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Cam straps- What are they and how do I use them?

Here we’ll break down what cam straps are, some frequently asked questions, and how to use cam straps to secure your gear, boats, or other cargo.  

Cam straps overview

Our cam straps are made of 1” polyester webbing with one cam buckle at the end.  Cam buckles are remarkably easy to use with durable, simple parts that are very weather resistant.  They are ideal for lighter-weight cargo or more fragile items that could be damaged under too much tie-down pressure.  We like them because they subscribe to the K.I.S.S. method (Keep It Simple, Stupid)- it’s just a piece of webbing with a buckle.  Sometimes that fancy doo-dangle is just overkill, and luckily the humble cam buckle is there to be attached and removed with ease.

Cam straps vs. Ratchet straps

The primary difference between these two types of straps is how much force they can apply to the items being secured.  Cam straps are secured by pulling the webbing through the cam buckle that has a row of teeth that clamp down on the webbing, so they can only be as snug as a person can hand pull.  This is ideal for items like kayaks, gear bags, surfboards, or anything else that could be damaged under too much pressure and because the webbing can easily move in both directions, finer adjustments can be made.  Ratchet straps can apply much more force through a mechanism that increases the advantage a person can apply.  They are tightened and released with the handle on the ratchet mechanism.  Ratchet straps are best for sturdier items weighing more than 500 lbs.  Cam straps are typically a singular piece of webbing or in two parts with webbing loops, whereas ratchet straps are in two parts and typically have hooks on each end.  Always work within the working load limit of any strap you use and use the appropriate duty weight.  With either type of strap,  if securing items to a moving vehicle, a minimum of two straps should be used.  

Strap length

Straps need to be long enough to reach from anchor point to anchor point and over your cargo with enough to have some left over.  It's a bit like Goldilocks and her porridge, not too short, not too long, but just right.  Too short and the strap won’t be usable, but too long and you’ve got a lot of tail management to do so it’s not out flapping in the breeze.  We’ve got a general guideline here, but if you know what the strap is going to be used for most, go ahead and measure the distance you need plus a foot or two.

How to operate the cam buckle

To feed the cam buckle, hold the buckle with one hand and push the tab lever.  Insert the tail of the webbing into the gap created between the metal rolling barrel and the teeth of the lever.  Once through, pull the tail of the webbing through until your item is secure.  The cam buckle will automatically clamp down and only allow the webbing to move in one direction.  To release, push the tab lever.  Once released, keep holding the tab lever down to pull the remaining webbing out of the buckle.

(1) Push tab lever down on the cam buckle and hold the tail of the strap with the other hand

(2) Feed the tail of the strap through the gap between the teeth of the buckle and the roller.

(3) Pull the tail through the buckle until the strap is snug and secure.

Storing straps

Cam straps are a critical piece of gear used to keep items secured and should be stored correctly to avoid damage and increase their useful life.  They should be stored in a dry environment away from solvents, sharp objects, or direct sunlight.  We recommend rolling them up and using the cam buckle itself to keep them tidy.  You can see more information on how to roll a cam strap here.  Other options include keeping a dedicated bag of straps, rolling them up around the buckle and securing with a rubber band, in a bucket, or even stuffing them into a sock.  However you store them, keep them readily available because you never know when they will come in handy!

Tying down items

There are many ways to secure items and it all depends on the number of anchor points available.  Typically you will have either one or two anchor points to secure your item.  For example, securing a cooler to a raft thwart would have one anchor point whereas attaching a kayak to a roof rack would have two- one on either side of the kayak.  Always work within the WLL of the cam strap.  Inspect all straps and anchors before starting and after use.  To avoid excessive wear or breakage, do not use straps on sharp or jagged edges.   

Single anchor point attachment

The simplest way to attach an item to a singular anchor point is to wrap the webbing completely around the anchor point and the object being secured.  If the object has a handle or loop, try to get the webbing through that as well.  Pull the strap tight and do a wiggle test to make sure the item is secure.  For larger, bulky items two or more straps are recommended.  

Two anchor point attachments

This describes how cargo is tied down to vehicle rook racks, truck beds, from D-ring to D-ring on a raft, or a trailer.  Anytime you are tying a boat or other cargo to a vehicle, use a minimum of two straps and work within the WLL of your roof rack.  Always inspect all parts of your roof rack before use.  Always check your load before leaving and during rest stops.  Readjust as necessary.

Two anchor point attachments using a standard cam strap

Start by holding the cam buckle in one hand and tossing the tail over the cargo.  On the other side, guide the tail of the strap under the roof rack bar/anchor point and toss the tail back over the cargo.  Back on the side you started, pull the tail under the second anchor point and up towards the cam buckle.  Feed the tail of the strap through the buckle and pull the strap until it is snug and secure.  Keep it neat and try to avoid having twists in the webbing.  Finally, tidy up any loose tails by wrapping them around the roof rack and tying it off, adding a daisy chain, or tucking it into the car door.

Two anchor point attachments using loop end cam straps

Start by separating the unit so you have two parts- a buckle end and a tail end.  Guide the loop end under the anchor point.  Slip the buckle/tail through the loop and over the anchor so it creates a girth hitch on your anchor.  If on a roof rack, adjust each side so they are anchored at the sides of your cargo.  Connect the ends over the top of the cargo and feed the tail through the cam buckle.  Pull the tail until the strap is snug and secure.  Try to avoid having twists in the webbing and tidy up any loose tails.  

Use of cam straps in rigging rafts

Any veteran of multi-day raft trips is intimately familiar with this piece of gear.  Straps everywhere!  There’s nothing worse than hitting that big hole, feeling that unmistakable tilt and looking at the underside of your raft wondering if you’re going to spend the rest of the day hunting down that dry bag full of clothes that wasn’t strapped in properly.  Always rig to flip, every time because you never know what might happen.  We will have a more in depth blog post later about raft setup, but all the the usage described in this post can be applied to the boat.  Use secure anchor points, make sure everything is tight, and if in doubt add another strap.


Will they loosen up on me?
No, the teeth of the cam buckle do not allow the webbing to back out of place. However, the cargo may shift due to variable loading or settling of softer items, and it’s recommended to check for snugness periodically.

Uh oh, my strap is too short! Can I still use it?
We’ve had this happen many times and have solved it by adding a prussic loop/loop runner with a locking carabiner girth hitched to one of the attachment points or by connecting a second strap. Just be sure to work within the WLL of any new parts of the system.

My dog chewed on my strap and it’s a little torn. Is it still usable?
Unfortunately if there is any sort of physical damage to the webbing like that it severely reduces the integrity of the strap and should be retired. If the damage is at the end of the strap, it may still be salvageable. You can cut a new end and voilà you now have a shorter strap!

How do I cut a new end?
If you have a store locally such as that has an electric rope/webbing cutter see if they’ll help you out. Outdoor stores that sell climbing equipment and home improvement stores are great places to find a cutter. Otherwise you can make your own hot knife with a propane torch and a putty or butter knife. Just super heat the knife and press the edge into the webbing where you want it cut. You can use the knife or lighter to help tidy up the cut. It’s important to use heat to seal the ends to keep the fibers from fraying.

Can I use them for climbing?
No, cam straps are not designed for life support.

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