How to Place Cams When Trad Climbing

Last Updated on: 31st March 2023, 10:59 am

Trad climbing is my personal favorite type of rock climbing, and placing cams is THE essential skill to know before heading out on a trad lead.

The video below is a great introduction on how to place cams:

Want another take on it? Check out this video:

I know that when I was first learning how to place cams, I couldn’t find enough information, so if you still want more, check out these videos:

One of the trickiest parts about placing cams is knowing how wide open or closed the cam lobes should be. To that end, the image below (taken from this PDF put out by Black Diamond that is full of instructions on how to use Camalots) shows the approximate range of camming devices. Note that this was specifically made for Black Diamond Camalots, and the exact range varies from brand to brand and model to model.

How to place a cam/Camming range
The acceptable camming range for Black Diamond Camalots

Note that retracting the lobes a little bit (red) is not good. Retracting them too much (yellow/orange) makes for a strong placement but will make the cam difficult to remove (since you have very little wiggle room). Everything in between is the sweet spot. A good rule of thumb I use is to try to place cams with their lobes more or less halfway (that is, with the cam lobes touching the rock at roughly the halfway mark of their outside edge) or in the 40–60% retracted range. The graphic above, though, shows that as long as the cam isn’t too undercammed (aka “tipped out”), you’ll be OK.

Instructions from cam manufacturers

In addition to the Black Diamond Camalot PDF instruction set that I linked to above (here it is again if you need it), other cam manufactures have great instructions with their cams. Even if you don’t own their brand, these are worth reading, as they contain good general information for placing cams. And who better to teach you how to place cams than the folks who make them? Read through them all and you’ll definitely notice similar principles and guidelines.

And then there are more specialized cams out there that require more familiarity when it comes to placing them. Here’s some information for those cams:

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