Choosing the right climbing cams can be a daunting task, especially if you're just starting to put your rack together. We purchased 8 of the top brands and put them through exhaustive side by side testing over the course of a few months. Placement after placement, we were on a mission to find the best climbing cams for free climbing and aid climbing, as well as the best finger size and micro cams. We're here to help you pick out the right camming device for your dream climbs, whether they're the continuous cracks in Indian Creek, soaring splitters in Squamish, or aid lines high on El Cap. Through months of hand jamming, ring locking, arm barring, and fist stacking, our testers have put each set of cams through their paces, paying special attention to weight, camming range, and durability. We've found which cams need to be on your harness and our review can help you rack up and get out there.
The Best Climbing Camming Device Review
Dreaming of splitters in the Creek? A first-time lap up El Cap? Wondering how to spend your hard-earned Benjamins on a cam for your jam? Our experts slung rack after rack of all sizes to find the best of the best. The Black Diamond C4 Ultralight and Fixe Hardware Alien Revolution takes the cake as our Editors' Choice award winners, while the Metolius Ultralight Master Cam is the winner of our Best Bang for the Buck. Finally, the Totem Cams steal the show when it comes to aid climbing.
Best Overall Medium and Large Camming Device
Black Diamond C4 Ultralight
The Black Diamond C4 Ultralight is everything we love about the original C4s with a weight reduction of 25%. We were skeptical that these lightweight cams wouldn't hold up as well as their predecessors, after many placements, several falls, and loading them in awkward positions, they're still operational and keeping us off the ground. Whether you're racking tons of cams for a long splitter or climbing a big wall, these lightweight cams will give you a big advantage. Our testers oohed and ahhed over how light these cams felt on their harnesses and were amazed that the number 4 Ultralight weighs the same as a number 2 C4!
Read review: Black Diamond C4 Ultralight
Best Overall Small Camming Device
Fixe Hardware Alien Revolution
The Fixe Hardware Alien Revolutions take the torch from the old CCH Aliens and make some significant improvements on the classic flexible small camming device. Now they're lighter than before, the heads are even narrower, and they're available with the option of an extendable sling. Available in six regular sizes and five offset sizes, these babies are ready to protect pin scars, horizontals and flared cracks, thanks to their super flexible stem. These are our favorite finger sized climbing cams.
Read review: Fixe Hardware Alien Revolution
Best Bang for the Buck
Metolius Ultralight Master Cam
Durable, reliable and made in the good ol' US of A, the Metolius Ultralight Master Cam takes home our Best Buy Award. These climbing cams have a more flexible stem than the Camalots and are available in larger sizes than the Aliens. Lightweight and compact, these cams are great for alpine climbing or whenever you need to shave ounces of your kit. Though our testers lament the loss of the thumb loop from the original Master Cams, we still love them for their great action, bomber construction, and narrow head width.
Read review: Metolius Ultralight Master Cam
Top Pick for Aid Climbing
Totem Cams are total game changers when it comes to aid climbing. Thanks to an ingenious and unique design, you can load just one side of the camming unit, engaging only two lobes at a time. This creates a much stronger, more reliable body weight placements in flares or holes too shallow to get all four lobes in. Since each side of the cam is independently loaded, each size can essentially function like an offset. They have narrower heads than the Camalots, and a more flexible stem, making them super effective at holding in horizontal and shallow placements. While they get an award for their aid climbing prowess, we wouldn't hesitate to bring them free climbing because they can protect pockets and holes better than any other cam.
Read review: Totem Cam
Analysis and Test Results
There are several companies out there making high-quality spring-loaded camming devices or SLCDs, (most climbers just call them cams). All the climbing cams in our review do their main job well. If placed well in bomber stone, they will hold a fall, likely saving your life. Each brand has put thousands of hours of designing and testing to make sure these cams are as reliable as possible, and all the manufacturers have a quality control obsession. Voluntary recalls are not uncommon because each brand stands behind their products and wants our confidence. Meticulous research and development conducted by Black Diamond, Metolius, DMM, Totem, Fixe Hardware, and Wild Country provides us with a huge arsenal of gear to help us stay safe out there, and for that we are grateful! Now on to the nitpicking.
Our review includes two main styles of camming devices. First, we have the more rigid traditional cam designs from Black Diamond, Wild Country, and DMM. The Black Diamond C4, Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight, DMM Dragon Cam and the Wild Country Friend fall into this category. These cams generally feature a double axle design that offers a wider range than single axle cams. The lobes are relatively thick to disperse energy over a more substantial portion of the rock and increase holding power. The heads on this style of cam are wide and stable and are less prone to walking than narrower cams. Their stems are flexible enough to bend in the direction of a downward pull when placed in a horizontal crack, but they tend to lever out of shallow, vertical placement.
The other style in our review is the small camming device. The Fixe Hardware Alien Revolution, Metolius Ultralight Master Cam, and the Black Diamond X4 are all narrow-headed, flexible stemmed cams that bend easily in a horizontal and vertical orientation so they can hold in pin scars and shallow placements. They fit in a wider range of placements than the traditional style cams and are available in offset sizes to protect flared cracks and make even better use of pin scars. These cams aren't as durable as the traditional style cams, and their tiny parts make them harder to repair, though the Metolius Ultralight Master Cams are pretty burly.
Light is right for most climbers, whether it means a lighter backpack on the approach, a lighter haul bag on the wall, or just less weight on your harness. The original Friends and rigid stem cams from Chouinard Equipment were heavy and strong. Today's cam manufacturers are in constant competition to make their product lighter while retaining holding power (around 12KN for most of the larger sizes).
Comparing the weight of each line of cams is a tricky undertaking. Black Diamond C4s come in sizes big enough to protect cracks over seven inches wide. Comparing these to a line of finger size only cams like the Fixe Hardware Alien Revolution won't result in any useful info when comes to deciding what cams to buy. Additionally, cams with a more significant range can protect more sizes with fewer cams. Metolius Ultralight Master Cams cover the same size range with seven cams that Black Diamond Ultralights do with six. Side By side, the Master Cams are lighter, but the BDs can protect more sizes with fewer cams. If you're free climbing at your limit, you'll probably be happy with more cams; if you're cruising easy alpine climbs, you'll want to go lighter with fewer cams.
The lightest cams in our review are the Metolius Ultralight Master Cams; the complete rack from micro cams to big hands weighs 26.7oz (759g). From the removal of the thumb loop to holes in the aluminum triggers, Metolius has pulled out all the stops to mak the Mastercams as light as possible. Right behind the Master Cam is the Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight, covering fingers to fist with seven cams, weighing 29.7oz (843g). Lightweight comes with a heavy price tag, but folks are willing to fork over the dough when the feel the significant weight savings on their harness. The Wild Country Friends are lighter than the Black Diamond Camalots, and the DMM Dragon Cams are the heaviest at 41.2oz (1169g). The Dragons offer some weight savings due to their extendable slings, potentially enabling you to carry fewer quickdraws.
Among the finger size "Alien" style cams, the Fixe Hardware Alien Revolution are just a few grams heavier than the same size run of Master Cams. Next comes the Black Diamond X4s weighing only a half ounce less than a similar size run of Totem Cams. Half ounces may seem like splitting hairs, but weight savings add up if you're carrying multiple sets.
We scored our range metric based on the range of the individual cams and the range of sizes available from each brand. The clear winner when it comes to range is the Black Diamond Camalot. Their double-axle design allows for larger lobes to be contracted smaller, giving them a greater range. The Wild Country Friends, Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights, and the DMM Dragon Cams all share the double ale design, but the Camalots are available in the most sizes (10), protecting cracks from tips to offwidths. This means that with Camalots, you'll be using one familiar color scheme to protect almost every sized crack, making selecting the correct cam much easier.
Cams available in offset sizes like the Metolius Ultralight Master Cam, the Fixe Hardware Alien Revolution, and the Black Diamond X4 all received an extra point in the range metric, though offsets are most often useful in areas with pin scars like Yosemite and Zion. Totem Cams scored well in this metric. Their oblong shaped lobes and ability to hold in parallel and flared cracks give them excellent range.
Back in the days of yore, climbers had to tie off their rigid stem cams to prevent the stem from loading over an edge and breaking while in a horizontal crack. Today, all the cams are designed with stems flexible enough to flex in a horizontal placement toward the direction of pull. The more flexible the stem, the better a cam will hold in a horizontal, and the less likely it is to become permanently bent and unusable.
Fixe Hardware Alien Revolutions perform the best in horizontals because of their flexible stems and optional extendable sling. The extendable sling allows you the option to extend the clip-in point over an edge. This is important in deeper horizontal placements where the carabiner could be loaded on an edge, making the Aliens safer and more confidence inspiring in this type of placement. Behind the Aliens comes the slightly less flexible Black Diamond X4s, followed by the Metolius Ultralight Master Cams and the Totem Cams.
The larger hand sized cams that came out on top in this metric also have an extendable sling. The DMM Dragons have the longest sling, followed by the Wild Country Friends. The Black Diamond Camalots and the Ultralight Camalots will bend in a horizontal placement, but they don't have the extendable sling option.
Cams with smaller, narrower heads cans fit in smaller, tighter placements. Again, the Fixe Aliens come out on top here, with narrowest heads and the black micro size, protecting cracks as narrow as .33inches (8 mm). In terms of aid climbing, carrying a rack of Aliens can mean the difference between relying on body weight only hook placement and being able to leave a cam as bomber protection.. The second narrowest cams are the versatile Totems, our Top Pick For Aid Climbing.
The Black Diamond X4s are the third most narrow in the line-up and deserve a special mention for their range, achieved with a double axle design in the finger sizes, and stacked axles in the micro sizes. Metolius Ultralight Master cams aren't the most narrow in the finger sizes, but they do beat out the Black Diamond Camalots, DMM Dragon Cams, and Wild Country Friends in the hand sizes. The Totem Cams are available in hands and tight hands sizes and fit into unique holes and pods where other hand sized cams are too wide to fit.
Cam walking can be an issue on longer, wandering pitches, or routes with roofs. The rope may pull the cam into a position where the cam in unretrievable, or even worse, it could move into a position where it can't effectively hold a fall. You can always negate this issue by carrying alpine draws and extending the placement when necessary.
Cams with an extendable sling deployed walked the least. The DMM Dragon Cam has the longest extendable sling, and with a little practice, is easy for the second to re-rack on the go, so long as they always pull on the bar-tacked section of the sling so that the sling will slide through the thumb piece. This makes a world of difference at the end of a long pitch, where rope drag can cripple your free climbing prowess. With a rack of Dragons, it could make the difference between sending and flailing. Wild Country Friends also feature an extendable sling, but it's a little bit shorter than the sling on the Dragon. The Dragon's special thumbpiece keeps the sling from losing strength when extended, whereas the Friend suffers strength loss of 2KN when the sling is extended, though it's still a very strong 10KN. Black Diamond Camalots and Ultralights are wide and stable, but you'll need to extend them with an additional sling if you're concerned with walking.
A flexible stem both vertical and horizontally helps also helps prevent cams from wiggling out of their original placements. Fixe Hardware Alien Revolutions do well in this metric, as do the Black Diamond X4s. Totem Cams are flexible and aren't especially prone to walking, but our testers found that they were difficult to remove if they wiggled into an over cammed position due to the shape of their lobes.
Depending on how you climb, your cams are going to take a serious beating. Aid Climbers are especially hard on cams, bounce testing cams in marginal placements and loading them in awkward positions. This can cause the stems to become permanently bent and trigger wires to fra or even break. While our testers aren't actively trying to destroy these cams, they were on the lookout for any potential durability issues.
The Black Diamond Camalots are the most bombproof durable cams out there. Some of our testers have been using their Camalots for over a decade. The only durability concerns we have with these cams is the nylon sling, which should be replaced after five years. The trigger wires can fray and break, but they are relatively easy to replace, and you can buy new trigger wires from Black Diamond. Metolius Ultralight Master Cams are also durable, but you have to send them back to Metolius when their kevlar trigger wires wear out. The DMM Dragon Cams and the Wild Country Friends are durable like Camalots, but have a lighter Dyneema sling that needs to be replaced more often than nylon.
Smaller sized climbing cams are generally less durable and more difficult to repair. The Fixe Hardware Alien Revolution have soft aluminum lobes that bite in the rock and grip well but become rounded and break down faster than the harder Metolius and Black Diamond cams. Totem Cams have trigger wires that wrap around the outside of the middle cam lobes, making them vulnerable to abrasion. Replacing the trigger wires on these cams looks like it would be pretty challenging.
Aid climbing tests your perseverance, your nerve, and your ingenuity. When you just don't have the guns to crimp and jam your way up El Cap, you have to engineer your way up the wall with the tools you've got in front of you. We like to aid climb with cams that have a thumb loop, giving us extra inches for top stepping and plenty of room to clip our daisies, ladders, etc.
The Totem Cams are our favorite cams for aid climbing by a long shot. They're like the Swiss army knife of cams! Totems have two plastic stems that join in the middle, allowing you to load two lobes at a time for more holding power in shallow, body weight placements, or you can load both sides equally like a regular cam. Because both sides operate independently, each totem size essentially functions like an offset when you need to protect flaring cracks. Additionally, their narrower heads fit in more placements than traditional style cams, and their flexible stems make them great for pin scars and shallow vertical placements.
The narrow-headed Fixe Alien Revolutions are also an excellent choice for aid climbing. Their stems are very flexible, they have a thumb loop, and are available in offset sizes. The Black Diamond X4s are also nice for aid climbing, especially if you are already familiar with the Black Diamond size/color scheme.
The Metolius Ultralight Master Cams and the DMM Dragon Cams are both tough enough to stand up to the abuse of aid climbing, but they lack thumb loops and our testers unanimously agree that cams with thumb loops like the Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights and the Wild Country Friends are better for aid climbing.
We all know the feeling of trying to select the correct sized cam from our harness and place it while our forearms are burning, our legs are shaking and looking at a potentially long fall. For free climbing, cams need to be easy to identify, grab, engage the trigger, and place. Again, most of our testers prefer a cam with a thumb loop when they are climbing at their absolute limit. A somewhat rigid stem also can make cams easier to place on the fly, as sometimes you can just shove them in a crack without engaging the triggers. With a floppier cam, you always have to engage the trigger wires.
Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights is our favorite cams for free climbing. They are lightweight, easy to grab, hold in your mouth, and easy to place. For pure crack climbing, they can't be beat. They are the easiest cam to place when you're pumped. Their light weight makes a big difference on those Indian Creek splitters where you may find yourself carrying 10 ten of the same sized piece. Close behind are the Wild Country Friends and the Black Diamond Camalots, which have a very similar feel and design, but are heavier.
The Black Diamond X4s are our favorite of the small cams for free climbing because of the ergonomic thumb loop. Sometimes the best cam for free climbing is the one that protects the best and feels the safest, so we wouldn't hesitate to free climb with Totem Cams or Fixe Hardware Alien Revolutions when free climbing in areas with pin scars. Totem Cams where designed in Spain with the intention of protecting limestone pockets.
Purchasing a full set of any of these cams is a big financial investment. These things ain't cheap, but if you learn how to use them correctly, they can help you access beautiful locations on the sides of soaring cliffs. Keep them clean, lubed, and inspect them often for damage, and you'll have these trusty devices at your side to get you in and out of trouble for many adventures to come, be they hard redpoints at the local crag, blissful scrambles in the mountains, or multi-day trips up El Cap.
— Matt Bento
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.