Hands-on Gear Review

Totem Cam Review

Top Pick Award
Price:  $83 List
Pros:  Flexible stem, great range, narrow heads
Cons:  Wide stem may feel bulky to some
Bottom line:  These unique cams are awesome and fit in placements where no other cam will work.
Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Weight (1 inch size piece):  3.35 oz
Range (inches):  .46-2.52"
Length (from top to bottom of clip point):  11.75"
Manufacturer:   Totem Cams

Our Verdict

Totem Cams are our favorite cams for aid climbing because of their ability to engage only two lobes at a time, allowing for an endless array of strange, body-weight-only placements, multiple clip-in points, and super narrow heads, even in the larger hand sizes. Their unique design works in pockets and holes where others simply can't fit. Created in the limestone capital of the universe (Spain) where parallel cracks are few and far between, Totem cams are a considerable departure from traditional cam designs, featuring longer lobes for stronger camming action. These cams belong on the rack of any aspiring or veteran El Cap climber and are also useful in any climbing venue where pin scars are common.



RELATED REVIEW: The Best Climbing Camming Device Review


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Matt Bento

Last Updated:
Tuesday
January 30, 2018

Share:

Placement for placement, Totems protect as well or better than any other cams in our review. The Fixe Alien Revolutions are better in horizontal placements and lighter, but it takes six more offset sizes to match the range of the same size run of Totems. However, some of our testers prefer the Black Diamond C4s as the backbone of their racks, because they take up less space on their gear loops, are easier to place when they're pumped, easier to buy in the US, and more affordable.

Performance Comparison


These cams weren't the lightest we reviewed  but they're definitely the most versatile.
These cams weren't the lightest we reviewed, but they're definitely the most versatile.

Weight


A full set of Totems weighs in at 24.9 ounces. When you compare the same size run to Black Diamond Ultralight C4s, (grey through yellow), the Ultralights are 6.6oz lighter, and the same run Metolius Ultralight Mastercams are 7.7oz lighter, even with the extra orange size.


Even the Black Diamond C4s are 1.4oz lighter than a similar run of Totems, making them the heaviest in our review. A few of our testers said that they didn't care how much Totem cams weighed because they work so well, and none of our testers would describe Totems as "heavy". Becuase of their dual stem, some of our testers thought the Totem Cams felt bulky on their harnesses.

Range


A set of seven cams covers cracks from 11.2 mm to 64.2mm.


Using a very BD-esque color scheme, we were happy to see the familiar red and yellow (though totem says orange) hand sizes, a green and purple for fat fingers, a yellow size similar to a yellow Alien, a blue size similar to the Black Diamond .3, and a black size that is pretty close to the red BD X4. While the colors are not a perfect match, you won't have to learn an entirely new color/size correlation once you integrate a rack of Totems into your arsenal.

A purple Totem holding strong in a horizontal placement.
A purple Totem holding strong in a horizontal placement.

Horizontal Cracks


While not as flexible as the Fixe Alien Revolutions, or the Black Diamond X4s, Totems are less stiff than Black Diamond C4s and Black Diamond Ultralight C4s, making them safer in horizontal placements.


The hand sizes are especially useful since X4s and Aliens aren't available in the hand size. Metolius Ultralight Mastercams is the only other flexible stemmed cam available in hands sizes.

The Blue Totem in a tips-sized crack
The Blue Totem in a tips-sized crack

Tight Placements


The Totem Cams have narrower heads than every cam in our review except for the Fixe Alien Revolutions.


This means that they fit in tighter places and smaller pockets than most cams and their independently loading lobes make them more secure in oddly shaped holes. They oblong shaped lobes tend to have more contact points with the rock. This makes for a stronger placement but also makes these cams a bit more difficult to extract if they get stuck since it's harder to get a nut tool between the cam lobe and the rock to pry it out. Experiment on the ground, place your cams carefully, and this won't be an issue.

Walking


The best way to prevent cams from walking is to extend them with an alpine draw.


Your next defense against the dreaded walk is a flexible stem, which as previously discussed, them Totems have. Finally, strong springs that push the cam lobes into the rock keep the cam in place and prevent the cam from slipping out of a proper placement. The spring loading action on the Totems does the trick, and the Totem springs have more resistance than the Fixe Alien Revolutions.

Nothing holds better in an asymmetrical pod than these cams.
Nothing holds better in an asymmetrical pod than these cams.

Durability


The plastic stems on these cams tend to kink or stay in a bent position after being loaded repeatedly in pockets and pin scars.


The more flexible metal stems on the Fixe Alien Revolutions and the Metolius Ultralight Mastercams are less likely to get stuck in a bent position. The Totem's most significant vulnerability lies in where the cables wrap around the top of the lobe, where the cables can rub between the lobe and the rock, eventually wearing through the cables.

The dual stems allow you to load just two lobes at a time  creating strong  shallow body weight placements.
The dual stems allow you to load just two lobes at a time, creating strong, shallow body weight placements.

Aid Climbing


Totem cams are total game changers when it comes to aid climbing.


The double stem allows you to load each side independently. This permits you to load just two lobes in super shallow placements. While you don't want to take a fall on just two lobes, they're great for body weight pieces, holding where no other cam can securely fit. Because each side is independent, each Totem cam can function as an offset, holding in flares better than any other cam. These cams also have high and low clipping points, so you can clip in high for a better reach, or clip in low for less rope drag or to prevent the cams from walking.

Free Climbing


Due to their unique shape and ability to fit where no other cam will, these cams are a great choice for difficult, cutting-edge free climbing, they've even been used to free difficult sport routes without using the bolts.


If you're pushing yourself on single pitches, the Totems are an excellent choice. If you're climbing multi-pitch or easier alpine climbs, rack of Black Diamond Ultralight C4s will do the trick and weigh you down less. The stems on the Totems are bulkier and take up more space on our gear loops, so Black Diamond C4s are a better choice when you have to double or triple up on sizes for climbing desert splitters which are mostly parallel anyway.

The independently camming sides of the Totem in a flared placement.
The independently camming sides of the Totem in a flared placement.

Best Applications


These cams are an essential tool for modern aid climbing. Even a single set to complement your Camalots will get in and out of all kinds of trouble on El Cap. Totem's ability to fit pockets and pin scars also make difficult, gear protected free climbs a safer endeavor.

Value


¬°Muy expensivo amigos! These rad cams ain't cheap and will run you $85 per unit, $595 for the whole seven cam set. There are a handful of U.S vendors online, and they are still hard to find in shops. Any valley wall climber would go on a diet of ramen and cobras, maybe even get a job, to save up for a set of Totems.

Conclusion


Our testers feel that the Totem Cams are the most versatile model on the market. Since they were first introduced they've proven a worthy challenge to the Black Diamond Cam supremacy. So many aspects of these cams, the lobe shape, the stem flexibility, and the narrow head with, totally breaks the mold of modern cam design. We're excited to see them become more available in the US, where a slew of hard, gear protected climbs with emerge in their wake.

Matt Bento

You Might Also Like

OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: January 30, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
 (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 100%  (1)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


Have you used this product?
Don't hold back. Share your viewpoint by posting a review with your thoughts...