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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 the Best Climbing Nuts.

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Quick Answer - The Best Climbing Cams

  1. Black Diamond Camalot C4
  2. Wildcountry Friends
  3. Black Diamond Camalot X4
  4. Metolius Ultralight Mastercam
  5. Metolius Ultralight TCU
  6. DMM Dragon Cam
  7. Trango Flex
  8. Fixe Alien

 

Comparison Table - Best Climbing Cams

PictureNameWeight ClassNumber AvailablePriceRating
Black Diamond Camalot C4Average10$$5.0
Wildcountry FriendsLight8$$5.0
Black Diamond Camalot X4Average6$$$4.8
Metolius Ultralight MastercamUltralight10$4.8
Metolius Ultralight TCUUltralight7$4.7
DMM Dragon CamAverage8$$4.9
Trango FlexAverage9$4.5
Fixe AlienLight6$$3.0
PictureNameWeight ClassNumber AvailablePriceRating

Reviews - The Best Cams for Rock Climbing

Black Diamond Camalot C4

Specs
  • Number Available: 10
  • Size: 13.8-195mm
  • Weight Class: Average

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

CAM LOBES: Four

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

Wildcountry Friends

Specs
  • Number Available: 8
  • Size: 20.6-194mm
  • Weight Class: Light

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

CAM LOBES: Four

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

Black Diamond Camalot X4

Specs
  • Number Available: 6
  • Size: 8.4-41.2mm
  • Weight Class: Average

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

CAM LOBES: Four

OFFSET AVAILABLE: Yes

Metolius Ultralight Mastercam

Specs
  • Number Available: 10
  • Size: 8.5-71.5mm
  • Weight Class: Ultralight

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

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

CAM LOBES: Four

OFFSET AVAILABLE: Yes

Metolius Ultralight TCU

Specs
  • Number Available: 7
  • Size: 6.6-35.5mm
  • Weight Class: Ultralight

PROS: Lightest cams available

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

CAM LOBES: Three

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

DMM Dragon Cam

Specs
  • Number Available: 8
  • Size: 13-114mm
  • Weight Class: Average

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

CONS: No thumb loop makes it difficult for aid climbing

CAM LOBES: Four

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

Trango Flex

Specs
  • Number Available: 9
  • Size: 11-107mm
  • Weight Class: Average

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

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

CAM LOBES: Four

OFFSET AVAILABLE: No

Fixe Alien

Specs
  • Number Available: 6
  • Size: 8-33mm
  • Weight Class: Light

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

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

CAM LOBES: Four

OFFSET AVAILABLE: Yes

 

 

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.

READ MORE

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