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Hands-on Gear Review
Totem Cam Review
Cons: Floppy “stem,” soft cam lobes, bulky.
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.
Check out our complete Camming Device Review to see how these compared to others.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
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).
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.
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.
Expensive. At $85 a piece these cams are among the most expensive cams out there.
There is a review of Totem Cams for aid climbing
Totem Basic Cams
— Robert Beno and Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: November 27, 2015