Starting Out: Building A Rack

Article by planetFear
Monday 2nd March 2009

In this guide for climbers who have not yet invested in a complete rack of gear, Adrian Berry explains the basic gear requirements for major aspects of the sport. All photography copyright Dave Pickford (

1: Bouldering

Charlie Obrahi bouldering at Hound Tor, Dartmoor, on a perfect late winter afternoon.

- Rock Shoes

These are the number one essential investment for all climbers! Without rock shoes, high performance climbing is next to impossible. They are arguably the most important single piece of equipment for modern rock climbing. (Click here for all rock shoes available from planetFear)

- Chalk Bag 

This is a small bag tied around the waist, and is used to carry chalk to dry the skin, and so prevent the nightmare-scenario of 'greasy' holds. (Click here to browse the chalk bags available from planetFear)

- Brushes

Extremely useful and effective for cleaning holds prior to an attempt on a problem. The build up of dirt and chalk on holds can sometimes add an extra grade or two to the difficulty of the problem. Always try to brush off any excess chalk when you leave a problem. If using a wire brush - be warned, there are numerous areas / rock types where the use of wire brushes is heavily frowned upon, as it can scar the rock.

- Chalk bucket

Essentially an oversized chalk bag designed to sit safely at the base of a boulder, eliminating the need to carry a normal chalk bag.

- Towel / Carpet

Especially useful if bouldering in a damp or dirty environment. Small squares of carpet or beer towels are commonplace, used to clean shoes after walking between boulders.

- Bouldering Mat (a.k.a. 'Crashpad')

The rapid growth in the sales of bouldering pads goes a long way towards illustrating the increase in number of people bouldering. Made from specialised foam they are about 1m in length and width, approx. 10cm in depth, and can be folded in two for ease of carrying (rucksack straps are sometimes fitted to one side of the pad). When placed beneath a boulder problem they are ideal for keeping boots clean and dry plus, more importantly, for protecting bodily parts from damage in the inevitable event of a fall. (Click here to browse the bouldering mats available from planetFear)

- Bouldering Bag / Rucsac 

A bag with several compartments for storing any kit required for a bouldering session. The bags are designed to open out flat, to be carried inside a bouldering mat. (Click here for rucsacs available from planetFear)

- Guidebooks

Guidebooks for routes are well established in the climbing world but bouldering guides are a recent development, indicating the location, style and grade of a problem. The growth of bouldering guides and topos is extremely rapid at the moment, illustrating the equivalent rise in the number of boulderers. There are various bouldering guides in the PlanetFear Guidebook Shop, click here to search for them all.

2: Indoor Climbing

2008 British Lead Climbing Champion Audrey Seguy cranking to victory on the women's final route at Blackpool Towers

Gear For Indoor Bouldering

- Rock boots

- Chalk bag

- Chalk

For top roping, the additional equipment is needed:

- Harness (click here for harnesses available direct from planetFear)   

- Belay device (click here for belay devices available from planetfear)  

- HMS Screwgate / Locking Karabiner (click here for locking karabiners available from planetFear)

For leading routes, the following will also be necessary:

- Rope and Rope Bag (click here for ropes and rope bags available from planetFear) NOTE: a rope bag is a good way to help keep your rope clean and dry


3: Sport Climbing

UK Sport Climbing: Mark Glaister enjoying spring sunshine at Anstey's Cove, South Devon

- Rock boots

- Chalk bag

- Lightweight Harness

- 60m or 70m Single Rope (10 - 11mm)

- Rope Bag

- Belay device

- HMS Screwgate

- At least 12 Quickdraws

- Stick Clip. (This is an extendable pole, to which a krab can be attached in order to clip the first bolt from the ground - a useful trick for redpointing)

- If you're redpointing a route, as with bouldering, a toothbrush is extremely useful for cleaning holds prior to an attempt on a problem.


4: Trad Climbing 

For traditional climbing, in which you must place your own gear to protect your ascent, the amount and type of kit required to climb a route will depend greatly on the type of crag you go to, the nature of your intended climb itself, and the surrounding environment.

Single-Pitch Cragging

British single-pitch trad at its best: Dave Walsh on the sustained yet well-protected crackline of 'Tangerine Dream' (E4 6a), St. Govan's, Pembroke

A large proportion of global rock climbing is centered around single pitch routes that are located in a "friendly" situation. The routes can be carefully and accurately assessed, and a decision can be made as to what type, and how much, gear to take before embarking on the route. This style of climbing is highly recommended for those with limited experience, and should also provide the perfect environment for that first outdoor lead. It is normally possible, when climbing on single pitch crags, to walk easily around from the top of the routes to the base of the crag, eliminating the need to abseil.

The following gear would provide an adequate rack to start with, and would be sufficient for the majority of single pitch climbs. If you're not able to get hold of this much gear to begin with, just keep on adding to it steadily.

- 10 x Quickdraws of varying lengths (click here for quickdraws available from planetFear)  

- 2 x long Slings & 2 x short Slings (click here for slings available from planetFear)

- No.'s 1 to 10 Nuts on wire, plus 1 set of microwires (click here for passive rock protection available from planetFear) NOTE: even on easier and intermediate routes, a few micro nuts can come in rather handy at times

- No.'s 7,8, 9, 10, & 11 Hexentrics / Rockcentrics on cord or wire (click here to browse the larger passive protection available from planetFear)

- No.'s 1,2 & 3 camming devices (SLCDs) (click here for camming devices available from planetFear)

- 10 x Snapgates

- 1 x HMS Screwgate

- 2 x D-Shaped Screwgates

- 1 x Nut removing tool

- 1 x Belay device

Mountain Routes


Classic mountain rock: 'Vember' (E2) Cloggy, North Wales 

Single pitch mountain routes can be a considerably more serious proposition, where the walk-ins, weather conditions and general remoteness of the crags should not be underestimated. It is normally harder to assess the route accurately before setting off, and retreat is made that bit more complicated by the lack of access to the crag top. Due to the more uncertain nature of mountain routes, carrying a larger rack is advisable, especially if you're intending to be climbing anywhere near your physical limit. In addition to the above rack, suggested for convenient single pitch routes, taking the following extra pieces of kit would be very sensible:

- An extra 5 quickdraws

- 1 x long sling

- 1 x short sling

- An extra rack of wired nuts, from 1 - 10

- 3 more SLCD's, no.s 0.5, 1.5, and 2.5.

- 8 more snapgates

Where possible don't venture onto mountain routes without first gaining plenty of experience climbing at some lower level, more forgiving venues. Always try and go with a more experienced partner for the first few times in order to build up your own level of experience and competence. To add further complications, mountain and sea-cliff routes are often multi pitch climbs!

Multi-Pitch Routes

Jack Geldard sets off on the second pitch of an historic UK sea-cliff classic: 'Suicide Wall' (E1) Bosigran, Cornwall

Multi pitch routes are very common when traditional climbing in the UK. They have tremendously rich histories, which, though not to everybody's taste, often produce some magical days out. However, there are several things that must be learned before taking on a 3 or 4 pitch route in the mountains. Like any style of climbing, the best way to learn the appropriate skills is to climb with more experienced partners first so that you can take a back seat role. Once you've been out a few times and watched what they do you should feel comfortable taking charge yourself. Setting up mid route belays atop every pitch can be a daunting prospect if you're a little uncertain and the mountain wind is howling around you, cutting off your line of communication to your partner below.

These additional pieces of gear are likely to make things a little easier and safer when climbing multi pitch routes:

- 1 x long sling

- 1 x short sling

- 4 spare snapgates

- 3 or 4 more screwgates

- Doubling up on several cams is a good idea as they sometimes get used in setting a mid route belay and can therefore not be used for the following pitch

- A Guidebook Holder, or a small and secure bag in which you can keep your guidebook for often crucial consultation when half way up a route!

Sea Cliff Climbing

Simon Tappin relishing the isolation and exposure of one of Britain's wildest sea cliffs: the sheer, 300-foot north west face of Dun Mingulay, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

The potential exposure experienced on sea cliffs is often the greatest of all the climbing areas in UK. As you are often forced to abseil into the base of the route the seriousness becomes evident very early on. Carrying prussik loops, or ascending gear, is very important when venturing onto sea cliffs. If you're having difficulty on your route, the tide waits for nobody and it is not uncommon that retreat, followed by a swift escape up your in-situ abseil rope, is necessary. For help in deciding what equipment to include in your rack, see Mountain Routes and Multi Pitch Routes above.

5: Big Wall Climbing

Big-walls can offer the ultimate adventure climbing experieces: Sam Whittaker nearing the tenth belay on the first ascent of 'From Russia With Love' (E7 6b / ABO, 500 metres) in Krygyzstan's Ak Su Valley. 

In addition to the usual trad climbing rack for multipitch climbing, you will need additional haul/fixable rope(s), a lot of extra locking karabiners and slings for belays, plus ascenders, wall hauler (or pulley), and additional protection devices, depending on the sort of climbing to be expected. Haul bags are indispensable for hauling gear on multi-day big walls climbs, and for many climbs without bivi-ledges en route, a porta-ledge is also needed for sleeping / resting. Daisy chains are a quick and adjustable way of clipping into belays, and are commonly used on big walls.

For over-night bivvies, you will certainly need weather proof camping equipment including a waterproof porta-ledge flysheet, and clothing to survive an unexpected storm. For aid climbing, a full aid rack is necessary, requiring highly specialised protection.

Go to the planetFear shop to browse all our specialist climbing equipment.


6: Ice/ Winter Climbing

High quality thermal and waterproof clothing, plus ice climbing gear such as stiff four season boots, matching front point crampons, ice tools (and adze and a hammer), helmet, and snow and ice protection such as ice screws and snow belays such as a deadman. Where there is a risk of avalanche, a lightweight shovel and transceivers are a worthwhile investment, and lastly, a head torch, map and compass is essential for all but roadside ice climbing.

You can read the PlanetFear 2008 Winter Climbing Kit List for more on the specialist gear requirements for winter climbing.


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Wot no helmets! - 29/04/2009
I would have thought that a helmet should be on the list for more than just Ice/Winter climbing.

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