New Totem Cams: Black and Orange
In 2015 we gave Totem Cams a glowing write-up, praising in particular their high holding power and narrow head width. This review focuses on two new sizes at opposite ends of the range.
I've been using a set of DMM's new Dragons for two months or so in a full variety of climbing environments: sea cliff new routing; revisiting old favourites around Wales; a few short routes in the mountains above Chamonix; and equipping novice rock climbers taking on their first leads on the rock. I've thrown a lot of different rock types at them too, from the obvious cam friendly types like granite, dolerite and rhyolite through to more slick stuff like slate and limestone. And of course the rock that cams were invented for, steep Gogarth quartzite. With a few ostensibly subtle but actually quite big improvements on the old Dragons, I think DMM have done a great job.
If you've used the first generation Dragons then the big change here is the cam lobes themselves. The most obvious thing is the finish - its untreated raw aluminium surface, and the series of deep grooves which create numerous pronounced edges. Straight away, these 'TripleGrip' lobes look like they'll be more effective in gripping the rock - and my experience to date bears this out. Slightly less obvious is the increased width of each lobe. Extra metal has just been added on the part of the lobe intended to grip in an optimum placement, boosting the strength and the holding power of each unit without adding excess metal to the cam tips etc. Of course this means more weight? Well, you'd be hard pressed to notice the difference if you held a set of older Dragons in one hand and the new ones in the other.
DMM say they've put a lot of research into what's required for sub optimal placements and slick rock. The grip that comes with the new TripleGrip lobes actually feels better to me, and combining that with a constant camming angle of 13.75 degrees to maximise holding power really gives you confidence. Having faith in your climbing gear is crucial not just for your safety but for the mental side too, so thanks for that DMM. With the slate quarries just across the lake from their factory there was no excuse for not exploring the holding power in slick rock I guess!
I suspect that these cams will probably have superior holding power in winter time too, when placements are compromised by powder snow and verglas. Good news for trad all rounders I hope. Time will tell.
"With the extendable sling, the firm cam action and the grippy lobes I can't remember the last time I saw a cam having walked in its placement"
A more subtle upgrade in the new Dragons is the addition of extra texture to the thumb press for a bit more grip when yours might be failing! The change to the thumb press was something I hadn't noticed until I compared old with new. This part of the cam unit is a fairly major point of difference with the obvious competitor, Black Diamond's Camalot. Camalots have the thumb ring and so still hold the advantage for aid/big wall climbing where an extra bit of reach will help to narrow the gap to the next placement.
However the Dragon's thumb press unit has the added feature of the extendable sling too. This is a bit of a love hate feature for me. I love it right until it tangles...usually when I'm a bit pumped. With care the stitched half is pulled to double the length of the loop, leaving it all neat and flush, and doing away with the need for an extra quickdraw. But if you're in a faff then it's possible to pull one end of the tape though the other, leaving a messy affair that does not look quite right. Is it wrong to leave thin dyneema tape in a way that'll potentially cause quite a bit of heat in a fall? It's certainly something I'm aware of and try my best not to do. With this small niggle aside the need for a few less quickdraws is a definite advantage. By sticking with this design DMM haven't sacrificed any of the strength which would be lost using a thumb loop instead. And what with the extendable sling, the firm cam action and the grippy lobes I can't remember the last time I saw a cam having walked in its placement.
The thin dyneema slings are really well finished, very compact and neatly stitched. Clearly after such a little time testing they still look in great shape, although my set of original Dragons (a couple of years old) probably need the loops replacing. All these lightweight materials wear out pretty quickly with constant use, but of course the wear and tear in this case is obvious and easy to spot. DMM do offer a great cam re-slinging service in any case, where your used cams get a full inspection and service (lube, new trigger wires and sling) providing they pass a quality inspection - see here.
In use these cams really are great. I've been lucky to try out a set from size 0 (grey) to a size 5 (blue) which between them cover a big range from 16mm up to 85mm. Pleasingly, DMM have kept the same colour/size range so that greens are still green, yellows still yellow and so on - something they've frustratingly changed in some previous ranges of cams - making size selection easy if you're already familiar with the previous model. The action is super crisp and feels very reassuring. This is a feature of most double axle units when you convert from single axle units, but particularly so with the new Dragons. The whole double axle thing to me is just great with the benefits wide ranging... but simply having a bigger range of placements for each unit is the key advantage.
If you're weighing the merits of the various dual axle units currently available then they all have their pros and cons in terms of performance and price. However when you add up all the minor upgrades then the new Dragons are a big improvement on what was already a good product. With their superb grippy cam lobes, new thumb press and (with reservations) the extendable sling, I can fully recommend the new Dragons for anyone committed to trad who's striving to get the most from their rack.
Combining over 30 years manufacturing and design experience with our vast wealth of climbing knowledge, we've created a state-of-the-art cam that makes the most of every placement.
An increased contact area with a raw aluminium finish and additional bite points are the hallmarks of our revolutionary TripleGrip cam lobes. These features combine to increase friction between the cam lobe and the rock. The result is greater holding power and reduced walking, particularly in slick or soft rock types and sub-optimal placements.
Single stem, dual axle design gives our Dragons 360° flexibility and the greatest expansion range, increasing both performance in sub-optimal placements and your chance of getting the right piece first time.
The hot forged thumb press improves ergonomics while reducing the chance of a fumble from gloved hands or pumped fingers, while the extendable sling cuts down on quickdraws needed to extend placements, significantly reducing weight on your harness. The design of the thumb press means that the strength of the Dragon suffers no compromise when the sling is extended.
The Dragons low weight does not compromise its strength – they are rated to a huge 14kN from size 1 upward and the additional material in the lobes has improved their resistance to deformation.
For more info see: dmmclimbing.com
Tim Neill is a fully qualified British Mountain Guide (UIAGM) and is based near Llanberis. He is often found working on his home crags of North Wales where he has climbed more routes than anyone else we know. He spends much of the winter working in Scotland and some of the summer working in the Alps.
Tim has been climbing for many years with ascents of hundreds of classic routes across the world (including some hard ones!), including an early repeat of the stunning ice climb Super Domo in Patagonia with James McHaffie (see photo and UKC News).
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