What is in a trad climbing rack?
This is the second in a series of articles where I will be writing on suggestions of what different climbing racks consist of, from our point of view. We looked at a sport climbing rack on our previous article (click here). We are yet to look at trad climbing, aid climbing, winter mountaineering, and winter climbing.
Let’s take a look at the trad climbing rack. Trad climbing is the usual progression from sport climbing. It is a whole new adventure. In sport climbing we use bolted protection to keep us safe. In trad climbing we use the weaknesses, and features within the rock to place our own protection. When you are a beginner, it may be easier to follow as a second, and allow someone more experienced (make sure they have knowledge, and not just bravado) to show you the way. Or come and learn on one of our courses (our rock climbing courses).
Another difference to sport climbing is that you will generally climb with 2 half ropes (in the UK). I know, there are lots of places where you can climb with a single rope. This is mostly done in places where the weakness or features in the rock, where the protection to be placed, follows a fairly straight line. I’ll explain a little more in the ropes section below.
With trad climbing you also use multipoint anchors, which need to be equalised. These can be in reach and out of reach. So, there are lots of new aspects compared to sport climbing, and a lot of it is down to experience and personal judgement.
The kit does change depending on the venue, i.e. route length, multi-pitch or single pitch, rock type, and/or if abseils are required to get into the crag, or back down.
Trad Climbing Rack
With trad climbing, you will tend to have lots of bits hanging from the harness. Unless you know the route, you will tend to carry more protection up the route with you. As you are uncertain what to expect which sizes of cams, hexes or nuts you will need. Hence you will need more gear loops to carry it all. I have six gear loops on mine.
As you will be placing your own protection, you may not place each piece first time, hence it may take more time. Then it would always be advisable to have a padded harness for comfort. Also, if climbing a multi pitch route, as the belayer, you will be sat/hanging in your harness for longer. On those days, comfort goes a long way.
On the other hand, if you are working a single pitch route, and know what protection to use, you may want to use a lighter weight harness.
These are down to personal preference. Some of us like to feel pain, by having a pair of shoes 3 sizes too small, others like to wear socks in their shoes. Generally, on trad climbing routes, we tend to hang around for longer, so comfort may make a day more enjoyable. If on the other hand, you are working a harder route, a more technical shoe may work better. Just remember to take them off on belay stances when multipitch climbing.
This is a hot topic. To wear one or not… Some of us do, some of us don’t. It can be a hinderance, but it can also save your life. I would suggest always to wear a helmet, as the head is very vulnerable. But let’s try and narrow it down, for you who sit on the fence with the subject. Always wear a helmet on multipitch climbs, on climbs with stepped overhangs, or climbs which require one to keep the head close to the wall for balance on some of the moves.
Chalk and chalk bag
Climbers use chalk, as it absorbs moisture from your hands, so as to provide better grip. Again, everyone is different. Some of us produce more sweat than others, and this can be a helpful tool to climb further and harder. One thing I would suggest is to attach the chalk bag with a 5 or 6mm bit of rated cord. This way you will always have something that can be used for abseiling off. Or retreat from a route, without having to leave gear behind.
Belay device and Locking carabiner
With so many belay devices on the market, it can be difficult to choose one that suits you. With trad climbing, if we assume we are climbing with two half ropes, we will require a belay device which can take two strands of rope at the same time. These devices are very versatile, and can be used for abseiling as well. Some of the belay devices on the market, are assisted braking, hence creating more friction, and giving the climber more security. Also, some of the belay devices have a guide function, which can make belaying a second easier and more enjoyable, and give time to take in the surroundings.
Nuts (one set racked on 2 oval snap-gate carabiners)
These are the bread and butter of most trad climbers. Small wedges of metal, which are placed in constrictions of crack-like-features in the rock. These are passive protection, as they have no moving parts, unlike cams. Available in standard sizes, off set, micro nuts, ribbed, and brass (softer metal, so these seat better). So, depending on the rock type, route length, you will have more or fewer included on your rack. As a beginner, a standard set of nuts is a good start.
I personally carry a whole set, with having doubled up on several sizes, as I tend to use them more frequently. The reason for dividing them up, is that just in case you drop them, you still have the other half left. Also, using an oval carabiner to rack them, makes the unclipping of the remainder off the placed piece much easier.
Hexes plus a snap-gate carabiner on each
The hex centrics evolved from the nuts. These are a passive piece of protection, which because of its shape, cam in the crack they have been placed in. Nowadays these have almost been replaced by the cam, but they certainly do have a place on a trad rack. Much lighter, and much cheaper than the equivalent sized cams.
So, depending on where I climb, and what route, and rock type, etc… When I carry hexes, I tend to carry 3 or 4 of them. One smaller size, and 3 medium to larger size. These come in either wire attachments, or slings. There are benefits to both. The wire attachment will last longer, and is easier to place in deeper crack. The sling attachments create less drag on the rope, and are more likely to stay seated in their initial placement.
Cams plus a snap-gate carabiner on each
Wow, what an invention these were. Not sure how some of the old greats climbed some of these first ascent in their day without camming devices. These are a must on a trad rack. These spring-loaded devices, where the lobes retract when the trigger is pulled. Making it smaller, able to place in the correct crack or feature in the rock. The harder you pull on it, the harder the cams wants to expand and seat into the rock.
Cams come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and metal. These can have 3 camming lobes, or 4; a rigid stem or flexible one; an extendable sling or a fixed loop, etc… Ranging from around 8-10mm wide to around 30cm. So what camming devices should I include in a trad rack? Again, that depends on the route you are climbing, the rock type, single pitch or multipitch, and the types of anchors available.
Let’s assume it is your first trad rack. Personally, I would go for the Black Diamond C4 sizes 0.4 – 3, or the equivalent in another brand. This is a good start.
When you want to climb harder, or other types of rock, this rack can be added to with a selection of smaller cams, or bigger cams.
Which quickdraws to get? When trad climbing, you will generally already be carrying a lot of gear, and very soon you have added 4 Kg onto your harness. So, when selecting a set of quickdraws, go for lightweight. A thin tape, and wire gate carabiners. It is also useful to use an extendable quickdraw. This is made up of a 60cm sling, and two snap gate carabiners (here is a video). You can make this up very easily.
Generally, with trad climbing, we tend to use two half ropes in the UK. The reason for this is that the protection we place can be all-over the rockface (i.e. not in a straight line). We then use two half ropes (lighter weight than a full rope) to reduce the potential for rope drag, and keep ourselves safe in case one is cut.
There are of course lots of trad routes, where a single rope can be used. Usually where the line of protection is fairly straight. The benefit of using 2 half ropes on multipitch climbs, is that you can abseil the full length of the rope.
Single ropes can also be used on multipitch climbs, if you are certain that you will get to the top. Or these can be combined with a thinner rope, which can be carried in a rucksack by the second, to then use in combination for abseils.
What rope length to choose? 50m half ropes will get you to most places in the UK.
Just make sure, whichever rope(s) you are using, that this is the right thickness to use with the belay device(s) you have. This information can be found on the belay device itself, or on the manufacturer’s website.
Rope bags are very useful to keep your ropes clean from dirt, and organised when stowed away. They also allow you to easily move the rope quickly and efficiently, between routes. If ropes are continuously covered in dirt and abrasive particles, this will reduce the ropes performance and longevity.
8 x Locking carabiners
These I use for setting up belays on multipitch climbs, and for setting up abseils. I may decide to carry a few extra to deal with any rescue scenario.
Slings 4 x 120cm, 1 x 240 cm (each with their own locking carabiner)
If you are going to do multipitch routes, a few slings are useful for the belay stance. Making a single master point to work from, keeping everything tidy. Sometimes, these can also be used to extend a piece of protection to reduce rope drag.
Prussik loop x 2 with carabiner
The prussik loop is so versatile, as it allows for hoisting a partner who is struggling on a move, escape the system if your partner is in trouble, prussik up and down the rope, and have a braking hand back-up on abseils. (There is so much more you can do with 2 prussik loops. If you are interested to learn more, please book onto our rope rescue techniques course).
Lastly, you will need a nutkey to GENTLY manipulate nuts, hexes, and sometimes cams, when they are stuck. I see too many people ripping the nuts upwards, and bending the wire they are attached to, to try and dislodge them. Or violently stabbing them with a nutkey, and in the process more likely to damage the wire, hence affecting its strength. So next time you want to dislodge a stuck nut, or hex, use the DMM Nutbuster (picture above). Place the hooked end on the metal block (keeping away from the wire), then use the palm of the other hand to bash it. As easy as that. Your gear will last longer.
The above are only suggestions. The amount of hardware you take with you depends on the venue, i.e. route length, multi-pitch or single pitch, rock type, and/or if abseils are required to get into the crag, or back down. Buying a trad rack can be very expensive when you first start out. You will start out sharing this with climbing partners, and build this up over time. Please be safe, and have fun climbing.
If you have any questions regarding the above, please feel free to contact us. Or if you would like any tuition on any aspect of climbing, we would be happy to help.