Traditional or “trad” climbing is about vertical adventure, about finding your own way up cliffs, placing your own gear for protection, and leaving no trace of your upward passage. Trad climbing requires an intimate knowledge of basic climbing skills and climbing safety, as well as a rack of equipment, including cams, nuts, quickdraws, slings, and carabiners.
Climb with a Mentor and his Rack
If you learned to climb at a gym and have done some top-roping and sport climbing outside, then you probably own all of your personal gear—rock shoes, harness, belay device, locking carabiner, and helmet. With this basic equipment, you can go trad climbing with a more experienced mentor who owns a lead rack of gear and a rope.
Personal Gear from Trad Climbing
Your personal gear for traditional climbing is going to be slightly different than the stuff you use for gym climbing and sport climbing. Below are a few tips for buying and using your personal equipment for trad climbing.
Comfortable Rock Shoes
Trad climbing requires wearing rock shoes for hours at a time. Don’t wear super-tight shoes that you have to remove on every belay ledge. Instead use a comfortable pair of rock shoes that don’t hurt and don’t rub on pressure points on your feet. You can also wear a comfy pair for scrambling and hiking descents off the top of your routes. It’s best to buy an all-around pair of shoes, preferably ones with a high-top that protects your ankle, rather than low-top sport shoes. Your ankles will thank you later when you’re wriggling up a squeeze chimney.
Buy a Sturdy Harness
Buy a beefy all-around harness to wear traditional climbing. The harness should be adjustable so it fits over whatever clothes you’re wearing on the rocks, including a sweater and long pants. Most trad climbs will test both the durability and functionality of your harness as you scrape through chimneys, jam up cracks, and hang from gear and at belays. Avoid using a lightweight sport climbing harness—they’re not made for the abuse you’re going to heap on your harness during your adventures. Also make sure the harness has four gear loops for racking cams and carabiners, and has a haul loop on the back in case you need to tow an extra rope behind you.
Belay and Rappel Devices
A good belay device is essential for trad climbing. You need a belay device with two slots in it, a typical tubular device, so that you can also rappel with it. Don’t bring a GriGri or other self-locking device. Mate your belay device with an auto-locking carabiner and carry it on a harness gear loop.
Personal Anchor System
A personal anchor system, like the Metolius PAS or BlueWater Titan Loop Chain, is important equipment for every trad climber. Essentially a series of ultra-strong sewn webbing loops connected together, the personal anchor system attaches to your harness. You then use its loops to clip yourself into anchors for belaying and rappelling. It’s far superior and much safer than using a daisy chain, and is easy to use and to adjust. Use an auto-locking carabiner to clip it to anchors. Also don’t forget to also tie in with the climbing rope.
Always Wear a Climbing Helmet
You are going to need a good helmet if you are trad climbing. Don’t skimp on the bucks and use a bicycling helmet; they’re not made for rock climbing. Instead buy a UIAA-approved climbing helmet that will supply all the cranial protection you need from falling rocks and from the impact of falls on your head. Trad climbs, because they usually follow crack systems, often have loose rocks and blocks. Be smart and protect your noggin—wear a climbing helmet and live to climb.