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Totem Cams – The Most Versatile Cam on the Market?

The cams have a narrow head, flexible stem, and freakishly strong holding power

Photo by: A.W.

Pumped and runout is the wrong time to be fiddling with your cam placements. Perhaps the rock is flaring, or oddly shaped; soothing the nerves to slip that cam in is a skill best reserved for surgeons (or Honnold). Sure, sometimes you line the lobes up with the oblong rock before slipping out—whipping safely onto a perfectly (if not luckily) placed cam. Other times (and we hope this doesn’t happen too frequently to you), you lacked the composure to place your cam well, you slip, it rips, and you lower off praying that Santa Claus gives you offset cams for Christmas. Offset cams, however, come with their own set of specificity-induced headaches, so allow us to recommend Totem Cams: a worthy choice when the cracks are parallel—and a god send when they aren’t.

Gripped tested Totem Cams throughout central and western Canada for the last 12 months: Canadian Shield, Bugaboo, and Squamish granite; Skaha gneiss; Back of the Lake quartzite; and Rockies limestone, be it in the summer’s sun, verglassed mixed terrain, or during a coastal deluge. At the end of that year, we were hard pressed to find a better one-cam-fits-all option to keep in our packs as we traveled across the country.

Design

As you may have guessed from our clever headline, Totem Cams shine in weird, sketchy, and otherwise flaring placements. Each of Totem Cams’s four lobes are individually loaded (coined Direct Loading by the manufacturer), meaning that in the event of a fall, the camming system distributes your weight across two stems instead of one (and equally across each lobe) to reduce the likelihood of a fall. This, in part, contributes to Totem’s wicked-high holding power (ranging from 6–13kN across their spectrum) and was the thesis of several thank you Jesus prayers while run out on the notoriously slick Lake Louise Gog quartzite.

A secondary benefit of individually loaded lobes is their added strength, compared to traditionally designed cams, in two-lobe placements: clip just one side of the Totem’s stem for a secure—though unrated—placement. While we lacked the gumption to take screaming falls onto just two lobes, we happily aided from them, pulling through scrappy mixed terrain without issue. Of note is Totem’s comparatively narrow head width, which means that you are more likely to score a four-lobe placement with these puppies than you are a three-lobe with anyone else.

The benefits of Totems don’t stop at their lobe design; they have a flexible stem and a longer-than-most sling to reduce rope drag and the risk of cams walking on meandering pitches. This sling design also provides ample space for your thumb, making them an ideal choice for winter mixed climbing while wearing big gloves.

Climbing Mouses Tooth in B.C.

Drawbacks

While the Totem’s flexibility is appreciated when protecting horizontal cracks and adventurous pitches, this asset can turn to annoyance in the larger sizes (Red/1.50 and Orange/1.80) because the cam’s head is too heavy to be supported by the pliable stem. Placing the hand-sized cams while pumped requires an added degree of precision—because the stem can bend as you pull the trigger back—and we would have preferred the reliable stiffness of a traditionally stemmed cam. In the tips to thin-hands sizes, however, this flexibility was seen only as a benefit.

One final gripe: Totems are not rated for passive placements (placing the cam like an umbrella in a T-shaped crack) which can be an otherwise bomber piece of pro in shattered Rockies limestone.

Weight and Durability

With a generous sling length and individually loaded lobes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Totems are a heavy piece of kit. In fact, despite their features and wide range, these cams’s weight are on par with any other non-ultralight option (A #2 Camalot is 140 grams, Wild Country Friend is 142 grams, and Totem’s equivalent is 144 grams—and it has a greater placement range). The durability, too, exceeded our expectations: hundreds of pitches, countless placements, and more than a few whippers have left the Totems’s lobes and slings looking nearly as new as the day they arrived.

Parting thoughts

Totem Cams are about 30 percent more expensive than other options, but that shouldn’t deter you from ponying up. A rack of Totems can increase the number of solid placements you’ll find in any given pitch (regardless of the parallel, flaring, pin-scarred, or slick rock), giving you the confidence to climb on.

Totem cams tested on limestone
Lead photo: A.W.