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Trad 101 #1: Racking Up

quick draw anchor climbing

*Editors Note: This is the first in a series of three installments of tips for trad climbing. I don’t intend to teach the very basics such as how to place gear. Instead, I want to provide the aspiring trad leader with some common sense techniques that may not be obvious at first. The other two entries can be found here and here.

To a sports climber, staring up a boltless line can make even easy climbs seem like naked scare fests. The proposition of choosing gear for a route is a complicated exercise to the untrained eye. In these situations, a little conversation can go a long way. I’ll say, “Tell me what you think you need for this climb.”  Many times the hesitant replies reflect uncertainty.

Two patterns have emerged. First, the climber is terrified of getting pumped and not having the right piece at the right time. Second, the climber will often take way too much gear but too few quickdraws.

Here are a few tips and examples of how to rack up.

  • Study the line from below and try to figure out what you need.  Don’t just blindly throw a rack of doubles on your harness for a 50 foot line.  You can and should take some extra pieces, but learning how to read a climb from below will save you from carrying unnecessary clutter and weight.  Developing this skill will become important when climbing something at your limit.
  • Put the gear you think will be most useful in front and spare pieces in back. It’s easy to find big gear, so put big pieces in back. The picture below illustrates a typical rack I might bring in Eldo: Doubles on finger sized pieces (0.5 and 0.75), nuts and a variety of smaller cams with a few bigger pieces in back. Often I’ll bring very small cams on a climb.  But the smallest cams, RPs etc. I’ll put in back because it’s likely they won’t be necessary.
trad climber gear rack
  • Put draws in the middle of the harness. If you carry some extras, put them in the back. Carry some extendable draws (slings; 4-6) and some normal draws (4-6). Adjust the numbers as necessary depending on the nature of the route. Routes that wander or require lots of nut placements may require more extendable draws. The total number of draws needed can change a great deal depending on the climb. For splitter cracks in Indian Creek or Vedauwoo, no pieces may need a draw. However, for the cryptic climbing of Eldo or Lumpy Ridge, nearly every placement can benefit from being extended.
  • If you think doubles on certain pieces will be needed, rack one on each side. Also, don’t load one side of your harness with big gear and another with small gear.
  • For easier, multipitch lines, a gear sling can make transitions much more efficient. I like to rack up small to big on one sling and carry draws on another. Put spare slings on last so you don’t need to remove gear to access them.  For harder routes I prefer to rack up on my harness.  This eliminates clunky gear swinging around and can make it easier to grab a piece in a hurry.

There are exceptions to these points. For instance, a splitter crack may need 8 #2s. In that case, there’s not much to think about. An offwidth may force a climber to climb with one side of her body buried in the crack and the other side out. In that case, put all the gear on the outside hip.  In time, you’ll develop your own style and preferences for racking up.  Everyone will find little tricks they like.  Follow these tips for a good starting point.

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