Trad is rad, but figuring out what you need to get started in traditional, or “trad,” climbing is difficult. With that in mind, we developed this checklist so you can begin building your multi-pitch kit and get climbing.

Trad climbing gear
Credit: Tim Peck

The Rack

The specific gear you’ll need to protect yourself on a route—the “rack”—varies from climb to climb. That said, most racks have three general components: stoppers, cams, and alpine draws.

Stoppers

Stoppers—sometimes referred to as nuts or chocks—are a great way for beginner trad climbers to build their rack and learn the finer points of placing gear. Nuts provide passive protection, relying on their shape and how they fit in constrictions in the rock and when loaded—like in the event of a fall—to protect the climber.

Named after the machine nuts British climbers slung and began using to protect climbs, today’s iterations are much more advanced, with some being developed with special shapes for specific applications. Beginner trad climbers will be best served by getting a complete set like the Black Diamond Stopper set, which includes 10 stoppers, ranging in size from 4 to 13.

Most climbers rack their stoppers on one or two non-locking carabiners. Although they’re a bit heavier, we like to rack ours on traditional oval carabiners, like the tried and true Black Diamond Oval Keylock, as they make it easy to pull on the carabiner to help set the nut (tugging on the nut in the direction it might pull from—making it less likely to shift).

Cams

Camming units, or simply cams, are multi-lobed devices that exert an outward force on the rock in the event of a fall. They are typically placed in cracks or fissures in the rock and, because of their mechanics, are typically referred to as active protection.

Although numerous manufacturers produce cams, Black Diamond Camalot C4s are the standard. Most trad climbers will want Black Diamond C4s starting at size 0.3 and ending at size 3. A set of C4s along with a stopper set should provide enough protection to safely climb many introductory trad climbs, and allow climbers to assess what else they might “need.”

Most climbers rack their cams on individual non-locking carabiners. For the super-organized, many companies make color-coded carabiners to match the cams—like these CAMP Photons—making it easier to find and grab the cam you need off your harness.

Alpine Draws

Alpine draws are incredibly versatile. Alpine draws are made using a Dyneema sling and two carabiners doubled into a quickdraw and are used to connect climbing gear to the climbing rope. Alpine draws are used either as a standard quickdraw or extended to reduce rope drag on wandering routes or reduce the pull of the rope on placed gear.

Having 10-12 alpine draws is a good place to start, and you can either make them yourself by buying individual slings and carabiners or buy them pre-configured like the CAMP Mach Express Dyneema.

Supplementing the Basic Rack

Depending on where you climb, you’ll want to supplement this basic rack with gear appropriate to where and what you climb. Micro cams are a popular addition to many racks, as they’re designed to work in smaller, tighter-fitting placements. Black Diamond Z4s are a favorite among Northeast climbers, either to double up on mid-sized cams (0.4, 0.5, and 0.75) or to find protection in seams and thin cracks (sizes 0, 0.1, 0.2, and 0.3).

Getting multiples of some cams is also a good idea. For example, climbers who frequent the Gunks (or other areas where not every anchor is bolted) might want to double up on popular cams like the 0.5, 0.75, and 1. Similarly, climbers heading to Indian Creek may want to add several same-sized cams due to the uniform nature of its cracks.

Those testing their mettle on Northeast slabs like Standard Route on Whitehorse or Crawford Notch’s Lost in the Sun may want to add a few tri-cams to their racks—a well-worn Pink 0.5 Tri-Cam is found on the racks of many seasoned climbers in the region. Tri-cams are somewhat of a hybrid that can be placed passively like a nut or actively like a cam. Because tri-cams feature slings instead of stems, they’re a popular substitute for spring-loaded cams in horizontal cracks, and their unique shape often makes them the best way of protecting the small pockets found on slab climbs.

Finally, climbers anticipating leaving gear for rappel anchors should consider adding a few extra stoppers to their rack. Nuts are much less expensive than other types of protection, so the pain of leaving a few behind to build a bomber anchor won’t have you skimping on safety.

Traditional climbing
Credit: Tim Peck

Personal Gear

Building anchors, belaying a second, cleaning a route, and descending a route all require specialized gear. Below is some gear commonly carried by trad climbers on single and/or multi-pitch trad climbs.

Belay/Rappel Device

A multi-purpose belay device with assisted braking like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 is a smart choice for any route where you’ll be belaying from the top of the pitch and later rappelling. Although these cost fractionally more than a traditional belay device, they are far more versatile, allowing climbers to belay a leader from the bottom of a climb, top-belay two seconds simultaneously with assisted braking, and make full-length rappels. It’s common for climbers to carry their belay device on a dedicated large, locking carabiner like the Petzl William Screw Lock.

When climbing as a party of two (or a party of three in caterpillar style), it’s often helpful to pack a Petzl GriGri. Although some consider this excess weight, a GriGri expands raising and lowering options and makes top-belaying much easier. If your arms and shoulders have ever gotten more of a workout top-belaying a second with an ATC-Guide-like device than from the actual climbing, you’re probably already a convert.

Nut tool

A good nut tool is an investment that pays for itself. It makes removing protection placed by the leader easier and helps ensure you finish a climb with all the gear you began with.

Lockers

In addition to the locking carabiner for the belay device, it’s a good idea to carry three to four additional locking carabiners, especially on multi-pitch trad climbs. These are great for attaching to the anchor, connecting a rappel back-up, or pairing with an ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso to belay a second in “guide” mode.

Cordellette

Used for building an anchor at the end of a pitch, a cordellette is a length of 7mm or 8mm cord tied in a loop using a double fisherman’s knot. Trad climbers planning on multi-pitch climbing generally carry two to three cordelettes per rope team.

Lanyard

While not a necessity for trad climbing, a lanyard like the Petzl Connect Adjust offers numerous benefits and can make life in the vertical a bit easier. A lanyard is useful for everything from attaching to the anchor to rappelling multi-pitch routes.

Hollow Block

A hollow block is a fantastic tool for backing up rappels or lowers, ascending the rope, or building a haul system to aid a struggling second. It handles nicer than the traditional prusik cord and is also easier to work with.

Trad is Rad
Credit: Tim Peck

Carrying the Gear

Harness

Finding a harness that racks the gear while still being comfortable is crucial for aspiring trad climbers. A good all-around harness with two gear loops per side and enough padding for all-day comfort is a good place for aspiring trad climbers to start.

The Black Diamond Solution Guide Harness (men’s/women’s) is designed for all-day trad and multi-pitch climbing, but fit is personal. If you can, visit your local shop and try on a few harnesses before you buy one. Keep in mind that a little pinch or rubbing in the store will only get worse as the hours tick by on your first long trad route.

Gear Sling

While many will choose to rack their gear on their harness, some climbers swear by carrying a gear sling. It takes the weight off your hips and keeps harness-bound cams from obstructing your view of your feet. Climbers can choose between using slings that are specially designed to comfortably hold and organize your gear, or using a climbing-rated nylon sling that can be repurposed for climbing if need be.

Helmet

If you’re planning on trad climbing, you should plan on wearing a helmet. Whether it’s people climbing above you, the handling of gear, the occasional loose rock, or exposure faced while belaying during a multi-pitch climb, trad climbers are constantly under threat—and helmets are an easy way of preserving a climber’s best asset: their head. Helmets like the Petzl Sirocco offer lightweight, breathable protection and are relatively inexpensive.

Shoes

The climbing shoes best suited for multi-pitch trad climbing tend to be more comfortably shaped and have a looser fit than shoes for other climbing disciplines. Introductory trad climbers should avoid the pointed toes and aggressive downturns found in many of today’s sport climbing and bouldering shoes, opting instead for a shoe that can easily be stuffed into cracks, smeared on slabs, and, most importantly, worn for extended periods of time.

Traditional climbing gear
Credit: Tim Peck

Other Gear to Add to Your Trad Climbing Kit

  • Climbers with multi-pitch aspirations will want to invest in a 15-25 liter pack. A good pack should have room for water, snacks, and a guidebook or topo—and be built to withstand the rigors of climbing.
  • Water bottles can be hard to access and easy to drop when multi-pitch climbing. Consider getting a pack that holds a hydration bladder.
  • It’s surprising on multi-pitch routes how much cooler it can get once you get a rope length or two off of the ground. A lightweight and packable windshirt like the RAB Borealis Jacket (men’s/women’s) not only helps fend off a chill, but is also tough enough to stand up rubbing against rock.
  • A number of multi-pitch climbs require a long approach or have a considerable walk-off. Approach shoes, kind of like hiking shoes with sticky rubber, are handy for semi-technical scrambles and terrain commonly encountered on the ascents and descent of multi-pitch routes.
  • Make sure to bring the guidebook so you don’t waste time looking for a route. To reduce weight on multi-pitch routes, photograph the relevant approach information, route description, and topos on your phone and leave the book in the car or at the base of the climb.
  • Time can get away from you, especially on multi-pitch trad routes. A small headlamp like the Princeton Tec Vizz and a couple of energy gels stashed in a chalk bag or pack might save you from an epic.
Rock climbing gear
Credit: Tim Peck

The Sharp End

The items listed above are a great primer for assembling your trad rack. That said, trad racks are highly personal and are a reflection of both you as a climber, the places you climb, and the routes you gravitate toward. As you enjoy the freedom, fun, and fear that comes with trad climbing, take time to consider and refine your trad climbing kit.


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Tim Peck and Doug Martland

Tim and Doug met long ago at the Eastern Mountain Sports in Canton, Massachusetts. Bonding over a love of slick Quincy Quarry granite, White Mountain sufferfests, and scheming up adventures while folding tee-shirts, today Tim and Doug collaborate to write about their favorite outdoor activities and occasionally get nostalgic about tee-shirt tables.

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