Your First Trad Rack

Your First Trad Rack

What you need on your trad rack depends on where, and what sort of routes, you climb. (Someone who only climbs routes of up to twenty-metres in the Peak District will have a very different type of rack to someone who climbs alpine multi-pitches in the Alps, for example.) Your first trad rack should cover the whole essential range of placement sizes—in other words, it should be able to protect most trad climbs. This article lists those essential pieces of gear for the beginner trad climber.

Because it’s unproductive to simply make a “definitive” list and say, ‘That’s the rack you have to have and nothing else will do!’ I’ve made some suggestions for alternatives and extras under each item of gear. Mostly, these suggestions are based on variables like budget, where you climb, and how hard you climb. With all of that information you should be able to build a trad rack that suits you and your specific needs.

One last thing I’d like to mention is that there really is no substitute for getting out on the rock with a local, more experienced climber. You get to use all of their gear, and you get some free instruction as to how it all works. They can also give you advice on what type of pro suits your local rock. There are plenty of clubs and even groups on Facebook nowadays where you can find climbing partners. As long as you’re honest about your ability, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding someone.


Dual-Slot Tube Belay Device & HMS Carabiner

Ropes: 2x half ropes

Nuts (2 sets): sizes 1-11 separated onto 2 snapgates, ‘double-ups’ (e.g. sizes 3-7) on 1 snapgate

Cams: sizes 0-5 on colour-coded racking ‘biners

Slings: 1x 240 cm nylon, 3x 120 cm Dyneemas, 4x D-shaped screwgates

Quickdraws: 6x 18 cm, 4x 25 cm ’draws + 4x 60 cm extenders (4 snapgates, 2x 8mm Dyneema slings)

3x D-shaped screwgate carabiners, 1x HMS carabiner

2x 5 or 6 mm Prussiks on 1x D-shaped ‘biner

Nut key (on leash, preferably)

A big sling to rack it all on

Dual-slot tube belay device & HMS carabiner

A belay plate that can be used with two ropes and a big locking carabiner to use it with. You don’t have to buy a belay plate with guide mode but I would highly recommend it as it makes life so much easier, especially if you’re going to be multi-pitch climbing. If you’re not familiar with guide mode, British Mountain Guide Adrian Nelham explains what it is and how to use it in this As for HMS ‘biners, any mid-sized HMS will do. I use the Beal Be Safe and find it to be just the right size.

In terms of gate closures, screwgates are the classic option. Auto-locking gates can be quicker to lock and unlock when used properly, although they tend to be fiddly once you start using them with multiple attachments, like when building an anchor. Personally, I’d stick with a screwgate as it’s the most most versatile and reliable option when trad climbing.

Rope: 2x half ropes

Ropes aren’t part of your trad rack in the sense that you don’t rack them on your harness; however, I do consider them part of your rack as they affect how you tackle a climb. You can climb with a single rope if you want to—and sometimes that works fine at single-pitch venues—but climbing with two ropes allows you to place gear how you want to, without worrying about creating rope drag.

If you’re climbing on a budget, here’s a trick you can use to save some money: buy one rope, preferably a half but you can use a single if you’re a sport climber too, of at least 50 m in length, then double it up, effectively turning one rope into two. (You can double a rope by flaking both ends until you find the middle, tying a figure-of-eight on a bight, then attaching the bight to your harness via a locking carabiner.) Voila! Now you never have to climb with a single strand of rope. There are a few downsides to this method: it’s more confusing working with two strands of the same colour, it will wear your rope faster than if you used two half ropes, and, if you’re using a single rope, it will be heavier to climb and slower to belay with than using two half ropes.

Nuts (2 sets): sizes 1-11 separated onto 2 snapgates, double-ups on 1 snapgate

You can easily get by on just one set of nuts, but you should double-up on the most common sizes (3-7, usually) as quickly as possible. I only had one set when I first started, and I spent a lot of time missing placements, saving nuts for fear of needing them later on. It’s not necessarily essential, but it does make climbing a lot more pleasant.

Instead of limiting yourself to one style of nut, try buying your second set of nuts in a different brand or style. For example, you could add the Wild Country Superlight Rocks to your set of DMM Wallnuts, as Superlights are designed to fit in much shallower placements than regular nuts.

Other options to consider are micros and offsets: if you’re climbing harder than E1, micros will help you protect those thin cracks; offsets don’t work everywhere, but in places like North Wales they’re fantastic. As you become a more experienced you’ll learn whether you need these extras or not.

Cams: sizes 0-5 on colour-coded racking ‘biners

Trad climbers who learn by using other’s gear often stick to the brand they’re familiar with when the time comes to buy their own. If you haven’t used cams before, try doing some research online then take a closer look at your climbing shop. Cost and weight are a couple of obvious differences; the DMM Demon Cams are more affordable but heavier versions of the Dragons, and the Camalot C4 Ultralights weigh 25% less but are more expensive than the standard Camalots.

Other options to consider are hexes and micro cams: hexes—essentially oversized nuts—are a great alternative to cams if you’re on a budget; and, similar to nuts, if you’re climbing above E1, micro cams will help you to protect thin cracks and small pockets.

Slings: 1x 240 cm nylon, 3x 120 cm Dyneemas, 4x D-shaped screwgates

Slings are used to equalise belay anchors, ‘sling’ natural features like rocks and trees, and create threads—made by poking a sling through a hole or behind a feature. Personally, I like to use a nylon 240—I only carry one on my harness and don’t mind the extra bulk.  Dyneema 120’s are easier to create threads with and don’t get in the way when worn over my shoulder, but you loose the extra length of the 240.

Nylon and Dyneema each have their own advantages and disadvantages: nylon is more durable and offers greater impact absorption than Dyneema, whereas Dyneema is lighter and thinner than nylon yet still achieves the same strength rating. There really isn’t a right or a wrong way when it comes to choosing which sling material to use. Like with everything, it’s all about choosing a compromise you’re happy with.

Quickdraws: 6x 18 cm & 4x 25 cm ’draws, 4x 60 cm extenders (4 snapgates, 2x 8mm Dyneema slings)

This is what I have but you may find you need more or even less depending on the length of the routes you climb. I don’t need as many quickdraws as some because my Dragon cams have extendable slings.

I have one tip for your extenders: use different colours for the gear- and rope-end carabiners. (You can also distinguish with a bit of tape if using the same coloured ‘biner.) The wires on your nuts, and from other pro like pegs, wear metal in a different way to a rope, creating sharp burrs and edges. If you keep swapping which carabiner you use for the rope and vice versa, these sharp bits of metal might prematurely fray your rope.

3x D-shaped screwgate carabiners, 1x HMS carabiner

These are the carabiners you’ll use when building your belay anchors. The smaller carabiners go on the gear, and the larger HMS is used at the focal point of the equalised anchor. The HMS needs to big, as you’re potentially going to have a few clove hitches and even a belay plate in guide mode attached to it. I use the DMM Boa as it’s massive.

2x 5 or 6 mm Prussiks & 1x D-shaped ‘screwgate

Prussiks are used to abseil off routes, or rescue a stuck or injured partner—that’s why you’ll need two instead of one. The cord used to make prussik’s is dead cheap, so buying an extra shouldn’t cost too much.

Nut key (on leash)

The leash will come in handy when you’re pumped and fumble the nut key.

By Jake Chapman

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