We took the 16 best spring-loaded camming devices (usually just called climbing cams) and put them in a head-to-head comparison. We scored them on how well they did in parallel cracks, flared cracks, tight placements, horizontal placements, free climbing, and aid climbing. We also scored them on how prone they were to walking and how durable they were. After dozens of hours of reviews, we picked our choice for the best small cams and best aid climbing and free climbing cams.
For our climbing gear recommendations, check out these buying guides:
Best Overall Medium and Large Camming Device: Black Diamond Camalot C4
- Double-axle design offers widest range for each cam unit
- C-loop continuous cable stem design is strong and durable
- Color-coded for easy identification and wide range of sizes
- Neutrino rack pack Available for easy racking
The Black Diamond Camalot is the clear winner. These cams are awesome. We found them to be the most versatile and reliable cam that we tested. Free climbing, aid climbing, anchor setting, you name it. These cams will get the job done for you in good style. Their double axle design gives them a good range, though not the greatest, and we found them to be a top performer in awkward placements. All in all, these cams are just bomber; durable, confidence-inspiring and easy to handle.
Best Overall Small Camming Device: Black Diamond Camalot X4
- Narrower head width than original camalot fits in more places than ever
- Aluminum armor beads protect cable stem without compromising flexibility
- Symmetric swage and hot-forged trigger bar eliminate buckling and provide ergonomic handling
- Dyneema Sling for easy identification and differentiation from other camalots
- Lightweight yet durable
The Black Diamond Camalot X4 barely edges out the Metolius Master Cam. It got into tricky placements incredibly well and has great range and holding power.
Best Bang for the Buck: Metolius Master Cam
- These newer cams are 20 lighter than the originals
- Each color option represents a cam size, allowing you to pick and choose which size cams you need instead of buying a whole set
- Flexible, single stem unit with optimized cam angle for increased holding power
- The Range Finder system assists you in choosing the correct size cam and is available on sizes 2 through 8 only
- Optimized cam lobe angle for increased holding power
The Metolius Master Cam is by far the best value. It scored high in every category, was bomber, durable and also one of the cheapest cams. It’s tricky to decide how many offset pieces to carry versus regular models. We usually carry two sets of regular cams and one set of offsets in most applications. However, on a wall, we would bring two sets of offsets and two sets of regular, especially in the small sizes.
Top Pick for Aid Climbing: Metolius Offset Master Cam
- Placement Range: [00/0] 0.34 - 0.52 in, [0/1] 0.44 - 0.65 in, [1/2] 0.57 - 0.8 in, [2/3] 0.67 - 0.97 in, [3/4] 0.85 - 1.19 in, [4/5] 1.09 - 1.56 in
- Strength: [00/0, 0/1] 5 kN, [1/2] 8 kN, [2/3, 3/4, 4/5] 10 kN
- Cam Lobes: 4
- Axle: single
- Stem: single
We give a top pick award to the Metolius Offset Master Cam. It is our favorite small cam for aid climbing. Free climbers should also carry a set or two of these if they climb in an area with lots of pin scars (Yosemite or Zion).
Most other cams we tested had something they were best at:
DMM Dragon Cam – lightest and best for alpine rock and ice.
Black Diamond Camalot C3 – best in tiny spots.
How we Chose
We score both bigger and smaller climbing cams in this review. We feel most climbers should not worry about what single set of cams to get. Instead, you should think about what set of small cams you want (sizes .33-1.25″) and what kind of medium/big cams you want (sizes 1.5-5+”).
Flared cracks usually come in the form of pin scars in Yosemite and Zion. However, they are found just about everywhere to some extent. By far the best cams for flared cracks are offset or hybrid cams. The Metolius Offset Master Cam narrow head width scored the highest. For pin scars, it is pretty awesome, especially because the flexible stem helps it get inside deep “boxed out” scars.
The Camalot C4 and the Totem Cams performed the best of the medium sized cams. Neither has offset lobes but both had relatively narrow heads and flexible stems to help the cams grab.
Horizontal Placements and Awkward Placements
Cams with flexible stems and narrow stems did the best in horizontal cracks or weird pods. The flexible stems of the Aliens came in handy in awkward placements. The Totem Cam also performed very well as it was the most flexible bigger cam. The Master Cam was stiffer and had a piece of metal in the stem that held back its performance just a little.
Cams with stiffer stems caused the cam to be more levered out. They also got more battered when either weighted or fallen on. For example, when bounce testing TCU’s, their cables got warped faster than other cams. All cams get a little worked when you bounce on them, but flexible stems did better.
Cams with the narrowest heads got in tight placements the best. A clear standout is the Black Diamond Camalot C3 that was 10-40 percent narrower than the rest of the small cams. In spots like The Nose’s Great Roof, you can really shove them up in tiny little spots and feel secure. Second place was the Master Cam and Offset Master Cam. The TCU’s were the widest and really didn’t get in tight spots that well.
For the bigger cams, the Camalots, Totem Cams, and Dragons all performed about equally as well.
The Camalot C4, CCH Hybrid Alien, and CCH Alien scored the highest marks in this category. Flexible stems made for less walking, and we also liked extendable slings. Of course, you can always attach a runner to any piece, but having a sling that can quickly extend means it is much faster to make the piece safe (and you have to carry fewer draws and runners). The C3 and TCU, with only three cams, stiff stems and short slings walked the most of the small cams.
For the bigger cams, the clear winner is the Totem Cam. It is way more flexible than any other cam. Another high scorer is the Dragon Cam because it has a single stem and an extendable sling built in.
All cams eventually get beat up, but the Aliens showed the most wear the fastest. Their soft metal caused the cams to lose their teeth and become difficult to open. Their stems, however, were well protected with a protective sheath and even after a ton of bounce testing the stems usually stayed in shape. Most other cams were about the same for durability. The TCU was the burliest because it had a beefy cable and lasted the longest. The Master Cams have a very durable stem and cams but their Kevlar cam “wires” are still of unknown durability.