Trad climbing requires a lot of gear. From cams to carabiners, nuts to nut tools, there are so many options out there that it’s hard to know where to even begin when you make the decision to build your first trad rack. There’s also the question of how much gear you actually need to get started—a decision that must balance everything from your own financial restraints to the common fear of not having enough gear to make it to the top of those first few trad leads. I’ll go over what you need to know about the gear and tips on building your first trad rack.
Active Vs. Passive Pro(tection)
| Protection Layout |
Or active pro, is protection that is distinguished by its moving parts that serve two purposes: 1) easier to place and clean/remove and 2) increases holding power under the force of a fall. Active pro typically means camming units or “cams.” PASSIVE PROTECTION
With no moving parts, passive protection is the most basic and cheapest pro there is and a great foundation to any trad rack. Passive pro typically refers to “nuts,” “chocks,” “Hexes,” “stoppers,” “RPs” or “wires”—different names to describe what is essentially all the same thing. Nuts come in various shapes and sizes, and even in different types of metal. But the inherent design is a chunk of metal that has a cable drilled or machined into it; the chunk of metal wedges into cracks/constrictions in the rock, while the cable is used for clipping.
Types of Protection
Every rack needs a basic, single set of nuts—usually about 10 to 14 pieces that cover a variety of small sizes.
| || Metolius Nuts |
These are much smaller than regular nuts and are often reserved for aid-climbing, but they are sometimes commonly used in specific trad-climbing areas like Mount Arapiles, Australia. The first brand of commercially available micro-nuts were called RPs after their inventor Roland Pauligk. RPs are typically made out of brass (as opposed to steel), a softer metal that deforms and “bites” into the rock better. Hexes
Also known disparagingly as “cow bells” for the obnoxious clanging noise these hollow nuts make on a rack, hexes are basically oversized six-sided nuts meant for larger finger- to hand-sized cracks. Hexes are great because they are light and cheap. But they are difficult to place and remove, which is why most climbers today prefer cams to hexes.
| || Wild Country Hexcentrics |
These specialty pieces of protection sit in the nebulous borderlands between active and passive protection. Coming in a complete range of sizes, TriCams are funny-shaped nuts that can be placed in such a way that they also cam into the rock, adding security. They can also be placed passively. They’re cheap and extremely useful when it isn’t easy to place nuts or cams.
| || CampUSA Tricam |
| Black Diamond Camalots |
Cams, or “spring-loaded camming devices” (SLCD), are the meat-and-potatoes of today’s trad-climbing rack. Cams typically contain four cams at the head of the unit, and they have a trigger bar that retracts the cams in order to place the head in cracks or to take it out once it’s placed. Cams come in a huge range of sizes, from micro-sized cams that fit the tinniest 1/4”-sized fissures of rock, to 6”, 7”, even 8”-sized offwidth/chimney-sized cracks. Some cams, like the Black Diamond Camalots and the new Wild Country Friends, have “flexible stems” that can bend in multiple directions. The older Wild Country Friends have “rigid stems,” a design that requires special precautions in certain (horizontal) placements. That said, rigid-stem cams seem to be slowly becoming a thing of the past. There are also single-stem, double-stem and U-stem cams that all have various benefits and detriments. Micro Cams
A “three-cam unit” is a special cam that has only three cams at the head. TCUs are almost exclusively for finger-sized cracks. Their narrower profile allows them to fit in shallower cracks, such as certain pin-scars and pockets.