|Editors Choice: Black Diamond C4|
|Best Overall Small Cams: Black Diamond Z4|
|Most Features: Black Diamond C4 Ultralight|
|Wild Country Friends|
|Cult Following: Totem Cams|
|DMM Dragon Cams|
|Best Beginner Cams: Metolius Ultralight Master Cams|
We took a look at all of the available rock climbing cams that are on the market today and came up with a list of the best climbing cams. All the cams on our list have their own strengths and weaknesses. And you can’t really go wrong with choosing any of these climbing cams.
But we want to make sure that you get the best bang for your buck. We don’t have any issue shelling out extra cheddar if its worth it. And some of the best climbing cams are a bit more expensive. We’ll happily pay that premium if the features we receive in return make it worth our while. We spend a lot of time thinking about rock climbing cams for our own benefit as well as yours.
We here at ORB have spent a lot of time researching gear. Whether it was preparing for our time as an AMGA Single Pitch Instructor or coding our gear research tool, we want to make sure consumers are properly informed.
Complimenting your rack with the best climbing cams is just the first part of the journey. You’ll want to supplement it with a set of the best climbing nuts so you can protect any climbing you might encounter.
Table of Contents
- Best Climbing Cams
- How do I choose a cam for climbing?
- What is a rock climbing cam?
- Styles of Cams
- How many cams do I need for climbing?
- What are cams made of?
- How many cam lobes are in a camming device?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Review Criteria
Best Climbing Cams
- Editors Choice Black Diamond Camalot C4
- Best Small Cams: Black Diamond Z4
- Most Features: Black DIamond Camalot Ultralight
- Wild Country Friends
- Cult Following: Totem Cams
- DMM Dragon Cams
- Metolius Ultralight Master Cams
Editors Choice: Black Diamond Camalot C4
The Black Diamond Camalot C4 is the gold standard climbing cam and recent improvements have shaved 10% of weight off of these workhorses.
- The color to size scheme is the standard for most climbers
- Huge range of sizes
- Excellent value for the price
- New trigger keeper on #4 and up
- Heavier than other cams
- No extendable sling
- Wider cam head prevents tight placements
The Black Diamond C4 is the gold standard for climbing cams. These cams are the best option when you are just starting out trad climbing and building your first trad rack. They’re the best starter camming device because they’re affordable, durable, and there’s a huge range between sizes.
The smallest C4 comes in at 0.3 (range of 0.54 – 0.92 inches) to the #8 (covering 7.6 – 12.6 inches). When you first build your rack, you need to cover a wide range of sizes to fit all the possible protection options on a climb. We recommend going from #0.3 – #3, which will be seven cams, for your first trad rack.
And don’t break the bank dishing out for expensive cams if you’re still figuring things out. Test drive some friends cams first if you have the opportunity. Climbers happily spray their opinions about everything, don’t hesitate to ask people at the gym or online for their opinions
Black Diamond has constantly refined, tweaked, and innovated on the C4. The most recent release of the C4 managed to shave 10% of its weight. But despite that, it is still heavier than other cams on the market (like the Z4, C4 Ultralight, and Wild Country Zero). If you’re racking up triples, this could be a concern. But it is a negligible difference for a single rack.
|Weight (1 inch size)||3.28oz|
Best Small Cams: Black Diamond Z4
The Black Diamond Z4 climbing cam combines the best features of the X4 and C3 and offers the smallest cams on the market today.
- Narrow head width fits into tight placements
- Color scheme matches other Black Diamond cams
- Smallest micro cam on market
- RigidFlex stem is stiff while placing and flexible once placed
- More expensive than a C4
- Largest size is #.75
The Black Diamond Z4 Cams are the most recently created cams on the market. Black Diamond developed these cams as a replacement for the X4 and C3 cams. The Z4 covers a range from small micro cams, up to 0.75. These small cams are great to have for finger sized cracks.
The Z4 is the culmination of product research by Black Diamond. Many climbers liked the predecessors, the C3 and X4, for two different reasons. The C3 cam has a rigid stem. And that was a huge benefit when trying to place the cam in a small crack. The stiff stem made it easy to drag the head into a perfect placement.
But once the cam was placed and you started climbing, it was nice to have the flexible stem to prevent the cam walking out of its placement. And that’s where the X4 shined. Flexible stems give you more breathing room on a wandery route to prevent a cam walking.
Depending on the size, the cam will be either single or double axle. The 0, 0.1, and 0.2 are all single and 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, and 0.75 are a double axle design.
The lobes are made of a soft aluminum that have been sandblasted to improve grip on the rock. The cams are slung with a Dynex (Dyneema or high molecular weight polyethylene).
|Weight (1 inch piece)||2.71oz|
Most Features: Black Diamond C4 Ultralight
The Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight shaves 25% of the C4 weight while maintaining all the features and durability you’d expect.
- Widest range of the ultralight cam category
- Ergonomic thumb loop
- Less durable due to weight saving needs
- Range is only 0.4 – 4
The Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight is an innovation on the regular C4 camalot. These cams are spectacular, have all the same features, and they weigh 25% less than their C4 cousins. Black Diamond spent a considerable amount of time engineering weight reductions in all the right places on the ultralights.
They used a smaller diameter trigger wire and a dyneema core that runs from the thumb loop to the lobes. This dyneema core is then protected by a lightweight stem that is still durable. Black Diamond also managed to shave some weight on the cam lobes while still providing the holding power you expect.
The dynex core does lead to one concern with this spring loaded camming device. Since the core is dyneema instead of metal, the lifespan is shorter than other devices. The official instructions from the ultralight user manual is that the lifespan is less than ten years. You should regularly inspect your gear and when in doubt, throw it out.
|Weight (1 inch size)||2.61oz|
Wild Country Friends
If you want thumb loops, extendable slings, and the color to size scheme that you’re used to. Pick up some Wild Country Friends for your rack.
- Thumb loop
- Extendable sling
- Color and sizing scheme matches Black Diamond
- Sling strength reduced when extended
Wild Country Friends remind me of a climbing cam that took the best features of the Black Diamond C4 and the DMM Dragon cams. The Friend has a thumb loop, standard color and size scheme, and also has an extendable sling. The extendable sling is a great feature because it reduces the number of quickdraws you might need on a pitch. I also love making use of the extendable sling to clip two anchor components together with one carabiner.
Wild Country Friends aren’t the lightest cam in the bunch. The 0.75 size comes in at 115 grams, while the Z4, C4, and C4 Ultralight all come in at 93, 107.5, and 89.02 respectively. So if weight is your biggest concern, check out those options instead.
But I do love Wild Country Friends, because despite the additional features and a world gone mad with inflation, the price has remained affordable and consistent. Big thank you to Wild Country for keeping dollars in our pockets on that front.
The Friend climbing cam has been around the climbing scene for four decades. That’s an incredible run for this piece of technology first invented by Ray Jardine. I think these are a great cam for your starter rack and supplement C4’s very nicely.
|Weight (1 inch size)||3.11oz|
Cult Following: Totem Cams
Totem Cams are an aid climbers dream thanks to their ability to hold weight on only two lobes, but they are also great to use when free climbing.
- Each side can be loaded independently
- Multiple loops come in handy when aid climbing
- Flexible stem
- Can be hard to find in the USA
- Extended sling not as long as DMM Dragon Cam
Totem cams jumped on the scene and were a huge hit. Everyone on the mountain project forums was figuring out how they could get this mythical protection stateside. Thankfully, there a bit easier to get in the USA these days. But they come at a pretty penny.
Totem cams have some standout features that really attracted rock climbers. First, is that the lobes can be weighted independently. This is a huge feature for aid climbing. If you can only fit one lobe in flared cracks or pin scars, you can clip one of the loops and weight it. This is not recommended for catching falls, only aid climbing.
The second awesome feature is that they are incredibly flexible because there is no stem running in the middle. This design leaves the center wide open so the cam can handle any wandery route.
The black totem has also reached peak meme level status rivaling the pink tricam. And for good reason, the black totem can seemingly fit anywhere that other cams can’t. The totems excel in their smaller sizes.
|Weight (1 inch size)||3.35oz|
DMM Dragon Cams
Dragon Cams are a durable and well crafted climbing cam that are comfortable to use and come with an extendable sling.
- Extendable slings
- Ergonomic thumb press
- No thumb loop
When I first saw the dragon cams online, I loved them. I thought that it was a no brainer to have an extendable sling. And it does come in handy. The extendable sling is great to have if the carabiner is being levered on the rock in a suspicious way. I can quickly extend the sling and resolve the issue.
But I have had a lot of issues with the slings themselves. The DMM Dragon Cams are slung with a sling that has a thick bar tack on one side. If I don’t pull the side with the bar tack, it will get jammed up in the cam. Taking a second to verify I’m pulling the correct side of the sling is frustrating while free climbing.
Dragon cams are also one of the more difficult cams to clean. This isn’t because of a narrow head width or anything to do with the lobe. It is difficult because of the extendable sling and no thumb loop.
|Weight (1 inch size)||3.4oz|
Metolius Ultralight Master Cams
The Metolius Ultralight Master Cams are affordable and lightweight cams that also come with the RangeFinder feature which can benefit newer trad climbers.
- Rangefinder is helpful for newer trad climbers
- Great price
- No thumb loop
- Single axle cams have less range than double axle cams
The Metolius Ultralight Master Cam have a few awesome features going for it. They’re a great price, they’re very light, and they have a rangefinder to help find good placements. We also love that these climbing cams are hand built near the Metolius River in Bend, Oregon
These cams are one of the lightest cams you can get. Only the Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight is lighter. But the Metolius Ultralight Master Cam does come with less features. The rangefinder on the ultralight master cams is great to have if you’re a new climber.
The rangefinder has three different colors: green, yellow, and red. The cam lobes will have a series of dots ranging from green to red. As you contract the cam and place it in a crack, you’ll be able to visually inspect which zone is touching the rock. This doesn’t take into account other placement factors like rock quality, but it’s helpful nonetheless. The RangeFinder is only present on cam sizes 2-8.
We aren’t a huge fan of these cams because there isn’t a thumb loop. And while these cams are really light, we have heard some durability concerns. Specifically we heard that some users had the trigger wires break. For some climbers, no thumb loop isn’t an issue. But aid climbers will miss not having the ability to clip in a few inches higher.
|Weight (1 inch size)||2.3oz|
How do I choose a cam for climbing?
- Budget: What is your budget?
- Style: What style of rock climbing do you want to do?
- Free or Aid: Will you be aid climbing or free climbing?
- Fast and Light: Do you need lightweight cams?
Rock climbers all have different tastes and preferences when it comes to the gear they use. A huge factor in their preferences will be the style of climbing they are about to do. A climber could have a very different rack depending if they want to go free climbing or aid climbing. Cams will have different strengths and weaknesses and it’s up to you to determine the trade off that you want to make.
The best way to get familiar with cams, is to climb with a variety of more experienced climbers. Chances are that they will all have different racks and each one will have chosen their gear for different reasons. Some climbers may go with the budget option. Some may buy the top of the line to get the lightest cams for their alpine ascents. It all depends
If you’re looking for an all-rounder cam, you can’t go wrong with the Black Diamond c4. Black Diamond has been a climber’s brand for years and years.The C4 and Ultralight C4 they manufacture will be found at any crag you go to in the world.
What is a rock climbing cam?
In rock climbing, a cam (short for camming device), is a piece of trad climbing gear that is used to protect the climber during a fall.
Cams are considered active protection because the cam lobes expand and contract when the thumb trigger is pulled. When the lobes are contracted, the cam is placed into the rock wall. Once the thumb trigger is released, the lobes expand against the rock wall securing the cam in place.
You’ll also see cams referred to as SLCD’s, which is an acronym for spring loaded camming devices.
Cams come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Micro cams are tiny and can fit in the smallest of placements. Another innovation is the offset cam. An offset cam will have two pairs of lobes that are in different sizes. The reason for the offset sizing is so the cam can be placed securely in a flared crack.
Back in the old days, pitons were used for protection. And over time these pitons caused the rock to expand at its placement. Now we can use offset cams to protect these flares.
Styles of Cams
Some styles of modern cams are:
- Offset cams
- Micro cams
- Single axle cams
- Double axle cams
- Omega Pacific Link Cams (multiple active components)
- Three lobes
- Four lobes
How many cams do I need for climbing?
You’ll need seven cams at the minimum.
The standard rack of cams at most climbing areas will be from .3 inches to 3 inches. Supplement these cams with a set of climbing nuts will be enough to protect most climbs.
It’s common to double up on some sizes as well. Before you head up the wall, ask your partner to bring their cam and you can take a few extras just in case. I always like to climb with a few extra cams instead of not enough.
You can also take a look at the guidebook for the area to get the protection beta. These books will list a standard rack for the area. That standard rack will cover a majority of the trad climbs. And the route descriptions in the book will make a note if you should bring an extra number 2 or not.
What are cams made of?
A climbing cam will typically be made of some form of metal (sometimes aluminum alloy), nylon, and dyneema.
How many cam lobes are in a camming device?
Camming devices typically have four lobes. These lobes contract and expand when they are placed in the rock.
The Black Diamond C3 Cam was a popular cam that had only three lobes.
Frequently Asked Questions
The smallest cams will weigh an ounce while a typical cam will weigh a few ounces.
A cam will cost anywhere from 70 to 100 dollars.
A totem cam is a great cam for aid climbing, while Black Diamond Camalot C4 are excellent all around cams.
A micro cam is a small cam that can fit in the tiniest of cracks and still provide protection for the climber.
Cam stands for camming device, also known as spring loaded camming device (SLCD).
Climbing cams are placed into the rock while rock climbing and protect the climber in the event of a fall.
In rock climbing, bomber means that a placement is solid and secure, not even a bomb going off could mess up this placement.
We looked at the following review criteria when reviewing climbing nuts:
We wanted to find the nuts that would perform the best in a wide variety of terrain. You can read more about our review criteria.