Caring For Your Cams

caring-for-your-cams

Our Caring For Your Cams article offers some simple advice on looking after this vital part of your rack.  We really hope you find it useful.

There is no doubt that cams have revolutionised trad climbing protection.  They can offer versatile and trustworthy placement options in places where nothing else works.  

But, they are also one of the most complicated types of protection you’ll carry on your harness,  They have springs and several parts.  For their safe operation, these parts have to interact and work together efficiently.  So, it pays to periodically give your cams some love. The information below offers some tips to help with cam care.

Inspection & History       

Inspecting your cams and knowing their history is the most important piece of advice we can offer.  Where and how they have been used and is there any sign of physical damage?  

If there is any doubt, stop using the units.  If it is damage to the tape sling you can perhaps get the tape replaced by the manufacturer.  Should you find damage to the metal parts you might again be able to get it repaired by the manufacturer.  Some manufacturers offer trigger wire kits that can be user replaced.  Others offer a trigger wire replacement service.

One trick is to pull the trigger bar and listen carefully.  Is there grinding or does the mechanism feel gritty or sticky.  Look for damage to the lobes (the cam pieces that contact the rock when you place the unit).  Check for smooth operation of the trigger system.  Inspect for excessive play in the lobes or the axle.  If in doubt about whether the amount of play is normal, compare the cam being inspected to a new unit.  Check the cables for damage.  Check the axle isn’t damaged or bent.  Inspect the stem cable and any cable coverings for damage.  Inspect everything and, If in doubt about any aspect, stop using the unit.

After Use Care & Storage

One of the key elements for caring for your cams is simply to keep them clean and dry. Dry them thoroughly before storage if they have got wet during use.  Store them in a dry and dark place away from solvents or corrosives.

To clean your cams, swish the heads thoroughly in a tub of hot (but not boiling) water.  We retract the cams while swishing to ensure thorough cleaning.  Some manufacturers say bleach free washing-up liquid can be used, but do  check with individual manufacturers instructions before doing this.  

A small stiff brush can be used to remove stubborn dirt.  An old toothbrush or bouldering brush works well.  Using a small brush makes it easier to brush around the springs and inside the lobes.  We recommend several swishes and scrubs are best to ensure thorough dirt removal.  

Dry the cams thoroughly after cleaning.  We use an air compressor hose to push water from the mechanism but not everyone will have access to one of these.  Friends have reported getting good results with warm air from a hair dryer.  Leaving them in a warm room works well too.  Laying them on absorbent towel for drying will help absorb any water.  

Lubrication 

For lubricating your cams we recommend Metolius Cam Lube.  We’ve used this for years and highly rate it.  Metolius say their lube is self cleaning and waterproof after it has dried.  They say that when dirt attaches to the dried film lube particles will break away. Dirt will then be carried away with it.  DMM mention using Henkel Superlube, 3-in-1 or Duck Oil.  They don’t recommend oils containing degreasing agents such as WD40.  Whatever you use, ensure it follows manufacturers recommendations.  Your should also avoid getting the lubricant in contact with tape slings.

We apply the lube carefully while retracting the cams several times.  You don’t actually need much to be effective.  A few drops applied to each part of the mechanism seems to do the job.  We then leave the cams on absorbent towel to catch any that leaks out.

Environmental Factors 

Saltwater is particularly damaging to all metal. This is particularly relevant for the aluminium alloys used in the cam lobes.  However, steel elements are also vulnerable.  Lube your cams carefully before climbing on sea cliffs and clean them thoroughly afterwards.  This is important even if the cams haven’t been contacted by sea water.  The salty atmosphere around sea cliffs is enough to cause problems.  This is exacerbated in hot and humid conditions.

Dusty conditions can also cause issues.  If you are using your cams near sandy beaches or in other dusty environments it pays to wash them more regularly.

Other Resources

For more information on caring for your cams please check out the DMM information here and the Metolius information here.

If you keen to know more about choosing cams then our Buying A Climbing Rack guide here might help. We also have a Tor Read post about the creation of Wild Country Friends here and Top Gear choice about Black Diamond Ultralight Camalots here.