Gear Talk: An Interview with Totem Cams

As our inspiring community of badass climbing ladies continues to grow, we strive to bring best-in-class content.

Our inaugural edition of Gear Talk – girls talking gear and all things awesome – features Totem Cams, an innovative Cooperative Work company based in Basque Country, Spain.

What strikes us most about Totem Cams is not only the high quality gear (a patented, exclusively designed Direct Loading Camming Device system for all-around use and broader placement possibilities) they produce entirely in Hernani (Gipuzkoa), but also their overall vision and mission around community:

Our efforts are focused to improve the production processes and management systems to achieve what is demanded by the customer: good products, competitive price and on time delivery.

All this supported on core values that are very important for us: give priority to the climber’s interest, fair working relationships, democratic decisions, share the wealth with our neighbor, man/woman equality and be environmentally friendly.

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We spoke with Mikel Apezetxea of Totem Cams about their origin story, community-building vision, and the evolution of trad climbing.

BB: How did your relationship with rock climbing start?

MA: When I was child, I walked a lot in the mountain with my father. The inaccessible caught my attention, and when I had the chance, I went to climb with some friends. I was 14 or so.

BB: What inspired you and your team to break into the rock climbing business?

MA: Another guy and I started the project (Iñaki died before we started selling the product); I was the only climber. For me, it was a mix of wanting to create an economic activity with our own criteria, and the possibility to expend my energies around the climbing world, which I am passionate of.

BB: What was the catalyst for you and your team to create a new generation of the spring loading camming devices (SLCD)?

MA: We spent countless hours in designing. Really countless. We did not want to become rich with that, so we worked for self-satisfaction and did not worry about whether the other’s contribution was more or less. The road was probably too long, but I think that no other classical approach would work. I deem very improbable to develop something so innovative as Totem Cam in an already established company’s perspective. It’s too much work with too much risk to get nothing.

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BB: Tell us about Totem Cams’ vision and its core values.

MA: We work to be an active economic agent whose main rule is to have fair relations among workers and our neighbor and environment. We are a cooperative work company where the decisions are taken by one person on a one vote basis.  Our salary is equal for everyone on our team, and do not think that Totems are “expensive” due to that.  We manufacture everything locally.
In terms of climbing, we would like to promote environment-friendly climbing, and try to provide the best tools for that.

BB: As the trad climbing technology has quickly evolved over the last decade, how do you think rock climbing has evolved?

MA: I see different forms of evolution. One is to try to respect the environment as much as possible, without compromising the overall objective. In our area, the light drills are the key of the majority of most difficult first ascents. Not sure what future climbers will think about it.

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BB: How do you think the proliferation of women in rock climbing has changed the sport?

MA: It’s comforting to go to climb and share the experience in a pure non-masculine surroundin as it was years ago, although there is still a large road ahead – not only in climbing or sports. I would say that women’s proliferation makes the climbing world less elitist. It helps to highlight climbing’s core values as self-improvement, team value, self-satisfaction, and responsibility.

BB: What do you consider to be Totem Cams’ value proposition and competitive advantage?

MA: With Totem Cams, the natural protection capabilities are broadened. The difference is maybe slight for a beginner, but I think she/he will feel confident with non marginal placements too.

BB: What does the future look like for Totem Cams?

MA: Long life for Totem Cams! More sizes will be coming soon, and a design improvement.  It will be hard to find a system based on mechanics which would improve the functionality, and those toys are very hard to make well. I see Totem MT making them for years and expanding their product range.

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