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Climbing Cam Buyers Guide

So, you have decided to get into traditional climbing? If yes, then it is time to get a pair of climbing cams that assist you in climbing. You should go for a reliable set of cams that are durable and can bear the entire load without any malfunctions.

Buying a climbing cam isn't easy at all because there are plenty of components. A climbing cam is an essential component, so it isn’t a good idea to compromise on the quality.

To help you in buying the best climbing cams, we are here with a comprehensive buyer’s guide. The guide comprises various factors that you should check in a climbing cam before buying it.

Read on to know more about the components of a climbing cam and the factors that will influence your buying decision.

What is a climbing cam? And what is its anatomy?

A climbing cam is a spring-loaded mechanism that assists in climbing upwards with ultimate protection. It is one of the essential mountaineering components that contain multiple lobes and axles.

The climbing cam allows you to attach a rope or a sling. The climbing cam helps in climbing on steep rocks and cracks where climbing is hard. You will get ultimate protection from the cam because it has a spring-loaded mechanism that prevents the jerk, and the climbing rope or sling remains in place.

Anatomy of a climbing cam

A climbing cam isn’t a simple device because of the components it has. Also, it is important to understand its anatomy to find out what components the cam has and how they work.

Below we have explained the anatomy of a climbing cam that will help you in understating the mountaineering tool better.

Lobes

There can be multiple lobes in a climbing cam. Some of them have four lobes, whereas some climbing cams have three lobes. The lobes rotate around the axles and bear the entire load of the climbing cam.

The choice of the number of lobes is a personal preference and skill level. Climbing cams with more lobes are heavy and expensive as well.

Cam angle

The cam angle is something important because it impacts the performance and stability of the cam. Usually, the angle of the cam is around 12.5° to 14°. A climbing cam with a tighter angle will reward you with extra outward force. However, the placement of the device will be smaller.

Always consider the cam angle to ensure that you are buying the right climbing cam.

Axle

Climbing cams either come with a single axle or two axles depending on the type of cam you are buying. With a climbing cam with a dual axle, you get a better placement range. However, they are pricey and can be difficult to use.

Springs

Every lobe of the climbing cam is held by a spring that helps it attain the widest position while keeping it in place. The quality of the spring should be good so that it can bear the force created by stretching it.

Stem

The load of the climber and the gear is transferred to the stem through the axles. Usually, the stem of the climbing cam is made using steel wire. The stem is flexible, and it ensures added durability, especially on the horizontal cracks.

Clip-in point

The clip-in point helps in reducing the rope drag and therefore keeps the climbing cam secure in place. Most climbing cams available in the market have loops attached to the stem that lets you use it as a clip-in point.

Now that you know about the anatomy of a climbing cam let's get to the factors you should consider before buying it.

Things to consider when buying a climbing cam

A climbing cam is an essential mountaineering device, so you should ensure that it is durable and easy to use. Below we have listed various factors that will influence the performance of a climbing cam.

From its range to cam lobes and axles, we have covered almost everything that you should take into account when purchasing climbing cam.

Most traditional climbers carry a set of climbing cams because of their versatility and ease of use. Yes, the cams can be a bit pricey, but it is important to have a set of reliable cams.

When purchasing climbing cams, you need to focus on a variety of things such as the stem design, offset cams, number of axles, and much more.

Cam lobes

As discussed earlier, climbing cams are available in different options. Some of them have three cam lobes, whereas some have four cam lobes. Whenever you climb down, the lobes bear the entire load and hold the rock so that you get a stable position, and the rope doesn't move too much.

Climbing cams with four lobes

There is a hype going around that climbing cams with four lobes are better than cams with three lobes in every aspect. Yes, climbing cams with four lobes are good, but there are some aspects where you will find the three cam lobes setup better.

There are four lobes instead of three, so the cam will have better contact with the surface of the rock, and that means improved stability.

However, there are a few downsides to using a climbing cam with four lobes, and that is the weight and the size. Due to the four lobes, the cam becomes wide, and it isn't useful for shallower cracks.

Pros

  • Highly durable
  • More secure placement
  • Ideal for wider cracks

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Not great for shallow cracks

Climbing cams with three lobes

Climbing cams with three lobes are great for shallow cracks due to the less width. With these cams, you can climb in the tight places, and the setup remains stable and doesn’t move quickly.

If you think that a climbing cam with four lobes isn't right for you, then you should go for cams with three lobes. The cam is lightweight due to lesser lobes, and remains stable in the rock.

Pros

  • Ideal for narrow cracks
  • Lightweight
  • Cheaper than cams with four lobes

Cons

  • Less stability than cams with four lobes

Stem design

The stem is a critical component of the climbing cam, so you should ensure that it is of the right type and strength. Usually, the stems of the climbing cams are rigid, and they are extremely durable because steel wires are used to manufacture them.

These days most of the climbing cams come with flexible cams so that they bend without breaking down. The design of the stem will impact the placement of the cam in the horizontal cracks.

When looking for a climbing cam, you will find the following designs in stem:

U-stems

The reasons why they are termed as U-stems is due to the shape. The climbing cam is easy to use, and you can operate it using your thumb and forefinger. Most mountaineers find these cams better when compared to climbing cams with single-stem design.

However, there are a few things that you may feel are impacting the performance of the climbing cam. Due to the significant profile of the stem, the cam is difficult to use in shallow cracks with less space.

Pros

  • If you know how to use a climbing cam, it will be easy for you to use cams with U-stem
  • Easy to retract when compared to cams with single-stems

Cons

  • The profile is big, so it can be hard to use in small spaces
  • If you have bigger fingers, then the curved portion will be difficult to use

Single-cable stems

The common stem design that comes with climbing cams is the single-cable stem. Furthermore, the stem is extremely durable, and the flexibility is fantastic. You can use the climbing cam in shallow cracks due to the slim profile.

If you have large hands, then you will find these climbing cams easy to operate. The only downside to the stem design is that you can only use one finger to operate it.

Pros

  • The slim profile makes it ideal for shallow cracks
  • Easy to operate

Cons

  • You can use only one finger to operate it

It is important to ensure that the stem design is easy to operate so that you don’t face any difficulties while using it. It is essential to choose the right type of stem design based on the pros and cons listed above.

Expansion range

Expansion range is something you should never overlook when buying a climbing cam or a set. The range of the cam depends on its type. When you go for a climbing cam with large expansion, you can fit it in various places due to the expansion range. On the other hand, climbing cams with shorter expansion ranges are suitable for few places only.

If you carry a set of climbing cams with large cams, then you don't need more cams because of the extra expansion. The cams are good for using at various places, and that is why you don't need multiple cams.

But if you are a beginner and you don’t have such big goals, you can consider climbing cams with small ones. These cams are lightweight and cheaper as compared to cams with larger expansion range.

Number of axles

Climbing cams are available in two options:

  • Cams with single axle
  • Cams with double axle

The choice depends on multiple things, such as where you want to use the climbing cam and its size. Below we have explained both types so that you can make a decision quickly.

Climbing cams with single axle

Climbing cams with single axles are lightweight and affordable. Also, they are compact so that you can carry a set without any issues. These are the basic climbing cams that are good for beginners as well as intermediate climbers.

However, the expansion range is not that good because of the compactness and lightweight.

Pros

  • Light in weight
  • Affordable
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • The expansion range isn’t that great

Climbing cams with double axle

Climbing cams with double axles have the ultimate expansion range. Also, they are incredibly durable and are stronger as compared to cams with a single axle.

The weight of the climbing cam is more because of the double axles, and that can be a bit problematic. However, there is no need to carry a set of cams due to the great expansion range.

Pros

  • Excellent expansion range
  • There is no need to carry a set

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Expensive as compared to cams with single axle

Spring-loaded wedges

The climbing cam is a piece of safety equipment that comes with small sliding mechanisms known as spring-loaded wedges. The wedges of the cam help in its expansion after you place it inside the crack. The spring retracts the mechanism of the cam so that it holds the surface, and you get a stable position for climbing.

There are many benefits of buying a climbing cam with a spring-loaded wedge, such as it can fit into a small place with ultimate stability.

Pros

  • You can fit the cam in a small place
  • Excellent strength rating
  • Lightweight as compared to regular cams

Cons

  • It can be hard to clean
  • The size is small, so they are not wide for big cracks
  • The versatility is less when compared to climbing cams with nuts

Offset cams

If you need something extraordinary, go for an offset cam that has two smaller and two larger lobes. You get a combination of two types of cams in one, so there is no need to carry different cams. You can use the cams in small as well as wider cracks.

Most of the trad-climbers use a set of cams with offset and non-offset cams to use them with different types of surfaces. There is a multitude of brands that manufacture durable offset cams for climbing enthusiasts.

Weight

Every ounce counts when you are climbing, so it is essential to get the right weight that you can carry with ease. Weight is something you should always check after checking the expansion range of the cam.

The cams are available in a range of options with varying weights. So, check the weight of the rack and make sure that you can carry it along with your climbing gear.

Passive strength

Go for a climbing cam with passive strength to ensure extra durability and safety. When you buy a climbing cam with passive strength, you get some extra margin in terms of safety.

Color-coded

Always buy climbing cams of different colors so that you can quickly find out which cam to use at a particular point. Buying the cams of the same color code can land you in a state of confusion. When selecting different climbing cams for your set, choose different colors, and make the climbing experience easy and fun.

Sewn slings

Usually, all types of climbing cams have sewn slings. Some cams have single swings, whereas some have double slings. Buying cams with double slings can be a great idea as you can extend the length of the sling whenever required. Also, the durability of climbing cams with double slings is better when compared to cams with single slings.

With time the slings will fray due to the abrasion caused by the rocks. Always check the quality of the sling to ensure that it lasts longer, and there is no need to replace it after a few climbing seasons.

Durability

Climbing cams should be durable so that you get good support from it. There are multiple things you should check in a climbing cam before buying it. These things include triggers, design, and the material of the cam.

Always buy cams that are durable and are sturdy. The best thing that you can do is checking some customer reviews to understand the durability of the climbing cam.

Finish quality

The trigger action of the climbing cam unit should be smooth and firm throughout its range so that you get a good experience with it. The cam should snap perfectly whenever you click the trigger. Have a closer look at the finishing and check the edges of the cam to ensure that they are smooth.

Every component of the climbing cam should have a proper fit and finish in order to ensure durability. It would be great to compare different climbing cams to determine the fit and finish before buying it.

Warranty

Warranty is something you should never overlook when buying climbing cams. Check the warranty to make sure that you are backed up by the manufacturers in terms of any manufacturing defects.

Price

The price of the climbing cam depends on its size and configuration. It would be best if you plan your budget before searching for a climbing cam. You should buy a set of multiple cams in order to use them according to the size of the crack and the surface of the rocks.

FAQs: Best Climbing Cam

Q: How many cams do I need?

A: The choice of the number of cams depends on multiple factors such as the type of climbing and the cams you are buying. If you are going for a cam with a bigger expansion range, then there is no need to buy multiple cams because you can adjust the expansion range.

On the other hand, if you are buying climbing cams with a smaller expansion range, then you need a set of cams.

Q: How to take care of a climbing cam?

A: It is crucial to maintain the climbing cam so that it functions properly, and there are no issues with its strength. Here are some maintenance tips to keep in mind when buying climbing cams.

Clean the cam regularly

Always keep the cams clean so that there are no chances of rusting or wearing out. Whenever they get wet, use a soft cloth or a towel to dry the water. UV light can cause multiple damages to the sling, so it is essential to keep them protected.

In order to clean the climbing cam, you should put the cam’s head into boiling water so that it gets thoroughly cleaned.

Now put the entire setup in lukewarm water with a few drops of detergent and use a toothbrush to scrub off the dust and dirt. Repeat the process a few times, and dry the cam in the shade.

Lubricate its components

If you want all the components of the climbing cam to work properly, it is important to lube them regularly. Use a good quality waterproof lube that doesn’t wash off when you are using the cam for climbing.

We suggest using a graphite-based lube because they are ideal for climbing cams. Always lubricate the climbing cams after you wash them.

Maintain them

If you follow a proper maintenance regime, you can expect the climbing cam to last for around 10-15 years without any issues. Keep an eye on the components of the climbing cam, and keep some extra slings with you so that you can replace them when the existing one wears out.

Here are some components you should replace:

  • Replace the sling after every 8-10 years
  • Replace the sling after it starts fading
  • Replace the sling after it shows signs of abrasion
  • Replace the sling after the stitches start wearing out

You should replace the entire climbing cam unit after it has encountered some severe injuries like falling off from height. It is essential for you to have a climbing cam that works properly and helps you to climb easily and stably.

Conclusion

With all these points in mind, it will be easy for you to buy the best climbing cam. Make a list of climbing cams that you like and then compare them based on the factors. We have listed almost everything you should know about the cams.

From the axle to the sling and the spring-loaded mechanism, there are plenty of things to check. Before buying the unit, consider going through some customer reviews to ensure that you are purchasing the right climbing cam.

Lastly, check the warranty and have your budget in mind to buy the cam under your budget.

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