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My First Trad Rack

If you are anything like me you cannot afford to buy an entire rack in one hit! I built mine up over years of second hand bargains, crag booty and work trade-account orders.  Here I have complied a list of 'whats' and 'whys' to a rack and in the order I would advise people to buy them in. 

We get the lowdown on creating your own rack from qualified and experienced outdoor instructor Steph Heeley.  You may recognise Steph from our recent 'Climber Bio' of her, or from your trips to North Wales, where she is based.  Over to Steph for her thoughts:
The key to making a rack 'wish list' is deciphering what you need vs what you want.  The initial outlay for climbing gear can be pricey, but you don't have to go out and spend £500 to get started.  To make it easier, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I need, to keep me safe?
  • What does/do my climbing partner/s already have?

This can help to guide you.  If your buddies are missing x, y or z, maybe that could be what you buy first?

Trad climbing in the slate quarries in north Wales

Trad climbing in the slate quarries in north Wales

My First Trad Rack

So, lets get started.  Here is the order of purchase that I feel works well:

1. Belay plate/device and HMS Carabiner

You may already have this as a sport or indoor climber, but if not it is a pretty important bit of kit! Buy one you like and you will never look back. I have had my Black Diamond ATC for 7 years and it is still my favourite belay device to use. By having a belay device and HMS it means you can head out climbing with anyone else with a trad rack.

2. Quickdraws or Extenders

A set of quickdraws means that you can use them in single pitch trad, sport, or indoor use.  A set of 5 is good to start and can often be put together with your climbing partner's existing quickdraws, if you want to go out and do something bigger.  If your partner doesn't have any kit then 10 is a minimum I'd take with me to lead most routes, sometimes more depending on the length of the route and location.  It's important that you consider all these things yourself and make a decision based on your unique circumstances.

3. DMM Boa Carabiner

Whether you're wanting to start on some multi pitch adventures or you're happy with single pitch routes and setting up at the top, having a couple of big carabiners gives you flexibility, security and makes things easier, as you have fewer items to deal with.  The DMM Boa comes in two strength ratings, so speak to your local climbing shop about which is best suited to your planned use.  For me, BOA = less faff!

4. Krabs/ Carabiners

If you are looking into single or multi-pitch adventures then a load of krabs will go a long way. For multi-pitch, being able to have your own full set of krabs and slings in order to build your own belay (whether you second or lead) is so helpful to your climbing partner. Most people usually carry enough for themselves, so being prepared from the outset will help set you right from the get go.

5.  Slings

A set of slings is very helpful.  It can be useful when you get to a belay, to make yourself safe.  You can adapt your quickdraws before climbing, if you think you'll need longer draws, plus you can make an impromptu extender while climbing or use it at the top as part of your belay.  Look after them and they will look after you.  In terms of size, a mix helps, with slings over 60cm being useful at a belay as a second and larger ones over 240cm, being most useful in setting up a belay on a trad route.

6. Nuts

Nuts are passive protection.  You can get different types of nut, but to start out getting a set of 1-10 nuts will cover most of the basics.  It will cost you somewhere in the region of £65 for a full set.  There are all sorts of extras like peenuts and offset nuts available on the market, which can be something you look into later when you have more experience and know the style and type of climbing you enjoy.   Emily at Womenclimb uses Wild Country Classic Rocks and explains why she bought hers:

"To be honest I bought the Wild Country Rocks, because they were the cheapest well-known nuts at the time.  I was really broke, so I bought the silver ones (not 'anodised'), which were slightly cheaper than the anodised ones.  Having the silver ones actually helped me to learn about placement from sight, rather than relying on colours."  

A row of climbing nuts sitting on a rock with dappled sunshine

Emily's nuts. Wild Country nuts, supplemented by others, collected over the years from friendly donations and replacement of lost items.

Read our article: The Lowdown on Anodised Climbing Gear

7. Hexes

Hexes come on wires or with slings.  Each have their own merits, but what I can say is that when I discovered hexes on wires it was a whole new world. For me they are easier to place than those on slings and there is less wear to worry about.  Remember cams are nice but Hexes will do a lot of the big jobs when you start out, without the hefty price tag.  Emily tells us a bit about her experience with hexes:

"My hexes are old and ridiculously heavy.  I bought them second hand and re-threaded them myself with cord.  I actually threaded them wrong the first time and someone helped me do it right.  Now, I absolutely love my hexes.  Their weight means that they don't budge when I place them and they give me superhuman confidence.  There are newer versions that are much lighter, but I like that mine are heavy and I see carrying them as good training for endurance!"

What you can see from this, is that everyone is different and has different preferences.  When asking around, don't feel that you have to do the same as others, because your needs might be different.

8. Ropes

If you are just starting out it is most likely that you will be climbing with someone or people that have been doing this a little bit longer. I spent my first 4 years of climbing borrowing ropes from friends and clubs, as they were just so expensive! Ropes are one of those bits of kit you can generally assume someone else you are climbing with will have.  Before buying a rope, thinking about the type of climbing you want to do is important, as you will want to think about whether you get a single or half rope.  Speak to someone in a gear shop once you've decided on the type of climbing, who you climb with and what ropes your buddies have.

Beth & Kelly Trad climbing in Wales on Idwal Slabs

Beth & Kelly Trad climbing in Wales on Idwal Slabs

9. Cams

These are shiny, beautifully engineered and very expensive.  Most cams will set you back the price of a full set of nuts.  In addition, if you have the option to place a nut, our advice is place the nut rather than a cam (assuming your placement is good and you've weighed up the situation, of course).  However, there are some situations where a cam is the only option.  The development of cams has meant that previously scary and unprotect able routes have now become more well protected.  So, cams can open up new places to climb and explore.

Thanks to Steph Heeley for her expertise and advice.

Do you have some gear that you love and want to share with others?  We are super interested to hear from you.  Email us your article with some images:  submissions@womenclimb.co.uk

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Read more:

To Hex or not to Hex

The Lowdown - anodised climbing gear

Ella Williams Climber Bio

What to put in a first aid kit

Alpkit Merino Baselayer

Rocio Siemens Climber Bio

Steph Heeley Climber Bio

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