Mountain Project Logo

Tricams - placements possibilities and use cases


Original Post
Franck Vee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 70

Hey there,

So I bought a set of used trad gear and in the package deal there are a few tricams (like 5 I think, main sizes). I've only placed those a couple time and don't know much about them.

After reading a bit on them, I see you're mostly looking for pockets & horizontal cracks with those. If that's their only use on my rack, I'm not sure I'll keep them...

However, I was wondering - is there something preventing from, say, placing a tricam in a parrallele crack of the right size? How would that placement compare with say a cam or nut of the right size, assuming all 3 are placed the way they should.

Is other words, is it doable to use tricams as a regular component of your rack? Is it something reasonnably experienced trad climber would do? If not, what's the main holdup, is it more along the lines of "cams are better" or more along the lines of "tricams in parallele cracks are dangerous"?

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 195

SLCDs are generally going to be a lot more multi-directional/stable in a vertical, parallel crack than tricams, but tricams will definitely hold.  The reason why people usually place tricams in horizontals and pockets is because they’re usually better than cams in this situation, if you can even fit a cam in that spot.  I’ve placed cams in horizontals and found the trigger basically resting on the lip, and the load that would be placed on the stem is not confidence inspiring.  So if you climb in a place that has lots of these sorts of placements (the Gunks are famous for it, but there’s plenty of others like Devil’s Lake, WI or NC), having tricams on your rack is a good idea.  You’ll get a lot of experience placing them and get better at placing them quickly with one hand.  If not, they might not be worth your time: cams are much easier and quicker to place and, in vertical cracks, much more bomber.  That said, tricams are some of the lightest pieces of gear you can buy, so I very rarely climb without the black and Pink, because there’s no really good reason NOT to bring them, and there have definitely been a lot of times where nothing else would fit and they’ve saved my ass from a huge runout...

Ernest W · · Camarillo, CA · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 25

If it’s a parallel crack with a smooth interior I personally would always choose a cam - it’s just a much more secure placement IMO.  If it’s mostly parallel but with an interior that has some nubs and small pockets, etc (ie, features that let you set the point on the tricam securely), then there’s no technical reason you couldn’t use a tricam. Having said that, a tricam is considerably more “fiddly” to place and thus most climbers are not going to use them except for those pockets & horizontals where other pro just really doesn’t work as well.  Depends a lot on where you’re climbing. When I lived in NC, the 3 smaller ones were always on my rack and got used a reasonable amount. Out here in CA, I don’t think I’ve taken them out of the closet.  Of course, I don’t think I could ever get rid of my pink tricam

Chalk in the Wind · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 3

They are also great for anchors. Since they're so light, it makes sense to carry them if you know how to use them. I almost always carry my basic set unless I already know exactly what pro I need and that tricams aren't among it.

I've also occasionally found them useful between bolts on sport routes.

Colonel Mustard · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Sep 2005 · Points: 1,186

You can place them like a nut (passively), etc.. a great use for Tricams is as anchor pieces to free up your cams or selling to noobs on ebay.

Robert Hall · · North Conway, NH · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 15,610

TriCams work in "solution Pocket" holes when nothing else will fit. Often such "holes" are found on granite friction slab...where's there's nothing else (except a bolt).  Thus, even if you don't need them in your "home area" I'd keep 'em and bring 'em along if you head out on friction slab. 

Franck Vee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 70

Okay thanks, this gives a good idea of what trad climbers use them for. I like the anchor argument - it's light to carry and if you're building an anchor presumably you can afford a slightly more finicky placement. And the lightness argument period - I mean I have them, so might as well rack them if it seems they may get use (either passive or active).

I'll keep in mind the smooth/paralle crack remark - it's true that thinking about it, they don't have the same surface area than cams and perphaps more importantly are a bit more "fragile" as placement if things are really smoothed out in there. I guess a cam walking is bad, but then you do have a bit of leeway in the sense she might still be an acceptable placement after a bit of a move. However I have a bit of a vision of my tricam dangleling down the crack.... oups.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 195

They were surprisingly useful in Red Rocks.  If anyone’s ever done Big Red Book, the start of the second pitch is super thin and poorly protected right off the belay, but there are some shallow pockets where I managed to get a black tricam in.  Tricams are much better in garbage placements.

Adam Gellman · · Jersey City/Burlington · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 165

They aren't useful most of the time but when you need them they can be a lifesaver. I usually only carry the pink and red but I havent found a reason to ditch them yet. Just placed it on an ice climb yesterday.

Carter Smith · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 10

Since I grew up learning from traddies in NC, I have always been fond of tricams. I think the new EVO style are some of the lightest, most versatile, and effective pieces of gear. For most flared pockets, crystally pods, belay stances (to save cams for the next pitch), and even passive spots (like a nut), they are often my first choice.

Russ Keane · · Asheville, NC · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 150

They can be used in parallel cracks, but why?  Unless you are out of a cam size at that moment.   As for nuts in a parallel crack, this sounds kinda crazy.   Constrictions is where you look for your nut placements.  Tricams kind of cover a wide range of uses; it's hard to describe until you start using them.   Although there is some overlap with cams and nuts, it's totally worth carrying 4 or 5. 

Chris Little · · Albuquerque N.M. · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 0

Tricams are way cheaper than mechanical cams. They are lighter. You can take a few Pinkies and file down the pivot so you can place them in tighter placements than an un-altered one. My rack has almost a dozen Tricams, about 4 of them pinks. And yes, they are great in horizontals.

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 124
Russ Keane wrote: They can be used in parallel cracks, but why?

In a pebbly crack (i.e. on conglomerate), a cam won't get good surface area because the lobes will only contact the parts of the pebbles that stick out the most. Tricams turn this weakness into an strength, because the fulcrum and rails fit in between the pebbles, locking them into place so the tricam is unlikely to walk.

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 484

Because they have a point, tri-cams are better for wet/icy/muddy/dirty cracks that have some form of "lubricant" that reduces friction between the cam and the rock. In slick parallel cracks they will work better than SLCDs, but if it's too slick than ultimately neither are gonna work very well and you better find a constriction or pucker up.

In my experience, I place a lot of tricams on lead climbing in the southeast but in the 4 corners region they pretty much only get placed in anchors or weird aid placements. They make great doubles for anchors in multi-pitch so you can save your cams for leading.

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,800
Chris Little wrote: Tricams are way cheaper than mechanical cams. They are lighter. You can take a few Pinkies and file down the pivot so you can place them in tighter placements than an un-altered one. My rack has almost a dozen Tricams, about 4 of them pinks. And yes, they are great in horizontals.

There's no reason to file down a pinkie now that there are black and white Tricams.

Ben Horowitz · · Tokyo, JP · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 121

I used to carry them all the time free climbing, but my followers got a bit annoyed at me... Still am very fond of them and use them a LOT when aid climbing since they work really awesomely in pin scars. As others have said, they also make great anchor pieces when swinging leads (if you put them in, it is easy for you to get them out) and very useful bail pieces if needed.

Gotta remember to sink the pink! swarpa.net/~danforth/climb/…

Buck Rio · · MN · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 0

One word of warning, don't rack the larger sizes on your waist in an off-width. That big yellow bastard can be used to ward off zombies.

· · Unknown Hometown · Joined unknown · Points: 0
Franck Vee wrote: However, I was wondering - is there something preventing from, say, placing a tricam in a parrallele crack of the right size?
Not at all. I do this when I run out of cams in the correct size or am making an anchor and want to save cams. Make sure you place with the correct direction of pull, set it really hard, and sling it appropriately. I've never had any of these placements rattle loose or be less than confidence inspiring. Although it certainly helps to have done lots and lots of ground placement and bounce testing to know what sort of placements in it's active position work and hold.

Franck Vee wrote: How would that placement compare with say a cam or nut of the right size, assuming all 3 are placed the way they should.
In a perfectly parallel and relatively smooth walled crack, I'd choose a cam first if that size is still on my rack. It's more multi-directional, and goes in quicker than a Tricam. Tricams in their active position are susceptible to rattling loose from side to side movements from rope movement if they are not set really hard or are not slung appropriately. Thusly they are not very multi-directional. For example, in a horizontal crack in active position they can withstand up or down force, but not side to side. In a vertical crack in active position they can withstand side to side movement, but are vulnerable to being rattled loose if they get a lot of up and down movement. Hence the importance of setting them really hard and slinging them properly. Nuts in a proper constriction in a vertical crack, or a keyhole pocket in a horizontal crack are generally very secure assuming full strength pieces (My definition of full strength is pieces rated 10kN or higher). The former if placed correctly and test pulled in several directions would only be susceptible to coming out with an upward pull, the latter is not likely to come out at all and thusly very multi-directional. That being said, in the Tricam manual, they mention the following about passive placements. I've made some grammatical corrections, and everything in square brackets are my own comments.

Normal: [They mean passive position] Tricams work very well as a normal nut in constricted cracks. (Fig. A) The tri-pod configuration actually allows a placement that in most cases is more secure than a conventional nut. Use the cam channel to straddle a bump or rugosity. [Not necessary, but useful and certainly more secure if available] ALWAYS MAKE CERTAIN THAT BOTH CAM RAILS ARE CONTACTING THE ROCK, as well as the fulcrum point such that a true tri-pod is achieved.

Directional Considerations: When used as a normal nut in a crack with a constriction [passive mode], Tricams are usually more directional stable than most conventional nuts because of the ability to "key" the cam rails over an irregularity.

So a Tricam in passive position in a vertical crack with a constriction with the cam rails keyed over an irregularity will only pull out in a very specific and directly opposite direction of the direction of pull which is different than a nut that may rattle loose and/or spin loose and pull with any upward pull. Otherwise with out straddling a bump or rugosity, in passive mode they'll be similar to a nut. Although I would not place a Tricam in a keyhole pocket whether vertical or horizontally oriented. That would very likely be impossible for the second to clean it. For a horizontal crack with a constriction in the front I'd only place a Tricam in passive position if there was an irregularity to key the cam rails over because if it did not have this, it would be no better than a nut which is susceptible to pulling out sideways and thusly never recommended for this sort of placement. Otherwise I'd be looking to place a cam or hex.

Franck Vee wrote: Is other words, is it doable to use tricams as a regular component of your rack?
Absolutely. But again, every climber is different and you will have to make that choice for yourself. There are plenty of climbers that despise Tricams, or think they are not necessary or useful, and then plenty of climbs where they are not necessary at all. Where they come in useful is often area dependent and can also depend on what you have for a rack if you have to build an anchor for multi-pitch. I almost aways carry them on my rack unless it is single pitch where I know they are not needed. My own approach to how I use them is... When nothing else fits (cam, nut, or hex), it is likely going to be a Tricam that fits. Unless I ran out of a certain cam size, then it will act as a double or triple in active position.  Or in the rare case that I ran out of a certain nut size.

A few other placement scenarios that I didn't see mentioned are shallow parallel cracks that four lobe cams won't fit into. This will usually only be applicable to size 0.50 pink and smaller. And irregular cracks that cams or hexes won't seat properly with good contact and/or even cam lobes. Also the manual mentions using them in flares, I assume in active position. I've practiced a bit with this but haven't had a chance to bounce test them in multiple placements to feel completely confident in that sort of feature. So I wouldn't recommend that without coming to your own conclusion with ground practice and bounce testing them.

Franck Vee wrote: Is it something reasonnably experienced trad climber would do?
Again, this really varies a lot on the climber. Don't worry about what other climbers do. Figure out what works for you as long as it is safe. You already own the Tricams so you might as well ground placement practice with them.

Franck Vee wrote: If not, what's the main holdup, is it more along the lines of "cams are better" or more along the lines of "tricams in parallele cracks are dangerous"?
It really depends. Yes, in a lot of use cases cams and even nuts will be better and place quicker than a Tricam. Tricams in active position are not dangerous in parallel cracks when they are set hard and slung appropriately for the route. I can only truly guess what peoples hold ups are about Tricams. For some people it might be that they never truly spent the time learning to place them one handed on the ground, bounce test them, and learn how to efficiently clean them one handed. And thusly they think they are garbage because they are too fussy and time consuming to place and clean, and possibly think they are insecure. Hexes and Ball Nuts can often fall under this category too. The following is another quote from the Tricam manual:

Leading: Please do not learn to use Tricams on a lead. Tricams require some getting used to. An analogy may be drawn with climbers who grew up with pitons, making the switch to nuts. At first nuts seemed insecure, but as familiarity grew their advantages became evident.

Some people feel that often times on routes where the only placement is a Tricam, not far away from it is another placement that a nut or cam will fit securely. How well this works for you may depend on how close to your own limit the grade climbs for you in terms of are you needing to "sew" the route up, or are you feeling strong and confident to spread out your gear, assuming no ledges to hit below you if you fall. Other people just climb in places where they are not necessary. Often times these places have very consistent parallel cracks with no weird features. I personally feel there is a place and reason to have them on my rack most of the time, but that is just my own personal and humble opinion that is also dependent on the areas I climb. I'm also fascinated by these ingenious pieces of rock protection as they can be placed in so many ways. Hexes hold that same fascination for me, but they are not quite as versatile.

A last piece of advice...  Read the manual thoroughly. (other languages available on the  Italian Camp web site if English is not your primary language). Spend lots of time learning to place them one handed on the ground, bounce test them several times making sure the nylon sling doesn't accidentally rub against the rock which will cut the sling, and then clean them one handed from the rock. Do this trying the active position in multiple size placements to see what holds depending on where the fulcrum point is pointing. Don't neglect trying and practicing the passive position. It is useful and will often fit in weird placements where a nut might not be as secure.
Colonel Mustard · · Sacramento, CA · Joined Sep 2005 · Points: 1,186

^^^Not reading that

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 195

TL; DR.

greggrylls · · Salt Lake City · Joined Apr 2016 · Points: 167

Actually answered all of OPs questions and didn't talk in absolutes or make generalizations about how a piece of gear is "the best" or "total shit" .........

what climbing forum am I on?  Doesn't feel like mountain project.....

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Trad Climbing
Post a Reply to "Tricams - placements possibilities and use cases"

Log In to Reply