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what do you consider a small cam


Original Post
neils · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 20

I took a fall on a purple metolius  ultralight mastercam #0 several months ago and was injured.  I am ok, recovering and getting back to climbing.  I have analyzed the incident multiple times with several experienced friends and guides.  I learned several very valuable lessons and came out very good considering how it could have been.  One of my friends said after the fall..."I guess you now really understand that a small cam is either really good or not good at all.  There is no in between.  The margin for error is very small or non-existent.  A small cam placed very well can be bomber, but if its not perfect, its crap."  The cam that ripped wasn't terrible, but it obviously was not good enough.  My next placement (a .3 x4) held with no issue so I did not deck - but got pretty banged up. 

Today, while looking around on MP I saw a post that said:  "Anything at or below 6kn, you'll want to double up if you can. The strength rating really isn't at issue, but more the size of the gear means the margin of error is small enough that the gear is marginal no matter what."  This seemed like pretty good advice to me and inline with what my friend had said.  This quote actually gives the 6kn "cutoff."

So my question within the context I have described is, what do you consider to be small gear?  Looking at the cam sizes and my gear (BD and Metolius) it seems to me the quote above is pretty accurate.  The 5-6kn cutoff is a good mark - above that the pieces (cams) go to 8kn and I have always thought of those as being much more substantial.  Granted a crappy placement is crap no matter what.   Do you always back up small cam placements?  I would say it depends but I will be much more apt to now...for sure.

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,097

on good rock i would say anything smaller than green alien / blue tcu.  for example, silver and purple metolius, black and blue aliens, silver/purple/green c3's.

on desert sandstone or other rock that isn't fairly bulletproof i feel pretty confident about camalots down to .3 camalot.  i generally feel a little less confident with tcu's or aliens, and would anything smaller than yellow tcu or yellow alien a small cam. 

neils · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 20
slim wrote:

on good rock i would say anything smaller than green alien / blue tcu.  for example, silver and purple metolius, black and blue aliens, silver/purple/green c3's.

on desert sandstone or other rock that isn't fairly bulletproof i feel pretty confident about camalots down to .3 camalot.  i generally feel a little less confident with tcu's or aliens, and would anything smaller than yellow tcu or yellow alien a small cam. 

thank you yes - i did not mention or factor in rock type for this discussion - but that is obviously a factor - thanks for the feedback

Matt Zia · · Bozeman, MT · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 142

I think sometimes the decision to back something up or not also depends on the rock. I've had a #0 C3 rip on bodyweight in soft rock, but have taken a 20-footer on a #0 Mastercam in good rock. As with just about everything in climbing, it's a judgement call.

That said, I usually feel pretty good about pieces down to a 0.3 BD/#1 Metolius assuming the rock is good. Below that, yeah I'll often back things up and possibly even equalize pieces if I'm at a good stance and have the time. I also think there's a difference between small nuts and small cams. I often feel better about climbing above a small nut than a small cam as a well-placed nut generally has a higher margin of error due to less outward pressure that could cause small crystals to break.

Sometimes the difference between backing stuff up and sewing up a climb cause I'm totally puckered is a blurry one.

caughtinside · · Oakland CA · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 1,450

I always have bought of a small cam as anything smaller than an old camalot Junior, so anything under .5. 

At some point you get down into ‘tiny cam’ and I’m not sure where that line is. Black alien or zero metolius for sure. 

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 476
slim wrote:

on good rock i would say anything smaller than green alien / blue tcu.  for example, silver and purple metolius, black and blue aliens, silver/purple/green c3's.

on desert sandstone or other rock that isn't fairly bulletproof i feel pretty confident about camalots down to .3 camalot.  i generally feel a little less confident with tcu's or aliens, and would anything smaller than yellow tcu or yellow alien a small cam. 

Pretty much my thoughts exactly. One thing to also consider with rock type is grain size, for large grain granite I trust cams below tips less as a singular crystal failure could expand one lobe substantially. When possible I opt for a nut under cams on that rough crystal structure and/or friable rock to get more metal contact. 

Also are you placing in a shield or flake? It there's any potential for flex of the rock my comfort size of cams goes to thin hand sizes. 

ViperScale . · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 240

Anything that only holds 8 kN or less. So at least BD cams anything C4 0.3. Size 5 nuts or smaller. Size 0 C3s or smaller.  And 0.3 or smaller X4s. Given if rock quality is bad a larger cam can become questionable too.

Sam Miller · · Bend, OR · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 30

Yellow mastercam/.3 c4, smaller than that I like to place 2 or a nut for backup

Jay J · · Euelss · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 5

One aspect of small cams is that their range is smaller and cam stops are often not as strong. That leaves less room for error on placement.  The only small cam I had pop out on me was a #1 Trango Flex cam that didn't have cam stops.  It overcammed, the roll pins that served as cam stops bent, and the cam came out when I fell.  The placement wasn't very good (obviously), and there is no telling if real cam stops would have helped, but I replaced my small cams with full strength cams stops after that.  

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70

Smaller cams,particularly in sandstone, have a small operating margin. They should be placed so that they are very nearly overcammed. I agree with other posters that this applies to 0.3 and smaller. 

 However, the single most important piece is the placement itself. There are no overarching rules and guidelines that you can apply to every placement, every time. For any given placement, the rock type, the crack geometry, and the crack size must considered.

Kyle Berthiaume · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2015 · Points: 60

I fell on an Indian Creek finger crack that turned to tips the last 10-12 feet. The black Totem pulled out of the perfectly smooth splitter and a blue Totem Basic caught me. I learned that small cams in sandstone have a tough time catching big falls. At last the blue basic held. I now have more small cams in my rack so I don't get caught too high above a tiny cam. They don't weigh much, just cost a lot of money...

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70
Kyle Berthiaume wrote:

I fell on an Indian Creek finger crack that turned to tips the last 10-12 feet. The black Totem pulled out of the perfectly smooth splitter and a blue Totem Basic caught me. I learned that small cams in sandstone have a tough time catching big falls. At last the blue basic held. I now have more small cams in my rack so I don't get caught too high above a tiny cam. They don't weigh much, just cost a lot of money...

My experience was on Fingers in a Light Socket. Especially in sandstone, the cam needs to be VERY tight, and placed in an excellent placement. 

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 442

Anything smaller than an orange metolius size, I almost over cam it. I climb on weakish sandstone and a decent fall can and has pulverized the rock around cams. With a small cam, the difference between fine and overcammed can be in the millimeter range.

While stronger rock types probably won't be pulverized by the force, many stronger rock types have a tendency to flex, and it is quite conceivable that the flex could cause a small cam to umbrella. 

neils · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 20

lots of good info here - i really should have placed a nut along with that purple mastercam.  i had a sense it should be backed up prior to making the move I fell on but had followed the climb  twice with no issue so decided to go for it rather than expend time and energy placing more gear in a somewhat precarious spot.  turned out to be a bad choice.  it was a somewhat flared crack but good rock quality.

I agree with all the posts that there can be no hard rule and there are many factors but would go along that its a good idea to back up stuff in the 5-6kn range if possible (tiny cams - gray and purple metolius, red and yellow x4) I had taken a fall on the purple metolius in a bomber horizontal placement and I would say that gave me a false sense of security regarding the margin of error on cams of that size. 

A post above said "Sometimes the difference between backing stuff up and sewing up a climb cause I'm totally puckered is a blurry one." My incident kind of fell in that area.  I had a thought process, I wasn't egregiously reckless IMO, but it didn't work out the way I had planned below a cruxy move.  Had I placed a nut to back up the small cam I have decent confidence it would have held.  Perhaps the nut would have been a better placement to begin with - had I still fallen the fall would have been shorter and the impact obviously less.

However...had I not fallen, or not had the impact I had...none of these lessons would be taking place.  I got hurt...it could have been MUCH worse.  Perhaps in the long run it was a good thing.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,535

It depends....

For anchors, I consider anything under a purple camalot small and will add one more piece to the anchor than I otherwise would with a bigger piece. (i.e, if the biggest piece is a .4 camalot, the anchor is going to be a minimum of 4 pieces if possible)

For protecting cruxes, anything under .3 camalot, i'll probably double up.

I gave the 6kn advice you quoted more for size of piece than strength rating. Once you get into the zeros range, the strength rating doesn't really mean anything- take your time and double up if you think you're gonna fall. Even more important- take your time and really scrutinize the placement of those tiny cams. The number of people I see just slam a 0 or 00 cam in and expect it to hold is unnerving...

neils · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 20
John Wilder wrote:

It depends....

For anchors, I consider anything under a purple camalot small and will add one more piece to the anchor than I otherwise would with a bigger piece. (i.e, if the biggest piece is a .4 camalot, the anchor is going to be a minimum of 4 pieces if possible)

For protecting cruxes, anything under .3 camalot, i'll probably double up.

I gave the 6kn advice you quoted more for size of piece than strength rating. Once you get into the zeros range, the strength rating doesn't really mean anything- take your time and double up if you think you're gonna fall. Even more important- take your time and really scrutinize the placement of those tiny cams. The number of people I see just slam a 0 or 00 cam in and expect it to hold is unnerving...

thank you.  I appreciate your post and glad you saw it here.  Hope it was ok I referenced your other post ;)  It gave me some very good stuff to think about and hopefully avoid some bad things in the future.

SeƱor Arroz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

I appreciate all the answers here. It's a good reminder to place small cams in clusters rather than relying on single pieces too much.

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585

I'll echo the backing up vs. sewing it up sentiment. If the rock doesn't allow for a good "life boat" of gear in one spot, then I'll place gear shortly thereafter, even if it's just a couple feet. This might result in a string of small gear, creating similar redundancy. For me, "small" means around green C3 or smaller, maybe red C3 or smaller. As John noted, for the anchor, finger sized and under typically deserves an extra piece.

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,610

And then there's ball nuts...

:)

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,097
Nick Drake wrote:

Pretty much my thoughts exactly. One thing to also consider with rock type is grain size, for large grain granite I trust cams below tips less as a singular crystal failure could expand one lobe substantially. When possible I opt for a nut under cams on that rough crystal structure and/or friable rock to get more metal contact. 

Also are you placing in a shield or flake? It there's any potential for flex of the rock my comfort size of cams goes to thin hand sizes. 

yes, good additional points.  it's always sad to spend time fiddling a small cam into crystally granite and watch it immediately umbrella when you breath on it.

Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 180

one thing that really helped to open my eyes to just how touchy small cams (x4 0.3 and under in this response) are was aid climbing on them. may be worth doing a bit at your local crag.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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