So you’ve taken up climbing, but decided that sport climbing is too soft and you’re looking for a bit more grit, pain, and fear. Well, trad climbing is your answer! Unlike the early days, modern trad climbers have access to gear such as spring-loaded camming devices, commonly known as cams. We’re here to help you choose the best climbing cams so you can jam your way up that next crack with confidence.

Trad climbing gear is a big investment, so it’s important to know what options are available before you buy.

Traditional climbers use both active and passive gear for protection. Camming devices (active “pro”) are a versatile gear innovation and we at The Adventure Junkies are devoting this entire article to teaching you about them. Before your trad rack is complete however, consider adding a least one set of stoppers, also called nuts, for your passive protection.

For more of our top climbing gear recommendations, check out these popular articles: 

Ropes | Harnesses | HelmetsBackpacks

Climbing Shoes | Approach Shoes | Pants | Shorts | Shirts

Carabiners | Cams | Nuts | Quickdraws | PulleysBelay Devices

Bouldering Shoes | Bouldering Pants | Crash Pads

 

 

 

 

 

QUICK ANSWER – THE BEST CLIMBING CAMS

1. BLACK DIAMOND C4

2. WILDCOUNTRY FRIENDS

3. BLACK DIAMOND C3

4. BLACK DIAMOND X4

5. FIXE ALIEN

6. METOLIUS ULTRALIGHT MASTER

7. METOLIUS ULTRALIGHT TCU

8. DMM DRAGON

9. TRANGO FLEX

 

 

 

COMPARISON TABLE – THE BEST CLIMBING CAMS

PICTURE
CAM
BEST
WEIGHT CLASS
NUMBER AVAILABLE
PRICE
RATING
PICTURE
CAM
BEST
WEIGHT CLASS
NUMBER AVAILABLE
PRICE
RATING
Black Diamond Camalot C4
Med – Big
Average
10
$$
5.0
Wildcountry Friends
Med – Big
Light
8
$$
5.0
Black Diamond Camalot C3
Small – Medium
Average
5
$$
5.0
Black Diamond Camalot X4
Small – Medium
Average
6
$$$
4.8
Fixe Alien
Small – Medium
Light
6
$$
3.0
Metolius Ultralight Mastercam
Small – Medium
Ultralight
10
$
4.8
Metolius Ultralight TCU
Small – Medium
Ultralight
7
$
4.7
DMM Dragon Cam
Medium
Average
8
$$
4.9
Trango Flex
Medium
Average
9
$
4.5

 

 

 

CLIMBING CAMS REVIEWS

BLACK DIAMOND CAMALOT C4

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

SIZE RANGE: 13.8-195mm

WEIGHT: Average

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

CAM LOBES: Four

PROS: Best cam in the industry, first to produce a double axle, good in tight placements, new ultralight version also available

CONS: So popular that you run the risk of mixing up your cams with your crag mates

 

 

 

WILDCOUNTRY FRIENDS

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

SIZE RANGE: 20.6-194mm

WEIGHT: Light

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

CAM LOBES: Four

PROS: An update of the original commercial cam from 1977, great in horizontal and awkward placements due to narrow, flexible stem, hollow axle reduces cam weight without sacrificing strength

CONS: Slightly smaller range per cam compared to Camalots

 

 

 

BLACK DIAMOND CAMALOT C3

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

SIZE RANGE: 7.9-22.6mm

WEIGHT: Average

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

CAM LOBES: Three

PROS: Great in tiny spots like aid seams and tip cracks, head up to 30% narrower than other small cams

CONS: Three lobes offer less stability than X4s, may also rotate up and down in placements

 

 

 

BLACK DIAMOND CAMALOT X4

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

SIZE RANGE: 8.4-41.2mm

WEIGHT: Average

OFFSET AVAILABLE: Yes

CAM LOBES: Four

PROS: Four lobes offer great stability for a small cam, stacked axle on three smallest sizes gives greater range than any other small 4CU on market, flexible stems and good in flared cracks

CONS: Expensive

 

 

 

FIXE ALIEN

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon

SIZE RANGE: 8-33mm

WEIGHT: Light

OFFSET AVAILABLE: Yes

CAM LOBES: Four

PROS: Small head width, extremely flexible stem, soft metal ‘bites’ the rock

CONS: Softer metal lobes wear quicker and are more susceptible to deformation

 

 

 

METOLIUS ULTRALIGHT MASTERCAM

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

SIZE RANGE: 8.5-71.5mm

WEIGHT: Ultralight

OFFSET AVAILABLE: YES

CAM LOBES: Four

PROS: Best value on the market and 20% lighter than original Mastercams

CONS: Stems are a little stiff, short sling might be limiting

 

 

 

METOLIUS ULTRALIGHT TCU

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

SIZE RANGE: 6.6-35.5mm

WEIGHT: Ultralight

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

CAM LOBES: Three

PROS: Lightest cams available

CONS: Cams may walk more easily than others, not useful in pin scars

 

 

 

DMM DRAGON CAM

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

SIZE RANGE: 13-114mm

WEIGHT: Average

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

CAM LOBES: Four

PROS: New version with enhanced friction, good in tight placements, built in extendable sling

CONS: No thumb loop makes it difficult for aid climbing

 

 

 

TRANGO FLEXCAM

Check out the latest price on:
Amazon | REI

SIZE RANGE: 11-107mm

WEIGHT: Average

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

CAM LOBES: Four

PROS: Inexpensive, light for their size, can protect angled and horizontal cracks

CONS: Largest sizes feel unbalanced due to heavy head-to-stem ratio

 

 



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HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST CLIMBING CAMS

WHY CAMS?

Cams are active protection and represent one type of gear used by traditional climbers. Cams have multiple lobes that are designed to expand into parallel or flared cracks and openings in rock. They can also be used in horizontal weaknesses (common in places like The Gunks). Unlike passive nuts or stoppers, they do not require a constriction to be effective.

We recommend learning as much as you can about cams before you buy. To keep your rack as clean and organized as possible, you may want to limit your choices to as few brands as possible.

 

SIZES

The size of the cams you need depend on the size of the crack you are climbing and need to protect. A crack is usually described based on how one’s hand fits into it. A “hand size” crack is typically protected with cams in the 40-75mm (around 1.5-3.0”) range, and climbed using hand jams. Many people consider a complete trad rack to be doubles of most of the camming range plus a set of nuts. Be aware that you will likely need more than two of a given size when climbing splitter lines in places like Indian Creek though.

Small cams (sizes 8-33mm or .33-1.25″) are typically used in finger sized cracks and smaller. Cams with three camming lobes are developed specifically as small protection, but modern four lobe cams can be quite small too.

Medium – Big Cams (sizes 38-130+mm or 1.5-5+”) are typically used for hand sized cracks and larger. The industry standard for medium and big cams is the Black Diamond Camalot C4, which introduced the double axle and revolutionized active protection.

 

WEIGHT

The weight of cams adds up quickly when you consider how much gear trad climbers carry. One strategy to mitigate the weight is to learn which pieces are necessary to protect a route before leaving the ground and then only bring what you need.

In multipitch scenarios however, climbers often carry a nearly complete rack in order to protect all sizes of cracks they may find on the route. In 2016, Black Diamond released their Ultralight Camalots, which shave considerable weight off their cams. Metolius, on the other hand, completely replaced their Mastercam and TCU lines with the Ultralight versions.

 

NUMBER OF LOBES

Modern spring-loaded camming devices can have either three or four cam lobes. All medium to big cams have four lobes for maximum surface area and stability in placements. In small sizes however, you may find yourself deciding between three or four lobes. Four lobe cams can occasionally walk into cracks, whereas three lobe cams can walk out of cracks. While the two designs are essentially interchangeable in small placements, three lobe cams have narrower heads and are often a better choice in tighter spots.

 

OFFSET CAMS

An offset cam, also known as a hybrid cam, is built with two lobes of one size and two lobes of the neighboring size. These specialty cams are useful in flared cracks where the size of the opening changes from front to back. They are more commonly used in places where trad routes were originally aid climbed and pinscars remain in the rock to place protection in. If you are using cams for aid climbing, offset cams are a great choice.

 

MAINTENANCE

Always inspect your climbing gear for visible damage. If you are concerned, several cam manufacturing companies will inspect your cams for you as well. The trigger wires and slings are often the first places on the cam to show wear, but both can usually be replaced. Always ensure your cams are clean and dry, and store them away from UV light and corrosive materials. If your cams get wet they can easily be dried and re-lubed.

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