This guide outlines our single favorite stoppers and cams for trad climbing protection. For a more thorough perspective of rock climbing stoppers and cams, take a look at How to Build a Trad Rack and also browse the related articles at the bottom of this post. Recommendations are unbiased and the buying links are affiliate links—purchases made from them support our free content.
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Introduction to trad protection | stoppers and cams
Used for trad climbing, stoppers (also called nuts) are aluminum chocks placed into constricting cracks. They serve the same purpose as a bolt, but without damaging the rock.
Cams (short for spring-loaded camming devices, or SLCDs) have multiple lobes that expand and press in opposing directions against the sides of a crack. Cams have the ability to work in parallel-sided cracks, whereas stoppers need a constriction to be most effective.
Stoppers are categorized as passive protection because they have no moving parts, whereas cams are categorized as active protection.
The chart below outlines our favorite picks:
DMM Wallnuts (stoppers)
DMM Wallnuts are an excellent stopper due to their unique shape, impressive durability, and special groove feature. Together, this creates bomber security in most constricting cracks.
Each Wallnut can be placed in three orientations: horizontally, vertically facing right, and vertically facing left, providing ample versatility. Further, they’re color-coded for easy identification and even match that of many competing brands, too. You can read a more thorough review on DMM Wallnuts here.
Black Diamond Camalot X4s (best for small cracks)
When hand jams turn to finger locks and foot wedges turn to nubby smears, you need gear that leaves no margin for error. Luckily, Black Diamond designed the Camalot X4s, composed of a double-axle construction on sizes .4-.75 and Stacked Axle technology on sizes .1-.3. This gives them the best range on the market.
And because the stability of your cam is crucial—especially in small cracks—the X4s have a fourth lobe (unlike the C3 predecessors) that provides more surface area with the rock and greater security. These cams also have a large thumb loop for easy handling. And if durability is a question, Black Diamond’s X4s feature an armored cable that allows for remarkable flexibility while maintaining extreme strength (making them great for horizontal cracks!).
Black Diamond Camalot C4 (best for bigger cracks)
Camalot C4s are the gold standard among American trad climbers. The C4’s double-axel construction provides an industry-leading range which offers two major benefits: 1) the cam is more likely to fit your desired placement, and 2) you can carry less gear to cover the full range of sizes.
C4s also provide a large thumb loop, which improves stability and handling while placing the cam.
Other cams to consider
Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights
In 2016, Black Diamond also released their Camalot Ultralight. The range on Ultralights is identical to the C4s, but at a lower weight and higher price point. We feel that the Ultralights are a smart option for alpine climbers or if you’ll frequently be doing long multi-pitch trad climbs.
However, for most climbers, the C4s offer an ideal starting spot and Ultralights can always be incorporated as you begin doubling up on various sizes.
Metolius Master Cams (Ultralights)
Also updated in 2016 in ultralight design include the highly popular Master Cams from Metolius. With these, Metolius managed to reduce their cams by 25% while still maintaining a low price of about $60 a cam. Here’s a thorough review of the updated Master Cams to help you decide if these are right for you.
For detailed information on how these compare to the Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights, view our Black Diamond Ultralight vs. Metolius Ultralight Comparison Guide.
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