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Your Basic Trad Gear Rack

Essential Traditional Climbing Equipment

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Lisa Horst leads the Book of Solemnity at Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire.

If you have a decent rack of gear, you can climb the Book of Solemnity at Cathedral Ledge in New Hampshire.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Your Basic Trad Gear Rack

It takes time to build a big rack of cams, nuts, slings, and carabiners but it's worth the big adventures a big rack gives.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green
Ian Spencer-Green laybacks up Crescent Crack in Boulder Canyon, Colorado.

Build a solid trad rack with lots of cams, nuts, and quickdraws to have more vertical adventures.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

You can start trad climbing with a buddy or mentor who already owns a lead rack of climbing gear, including cams, nuts, lots of carabiners, and a beefy rope. As you learn all the nuances of traditional climbing, including how to place gear and set up anchor systems, you will want to start climbing with your own rack of gear.

Build Your Rack Slowly

After you’ve followed your buddy up some trad climbs, you will have a better idea of what kind of climbing equipment you need to buy to start creating your own trad rack. Slowly build your rack as you grow as a climber. You don’t need to go out to your local shop and spend hundreds of dollars on gear right away.

Start with Passive Protection Gear

Start with sets of passive protection gear like taper nuts or wired nuts (Stoppers) and Hexentric nuts. Later buy more expensive cams as you need them. It’s a big investment to transition from sport climbing to trad climbing. A basic rack of gear will eventually cost you over $500.

Buy a Beefy Rope

After personal gear, your first big purchase for your trad adventures is a thick beefy climbing rope. When you go trad climbing, especially doing multi-pitch routes, it is best to use a fat rope—a 10.5 mm or 11 mm rope—for climbing. The thick ropes wear better than the thin lightweight ropes favored by sport climbers. Thick ropes also are less likely to get cut or abrade on sharp edges, which are found on lots of trad climbs.

Racks Differ at Various Climbing Areas

There is not a standard rack of equipment for traditional climbing. Every route is different and every climbing area, depending on the type of rock found at each one, protects differently. If you’re jamming cracks on the cliffs around Moab, Utah, you’re going to need lots of cams to protect parallel-side cracks. If you are leading face routes at Eldorado Canyon State Park outside Boulder, Colorado, you’re going to need lots of TCUs and small brass nuts like RPs.

Your Basic Trad Rack

For a basic traditional climbing starter rack, this is your essential equipment list:

  • 1 set of Wired Nuts (sizes 1-13 or equivalent).
    Get a complete set of nuts like Wild Country Rocks or Black Diamond Stoppers.
  • 4-6 Cams from ½” to 3” (later add doubles of sizes).
    Get cams with a flexible stem like Wild Country Tech Friends or Black Diamond C4 Camalots. Add a free carabiner to each cam to carry it on your harness or gear sling.
  • 5-7 two-foot slings
    Carry slings over your shoulder or rack them with double carabiners and clip onto a harness gear loop. Buy ultra-light ones made of Dyneema or save money and make your own with 1-inch webbing.
  • 12-20 free carabiners
    Lots of free carabiners are useful for clipping on cams and slings. Regular oval carabiners work fine.
  • 2-3 auto-locking carabiners
    Auto-lockers are essential for clipping yourself into an anchor and for your belay device. These won't accidently open; screw-gate biners sometimes come unscrewed.
  • 4-6 screw-gate carabiners
    Ideal for building secure anchors.
  • 10-15 quickdraws
    Perfect for clipping to wired nuts and cam slings as extenders to reduce rope drag. Have a selection of various lengths. Many trad climbers prefer using a short sling between the two carabiners, which allows the quickdraw sling to move easily as you climb.
  • Nut Tool
    A nut tool is essential for cleaning stuck gear. Carry it clipped to your harness with a short sling and carabiner.

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