Close this search box.

How to Build a Trad Climbing Rack

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we get a commission if you make a purchase through our links. These cost nothing to you and help support our site.

Spread the love


Reaching the point in your climbing career where you have gotten committed to trad climbing and want to build your own rack can be super exciting but also pretty daunting. A trad rack is a huge investment, and you’ll want to make sure that you are making the right choices. 

That’s where we come in! From talking about the essential gears you’ll need to fill in your first trad rack to discussing some safe ways to help minimize the cost of your trad rack, we’ve got you covered. We know it can be a lot, but don’t worry. We’ll make it as simple as possible. 

What is Trad ClimbingWhat is Trad Climbing?

Trad climbing, short for traditional climbing, is the most traditional and still safe way of placing pieces of protection in the rock as you ascend a climb. These pieces of protection are removable, making this style a great style for those looking to minimize their environmental impacts on the rocks. 

Unlike sport climbing, which is the closest comparable form of climbing to trad climbing, there is more gear and more safety concerns to be aware of. When you are placing your own protection instead of relying on bolts that someone else has placed for you, there are a lot more factors to be aware of. Even building an anchor at the top of your climb becomes a lot more complicated since you are now in charge of making sure your anchor is strong enough to take the forces of climbing. 

Essential Gears for Your Trad Climbing RackEssential Gears for Your Trad Climbing Rack

What is a trad rack? Understanding what a trad rack is and how to build a trad climbing rack are the first things to understand. A trad rack is the term given to your collection of trad climbing gear. This includes spring-loaded camming devices, commonly called cams, passive gear, either nuts or hexes and all the material that will be used to connect these things. Typically, climbers store their trad racks with all the gear clipped onto a sling to keep it organized. 

There are a few main categories of gear that make up a standard trad rack. Generally, you’ll have active gear, or gear that moves and pushes against the rock; passive gear, or gear with no moving parts; and gear to connect it all together. We’re going to break down those categories to hopefully answer any questions you may have about the types of gear: 

  • Active Gear

Active gear is the general term given to any gear that has a moving part. Most commonly, this term is used to describe a device known as a spring-loaded camming device, which is a device with a camming mechanism that pushes out against the rock the more you pull down on it. These pieces of gear are commonly called cams, although the technical name will vary depending on the manufacturer. 

Combination gear, such as tri cams, can be included in the category of active gear if it is used in an active way. It’s worth mentioning these more specialized pieces of gear so you know they exist, but these are not typically incorporated into someone’s first trad rack. That being said, if climbing experts from your area say you should invest in a specific piece of gear that is helpful in your area, we suggest you listen to them. 

  • Passive Gear

Passive gear is the general term given to protection with no moving parts. This includes gear like nuts and hexes. These pieces of gear are slotted into cracks that have a constriction and then pulled into the constriction to hold your weight. They can be challenging to remove, but when placed properly, they can be super strong. 

  • Cords, slings, and carabiners 

There are a lot of pieces of gear that you will need to connect all of the pieces of protection. Unlike a sport climbing rack that may only consist of an anchor kit and sport draws, you’ll want a set of alpine or extendable draws for a trad rack. By creating alpine draws instead of just using sport draws or even long quickdraws, you give yourself much more room to create a straight rope line and minimize rope drag. 

In terms of the gear you will need to create an anchor when trad climbing, you’ll typically use both active and passive pieces and connect them together with a longer length of cordelette and possibly some nylon slings. You’ll also need a good selection of locking carabiners to make all of this safe and secure. 

How to Build Your Trad Rack: Step-by-StepHow to Build Your Trad Rack: Step-by-Step

Putting together a trad rack can feel really overwhelming. The average trad rack cost is nearly $1000, so it’s no small feat. These are our step-by-step instructions to help make it feel more manageable and help you make smart financial decisions.

1. Talk to your local experts. 

The first step to building your first trad rack should be to talk to your local experts. You can read all sorts of trad climbing rack lists, but these are all generic. Certain areas require certain sizes of cams or certain specific pieces of gear. Knowing this before you invest a ton of money in the pieces of your rack can help you prioritize what you actually need, so you don’t waste money on gear you won’t use. 

For example, if you live in a place with primarily smaller cracks that you’ll be placing gear in, like Indian Creek, you don’t need to spend your money on massive cams at first. Think about the gear that you will actually need to get off the ground and get going safely without having too much extraneous gear.

2. Research the gear they recommend 

Do your own research! You can go to a climbing store, and they might recommend you buy a certain piece of gear, but if you do your research and find that the lifespan of that gear is short, but it doesn’t weigh much, you may want something different. Finding the right balance between durability and weight can be hard, so researching and knowing what you want to do with the gear is essential. 

Learn how to read the packets of information that come with each piece of gear and understand what the technical specs from the company’s websites mean. We recommend saving the manuals that come with your gear in a shoe box or drawer so you always have them to fall back on.

3. Search around for deals on new gear. 

Search for sales to help you save some money, but don’t buy used gear. Climbing gear is only as safe as its history allows it to be, and if you don’t know the history of a piece of gear, you won’t know how safe it is. Especially when you are starting out and don’t know what to look for at all, please don’t buy used gear. Just wait for sales at reputable stores, and don’t risk your life to save a few bucks. 

How to Organize Your GearHow to Organize Your Gear

When thinking about organizing the gear on your trad rack, there are a lot of ways to do so. Some people like to keep like-gear together and then sort by size. Some people like to have color-coded carabiners attached to each piece of gear to help make it easy to find. Just remember that how you organize your gear when you rack it for storage is not what’s important. 

Figuring out how you like to rack your gear on your harness while you are climbing is what really matters, and it will take time to figure out. Some climbers like the gates of their carabiners facing away from themselves, while others prefer them facing toward them. Some put small gear on one side of their body and big gear on the other. Others prefer to have a selection of both sizes on each side of their body. There is no one right way, and it’s all about trial and error and what feels comfortable and safe for you.

Cost to Build a Trad Climbing RackCost to Build a Trad Climbing Rack

Unfortunately, trad climbing is expensive. A simple rack will typically cost anywhere from around $600 to well over $1000, depending on the gear you choose to include and how you choose to purchase the gear. Although it can be really tempting to buy used gear to save money, we’ll say it here again: your life is worth more than the price of new and safe gear. 

A great way to cut the initial cost of a trad rack is by splitting it with your climbing partner. In this strategy, each person would invest in half a trad rack to start, with the assumption that together, they would have one full trad rack to use when climbing. This is a great option for someone with a regular climbing partner but not for someone with many climbing partners.

Trad Rack Maintenance: How to Clean and Maintain Your GearTrad Rack Maintenance: How to Clean and Maintain Your Gear

Trad racks consist of a lot of expensive gear, so you’ll want to ensure you take good care of it. The first thing you can do to take care of your trad rack is to minimize its exposure to dirt and transport it safely. When you need to put your rack down outside, do so on a tarp, a dry rock, a picnic table, or any other surface that is not directly in the dirt. Dirt will work its way into your gear and cause you problems down the line. 

Overall, cleaning a trad rack is just like other climbing gear. Wipe the obvious dirt away, don’t use any harsh cleaners or soaps, and make sure you never put it away wet or moist, as this will cause mold. Make sure you store your trad rack in a cool, dark place away from heat, moisture, and direct sunlight, as all of these things can damage the soft parts of your rack. You don’t need to wash your rack frequently, but keep an eye on your gear and wipe it down frequently to prevent the buildup of gunk that can get caught in the moving parts of cams.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Build Trad Climbing Rack

It can be easy to read a list of what to include in your trad rack online and then want to go out and buy it all, but that isn’t usually the best plan. Take some time to talk to some local experts and ask for their help in picking the right gear for your area. That way, you’ll be spending your money on the gear you actually need for the climbing you want to be doing and not wasting money on pieces of gear that will only collect dust.

Readers of this post also read...

How to Build a Trad Climbing Rack

How to Build a Trad Climbing Rack

Reaching the point in your climbing career where you have gotten committed to trad climbing and want to build your own rack can be super exciting but also pretty daunting. A trad rack is a...

Read More
A Guide to Climbing the Amalfi Coast

A Guide to Climbing the Amalfi Coast

Looking for a breathtaking climbing destination? Look no further than the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Known for its views, food, and drink, the Amalfi Coast is a stellar vacation location that is surrounded by stunning...

Read More
5 Best Climbing Supplements

5 Best Climbing Supplements

Like any other physical activity, rock climbing takes a toll on your body. As climbers want to improve their abilities more and more, they will likely start looking for ways to help their body support...

Read More