Friends - reliable climbing companions
It's no wonder climbers have given spring-loaded camming devices a nickname. The real name is simply too long. The terms cam and friend roll off the tongue and are known to climbers throughout the world. Mention the term "camming device" to a mountaineer from America, France, Sweden, or any other country for that matter, and they might not know what you're talking about, but they'll definitely know what a friend is. But where do these strange nicknames come from?
How the friend got its name:
Friends were the first spring-loaded camming devices that were mass-produced and made available on the market. The system's inventor was an American engineer and climber named Ray Jardine. Prior to launch and release he wanted to thoroughly test his new invention on the rocks and carry out some initial improvements. So he took the nameless camming devices climbing with him.
In order to prevent potential competitors on the climbing scene from getting wind of his new device he needed a codename. Ray Jardine went climbing with his "friends" and so the term was born. The name stuck and was retained for the launch.
The original camming devices were launched at Wild Country, the English hardware specialists and are still sold there today (in regularly improved designs) under the name Friends. Strictly speaking, no other camming devices are friends, this is a protected trade name of Wild Country. Because of their notoriety the name has become the everyday word for all (friend-like) camming devices for climbing.
To get around the brand name, the term cam has established itself in English. It's simply the abbreviation for camming device and rolls off the tongue a lot easier.
So what exactly is a friend/cam?
A friend or cam is a safety device used for securing alpine and sport climbing routes. Unlike other safety devices, such as nuts and pitons, cams "actively" hold their position in the rock. This is achieved by a spring system which presses the jaws against the sides of a rock crack.
But the springs only hold the device in place. The clamping effect caused by a fall is achieved through a simple physical principle. In a fall, the cam wants to follow the direction of the fall and a load is placed upon the axle on which the cams are mounted. This load forces the cams to spread out into the surrounding rock, jamming the device in place. The principle works best in grippy, dry, parallel cracks. Moisture, ice, particularly smooth rock structures and brittle surfaces can significantly reduce the retaining force - a lot of experience is needed when placing a cam!