A Perfect Ten Rack

An incredibly biased guide to building the perfect trad rack.

If you climb for a while you will get to test out all the different types of pro sooner or later and as you evolve as a climber your rack develops along with you, just more slowly as the pocket book allows. In time your rack leans and hardens into what works at crunch time.

Standard Cams

I should start with what I am currently using; BD doubles from 0.5 to as big as the route calls for. There is a reason these cams are the standard and what all other compare too. They place reasonably well in almost all scenarios. The symmetric lobes keep them from walking, and the addition of the thumb loop has made them far easier to handle then when they first came out. The C4s have been flooding the sick sales markets leading me to believe that Black Diamond may be redesigning the classic and I am curious to see what the new generation of such a classic will be like. For the sizes smaller than 0.5 its time to transition to small cams (more on these later, keep reading).

black diamond c4 camalots

The beloved Black Diamond C4s getting a breather at Indian Creek, UT

Earlier in my climbing youth I played with some other cams. I took a liking to the Trango Flex cams and for the cost, they were a great deal. I still have all ten that I started with so that says something about their durability. If you look hard enough, you can usually snag about 10 of the Trango Flex cams for the price of 5 Black Diamond C4s. As an added bonus these cams have out of the box extendable slings helping cut that rope drag on longer and more wandering routes.  The other half of my good ol days rack was Metolius Cams. The cams are solid cams that can take a lot of abuse, though the trigger action is a bit awkward and stiff and they feel really heavy.

Notable mention – Wild Country Helium Friends are probably the most popular single head cam on the market. They cost about the same as C4s but never really seemed that much better when my partners have insisted on using them. They definitely have a die hard set of followers.

Niche market award – Omega Pacific Link cams are great for mixed alpine and ice, or to carry along to build the anchor. They are heavy and expensive so I think they will be forever confined to the niche market. Though, admittedly my girlfriend has two and I always find myself sneaking them out the door when I grab my tools.

Omega Pacific’s Link Cam #2 Extended Range. Photos: omegapac.com.

Small Cams

Small cams make or break your upward trad climbing progress and they become super critical, in my opinion, right around the entry 5.11 grade. I learned to climb in Colorado and Yosemite where Aliens were and are the golden standard. I still rate every small cam on my rack to how well they do compared to my remaining OG CCH Aliens. I have a mixture of doubles from Grey down to Black (Grey, Yellow, Blue, Green, Black), though I often leave the blacks at home depending on rock quality. The Aliens always place well in flares, do not really walk and always seem to hold a fall if placed at all reasonably. When sketched on route, I grab for my Aliens.

There was a very dark period where Aliens were removed from the market and unavailable, so I dabbled with some Black Diamond C3s and Metolius Master Cams. Unlike their standard cams, Black Diamond does not reign supreme in the small cam market. Pulling the trigger on the C3s can pump you out and they are finicky to place. To their credit they can be placed in some incredibly small places though I have witnessed more than one or two heads literally blowing off the smaller sizes. BD’s C3s just do not compare to the competition; however, Black Diamond has confirmed rumors that they will be introducing a more flexible stem 4 lobe small cam, the x4 camalots. The bad news is that you’re going to have to wait until spring 2013 for those bad boys. In truth, it looks like Black Diamond may be a viable competitor to the reintroduced Fixe Alien cams and its similar cousin the Totem cams as it looks suspiciously similar to the Metolius Master Cams. The Metolious’ Master Cams were the closest I could get to happiness. The head could be more flexible but they are burly little guys that place well and do not walk. Eventually doubles of these found themselves onto my rack.

Coming Spring 2013 – Black Diamond’s X4 Camalots. Read More at BD.

In the last year or so Aliens have re-entered the market a la Fixe paying a fortune for the patent. My girlfriend replaced her small cams with these and they again reign supreme in my opinion, though they currently lack the full selection once boasted by CCH. Totem has made a cam that is also a close equivalent at a $20 price cut from the Aliens, though there are even fewer sizes to choose from. Having yet to climb on the Totem’s I can’t give my opinion on how they fare at send time.

The new Aliens. Photo: FixeHardware.com.

Now, Build Your Rack

Long story short, when building a dream rack to conquer the vertical world and assuming your dream looks like mine, your trad rack looks something like this:

  • 2 each of BD C4s – #0.5, .75, 1, 2, 3 (buy)
  • 1 each of BD C4s – #4, 5, 6 (buy)
  • 2 each of Fixe Alien Black, Blue, Green, Yellow, Grey (buy)

The Fixe Aliens will dip pretty deep into your beer money stash. So, if you are on a budget but don’t want your rack to suffer swap out the Aliens for the Metolius Master Cams. I have a mix of Aliens and Master Cams on my rack. Your rack will look like this:

  • 2 each of BD C4s – #0.5, .75, 1, 2, 3 (buy)
  • 1 each of BD C4s – #4, 5, 6 (buy)
  • 2 each of Metolius Master Cams – #00, 0, 1, 2, 3 (buy)

Add a stash of 60cm slings with light weight caribiners and a set of nuts and your ready to flaunt your very own perfect 10 rack.

Happy (and SAFE) climbing!

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Eric grew up in Southern Los Angeles, surfing the beaches and hiking the Sierras with his mom and dad. He is an avid backcountry skier and climber having led alpine ski descents of Denali and Mont Blanc as well as numerous Colorado and California fourteen thousand foot peaks. He has climbed extensively in the Sierras, Colorado and throughout the Alps.

Eric has written 9 articles for Thrillseekers Anonymous.

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