How We Tested Climbing Cams
We hit the road with a selection of the top selling, top performing cams on the market. In Yosemite, we plugged flexible stemmed micro cams while climbing difficult finger cracks in Tuolumne Meadows. We aided and gardened our way up new routes in the valley, loading cams in weird positions, bounce testing and beating them up.
Next, we took our arsenal of aluminum to the crack climbing center of the known universe, Indian Creek. Here we found out first hand how difficult it is to place a cam without a thumb loop, how much better it feels to bite plastic instead of aluminum, and the subtle differences in sizing between the Orange Metolius and the Gray Alien.
Finally, we brought these cams to our home crags in Bishop, where we compared side-by-side placements in everything from splitters in bullet stone, to chossy quartz monzonite flares. We also performed some uniform tests on each cam to get a feel for the differences in performance when each cam is faced with the same situation. We climbed a lot of pitches with all these cams. Between Chris McNamara, Ian Nicholson, and Matt Bento, probably 100,000 feet have been climbed with most of these cams combined.
Testing cams can be a somewhat tricky business. There is a multitude of factors that one can consider, but ultimately the most critical factor is whether or not that piece of equipment will keep you safe in the event of a fall. There are some ways that a cam can fail in this task and we observed the behavior of the cams in real-world use, as well as in devised head-to-head testing, to see which cam does the best job in a variety of scenarios.
How well does the cam perform in flared placements? Is it easy to place and clean in these marginal placements?
Are there any parts of the cam (trigger, trigger wires, etc…) that could break or be damaged if the unit is loaded in a horizontal placement? Is the stem flexible enough to prevent the cam from torquing out of the crack?
How easy is it to squeeze into those tight fits? How easy is it to clean from those tight fits?
How stable is the placement? Did the cam move at all from the rope movement? Did it invert? Did it walk back into a more difficult-to-clean position? Did it walk so much that the placement's safety was compromised?
Are these cans going to last a season or a lifetime? How tough are the lobes? Does the stem deform easily? What's the sling's durability? How are the springs and the trigger wires?
Does this cam work well for free climbing? Does it have any special features that make it especially suited for free climbing?
Does this cam work well for aid climbing? Does it have any special features that make it especially well suited for aid climbing?
How heavy are these relative to other cams on the market? How bulky are they when racked?