Building a Trad Climbing Rack: Guide + Essential Gear List

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Trad climbing requires a lot of gear. When building or improving your trad rack, it’s essential you follow a few basic guidelines to ensure you’re well prepared and comfortable as you ascend and descend a variety of pitches.

Before we go directly into the details, here is a list of standard trad climbing equipment:

Start with a Solid Foundation

While there is no cut and dry answer to what to put on a trad rack, there a number of essential elements that no climber should be without. The following gear recommendations should serve as a starting point for picking and choosing rack essentials. Of course, each climber’s personal preferences and budget will help thin out options.


Cams are mobile anchors*

Cams, which stand for spring-loaded camming devices, are an essential part of any climber’s trad rack. The springs allow trad climbers to place them in varying-sized cracks. They come in a wide range of sizes, to fit everything from small fissures to hand-sized cracks. You can purchase a set of cams with over-lapping ranges to get you started. Most beginners will need a set that ranges from .4 to three. However, it is always a good idea to check out a specific pitch’s beta before lobbing your gear into your vehicle.

An example of a standard cam setup might include a Black Diamond X4*, Black Diamond C4*, Black Diamond C3*, or Black Diamond Ultralights*. These options range from 0.3 inches to 4 inches, with overlapping options in several of the sizes. For newbies or those on a tight budget, the C4s are a solid starting package. For a couple hundred dollars, you’ll have five sizes ranging from 0.5 inches to the 3 inches (which equates to loose fingers to fists). Pair this with a low range set such as the Black Diamond X4s, which feature five cams ranging from 0.1 inches to 0.3 inches.

Cams are also sold individually. However, if you’re setting up a rack, it’s a wise idea to stick to a specific brand and type of cam. For one, this makes it much easier to remember each cam’s size capacity and coordinating color plating. Plus, you won’t have to worry about switching between a variety of stems and other diverging elements.

On that note, be mindful of the value of specific design elements. For example, Black Diamonds have a slightly different size overlap than DMMs* or Trangos*. There are also different variances in lobes (for example, some have three and others four). What’s more, some cams are more prone to “walking” and can be a major hindrance to second climbers if they don’t have a suitable stem or sling.

Furthermore, cams vary in durability and weight. Beyond that, there are cams with straight, flexible, and even hooped stems. It’s always a good idea to talk with local climbers to find out which cams work best with native pitches.


Nuts sit tight in the rock*

We’ve talked a lot about cams, which are active protections. Meanwhile, there are also nuts*, or stoppers, which are a form of passive protection. Most trad climbers only need one set of nuts, which should cost them just under $100 or so. Each nut consists of a hunk of metal with a looped cable passing through it. Each kit contains 10 or more sizes of nuts.

Non-locking Carabiners

Standard carabiner*

Non-locking carabiners* are a fundamental tool for trad climbers. They are used to clip a rope into a placed protection. Consider carrying anywhere from 20 to 30 non-locking carabiners. Non-lockers are used for a variety of applications, hence the big haul. Everything from quickdraws to alpine draws and attaching to protections requires these bad boys.

Choosing the shape and gate style of your non-lockers comes down to preference. However, the most popular option would probably have to be asymmetrical d-shaped ‘biners with straight wire gates (these are lighter). Each design has its own intended purpose. When making a selection, ensure that your non-lockers are easy to handle and clip.


When purchasing non-locking carabiners, consider the capacity of the ‘biner and size of the opening. Obviously, the smaller and lighter the carabiner is, the less bulk it will add to your trad rack. However, the mouth of a closure and circumference of the ‘biner can limit the amount of gear you can clip onto it and become a factor in rope wear and tear.

Regardless of their regionality, most trad climbers opt for asymmetrical wire gate ‘biners because they’re light, easy-to-use, and inexpensive. These are especially versatile in desert or beach-side climbs, as there is no barrel to accumulate sand or gravel.

Locking Carabiners

Lockable carabiner*

Locking carabiners* are typically reserved for belays and anchor-building. You’ll want to add anywhere from two to four of these onto your trad rack. Variations include different shapes, sizes, and lock styles. Traditional screw-gate lockers are inexpensive and easy enough to use. However, auto-lockers add in a crucial safety feature.

Nut Tools

Essential: Nut Tool*

No trad rack is complete without a solid set of nut tools*. You’ll especially need this if you’re the follower and are going to be responsible for cleaning the pitch. These usually consist of a single piece of metal with cut-out wrench holes, a striking surface, and either a built-in carabiner or clip. You want your nut tool to a strong, yet lightweight. They’ll run you anywhere from $10 to $30 for a decent model.


Helps in many situations: Cordelettes*

Every climber needs a bit of accessory cord* on their rack. Length preferences vary between climbers, but anywhere from 18 to 25 feet is a reasonable expanse. Seven to 8 millimeters is ideal. This cord will most likely be used to build your anchors. Keep in mind that more than one cordelette may be needed for steep or multi-pitch climbs.

Familiarize yourself with the proper way to bundle cordelettes and other utility cords. This keeps them from tripping you up or tangling your gear. A tight cord bundle should rest up against your gear belt.


18 mm Runners*

Runners* (also known as slings) come in a variety of sizes and materials. They can be used for clipping your protection to a rope, anchoring to rocks and trees, wearing gear over your shoulders, or extending the distance between protections and tie points.

They are typically made from nylon, UHMW (also known as Ultra High Molecular Weight) polyethylenes, or a blend of the two. Popular brands, such as Dyneema and Spectra dominate the climbing industry. Each material has its own set of pros and cons. For example, the UHMW has a greater weight to strength ratio, which translates to less rope drag. It also packs some valuable all-weather traits, such as UV protection and water-resistance.

Nevertheless, sudden falls can shock-load synthetic runners, opening the door to potential hazards. Meanwhile, nylon is springier and, therefore, takes the pressure of a fall off you and your gear. It’s also a better medium for knots. In contrast, it’s a far heavier and burdensome material to lug around on steep pitches.

Typical Runner Sets Include:

  • Single-length slings: the 60-centimeter/24-inch slings are the creme of the crop for trad climbers. They’re the perfect length for slinging gear over your shoulders and can be combined with non-locking carabiners to create a makeshift alpine sling.
  • Double-length slings: While used less often in trad climbing, the double-length (120-centimeter/48-inch) slings are a solid option for over-the-shoulder rigs and make-your-own alpine quickdraws.
  • Quickdraws: Quickdraws are shorter extensions that can be used to reduce rope slack and walking. They tend to be around 24 inches long. Trad climbers tend to prefer the lightest possible options when racking alongside, as they are often racked alongside hefty bolt sets on the lower left-hand side of your gear belt. Quickdraws should be selected based on their quality, design, and size. Since they have pre-attached carabiners, the shape of the ‘biner and type of closure are particularly important (most trad climbers prefer wire gated ‘biners). Weight and size are an even greater priority for climbers aiming for multi-pitch climbs.
  • Alpine Draws: Alpine draws compiled from 60-centimeter single-length slings and non-locking carabiners. They’re great for winding pitches and help to keep rope drag down to a bare minimum. Trad climbers are known for making their own alpine quickdraws.
  • Padded Gear Slings: Gear-specific slings are over-the-shoulder slings with an added shoulder pad for comfort. Some have multiple loops for organizing gear by type and size. Many climbers use an ordinary over-the-shoulder sling for this purpose. However, the extra padding can be helpful in maintaining your comfort during multi-pitch climbs. It’s also a great investment if you’re trad climbing daily.

Fundamentals for Building a Trad Rack

How many?

There is both an art and science to building the ultimate trad rack. You want to make it accessible, as light as possible, and fully equipt to handle the vast majority of single and multi-pitch endeavors. Rig anywhere from six to 10 runners and an additional four to six alpine quickdraws. Too much gear and you’ll risk developing drag, ultimately resulting in lower climb energy and greater potential for falls. With 14 or so runners, you’ll be able to ascend most pitches while staying limber and avoiding looking like a sports climber.

Racking Shoulder Slings vs. Alpine Quickdraws

Whether you’re going to put everything to your harness, use a handful of single carabiners over the shoulder or a blend of the two, where and how you carry your trad rack are strictly a matter of personal preference. Many people prefer to use a full-length sling or runner to attach all of their gear on one side. This minimizes the interaction between equipment attached to your harness, prevents tangles, and prevents you from having to release one arm to slip gear over your head.

All methods have a number of pros and cons. An ideal rack shouldn’t bulky, uneven, or prone to tangling. It can take climbers several trial runs to finally determine their ideal rack placement. Whether you’re sticking to daisy chains or reducing drag with a classic alpine quickdraw, it’s important to familiarize yourself with gear placements and practice removal to ensure you’re capable of smooth, safe ascends each and every time.

Accessory Cords

An accessory cord is an essential element of every trad rack. We recommend anywhere from 20 to 30 feet of 7-millimeter nylon cord, depending on the pitch you have in mind. You might use this to set your master anchor point, rappel, or make a swift rescue.

While 7-millimeter cord is the industry standard, many trad climbers use a thinner diameter rope because to cut down on the bulkiness of their racks. Rope choices should be determined by the potential acceleration of a climber when descending any given rockface. Since the 7-millimeter cord is considerably stronger than 6-millimeter cord, I highly recommend the thicker of the two options (even though its a bit more of a hassle).


Anchors are compiled from a collection of essential trad rack components. These include pear-shaped locking carabiners, three or more cams and non-locking ‘biners, and 20 to 30 feet of reliable 7-millimeter cordelette. When it comes time to build an anchor, you’ll potentially be pulling gear from all directions. Be mindful of this process when determining how you’re going to rig your rack.

Choosing a Harness That’s Compatible with Your Rack

The Black Diamond Momentum can hold a lot of gear*

Alright, a climbing harness* is not technically part of a trad rack… However, the fit and quality of a harness is incredibly important if you plan on racking directly onto your gear loops. This translates to a considerable drag on your waist. Thus, investing in a high-quality harness that tightens and holds well is imperative. –> How to Choose a Rock Climbing Harness

Safety First

If your at the point where you’re ready to build your own trad rack, you’ve probably already had your due share of climbing experience. To avoid mishaps and preventable accidents, always veer on the side of caution when purchasing your gear. This means opting for thicker, more reliable ropes, stronger ‘biners, and a more extensive series of cams. If money is no object, this is purely common sense. However, even climbers on a budget can follow safety guidelines when developing their personalized climbing kits.

Stay Flexible

Trad climbing is a gear-intensive activity. When developing your first trad rack, it’s important to place gear where it will offer convenient access and minimal distraction. Understanding the trade-offs of clipping to your waist loops or utilizing shoulder slings is a good place to start. Many climbers will tell you they do most pitch without shoulder slings because all that upper body clutter slows them down. However, shoulder slings do help to minimize waist drag and make corners and laybacks more accessible. In the end, it all comes down to personal comfort and convenience.

What to Do if You’re Sharing Gear

IF you’re partnering up for a steep climb, you don’t need to worry about doubling up on your cams. This is ideal for beginners as trad gear can be incredibly expensive. With that being said, predetermine a consensus on how you will go about replacing lost and/or stuck gear in a sharing situation.

Get Your Beta

Prepare yourself by reviewing the beta for a climb. This allows you to specialize your rack for every climb. It makes for lighter, more specialized loads. You’ll also know if you need to clip on those odd-sized cams, tricams, or leave the nuts behind altogether.

Keep it Colorful

While non-anodized gear looks sleek, the colored coating provides an easy way to recognize different sized cams and nuts. On that note, do your best to stick to one brand of cams. Not only do different manufacturers use different colors for different sizes, the size overlaps also vary. Because of the importance of consistency, climbing groups and partners should work to coordinate their racks.

Optional Additions for Safer Climbs


Autoblocks are pre-tied friction-tight knots that are added to a rope used for rappelling. Autoblocks serve as an essential safety feature. They are placed right below the rappel as a backup stop. They’re easy to release, hold a good amount of weight, and can move up and down on the rappel shaft. What is a Prusik Knot? How to Tie a Prusik Knot? + Images

Alternatively, the Prusik hitch is another multidirectional stop. Whether you’re cleaning rocks or need to stop briefly to rest or untangle a portion of the cord, the Prusik will give you a solid resting point.

Most climbers use a short (around 2 feet) piece of nylon cord* or nylon sling to create their autoblocks. Be sure to always carry an individual piece of cord for this purpose. While not all climbers are privy to using this safety feature, it’s incredibly easy, quick, and simple to tie and can prevent a disastrous fall.


Offsets are asymmetrical nuts*

Offsets* are a form of passive protection similar to nuts. They are typically made from extremely strong metal and feature asymmetrical color-coded heads. They are ideal for odd-shaped cracks that require overhead placement, such as flares.

Purchasing Duplicates

If you have the money and know you’re going to use them, it doesn’t hurt to have a second set of cams. When purchasing duplicates, make sure they’re the ones you plan on using most often. Keep in mind this consistency varies between regions and rock faces. However, 0.5, 0.75, 1, and 2-inch cams are used quite often regardless of the rock type. As a rule of thumb, always purchase duplicates in the same brand. This means resisting the urge to buy up those bargain-rate Diamondbacks when you’ve already invested in several sets of DMMs.


Tricams – when nothing else fits*

Tricams* are both passive and active placements. They can serve as both a nonmoving nut and feature a backdoor spring-loaded cam. The Transformer of trad climbing, tricams are pulled into use when no other cam nor nut can manage a crack.

The only downside of tricams is they are more difficult to clean. To avoid leaving gear behind, practice proper placement and extraction before taking out this extra accessory. You may want to seriously consider adding this extra accessory to your rack if you’re seeing a lot of pitches with horizontal or odd-shaped fissures. They are typically sold in sets of six or individually.


Micro cams consist of three cam heads per set. They are ideal for pin scars and fissures. If your just building your first trad rack, you may want to purchase more versatile cams before getting into extra small or large specialty cams such as this.

How to Rack

Now that we’ve explored all the essential gear needed to build a trad climbing rack, it’s time to explore racking configurations. Of course, all of the following examples only serve as a launchpad to developing your own unique racking style. Whenever developing a trad rack, comfort and accessibility should always be at the top of your priority list.

Where to Rack

First off, you need to determine where you’re going to carry the bulk of your load. Your options include an over the shoulder gear sling, hooking directly onto your harness loops, or using a combination of the two.

We talked briefly about this in our gear list, but here’s a brief list of the pros and cons of each option:

Over-the-shoulder Slings


  • Reduce waist drag and evenly distribute gear weight
  • Can purchase specialized over-the-shoulder slings with multiple loops
  • Easier to share with partner
  • Can evenly distribute gear between left and right sides


  • Can interfere with belays on flat rockfaces
  • Can shift easily
  • Prone to tangling
  • Weighted upper body

Loops on Harness Waist


  • Distribute gear used most in front and lesser-used gear in back
  • Spread the weight of the gear over the entire circumference of your waist
  • Separate and organize gear more easily


  • Sharing gear takes longer
  • Low-hanging gear can inhibit leg movement
  • Can drag harness down



  • More storage space for extra cams, tricams, and overall bulkier racks
  • Easy access to multiple accessories
  • Provides division between shared and personal gear
  • Better organization


  • Partner’s preference

Rack in Tiers

Hook your cams onto a gear sling that hangs over the right side of your body. When doing so, hook duplicate cams onto the same ‘biner so you don’t have to fumble around for obvious choices. Then place all of your shoulder-length slings over the gear sling, over the left side of your body. This makes it all the easier to combine cams and slings when ascending a pitch.

In this type of system, this opens up your left side gear loops for additional gear. Here you can hook on essentials such as quickdraws, nuts, and a nut tool. Always consider the efficiency of your placement, putting your most essential tools in the front.

This keeps your rear gear loops open for extra essentials, such as anchors and chalk bags.

Of course, many climbers like to eliminate the over-the-shoulder sling altogether. Without the gear sling, they can place all their cams on the right side of their body.

Final Thoughts

Trad climbing is an incredibly dangerous but rewarding experience. Building your first trad rack is equal parts exciting and expensive. Therefore, it’s important to use care in choosing what style, type, and amount of gear to invest in. When buying equipment, you’ll realize preferences vary greatly between climbing styles, rock types, and experience. Always speak with experienced individuals from your local climbing community, read reviews product reviews, and consider perspective pitches before purchasing your trad setup.

I hope my trad climbing rack guide and essential gear lists have been helpful in planning for your next trad adventure. If you recently developed your own trad, comment below to share your personal experience.

Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.

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