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Totem Cam Review

   

Climbing Cams

  • Currently 4.8/5
Overall avg rating 4.8 of 5 based on 17 reviews. Most recent review: July 25, 2014
Street Price:   $80 | Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Decent range, cool technology, don't walk, get in tight placements.
Cons:  Floppy “stem,” soft cam lobes, bulky.
Best Uses:  Aid climbing in specialized applications
User Rating:     
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 (5.0 of 5) based on 16 reviews
Recommendations:  100% of reviewers (16/16) recommend this product
Manufacturer:   Totem Cams
Review by: Robert Beno and Chris McNamara ⋅ July 23, 2014  
Overview
The Totem Cams are an awesome aid climbing piece that are bomber where other cams aren't. They can even work where offset cams don't. We recommend a set on your big wall climbing rack but for the bulk of our rack we still mainly carry Black Diamond Camalot C4s for the big cams and Metolius Master Cams for small cams. For free climbing, we just stick to Camalot and Master Cams because the Totem cams are bulky and less essential (you generally encounter less pins scars and weird flares when free climbing). The innovative design itself had unique pros that also led to some drawbacks. The cam design completely deviates from other cams. For starters, these cams have no solid stem but a system of cables. This provides a super flexible cam stem that is useful for horizontal placements and cutting down on walking, but actually works against you when placing the piece because the "stem" is hyper flexible and bends around at inopportune times. The "stems" of these cams are also super wide and rack in probably the most bulky way that could be imagined for cams of this design.

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Likes
The main reason to get this cam is it will fit in awkward pods that you often encounter on big walls. You can also load the cams with only two lobes contacting the rock. This fact, coupled with their increased holding power in flaring placements, makes them an ideal specialty aid piece.

We appreciated the increased range that these cams have; although not the best range we tested, it's pretty good.

The thing that we liked most about these is the innovative thinking that went into the design. Totem Cams make a complete departure from traditional cam design and create something that is new, exciting, and functional.

We liked the increased security in downward flared placements (up to 40 degrees according to Totem's website). We also found the design of the cable system replacing a traditional stem to be interesting. The cables that provide the backbone of the cam, essentially replacing the stem, are attached directly to the lobe and when the unit is weighted actually pull on the lobes, generating a greater outward pull.

These cams walked less than just about any cam we tested due to their flexible body. You can free climb with fewer slings and quickdraws.

The color coding is a pretty close match to the Black Diamond Camalot C4, which makes these easy to incorporate into a Black Diamond climbing rack.

A recent review by Roberto Blasi of the Spanish Alpinism School (found here in Spanish) discusses the unique design of the "stem" on the Totem Cams and how its design was particularly advantageous in Montserrat (Barcelona, Catalunya).

Dislikes
Unfortunately the innovative design features that provide some of the Totem Cams positive attributes are also the source of some of the cams' greatest drawbacks, the most notable being the lack of a traditional stem. These cams have a system of cables that attach directly to a pin in the cam lobes and serve as the load bearing portion of the cam. This feature creates a very flexible cam body that, while useful in horizontal placements and helps cut down on walking, actually makes the pieces harder to place. They have a tendency to bend and flex at inopportune times. It is also unclear, given that we only tested the cams for months and not years, whether long-term use will increase the flexibility of the cam body, leaving it essentially without structure.

Another drawback is that these cams rack bulky. The sling is oriented in such a way that the widest parts of the cam stack up next to each other. U-stem cam designs, as in the Metolius Supercam, are slung in such a way that the width of U-stems are aligned parallel to each other and do not create a "pile-up" of wide cam stems. This is okay when free climbing with a relatively small rack. If you are aid climbing with a big rack, there is no way you could carry 3-4 sets of these without having a massive clump of gear.

These cams have a relatively small size range that don't cover the tiny sizes or the big sizes. This goes against our cam buying philosophy that the best rack uses one brand for the small sizes (up to 1.25 inches).

These widely available in Europe but very hard to find in the U.S. or at U.S. online retailers.

Personal Stories
One of our climbing partners had a lot of trouble with the Totem Cams as we tested them. Though a talented and strong climber, he tends to frantically place gear, sometimes jamming the cams in without hardly pulling the trigger…just sort of shoving it in there. He found that the floppy cam body design seriously inhibited his ability to place these pieces, and thus his ability to climb. Most people are more careful gear placers. But still, we found that we prefer a little more structure to the cam body.

Value
Expensive. At $70 a piece these cams are among the most expensive cams out there.

Other Reviews
There is a review of Totem Cams for aid climbing

Robert Beno and Chris McNamara

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: July 25, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (5.0)

100% of 16 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
17 Total Ratings
5 star: 94%  (16)
4 star: 6%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
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   Dec 4, 2011 - 01:36pm
rgold · Climber · Poughkeepsie, NY
I've been using Totems for about a year now and am increasingly convinced about their excellence. The review raises valid issues about Totem cams, but the ratings display serious "C4 bias" and are not even consistent with the review text.

Here's how I think the ratings should have come out. When specifying ratings as ordered pairs below, the convention is (Totem score, C4 score).

Flared cracks. Review (8, 8). Corrected: (10, 8).

Comment: Totems are currently the best flared crack cam there is; it is absurd to equate them to C4's in this department. The review says, "We liked the increased security in downward flared placements (up to 40 degrees according to Totem's website)," and later mentions "their increased holding power in flaring placements" and then gives no credit for it vis a vis C4's.

Tight placements. Review (7, 8). Corrected: (10, 8).

Comment: Totems fit all kinds of places C4's won't go because of the narrow head size, which is the same or even slightly better than comparably-sized Aliens, making Totems the best cams out there for tight placements. For those who climb primarily on rock with deep parallel-sided cracks, this may be of little interest, but for areas with shallow irregular placements, Totems provide a substantial advantage.

Walking: Review (8,8). Corrected (9,8).

Comment: The review says "These cams walked less than just about any cam we tested" and then gives them no credit for that vis a vis C4's. In addition to the stem flexibility, there is a touch of "play" in the head assembly that allows for some movement without torquing the cams.

Aid: Review (7, 9). Corrected (9,9).

Comment: The review says, "The main reason to get this cam is it will fit in awkward pods that you often encounter on big walls. You can also load the cams with only two lobes contacting the rock. This fact, coupled with their increased holding power in flaring placements, makes them an ideal specialty aid piece." It then rates them two points lower than the cams they are better than.

Compactness: Review (6, 9). Corrected (8, 9).

Comment: The Totem frame s certainly bulkier than a single-stem C4, and slightly bulkier than a U-stem cam (which is not part of this comparison). I think they look bulky but aren't all that bad on the rack, but I use them for free-climbing, where the review says the bulk is of little consequence. The comparison photos indicate that the extra width at the level of heads is about 10%. That's a one-point disadvantage on a ten-point scale so that's the correction I made.

Total Score: Review (75, 85). Corrected (85, 85).

Comment: I think this is much more like it. In view of the structures, it seems almost certain that C4's will prove more durable than Totems in the long run, (this may be exacerbated because Totems can be used in more placements than C4's and so are likely in practice to get more use).

People making decisions should also attend to the "granite-centric" perspective of the Super Topo reviews, in which an "awkward pod" is something only encountered in big-wall aid climbing. Free climbs on other types of rock can have those "awkward pods" for a majority of placements. Other rock types, such as limestone and some quartzites (e.g. Devil's Lake, Wisonsin), with lower coefficients of friction than granite, will provide more secure placements with the greater holding power afforded by Totems, a fact that has already been realized in Europe. But even on granite, greater holding power is a good thing if the the rock is gritty, wet, or muddy.

Personally, I have never experienced a placement problem related to the flexibility of Totems, and I agree that you can't wax ecstatic about the flexibility of Aliens and then knock Totems for the same quality. The example of someone who jams cams willy-nilly without even triggering them is hardly an argument against flexible cams, unless of course your placement tactics are analogously uncritical.

The one place I don't see any advantage for Totems is in desert sandstone. There is no advantage there for narrow heads, the extra holding power might just means deeper grooving of placements, and the Totem cams lobes are bit narrower than C4's leading to higher pressure at the surface.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
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   Nov 30, 2011 - 07:56pm
Graham · Climber · West coast, BC
‎"This provides a super flexible cam stem that is useful for horizontal placements and cutting down on walking, but actually works against you when placing the piece because the "stem" is hyper flexible and bends around at inopportune times."

This statement makes me question if the reviewer has even climbed with them. Considering the love on of the aliens in their review you would think they would love these as well as, in my opinion they work even better (I only free climb and don't aid). They do not bend at inappropriate times if you are using the trigger like all cams have… The fact that they are super sticky, flexible and do not walk makes me trust every placement -depending on the rock quality of course. This combined with the fact that they have a far narrower head width by far to a c4 means I am getting far more placement options and I will grab a totem over a c4 most of the time, unless it is a parrel placement; which never happens where i climb. -my 2 cents

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
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   Nov 30, 2011 - 12:31pm
hoipolloi · Climber · A friends backyard with the neighbors wifi
Well, having used Totems extensively I really disagree with this review entirely. I have a double set of Totems, I now use them as my go to for both free climbing and aid climbing. I have climbed on these for about 10 months now and done likely a hundred or more free climbing pitches with them and done about 10 walls (8 El Cap routes this year) with them.

There are some truths here, Totem Cams are a bit bulkier than C4's, but having had Totems racked on one side of the harness and C4's on the other, I can say its not so much that it bothers me when I am climbing. Sure, the first few pitches, you notice it, but that is like everything that is new and different, once you have used them a few more times, you get used to it, and its not a problem at all. Also, they are lighter than C4's despite scoring much lower in the 'compactness - lightweight' department.

In regards to the sizes, I carry a double rack of Totems, sometimes I will carry 1 red Totem and 1 red Camalot, above that I use Camalots (there are no Totems in the larger sizes, nor would they excel in those sizes). The smallest Totem, the blue, is very similar in size to a yellow Alien or a .3 or .4 C4, so I often carry C3's to red. Depending on the route I often use Basic cams (similar to Aliens) in the 'tips' size.

In regards to placing Totems, they have more range than other cams, with the unique shape of the lobes they maintain their strength when under-cammed far more than C4's.

For aid climbing, these are an incredible tool, no way would I rate them a 7 while C4's a 9. I wrote an extensive review on aid climbing with Totems here:

Totem Cams: Aid Review

Josh Higgins wrote a free climbing review here:

Pullharder Totem Cam Review

I would recommend getting your hands on these and trying them, I don't really feel this review paints a fair and clear picture. C4's are, without a doubt, the 'standard' for cams, but it doesn't mean there aren't other fantastic products out there. Like everything new and different, you have to give these a fair chance, allow yourself to become comfortable with them, learn the sizes and the intricacies. If you give them that, which I don't know if this review did, I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

-David Allfrey

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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   Sep 5, 2012 - 06:26am
i'm sorry but this review is complete crap for a large part. it needs to be reviewed, no pun.
one really wonders if the reviewer has climbed more than half a pitch with these cams and placed more than two. i hope other gear is not "tested" and then reviewed with similar accuracy on this site.
the personal story and especially the comparison to the C4's are nothing short of ridiculous and show a strong bias towards C4's…
anyway, rgold got it right, I think.
these things are the best camming device available Be it aid or trad or alpine.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 6, 2011 - 11:04am
Studly · Climber · WA
Its hard for me to believe that anyone can rate the Black Diamond cams higher then the Totem cams in ANY situation if they have actually tried them. Both sides of the Totem cams work independently of each other, so that you can literally aid off one side. This results in greatly increased holding power since the cam doesn't move or walk. All you need to do is place a BD cam and a Totem cam in the same placements and figure out for yourself which cam locks off and will hold better, its very obvious. I have a triple rack of almost new BD cams, but after using the Totems, I bought a rack and am slowly switching over to the Totems. The Totem cams placements are way more bomber, and therefore far safer and great peace of mind free climbing, and far outshine the BD cams in aid climbing. I do not notice any "increased bulkiness" when I use them, and they place so quicly and the flexy nature of the stem gives them a Alien-like feel, which I loved. The gear protection of the future is here now. Totems rock!

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Jul 25, 2014 - 12:29am
j-tree · Climber · Classroom to crag to summer camp
This is mostly a review of OGL's review of totems.

Totem cams review: These cams are amazing for free climbing and aid climbing. Though they look bulky, they actually aren't that bulky on your rack. Coupled with another brand of cams, they hang a bit lower than C4s or Mastercams and so that's part of the reason that they're not as bulky as they look out of context.

Review of Outdoor Gear Lab's review: The fact that OGL's "Side-by-side comparison" rates Totems the way they do shows that either the reviewers of this item have no idea what they're talking about or there's some sort of left-hand-not-knowing-what-the-right-hand-is-doing situation. More than anything else, the amount of glowing reviews from many disparate sources and the lack of OGL's adjustment or defense of their review leads me to question any review found on this site. I will be deleting my gear reviews I have submitted over the course of my membership because imo, as long as OGLs travesty of a review of what I consider the second most important advance in aid gear (first being beaks) exists, I can't in good faith, have any faith in this site.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Dec 23, 2012 - 12:29pm
Mark Hudon · Climber · Hood River, OR
I used two sets of these cams on Lost in America and Native Son with Max Jones and Cheyne Lempe this fall. None of us had had prior experience with them before these routes but we all immediately loved them. By the end of the climbs, these were deemed the go-to cam on the rack.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Jul 23, 2012 - 12:42pm
Josh Higgins · Climber · San Diego, CA
The OGL review of these cams leaves a lot to be desired. I've been free climbing on these since before they were released to the public, and they've gone with me on essentially every trip I've been on since I received them. They're absolutely fantastic pieces that protect where no other cam can.

A few points that were ignored in the OGL review: These cams have the same expansion range as C4's and in similar sizes are actually on average marginally lighter.

They place spectacularly in weird placements, which is mentioned, but I'd like to note that this benefits free climbers as much as aid climbers (I've had gear pull in falls!).

The last anecdote about the "strong and talented" climber who can't set the cams is absolutely foolish to put in a gear review. Just because someone can't competently pull a cam's trigger and put it in a crack does not mean it is a fault of the piece. It's like blaming the grigri when climbers get dropped. User error, 100%.

Also, FYI, Chris demonstrates a way of clipping the cam that Totem explicitly says to never use.

I could go on, but if you'd like a very thorough review of the cams check out my write up from a free-climbing perspective: http://pullharder.org/2010/09/05/totem-cam-review/
From an aid climber's perspective: http://davidallfrey.blogspot.com/2011/09/totem-cams-aid-review.html

Josh

Edit: I'm laughing because I just noticed that Hoipolloi already linked our reviews below. Oops!

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jul 12, 2012 - 12:40pm
Plaidman · Climber · South Slope of Mt. Tabor, Portland, Oregon, USA
I have been climbing on my set of doubles and the 3 I have in the .65 Blue and .80 Yellow for over a year and 6 months. I get out almost every weekend, so they are getting out on the rock a lot.
I have not noticed any undue wear on the trigger wires. That has always been the most prevalent concern when I show them to other climbers. These cams are rock solid. I LOVE em.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jul 11, 2012 - 10:39pm
burghschred · Snowboarder · Bend, OR
I have to say I fully agree with the above user reviews. Rgold hit the nail right on the head. I love all the great info Outdoor Gear Lab has to offer, and I think Chris usually does a great job with reviews - That said, this one does not jive with the rest. I don't want to re-state what Rgold and others have noted, but those numbers are way off track compared to the actual written review. Most obviously the fact that it scores lower in narrow placements despite having by FAR the narrowest head… and on and on.

It's been a while since Rgolds critique, and with Chris McNamara having just added a video review (did that just get pulled while I was writing this?) you'd think they would update those numbers or AT LEAST put some sort of explanation for the vast discrepancies. I mean, in the video he says that for aiding, they are BETTER than aliens (which, from the way he says it, you just assume are better than c4's). And then gives them a 7/10 for aiding when camalots and aliens both get a 9. Seems like from his connotations, camalots should be around an 8, aliens a 9, totems a 10? Even more odd is that they score the same as camalots for Free Climbing, though he says they aren't quite as good for that. Whats the point of a side-by-side comparison if the numbers aren't relative to… anything? Expert reviews + side-by-side… you'd think they would be consistent.

Anyways, to be honest I have no experience aid climbing and relatively little experience leading on gear (<2 years). I am just building my rack out now and got a full set of Totem's to double up on my Camalots and Master Cams. The totems definitely walk less than the others in my experience. Maybe my lack of experience makes it easier for me to place them, but I haven't had any trouble placing despite the (awesomely) flexible stem. I bought them so that if I need to use them in horizontals at the Gunks or Lovers Leap, or aid climbing eventually, I can do that. They are more versatile than having two sets of the same cams, IMO. C4's are fantastic, but I am glad I got a set of these instead of a second set of c4's. They really are confidence inspiring when you climb past them and don't see them wiggling around, they just stick where they are placed.

Overall, Totem is a great company making some amazing gear. Don't let this review dissuade you from purchasing their great products. The totem basics are awesome too, cheaper and better than Fixe aliens IMHO (I have one Fixe and 3 basics). You will NOT be disappointed.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 6, 2011 - 11:53am
Couchmaster · Pacific Northwet
There are several solid reviews already on this thread, all glowing and positive. I totally agree with Rgold, Studly, Graham and Holipoi on how good these lil guys are and as I was an early adopter and have climbed extensively with mine on multiple rock types, I will add this to their capable words: in touching and feeling the unit in a gear store, there appears little to recommend it to you. In fact if there is a price tag hanging on it that is one more thing to steer you away from it as this may be the most expensive cam currently on the market. However, once you start running laps on rock and getting in some mileage, that perception changes. I have both experienced this myself, and have seen it repeatedly with multiple climbing partners.

Totem Cams have a greater range than Camalots, and they clearly outperform Camalots in holding power. That is not to say I will toss my Camalots (or Metolius and Wire Bliss 4 cam units) in the trash, Camalots, Metolius Powercams and Wire Bliss 4 cam units are all great products at an affordable price. My Totems supplement the other pieces on my rack although I might choose a Totem over any other cam if it was an either/or choice.

In locations like Red Rocks, where you can encounter horizontal banding and pockets in the Sandstone, they place like no other cam. The original review above has some significant personal bias I disagree with, but concede the point that this cam does take up more real estate on the rack. The only point I have not seen raised that is fairly significant given the price point is this: this cam, when crammed in super tight, doesn't get easily stuck like some cams, and seems smoother to remove than most.

The gear lab review currently lists this as 3 out of 5 stars, I might have started out with 3 of 5 stars when I first got my Totems, but that perception has changed as I've gotten to know them better. These are a 5 star product. Note that there is a reason some highly experienced folks (38 years here) are all giving them 5 out of 5 stars.

This cam is a solid performer that will keep your ass off the deck better than the rest of the pack. Period.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   May 1, 2014 - 10:19pm
GearMe · Climber
it was the first piece of pro on the serenity crack in yosemite and it was solid in the pin scar. I had C4s and X4s and I don't think either of those would have worked.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Oct 23, 2013 - 12:44pm
ElRoyo · Climber · Barcelona
My aim to write my first review is the inconsistence between the OGL review numbers and what they really say in the written review. Guys, you have to "review" the review, it compromises your credibility.

Rgold is right in most of the points.

My personal opinion is that these cams are the best around (except maybe for the Camalot X4, but only because I have not used them yet).

I usually use C4's, Aliens, and Wild Country Technical Friends. And I find myself leaving them in the car when my companions carry their Totemcam rack.

Why? Because since my first contact with them, in the spanish Galayos granite, one yeard and a half ago, the feeling is always the same, they feel bomber, I feel safer. And I have to trust my feeling, then :-P.

It's the way they get hold after placing them. I can't explain it. Just try them, you we'll all see.

Cheers.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Sep 18, 2013 - 08:08pm
acrophobe · Climber · CT, Gunks
Now that I have Totems to supplement my Camalots, I find that the Totems are the ones I use first. I'm not sure why some people complain that they are too floppy - I certainly haven't found that to be the case.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 23, 2012 - 03:05am
phillipivan · Climber
After climbing with them for two years, I am convinced that for the size range they are available in, they are easily the best cams available. They offer the best features of an alien, narrow head width, flexibility, with the range and reliability of a Camalot. They offer good placements where you would normally need offset cams.

I have never see one walk, and the only time I thought I may have got one stuck, my second was able to clean it in under a minute. So I have no qualms about clipping direct if I get scared or there is potential for a ledge fall, etc.

Having held a number of falls on granite and sandstone, the lobes and wires are still in excellent condition.

They are also offer gonzo aid possibilities and are lighter than C4s.

I bought them as fascinating speciality pieces, but have found them to be superb general purpose cams with greatly extended possibities.

I wish they made one size smaller.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Sep 17, 2012 - 07:57am
Alexis · Climber · Grenoble, France
I totally agree with Rgold. I'have used them for the last year, with a Camalot set.

In two placement case, I have changed the red Camalot for a Totem red one, because the Camalot (nor the green 0.75 one) doesn't fit into the crag I had to used. It was for belaying.

Todays, when I'm going to climb some limestone routes (even if there is not so much kind of trad routes on french limestone !), I do not climb anymore with Camalot. I'd prefer the Totem for that case. In granite, like Chamonix, it doesn't matter, Camalot and Totem are equal. The difference will be the weight and the space it takes on harness.

You do not have reviewed the Basic Cam from Totem ? They are a little bit narrower than Aliens …

Good climbing for all.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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REI $79.95
Amazon $79.95
MountainGear $79.95
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