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
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.
Black Diamond Camalot X4
Black Diamond Camalot C4
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.
Black Diamond Stoppers
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.
Trango Phase Alpine Draws
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.
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.
Trango Phase Quickdraw Pack
Petzl Ange Finesse
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.
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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