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Cams! So what really is the difference between all these shiny widgets of colored metal? With so many different options which all claim to have the best new technology, it can be overwhelming. So, what makes one cam better than another? What should climbers consider when looking for the right life-saving gear? 

As an Apprentice AMGA Rock Guide and total gearhead, it is my pleasure to offer you my opinions and share my experiences with the top 7 trad cams on the market.

Companies like DMM and Totem are really taking the lead in terms of innovation and functionality with their newest lines of cams. While still the industry standard, these new offerings from DMM and Totem are challenging Black Diamond for the title of industry leader!

*Weight comparisons are performed between the cams with a range of 0.6 inches to 1.2 inches (15 mm to 30 mm). This is roughly equivalent to the Black Diamond #0.5 (purple sized cam). 


Totem Cams: 5/5 Stars

Totem Cam

Best application: Cragging, Aid climbing/Wall climbing, Chossy Rock/Tricky placements 

Basic functionality: 5/5 stars

With the largest active camming range on this list, the Totem Cam is the very best cam on the market. These cams will fit into a much larger variety of placements and you will spend less time looking for the right cam size. The smallest black Totem has saved my bacon on so many occasions it’s making me superstitious!

Weight: 3.5/5 stars

95 grams. Nearly equal to the weight of the 93 gram Black Diamond C4 cam of a similar size, these Totem cams aren’t setting any records for the lightest cam on the market nor is that their purpose. While these cams are larger than other more traditionally shaped cams, I have found that they do rack on a harness very well. 

Durability: 5/5 stars

I have personally taken many whippers especially on the smaller sizes over the years that I have been climbing with them and they have stood up to much abuse without showing many signs of wear. Also, not to mention a few runs up El Cap and they are still kicking butt.

Price: 4/5 stars

These cams will cost you $89.95 per cam. I believe in buying a quality piece of gear over a cheap piece that you will have to replace sooner. With Totem cams you absolutely get what you pay for. Totem currently does not offer a pro deal and because of demand hardly ever go on sale.

Specific Features:

My favorite features of the Totem Cam include the large camming range, durability, and their aid climbing advantages. With their patented technology, you are actually able to load only two of the lobes at a time, and their technology also allows for placements where the lobes aren’t equal. Allowing for many, many more placement opportunities, this function is especially helpful while aid climbing and should be noted that the two-lobe placements are primarily body-weight placements only. This means that while you can use the two lobe placements for hanging your body weight, you should never take a fall on the cam with only two lobes. I have placed bomber Totem Cams where other cams have pulled out by only tugging on them with my hand.  


BD C4 and Ultralight C4: 3/5 stars

Black Diamond C4

Best Application: Cragging, Alpine Climbing (UL C4)

Basic functionality: 4/5 stars

These are the classic workhorse cam and still very much hold their place in modern cam technology. They are tried and true–Black Diamond has always had a good cam product and the newest iterations continue to bring further improvements. 

Weight: 3/5 stars (C4) 5/5 stars (UL C4)

The standard C4 weighs in at 93 grams and the Ultralight C4 weighs in at 74 grams.

Durability: 4/5 stars (C4) 3/5 stars (UL C4)

The classic C4 is a solid cam. Most of the C4’s you buy will last until (and pas)t the manufacturer’s lifespan. I have seen one specific scenario pop up a few times where the plastic around the thumb loop cracks causing more of a pain-in-the-butt factor than actually altering the safety of the cam. 

I gave the Ultralight C4 a 3/5 durability because one of the ways they achieved such a light weight was by replacing the metal cable in the thumb loop with Dyneema. It doesn’t impact the strength rating of the cams, but by manufacturer’s recommendation, you will need to replace this cam after 5 years because 5 years is the lifespan of the Dyneema material. Unfortunately, on the Ultralight Cams the Dyneema thumb loop cannot be replaced.  

Price: 4/5 stars (C4) 2/5 stars (UL C4)

The standard C4 clocks in at $64.95 while the Ultralight C4 clocks in at $99.95. The price increases for the size #4 to #6. Black Diamond offers a good “pro-deal” to those in the rock climbing industry.

Specific features: 4/5 stars (C4) 5/5 stars (UL C4)

For climbing parallel-sided splitters, like those found in Indian Creek, the C4 really excels. When racking up with 10 or more yellow cams, the lighter weight Ultralights will make your rack much less arm-busting. This weight saving also makes the Ultralights a great choice for alpine climbs or routes with a long approach. The simplicity and usability of the Black Diamond cams are what keep them near the top of the list year after year. It’s simply a really good design. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!


BD Z4: 3.5/5 stars 

Black Diamond Z4

Best Application: Cragging, Aid climbing

Basic functionality: 3/5 stars

The Z4 are replacing Black Diamond’s X4 cams. The Z4 are similar to the X4s but they have a few improvements. The biggest selling point of the Z4 is the stem which is flexible when in place in the rock, but stiff when the triggers are engaged to make placing easier. This feature seems to be a total marketing ploy rather than an actual improvement to the cam’s functionality. Personally, I don’t like the feel of the trigger pull as much as other cams, like the DMM Dragonfly, especially in the small to tiny sizes. That said, they are still good cams.

For me, what makes a good trigger feel is smoothness and consistency without too much resistance. The Z4 seems to have a spongy or springy feeling the closer you get the end of the range, whereas most other cams feel consistent throughout the entire trigger range.

Weight: 4/5 stars

74 grams, the same as the ultralight C4.


They haven’t been on the market long enough to really be able to get a grasp for the extended durability but based on my single-use they don’t feel like the most durably-built cam. While they don’t feel like they are going to fall apart, I recommend the DMM Dragonfly over the Z4. 

Price: 5/5 stars

At $69.95 the Z4s are $30 cheaper than the Ultralight C4s for overlapping sizes. It sounds like a good deal to me.

Specific features: 4/5 stars

Some standout features of these cams are the narrow head width, allowing for more variety of placements, especially in pin-scars (scars left from pitons). Black Diamond decided to use a softer lobe metal than the old X4, which was a very necessary improvement from the X4’s harder lobe metal which sometimes ended up skating out of solid placements due to a lack of friction. Black Diamond also added a size #0 cam (tiny) rated to 5 kN to the lineup. These features combined with the low weight add up to what seems like a good, albeit not great, cam. 


Metolius Ultralight Mastercam: 4/5 Stars

Metolius Ultralight Master Cam

Best Application: Alpine climbing, Cragging

Basic functionality: 4/5 stars

These cams, especially the smaller finger-sized pieces, are awesome. The large Ultralight Mastercams have a tendency to bend when you pull the triggers because they use a single flexible cable for the stem. These cams have a  very low profile (the cams are thin), which means that adding 3-4 finger-sized Ultralight Mastercams to your rack adds very little bulk or weight and can come in very handy in those cruxy sections!

Weight: 5/5 stars

The #3 Ultralight Mastercam weighs in at 65 grams. A close second for lightest cam behind the Alien Revolution.


This is my only point of contention with this cam. I find myself replacing these cams after about 2 years of heavy use. I’ve found the whole cam just isn’t quite as durable as other makes or models, but with the low weight/low bulk and low price they remain a worthwhile and quintessential part of my rack.


$59.95 makes it the cheapest option on our list. These have even been seen on online retailers like Backcountry or Steep-and-Cheap for as low as $35 per cam! Heads up: these cams go on sale a lot.

Specific features: 5/5 stars

I think these are incredibly well-designed cams. I have never had one fail on a fall. I trust these things like the dickens. Some folks dislike that Metolius didn’t include  a thumb loop, but unlike the DMM Dragon, the Ultralight Mastercams aren’t awkward to use or place. It comes down to the fact that the Metolius cams are a single axle design where the DMM Dragons are dual axle. This increases the overall size of the cam head and makes the short stem feel too small, where Metolius’ overall smaller design seems to work better without a thumb loop. It is especially nice being able to add 3-4 cams to your rack without  even noticing a difference on your harness. Sizes 0-3 are an incomparable addition to a complete trad rack. 


Alien Revolution Cams: 3.5/5 stars

Alien Revolution Cam

Best Application: Slippery/Greasy Rock, Granite, Cragging, Aid Climbing

Basic functionality: 4/5 stars

Alien cams made by FIXE Hardware, are all-around  good cams. With the release of the Revolution model they made some welcome improvements to the ease of usability and durability, but the core of the Alien cam stayed. Most important is the camming angle of the lobes which is the key to the Alien design- will explain more on this in “specific features.” These are very smooth feeling cams that are very functional. The soft metal used in the lobes bites into rock very well. This bite from the soft metal lobes is an especially welcome feature on the slippery cracks of Yosemite Valley.

Weight: 5/5 stars

With the Grey size weighing in at 59 grams, the Alien Revolution cams are the lightest weight cam on our list.

Durability: 3/5 stars

Unfortunately, I have seen many Alien Cams fall victim to “umbrella-ing” where the trigger wires will break leaving the cam looking like a broken umbrella, sometimes even after a large fall. Likely the least durable cam on the list. 

Price: 3.5/5 stars

At $79.95 they certainly aren’t a steal, but they do have certain attributes like the softer lobe metal.  The easy to use design and the camming angle that makes them worth the price.

Specific features: 5/5 stars

Where the Alien cams really shine is the camming angle they use. When looking at the lobes (without the triggers pulled) you will notice that instead of resting on a 180-degree straight line, they actually rest more at 150-degrees. The unique resting angle  allows for a larger camming angle and adds a lot of security and holding power in the smaller sizes. These cams are excellent for climbing in Yosemite,  the soft lobe metal they use bites into the Yosemite granite better than any other cam on the market. Having a few small finger-sized Aliens is a key part of any self-respecting Big-Wall climber’s rack. 


DMM Dragonfly: 5/5 stars

DMM Dragonfly

Best Application: Cragging, Aid-climbing, Alpine climbing, Best Small Cam on the market

Basic functionality: 5/5 stars  

Overall,  DMM’s Dragonfly is the best-designed small cam on the market. DMM’s excellent craftsmanship combines the best features of FIXE Hardware’s Aliens and Black Diamond’s Z4s into one ultimate cam. With the discontinuation of the Black Diamond’s C3, DMM’s Dragonfly cams are now  the smallest cams available. As a direct competitor to the Black Diamond Z4 and the Alien Revolution,  the Dragonfly has the superior design. While the head width isn’t as narrow as the Black Diamond Z4, The DMM Dragonfly  feels a lot smoother and more solidly built than Black Diamond’s Z4s or FIXE Hardware’s Aliens.

Weight: 4/5 stars

At 73 grams, the #6 size is comparable to the Black Diamond Ultralight C4 and Z4 cams. 


Since it is such a new design we can’t provide an accurate long-term evaluation of the DMM Dragonfly just yet. Although, with DMM’s strong reputation, there is a good chance that the Dragonfly will become the choice small cam for professionals and experienced climbers. One interesting fact is that several other climbing equipment manufacturers actually use DMM to forge their components. DMM uses a traditional style of handcrafted hot-forging rather than CNC machining or machine stamping.


Retail price $79.95 but they can be found for $59.95. 

Specific features: 5/5 stars

As soon as you pick up these cams you notice the attention to detail and craftsmanship that went into the design and production. Honestly, a side by side comparison to the Black Diamond Z4 just makes the Z4 seem clunky and not well built. Also, the extendable sling feature on the Dragonfly is much more functional and straightforward than  DMM’s Dragon cam. This amazing example of craftsmanship delivers the highest kN rating (6kN for 7.8-11mm range!!) for the smallest cam ever released. DMM just set a new industry standard. Long live DMM!


DMM Dragon: 3/5 stars

DMM Dragon

Basic functionality: 3/5 stars

 The overall shortness of the whole cam makes it difficult to place and awkward to remove, especially if they have “walked” at all. The extendable sling creates challenges when cleaning or removing the cam, especially for beginners. I would never guide using these cams because, especially for novices, they are difficult to use and clean. For functionality, I prefer the Black Diamond C4s over the DMM Dragons.

Weight: 2/5 stars

At 103 grams, the DMM Dragons are the heaviest cam on our list.

Durability: 5/5 stars

This is a burly and well-built cam, and this is where DMM shines. 

Price: 3.5/5 stars

$79.95 these are averagely priced cams.

Specific features: 3/5 stars

DMM incorporated an extendable sling with this cam but  I found it awkward to use. Even with the drawbacks of awkward functionality and high weight, it should be noted that the DMM Dragons are, in fact, very well built cams. From conversations I’ve had with other climbers, I have learned that some climbers prefer these cams over any others, and they use a double-rack consisting only of Dragon cams.

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