Link cams… what to think of these creative devices? Are they the missing link? The weakest link? Perhaps they’re an intriguing mixture of both…
The Link Cam is unique because they are the first cams designed with interlocking lobes. According to OP’s literature, “Link Cams operate on a simple concept of trisecting a cam lobe so that, as the device is retracted, the cam unfurls and permits an amazing range for a unit of its size.” As one lobe retracts beyond its range, it swivels out of the way on a hinge, or “link” and another lobe takes over contact with the rock. There are a total of three lobes interlocked allowing these cams to ingeniously have, by far, the largest camming range on the market. Link Cams have an impressive camming ratio of over 2.5:1. OP’s literature goes on to point out that you can take one cam in the place of two, and that they are great for the crux.
Hand in hand with the benefit of huge expansion range, there are unavoidable downsides. The cams are heavy, probably the heaviest on the market for their size. A large amount of metal is required to create so many interlocking lobes. This creates an interesting conundrum for the “less is more” minded climber. While the larger expansion range might allow carrying fewer pieces up a climb, those pieces are going to be heavier. Carrying a cam with a larger expansion range isn’t necessarily going to reduce the number of pieces required to protect a 100’ pitch, so if one were to bring all Link Cams, they would be carrying extra weight. However, as a compliment to a single or even double set of cams they suddenly become much more appealing. If I know I need 1-2 more pieces for a climb, but I’m not sure what size, Link Cams may be the perfect tool to complete my rack, and keep it light.
The other unavoidable downside is the high price. Link Cams are roughly $100 a piece. This makes them some of the most expensive cams on the market, which is understandable due their complex design. This price will obviously be prohibitive for many, and probably not justifiable for someone building their first rack. It is much more economical to buy other cams for about 50-60% the price.
As advertised, these things can be great at the crux. Have you ever been pumped out of your mind, lactic acid building, and you reach for the wrong cam to protect the crux? With their huge expansion range, Link Cams make that situation much less likely. I tested them out on Moonlight Buttress this last spring, and they worked absolutely perfectly. I brought one for the cruxes, and I was casually able to slam a Link Cam in first try every time and keep on chugging. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was to have a cam that would fit first try, every time, including the crux 12d pitch.
If you surf the Internet forums, you may be aware that these cams do have another downside. Due to the links, they are structurally weaker than other cams if they rotate in their placement. If set improperly, it is possible (not probable!) that the cam will break. From the OP literature, “Link Cams can become damaged – and the placement may fail – if a load is placed that makes the cam ‘shift” when a climber falls onto it.” The OP representative that gave me these cams to test said they are constantly trying to strengthen the links. There have been improvements, but there is still a very small chance of cam failure. I discuss the mechanism of failure in the video below:
I have seen multiple reports on the Internet of Link Cams breaking, and spoke to one person who broke a first generation Link Cam. To be honest, at first I was a little hesitant to trust the Link Cams myself. However, since I was going to be writing a review on them, I figured I should just get over it and give them a good solid test. I led Insomnia, at Suicide, and placed the Link Cams, climbed above, and jumped off. It was quite fun logging some air time, and as I jumped off over and over I started trying to put them in pods at weird angles with the specific intention of causing one to rotate, break, and fail. However, despite my best efforts, I was powerless to damage the cams. This has definitely helped my confidence in the Link Cams, and I’ve thought much more highly of them since.
Note, Insomnia is very smooth granite with a relatively parallel crack. As I described in the video above, I believe the more there is for the lobes to catch on, the more likely the cam is to break under loaded rotation. This means that the cams will shine more on parallel sandstone than on large grain granite or pockets if there’s a chance of cam rotation in a fall.
As a result of this issue, I know there will be people who immediately write off Link Cams. I was almost one of those people. However, now I believe that if you’re aware, and use them properly, these cams can be another effective tool in the arsenal of protection. There’s a tiny chance of these things failing, but isn’t that true of all cams? I’ve broken a brand new 0.5 C4 in a small fall (although luckily it still held), and I’ve ripped textbook cam placements out. Nothing is perfect. The reason that I’m still around, is that when I climb, I protect myself redundantly. If I think there’s a chance of falling and getting hurt, I try not to rely on a single piece, and you shouldn’t either.
- Link Cams have the largest expansion range on the market
- A single set is value added in many situations
- More than a single set is too heavy and expensive
- Parallel cracks are their friends
- Be careful/aware of rotation on more uneven cracks
- Great for some cruxes & if you don't know what size cam you need
- Link Cams will definitely be used on some of my future adventures
Full disclosure: After seeing other gear reviews that I've done, a representative from Omega Pacific contacted me to write a review of their cams. The Link Cams were supplied to me for free with the understanding that I would write a non-biased review of the cams.
P.S. Thanks for taking the awesome pictures Berto!