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Tricams 101: A Guide to Using This Tool

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The Tricam is a puzzling piece: It’s delightfully simple, with no active—or moving—parts, yet it has more potential uses than either a spring-loaded camming device (SLCD) or a standard nut. These metal nuggets are essentially hybrids: They can be placed passively (like a nut) or actively (like a cam), depending on the orientation and features in the rock. Designed by Greg Lowe in the 1970s, Tricams first appeared on racks in the early 1980s. While the original unit had two placements (one passive, one active), the newest generation (CAMP Tricam EVO) has three: a cam, a nut, and a nut in broadside-out mode. The biggest benefit? The Tricam often fits where nothing else will, such as horizontal cracks, solution holes, pockets, pods, and flares large enough to require a cam-sized piece, but too narrow for a typical SLCD.

Passive mode
Active mode

Place it.

  • Passive mode. Look for a constriction in the rock. Slot the Tricam like you would a nut, finding which position fits most securely. Here, we show the fulcrum (A) against the more prominent side of the constriction (often includes protrusions, bumps, and edges); the rails (B) are against the other side of the crack, with more surface contact against the gentler angle. Place it so the sling points in the direction of a fall, usually down and slightly out. Finally, give the sling a sharp tug to set the piece.

  • Horizontal cracks. Slot as instructed above by paying attention to the shapes and features inside the crack, but orient the piece so the sling is on top to minimize exposure to abrasion and introduce camming action. Caution: If you set it too aggressively, it will be harder to clean.

  • Active mode. Flip the head of the Tricam over so that the sling is running through the rails (C). Place the Tricam fulcrum-first in the crack or constriction, and give it a tug to cam the piece in place. When you pull on the sling, the head will rotate and push the fulcrum into the rock (D) while the rails do the same against the other side of the crack. This is the camming, or “active,” action of a Tricam. To help prevent the piece from dislodging due to rope drag, set it aggressively (tug it hard), and always extend the placement with a quickdraw or sling.

  • Flexibility. Slings on a Tricam are more pliable than a cam’s stem, so this hardware will better withstand a fall when placed in a horizontal crack. The new EVO has a stiffened sling for easier placements overhead, but it is still supple enough to be excellent in these fissures.

  • Soft, icy, or wet rock. Because of the fulcrum’s shape (an actual point), it will sink well—and stick!—in these conditions.

  • Rappel anchor. Tricams are significantly cheaper than SLCDs, so it’s less painful to leave them behind in a bailing situation, and they are much lighter on the rack.

Clean it.

Although cleaning Tricams is similar to cams or nuts, it takes practice to extract them quickly and consistently.

  • When placing, keep the head visible and close enough to the outside of the crack so the second can easily reach it. Your follower will likely use his fingertips to remove the unit.

  • Think about how the Tricam went in. If it’s in the bottom of an obvious constriction, shimmy the piece upward (toward the wider spot) to pull it out.

  • You can use a nut tool for extraction. Hook the fulcrum with the tool, and hold the head in place as you use the sling to wiggle the unit out of the fissure. Don’t tug on the sling like you would a nut; that can twist or embed the Tricam more into the rock, making it harder to remove.

When and where?

There are 13 sizes of Tricams, from .125” to 7”. The pink (.5”) through purple (2”) Tricams appear most often on trad racks because they are light, easiest to clean, and the most versatile of the full set. The smaller sizes are used mainly for aid climbing because of their diminutive slings and because they’re difficult to clean while free climbing. Anything larger than 2” is heavier and harder to place; plus, it’s more likely that an SLCD will fit into a placement where you can get a large Tricam. The middle sizes shine at crags in the East with plenty of horizontal cracks, like the Shawangunks of New York and Looking Glass Rock in North Carolina.

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