Your First Trad Rack

Have you just started climbing? Are you wondering what would make a good first trad rack? The array of rock climbing gear on offer is often overwhelming and knowing what you need and what you don’t need can seem impossible. So to help you get started we’ve put together some information to help you decide what to buy for your first single pitch climbing adventures.

Lead Climbing Rack- Single Pitch Routes

It's worth mentioning that this is by no way the one definitive rack that will work for everyone or every rock type, it is however a good basic single pitch rack that will work we'll on a variety of rock types for someone who has just started trad climbing. Depending where you climb, and your personal preferences, you may want to tweak this rack by adding and removing items, and as your climbing grade increases so will your need for some additional pieces of gear!

  • A belay plate, and a suitable screwgate carabiner that is compatible with it.
  • Screwgate carabiner x6 (2 for setting up belays and 4 to go with each sling)
  • Wiregate carabiner x 14 (2 for the nuts, 4 for the hexes, 4 for the cams, and 4 to make two extendable quickdraws)
  • HMS Screw gate carabiner x1
  • A Set of Nuts
  • A set of Hexes
  • Camming Devices x4
  • 60cm sling x 2 (for making extendable quickdraws, often called slingdraws)
  • 120cm Slings x3
  • 240cm sling x1
  • Quickdraws x8
  • Nutkey (optional)
  • Prussiks Loops (optional)
rock climbing rack

The Rack Explained

Below is a bit more information and advice on each of the items on the rack.

Belay Plate + Screwgate Carabiner

Oval Carabiner and a Belay Device, HMS Screwgate (Blue), and 2 D-Shaped Screwgate Carabiners

Oval Carabiner and a Belay Device, HMS Screwgate (Blue), and 2 D-Shaped Screwgate Carabiners

Any belay plate with two slots will work as this will enable you to use it with half ropes as well if need be. It’s important to check that the belay device you get is compatible with the diameter of ropes you intend to use it with. It’s worth getting a dedicated carabiner that works well with your belay device. A HMS or Pear Shaped screwgate will work, but personally I use an Oval and this works well for me.

Screwgate Carabiners

There’s a whole host of options out there, personally I would avoid the autolocking type as they can be a lot faffier to operate, especially whilst you’re getting to grips with the basics. Shape wise then you’ll want one HMS for popping your clove hitches in when tying of your anchors at the top of a climb. Several smaller and lighter d-shaped screwgates are good to have with each sling plus a couple spare for attaching to anchors at the top of a climb.


Nuts + Wiregate Carabiners

A full set of anodised DMM Walnut wires (1-11), on two seperate wire gate carabiners

A full set of anodised DMM Walnut wires (1-11), on two seperate wire gate carabiners

Nuts are your staple as a trad climber and a single set (1-10/11) should be enough for you first single pitch forays. It's worth mentioning that a double set of wires will be required for longer routes and certain rock types. There are a great selection on offer out there, and I’d recommend buying an anodised (coloured) set so that you can quickly and easily identify which size you want when needed. Personally I think the DMM Walnuts are great, and I rack them on two separate wiregate carabiners, small sizes on one and large sizes on the other, as having all of the wires on one carabiner becomes too faffy when halfway up a route. Plus if you accidently drop them then you won’t have lost all of them in one go.


Hexes + Wiregate Carabiners

Hexes (DMM Torque Nuts) on individual wiregate carabiners

Hexes (DMM Torque Nuts) on individual wiregate carabiners

Hexes generally cover the larger sizes so are a great addition to a set of nuts as they’ll enable you to place protection in those larger cracks. Racking them on individual carabiners works well especially with DMM Torque Nuts as they have a sling that can be extended and therefore often you won’t need to add a quickdraw. Personally I don’t really use hexes these days as often in the larger cracks I can place a good cam anyway. However that does require you to have a good selection of cams. Therefore I still often recommend hexes to clients especially as cams are expensive and so if your budget is limited they could be a great addition, and substitute for a large selection of cams.


Camming Devices + Wiregate Carabiners

Size 2,3,4,5, DMM Dragon Cams on colour coded wiregate carabiners

Size 2,3,4,5, DMM Dragon Cams on colour coded wiregate carabiners

I would recommend buying 4 different size cams (eg DMM Dragon Cams size 2,3,4,5) in the same make and model. Try to avoid buying different makes and model as the sizes don’t always marry up so you can end up doubling up on certain sizes. For single pitch routes, and when you’re starting out, then I wouldn’t worry about buying any small cams, or any micro cams, as these aren’t necessary especially as you’ll have some nuts that you can place in the smaller size cracks anyway. As you do more and more climbing, and as your grade goes up then it would be worth investing in some smaller, and some larger, Cams to complement your existing sizes. Racking each individual cam on a wire gate carabiner works well, and if your as OCD as me then getting carabiners that are the same colour as each cam can make identifying the different sizes a lot easier when there racked up on your harness.

Top Tip- Cams are expensive so if your limited by budget then you could go half’s with your climbing partner- for example they could buy all of the half sizes and you could buy all of the whole sizes.


Slings

Three 120cm Aramid slings, and one 240cm dynema sling, each with a screwgate carabiner

Three 120cm Aramid slings, and one 240cm dynema sling, each with a screwgate carabiner

Three 120cm Slings, each with there own d-shaped screwgate carabiner, will enable you to take advantage of any threads or spikes whilst leading or setting up a belay at the top of the crag. An additional 240cm sling can be handy for setting up a belay at the top of the crag. Slings can be made from different materials: nylon, dynema, aramid etc. Any of these will do and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Personally for rock climbing I would go for dynema, or aramid, as these are slightly lighter than nylon and less bulky when racked up on your harness or around your body.


Quickdraws

A selection of quickdraws

A selection of quickdraws

A good selection of different length quickdraws is handy. I usually go for two shorter ones (12cm), a few mid length ones (18cm), two slightly longer ones (22cm), and a couple of extendable quickdraws (aka Slingdraws). The shorter ones are great for limiting the distance you might fall so these can be useful for using on your first pieces of gear as you can’t afford to fall to far as your still near the ground. For the same reason they can also be useful higher up to help you minimise the potential for you falling and hitting any ledges or protrusions. Mid length draws are your staple as a traditional climber and they’re pretty handy as often our gear isn’t in a straight line so the added length can help reduce the likelihood of your gear lifting out. Extendable quickdraws are great for using on pieces of gear that are quite a way off to one side or underneath any bulges as they help to keep your rope/s running straight, which in turn reduces rope drag and the likelihood of the gear lifting out.

Extendable Quickdraw: made out of one 60cm sling and two wiregate carabiners

Extendable Quickdraw: made out of one 60cm sling and two wiregate carabiners

Extendable Quickdraw (Extended)

Extendable Quickdraw (Extended)


What Should the 'Second' Have?

Belay Plate, Oval Screwgate Carabiner, and a Nut Key

Belay Plate, Oval Screwgate Carabiner, and a Nut Key

As well as getting a lead rack then don't forget that depending on who you're climbing with they'll also need to have the following items:

  • A belay plate, and a suitable screwgate carabiner that is compatible with it.
  • A Nutkey

Optional Extras

Nutkey?

You don’t necessarily need to carry one of these as a lead climber, but personally I often do. I find it can be handy if a nut your trying to place gets stuck whilst your leading or whilst your trying to set up a belay at the top of the crag. It is however worth considering which way round and where to hang it on your harness so that it can’t impale you should you fall off.

Prussiks? Knife?

Prussik Loops

Prussik Loops

These are short knotted loops of 5mm or 6mm climbing cord. A Prussik is only as good as the person using it, therefore there only worth carrying if you know what to do with them. They are often used to back up a belay plate when abseiling and they have a whole range of uses when in comes to performing various self rescue techniques. If you don’t know how to use them then it can be worth getting some Instruction. Also for multi pitch routes I often carry a small knife which can be useful for cutting tat for abseils etc, however for single pitch routes I generally don't take one, but it does live on the carabiner that has my prussiks so I can't forget it.