Taking up Trad - What’s a ‘Standard Rack’?

Gear -

Taking up Trad - What’s a ‘Standard Rack’?


         You’re sitting in the bath, candles lit, listening to the Enormocast, and scrolling through Rakkup for a few beginner trad climbs to get you started on your path to Squamish. You find a couple classic routes to cut your teeth on, and add them to the top of your tick list. Final Finale at Rattlesnake Point, Camel Crack Mt. Nemo, or Sister Morphine at Mt. Nemo for the offwidth crushers,  but what gear do you need to climb them?

         The ‘standard rack’ in trad climbing refers to a standard set of cams and nuts that most people carry. Unless you’re Alex Honnold or Cedar Wright carrying the bare minimum,  a ‘standard rack’ changes from area to area. The standard Squamish rack for granite crack climbing won’t be the perfect fit for many climbs on escarpment limestone, and you might make your own tweaks to the standard rack for an area depending on your tastes, experience with different types of protection, and experience level.

Any trad rack is going to have 3 main components: Passive protection, active protection, and quickdraws or slings.

Passive Protection

Passive protection includes any type of equipment placed into cracks or constrictions in the rock without moving components or ‘active’ parts. Passive ‘pro’ includes stoppers and hexes.

  • Almost every standard rack should have a full set of stoppers (also called nuts, or wires). Placing stoppers has a bit more of a learning curve than placing cams, but once you’ve gotten good at picking the size, you’ll be able to get quick, bomber placements in lots of places where cams just wouldn’t do. A rack of nuts can be a good thing to bring on runout sport climbs too.

  •  Tricams are another type of passive protection   that you might find on standard racks for certain areas, such as the Shawangunks in New York State. They work exceptionally well in horizontal cracks, so you’ll find plenty of spots to place them in the escarpment. These units really shine in an area like the Gunks because the rock is filled with horizontal cracks.

  • Hexes are large pieces of passive pro that are placed in similar ways to stoppers. They may seem a bit antiquated now, with advancements in active protection (cams), but for slippery limestone climbing some people prefer them to cams, which rely on friction for their holding power. Hexes work well in wet, dirty, or icy cracks where cams might slip out, but can be tricky to place. 







Active Protection

Active protection includes all types of protection that have moving parts. Cams are the most common equipment in this category, but sizes needed can vary depending on where you’re climbing!

  • With a bit of practice, cams become extremely quick to place and have great versatility. However, cams don’t give the same visual feedback that passive protection does; a seemingly good placement can still pull out of the rock. The major downsides to cams, as compared to stoppers, are their cost and weight.


  • Quickdraws connect stoppers to your rope, and can extend  other placements when routes begin to wander. 

  • Slings rack over your head and shoulder like a satchel. Racking each of them with just one carabiner will save on weight (and $) with a few spare carabiners if they need to be connected to a stopper.
  • If you’re unsure which quickdraws to buy, check out this post.

Bonus: A Nut Tool

  • A nut tool like this one will get you out of some jams. It’s important to have something like this to fiddle (or bash) stuck nuts out of their crevices, and can also help you pull back cam triggers if they’ve wiggled too far back into a crack.



Now that we’re all on the same page about the components, what actually goes into a standard rack in Southern Ontario?

  1. Stoppers. Get a full set from 1-10. I’d recommend an anodized(coloured) set to help with selection, but with lots of practice you may not find the anodization important. Most people will rack their stoppers on their harness using one or two large carabiners. I recommend something with a keylock or covered nose so they slide of smoothly.
  2. Cams. Doubles from #0.4 to #3, and singles #0.1-#0.3 tends to cover most routes and areas. For some wider routes in Southern Ontario, it may help to have a #4 cam to keep you covered.
  3. Quickdraws. Many ‘standard rack’ lists include 10 or more quickdraws. I personally carry 4-6 and have never run out. One reason for that, is that I use Wild Country Friends (LINK) cams with extendable slings, which rack close to your harness but still reduce rope drag and walking, and the other is that I prefer slings across my chest to extendable draws.
  4. Slings. I rack six  60cm slings across my chest (3 each direction) with one carabiner on each, and a few extra biners hanging off my back gear loop in case I want to clip one of the slings to a stopper.
  5. Nut Tool. This will pay for itself as soon as it saves one of your stuck pieces that has walked itself into a crack. 
  6. Cordalette or a 240cm sling for anchors.

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Tricams and Hexes - These are great for horizontal placements or cracks too wide for your standard stoppers. With flexible stem cams they occupy a much smaller niche than they used to though, and so don’t make it into the standard rack.
  2. Large Cams - While not part of the standard rack, having singles of larger cams in your backpack can be incredibly helpful. When you notice a wide crack up the route, you can add on a #4 to your harness and avoid some danger.

This rack will get you safely up most Ontario climbs, where we typically see a lot of variability in the size of cracks, and so you’ll get a chance to place most of your sizes. It’s still important to think carefully about what’s left on your harness. If you find a crack that could fit a 0.5 or a 0.75 in the same rough area, decide between the two by considering how many of each you have left, and what you’re most likely to need higher up the route.

Before you head to Squamish (or up your first climbs on the escarpment), be sure to practice with the different types of pro at ground level, or on top rope and have an experienced climber review the placements with you. Rattlesnake Point is a great place to start honing your skills as you work towards your big wall adventure dreams.

Building a trad rack can come with a pretty hefty price tag,  so whether it’s your first or your fifth, send us a message on our live chat or facebook and we’ll get you a discount code.

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