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Totem Cam Review

These unique cams are awesome and fit in placements where no other cam will work.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $83 List
Pros:  Flexible stem, great range, narrow heads
Cons:  Wide stem may feel bulky to some
Manufacturer:   Totem Cams
By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 30, 2018
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76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 9
  • Free Climbing - 20% 7
  • Weight - 15% 6
  • Range - 15% 8
  • Horizontal Cracks - 15% 7
  • Tight Placements - 15% 9
  • Durability - 10% 8
  • Walking - 5% 8
  • Aid Climbing - 5% 10

Our Verdict

Totem Cams are our favorite cams for aid climbing because of their ability to engage only two lobes at a time, allowing for an endless array of strange, body-weight-only placements, multiple clip-in points, and super narrow heads, even in the larger hand sizes. Their unique design works in pockets and holes where others simply can't fit. Created in the limestone capital of the universe (Spain) where parallel cracks are few and far between, Totem cams are a considerable departure from traditional cam designs, featuring longer lobes for stronger camming action. These cams belong on the rack of any aspiring or veteran El Cap climber and are also useful in any climbing venue where pin scars are common. Even a single set to complement your Camalots will get in and out of all kinds of trouble on El Cap.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Placement for placement, Totems protect as well or better than any other cams in our review. Some other cams might be better in horizontal placements or are lighter, but it takes six offset sizes to match the range of the same size run of Totems. That said, most of our testers would prefer to opt for the Black Diamond C4s as the backbone of their racks, because they take up less space on their gear loops, are easier to place when they're pumped, easier to buy in the US, and more affordable, while adding on a set or two of Totems as a supplement.

Performance Comparison


These cams weren't the lightest we reviewed  but they're definitely the most versatile.
These cams weren't the lightest we reviewed, but they're definitely the most versatile.

Free Climbing


Due to their unique shape and ability to fit where no other cam will, these cams are a great choice for difficult, cutting-edge free climbing, and they've even been used to free difficult sport routes without using the bolts.


If you're pushing yourself on single pitches, the Totems are an excellent choice. If you're climbing multi-pitch or easier alpine climbs, other more common cam designs will do the trick while weighing you down less. The stems on the Totems are bulkier and take up more space on our gear loops than average designs, so we wouldn't choose them when planning to double or triple up on sizes for climbing desert splitters which are mostly parallel anyway.

The independently camming sides of the Totem in a flared placement.
The independently camming sides of the Totem in a flared placement.

Weight


A full set of Totems weighs in at 24.9 ounces. When you compare the same size run of other cams in this review, even those that include more cams to cover the same amount of size range, the Totems are heavier overall.


Even the standard Black Diamond C4s are lighter than a similar run of Totems, making them the heaviest in our review. A few of our testers said that they didn't care how much Totem cams weighed because they work so well, and none of our testers would describe Totems as "heavy". Because of their dual stem, some of our testers thought the Totem Cams felt bulky on their harnesses.

Range


A set of seven cams covers cracks from 11.2 mm to 64.2mm.


Using a very BD-esque color scheme, we were happy to see the familiar red and yellow (though totem says orange) hand sizes, a green and purple for fat fingers, a yellow size similar to a yellow Alien, a blue size similar to the Black Diamond .3, and a black size that is pretty close to the yellow BD X4. While the colors are not a perfect match, you won't have to learn an entirely new color/size correlation once you integrate a rack of Totems into your arsenal.

A purple Totem holding strong in a horizontal placement.
A purple Totem holding strong in a horizontal placement.

Horizontal Cracks


While not as flexible as the finger-sized cams that have the most flexible stems, Totems are at the same time less stiff than cams with stems encased in semi-rigid plastic, making them more convenient for horizontal placements.


The hand sizes are especially useful for these types of placements, because most of the alternatives in this larger size only come with fairly rigid stems.

The Blue Totem in a tips-sized crack
The Blue Totem in a tips-sized crack

Tight Placements


The Totem Cams have very close to the narrowest heads in our entire review, a great advantage for fitting into shallow and tight placements.


We also find that their independently loading lobes make them more secure in oddly shaped holes. Their oblong-shaped lobes tend to have more contact points with the rock. This makes for a stronger placement but also makes these cams a bit more difficult to extract if they get stuck since it's harder to get a nut tool between the cam lobe and the rock to pry it out. Experiment on the ground, place your cams carefully, and this won't be an issue.

Walking


The best way to prevent cams from walking is to extend them with an alpine draw.


Your next defense against the dreaded walk is a flexible stem, which as previously discussed, them Totems have. Finally, strong springs that push the cam lobes into the rock keep the cam in place and prevent the cam from slipping out of a proper placement. The spring-loading action on the Totems does the trick, and the Totem springs have more resistance, preventing walking, than most of the small finger-sized cams we tested them against.

Nothing holds better in an asymmetrical pod than these cams.
Nothing holds better in an asymmetrical pod than these cams.

Durability


The plastic stems on these cams tend to kink or stay in a bent position after being loaded repeatedly in pockets and pin scars.


The more flexible metal stems found on other finger sized and smaller units are less likely to get stuck in a bent position. The Totem's most significant vulnerability lies in where the cables wrap around the top of the lobe, where the cables can rub between the lobe and the rock, eventually wearing through the cables.

The dual stems allow you to load just two lobes at a time  creating strong  shallow body weight placements.
The dual stems allow you to load just two lobes at a time, creating strong, shallow body weight placements.

Aid Climbing


Totem cams are total game changers when it comes to aid climbing.


The double stem allows you to load each side independently. This permits you to load just two lobes in super shallow placements. While you don't want to take a fall on just two lobes, they're great for body weight pieces, holding where no other cam can securely fit. Because each side is independent, each Totem cam can function as an offset, holding in flares better than any other cam. These cams also have high and low clipping points, so you can clip in high for a better reach, or clip in low for less rope drag or to prevent the cams from walking.

Value


¬°Muy expensivo amigos! These rad cams ain't cheap and will set you back about a month's worth of rent for a whole seven cam set. While there are a handful of U.S vendors online, they can still be a bit hard to find in shops. Any valley wall climber would go on a diet of ramen and King Cobras, maybe even get a job, to save up for a set of Totems.

Conclusion


Our testers feel that the Totem Cams are the most versatile model on the market. Since they were first introduced they've proven a worthy challenge to the Black Diamond Cam supremacy. So many aspects of these cams, the lobe shape, the stem flexibility, and the narrow head with, totally breaks the mold of modern cam design. We're excited to see them become more available in the US, where a slew of hard, gear protected climbs will emerge in their wake.


Matt Bento