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Beginning Trad Rack: What to Buy and What to Skip - 2.0

Are you a beginning climber trying to put together a trad climbing rack?

Climbers are asking all the time what pieces of trad gear should I purchase first? Most new climbers are not looking to go out and break the bank on a full trad rack and want to know what pieces make the most sense to buy first. So here are some of my suggestions on what you might want to purchase first as well as some reasons behind it and thing to think about.

MINIMALIST (CHEAPEST) RACK

Cams:

BD C4 #1 to #3

BD Z4 #0.2 to #0.75

One set of nuts (skip the micros) so Wild Country Superlight offset #3 to #9

One set of Camp Tricam Evo’s Black through Purple

trad climbing gear

(Shown are the UL #1-3 and not the C4 #1-3)

STANDARD RACK:

Cams:

BD C4 #1 to #3 Doubles #1 to #3

BD Z4 #0.1 to #0.75 Doubles #0.2 to#0.75

Set of Nuts Wild Country Superlight offset #1 to #10

Set of Tricam Evo’s Black through Purple

Trad climbing gear

(Shown are the UL #1-3 and not the C4 #1-3)

HIGH-END STANDARD RACK:

Cams:

BD UL #1 to #4   Doubles #1 to #3

BD C4 #5

BD Z4 #0.0-#0.75 Doubles of #0.1-#0.75

Set of Nuts Wilde Country Superlight offset #1 to #13

Set of Tricam Evo’s Black through Blue

trad climbing gear

From here you can expand into all kinds of specialized protection like big bros, offsets, and many other size specific and placement specific protection based on your goals for climbing. I have found that the high-end standard rack will get you through most destinations in the US. Newer leaders might want triples in mid size cams (#0.4-#1) to feel comfortable on multi-pitch climbs where they are building anchors whereas seasoned leaders might feel quite comfortable with a more minimalist rack. When you are climbing at your limit you might also want to have a few more pieces on hand as you will probably want more gear to feel comfortable.

SOME OF MY REASONS FOR THESE RACKS:

C4 VS X4 (OLDER) VS Z4

If you look at head width on the X4 compared to the C4 there is almost one cam lobe difference. This means the X4 will fit in smaller placements. However the X4 in the bigger sizes can get floppy making it hard to place and even harder to remove. I really see this start at the 0.5 (purple) and up. So the larger pieces could be good for aid climbing but not so much free climbing. The newer Z4 has taken care of this with the Chinese hadcuff style stem. It becomes ridged when you place or take them out. They are also a tiny bit smaller than the X4 making them even more valuable and now I prefer these in the .5 and .75 sizes. It should be noted that Black Diamond has figured out how to keep a similar amount of surface area on all 3 styles of cams so there is little compromise to the placements.

cam Z4 and X4

(Black Diamond Z4, X4, and UL in the #0.75 size. Smaller head width helps with placements.)

UL VS C4

The Ultra light cam is amazingly light but this comes at a bit of a cost in dollars, strength, and durability. So first thing first; I do not recommend getting the UL in the 0.4 and 0.5. For one the weight savings is so minimal (around the weight of a locking carrabiner for both), and secondly the stem cap is so large in these two pieces that when overcamed they are very likely to become stuck. The weight savings in the 1-4 is definitely worth it in my opinion.

The UL has a dyneema sling that will not wear as well as the nylon on the C4s. I tend to replace my dyneema slings about every 7 to 12 months depending on use. I have some nylon that is almost 5 years old on my rack and still has some life in it. So if you are replacing cams every year or two, the ULs could be worth it except the price tag is quite high for this technology. My suggestion is to start with the big ones as they will save you the most weight, and if you feel the need or win the lottery buy some smaller ones. #1-3 should save you an entire cams weight.

The C4s have been redesigned and have some weight reduction from the older models. This might help in the decision to just but these for your first rack and then start adding in the ultra lights when you can.

C3S…

The C3 is no longer to be had. You can still find some used on eBay and I do still have some as they are a great cam. The C3s really shine when the placements are small. Here is a review and video of them preforming: https://www.karstendelap.com/blog/black-diamond-c3s?rq=C3

The Z4 has now filled the gap of the C3 and added in the 0 again. there is no 00 or 000 zero however so maybe BD has something in the pipeline.

NUTS OR STOPPERS:

As for nuts I have found the Wild Country Superlight offsets to work about the best especially for the weight. They place well but like any nut that has a ton of bevel it will be harder to remove. Many guides and professionals will use BD nuts as they tend to be a little more finicky to place but are easier to remove. So pick your poison there.

trad climbing nuts

TRICAMS:

As many of you know I am not a big fan of Tricams. They are hard to place, hard to get out, and well; I like to climb fast. They do have their place though. They can be a cheaper bail piece, they can double as nuts, and they are great for anchors with a good stance to help save your cams for the leader. The Tricam Evos have a beveled side so they are worth the money as it gives you an entire extra placement per piece.

These are suggestions based on what I have found works best for myself and my clients over the years. I tend to use top of the line protection in my climbing because I like to be able to look down at that last piece that is keeping me off the deck and not have to think about when I purchased it, if that was the piece I bootied, or if it was a cheap cam that I thought my fill in my rack. I also think Black Diamond cams tend to feel better to place, have a great camming range, and plenty of holding power. I also have found the Elderid Nineteen G rack pack to be an awesome carabiner. Some of my partners find them a bit small especially with gloves; but they sure are light!

Meet the Author: Karsten Delap

Karsten Delap

   "Originally from the flat lands of Indiana, Karsten has found his obsession in the mountains. He has climbed extensively throughout the United States including Grade V big walls in The Black Canyon, Long’s Peak, and Zion National Park to the snow and ice climbs of the North Cascades and New England. Karsten’s experience outside of the U.S. includes many peaks over 17,000ft in Boliva and Equador, as well as major alpine objectives in Africa and Argentina. Karsten enjoys traveling and climbing in more exotic climbing locals such as Armenia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand for work and play. Karsten spends his winters chasing good snow and ice and the rest of the year traveling the world working as a mountain guide." - Bio quote is taken from Karsten's website, where you can find more tech tips, blog posts, and epic photography. Instagram: @karstendelap

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