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Beginners Guide - Buying a Rack

This article is written in order to guide a beginner climber through the various racks used for different styles of climbing. A rack is the term used by climbers for the hardware they carry, essentially this is the gear used for protection and here we're going to include ropes, belay devices and harnesses etc. but not shoes.

The Climbing Wall

This is where you're probably going to start climbing or have probably already started. Climbing walls are a relatively safe environment to start, with expert help on hand. Beginning at a wall only needs a very basic rack as you are likely to use the fixed ropes that are in-situ. The most basic of racks should consist of;

  • 1 x HMS carabiner
  • 1 x Belay device
  • 1 x Harness (per person)

  • After a few sessions at the wall you might start to think about leading some of the routes. In order to do this you're going to need a rope. Ropes are one of the biggest single expense in climbing but they are critical to the whole safety system. But your initial rope need not be too expensive as a 30m single rope will be fine for most walls. Remember it has to be twice as long as the wall is high in order to lower off.

  • 1 x 30m Single rope

  • Most climbing walls have fixed Quick draws, but occasionally the first one or two may be missing and there are a few walls with no quick draws. So now might be a good time to buy a couple as they can be used as you progress outdoors.


    Single Pitch: From the climbing wall the obvious progression would be outside to single pitch climbing, at this point the equipment bought for the wall should be suitable to progress outside.

    I should mention that rock type will actually influence protection. Probably the most climbed single pitch rock in the UK is Gritstone. There are other types but I have written this with Grit in mind. If you're venturing onto limestone or even slate please be aware you will probably need a larger selection of smaller wires.

  • 1 x Nut set (wires)
  • 4 x Hex
  • 6 x Non locking carabiners
  • 5 x Quick draws (2x10cm, 1x15cm and 2x20cm)
  • 2 x 120cm Slings
  • 2 x 60cm Slings
  • 2 x Screwgate carabiners

  • The 30m rope you may have used at the wall may not be long enough, though if you're selective it should be fine. You should consider, however, using 'half' ropes. These are used to prevent drag on more meandering routes; they are not essential but recommended. 50m ropes will suffice on most single pitch routes but if you also intend to go for multi pitch routes then longer 60m ropes would be better.

    At this point or soon after you may be thinking about using some cams. Especially if you're climbing on some of the classic Gritstone edges.

    Multi Pitch: Depending on where you live or quite soon as a natural progression you may well venture onto multi-pitch routes, probably in the mountains of Wales, Cumbria or Scotland. For this you will need a very similar rack to the single pitch rack, but more of it. In addition you should consider;

  • 1 x Nut set (wires)
  • 5 x Quick draws (2x10cm, 1x15cm and 2x20cm)
  • 1 x 240cm Sling
  • 3+ x Cams (if you haven't already bought them)

  • Sport Climbing: Having climbed mainly indoors on bolted routes with fixed belays to lower from, you may have decided sport climbing is the way you want to progress outdoors. I would like to add at this point that sport climbing outdoors is quite different to indoors. The bolts tend to be wider spaced and belays may not have carabiners in-situ. In this case you must make sure you know how to thread a belay safely.

  • 1 x Light harness
  • 4 x Short Quick draws
  • 4 x Long Quick draws
  • 1 x 60cm Sling
  • 1 x 120cm Sling
  • 2 x Screwgate carabiner

  • For Sport climbing you will need a rope of at least 60m in length, possibly 70m and even in some cases up to 80m. Some Sport ropes are very thin and are pretty slick to deal with. As a first sport rope you should ideally be looking at something in the 10mm range.

    In addition to the equipment listed on your rack you may also like to consider the following items;

    Nut key- For removing those nuts that have got jammed in cracks.

    Helmet- A personal choice but a helmet is not just there to protect your head if you fall off, it also protects you from falling debris and banging your head.

    Clip Stick- Great for clipping up and working a sport route; don't think of them as cheating more of a tool for working a route.

    Auto-locking belay device- A device that locks when the climber falls. These are for Sport climbing and not recommended for trad climbing.

    Rope bag- Great for moving your rope around at the wall or crag, generally these consist of a mat or tarp, the rope simply rolls up inside with out having to coil it. Also they protect the rope from sand and grit that may cause damage, and can quite often double up as a rucksack.

    Chalk bag - For keeping your chalk in!

    We hope that this article has been of help to you, however the content of your rack is entirely your decision. The quantities recommended are a guide. There may well be other influences on how you buy your rack, none more so than budget. When I started out I built my rack very slowly, buying the occasional piece as I could afford it.

    Please be aware of where you are climbing, in particular the rock types. Always try to buy or borrow a guide book and read about the areas in general. They will give you all sorts of information such as access, rock types and general info about the area. They may also give some ideas about the protection required, particularly where routes are poorly protected.

    Don't take unnecessary risks, as climbing is fundamentally a dangerous sport. Have fun out there!

    If you have any questions then please call us on 01943 870550 for friendly, expert advice.