Best Climbing Cams

Posted April 4, 2014 by Joel Schopp in Climbing
Rack of Camalots.

The Best Climbing Cams are the Black Diamond Camalot C4.  We literally trust our lives to our Black Diamond Camalot C4s.  We have for years.


It is worth starting with a warning.  Rock climbing is dangerous.  Trad Climbing is especially dangerous.  You can severely injure or kill yourself climbing with these or any other camming devices.  We aren’t just saying this, we are serious.  Seek proper instruction.

That said, some of us are going to continue to engage in high risk activities and we want the best fall protection possible.  We think that the Camalot C4 is often that best fall protection.

What is a Cam?

A cam is based on a constant angle logarithmic spiral.  These can be found in nature in such things as mollusk shells, hurricanes, and galaxies.  The principle is that no matter where on the spiral you place it against the rock it will have the same angle and thus the same force.  This force is caused as the stem of the cam pulls outward and the spiral attempts to rotate larger and being confined in a crack it pushes out perpendicularly to the direction of the pull.  The result is that the harder you fall the harder the cam presses sideways against the walls of the rock and the better the cam stays put.

Why Camalots Are Better Than Other Cams


If you read the review roundup at the end of this article you will find that the Camalot is universally beloved by its users, more than any other piece of gear we have given one of our best in class awards to.  Sometimes gear isn’t about a particular feature you can pin down, sometimes it is about how those features come together seamlessly.  At that moment when the gear is out there doing what it was designed to do it can be like magic.   The Camalot embodies that magic.

We’ve climbed with a lot of people and used a lot of cams.  Most climbers we’ve climbed with prefer the Camalot.  We’ve also climbed long enough to see the evolution of the Camalot.  First the Camalot went from a U stem to a single stem.  Then it went from a thumb stud to a thumb loop.  Black Diamond resized everything above a size 3 along the way to better fit how climbers use their cams.  These small improvements make a positive difference, but if you pull out an old U shaped Camalot you would still instantly recognize it as a Camalot and know exactly how to place it.  This is a design that has been tested over time and tweaked to perfection.


Camalots put each side of the cam on a seperate axle.  The result is that Camalots have amazingly good range, which means a single piece is likely to fit in more places.  In fact, other than Omega Pacific Link Cams (see below for best crux cam) Camalots have the best range of any cam we have seen.


Some cracks are horizontal and some cracks are vertical, some run diagonal.  With cams that have a U shaped stem or a rigid stem a fall can cause the cam to want to rotate.  Also just the movement of the rope can cause the cam to want to rotate.  We don’t like our cams to rotate.  Things go much better when they stay exactly where we put them.  The single stem helps minimize cam rotation by bending in the direction of the force.  We aren’t sure if Camalots were the first flexible single stem cam, but they were one of the earliest cams to switch over and now everybody is copying them.


Placing a cam can be tricky sometimes.  Hanging on with one arm in a potentially scary situation, you have to fiddle and wiggle a cam to fit just right.  In those situations you want perfect control over the cam and you don’t want your thumb to slip off.  The thumb loop was a great improvement in the Camalot and we see some other cam manufacturers following that design now as well.


Ask a climber how wide a crack is in inches or centimeters and they’ll look at you sideways.  Ask them what color Camalot will go in that same crack and they’ll blurt out a color before you finish your sentence.  You can do the same thing with your hand.  Hold out a finger, a hand, a cupped hand, a fist, a sideways fist, or a fist stack and traditional climbers can tell you what color Camalot goes with that size.  It helps that not only is there a bright nylon sling with that color, but that they also anodized the cam lobes themselves with that color.  Heck, you can even buy rack packs of carabiners  that match the colors of Camalots.


Those dual axles that give the cam great range also act as cam stops.  Cam stops keep a cam from inverting like a cheap umbrella in the wind.  This is great if you have to place a cam near the end of its range and are worried that it might fold up on you.  More importantly, with cam stops you can now place your cam in passive mode and have yet another place it will fit.


For something expensive that you trust your life to you really want it to last.  Camalots are amazingly durable.  I know people who have broken trigger wires of other cams, and while it is possible to break the trigger wire on a camalot, I don’t know of anybody who has actually managed to do it.  With proper cleaning from time to time camalots should last many years.  I still see a lot of the U stem, thumb stud, and 4.5 size cams that haven’t been made in years on people’s racks and holding falls.  The usual way a camalot ends up getting retired is when the teeth on the cam lobes wear down smooth, this usually happens after many vertical miles of climbing.

Best Crux Cam

Omega Pacific Link Cam

Getting the Elvis Legs?  Pumped beyond description?  Barely able to pull the move?  It is situations like these that we usually reach for an Omega Pacific Link Cam.  What makes the link cam different is that it has hinges in the cam lobes.  These hinges allow the cam lobes to open up to ridiculously small sizes and means that the link cams have by far the best range of any cam available.  The result of that range is that you can grab a link cam in desperation and have a very good chance it will fit.  It’s great to have a couple of these on your rack to supplement your Camalots.

There are a few reasons we didn’t award the Link Cam our best overall.  The first of these reasons is weight, the inner lobes of the Link cam are steel, which makes the cam heavier than a Camalot of the same size.  A rack full of link cams would be too heavy.  Another shortcoming is price, coming in well above the Camalot.  The Link Cams also don’t come in larger sizes (the largest size is a yellow, equivalent on the larger end of its range to a #2 Camalot).  The Link Cams also seem less durable; we think this durability is due to less sturdy trigger wires, lack of cam stops, and the additional stress point at the hinges.

Despite these shortcomings we have taken lots of falls on link cams without incident and continue to carry them due to their amazing range.

Other Reviews on the web

Amazon has 7 reviewers who rate the Camalot 5 out of 5 stars

90 reviewers rate the Camalot 5 out of 5 stars 

Outdoor gear lab gave the Camalot the Editors Choice award

39 REI reviewers were a little tough and gave the Camalot 4.9 out of 5 stars

Moosejaw had 246 customers rate the Camalot an average of 5 out of 5 stars

Spadout had 71 reviews average 4.9 out of 5 stars



About the Author

Joel Schopp

Joel is a a rock climber, canoer, backpacker, camper, father, skiier, programmer, swimmer, cyclist, zipliner, kayaker, and adventurer in no particular order. He is president of the Central Texas Mountaineers, Texas regional coordinator for the Access Fund, and sits on the board of the non-profit Ascend Outdoor Adventures. Joel wants you to have the best gear so you don't think about your gear and instead focus on the wonder that is the outdoors.


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