How to Build Your First Trad Rack: Best Gear for Getting Started

Building the perfect first trad rack is an art, not a science, and there are few definitive rights and wrongs. While many options exist, this guide will serve as a foundation. Recommendations are unbiased and the buying links are affiliate links—purchases made from them support our free content.

This guide was last updated on January 17, 2017.

Basic guidelines for your first trad rack

In an effort to be more concrete than simply “it depends,” below are some basic guidelines to building your trad rack.

Example first trad climbing rack

  • 1 set of cams, covering #.4-3
  • 1 set of wired nuts or stoppers
  • 10 shoulder-length (60 cm) sewn runners
  • 20 non-locking carabiners
  • 4 locking carabiners
  • 4-6 quickdraws
  • 1 nut tool
  • 20-30 feet of 7mm accessory cord
  • 1 Prusik

 

Free eBook: Ultimate Guide to Rock Climbing Knots, Bends, and Hitches

 

Gear explanations and recommendations

This following is a heavily curated selection of what we feel to be the most appropriate products. Recommendations are unbiased, as we have no direct ties with the companies below. Top picks have been selected based on personal experience and community reputation.

1 set of cams, covering #.4-3

Cams are an essential component of one’s trad climbing arsenal, and while many options exist, the American standard is Black Diamond Camalots (although the Metolius Ultralight Master Cams are also fantastic). Their spring-loaded capabilities enable them to cover a range of placements, and falling on them actually increases their outward force on the rock to create stronger friction and better hold your fall. Black Diamond’s cams also have comfortable thumb loops, which increase their handling abilities.

It’s useful to acknowledge that in 2016, Black Diamond released their Camalot Ultralights. Similar in range to their C4s, the Ultralight cams are useful to lighten weight on your rack. However, justifying the higher price point is probably more of a concern for very long multi-pitch and/or alpine climbing endeavors, but not as crucial for more casual, single-to-several-pitch trad climbing.

 

Deal alert: Trad packages offer discounts over buying cams individually. You can often find kits on sale here.

 

Deal Alert: View this week’s best on-sale climbing gear

 

Generally, sizes under #1 cover finger cracks, sizes #1-3 cover hand cracks, and cams above #3 cover cracks which may require fist jams, hand stacking techniques, or armbars. Additionally, cams will prove invaluable while building anchors, and it is therefore useful to start doubling up early on key pieces.

Once you have cams covering #.4-3, many climbers start doubling up on the #.5-2 sizes.

All manufacturers supply information regarding usable ranges of cams, and we have also created a range comparison guide for your convenience. Keep in mind that one non-locking carabiner is required for each cam (we recommend the Black Diamond Neutrino).

You’ll notice that Black Diamond’s X4 and C4 cams have overlapping ranges (the X4 goes up to .75 and the C4 starts as small as .3). Some climbers choose to have one of each in the overlapping sizes. Personally, I’ve tended to use the X4s up to .4, and started with C4s at .5.

Small cams

Black Diamond Camalot X4

set-of-black-diamond-x4-cams

Big cams

Black Diamond Camalot C4

Full set of Black Diamond C4 cams

1 set of wired nuts/stoppers

Options for this form of passive protection include DMM Wallnuts (read why they’re our top pick) or Black Diamond Stoppers. To start, just get a basic pack. Offsets and/or specialized passive protection will come at a later time.

10 shoulder-length (60 cm) sewn runners

These can either be slung over your shoulder or combined with non-locking carabiners to create alpine draws.

Slings/alpine draws will be used to clip the rope to the protection, and they offer greater versatility over just quickdraws. Also, the use of 60cm slings on gear placements reduces the risk of rope drag wiggling the protection into a poorer placement (often referred to as “walking”).

For a more customized setup, you may consider buying 10 slings and 20 carabiners independently; this would allow for 10 alpine draws. Alternatively, Trango offers pre-configured alpine draws that already feature a 60cm sling and 2 non-lockers.

Alpine Draws

Trango Phase Alpine Draws

Trango Phase Alpine Draws

 

Free eBook: Ultimate Guide to Rock Climbing Knots, Bends, and Hitches

 

20 non-locking carabiners

These can be combined with the sewn runners to create alpine draws which will then be clipped to placements. Consider purchasing two varieties (i.e. straight gate and bent gate or varying colors) to differentiate between the rope-end carabiner and the protection/bolt-end carabiner.

4 locking carabiners

It’s important to always carry a sufficient supply of locking carabiners for belaying, anchor-building, tethering yourself to the anchor, etc. Pear-shaped carabiner with a larger rope-bearing surface are suggested when the rope will be running through the carabiner.

While screwgate carabiners offer a better price point, auto-locking variations provide an added level of safety.

4-6 quickdraws

Similar to your alpine draws, quickdraws will often be used to clip your protection to the rope. On cams, simply clip one end of the quickdraw to the cam sling, and on nuts clip straight to the wire. Using quickdraws is useful over 60 cm runners when rope drag and walking are of less concern.

Trad climbers generally prefer lighter quickdraws than what would be used for sport climbing, due to the heavy load of cams, nuts, etc. For a value option, the Trango Phase Quickdraw Pack offers lightweight draws at a great price. A higher end trad climbing quickdraw suggestion is the Petzl Ange Finesse, their lightest quickdraw.

Value

Trango Phase Quickdraw Pack

trango phase quickdraw 6 pack

Top Tier

Petzl Ange Finesse

Ange Finesse Rock Climbing Quickdraw

1 nut tool

A nut tool is used to remove nuts/stoppers placed by the leading climber. We’ve ranked our favorites in this nut tool buying guide.

20-30 feet of 7mm accessory cord

Accessory cord is an essential component of a beginning trad climber’s anchor-building tools. Everyone has their own length preference, but 20-30 feet should be a good start.

1 Prusik / auto block

It’s widely understood that the majority of climbing accidents happen on rappel and walk-offs—when available—are the preferred method of descent. However, rappels can be made safer by adding a Prusik to your rack.

In conclusion

This article is intended to provide guidelines, but the outlined information is not set in stone. Preferences and rock styles vary, but these general recommendations should be suitable to aid your purchasing decisions. As always, climbing is an incredibly dangerous activity. This article serves as a tool, but the best way to truly learn is under the guidance of an expert.


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  • Al Onestone

    Very good info in this piece Sander! I’ve had many different types of gear on my rack over the past 30 years including the original Friends. Anyone looking to start building their rack could do a lot worse than following your recommendations.