Trad Climbing Beginner’s Guide: Tips & Technique

Trad Climbing Beginner’s Guide: Tips & Technique

Trad climbing is a discipline of rock climbing and it is considered as an extreme sport. Short for “traditional” climbing, this discipline requires technical knowledge of climbing anchors as well as skill in making them. Often, it’s done on a real rock without preset bolts. It’s one of the exciting and challenging rock climbing styles that you should give a try.

What Is Traditional Climbing?

If you’ve been reading some rock climbing guides for quite some time, you’ve probably already encountered the word “traditional climbing.” However, it can be quite confusing for newbies to distinguish it front he other disciplines.

For starters, traditional climbing is a rock climbing discipline, commonly known as trad climbing. This climbing style isn’t actually newly invented. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that it got its actual name.

Traditional climbing is technically the first invented rock climbing discipline. However, it didn’t have a name until the 1980s.

Back in the old days, people are already into traditional climbing. But, no one knew what to call it until sport climbing was introduced to the public.

At that time, people had to come up with a name for trad to distinguish it from sport. Hence, the birth of the term “traditional climbing” or trad.

Here, climbers have a leader who will ascend a section of rock. They are the ones who will place the protective equipment while climbing. These will protect them against falls. After completing a passage, the climbers will then remove them.

What is the difference between trad and sport climbing?

Rock climbing has several disciplines. And because of that, those who are not familiar with trad climbing beginner’s guide tips & technique, may often confuse one with the other.

Among all of the rock climbing disciplines, beginners often confuse traditional climbing with sport climbing.

They are, indeed, quite a bit confusing at first. But, if you take a closer look at the two, you’ll know that they are completely different disciplines.

So, if you’re a newbie, how will you distinguish one from the other? Let’s compare the two.

Traditional Climbing

Traditional climbing actually existed first before sport climbing was invented. Today, it’s done by carrying and placing protective equipment on the ground instead of clipping them into pre-placed bolts.

Here, you need to practice route-finding. Hence, you need technical knowledge of the sport when it comes to climbing anchors. You also need to have the right skill in making such anchors.

Trad, as its name suggests, is traditional. This means it is usually don’t outdoors – on real rocks – just as how the first climbers did it in the past.

Sport Climbing

Sport climbing was only invented some time in the 1980s. Because of its invention, traditional climbing got its name.

This is because at the time this discipline hasn’t existed yet, people don’t have a name to call trad climbing yet.

When sport climbing was introduced, climbers needed something to call the first climbing discipline to distinguish it from the new one. Hence, the birth of the term traditional climbing.

In this discipline, you need to be really physically fit. This is because it mainly focuses on physical challenges. Unlike traditional climbing, climbers of this discipline already have routes prepared with bolts.

And because of that, if you’re a sport climber, you won’t need to worry much about the use of technical knowledge of making anchors and using other pieces of equipment. You don’t need to worry about falling while trying a tough move either.

When it comes to the climbing site, you can do this discipline outdoors too. However, many climbers prefer to do this in a climbing gym. This is probably due to the bolts and the pieces of equipment provided.

To help you understand the differences between the two climbing disciplines, here’s a side-by-side comparison with the use of a table.

Traditional ClimbingSport Climbing
The first discipline used by climbers in the early years of rock climbingWas only invented in the 1980s
Technical knowledge of the sport is neededRequires little technical knowledge
Route-finding is requiredClimbers follow bolts
Often done outdoorsMostly done in climbing gyms
differences between traditional climbing and sport climbing

While traditional climbing and sport climbing are two different disciplines, they are both fun and exciting to do. Plus, you can enjoy them both indoors and outdoors.

How hard is trad climbing?

Not all climbing disciplines are created equal. Some may be harder than others while some are not. Their difficulty may depend on several factors. However, many climbers would agree that trad is one of the hardest disciplines.

Technical Knowledge Requirements

One of the reasons why it’s challenging is because you need to have a good technical knowledge of the sport. You need to find your own routes and you must have to skill to build anchors.

Furthermore, building trad climbing anchors isn’t as easy as it looks, especially when you’/re building equalized anchors. Apparently, this also requires a strong set of skills under a veteran trad climber’s supervision – not via the guides you can find on the internet.

Carrying Equipment

What makes it even harder is that you carry a lot of equipment. Compared to other climbing disciplines, you will not only carry quickdraws.

Rather, you will need to carry a whole rack of climbing gear. This includes nuts, cams, and sometimes hexes, to name a few.

And we all know that the more things you carry, the harder it is to ascend. This is because you have to carry more weight. Additionally, this can easily tire your body.

Placing Gear

Another thing that makes traditional climbing harder than other disciplines is the amount of time you’re placing gear. For starters, your gear is supposed to keep you safe while climbing. However, pacing them usually doubles the amount of time you’re on lead.

As a result, you’re likely to get more pumped. This could hinder you from climbing high gym grades on traditional climbs.

Duration of Training

Traditional climbing isn’t easy to learn either. Yes, you may learn the basics in just a few days or weeks. But, fr you to master it, you will have plenty of patience and time to practice. This is, again, due to the technical knowledge it requires.

Dangers Involved

Rock climbing is considered an extreme sport. This is in spite of the protective gear and other pieces of equipment to keep you safe.

The sport also involves plenty of risks. Apart from injuries, such as sprains, strains, and dislocations, this sport can be deadly too. In fact, reports say that an average of 30 climbers per year die while rock climbing. This is in the United States alone.

Despite the challenges, trad climbing is one of the most fulfilling sports out there. Once you master it, you will not only get some bragging rights in your circle; but, you’ll also gain more confidence with your skills.

Best Equipment for Trad Climbing

Best Equipment for Trad Climbing

In trad climbing, you don’t just rely on your skills to ascend and keep yourself safe. You also need certain pieces of equipment. If you’re new to this discipline, here are some of the gear you need to invest in.


The helmet is one of the vital pieces of equipment you need in trad climbing. Like in other sports, a helmet will keep your head safe in case of falls. It will also shield your head from falling debris.

If you’re shopping for a trad climbing helmet, you should consider investing in the Petzl Sirocco. This is one of the lightest helmets you can find in the market.

Despite that, it guarantees good protection, thanks to its EPP foam, which sits just above the crown of your head. It also provides maximum comfort with its soft webbing harness system.

Trad Protection

Trad protection includes equipment like cams, nuts, and slings which are used to secure the climbers in place. These are the most vital pieces of climbing as it helps make traversing even sky-high boulders possible.

The trad gear or trad protection isn’t carried by everyone. It’s only used by the leader who will place the trad protection on crevices and fissures on the climb up. Those behind the leader will then remove the trad protection as they go up.

Each type of trad protection serves a specific purpose. If you want to carry less on your way up, you should study the route you are headed to so you can add the appropriate protection to your rack.


Single ropes and half ropes are used for traditional climbing. However, most climbers prefer using half ropes instead because it offers more safety. Half ropes work in a way where you are always tied in and belayed by two ropes. One strand of the rope is clipped for each piece of trad protection that you are carrying.

Single ropes are easier to use but they offer less security. If the route you are taking isn’t too advanced or difficult, a single rope system will be more than enough.

For this, many experts recommend Beal – either the booster III or the stinger III. They are both light and have low impact force. They are one of the most durable as well.


Quickdraws are two karabiners linked together by a textile sling. It’s a small piece of equipment that shouldn’t take up too much space on your track.

Aside from their compact nature, quickdraws are worth getting because they can help keep the path of any ropes straight. It can be bothersome to have sharp changes in your rope direction as this can increase friction and make your climb harder. With a quickdraw keeping your ropes straight, you can expect more fluid climbing movement.


There are shoes that are specifically made for climbing. They need to have rubber soles for a solid grip, a flexible body to help you move comfortably, and a good locking system so that they are safe and secure when you’re going up.

Aside from helping you get better traction on rocks, climbing shoes can also protect your feet from jagged edges. It’s very important that you invest heavily in your climbing shoes as they can make the overall experience better and easier.

One of the best pair of shoes for trad climbing is Five Ten’s Anasazi Pro Moderate. It’s comfortable and durable. Yet it is one of the most affordable pairs you can find int he market.


Harnesses are what helps keep you stay safe on your way up. It secures you to the protection gears you have. It’s vital for any ascent or descent into any route. Any harness is suitable for trad climbing but of course, you’d want one that maximizes your safety and security.

Experts will suggest that you get a comfortable harness that has at least 5 gear loops when it comes to trad climbing. These should be more than enough to help you rock climb with ease.

Belay Device

Belaying is a practice that prevents you from plummeting to the ground if you do fall. To put it simply, a good belaying system means you won’t fall very far. Belay devices are a core part of the belaying technique.

There’s no need to question the importance of a belay device. Having one is a matter of life and death for most climbers. When buying a belay device, get one that has a guide mod so that you have more rescue options during worst-case scenarios.

For this, Petzl Grigri 2 is one of the best ones you can buy. It has assisted braking designed to facilitate belay maneuvers. It’s also compact and lightweight.


Also called accessory cords, cordelletes are what helps you set up anchors or a rappel. It can also be used to help set up your belay device as well.

These are multi-functional. Some of their common uses are constructing a gear belay, tying a quad and top ropes, creating an extended rappel, escaping a belay, and even ascending a rope. It’s a vital tool in the arsenal of any climber.

Prusik Cord

This is a friction hitch or a knot that can be used to attach cords around a rope. It can make abseiling safer and more fluid – thus making it safer as well. It’s usually carried on the back of your harness along with your belay gear as you climb up.

A prusik cord is important as it’s commonly used as a third hand or a backup while climbing.

If you’re planning to purchase one, you might want to consider GM Climbing Eye to Eye Pre-Sewn Prusik Cord. What makes it great is that it has abrasion resistance properties.

What is a trad rack in climbing and how expensive is it?

A trad rack is also a must in traditional rock climbing. For starters, this is a collective term that climbers use to refer to the equipment that they need to keep them safe. Basically, it’s just like a climbing kit.

If you’re just building your first trad climbing rack, these are the common pieces of equipment that are commonly included:

  • One set of cams (covering should be #.4-3)
  • Ten shoulder-length sewn runners (commonly 60m)
  • One set of stoppers, or wired nuts
  • Four locking carabiners
  • 20 non-locking carabiners
  • Four to six quickdraws
  • 20 to 30 ft of seven mm accessory cord
  • One prusik
  • One nut tool

The price of these may vary – it may depend on the brand, quality, etc. And the price of a trad rack can range significantly.

There are many options available in the market and you have different price ranges to choose from. But, for starters, a trad rack that costs anywhere between about $720 and $965 is already good to go.

For this price range, your rack could already include a set of five cams, four quickdraws, ten nuts, 24 non-locking carabiners, eight slings, a nut tool, and four locking carabiners. It’s not actually that bad.

But then, again, it’s worth noting that the price range may vary depending on several factors. So, before you buy a trad rack, make sure to do some research first and read as many reviews as you can just to be sure that you’ll get your money’s worth.

If you’re new to rock climbing, a trad climbing beginner’s guide tips and technique are crucial. Knowing these will not only help you understand the sport but will also help you keep safe throughout your climb.

About Carla

I'm a journalist passionate about extreme sports. I love writing and reading stories about those brave people that are going beyond the limit of their physical capabilities.

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