How to Trad Climb

How to Trad Climb

trad climbing basics
As much a craft as it is a sport.  Gear placement takes practice and knowledge to gain experience and become proficient, safe and efficient.  Because of the fine-tuning required on being successful at this climbing style,  it’s often a while before climbers  get interested in trad.  It’s even common for climbers to try sport climbing leads first, then pick up trad later. Whatever course on learning you choose you can always learn to properly place gear and become comfortable, trust your placements, and then begin trad. This is a very basic article on learning trad climbing for someone who has never done it before or has little knowledge of trad.

 How it Works

Usually trad climbing involves a lead climber and a second.  The lead climber. Climbs first and places climbing protection in the rock.  If the leader falls on the gear it stops them–hopefully, and if placed correctly– then the climber starts again and continues to the top.  When a leader falls he will fall twice as far as his last price of protection: the distance he has climbed above his last price plus the distance back.


Many different types of gear are available  today.  Essentially two main types of gear exist. Active and passive protection.

 Active Pro

Cams are active protection. When placed in cracks or horizontals a trigger is pulled contracting the heads of the cam,  released the heads open and seat themselves into the rock.  If a leader falls, the heads cam into the rock and stop the climber from falling.  Cams come in different sizes from micro-small to the size of a small umbrella. Most common are hand and fist sized cams but different climbing areas are known for specific sizes being most prevalent.

 Passive Pro

Stopper nuts, hexes, and wedge shaped metal are examples of passive protection. This type of pro does not dynamically move or cam into cracks or rock spaces. Typically a nut can be placed into a crack with an hourglass shape.  The nut is wider at its top and naturally stops in an hourglass shape.

 Other types of Pro

Pitons are fixed protection. Widely used from he 50s to the 70s, this type of protection was hammered into thin cracks and left there. Pitons are really only used in aid climbing now but many old pitons can still be found at crags–you reading this Gunk’s climbers.  Some old pitons are safe others are a nightmare use caution when clipping into pitons.


Some trad climbs have a bolt or two where gear can not be placed. Bolts are a controversial subject and should  be placed where traditional gear can not be placed.

A Trad Climbers Gear List

A selection of all the gear needed is pretty easy to assemble.  To get started we’ve put together the basics you should need to start lead or trad climbing.  This is a basic list so you can improvise as needed.  it is important to note that certain regions you may climb in rely on certain types of gear more than others.  For instance, a number 3 cam is widely used at the Gunk’s as are tricams due to the many horizontals found all over the Trapps and Near Trapps cliffs.  Likewise, many desert areas with long vertical cracks rely on specific sizes more then other crags.  It’s best to ask locals what sizes or pieces you might use where you will be climbing most.

Basic Rack

Given that you will need a harness, helmet, rope, and climbing shoes, here are some widely used parts of a rack, or collection of gear, that you should have.

Locking Caribeeners

Locking biners are needed to assure safety when making an anchor.  you should have at least two with locking gates.  They are also great to have in spots where you may set up a toprope.  Many novices make the mistake of using non-locking biners at anchors or toprope set-ups.  This can be fatal!  Always use lockers at anchors and topropeing.  Two lockers can save your or your partners lives.


10 draws will help you lead a good deal of climbs but you could probably get away with 6.  Qucikdraws can be bought in packages so you can save a little if you buy them in a set.  A medium length draw is great and later you may want a few longer ones for getting over bulges or short overhangs.


Dyneema is great and lightweight.  It is the  most used  and is high quality.  You should have at least 6 slings to get started and a few thick tubular webbing pieces for topropes or areas of heavy use.  thicker webbing is usually only used for anchors where you will set a TR.  Thicker webbing is great and beefy where you may have it near a ledge or heavily-traveled area.

Nuts and Passive Pro

Stopper nuts are great when yous tart as they are easy to place.  A set of stoppers can cost under $100 and is very useful to learn lead climbing.  Small wires are not necessarily needed at first.  Medium and slightly larger nuts will work fine as you start leading.


Cams are the most expensive part of assembling a rack other than a rope or shoes.  Look for online discounts or work with your partner to split the cost.  Medium cams are going to be the best to start with.

 Protection ratings

Many trad climbs have a protection scale.  That is similar to the Cinema rating system.

G- great protection and good stances to place pro.

Pg- pretty good stances and pretty safe gear with limited falls.

R hard stances and thin pro that may not hold. Dangerous fall potential.

X very little of any protection.  A fall can result In death.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *