How Do I Start Trad Climbing (and What Rack Do I Need)?

Just like with any extreme sport, educating yourself about the sport of trad climbing is a great way to start. The trad rack you need will vary from one climb to another and most definitely from person to person as each has their own way and preference when it comes to climbing.
How Do I Start Trad Climbing

Table of Contents

If you are new to trad climbing and want to gain more knowledge about this amazing sport, it is highly suggested to start by climbing with an experienced partner. This will be greatly beneficial for you in starting trad climbing.

What Does Trad Mean in Climbing?

Trad means traditional in climbing. The name trad climbing only had to be developed after sport climbing emerged. This is to clearly understand the differences between the two styles of climbing.

Trad climbing is exactly what you think it is, the traditional way of protecting yourself while working your way up a wall. It is a rock climbing style wherein all the necessary gear is placed by a climber or a group of climbers to protect themselves from a fall. They then remove it after a pitch is done.

What is the Difference Between Trad and Sport Climbing?

Trad climbing and sport climbing are two very distinct forms of free climbing. Below is a table to show you the main differences between trad climbing and sport climbing.

Trad Climbing Sport Climbing
This style of climbing also focuses on physical challenges but it also includes psychological challenges. This style of climbing is mainly focused on physical challenges.
Trad climbing is usually done outdoors on a real rock where there are no pre-existing bolts placed. Sport climbing is commonly done in a climbing gym although it can be done outdoors as well.
In trad climbing, the leader does not only carry quickdraws but a whole rack of climbing gear. This includes nuts, cams, and sometimes hexes that are placed in the rock to protect themselves from a fall. In sport climbing, the leader clips their rope through the use of quickdraws into bolts that have already been placed beforehand.
A climber must practice the essential skill of finding routes when trad climbing. A climber follows the pre-existing bolts as he/she goes up a specific route when sport climbing.
Requires technical knowledge of climbing anchors, high level of skill, and proper training. Does not require technical knowledge of equipment.

Is Trad Climbing Dangerous or Safe?

Trad climbing is considered an extreme sport and it can be very dangerous. The possibility of mistakes and accidents is significantly high, and tiny errors can result in serious injuries. If you don’t acknowledge the risk and if you don’t put in enough time and effort it takes to learn the sport of trad climbing, then it can be extremely dangerous.

While this may be the case, trad climbing can still be very safe if done the right way even though it is inherently risky. The risks that come with the sport of trad climbing can be mitigated as long as you are knowledgeable about how to manage them. Trad climbing is only as dangerous as you make it.

How Dangerous is Trad Climbing?

Trad climbing is a sport that takes years to be good at. This sport is highly dangerous and you have a decent risk of costing yourself an injury if you do not obtain proper training. Listed down below are some of the many reasons that make trad climbing incredibly dangerous:

  • Gear can pop out if installed the wrong way
  • Protection can fall out due to various causes
  • You can only put protection in places where the rock makes it possible
  • Getting off route
  • Increased rope dragging can make your leader fall
  • Trad racks can get heavy insanely fast which makes the possibility of slipping more likely
  • Long runouts between gear
  • You and your party are subject to rockfall
  • Strong winds can blow you off the rock
  • Wet rocks can cause you to slip
  • Gear can get stuck
  • It is not impossible to drop an entire rack of gear

How Do You Learn to Trad Climb?

As mentioned earlier, if you are new to trad climbing and want to gain more knowledge about the sport, it is highly recommended to start by climbing with an experienced partner. Climbing with an experienced, professional trad climber will greatly help you in learning how to trad climb. This will surely make a huge difference as they can guide you in making the right decisions while going up a specific route.

Another great idea to learn how to trad climb is to educate yourself. You can either borrow or buy books about climbing anchors and read them to learn more on how to trad climb. While this is a good idea, keep in mind that it is still highly advisable to climb with a veteran trad climber most especially when you’re new to the breathtaking sport of trad climbing.

How Can I Improve My Trad Climbing?

The most effective way to improve your trad climbing is to simply climb often whether you just began trad climbing or if you simply want to get better at the sport. Climb several times in a week, make it a goal to train yourself while climbing, and be as consistent as possible. If your time does not allow you to climb several times in a week, know what works best for you and revise your climbing schedule.

Trad climbing is not an easy sport and it is most definitely not for the fainthearted. As mentioned earlier, trad climbing takes years and years to be good at, so set the bar low, select a route that you find easy, and slowly work your way up from there. Additionally, recognize failure as a part of the process and give yourself the chance to improve slowly but surely.

What is a Trad Route?

A trad route is a path that trad climbers follow when trad climbing. However, most trad climbing locations do not have a particular route that trad climbers can trace. This is one of the main reasons why trad climbers should learn the essential skill of finding routes.

Finding a Trad route can get quite challenging. When picking a trad route, select ones that are within your physical and mental capabilities. Plan ahead of time as you lead and discern when and where to place trad climbing protection to keep you and your party free from harm.

How Do You Place Trad Climbing Protection?

Nuts, cams, and slings are commonly used trad climbing protection. There are also tricams, hexes big bros, and ball nuts but they are only to be used depending on the location of the climb. Listed down below is a guide on how to place trad climbing protection the right way:

  1. Nuts: To place a nut, begin by selecting the nut that you think is a perfect size and hold it by the wire as you slot it into the crack. After this, the rest of the nuts will slide to the bottom of the carabiner. Most climbing nuts are typically non-symmetrical and curved on one side which gives you four possible placement options. Setting nuts might seem easy, but it takes practice.
  2. Cams: To place a cam, start with choosing the best-sized cams from your gear sling. Afterward, pull the trigger to retract the came lobes and insert it into the crack. Release the trigger to allow the lobes to open up and establish contact with the sides of the crack.
  3. Hexes: hexes are an old form of climbing protection that has rarely been seen on climbing racks shortly after cams were introduced. However, hexes most certainly have benefits over cams in specific circumstances because you can use them in dirty, wet, or icy cracks where cams are more likely to easily fall out.
  4. Ball Nuts: To place a ball nut, find a good placement, and simply fit the ball nut into place. Retract the trigger to allow the ball to slide down to the bottom of the paddle slot, place it in the crack, and then release the trigger. To position it into place, pull downwards on the ball nut and lengthen it with a sling or quickdraw afterward.
  5. Tricams: Tricams work the same way as hexes do and they can be placed both in passive and active mode just like a nut. To place a tricam in passive mode, simply place them the same way you would place a nut. To place a tricam in active mode, flip the head over so that the sling is running through the cam rails. Afterward, set the fulcrum in a small dimple or constriction on one side of the crack then set the rails against the opposite wall of the crack and give it a sharp pull to fix it into position.
  6. Big Bros: To place a big bro, place the inner tube against the wall in a flat spot of a parallel-sided crack. To allow the tube to expand and slowly fill the crack, press the trigger button, and ensure that the inner tube is in contact with the rock at a lower point than the outer tube. Lastly, to set the big bro in position, spin the locking collar to the end of its range and tighten it afterward.
  7. Slings: There are various features where you can place your climbing slings. The most common ones are blocks and flakes. Below is a guide on how to place your climbing slings on different features:
    • Blocks and Flakes: Placing a sling around a huge block or flake can be a strong piece of gear especially if it is solid. To do this, simply sling flakes as low as you can and fix them in place to avoid lifting them as you go up the wall.
    • Trees: To place a sling on a tree, just pass one end of the sling around the tree and through the use of a carabiner, clip the two ends together. If your sling is longer, it is way better to tie it off with an overhand knot because this is stronger.
    • Holes: To place a sling through a hole, simply thread your sling by inserting it through the hole and clip a quickdraw to it while making sure that both ends are equally the same.
    • Chockstones: These are rocks that have become wedged into a crack. Chockstones are typically found in larger cracks and they can give you strong protection. Simply sling chockstones by making a girth hitch on one side.

The essential skill of placing trad climbing protection is incredibly important to safely climb a route especially ones that are not protected by bolts. You will learn how to do this by following a highly experienced leader and extracting gears that he/she places whenever you climb.

How Do You Clean a Trad Route?

To clean a trad route, you simply remove the protection out of the rock and attach it to a sling on your shoulder while working your way up. Cleaning a trad route is a great way to begin learning the sport. However, it is very necessary to be knowledgeable about the basics of anchor setting, lead belay techniques as well as active and passive protection before you clean a trad route.

Cleaning a trad route is usually done with the use of a nut though you can also use other gear. It is also highly recommended to remove the protection out of the rock before unclipping it from the rope. Make an effort to rack the gear in order while you clean to save time at each belay.

How Do You Bail Off a Trad Climb?

Sometimes, a climb can be too challenging to complete, and bailing off a trad climb for whatever reason is not unusual. There are a few options available to bail off a trad climb. Listed down below are some of the many options you can choose from:

  • Penduluming
  • Downclimbing
  • Setting up a two rope retreat
  • Finish the pitch using aid
  • Bail off your gear and get it later
  • Bail off and ask other climbers to collect your gear for you
  • Rappelling by getting to a natural anchor close to you such as trees, chocks, etc.
  • Climbing to the top of the pitch by going through an easier route then rappelling and collecting your gear

How Do Trad Climbers Get Down?

Most of the time there are ways to get down without leaving any gear behind. Getting down is just as, if not more important than going up. There are various ways for trad climbers to get down, including but not limited to:

  • Rappelling
  • Downclimbing
  • Taking an easy route and walking down
  • Using natural features to set up an anchor
  • Building your own permanent bolted anchor
  • Going down through established rappelling stations

What Do I Need for Trad Climbing?

What you need to bring on a trad climb depends on the route you plan to ascend. Here’s a list of the trad climbing gear and other personal items you need:

Trad Climbing Gear:

  • Rope
  • Nuts
  • Cams
  • Hexes
  • Chalk
  • Tricams
  • Chalk bag
  • Gear sling
  • Quickdraws
  • Belay device
  • Nut extraction tool

Personal Basics:

  • Socks
  • Gloves
  • Helmet
  • Camera
  • Harness
  • First-aid kit
  • Trad climbing shoes

What Do I Need for a Trad Rack?

It is suggested that you buy the most common sizes of nuts and cams if you are just beginning to build your own trad rack. This is to create a basic rack with the essential gear you need that is flexible enough to fulfill your needs most of the time.

  • Slings
  • Prusik
  • A nut tool
  • Cordelette
  • A set of nuts
  • A set of cams
  • 10-12 quickdraws
  • 4 locking carabiners
  • 20-30 non-locking carabiners
  • 10 shoulder-length (60 cm) sewn runners

What is a Standard Trad Rack?

A standard trad rack varies from one climb to another because conditions are very different from each climbing location. Standard trad racks are very route-specific which is why they depend on where you climb and what you climb. Here’s a list of what you may want to include in your standard trad rack:

  • Nuts
  • Cams
  • Hexes
  • 4 Slings
  • 1 locker
  • 4 Biners
  • A nut tool
  • Belay device
  • 8 quickdraws
  • Gloves (optional)
  • 8 free carabiners
  • A full set of stoppers
  • 4 shoulder length slings

Keep in mind that a standard trad rack also differs from one person to another as each has their unique style of climbing. You can begin by climbing on well protected and straightforward routes and to figure out whether your rack is sufficient or not for your climbing plans. From there, you can add whatever gear you need to your standard trad rack.

What is a Full Trad Rack?

A full trad rack consists of all the trad climbing gear you need. Investing in a full trad rack can be highly beneficial if you plan on doing a lot of trad climbing. However, if you are only starting to get into it, it is highly advisable to purchase a basic trad rack first.

  • Rope
  • Nuts
  • Cams
  • Hexes
  • Slings
  • Chalk
  • Shoes
  • Gloves
  • Helmet
  • Tricams
  • Harness
  • Big Bros
  • Ball Nuts
  • Chalk bag
  • Gear sling
  • Carabiners
  • Cordelette
  • Prusik Cord
  • Quickdraws
  • Climbing pack
  • First-aid supplies
  • Nut extraction tool
  • Belay/rappel device
  • Nonlocking carabiners
  • Additional locking carabiners
  • Route description or guidebook
  • Big locking carabiner for belay device
  • Runners: singles (60cm) & doubles (120cm)

How Much Does a Full Trad Rack Cost?

It is hard to exactly determine how much a full trad rack would cost. A full trad rack can cost you a lot of money and the estimated cost range somewhere around $500-$1000. This will depend on where you buy your trad climbing gear as the cost from one store to another varies significantly.

If you are climbing for the first time and you think that you will be climbing with a few experienced trad climbers, they most probably have a whole set already which will not require you to purchase a full trad rack. Besides, you don’t need to buy all of it at once unless you plan on climbing right away the next day. You can buy a full trad rack when there are discounts available and this will save you a huge amount of money.

How Do You Build a First Trad Rack?

To build your first trad rack, you will want to begin with building a single rack. A single rack will usually be sufficient to help you go up to your first several climbs. Below is a list of what essential gear your first trad rack should consist of but this, of course, varies on where you’re climbing:

  • Slings
  • Nut tool
  • Gear sling
  • 6-10 cams
  • Carabiners
  • Cordelette
  • A full set of nuts
  • 6-10 quickdraws
  • Locking carabiners

There are so many available options to choose from for trad climbing gear that it’s difficult to know where to even begin when building your first trad rack. Additionally, a trad rack is a huge investment so you will want to make sure that you do it as right as you can the first time you build one.

How Many Quickdraws Do You Need for Trad?

The number of quickdraws that you will need for trad climbing varies depending on where you climb, what you climb, and how long your climb will be. In general, you will want to bring six to twelve quickdraws, but then again, this will depend on the type of climb. Most trad climbing routes can be led with twelve quickdraws.

Shorter routes may require only six quickdraws. Longer routes on the other hand may require as much as twelve, eighteen, or twenty-four even. Furthermore, bringing a few extra quickdraws on your harness never hurt anybody.

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