Trad climbing opens a whole world of lines and possibilities. Knowing what gear to get, or get first, may be overwhelming but follow our lead and we'll get to the top!
When you first start traditional (trad) climbing, it can be tricky to know where to begin with building your first trad rack. A rack is made up of many components, but most climbers will talk of their rack in terms of the protection they have.
In Australia, a 'single rack' of cams with a set of nuts is perfect to tackle short and varied cracks found in the Blue Mountains and Arapiles. If your plan is to get on long and splitter routes like those at Mount Buffalo, Frog Buttress or Tasmania then think about doubling the amount of cams.
Everyone approaches their first rack a little differently. The most important part to remember is that no combination of gear is wrong. You'll learn to work with what you have and your trad rack will evolve as you progress.
Now we're assuming you have all your personal safety equipment or a sport set up. This includes your shoes, harness, helmet, rope, personal safety sling, prusiks and belay device (more on that below). If not, check out our other guides or contact us for help on getting started.
It's good to start with passive protection (pieces with no moving parts) to help you get a sense of how gear fits into cracks. Protection (pro) such as nuts and hexes are the go-to because they're cheaper and more durable.
After you have gained a bit more experience in your harness, you'll have a better idea about using and choosing active protection (pieces with moving parts). It took me nearly a year of borrowing different cams before deciding what felt best for me!
Don't worry if you're missing some cams or nuts. It's common to borrow or combine your gear with your climbing partner to make a rack that's appropriate for a route. Just remember to mark what’s yours with nail polish or coloured tape so you can get it back.
Okay, let's get you trad climbing without breaking the bank straight away:
When you first start out, owning a nut tool can be one of your best decisions ever. Why? Because you can earn "booty gear" to add to your rack; these are nuts left behind from other climbers. You'll also need that nut tool to save your own gear from becoming booty for the next group.
Nut tools will vary in design, weight and comfort, but all function as bottle openers. You’ll just need to decide if you want a leash or no leash. Most people prefer a leash on their nut tools to avoid dropping them, but I personally go for the Metolius Feather Nut Tool.
Starting out with a set of nuts is great for learning about crack constrictions and the management of gear. A typical set of nuts consists of 10 - 13 pieces from about 0.5cm to 3cm in width.
Grabbing a set with standard sizes will cover a variety of nut placements. Standard sets include:
You can also get complete sets, which often include micronuts or larger nuts. My favourite has been the Black Diamond Pro Stopper Set with the addition of micronuts and movable wires that can be squeezed onto the occasional carrot bolt. If you're climbing down at Arapiles, I found this set the most useful.
If you’re not ready to purchase cams, consider grabbing a set of hexes instead.
Hexcentrics or rockcentrics are placed into larger cracks that are too big for nuts, and torqued at an angle in the crack. They are so versatile, easy to learn, and are great for a lot of the beginner routes in the Blue Mountains. During my learning phase, my hexes were well loved. I used my Wild Country Rockcentrics from sizes 5 - 9 until the paint faded away and the slings were brown with dirt.
I found that when I moved towards tougher climbs, I didn't really need hexes anymore - so think about what you are climbing before deciding on what to get first: hexes or cams. I do not regret purchasing hexes as it was crucial to my learning, and when they're bomber - you can whip on it for days.
I cannot stress this enough, racking passive protection using oval keylock carabiners is the best because the wires/slings don't get snagged on the carabiner's nose. You can get them big and easy to handle, like the CAMP Oval XL Carabiner.
Pro Tip: Buy two of them to separate your smaller, solids nuts from the larger, hollow nuts. This will help you find the gear you need when you’re gripped.
Compared to single-pitch sport climbing, trad climbing introduces many more belay, rappel and hauling techniques. A simple tube style belay device or an assisted breaking device designed for one strand of rope is often unsuitable for many situations common with trad climbing in Australia.
If you don't already own one, get a belay device with the circular loop at the top of the device. Why? Because it's the most versatile device for single stranded, double stranded, or top belays as well as rappelling and ascending (and it's cheap!).
Keep in mind: brand does not matter at all here. They will perform the same function (choose one you like).
Every climber has their preference for anchor material, whether it’s cord, sling or your own climbing rope, depending on who you learn from.
The most common types of anchors you'll first learn are double bolt anchors, three piece trad anchors, and tree anchors. Sometimes it's hard to know what you'll actually need until you get to the anchor. Versatility is your best friend, and if it's gear you don't mind leaving behind if you need to retreat is even better.
Cordalette is a long length of 6mm or 7mm cord that can be rigged in numerous ways to create equalised anchors between your pieces of protection. The length allows you to have a variety of configurations without having to piece together slings or use up your rope length.
My setup looks a little like this:
You can always invest in a 240cm sling, which benefits from being lighter and less bulky. However, I still recommend starting with cordalette for the versatility while you're learning.
Pro Tip: Don't spend too much money on carabiners as there may come a time you'll leave them behind. I always stock up on good value carabiners that aren't too heavy, like the CAMP Orbits.
Trad climbers love lighter quickdraws mainly because the rest of the gear is heavy enough on it's own!
If you've come from a sport climbing background, don't buy brand new quickdraws for trad. Sport quickdraws will work fine.
Extendable draws are what you'll need to help manage rope drag on long, wandering routes. I would recommend investing in:
If you plan on making a set of quickdraws for trad climbing only, here's my recommendations:
Side note: I have chosen solid gates on the bolt end of my extendables because occassionally on the odd multi-pitch route it may require a bolt plate or two. If you want versatility because you're climbing both sport and trad, you can always do the switch and opt for hybrid dogbone quickdraws (solid top/wire bottom) and use only wiregates for extendable draws.
More can be found in how to choose quickdraws & slings - coming soon.
Cams are most popular for their ease of placement, especially while pumped. You simply pull back the trigger bar to retract the lobes and place the head of the cam into the crack.
In Australia, our routes are often varied and short, which means any aspiring trad climber can get away with owning only a single rack of cams.
Basic sizes for cams range from finger cracks (0.3) to fist cracks (#4). The sizes between cam brands do vary, for example:
Each cam has its pros and cons too. I suggest doing further research into the differences, talking to us in store or reading about choosing active protection in our article coming soon.
You’ll also need to think about racking your new babies with wiregate carabiners. Colour-coding your cams and 'biners is the best way as you can look down at the top of your harness and know what to grab.
Wild Country does a sweet deal if you’re looking at purchasing a whole set of 7 at once.
The last bit of advice is to learn self rescue.
It’s especially important when you’re in trad climbing areas, often due to the remoteness and lack of phone service.
When I first started climbing, my friends taught me how to ascend a rope, descend without a device and pass through knots. Having the know-how and being equipped with basic self rescue gear may save your butt...
...and it can be as cheap as getting an extra length of accessory cord to ascend ropes.
You can find more in our Self Rescue Tips article coming soon or check out your local climbing school for course options.
NOW GET OUT AND CLIMB :)
I have been rock climbing for about six years and it’s taken me to beautiful places all over Australia. I love adventuring into the outdoors, seeking big multi-pitches, splitter cracks and night climbing. My local is the Blue Mountains (NSW), while in the winter I’ll migrate to Frog Buttress (QLD). When the weather’s right, you can catch me at places like Point Perpendicular, Arapiles, Tassie, Buffalo and maybe the Warrumbungles.