Gear Review: Totem Basic Cam Improves on CCH Aliens

When the Spanish climbing company Totem announced their intention to begin producing a cam based on the classic CCH Alien I was excited about everything but the name. Perhaps marketing is done differently in Spain, but here in the ‘ol US of A, companies go to great lengths to come up with cool names, flashy packaging, and sex appeal for their new products. Totem, however, went with “Basic Cam,” a name that would avoid drawing any special attention to their new product. It is like they are telling us, “Basically, this cam has some springs and cam lobes. It is nothing special, and it is used for crack climbing. Buy it if you feel like, it is the one called ‘basic cam’…” Well, I can believe they are so confident about their craftsmanship that the cam will sell itself. Without wasting time and money on marketing, maybe they can make this a profitable venture by sending them out to people like me, who are so excited about new equipment that we can do some marketing for them. Dang, maybe the Spanish know more about marketing than I give them credit for. So here it is, glamour shots, glowing review, and ideas for a better name. Enjoy!

Can you spot the differences?

First things first: these cams are essentially Aliens. They may have a couple altered features and a new name, but they have all the features that made Aliens great. They are simple, lightweight, and flexible, with a compact cam head. The head size and shape, in particular, is what makes them so useful; the internal spring and minimalist design allows them to fit in spaces no other cam will. This is the first part of what built the reputation of the CCH Alien. The second cherished aspect of Aliens, which Totem has also replicated, was their “soft” aluminum lobes that bite into rock so well that you start to feel good about taking whippers on half-inch protection.

There a very few changes worth noting, beside the unfortunate name. Two changes seem superficial: there are two nylon sheaths connecting the trigger to the cam lobes (instead of one), and the lobes are cut with a slightly different pattern. The cable wires are also slightly different; by using a full cable (as opposed to the old solid piece design), there is more play between each cam lobe. By having a flexible attachment, the cam is less likely to walk.

CCH Alien top / Totem Basic bottom (yellow)

Totem made some small but noteworthy changes to the sizing of each color. Most important, they consolidated sizes and cam types. Three primary sizes cover the crucial finger range (green, yellow, and red). The Basic green and yellow cams are slightly smaller than the Alien sizes (by about .5mm). The red Basic is about 2mm smaller than the Alien, which makes the grey size redundant and manages to create a greater overlap in sizes. The Basic Cam also comes in two “hybrid” sizes, offset cams featuring two lobes of one size and two lobes of a different size, suited best for nonparallel cracks and pin scars. People who don’t use these hybrid, or offset, cams might not think there is much use for these sizes. Previously, I only carried small offsets for aiding, but I have had so many perfect green/yellow offset placements in the last week, I won’t leave the ground without it anymore. By sticking to the CCH formula, Totem managed to maintain all the unique features of the Alien and bring it to a whole new generation of climbers.

That brings us to the final goal of this post: What shall we call such a crucial and beloved piece of equipment? It is obvious why “Friends” sold so well – who doesn’t take their friends on every climb? Life Savers is taken, Saves-A-Lot is too much like Camalot. I suggest building off the reputation of Spanish climbing, and go with a Spanish name. From my high school Spanish classes, I remember escalar (to climb), sancocho (garbage water soup), and si puedo (I can do it)… how about naming it, “I can climb garbage” or “Puescocho”!

Think you have a better name for the Basic Cam? If so, tell us about it. Maybe we can help our friends at Totem market this thing. In the meantime, check out Totem’s website to order their Basic Cams directly, or find them in our shop this spring.

Viva el basic! Translation: Long live mediocrity!

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About Calvin

Calvin Laatsch guides canyoneering, rock climbing, and mountain biking trips at Zion Adventure Company; he also consults staff and clients alike on Norwegian customs, smooth dance moves, and the latest in dirtbag fashion. Bring your binoculars with you on the Zion Scenic Drive, and there’s a good chance you’ll see Calvin WAY up a wall, testing his mettle in form-fitting jeans.
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