Gear Review: Climbing Cam Comparison - Metolius, Black Diamond, Wild Country, and Totem
Background info: I've been climbing on each of these cams for several years, except the Totems, which I've been climbing on for 10 months, and the Wild Country, which I purchased only a few weeks ago but used many times on a recent week-long climbing trip.
The following photo shows several of the reviewed cams. From left to right they are: Wild Country New Friend, Black Diamond C4, Totem Cam, Metolius Ultra Light Master Cam, Metolius TCU
I’m one of those climbers that carries the feared “Frankin-Rack.” Because I pieced my rack together with new, used, and gifted gear, I don’t have just one brand or style of cam. The downside is that using my rack can be less fluid for my partners as they don’t necessarily know the color scheme of each piece, though for me this makes little difference as I quickly became accustomed to the size of each piece.
For the sake of consistency, I’ll refer to all cams in their Black Diamond size equivalent, even if they aren’t Black Diamond cams.
My rack consists of double Metolius TCUs (sizes .2-.5), Metolius Master Cams (Old style size .75 and new UL style 2.5/3), Black Diamond C4s (sizes 1, 2, and 4), a Wild Country New Friend (size 3) Totem Cams (sizes .5-2), and a Totem Basic (size 0). I used to own size 1 and 2 C3s, but I sold them in favor of Totem Basics and small TCUs.
As you can read in my review of the Metolius TCU, I really love these cams in the smaller sizes. Though Totem Basics are far better for horizontal placements or other placements where flexibility is needed, I love the stiff U-shaped stem so I can push these cams into place.
I’m still sad that Metolius phased out the old style of Master Cam because I strongly prefer them to the new Ultra-Light version. Not only do I prefer having a thumb loop, but I’ve found that my UL Mastercam is too floppy for my taste (I’ve heard this is less of an issue in the smaller sizes). I like the action on both of them and I really like Metolius as a company, however I’m still keeping an eye out for the older style of Master Cam.
One note about Metolius cams—careful not to over-cam them. When fully retracted, the ends of the lobes stick out past the contact point of the lobes on the other side of the cam, and the result is that they can get stuck a bit easier than other cams.
Black Diamond Cams
Black Diamond seems to constantly catch flak for one category of product or another. Their ice tools, their skis, their apparel—someone always has something bad to say about one of those products, and the only exemption seems to be the Camalot, and for good reason. The buttery trigger of the C4 makes them satisfying to place, and the range that comes with a double axle cam cannot be matched. I reach for my C4s for placements in nice parallel cracks or in larger sizes.
Wild Country Cams
Nature is a great place to fall in love, and I can testify to this firsthand. I picked up my first Wild Country New Friend just before my recent trip to Tuolumne Meadows and indeed found myself enamored with this piece of gear. Redesigned using Black Diamond’s dual axel technology, these cams are a great hybrid between Black Diamond’s C4s and Ultralight C4s. They feature extensively cutout lobes, reducing weight, as well as a Dyneema sling. Unlike the Ultralight C4s, the New Friends have a metal cable in the stem, meaning they won’t need to have the stem replaced in 8(ish) years like an Ultralight C4 will.
Of course, Wild Country didn’t aim to make their cams just on par with a Camalot, they tried to make it better. To do so, they incorporated a wonderful extendable sling, and redesigned the shape and dimensions of the teeth of the cam for increased holding power, all while making a cam that weighs 10 grams less but has the same range as its C4 counterpart (weight difference varies by size).
Totem Cams and Totem Basics
As you can read in Matt Hanrahan’s review of the Totem Cam, these things are the best. Yes, they are bulky and hang weirdly off your harness, but they hold better than anything I’ve ever placed. For more detail, see Matt’s review, however the basic principle behind Totem Cams is that the sling is connected directly to the lobes via several sets of thing cables coming off each lobe, rather than having lobes mounted to a single cable stem. The lobes’ ability to move independently allows them to naturally and securely offset themselves, negating the need for offset cams and allowing the cam to find the perfect placement. If you’re an aid climber, the fact that you can body-weight just two lobes is also a large benefit.
It’s hard to explain the difference in Totem’s theoretically. All I can say is that when I need a #1 cam and I see my C4 and my Totem on my rack, I always reach for the Totem first. I’ve used every Totem except the black one (the elusive smallest size) and found that they really shine in the smaller sizes, where their increased range is more noticeable.
The Totem basics are great as well. Essentially a CCH Alien, these little guys are super flexible and very light. When I need a flexible placement, the Totem Basics are my go-to.
Though it may leave some partners a bit lost when searching for gear, I’m extremely happy with my Frankin-Rack. Each range and model of cam has its own purpose.