Traditional climbing requires a lead climber to place temporary anchors that the second climber removes. Typically, each climber will take turns leading and placing "pro" (a variety of chocks and cams with runners and carabiners attached). This collective gear, known as the rack, is usually arranged on a padded gear sling and carried by the leader. The rack is passed back and forth as climbers take turns leading.

What Gear Should You Take?

What goes on a gear rack? It depends mostly on the area and the routes to be climbed. In some climbing areas the rock has tiny holes or pockets, so smaller sizes of protection are appropriate. Other areas feature "off width" cracks that need very large pieces. Most often, a climb will require a variety of sizes of protection.

What follows are examples of basic gear-racking options:

  • Padded gear sling
  • Carabiners (the number varies, depending on the type of climb and the route), 10 Ovals, 10 D's, 2 locking
  • No. 3, 4 HB Brass Offset Nuts
  • No. 4-9 Black Diamond Stoppers
  • No. 5-2 Lowe Tri Cams
  • No. 8-10 Black Diamond Hexentrics
  • No. 2 Wild Country Forged Friend
  • Nine feet of 5.5mm Spectra™ cord for Hexentrics
  • Five 24" sewn runners
  • Five 12" quickdraw runners
  • Nut tool (chock pick)

Or you might choose these additions or variations:

  • One full set of wired nuts or stoppers up to 3/4 inch wide
  • 6-10 spring-loaded camming devices (Friends, Camalots, TCUs) from 3/8 to 3 inches
  • Two cordelettes for belay anchors (cordelettes are 16-foot lengths of 6mm Spectra® cord, tied into extra-long runners with a triple fisherman's knot)
  • Extra tied runners for rappel and other anchors Singles (5.5 feet each) in one color of 1 inch tubular webbing Doubles (9.5 feet each) in another color

What's the Right Amount of Gear?

The amount of gear you take depends a great deal on the climb itself. Before you go, read up or ask about the routes you're planning to do. Rock climbing guidebooks frequently state the recommended chock or cam size, for example, "protection up to 2 inches." Knowing this, you can leave the unsuitable sizes of pro at home.

If you're new to leading, chances are that you'll tend to "sew up" the route, placing more pieces than an experienced climber would. You may feel more comfortable having more gear on hand as you learn to lead.

Options for Organizing Your Rack

When climbers swing leads (take turns leading and following), they typically carry one gear rack and pass it back and forth at the end of each pitch or rope length. The gear needs to be easily accessible and arranged so as not to interfere with climbing. Agree with your climbing partner on a method of organization that works for both of you. And consider getting an adjustable gear sling that can be resized quickly for a larger or smaller partner.

Here are some common ways to rack, or organize, your gear:

Group several similar-size wired chocks on one carabiner.

Positives

  • Makes the rack smaller and lighter since fewer carabiners are used
  • Less bulk on the rack means easier climbing

Negatives

  • Makes placing protection more difficult
  • Requires removing a chock from the carabiner and placing it with one hand without dropping the rest

Put one piece of pro on each carabiner.

Positives

  • Placing pro is straightforward and fast. Select and clip without sorting through several sizes

Negatives

  • Makes the rack heavier and bulkier with extra carabiners
  • Leaves few carabiners free for clipping the rope or other uses

Put pro on harness gear loops.

Positives

  • Lowers your center of gravity and reduces swinging of the gear sling

Negatives

  • Can be more difficult to see and reach the gear on your sides and behind you than in front of you

Other Gear Strategies

  • Many climbers put larger camming devices and hexes toward the back of the gear sling and the smaller nuts and free carabiners toward the front.
  • Attach cordelettes, extra runners and your chock pick on the side gear loops of your harness.
  • Attach your belay device and belay gloves to the back of your harness.
  • Buy each length runner in a different color for quick identification. For example, buy all 6-inch runners in red, 12-inch runners in green, and so on.
  • Wear your runners over the opposite shoulder from your gear sling. Or chain the runners to shorten them and clip them to the harness gear loops.
  • Separate the runners you wear over your shoulder by clipping a 'biner to each one. This helps keep them untangled so you can pull them off your shoulder one at a time as needed.
  • Double up the longer runners and attach two carabiners to them. Clip one 'biner to your harness and let the other one hang. Make sure you've shortened the runners enough to keep them from interfering with your climbing.
  • To prevent the loss of your chock pick, buy an inexpensive key chain with a plastic coil and clip. (These are available at most hardware and drug stores.) Attach the pick to the ring and clip the other end to your harness with a carabiner. When you need to use the pick, stretch out the plastic cord, keeping the other end attached to your harness.