There is without a doubt, something a bit cultish about tricams. I don't mean in the Branch Davidian sense of armed to the teeth and ready for the apocalypse. More the Donnie Darko type, a film that I believe to be about a rabbit and that I haven't seen but that nevertheless lots of people seem be very fond of. In the same way that I've never felt that I was missing out by not seeing a film about teenagers and a rabbit, I've never really felt the need to explore the wacky world of tricams. This isn't to say that neither are any good, but rather there are plenty of other good films and gear to see/use first.
My full trad rack comprises of a double set of nuts plus RPs and HB brassies; cams from #0 to #6 including most of the half sizes, and then a full set of Rockcentrics. Even taking into account that modern gear is ridiculously light – that is still a lot of gear. Of course I would very rarely take all that gear on a route, but even on the type of Norwegian granite mountain routes I love – long multipitch routes, with full rope lengths of hard (for me) but well-protected cracks and where you still need enough gear to build two belays, that rack is still enough. So despite knowing about tricams from the beginning of my climbing career nearly two decades ago, I've never felt the need to get some.
So the basics: tricams are a simple but very clever design. They can be used passively –
like an oddly shaped nut, or actively where a pull on the sling pivots the camming side of
the tricam against the rock – sort of like a Friend but with only one cam. They are very
simple to use, although are more fiddly than stuffing in a more normal cam. I of course
jumped straight on the lead to try them out, and didn't find it hard to get going with
them – although practice definitely helps in “cocking” them: getting the sling to run over
the top of metal bit so that it can be used in the camming mode.
They are easy to place in vertical cracks – but at least in the sizes I have been testing showed no obviously advantages over standard nuts or small to medium cams, and are more fiddly to place. They seem to be of more use in horizontal breaks and cracks, and come into their own particular in shallow breaks where potentially you could put a friend but it probably would not work. Many particularly recommend them for pocketed rock where they will fit placements where nothing else does – but climbing on granite I have not actually had the opportunity to try this logical sounding idea out. Once you place a tricam in camming mode, you seat it by a sharp tug on the sling. Once this is done I was amazed at how unwilling they were to un-cam and fall out. The standard nylon slings that mine came with are rather short and stiff (lighter dyneema versions are available) and I presumed I would need to clip in with a quickdraw all the time. But even clipping the sling directly to the rope with just one krab seemed fine, and no amount of rope-play would dislodge the tricam. This seemed even true for quite marginal looking placements. I have to admit that I have not actually taken a fall on to any of these placements so far so can not swear to their strength, but at the very least tricams seem most unwilling to rattle out of placements before you need them, something that easily happens with nuts in marginal horizontal placements if you don't extend them carefully.
No less an expert than Andy Kirkpatrick sings the tricam's praises for winter climbing, because they will cam in icy cracks where normal cams are dangerous. Some crazy Americans even claim you can cam the bigger sizes between rock and ice – although rather them than me on actually falling onto that. But there is no doubt that in comparison to normal cams, tricams are light, cheap and pretty close to unbreakable. I got to test the 'standard pack' of four ranging from size 0.5 (pink) to 2 (blue). One friend was telling me that she is banned from placing the pink when climbing with her husband as his fingers are too fat to get it out when seconding! This is actually a semi-serious point, because although you can un-cam a placement with a nut key, you still generally need to get your fingers on it to get it out.
The other two tricams I was sent to test are their new mini ones the 0.25 and the toylike 0.125 is rated at 3 KNs in active and only 2 KNs in passive mode; the 0.25 is rated at 5 and 3 KNs respectively. They probably have their role as vital runners on a few chop routes, but anyone who wants to do those routes probably won't need to be reading this review and will know what a Screamer is.
The fact that tricams are so popular particularly in the US says a lot for them – I suspect that in areas where the rock strata tends to be horizontal or pocketed is where they really come into their own. If that sounds like your local area then they are well worth checking out. I have perhaps come to tricams a bit late in my career to really join the cult, but you can teach even old dogs a few new tricks after all and a two or three tricams lurking on the back of your harness weighs hardly anything but definitely give you a good few possibilities for placements that you wouldn't have without them.
More Info on Tricams: www.camp.it.
UK Price List from Allcord: www.allcord.co.uk
Tri-Cam Size 0.125: £11.00
Tri-Cam Size 0.25: £11.50
Tri-Cam Size 0.5: £11.50
Tri-Cam Size 1.0: £11.99
Tri-Cam Size 1.5: £13.99
Tri-Cam Size 2.0: £14.50
Tri-Cam Size 2.5: £15.99
Tri-Cam Size 3.0: £17.99
Tri-Cam Size 3.5: £18.99
Tri-Cam Size 4.0: £19.99
Sizes 5, 6, & 7 available to order. Please contact the sales office.
Tri-Cam Set on Nylon: £46.99 Sizes 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0 on nylon packaged for counter display
Tri-Cam Set on Dyneema: £54.99 Sizes 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0 on Dyneema, anodised finish matches the tape colour of the original Tri Cams for ease of identification
ABOUT TOBY ARCHERUKClimbing.com Articles by Toby Archer
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•DMM Alloy Offsets Jun/2008
•SnaPack Tarp May/2008
•DMM Shadow and Phantom Quickdraws Nov/2007
•First Look: Metolius Ultralight Curve Nuts Nov/2007
•Mad Rock Frenzy Lace Oct/2007
•Missing! Has anyone seen Vertical magazine? Jun/2007
•Vertical Magazine - un magasin pour l'union européenne Dec/2006
•Berghaus Optimus 40 Nov/2006
Toby Archer, based in Finland, works as a researcher specialising in terrorism and political Islam for an international affairs think-tank. "Climbing keeps me from getting too depressed by these sort of things." He blogs about both at Light from the North. He is part of the UKClimbing.com Gear Review Team.