Helpful Tips and Techniques for Staying Safe While Trad Climbing 

By  //  April 10, 2021

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Traditional climbing, trad climbing for short, is all the rage in the world of rock climbing right now.

While there are many different types of rock climbing to choose from, trad climbing is gaining traction, especially for more experienced climbers who welcome new challenges.

Just like any outdoor sport that involves climbing to great heights, safety should always be your #1 concern for trad climbing. Learn all about how to stay safe – and have fun! – in this trad climbing guide for beginners.

What Is Trad Climbing?

First, let’s cover what trad climbing actually is.

Traditional climbing is how climbing was always done, at least up until the 1980s when other types of the sport took shape. It requires a climber to carry and place protection (chocks, camming devices, etc.) as he or she climbs upwards, rather than clipping the protective gear into preplaced bolts that are already there.

Trad climbing isn’t just about overcoming physical obstacles – it’s about challenging yourself mentally. There’s no particular route laid out prior to the climb; it’s up to the climber to determine the best route along the way, which requires a great deal of skill, knowledge, and patience.

How Trad Climbing Is Different from Sport Climbing

The other common type of rock climbing today is sport climbing. In sport climbing, there’s very little mental challenge involved, and it’s all about overcoming physical obstacles. There are already pre-placed bolts along a route, so the climber simply follows that route upwards.

Sport climbing can be done either indoors or outdoors, while trad climbing is primarily performed on natural outdoor rock walls. When comparing trad to sport climbing, there’s no doubt about the fact that trad climbing is more difficult. Therefore, it’s also more dangerous.

Types of Protection Required for Trad Climbing

Because of the dangers involved in trad climbing, there’s some protective gear that every climber should have to practice climbing safety. This gear is divided into 2 categories: active and passive.

Active Protective Gear for Trad Climbing

Active protective gear – “pro” gear for short – is climbing equipment that is made up of moving parts. The main active gear is camming devices, which are devices that have spring-loaded components to help a climber get up the wall.

Camming devices are comprised of parts that move inward when a trigger is pulled, then when the trigger is released, they expand. They’re used to wedge firmly into pockets or cracks in the rock, and when used properly, they’ll stay firmly wedged into the crack or pick, even when holding a significant load.

Another piece of active gear for trad climbing is the Trango Big Bro Tube Chock. This is more often used in sandstone climbs, and it works very similarly to the camming device. This one is better for expanding and contracting into larger cracks and holes in the rock.

Passive Protective Gear for Trad Climbing

Passive pro gear is climbing equipment that does not have any moving parts. The most common name for passive gear is “chocks”, but you may also hear it referred to as nuts or tapers.

There are 2 basic types of chocks. The first is the wedge, which is a tapered piece of metal attached to a sturdy wire that is used for wedging into a crack in the rock. The second is the passive cam, which has a rounded end that can be maneuvered into the rock and twisted into place.

The First Step in Safety Is to KNOW YOUR GEAR

Understanding this pro gear is the first step in staying safe while trad climbing. It’s really important that you know your gear before you climb, and that includes other equipment like slings and carabiners.

You also need to have a system for carrying your gear properly. Everything needs to be easily accessible, even as you’re climbing up a rock wall hundreds of feet off the ground.

More Safety Tips for Trad Climbing

Before becoming a trad climber, it’s recommended to start with sport climbing first to learn the rock climbing basics. Even though sport climbing is easier by nature since the route is already all planned out, it’s a great starting point before you take on the challenges of traditional climbing.