Basic Climbing Rack (Single Pitch)

My trad rack (photo by Just Hannah Photography)

Traditional climbing involves placing gear for protection in the event of a fall. The leader places gear whilst climbing, before belaying up the second, who removes the gear on their way up. Obviously, this requires more equipment then that used for indoor climbing.

The essentials:

– Helmet

– HMS screwgate and belay device.

– Prussik loops (for backing up abseils down to stuck gear!)

– Nut Key (for removing the stuck gear…)


Quickdraws provide the link between the gear placement and the rope itself. Try to make sure that you always clip the gear with the same karabiner each time, to avoid possible damage to your rope. 5-8 Quickdraws are usually enough for most single pitch climbs, as many cams and hexes now have long slings on them, saving a ‘draw. A mix of lengths is handy, as well as having a couple of trad-draws that you can easily extend. I carry 18-25cm long quickdraws – I find that longer ones are less likely to lift the gear out as you climb past them.


Once upon a time, slings were all people had for protection, used on spikes and threads to save the day. They’re still incredibley useful, both during the climb and for building a belay at the top. I carry 3 x 120cm dyneema slings, usually doubled over the shoulder for ease of access.

Passive Protection:

Nuts and Hexes – these will be the mainstay of your rack. Nuts (chocks/wires/stoppers…) are placed in cracks to provide protection. They’re light, fairly cheap and cover a wide range of sizes. If you rack your wires on two seperate karabiners, you’ll have less on an epic if you drop them! A set of 1-11 (DMM/Wild Country sizing) should be enough when starting out, complimented by a larger set of hexes. Hexes are used in a similar way to nuts, but fit in to much bigger placements. The DMM “Torque Nut” hexes 1-4 have a good size range, ideal for building your rack. Being skilled at placing nuts and hexes will save your cams for when they’re really needed.


You’ll need racking karabiners for carrying your gear on your harness, as well as screwgates for sling placements and building a belay. It’s worth investing in a large HMS screwgate (such as the DMM Boa) that will accept several clove hitches, for making life easier when attaching yourself to the belay. I carry 3 small screwgates to use on the belay anchors or with sling placements. Remember you can always double up on snapgates, if you run out of screwgates.


Quite often, the advice given is not to use cams when you first learn to lead – instead serve an apprenticeship with nuts and hexes. The idea behind this is that you’ll get good at placing nuts rather than plugging in the easier to place cams. Whilst cams are easier to place, it can be harder to spot whether it has been placed badly. For this reason, I would suggest using cams as well from the very start, after being shown how to place them properly. Don’t rely on them, until you really understand how to use them. Cams are more expensive and there’s no harm in climbing without them until you can afford a set. A set of 1,2,3 or 0.5,(which seems to fit everywhere on grit!) 1.5, 2.5 should be enough for a while.

Tips for getting started:

  • Have somebody show you how to place gear properly
  • Second other people’s climbs, to see where they’ve placed gear and how they’ve done it
  • Practise placing gear at ground level and get friends to evaluate how good the placement is
  • Practice placing gear, whilst on a top rope. There’s no shame in it!
  • Too much gear is much better than not enough! You don’t want to be running it out when you’re learning – especially when you’re never quite sure just how good your placements are.
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