Tricams - part of the trad climber’s toolbox


Tricams are often an underappreciated bit of gear; if you haven’t used them, you might be missing out.  Less expensive, lighter, and sometimes more versatile than active cams, they may well have a place on your rack. (This is especially true of the fabled pink tricam, which has a legendary following among a subspecies of trad climbers.)

Here’s a few tricam tips.  

  • Focus on the smaller sizes. A good starter set is the first four smallest units, least expensive when purchased as a set. You probably won’t have much use for the huge “cowbell” tricams, which are typically seen only on the harnesses of graybeard mountain goats, who have been climbing since Mt. St. Helens was a real mountain, and are still using handmade harnesses braided from from blackberry vines and mud.

  • In a horizontal crack, place the "stinger", or point, facing down. This usually gives a more secure placement. Tricams can be especially effective in horizontal cracks, because their flexible runner easily handles being loaded over the edge of the crack.

  • On lead, always try to extend the placement with a runner to minimize the rope wiggling the tricam out of position.

  • One of the main gripes against tricams is that they can be hard to clean, especially if the person that placing then gives a stout tug. This can be true! Don’t use them when you’re aid climbing and expect to ever get them back again, ask me how I know this.

  • Give a gentle tug to set them, but expect your second to curse a bit when they arrive and maybe even ask you for a take while they try to clean it. Be sure your second has a cleaning tool.

  • Because they can be placed in so many positions, tricams can be great for building anchors. Consider using your active cams when leading, and keep tricams in reserve for anchor building.

They now come in a few different flavors and different styles of webbing, but they all pretty much work the same way. And, as mentioned, be sure to get the pink one at the very least!