitigated.

A useful feature found in larger cams, a trigger keeper locks the lobes of the cam in the lowest profile for convenient racking. By squeezing the trigger, the trigger keeper springs out of the way of releasing the cam for placement.

When building a rack, these cams are a fantastic choice to form the backbone of the rack. They are equally practical when used for aid climbing or free climbing.

When used for aid, climbing the durability of the double axle system ensures the strength and durability when subjected to consistent forces. The thumb loops enable you to reach a crucial extra few inches with each placement. When paired with gear suited for offsets, such as the Totems, these make an excellent aid climb set.

When used for free climbing the low profile of the single stem and the visibility of the color-specific slings make the cams ideal for your rack.

Although the Camalot C4 is not the cheapest cams in the market, their ubiquity makes them very easy to buy second hand at low prices. They are frequently sold at significant discounts from many retailers as well as online.

For those who want to shed every possible ounce of weight possible, the new C4 Ultralight, are durable and extremely light cams, although more expensive.

What makes Black Diamond Camalot C4 Unique:

  • The two-axle design gives the cam an increased range allowing them to be used in more positions while also increasing the strength.
  • Four lobes provide maximum surface contact.
  • C-loop flexible cable stem with a thumb loop enabling easy one-handed manipulation.
  • Color-coded slings enable easy differentiation of cams when racked.
  • Larger sized cams feature a trigger keeper that locks the lobes in place for a smaller profile when racked.

Why you Should Choose this Cam Set:

  • The gold-standard in cams, they have the pedigree to back their quality.
  • A dependable workhorse, they are the backbone of any rack.
  • The robust and flexible stem makes these excellent for horizontal cracks.
  • Although slightly heavier than single axle cams, the wide range enables you to take a more extensive range of gear with the same weight.
  • The ubiquity of these cams ensures a large market of cheap second-hand gear.
  • Available at steep discounts from many retailers and outlets.

Black Diamond Camalot C4 - #2 Yellow
  • Double-axle design offers widest range for each cam unit
  • C-loop continuous cable stem design is strong and durable
  • Color-coded for easy identification and wide range of sizes

Last update: 2021-05-24 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Totem Basic

  • Small Cams: #00-0.5

The best clone of the much loved CCH Alien, Totem Basics are Totems follow-up to the acclaimed Totem Cams. Due to their innovative design providing a multitude of useful features, the Totem Basics are receiving much-deserved appreciation and support by the climbing community. One would be forgiven for thinking that forums such as Mountain Project are filled with paid commentators given the incredible amount of love they receive.

The Totem Basics features a single axle design that enables the four-lobe cam head to achieve a minimal profile. The profile is further reduced by mounting the cam springs internally. This makes it perfect for placements that are extremely small or narrow, fitting where many other cams cannot.

The lobes are composed of a soft aluminum alloy with diagonal teeth. The softness of the metal enables the lobes to deform slightly, which in conjunction with the tooth pattern provide unparalleled grip necessary for micro cams. The tradeoff for the more exceptional grip provided by the soft alloy is the reduced durability of the lobes. Instead of the usual elliptical shape of most cams that offer greater range, Totem Basics feature rounded lobes that trade range for increased surface contact providing greater stability.

Whereas the Totem Cam features the C-loop common to many micro cams, the Totem Basics model the single stem of the CCH Alien. The single steel cable stem is encased in an inner mesh sheath and a movable outer sheath trigger providing abrasion resistance while remaining flexible. This flexibility offers secure horizontal crack placements while maintaining the integrity of the stem.

One of the most innovative features of the Totem Cams is the ability to load just two of the lobes in placement independently. This feature is carried to the Totem basics giving these cams the great versatility of their predecessor. Loading only two lobes enables the climber to place cams in unusual positions, while still maintaining security. This makes the Totem basics excellent for use in climbs with pin scars, narrow uneven and flared cracks.

With a color scheme very similar to that used on Black Diamond cams, the Totems are easily integrated into any rack that follows this scheme. These include such popular brands as DMM and Wild Country.

In addition to four sizes of the standard Totem Basics, these cams are offered in three offset sizes. These offset models allow for even greater versatility.

While some climbers may call these specialty cams, they are better called full-service cams. They serve the same function as other cam models, but their unique features make them useful for so much more, including big wall climbing and aid climbing.

With all the special features included, these cams, while not as expensive as the Totem Cams, are not cheap. For those that want the absolute best and are willing to pay for it, these micro cams are the only choice.

What makes Totem Basic Unique:

  • Best clone of the much loved CCH Alien
  • The single-axle design with springs integrated into the lobes gives these cams a minimal profile.
  • Independently loaded lobes allow for two lobes to be engaged for protection unassisted.
  • Four rounded lobes for maximum surface contact. Soft aluminum alloy deforms to provide maximum grip.
  • C-loop flexible cable stem with a double sheathed trigger.
  • Color-coded slings with a similar color scheme to BD Cams.

Why you Should Choose this Cam Set:

  • Improving on the CCH Alien design providing all their advantages and more.
  • The strong, flexible stem makes these excellent for horizontal cracks
  • The narrow profile allows for positioning in unusual and tight placements.

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Our Runner Ups for the Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing Our Runner Ups for the Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing

Although the BD Camalot C4 dominate the market for large and medium cams, and the newer Totem Basics are widely being touted as the future of micro cams, many competitive brands offer comparative models. Notably, two of these are the Wild Country Friends and the DMM Dragon. These brands have their own following of hard-core fans.

Wild Country Friends

  • Large/Medium Cams: #0.5-4

The evolution of Wild Country Friends from their conception to the cams they are today is marked by significant changes. The most apparent differences are the conversion to a two-axle system and changing the color scheme to match that of BD and DMM. Additional changes exemplify the effort on the part of Wild Country to make the best cam on the market today. While these cams are not the favorites, they are a close second, slightly edging out the DMM Dragons.

Like the BD Camalot C4, the Wild Country Friends have a two-axle design that gives them a broader range compared to the single axle design. Although they share a similar range with the Camalot C4, the range on a few sizes overlap, making the Friends an excellent choice when doubling up your rack.

The Friends feature a four-lobe system of anodized aluminum with a patterned edge designed to give the cams durability and a secure grip. The cam heads on the Friends are slightly larger with thicker lobes than those of the BD C4 and DMM Dragons resulting in a greater distribution of the applied forces. However, this also makes them less suitable for tighter placements.

The stem of the Friends is made of a flexible steel cable encased in an abrasion-resistant plastic sheath, which also forms a sturdy thumb loop and a sizable trigger. Like the Black Diamond C4s, the Friends can be used for horizontal placements. However, they have the advantage of coming equipped with an extendable sling perfect for deep horizontal placements that require the additional use of an extra sling. The extendable sling also reduces the chances of the cam walking.

The color scheme of the cams has been modified to follow that being used by both BD and DMM, making a mix of cams on your rack easy to use.

These cams are an excellent choice for both aid climbing and free climbing. They are a competitive choice for forming the backbone of your rack or when doubling up on particular cams. They are slightly lighter than the BD C4 and cost about the same.

What makes Wild Country Friends Unique:

  • The two-axle design gives the cam an increased range allowing them to be used in more positions while also increasing the strength.
  • Four lobes for maximum surface contact. These lobes are slightly wider than those on the BD C4, giving additional contact and increased durability.
  • C-loop flexible cable stem with a thumb loop enabling easy one-handed manipulation.
  • Color-coded slings enable easy differentiation of cams when racked.

Why you Should Choose this Cam Set:

  • Very similar to the BD Camalot C4, they are a viable alternative.
  • A reliable workhorse, they are the backbone of any rack.
  • The strong, flexible stem makes these excellent for horizontal cracks.
  • The use of a similar color scheme to BD and DMM make for easy mixing.
  • An extendible sling results in savings in value and weight.
  • Available at steep discounts from many retailers and outlets.

Last update: 2021-05-24 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Fixe Alien Revolution (Small Cams)

  • Small Cams: #00-0.5

Modeled and named after the popular cams made by Colorado Custom Hardware (CCH), Fixe Alien Revolution are the newest iteration of this well-liked design. Taking care to improve on the ergonomics of the originals, Fixe has kept all the best features but made them more functional. Excelling at extremely narrow placements, this technical cam is handy on climbs with many pin scars. While this brand does not command as large a fan base as the Totem Basics or the Metolius Ultralight TCU, they receive solid reviews from both climbers and the experts.

The single axle cam head has mostly been kept the same as the original models with an extremely narrow profile that is able to fit into tight placements better than comparable models such as the BD X4 or the Totem Basics.

Four lobes comprised of a soft aluminum alloy, give the Aliens a secure grip due to deforming when under force. This increased grip results in a loss in durability. However, given the size of the cams and their narrow profile, this is tradeoff is an easy one to make.

An extremely flexible steel cable stem makes the Aliens perfect for pin scars, flares, and horizontal placements. However, this flexibility makes it nigh impossible to shove the cam head into place without first pulling the trigger. An ergonomically designed curved aluminum trigger gives solid purchase for rapid placement; however, some climbers feel that it is too small for anyone without small fingers.

The Aliens feature an ergonomic thumb loop that works with the trigger to facilitate placement of the cam with a single hand. An improved trigger wire design curves them around the cam heads, limiting abrasion and increasing longevity. These wires are replaceable with Fixe selling a replacement kit and providing video instructions. Furthermore, they are sold with the option of an extendable sling. This feature is somewhat necessary given that the springs used in the cam are slightly weaker than those on similar cams and make them prone to wandering if not correctly set.

While these cams can be used of any form of trad climbing, where they excel is aid climbing. With their soft aluminum design, ergonomic trigger and thumb loop, and narrow profile, these micro cams are best suited to the meticulous, gradual ascent characteristic of aid. However, they come in second, losing out to Totem Basics, which offer more functionality and durability. While they will serve for free climbing, the potential forces imparted present a possibility of reduced durability. The lightest cams on the list, they are suitable for any climb where weight is an issue.

All in all, the Alien Revolutions are a reliable and useful tool that serves well for those needing to expand their rack with smaller sized cams. At a similar price point to similar cams, the Aliens are a great addition to your rack.

What makes Fixe Alien Revolution Unique:

  • Heir to the CCH Alien name, this new iteration features an improved design.
  • A single-axle design with the most narrow profile of cams on this list.
  • Soft aluminum alloy lobes deform to provide maximum grip.
  • C-loop flexible cable stem with an ergonomic trigger and thumb loop.

Why you Should Choose this Cam Set:

  • Improving on the CCH Alien design providing all their advantages and more.
  • The most flexible stem of any cam on this list makes these excellent for horizontal cracks, pin scars, and flared placements.
  • A narrow profile allows for positioning in unusual and tight placements.
  • Extremely lightweight.
  • Available in an offset and hybrid option.

Fixe Alien Revo Cam - Yellow
  • 20% weight reduction
  • Narrower profile head fits moreplacements
  • Ergonomic thumb loop

Last update: 2021-05-24 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Our Value Picks for the Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing Our Value Picks for the Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing

Metolius Ultralight Master Cam

  • Large/Medium Cams: #0.5-4

The newest version of the Metolius Master Cam series, the Ultralight Master Cam is replacing its predecessor as Metolius’ response to BD C4 Ultralight. With several modifications, some good and some not so good, the Ultralight Mastercam has been lightened by 20% of the original Master Cam series. This makes them the lightest cams on the market today, apart from the Alien Revolutions. The Aliens, however, do not cover as broad a range.

The single-axle design reduces the profile of the cams as well as the range of each individual cam. However, with ten cams available, the cam range covered runs from finger-sized cracks to large hand-sized cracks, covering the required range effectively. The range of the Ultralight Master Cams overlaps that of the BD C4, making them a solid choice for a second rack when doubling up on cams.

One of the legacies kept from the previous generation is the width of the cam head, being a full lobe width smaller than contemporary models. This makes the Ultralight Master Cam excellent for use in tight placements such as narrow cracks and pin scars.

Metolius manufacturers their cams utilizing CNC instead of stamping or extrusion forming them, remarking that it is more precise. Part of this precision is the creation of a “shark-tooth” pattern that is touted as giving better grip, specifically on softer stone.

Like most of the cams on this list, the Metolius Ultralight Master Cams are made on a single flexible steel cable model, with a stacked cable design. In addition to the cable, the stem is composed of two plastic-sheathed cables connecting the trigger to the head. The stem is considerably shorter than other brands to address an issue with the previous model in which the weight of the head caused the cam to droop when being placed. The result of shortening the stem provides a flexible stem yet stiff enough to support the head of the cam easily. Additionally, it further reduces the weight of the cam.

To further reduce the weight, Metolius has opted out of using a thumb loop as was previously included. Instead, the stem terminates in an aluminum end piece through which the sling is directly threaded. While this saves weight, it is noted by many climbers that this feature is sorely missed.

An unfortunate byproduct of shortening the stem and the lack of an extendable sling is the necessity of bringing extra gear to prevent the cam from walking. While this is not a deal-breaker, it does somewhat lessen the benefits of reducing the weight of the camera. Moreover, the stem, while flexible, is less so than the Alien Revolutions. Furthermore, there have been reports from climbers that the shortened stem causes the triggers to abrade on stone when placed in deep horizontal cracks, with the cam coming loose due to the trigger movement.

A feature that is unique to the Ultralight Master Cam is the range finder. This feature consists of a series of colored dots on the edge of the lobe that give indications on the position of the cam. In essence, green dots against the rock signify optimal camming, while red dots signify an over-cammed placement. While this is a nifty feature, climbers note that it is most useful for beginner climbers. On tough routes, climbers may not have the time to visually inspect the rangefinder when climbing. Furthermore, the cams are equipped with cam stops, that prevent the cams from “over-camming” and getting stuck.

One bone of contention with Metolius lies in the fact that instead of conforming to a similar color scheme as followed by BD, WC, and DMM, they choose to continue to utilize their own. This makes mixing them with these brands harder than it need be.

Overall, this is a very durable cam with a solid reputation and more importantly, a very light cam. However, the removal of the thumb loop and the lack of an extendable sling make this cam less useful for aid climbing than otherwise. The same goes for free climbing. The loss of the features that made these desirable are in no way made up for by the weight savings. These cams are best suited for long climbs where weight is of the essence or for climbs that do not require a lot of protection.

One of the points where these cams shine is their value. For what they offer and what they cost, they are fantastic value for money. Considerably cheaper than their competition, they are an excellent purchase for those that need to save money.

What makes Metolius Ultralight Master Cam Unique:

  • Single axle cam produced by a reputable company.
  • The four-lobe design is narrower than most other cams available.
  • The Range Finder provides a visual demarcation pointing out the optimal camming position.
  • A shortened flexible stacked cable design terminating in an aluminum thumbpiece
  • Color scheme independent from other manufacturers.

Why you Should Choose this Cam Set:

  • The lightest cam set on the market.
  • Great value for money. The cheapest cams on this list.
  • The set encompasses a broad range in ten pieces, form thin-tips to large hand size.

On Sale
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam Yellow #2
  • These newer cams are 20 lighter than the originals
  • Each color option represents a cam size, allowing you to pick and choose which size cams you need instead of buying a whole set
  • Flexible, single stem unit with optimized cam angle for increased holding power

Last update: 2021-05-24 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Metolius Ultralight TCU

  • Small Cams: #00-0.5

The lightest cams available, with an extremely narrow profile, these cams are perfect for those that are climbing extremely thin cracks or need to shed as much weight as possible. Built-in a time-honored design, much like the Ultralight Master Cams, these cams take the benefits of experience and pair it with the versatility of modernization.

The cams sit on a single axle, what Metolius calls Direct Axle Technology, which reduces the weight of the cams from the previous iteration by some 30%.

As their name indicates, the Metolius Ultralight TCU or Three Cam Unit is composed of three lobes. While this reduces the contact with the rock, the configuration of the lobes helps lessen the “walking” a cam may experience. The fewer number of lobes also reduces the size of the cam head, giving it a narrow profile.

Unlike the previously discussed models, the Ultralight TCU does not follow the same single stem design. Instead, they continue with what may be the oldest small cam design, the C-loop. While flexible, this design gives the Ultralight TCU a stiffness that is useful for pushing the cam directly into cracks without having to engage the trigger. However, this also affects how the cam works in horizontal placements. The stiffness translates to potential walking and reduced holding power as well as a possibility for bending the cables. Furthermore, the C-loop design adds additional width to the cam head with the stem termination on either side of the cam.

Like the Ultralight Master Cam, the Ultralight TCU features the Range Finder enabling you to find optimal placements. Additionally, they come equipped with color-coded nylon/Dyneema slings. Unfortunately, they are not extendable, and like the Ultralight Master Cams, they too follow the Metolius color scheme.

With their narrow profile and extremely lightweight, these cams are ideal for any climb that requires you to reduce weight to a minimum and climbs that feature a large number to thin cracks.

What makes Metolius Ultralight TCU Unique:

  • Single DAT axle cam produced by a reputable company.
  • The three-lobe design is narrower than most other cams available, reducing cam walking.
  • The Range Finder provides a visual demarcation pointing out the optimal camming position.
  • Based on the time-honored C-loop design.
  • Color scheme independent from other manufacturers.

Why you Should Choose this Cam Set:

  • A very light cam set.
  • Great value for money.
  • Trusted design that inspires confidence.

On Sale
Metolius Ultralight TCU Cam Yellow #2
  • The world's best-selling mini cam
  • Narrow head width for the most placement options
  • Direct Axle Technology (DAT) makes Ultralight TCUs the lightest cams in the world

Last update: 2021-05-24 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


How to Choose the Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing for You

Choosing the best cam set for you depends on a few different factors. First and foremost, it depends on if you already have a rack or are starting a new one. The needs of a climber adding to their rack will vary slightly from someone building a new rack. On the whole, the majority of considerations for choosing the best cam set remain the same.

Adding: when adding to a rack, the first consideration is the range that you need to fill or the specialty cams you may need.

Doubling-Up: if you already have a full rack, then when thinking about your second rack, first consider which cams you use the most. Secondly, while you can buy the same sets to build your second rack, many climbers find it useful to buy from a different brand to overlap the ranges of their sets.

Location: consider the area that you will be frequenting. The type of rock will often determine the cams you will need due to the nature of different kinds of stone. If you climb in an area with perfectly parallel cracks, most cams will work well. However, cams with the greatest surface area on the rock face such as Black Diamond Camalots or Wild Country Friends work the best. In areas with uneven or flared cracks or a multiplicity of pin scars, offset cams or specialty cams such as Totem cams can help you send a route that would be impossible otherwise. In addition, the nature of the cams, the hardness of the rock plays a large part on the usefulness of a cam. A hard surface can cause lobes to slip off if they are unable to bite in sufficiently. Some cam manufacturers claim that their lobe teeth are better suited for certain types of rock.

Size of Protection: in addition to the location, the size of the protection needed varies. In most situations, a standard set of cams is sufficient. Occasionally, some areas will require micro cams, although they are generally used for aid climbing. On the other end of the spectrum, we find outsized cams; however, they are incredibly uncommon.

Cam Walking: cam walking occurs when the movement of the rope transmits to the cam causing it to shift from side to side. This can cause the cam to move farther into the crack, making it hard to get out or worst case stuck. A cam walking from the position it was placed by the climber can also become under-cammed compromising its capacity to secure a climber in the event of a fall. Cam walking is prevented by using cams with flexible stems, using a cam that gives the best fit, and by using an extendable sling. An additional source method of minimizing cam walking is the use of TCUs (or three cam units). Whereas the movement of a climber can cause a four-lobed cam to move from one pair of lobes to the other, a TCU will only pivot in place.

Durability: in general, cams are built to endure. With safety being the top priority, manufacturers use the best material at hand and subject their products to strict quality control. If used for free climbing, cams will last for a long time. Used for aid climbing, on the other hand, will subject them to continuous stress severely testing their durability. Using four-lobed double axled cams somewhat extends the durability of the device, spreading out the load forces.

Cam Expansion Range: the range that a cam can expand while fitting securely in position, is an important consideration when buying cams. The larger the range, the more options you have to use it. The largest ranges—not including specialty cams such as link cams—are achieved by the dual axle cams such as Black Diamond Camalot C4. While having fewer dual axle cams that can cover the same range as a more significant number of single-axle cams may appear at first to be an obvious choice, it is not so cut-and-dry. While fewer cams may cover the same range, you will still need to carry sufficient gear to protect the climb adequately. While carrying a rack with an extensive range will allow you to climb without having to conserve equipment, the tradeoff lies in the possibility of having a more cumbersome rack to carry. The additional weight of a second axle, as in the BD Camalot C4, is small, but it does add up. Purchasing the BD C4 Ultralight, though expensive, is an option to offset the additional weight.

Cam Angle: while manufacturers use different cam angels claiming to have the best angle to allow maximum range and grip, this is not a consideration that needs much thought.

Weight: with modern cams, the issue of weight is a thing of the past. While there may be some small weight differences, they are not significant enough to be a cause for concern. For those who want to be as light as possible, the BD C4 Ultralight and the Metolius Ultralight Mastercam will help you shave as much as you can.

Length of Slings: a longer sling reduces the movement imparted to a cam form the rope as you climb. While all cams come with a sling, which can be extended with a quickdraw and a second sling, some cams such as the DMM Dragon come with an extendable sling. This saves on gear and allows for a more rapid ascent without having to manipulate equipment.

Key Differences of Cam Sets

The most significant difference when it comes to cam sets is the range that each set covers. For simplicity, we will say that the standard sets include the large to medium range and the small range. However, there are occasionally needs for non-standard cams, such as extra-large and/or micro cams. While most manufacturers cover these general ranges, the specific ranges are individual to each brand. Therefore a large cam set from one manufacturer will span a particular range in their large set, while another manufacturer will span a similar but not the exact same range.

Additional differences occur in the design of the cams themselves.

Lobes: these days it is most common for cams to have four lobes—think BD Camalot C4 or Metolius ultralight Master Cams—that spread out to contact the rock to maximize the surface area and displace the force of a falling climber. However, there are also three-cam units or TCUs—Think Metolius Ultralight TCU—that give the cam head a smaller profile allowing them to be placed in smaller cracks. Newly re-engineered cams by Totem will enable the use of only two of its four lobes by enabling the use of separate springs for each lobe. Most large and medium cams are made of an aluminum alloy for durability. Some micro cams, such as Fixe Alien, are made of softer aluminum allowing them to deform slightly, giving them a better grip. The thickness of the lobes and the pattern on the edge (the point of contact with the rock) varies among manufacturers, with each claiming theirs offers the best grip.

Expansion Range: the range of the cam, or the width the cam can cover, is primarily determined by the angle of the lobes to the axle — the greater the angle, the greater the range. However, there is a direct correlation between the range that can be achieved and the force exerted by the lobes on the rock face. Too broad a range corresponds directly to reduced security. An additional factor that increases the range of a cam is the use of a double axle—as opposed to the more common single axle— system pioneered by Black Diamond with their Camalot model.

Stem: once upon a time, there were only single rigid-stem cams. While these were very durable, they tended to problems in horizontal cracks. A sudden downward force, as in a fall, could sometimes be enough to shear the stem. These days cams are made with flexible stems. These stems are further differentiated into flexible singe-cable stems and U-stems. Single-cable stems, as the name implies, use a single flexible cable connected to the cam head, in addition to a trigger and trigger cables to manipulate the lobes of the cam. The U-stem, on the other hand, utilizes a u-shaped cable connected to the cam head, as well as the trigger and trigger cables.

Offset Lobes: While standard cams feature cam lobes with even sized and shaped lobes, some manufacturers make specialty offset cams. These cams are made with two pairs of different sized lobes that allow the cam to be placed in uneven or flared cracks and pin scars.

Color Scheme: when you’re climbing a rock face and feeling pumped, you just want to reach down and grab your cam without too much fuss. While experienced climbers will argue that you can distinguish from the order in which you racked your cams or just from feel, this comes from experience and doesn’t help with a new set of cams. The easiest way to accomplish this is by means of glancing down at your harness and based on the color of the cam determine the size. Unfortunately, it has been the practice of manufacturers to use their color schemes, making it complicated when mixing gear. Recently, some of the larger manufacturers have started using the same color scheme to standardize the range of cams.

What to Consider When Buying Cam Sets

When preparing to buy a new cam set, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Weight: if there is a long approach or a particularly long climb, the reduced weight will help ensure success.
  2. Location: climbing varies significantly from place to place. Depending on the type of rock, the usability of each cam varies.
  3. Function: while many cam sets function well as “workhorse” sets, sometimes specialty cams such as offset or hybrid cams are needed.
  4. Cost: if the price is an issue, there are many set form which to choose ranging from expensive to downright cheap.

Summary of the Best Cam Set for Trad Climbing

We’ve gone over a lot today. Here’s a helpful table to consolidate every cam set for trad climbing we went over:

Our Top Favorite
Black Diamond Camalot C4 - #2 Yellow
Our Top Runner Up
Wild Country Unisex_Adult Friends are The Safety Devices That Have Changed The Climbing Sport Most sustainably, Blue, 3 (EU)
Our Top Value Pick
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam Yellow #2
Cam Set for Trad Climbing
Black Diamond Camalot C4
Wild Country Friends
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam
Prime Eligible?
-
-
Our Top Favorite
Black Diamond Camalot C4 - #2 Yellow
Cam Set for Trad Climbing
Black Diamond Camalot C4
Prime Eligible?
-
Our Top Runner Up
Wild Country Unisex_Adult Friends are The Safety Devices That Have Changed The Climbing Sport Most sustainably, Blue, 3 (EU)
Cam Set for Trad Climbing
Wild Country Friends
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam Yellow #2
Cam Set for Trad Climbing
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam
Prime Eligible?
-

Last update: 2021-05-24 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Choosing the right cam set for you doesn’t have to be a scary decision. The truth is that most brands you encounter will work well and fulfill your needs. If you’re looking to buy a new set or double up, you can’t go wrong with the favorite Black Diamond Camalot C4. If you have the money to spend, then investing in the Totems is an excellent way to go owing to their versatility. For each situation you encounter, there is a solution. By following the selection we outlined in this article, you can be sure of finding the best cam set for trad climbing.

In the end, the best way to truly know what the right cam set for you is to go out and try them for yourself. Find some climbers and hit crag. And always have fun!

Did you find this helpful? Then check out our other climbing gear reviews here.

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