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The Differences between Cam Buckles and Ratchet Straps (and who would win in a fight)

Sometimes it’s easy to mix up similar things. Plantains and bananas, crows and ravens, oranges and clementines, alligator and crocodiles. They all look the same at a first glance, and it can be difficult to identify small differences between them.Here at etrailer, we regularly get asked questions about the fundamental differences between cam buckles and ratchet straps. They have a lot of similarities: same material (polyester or nylon), similar end fittings, and same basic purpose -- to secure your stuff from point A to point B. Despite the similarities, they are used for different purposes, and using the wrong one can potentially damage your cargo. Specifically, overtightening a strap on more fragile cargo, such as a kayak, can actually leave indents. This quick read will highlight the differences between cam buckles and ratchet straps, help you choose what is best for YOUR cargo, and of course, determine who would win this face-off and why.Oh, and I’ll add a couple jokes in there too, just because I’m glad you stopped by.
What did the cam buckle say to the ratchet strap? Cam buckle: Bet I can handle more than you. Ratchet strap: That’s a load of strap!
Friendly Reminder: Tie-down straps should be chosen according to their safe working load limit (WLL). The weight of the secured cargo must not exceed the combined WLL of the straps being used. For example, if you are using straps with a WLL of 500 lbs each to tie down a load weighing 1,000 lbs, then you need at least 2 straps to safely secure that load. We strongly encourage you to always use straps in pairs!

In This Corner: Cam Buckle Straps

Do you remember the days you used to roam the hallways carrying a bag full of textbooks, pencils, and maybe a couple Hostess snack cakes? Well, on your heavy backpack there might have been some cam buckles. A cam buckle, also called an “alligator clip” bites down on the webbing and threads it through the buckle. In the case of a backpack, this is what allowed you to adjust the straps as needed. These same mechanisms are also used on many tie-down straps used to haul gear on trailers or vehicles. This buckle is the most distinct differentiating feature of the two tie-downs discussed here.
Cam BUckle
Why was the alligator invited to the fashion show? She was a snappy dresser. Or…should we say strappy?
Let’s look at the most common features of cam buckle straps and why they might be the right option for you and your cargo.
  • Most ideal for: kayaks, canoes, household appliances, luggage, coolers, and other lightweight/fragile cargo
  • Weight capacity: 500 - 1,000 lbs (lightweight class)
  • Tighten by hand strength (helps protect cargo against overtightening)
  • Webbing width: 1-2"
  • End fitting options: While they often won't have end fittings, they can have j-hooks, snap hooks, e-track ends, and s-hooks
cam buckle
cam buckle
cam buckle

And the Challenger: Ratchet Straps

Ratchet straps, like cam buckles, have a polyester or nylon strap that is tightened to hold a load. The major difference here is the ratcheting mechanism. This allows you to secure much larger and heavier loads and to get the strap much tighter than you could without the ratcheting mechanism. This makes ratchet straps ideal for heavier cargo, like furniture or vehicles.
Ratchet strap
Do you ever get the Sunday blues? Buy a pair of ratchet straps so then, you can really hold it together on Monday.
Now, while you’re holding it together, let’s explore some of the common features of ratchet straps and why they may work better for you than cam buckle straps.
  • Most ideal for: furniture, lawn care equipment, cars, piles of lumber, and other heavy-duty equipment
  • Weight capacity: 5,000 - 15,000 lbs (heavyweight class)
  • Tighten by ratchet (easier to overtighten and damage fragile cargo)
  • End fitting options: j-hooks, snap hooks, e-track ends, s-hooks, double j-hooks, grab hooks, and flat hooks
  • Webbing width: 1-2"
ratchet strap

So Who Wins?

Chances are, you are not the first nor last person to get these two tie-down methods confused. Whether you are strapping down your seventh load of the month or preparing to transport your favorite float trip accessories, we would be happy to throw a recommendation your way. Personally, retractable ratchet straps save me a great deal of time and energy with their quick-release, self-retracting design for super-simple loading and unloading. When it comes to containing excess strap, simple is most certainly sweeter. For cam buckle straps, I always look for an s-hook end fitting. Because of their shape, they are easy to slide in and out of anchor points. Due to their greater break strength, which allows them to handle the bigger and meaner loads, ratchet straps have been crowned the heavyweight champion of this face off! But their power can cause irreversible damage to fragile cargo, so we'll also give props to our lightweight champion, cam buckles. Whether you learned something new or just chuckled at one of my jokes, I'm glad you stopped by.
About Rachel S. One of our core values at etrailer is to be skilled. This means taking the time to research and learn about each product or concept inside and out. I am always eager to expand my expertise. Whether it’s attending product demonstration meetings to learn about the best ratchet strap features, absorbing customer feedback through reviews, or spending the day at a campground shooting help videos for first-time RV owners, I can always count on receiving an important takeaway.It is my privilege to listen to your concerns, help you understand crucial concepts, recommend the right products, and continue to be a resource throughout your journey. As a visual learner myself, I strive to paint concepts in a manner that is easy to grasp, and I greet each learning opportunity with a smile. My job is to answer all the questions you didn’t even know you had!
Related Articles Related ProductsWritten by: Rachel S
Last Updated: 12/28/2022

Myron S.


how do you thread a ratchet strap properly?

Etrailer Expert

Mike L.


@MyronS Happy to help you with that. Place the ratchet end of the strap on a flat surface with the handle facing upwards. Open the ratchet handle and thread the long portion of the strap through the slot in the mandrel or spool. Pull the strap through far enough to get the strap a little longer than you actually need it and loop it back over the spool and back upon itself. Work the ratchet for several clicks which will tighten the strap to the spool. At that point, you're good to go. There are videos online that also show this. Hope that helps!!



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