Trad' Climbing Guide

Some would argue that Traditional Climbing (Trad' to most climbers) is the purest form of climbing involving safety equipment.

It has a strong history in Britain with a 'clean' ethic. To trad' climb you start at the bottom of a route carrying a 'rack' of equipment that you place in the rock to help prevent you hurting yourself in the event of a fall. It is very important that you learn how to place the equipment appropriately so that you can enjoy this form of climbing as safely as possible and to this end we would always recommend that you seek some form of instruction from a professional instructor with the appropriate MLTA (LINK) award.

Once you have learnt how to trad' climb from an instructor you'll be looking at getting your own equipment so that you can go and explore the variety of traditional rock routes that we have all over the UK. This is where we hope this guide can come in handy, offering you a few tips and a good list of items to get in order to enjoy all that climbing has to offer.

Recommended Kit for Trad' Climbing

Rock Shoes

Where better to start with a list of equipment then the item that will make the most difference to your enjoyment. A good pair of rock shoes will allow you to climb with confidence and improve your technique where as an ill-fitting pair will leave you wondering why you're climbing at all. We really recommend that you drop into one of our stores and try on lots of pairs so that you can find the pair that suits. If you can't make it to store however here are a few tips for buying:

Decide if you want a pair of shoes for spending all day on long routes in the mountains or a pair for single pitch (a rope length) routes on the crags. In either case it is worth avoiding the 'steep line shoes' unless you know you need this level of shoe (you will know if/when this is you). The choice will then come down to an 'all day' or 'performance shoe'.

'All day' shoes will have a stiffer midsole. This spreads your weight better across the whole foot. They also have a less asymmetric last (the mould used to shape the shoe) meaning that your foot will be able to relax more naturally. These factors make them better for longer days out in the mountains that will involve less technical climbing and also for people starting out who have yet to develop the strength in their feet for sustained standing on small edges.

'Performance' shoes will generally feature a softer 'stickier' rubber then all day shoes. They are also more asymmetrical. These two factors mean that the shoe gives more feedback when placing your foot on the rock and therefore allows you to be more precise and confident. This is crucial to developing good climbing technique and climbing efficiently. If you already have a strong foot from some indoor climbing and you're not planning on spending 10 hours with your shoe on then a performance shoe is the one to go for.

Once you've decided on a type of shoe select a brand that you know will fit your feet. Some brands tend to have narrow lasts whereas some are wide. If you have had a good fit from one of these in the past it's a good idea to stick with this brand especially if ordering online or over the phone. Also, if buying online, make sure that you buy a few different size variants to try on. We will give you a full refund on any unused shoes returned to us within 21 days and you can drop them at on of our stores or post them back to us recorded delivery. This will give you the best chance of finding one that fits without it taking a long time and paying a large amount in return postage.

The shoe pictured is the Five Ten Anasazi Velcro, one of our favourite performance shoes.

Click here to see our range of Rock Shoes.


Choosing a harness is an important decision when starting out climbing. Get it wrong and you'll end up having a painful time when hanging on the end of the rope. Get it right and you'll forget your even wearing it so you can concentrate on the most important thing - the climbing. Luckily these days almost all harnesses have been well designed to be comfortable even in long falls (the exception being some super light harnesses for alpine mountaineering), but there are a few factors that will help you decide between them.

1. Hip Shape - Women's / Men's
The shapes of men's and women's hips are different and there are harnesses available to cope with this.
2. Padding and positioning of padding
Different harnesses have different amounts of padding and position it differently. Trying on several different harnesses and finding out which has the right padding for you. Make sure you hang in the harness when trying it as this is when it needs to be most comfortable. One thing to look out for though is some of the modern harnesses that use a special technique of spreading the fibres of the waist belt and then laminating them in place rather then padding a thin belt of material. This method spreads the load on the waist and makes them more comfortable then first appearances would suggest. The Arc'teryx 350A shown to the right is one example of this type of harness.
3. Weight
The lighter the harness the less you will feel weighed down and the more you will be able to enjoy your climbing. Having said that, heavier harnesses tend to be more robust and more comfortable as they can have more padding and tougher materials.
4. Pack Size
If you are planning on doing mountain routes with a long walk in where your harness will be in the bag for plenty of time having a harness that compresses down to a small pack size is useful. It'll allow the bag to be better packed and make it easier for you to drop everything in at the end of the day without it becoming an issue.
5. Gear loop number and positions
Different people like different numbers and locations of gear loops. This becomes a subject of much debate down the pub after a days climbing. All will agree however to look for at least 4 on a trad' climbing harness. This will give you plenty of space for all the quickdraws, protection and belay equipment. Personally, I like keeping my protection on the front left and right loops with all the quickdraws on the rear left and right loops apart from two short ones which I also keep on the front loops. This is because I need to see the gear I pick, where as, I can just reach for any quickdraw on the back loops. My belay device and a selection of screwgates live on my right rear loop behind everything else.
6. Adjustable / elastic leg loops
Despite first appearances elastic leg loops are generally more comfortable to use, simpler and lighter for those with normal size thy muscles. Those that do a lot of cycling or have naturally slim legs may find adjustable leg loops more comfortable and if you intend on using your harness for winter climbing where you will be wearing boots, crampons, and lots of layers adjustable leg loops are essential as they make the process of putting the harness on and taking it off much easier.

So consider these factors, decide which are the most important for you, try as many different options as possible and get the harness you deserve. It will look after you for a number of years.

Click here to see our range of Harnesses

Passive Protection

Passive protection is the term used for all the items of equipment that are placed in the rock, to prevent the climber hitting the ground in the event of a fall, that don't contain any moving parts. Originally these were pebbles, pitons (metal wedges hammered into place) and nuts (as in nuts and bolts) with a bit of cord threaded through. Luckily these days' things have moved on a huge amount, pebbles are no more and pitons are now used almost exclusively in winter and on the greater ranges. Nuts have evolved dramatically, they are now made of an alloy shaped wedge on the end of a wire or sling that has been deigned to fit a wide variety of cracks. Some larger nuts feature six sides and have been shaped to cam into parallel cracks as well as work in the more usual constrictions. This type of nut is also referred to as a hex.

When deciding what nuts to buy it's worth thinking about the type of rock that you're going to be climbing. Limestone tends to have small smooth meandering cracks and features that favour nuts at the smaller end of the size range available where as granite cliffs tend to have larger cracks that gobble up the larger nuts. In either case it's worth carrying a full size range of nuts plus the extras that you think you'll need. As a rough guide a standard rack of nuts which would be useful throughout the UK would include the follow:

  1. A full set of 1 - 11 DMM Wallnuts - these are really well shaped to work in a variety of locations and are rated at 7kn in a size one and 12kn from a size 4 upwards while still being really light weight
  2. Part of a set of Wild Country Rocks - get sizes 1 - 8 if limestone's your thing or sizes 9 - 14 for a more general all round set. Handily DMM and Wild Country have worked together to make sure that all the nuts of approximately the same size are in the same colour making it quick and easy to identify which nut is which.
  3. A set of larger hex's to cope with parallel cracks and cover cracks up to about fist size. It's handy to have these on slings so that you can save some extenders. The DMM Torque Nuts are good examples.
  4. As you move into the extremes and harder climbs where the cracks become shallow and small its worth picking up a set of 'micro nuts'. These aren't as strong as full sized nuts so it's worth making sure you are more careful when placing and removing them as well as not taking large falls onto them. DMM produce the Immaculate Marginal Protection (IMP) Brass Nut Set to cover this type of nut amongst others.

Click here to see our range of Passive Protection

Dynamic Protection

Spring Loaded Camming Devices, (SLCD's) or Cam's to most climbers, are wonders of engineering. They rely on three or four opposing spiral lobes that expand as they straighten out to prevent them pulling out of cracks. Covering the engineering of how this works would be a guide in itself so here we're just going to cover what to look out for when buying them. Generally there are two choices to make:

Single Stem vs Double Stem
Double stem cams, such as the DMM 4CU are designed so that the cam lobes site between a wire which forms a U shape. Because of the structure these cams can generally use a smaller wire and are therefore a bit lighter then the equivalent single stem cam. Single stem cams have the cam lobes place either side of a single wire, such as the Black Diamond Camelot. These cams work better in different variety of orientations as the stem will bend in any direction unlike the double stem design.
Single Axle vs Double Axle
Single axle cams have one bar around which the cam lobes pivot, double axle cam's have two. The double axle allows the cams to fit a larger range of cracks then a single axle can however it does this at the cost of extra weight.

A good selection to have is a complete set of single axle double stem cams that are light with an additional half set of double axle, single stem cams for the added flexibility on granite or gritstone outcrops. If you can't afford that many cam's go for which ever your climbing partner doesn't have or the double axle, single stem variety for their flexibility.

Click here to see our range of cams


Karabiners form the mainstay of any rack. They hold all of the protection, form quickdraws and provide useful devices for attaching items or belaying. Because they do all this, you're going to be carrying quite a few of them so it's worth making them as light as possible while remaining functional. We'll deal with quickdraws shortly so those won't be discussed in this section, leaving the racking carabiners and those used for attaching and belaying.

For racking you need straight, bent or wire gate karabiners - Click here to see our range