Totem Cam vs. Camalot – Which Cam Should You Choose?

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The invention of cams was a groundbreaking innovation in climbing – from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Although high-quality ropes, harnesses and friction climbing shoes had long been available, cams were completely new on the market. It was the time when clean climbing became popular in the USA. However, securing in parallel rock cracks with the then available equipment was still very problematic. A solution had to be found quickly.

The new cams were invented precisely for this purpose. Only a few years later, in 1978, the British manufacturer Wild Country launched its new cams on the market under the former name “Friend”*. The initial skepticism among climbers was great. Nevertheless, “Friends” was convincing at that time and established itself on the market incredibly fast. As a result of the massive success, the equipment in this area was continuously optimized. 

Some 10 years later, in 1987, the “Camalot”* model from the American manufacturer Black Diamond was launched. “Camalot” was the first 2-axle cam for rock climbing. At that time a real innovation.

As in all technical areas, the development of new cams with sophisticated technology does not stand still. At present about 10 companies have established themselves as market leaders in the field of cams. The range of different models is large. In the following we will take a look at Totem Cam* and Camalot*

Totem Cam and Camalot: What makes a good Cam?

What makes a good cam? This question can be answered quite easily. Safety comes first! This also results in good handling and easy handling. Good grip and secure hold are self-evident. A good cam must embody what a climber expects from a cam. And here the focus is on a different detail for each climber. In general, however, the best equipment is of little use if the climber’s know-how is missing.

In order to compare Totem Cam* with the Camalot* and to justify the different price/performance ratio, we took a closer look at both models. After all, cams are not exactly cheap.

Since we are talking about a feature for safety on the mountain, glacier and rock, the predominant focus should not be on the price. Rather, it is important that the cams, no matter which one you choose in the end, will hold and that even in difficult situations. Especially in critical placements the small but nice difference can be decisive.

For this reason the purchase of a cam should never be a price issue. Rather, every climber should climb the route he wants, if his equipment gives him a good feeling. 

Black Diamond Camalots

The Camalot* is the top product on the market today. The manufacturer offers several models. But there are also reasons for this. Not every rock is the same. 

For example, if you use a 2-axis construction, small sizes are almost impossible to manufacture. The heads of the four smallest models are nevertheless quite wide. If you climb in regions with deep cracks, the cam proves to be a good safety feature. 

However, if you climb in regions that are characterized by shallow cracks or those that open outwards or even end in holes, this can have a very negative effect on the cam.

The Camalot Ultralight* is perfectly suited as a cam for high-end alpinism. People who also attach great importance to very light material are also willing to pay a comparatively high price. Difficult alpine tours or tours through similar terrain can be perfectly mastered with the Camalot Ultralight Cam. Due to the high quality, a few cams are usually sufficient.

However, the Ultralight Cam from Camalot is not recommended for everyday routes. With this model, possible wear and tear during continuous use can be suspected as a dangerous weak point. The thin trigger cables and the very thin Dyneema slings, which are only 14 mm wide, are simply not suitable for continuous use. 

All in all a big effort for the cam to be repaired. Other Black Diamond models have much more massive loops. These make a much more durable impression.

The X4 cams* from the manufacturer Black Diamond, for example, become sluggish faster than other cams. This means that they have to be cleaned and greased very often. Otherwise, Black Diamond X4 Cams are robust and durable. So they are much more stable than the cams of the manufacturer Alien for example. Alien Cams are much lighter in direct comparison.

The model C3 Camalot* by Black Diamond is one of the smallest cams currently available on the market. Currently only Black Diamond and Metolius produce small cams. These are especially suitable for all crack widths under 9 millimeters. The smallest sizes are primarily intended for locomotion. If they are secured softly, they can even cushion and hold smaller falls very well. 

By the way, the Ultralight Master Cams* also look good. Their flexible bridge and the construction, which was manufactured with a total of four segments, make them generally more stable. Black Diamond C3 cams are also very robust by comparison. They are characterized by an extremely narrow head and have higher breaking load values than all other models. 

However, you should be careful that they do not open asymmetrically. None of the outer segments should open completely. For this reason, good placement is a decisive factor here. With a good placement, the cams can be placed rather closed without opening too wide. 

Interestingly, Wild Country* has also stormed back onto the market. For a long time, they were considered standard cams with their model “Technical Friend”. Then it became rather quiet around Wild Country. The current generation “Helium Friend”, which followed the “Technical Friend”, was quickly replaced by the 2-axle model of the manufacturer Black Diamond. 

And now the manufacturer Wild Country is making a name for itself again. The model “New Friend” is a replica of the Camalots of the manufacturer Black Diamond. If you look a little closer, numerous optimizations of the head design become visible. The model “New Friend” combines the decisive advantages of the DMM Dragon 2* and the Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots*. “New Friend” thus molds itself into a versatile and lightweight high-end cam. For really wide cracks and for self-defense in the climbing forest, the manufacturer Wild Country of course also has “Technical Friends” in its program.

Totem Cam

Contrary to the Camalots of the manufacturer Black Diamond, the Basque manufacturer Totem offers only two types of cams. These are so special that they must be mentioned in this article. The two types of Totem are not as common as their American competitor Black Diamond. Nevertheless, Dolomite specialists such as professional alpinist Simon Gietl and Hansjörg Auer swear by these cams.

The Basic Cam can be considered a modern variation of the original Alien Cam*. But what distinguishes the two Totem models? Simple question, short answer: Simply everything! The construction method is new. Among other things, it opens up the possibility of placing cams on only two segments. This is very often the case, for example, in technical climbing. Breaking load value and range can be evaluated similarly to the Black Diamond C4 Camalot*. The weight of the Totem Cams*, however, is significantly lower than that of the Camalot C4 Cams.

But that’s not all – the models of Totem Cams are characterized by their significantly narrower heads. Although the segments shine by a solid width and therefore seem to be very handy, the bars seem to be quite solidly manufactured. On the climbing harness, this can be a bit annoying.

The color coding and size gradation mostly correspond to the cams from Black Diamond, DMM and Wild Country. The biggest advantage of Totem Cams is that the load is transferred directly to the segment. For this reason, they hold much better than comparable models from other manufacturers. Especially when climbing in limestone, Totem Cams cut a good figure. Due to their narrow heads, they also work perfectly in holes! 

The Totem Basic Cams are the perfect complement to the Totem Cams. However, both models are less suitable in snowy rock. They ice up much faster than comparable models. 

Conclusion: Totem Cam and Camalot

All the described cams are suitable for climbing. However, the question is not which cam is the best, but rather which device suits you and the terrain best. 

The type and manner of the activities also play a primary role. On the other hand, the available budget also plays a role. The frequency of use should also be taken into account when purchasing. So if you are not climbing everyday, the Camalots C4* from the manufacturer Black Diamond is a very good choice. 

Those who mainly go alpine, trad or technical climbing should look for more special and much higher quality cams. The Camalots C3* and X4* are perfect for this. In terms of quality, there is nothing to complain about with these models. Totem Cams* will hold better in case of doubt, but are not suitable for climbing in snowy rock. In addition, the cams from the manufacturer Totem are also suitable for soft rock, such as limestone. The choice of the right cams should therefore always depend on the terrain to be climbed. Even the best material will bring little success and safety if it is used incorrectly.

Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.

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