Your First Trad Rack

When I first started climbing I remember looking enviously at other people’s trad racks. Those shiny collections of clinking metal foretold stories of adventure, high cliffs, and dizzying vertigo. I wanted to be part of that club..

Your first trad rack should be a special investment; it’s going to last for years and will stay with you as you progress. You built emotional attachments to pieces of gear, pathetic as that sounds. The red nut that prevented a ground fall in Wales, a yellow Totem cam that fits everywhere, your rack becomes part of you. 

As a beginner to the world of trad climbing you need a simple rack that isn’t too heavy but will protect most climbs in the V-diff to E1 range. This article will take you through the various types of gear that are available, unlock some of the jargon, and give you a few shopping recommendations.

Matt Rack 2

Passive Vs Active

Passive protection is gear that does not move, like nuts or hexes. They are a small chunk of metal with a wire passing through, or sometimes welded into them. Before mass machined equipment, climbers used to literally wedge nuts, car parts, or even beer cans into cracks.

Active protection covers gear with moving parts, like cams. Cams have a trigger action that closes the cam lobes, and springs that expand them. They are quick to place and very versatile, but can be a little pricey. What you need Passive protection is cheaper and harder wearing than active protection, and should form the foundations of your trad rack.

Starter trad rack - full


Nuts on wires are the best place to start. These are usually bought as a set and range from small (Size 1) up to large (Size 14). Different manufacturers have different sizes, so to avoid mixing things up try to stick to one brand. They're usually colour coordinated, so you know what size you are looking at on your rack.

Starter Rack - nuts


Hexes are a type of passive protection that look quite similar to nuts. They are hexagonal in shape (usually) meaning they fit into a different range of cracks than nuts. They tend to fit into the same places that cams do, and have the advantage of being light and much cheaper. However, they can be quite awkward to remove, and although light, take up lots of space on your harness. A small set of the larger sizes would be a good buy if you were trying to keep costs down.
Starter rack - hexes


Ray Jardine, a climber and engineer, first came up with the design that most modern cams are based on. They can now be found on most people’s trad racks, and are popular due to of how quickly you can place them. Although there are some incredibly tiny cams on the market we recommend you go for a mid range of sizes.

Similar to nuts, every manufacturer has a different size chart, but as a guide sizes 2-4 would be a great place to start. You might want to invest in a larger cam as well for those awkward to protect wide cracks.

Starter rack - Cams


Always have a few 120cm slings on your harness or around your torso. These can be looped over spikes of rock, tied around natural rock threads, or used to extend a quick draw. A larger 240cm sling is great for belays and equalising anchors. Buy a few, you wont regret it.


An absolutely essential part of any rack. Without these you can’t clip into nuts, hexes, or slings. You don’t necessarily need a super light set of draws, as usually a heavier set will be a little harder wearing and more suited to the demands of trad climbing. Having a few different lengths is useful if you need to extend the rope away from an overhang, minimising rope drag.
It is always worth carrying a few HMS screw gate carabiners on a route. They are vital for making achors safe and can be used to belay on an Italian or Munter Hitch, should you accidentally drop your plate. Some even carry an extra carabiner on their leg loop, keeping it out the way until they need it for an anchor. Snapgate carabiners are used as an atatchment point to slings so you can clip them into the rope. Generally Cams won't come with a carabiner attatched so you will need a few snapgates for those as well.

The Rack

Here is a shopping list for a basic starter rack. This can be adapted to fit your style of climbing and the type of rock you climb on.
  • 6 x Quickdraws
  • 1 x Nut set
  • 3 x Cams AND/OR 3x Hexes
  • 3 x 120cm slings 
  • 1 x 240cm sling
  • 2 x HMS screwgate carabiners 
  • 4 x Wiregate carabiner
  • Nut key - Used to remove stuck or hard to reach gear when seconding a route.
If you are interested in a few of the essential items to buy for a trad rack check out our collection of gear here.
Starter Rack - slings

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