How To Build Your First Trad Rack

Building a trad rack can be a daunting (read: expensive) task. Following up on my piece, How to Start Trad Climbing, I’m going to dive into ‘How To Build Your First Trad Rack’. 

It’s important to remember that building a trad rack is very personal. These are guidelines I can give you, but everyone has a slightly different rack with pieces they prefer over others. So–with that in mind–try out a lot of different gear as you come across it and see what works best for you. 

This process is supposed to be fun! 

The Basics

This is just to get you off the ground without spending too much money. The following gear can be found in 99.9% of trad racks. 

Kaya Lindsay Holding Cams up to the Camera
  1. Nut tool
    The first piece of every trad rack! If you have a nut tool you’ll practice getting your cams/nuts unstuck. It’s a bonus piece because you can also get free gear by bootying things left behind by other climbers. Build your trad rack for free!
    Black Diamond

  2. 10mm sling to rack your gear on
    Before you get any cams or nuts you should get a 10mm sling to rack everything on. It costs next to nothing and it’s the easiest way to keep track of your trad rack.

  3. Single rack .3-#3
    When starting out all you will need is a single rack. Buying a double rack is expensive and could be a financial mistake if you realize you’re not interested in trad climbing after a season (it happens). Also, buying a single rack will allow you to borrow cams and nuts from your friends. This gives you the opportunity to test out other brands of gear and see what you prefer. 
    Black Diamond
    Wild Country

  4. Rack of biners for your cams
    I was very upset when I first learned I had to purchase $400+ in cams, only to buy my own carabiners as well. Now, I realize there’s a lot of personalized customization that goes into what kind of biners you want to put on your cams. It’s not necessary, but you can get a rack pack of biners that will color coordinate with your cams.
    Black Diamond

  5. Rack of nuts
    The most basic (and cheapest) type of rock protection. Many of the routes you’ll climb in your trad career will have been established using only nuts. With that in mind, you’ll need a set of nuts to spread out gear placements on long pitches. Nuts are also really helpful in building trad anchors when you know you need a certain cam for the upcoming pitch. 
    Black Diamond

  6. 10 slings
    Slings are what make up alpine draws. They can be folded in on themselves to be about the length of a quick draw, or they can be extended to help with rope drag over rooftops or wandering pitches.

  7. 20 non-locking carabiners
    The second half of an alpine draw, the non-locking carabiners. You’ll need two for each draw. 
    Black Diamond Neutrino

Building a Rack

While the basics will get you up most things, many people start to get really excited about trad gear and start building a more complex rack. Here’s a shortlist of extras that you can start adding to your rack once you’ve built up the basics. 

  1. Double/Triple Rack .3-#3
    If you realize you really like trad climbing and want to spend a lot of money on it, then get a full double rack. Depending on where you like to climb, you could also get a triple rack in some or all sizes. This will vary depending on your location, length of pitches, and style of climbs you enjoy. 
    Black Diamond
    Wild Country

  2. Big cams #4-#6
    Otherwise known as ‘wide gear’, these cams are more expensive than most. They are extremely helpful when climbing offwidth, especially if you’re climbing sandstone and there aren’t any small cracks for you to get gear into for a long time. If you find yourself excited about wide climbing, then you’ll need some big cams! 
    Black Diamond #4-#6

  3. Small cams 000-.2
    There is more variety in small cams than any other type of cam. Everything from the three-lobed triple zero grey C3, to the black totem, to the grey Metolius, to the new black diamond green Z4s to the black Aliens. There are a lot of small cams. My only advice is to start building a rack from .2 down. If you’ve got a double rack of .3’s, get a .2 in one brand and see how you like it, then go down to a .1, then go smaller. I recommend mixing and matching until you find the little cams that are right for you!

  4. Big Bro’s Red-Blue
    A cheaper version of the #4-#6 cams, the Big Bros are passive protection for wide climbing. They are a bit more finicky to place, but if you do a lot of wide climbing and you don’t want to invest in a lot of cams, big bros are the solution. 
    Big Bros

  5. Offset nuts
    Offset nuts are tapered on one side which makes them easier to place in strangely shaped constrictions. Most people find offset nuts more useful than regular ‘stoppers’ but they are more expensive. 
    Wild County

  6. Micro Nuts
    Some cracks are too small for cams, this is where micro nuts come in. When there is no protection on a route except a hairline fracture in the rock, the micro nuts will be there for you. 
    Black Diamond Micro Nuts

  7. Offset cams
    Just like offset nuts, but they can fit in even weirder constrictions! Offset cams are really popular in aid climbing, but they’re super useful for free climbing as well. 
    X4 Offsets

  8. Ball Nuts
    They sound like the punchline to a dirty joke, but in reality, they’re a great addition to any rack. Ball nuts are ideal for small, perfectly parallel cracks.
    Ball Nuts

Kaya Lindsay with Wide Cams

Building a rack is a personal journey. Many people end up feeling strongly about their cam or nut choices, and they will swear to you that “this is the only cam/nut/carabiner that matters”. It’s a difficult choice because, in the end, the best piece of gear is the one that works. I highly recommend starting with the basics that I’ve listed above and then experimenting from there. It will become obvious to you–as you climb–which pieces you wish you had more of or less of. 

So, get after it and happy climbing!

Kaya Lindsay is the social media coordinator for Yosemite Facelift. She is also a writer and photographer with a passion for rock climbing and the outdoors. In 2016 she converted a Sprinter Van into a tiny home and has been traveling around the US & Canada to pursue her passion for rock climbing ever since. You will most likely find her in a parking lot or coffee shop, camera in hand, planning her next adventure. Connect with her on Instagram @OneChickTravels

About the Gear Tester

Outdoor Prolink Pro

Kaya Lindsay is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker with a passion for rock climbing and the outdoors.

In 2016 she converted a Sprinter Van into a tiny home and has been traveling around the US & Canada to pursue her passion for rock climbing. Since hitting the road she has begun a career in filmmaking and is currently working on her One Chick Travels series, highlighting solo female travelers who live and work to pursue an adventurous lifestyle. Her films have been highlighted by major brands such as Backcountry and Outside TV. To fulfill her passion for writing, she chronicles her many adventures in her blog. Professionally, she writes for the adventure sports company Outdoor Prolink and The Climbing Zine. Kaya hopes to spend many more years in her tiny home on wheels, Lyra, and is currently living in Moab Utah.

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