Tricams for Rock Climbing
Many climbers fail to recognize the value of tricams and instead miss protection opportunities that other types of protection simply will not work. The biggest advantage of tricams is versatility. Tricams are a dual purpose protection piece that can function passive (chocking) or actively (camming action). Tricams also are narrower that cams for the relative size, thus may work where a cam may not. For example, I have place tricams in pockets that cams simply will not work. Due to their odd shape, tricams will fit in offset placements better than stoppers and cams.
Parts of a Tricam
A tricam has four parts: sling, stitching, head and pin. The head has a stinger (fulcrum) on one side and rails on the other. The sling is around a stainless steel rolled pin. At the end of the rails are two “ears”. When you look at a tricam in passive mode the ears will be sticking up.
Placing Tricams Passively
Tricams are a stopper-like device that functions like a stopper in passive mode. I use them in place of larger stoppers due to their versatility. Tricams work best in an offset constriction or one that has a rapid or bottle neck constriction on one side of the crack and a gradual or straight side on the other (see photo). Find the largest unit that will fit the crack. Place the stinger or fulcrum on the prominent constriction side of the crack. The rails will set in the gradual constriction and you should get more surface contact on the stinger area (see photo). Slotting tricam in horizontal also works. Place the unit in a wide area and slide it sideways into a constricted area. When placing tricam horizontal place the nose or fulcrum towards the side that has the most pronounce constriction.
Tricams do not work as well as stoppers in gradual constrictions. Stoppers have more gradual tapper, around 12° and are design for cracks that taper down gradually. Tricams are not suited for this and when place in such constriction will get stuck if you fall on them. Look for the offset constriction or bottle neck constriction for the best locations.
Tricams can also be the bridge between passive and active pro. Flip the head around so the webbing is running between the rails, place the stinger in a depression or behind a protrusion of rock and it will cam like a spring loaded camming device. This gives tricams the ability to exert and outward force on the rock and function in parallel cracks. Cams can do this too, but tricams are lighter and narrower.
It is important to get the stinger in a depression or behind a protrusion. The fulcrum or stinger cannot slip. If it does the unit may fail. In glassy slick rock such as limestone and some quartzite this can be a real problem. The stinger is the pivot point for engaging the camming action. If the stinger slips, the unit will not cam. I have tracked tricams out of polished quartzite at Devils Lake. In higher friction rock, tricams will function without the stinger behind a nubbin. Again, it is friction dependent. When in doubt, look for a place to place the stinger.
Try to have the rails contacting the rock in the lower-range, but not completely cammed (see photo). If you place a tricam too tight, the unit will get stuck. Set the placement with a slight pull and place a sling on it. Do not yank wildly on the unit, do a direct inline pull to set it. Tricams are very prone to wiggling out or getting stuck from rope drag in the active mode, so be sure to add a sling.
To ensure proper function of the tricams in active mode check the contact on the rails. The contact should be straight across the rails or evenly distributed on the rails. If the contact is diagonally across the rails (one rail contacting more than the other) the unit may pivot and come out when loaded. Be sure and set the unit in the direction of anticipated load and check the rock contact. If the unit pivots when you set it, move it and try again.
Active placements will work in parallel cracks or in crack with a gradual constriction, either vertical or horizontal. This is the best option if the crack constricts some and you do not have a stopper big enough. Tricams will not walk and open up like a cam. Go with one size down from the unit that fits passively and place the unit in active mode. One can also place tricams on their side in active mode in a horizontal crack. I have done this in Red Rocks in some irregular pockets common to the area. It requires a good place to set the stinger and even contact on the rails to work.
There is some debate as to which is better, stinger up or down in a horizontal placement. Stinger up gives the unit a more stable base as the rails rest on the rock (see tricam A). Stinger down is better on the sling, as it reduces the angle of the sling as it goes over the edge (see tricam B). Both are valid statements, but one should consider the stinger placement as first priority. Again, look for the depression or nubbin of rock to place the stinger in or behind. This ensures that it will function as a fulcrum and engage the camming action of the unit. If there is a sharp edge that the sling goes over, the B placement should be consider especially if one can get the stinger in a good location.
The design of the tricam allows for some tricky placements. It is possible to place tri-cams in old pin scars, flares and in shallow stopper placements. In pin scars and flares one must look for the best location for the stinger. If you can place the stinger in a depression you will get a reliable placement even if the rails are on a flaring section. This may require the unit to lay horizontal or angled back some. This works because the sling is flexible and transfers the force to the unit along the rails.
Shallow stopper placements that pinch down near the opening of the rock also work with tricams. Place the unit so that one rail and the stinger are inside the rock with one rail out of the crack. This locks into place and makes a reliable placement in an otherwise difficult spot. I have done this in Red Rock and Seneca Rocks.
Tricams are difficult to place in a strenuous stance, look funky, and are prone to being dislodged by rope drag. Place a sling on the placement and lengthen it if necessary to reduce rope wiggle. Also set them with a direct inline pull. Be cautious about yanking on protection, if it pulls you’ll probably pop off as you lose your balance.
The small tricams are weaker in the passive placement than when placed actively. For example, the pink tricam is rated to 9kn in active mode and 6kn in passive mode. This is due to the force pulling on the pin towards the small end of the head. This only affects the first couple of sizes. The larger units are stronger than any other protection available, with larger unit rated to 18kn or more.
Removing a tricam is a Zen art. Most beginners will get tricams stuck before anything else. To remove, first, look at how it went it. What is the probable path? Push in on the ends of the rails or ears to release the camming action. Now, slide the unit along the probable path of placement. Go easy. I once spent 30 minutes trying to remove a stuck tricam only to have an older and wiser gentleman pop it out in 10 seconds. Learn the nuances of tricams from frequent practice. Getting familiar with these pieces is a hand’s on lesson. Grab a bunch and head out to the cliff to play. A good mentor or guide will help tremendously.
Enjoy your climbing
Copyright 2010 Appalachian Mountain Institute, LLC