Simul-Rappelling: Is it Worth it?

Simul-rappelling is a technique that is touted as being a faster method of rappelling as a team of two. However, it comes with far more risk than the traditional rappel setup and requires several extra steps in order to mitigate that risk. A quick google search on simul-rappelling accidents will reveal several incidents that have occurred over the years including the more recent accident resulting in the tragic death of Brad Gobright. Read the accident report for Brad Gobright here. There is a way to simul-rappel safely which involves tying stopper knots into both ends of rope, using an autoblock backup below each climbers device, tethering each other together, and knowing without a doubt that both strands reach the next rappel station. So, is simul-rappelling worth doing for the sake of expediency?

After all the safety measures are in place, it can be argued that simul-rappelling is not any faster than a standard rappel and likely takes more time. Additionally, we’ve found that there are other methods of descent that are quicker and safer than simul-rappelling. One such method is the pre-rigged rappel, a method where everyone in the team rigs their rappel simultaneously. In the pre-rig, once the first person is off rappel at the next anchor, the second can immediately start rappelling. With this method, the team can get to the ground safely and fairly quickly if needed.

You may be wondering “what are the risks of simul-rappelling?” Well, there are few big ones. First, if both climbers don’t have a friction hitch backup in place below their device the rope will begin sliding through the anchor if one of the climbers were to lose control of their brake strand. Second, if one climber suddenly unweights their rappel, such as standing up on a small ledge, then they will introduce slack in the system which will also cause the rope to slide through the anchor and drop the other climber. Finally, if the ropes are uneven and there are no stopper knots in the ends, the chances of catastrophic failure are high. 

The risks of simul-rappelling not only endanger you, but also your partner. If something goes wrong, the security of the entire team is at risk.  Here’s a scenario: A couple climbers have chosen to simul-rappel due to an approaching thunderstorm. They hastily thread the rope through the rappel rings and put their belay devices on the separate strands, ignoring putting third-hand backups on below their devices. In their hurry, the two climbers forget to put knots in the ends of the rope. They begin rappelling as the wind starts to pick up and the sky darkens. One of the climbers is much less experienced than the other and is going slowly because they’re not used to rappelling on a single strand with less friction. The more experienced climber is not paying attention to their partner and begins rappelling a bit faster, which positions them below their partner. The less experienced climber freaks out a bit and momentarily stands up on a small ledge causing the rope to offset through the anchor, simultaneously dropping their partner some. The sudden drop causes the lower climber to lose control of their brake strand. The upper climber leans back on the rope again but as they do so the rope begins running through the lower climbers rappel device rapidly while the less experienced climbers weight is now pulling the rope through the anchor towards themselves. The more experienced climber can’t react quickly enough to regain control of their brake strand and suddenly the end of the rope runs through their rappel device. Now the more experienced climber begins free falling while the other climber also begins falling because the other side of the rope is now free to run quickly through the anchor. 

In this scenario it is highly likely that both climbers will be severely injured or worse. So, you can see now that simul-rappelling without the appropriate backups in place puts both team members lives at risk. Furthermore, taking the time to add all the necessary backups negates the reason to simul-rappel in the first place. While speed and efficiency are important, especially when bailing from an approaching storm, it’s important that we don’t sacrifice our security for the sake of speed. As I’ve learned from guides much more experienced than myself, if we dial in our basic skills and become very proficient with them, we don’t need to hurry. It’s more important that we make continuous forward progress rather than rush, make mistakes, and then spend time correcting those mistakes. An old saying from the military that I’m reminded of is “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

Check out these resources for further information on simul-rappelling:

4 Reasons Not to Simul-Rappel

Simul-Rappel Failure – No Backups

How to Set Up a Simul-Rappel– AMGA Video

Please reach out with any questions or comments!

Forrest Stavish
AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, Ice Instructor, WEMT-B

Train Locally, Climb Globally: The 5 C’s of Training

Training. It’s a critical portion of any adventure, whether around the corner or across the world. We train to get our bodies and minds accustomed to the stresses and pressures of our destination, and in an ideal world, I would want to train as globally as I climb. That being said, work and family responsibility often take priority. Otherwise, I’d be on a permanent vacation to train!

I’m guiding Denali this summer with International Mountain Guides after having guided Rainier the last few summers, and I’ve been training all spring down here in North Carolina while guiding for FMG. We have an incredible resource in forests and public lands, and I use them to their fullest extent!  Here’s how I train locally to climb globally. I have five “Cs” that I use to focus my training.

First, I work CARDIO.  I run closed forest roads. They are a happy medium between full-on trail running and pounding pavement. I’ve found I can keep my heart rate closer to the aerobic thresholds that I want on forest roads than on trails. I’ll still run trails, for sure, and especially when I’m going for a longer, distance-based run.

The second “C” I focus on is CLIMBING. I primarily focus on hill climbing, and that’s for specific muscle group improvement. The Southern Appalachians are steep, and finding a trail that crushes me isn’t hard. I prefer to rely on outdoor trails; using a stairmaster inside just doesn’t cut it. Moving on the rough terrain helps to build stronger ankle stabilizer muscles, which helps when I’m using big boots and crampons at 20,000 feet!  Of course, I can’t talk climbing without the rock portion of climbing. Rock climbing is training, and it actually incorporates several of the ‘Cs’ all at once. And, let’s be honest, I love it. It’s tons of fun!

profile picture of Dan

CORE. Like its name suggests, core work is critical. It serves as the foundation we move off of, and having a strong core facilitates health in other parts of my body. Rock climbing is helpful and fun for me, but core work is much more than that: weight lifting, body weight exercises, and stretching are all essential for a decent core workout.

CALORIES! Eating is fun, and it’s a delightful challenge to find good solutions to nourish myself.  This varies, depending on who you are, but make sure you consume enough fuel to actually build muscle. I trained for several years and was often discouraged by my lack of progression and abundance of injury. I began incorporating an intentional diet into things, and the results were significant. We cannot skip the fuel our body needs to perform and grow.  Make the food you eat work for you, but avoid dieting fads. Balance what you eat with what you do, and know what your BMR is for a baseline.

Finally, keep it CASUAL! Don’t forget to rest and recover. Our bodies need it. Varying my workouts and rest sessions keep me healthy and stoked. We train for our big adventures, and it’s easy to forget the end goal when we are on mile 7 of a trail half marathon.  

Training is an individualized activity, and learning the language of our bodies is critical. Don’t hesitate to hire a personal trainer or join a mountain-specific program like the Uphill Athlete system. Having that professional opinion will help you reach those goals much more smoothly.  

These five C’s-Cardio, Climbing, Core, Calories, and Casual-help to focus my training plan, so that when the time comes to perform, I’m ready regardless of the objective! I look forward to swapping summer adventure stories with you when I return to North Carolina in August!

Dan Reithmuller

AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, AIARE PRO 1

Beginning Trad Rack: What to Buy and What to Skip-2.0

A lot has changed since our original “Beginning Trad Rack: What to Buy and What to Skip” blog post in 2017. Black Diamond discontinued the much-loved C3 Camalots, updated the C4, discontinued the short-lived X4 line, and replaced it with a new line called the Z4, which is supposed to take advantage of the best features of the X4 but eliminate the floppiness so many people found difficult to deal with. Our guides have been putting these new cams through their paces since they were introduced earlier this year and have some updated recommendations for you based on their findings. 

Standard Rack

Cams: BD Z4 0.2; doubles of C4 0.3-3

Nuts: BD Stopper set #4-13

Set of Tricam Evos, black through brown plus violet and blue regular tricams

Minimalist (cheapest) Rack

Cams: BD Z4 0.2 and C4 0.3-3

Nuts: BD Classic Stopper set (#5-11)

Set of Tricam Evos, black through brown

High-End Standard Rack

Cams: BD Z4 0.2, doubles; C4 doubles 0.3-3 plus a 4 and 5

Nuts: BD Stopper set #4-13

Tricam black-brown Evos plus violet and blue regular tricams

Rationale for These Choices

Z4 vs. C4 (and C3) 

While the Z4 was supposed eliminate the floppiness of the X4 that made them harder to place and clean, we have found that the redesign has maybe lessened but not solved the problem (as seen in the video below), so for all but the 0.2 and under, we recommend the tried and true C4. 

With the discontinuation of the beloved C3, there is no better choice than the Z4 in the smaller sizes (0-0.2), but it’s important to note the range differences for those accustomed to the sizes of the C3 and make sure you purchase pieces that cover the full range of sizes. BD has eliminated the 000 and 00 that the C3 came in but has captured the range those offered in the Z4 0 and 0.1, so you are basically getting a 000 C3 with the 0 Z4 but with 5kN of strength vs. 000’s 4kN. The differences track all the way to the new 0.3 Z4 which has range equivalent to the #1 and #2 C3. That’s a big difference, so make sure not to buy a yellow Z4 thinking it’s the equivalent of a yellow C3; instead, the 0.2 Z4 is actually equal in range to a 0 C3 (!) and holds only 6kN compared to the 0’s 7kN and the #2 C3’s 10kN! 

Since the Z4 0 and 0.1 cover the range of the C3 000 to 0, we don’t necessary recommend them as part of a beginning rack unless you have a reasonable amount of experience placing cams because the margin for error is very small on pieces with such a small range. IF you were somehow able to find a new #1 and #2 C3 on a shelf in some out-of-the-way gear shop, they would be a great addition to a beginning rack with their small size but 10kN of holding power!


Unless money is no object, we don’t recommend Ultralights for a beginning rack because they have not proven to be nearly as durable as we hoped, so that plus their higher price tag doesn’t justify the weight savings which isn’t even over an ounce until you get to the #4. If you do have money to burn, the UL makes sense for the #3 and 4, particularly if you are carrying doubles. 


The Tricam Evos, available in four sizes, black through brown, have a tapered head which allows three different placement options, two passive and one active as opposed to just one active and one passive. Those plus the blue and violet tricams provide the range of a set of C4s from 0.3-1 at a fraction of the weight and cost (about $150 for all six), so there really isn’t a reason NOT to have them to round out your rack!

Bear in mind, these are our guides’ general recommendations for the beginning trad rack. These suggestions could vary quite a bit depending on where your primary crag is located, how much experience you have placing trad gear, how big of a rack your climbing partner(s) has, and your level of risk tolerance. Someone who is more risk averse with a large budget and little experience leading trad may opt for triples from 0.4 to 0.75 for example while someone with more experience and a smaller budget might go lighter on cams and opt for more, less-expensive passive gear. 

We’d love to hear from you about your first trad rack!

Happy Climbing,

The FMG Guides

Sport Draws vs. Alpine Draws

As a result of this video posted by Rock and Ice on their Weekend Whipper series, I have been getting lots of questions about what type of draws I use on sport climbs, sport draws or alpine draws.

Easy answer: sport draws. For the “why,” read below, but in the meantime, here is a list of the types of draws I carry for the different types of climbing I do:

Sport Climbing:

Petzl Spirit Draws (one extra from number of bolts on the pitch)

Trad Climbing:**

2-4 sport draws

2 over the shoulder slings (one carabiner)

2-4 alpine draws

**For a complete list of the gear I take trad climbing, see my post on trad racks.

Alpine Climbing:

1-2 sport draws

1-2 over the shoulder slings (one carabiner)

3-5 alpine draws 

Ice Climbing:

6-8 sport draws

2-3 alpine draws 

As with many aspects of climbing, the “why” choose one draw over another can be a bit confusing. Each has advantages and disadvantages, which I take into consideration when choosing what gear to carry. 

Let’s start with alpine draws. Most of us use dyneema slings and some sort of wire gate style carabiner with them. The alpine draw offers both a shorter 12” lenth and a longer length of up to 2’ when fully extended. This ability to extend the length of the draw offers several advantages:

  • An extended draw can minimize rope drag on longer pitches and allow the climber to place gear farther from the center climbing line with less angle put on the rope;
  • Longer slings can reduce rope movements being transferred to pieces of protection which could compromise or dislodge them;
  • The sling can be used for different purposes like for basket or girth hitching a tree and in a pinch as a friction hitch. 

As with most things, there are disadvantages to alpine draws as well. Among them are the following: 

  • Since the carabiner is not sewn to a small loop or otherwise held in place on the rope end, clipping can be difficult, particularly when wearing gloves (ie ice climbing);
  • The clipping carabiner could become cross loaded in a fall because of the looseness;
  • Similarly, because of the looseness the carabiner attached to the gear could become cross loaded, and depending on the type of biner, could seat at an off angle on the bolt or gear, although sometimes the looseness actually allows the carabiner to flip back and seat appropriately;
alpine draw unclipping
  • Alpine draws are inefficient both to deploy and rerack, a significant factor for me because, as you know, I like to move quickly!

That brings us to sport draws (dog bone with two carabiners). These draws are a simple, mostly a single use item and, like everything else, have gotten lighter over the years. 

The sport draw has a top carabiner that is held loosely by a sewn loop which is made to clip to a piece of protection like a bolt or nut and bottom carabiner meant for the rope that is held by both a sewn loop and some sort of rubber keeper that holds it securely in place.

Petzl sport draw

Draws should have both carabiners facing the same way, and when climbing it is preferable to have the gates facing away from the line of climbing. If the gates of the carabiners face opposite directions (aka French-style draws), the upper carabiner can become compromised by the bolt and open as seen in the photo below. 

french style sport draw

The advantages of sport draws are obvious: they are much easier to clip (Imagine trying to send your project while fumbling with an alpine draw), the bottom carabiner will never get cross loaded because it is held in place, and they are easy to deploy and rerack.

The disadvantages are their single purpose and the ability of the top biner to become cross loaded if it flips over. That however, is no different than the alpine draw in that if any of the styles of draws see an outward and upward force it can put it in a more compromised position especially if the rope has been seeing a lot of movement, causing the top draw to flip.

This situation where the top carabiner can flip and become cross loaded appears to be what happened in the video above. When the rope then became tight during the fall, the cross loaded biner then unclipped itself from the dogbone. Significantly, it was NOT the top draw that came unclipped, so there was no consequence. The same issue could have occurred with an alpine draw as well. 

sport draw unclipping

Based on this analysis, you can probably now figure out why I choose the gear I do on a particular climb, and you won’t wonder why professional climbers (and most climbers at sport crags for that matter) are not trying to send their project on alpine draws. Imagine Sasha DiGiulian trying to send Pure Imagination in the Red River Gorge on floppy alpine draws!

Keeping the PSYCHE High!

Whether it’s rainy days on your weekend or too many overtime hours at the office, it can be a challenge to keep your psyche high for climbing and training for your next adventure.  At times I find myself lacking true motivation to head to the climbing gym or knock out a workout on the rock rings when I do not have a specific climbing objective in mind.

Having spent the past few days seeking refuge from the rain in my apartment, I found myself thinking of past trips to the Red River Gorge.  The endless corners and splitter cracks of all sizes never cease to provide plenty of adventure and excitement.  Flipping through my collection of photos from the Red, I could not help but get excited for the upcoming fall season.  My palms began to sweat as I thought of the grueling offwidths and splitter finger cracks that hide in the lush woods of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

If you find yourself lacking the psyche to get out and train, maybe these photos will give you that extra bit of motivation.   And as the heat of the summer slowly gives way to the cooler temps of the fall, I sure hope to see y’all back out at the Red River Gorge!! Be sure to stop by and say “hi” if you see me.

Clay Kennedy, AMGA Certified Rock Instructor

The Well-Dressed Figure Eight Knot: Start Hard, Finish Easy

Why is a well-dressed figure eight knot even important? A messy eight will hold just as well as a neat one, so what’s the big deal?  In climbing, the main reason most people tie in with a figure eight (and why the vast majority of climbing gyms require it) is because it is easy to recognize and therefore verify that it is tied correctly and will perform as expected. So dressing the figure eight is an important step in tying it as it will make it even easier to identify.

To properly dress the knot we can use a technique called start hard, finish easy. We start by pushing the standing part of the rope over while poking the working end through the hole this forms.

well-dressed figure eight knot starting hard
well-dressed figure eight knot pushing standing end aside
well-dressed figure eight knot pushing working end through

Once this step is complete, the working end only passes through the knot two more times. Both of these passes should be “easy.” The video below illustrates this simple process: 

So You Want to Hire a Rock Climbing Guide?…..(this is your guide to hiring a Guide)

Trying to hire a rock climbing guide? The process can be tricky and confusing. Why? The term “guide” itself is very loaded. Depending on the industry, it can have a variety of meanings the typical consumer might know nothing about but should. Fundamentally, a guide is a person who shares their knowledge/skills about a particular topic with another, presumably less-informed person; at their essence, they are teachers.  We seek them out for expertise we don’t have or for experiences we can’t have without them. Regardless of type, be it a city tour guide, rafting guide, hiking guide, climbing guide, fishing guide, mountain biking guide, dance or jujitsu instructor, they have some skill we are willing to pay for.

Given the premise that every consumer wants the biggest “bang for the buck,” how does one go about choosing the right guide? Among the factors to consider are riskiness of the endeavor, the guide’s education and training, reviews from both peers and clients, certifications if applicable, and cost. It’s the relative importance of each of these factors that determines which guide is best for a particular client.

Forsyth Park fountain in Savannah

Low-risk tour of Savannah

A good starting point in the process of hiring a guide is risk. How risky is the activity you are hiring a guide for? The greater the risk, the more attention you want to pay to the other factors, particularly training and certification; if there is little risk, as is the case with a city tour guide for example, you can be less concerned and instead focus on whatever factor is most important to you, be it cost, experience, etc. Maybe you would rather pay $100 for a private walking tour of Savannah than $50 for a group tour, for example.  Both choices have low risk, so you can focus more on the type of experience you want.

Rock climbing and mountaineering, in contrast, can be extremely risky. Every waiver, be it in a climbing gym or that of a guide service, carries a disclaimer that “climbing is inherently dangerous.” You’ll see the same warning on every piece of climbing gear you purchase.  So how do you mitigate this “inherent risk?” Can you look at the price of a guide? Sometimes that can be helpful, as it is in other areas of life where a higher price tends to mean higher quality. But that isn’t always true.  So what about reviews? Those can be helpful too, but without personally knowing the people writing the reviews, how can you evaluate them? Of course, as a general matter, lots of good reviews are a positive sign and negative ones a bad sign, but that can be skewed. A company could have friends and family write positive reviews. A competitor or disgruntled customer could have his cronies write bad reviews. In the social media era, it’s important to read all reviews skeptically, particularly when engaging in a risky activity.

Flats fishing in the Florida Keys

The guide on this boat has both a USCG Captain’s License and a FL Charter Captain License.

That leaves one factor as the most reliable to help you decide which guide to hire: training and certification, aka credentials. Virtually every professional field requires some sort of training-based certification. Most also require licensure. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, hair stylists, dental hygienists—all have to be certified and licensed based on their education. Even salt-water fishing guides, who operate in a relatively low-risk/high fun activity, typically have to have both a Captain’s License from the US Coast Guard and a state license to be able to take clients on their boat.

Surprisingly, the same is generally NOT the case with rock climbing and mountaineering despite their risk. With the exception of a few areas like the Gunks in New York, guides not only need no license, there IS NO LICENSE for guiding. There IS training-based certification, but even that is confusing because there are several organizations that certify guides (AMGA, PCGI, PCIA), and land managers generally do not require “guides” to be certified anyway.  It can be difficult for even the most savvy consumer to navigate.

So how does someone looking to hire a climbing guide sort through the morass? First, you look for certification. That is a good start regardless of whom the certifying body is. From there, you research the organizations who are doing the certifying. There are plenty of great guides from the various organizations, but there are also some with lower standards, and there is only one organization recognized internationally, the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA).

Let’s say you decide on an AMGA guide because you like the fact they that they are internationally recognized.  The guide also gets great reviews and offers a program within your budget. Is that enough?  You would think, but no. The final question is what type of “guide” they are.  All climbing certification organizations offer different levels of certification. An analogy is education. You don’t want a teacher certified to teach first grade teaching your child’s AP Calculus class.

AMGA Rock Instructor logo

Know the difference between this……..


…….and this? You should if you are looking for a multi-pitch guide!

The same holds true with rock climbing and mountaineering. In AMGA nomenclature, you don’t want someone certified to guide clients up single pitch climbs, a Single Pitch Instructor, guiding you on a multi-pitch climb. You also don’t want a Certified Rock Guide guiding you in AMGA Alpine Guide terrain. Unfortunately, folks advertising themselves as “guides” sometimes get a minimum level of certification so they can call themselves an “AMGA (or PCGI or PCIA) Guide” when they aren’t even certified to set up climbs via lead climbing, as is the case with several categories of PCGI and PCIA guides.  While all AMGA outdoor climbing instructors and guides are required Climbing in Joshua Tree National Parkto lead at a certain level, that does not mean they are qualified to guide you up Mt. Rainier….but it happens.

The takeaway is this: you are hiring a climbing guide to have the maximum amount of fun and/or learning with the minimum amount of risk possible.  Until government leaders recognize the significant role outdoor recreation and climbing in particular play in society and therefore require some sort of licensure, it is up to you as the participant in an “inherently dangerous activity” to be your own advocate. Stack the deck in your favor by doing your research. A qualified guide will be willing to happily answer any question you have  about their training, certification, and experience.

For more information on the various organizations that certify climbing guides, check out these links: American Mountain Guides Association, Professional Climbing Guides Institute, Professional Climbing Instructors Association.

Happy Climbing,

Cristin Knowlton, owner                                                                                                                                     Fox Mountain Guides

Linville Falls: The Story of a First Ascent

Photo: Halley Burleson

When Anthony Dercole was a teenager surfing in sunny California, he could never have imagined one day scaling a frozen waterfall. How he got from the beach to bagging the first ascent of Linville Falls, renowned for having the highest volume of flow in the area, was really less improbable than it seems.

After moving to Western North Carolina in 2007, Anthony got a job at a now-closed gym that happened to have a climbing wall. Intrigued with climbing, he began hiking to different outdoor climbing areas in a quest to learn everything he could about the sport. As with many beginning climbers, Anthony made lots of decisions that he now is just happy didn’t have bigger consequences.

It was a chance encounter with AMGA Certified Rock Guide Ron Funderburke, who was working as a Guide at Fox Mountain Guides at the time, that not only changed HOW Anthony climbed but also shaped his career. What first began as a mentor relationship with Ron resulted in Anthony  pursuing professional climbing training through the AMGA and ultimately getting a job as an Instructor at FMG.

Given the rapid progression of Anthony’s climbing, it should really come as no surprise that once he ticked off many of North Carolina’s most difficult rock routes, including a rare free ascent of Warrior’s Way (regarded as one of the hardest multi-pitch routes in the State), he would move on to new challenges. Though he only climbed a couple seasons of ice, Anthony picked up the discipline as quickly as his other endeavors and set his set his sights on a potential ice route with the cache of some of his hard rock sends. That climb was Linville Falls.

Record low temperatures over a number of days made the never-climbed falls shape up enough that Anthony decided to give it a go. With his wife Tina and brother-in-law/photographer Peter in tow, he and partner Kyle Harris crossed the partially frozen Linville River to arrive at the base of the falls. Though the center of the falls was still flowing powerfully, the left side looked solid enough that Anthony felt confident he could lead it. The pair first built an anchor to secure themselves at the bottom. Anthony then delicately made his way to the top of the formation and built another anchor and brought Kyle up. From there, Kyle led them out via a crack in the rock to the left of the falls. The rest is first ascent history.

Photo: Halley Burleson

So what’s next for Anthony? In the {very} immediate term, he decided to take on Looking Glass Falls THE NEXT DAY in the second ever ascent. Conditions were not quite as favorable this year, and Anthony ended up making the ascent without a belay. He plans to spend the rest of the season climbing ice throughout the Southeast and in New Hampshire as he builds a resume to take the AMGA Ice Instructor Course sometime in the next couple years. After he completes that course, Anthony will be out guiding ice in the area but will, knowing him, also be searching for the next big adventure .**

**Fox Mountain Guides only allows guides, regardless of their experience, to guide ice if they have completed the American Mountain Guides Association Ice Instructor Course, which is the standard for professional ice climbing training.

Over-camming: Really a Problem?

I overheard some friends teaching each other to lead climb the other day. They were doing a good job of managing safety by using a top-rope and having the climber mock lead. Then they said “ok the number one thing is don’t over-cam.” I hear this mode of thinking about over-camming a lot, even from seasoned instructors. If you look at this from a pure risk management standpoint, there is actually no good reason to encourage this behavior.

Camming angle stays the same throughout the range of the cam. On Black Diamond Camolots this angle is 15˚. The theoretical best angle would be 14 based on many folks geeking out in the labs.

So the only real reason to encourage someone to under-cam would be to prevent pieces from becoming stuck in the rock. This of course could result in the leader being scared to overcam, taking a fall, ripping gear and becoming injured.

I teach students to have a 90˚ angle or less with the bottom of the cam lobes.

Beginning Trad Climbing Rack: What to Buy and What to Skip***

***Updated here, December 2020.

Beginning climber trying to put together a trad climbing rack?

I often get asked about what first pieces of trad gear the beginning climber should purchase. Most new climbers are not looking to go out and spend $3000 on a full trad rack and want to know what pieces make the most sense to buy first. So here are some of my suggestions on what you might want to purchase first.

Minimalist (cheapest) Rack:


BD C4 0.5 to 3

BD X4 0.2 to 0.4

One set of nuts (skip the micros) so BD #5 to #11

One set of Tricam Evo’s Black through brown

Standard Rack:


BD C4 0.5 to 4 Doubles 0.5 to 3

BD X4 0.1 to 0.4

BD C3 0.1 to 0.3

Set of Nuts #4 to #13

Set of Tricam Evo’s Black through Brown

High-End Standard Rack:


BD C3 0,1,2

BD X4 .3 and .4 Doubles of .4

BD C4 .5 and .75 Doubles of both

BD UL 1 to 4     Doubles 1 to 3

Set of Nuts #4 to #13

Set of Tricam Evo’s Black through Brown

From here you can expand into all kinds of specialized protection like big bros, offsets, and many other size specific and placement specific protection based on your goals for climbing. I have found that the high-end standard rack will get you through most destinations in the US. Newer leaders might want triples in cams to feel comfortable on multi-pitch climbs where they are building anchors whereas seasoned leaders might feel quite comfortable with a more minimalist rack. When you are climbing at your limit you might also want to have a few more pieces on hand as you will probably want more gear to feel comfortable.

Some of my reasons for these racks:

X4 vs C4

If you look at head width on the X4 compared to the C4 there is almost one cam lobe difference. This means the X4 will fit in smaller placements. However the X4 in the bigger sizes can get floppy making it hard to place and even harder to remove. I really see this start at the 0.5 (purple) and up. So the larger pieces could be good for aid climbing but not so much free climbing.

UL vs C4

The Ultra light cam is amazingly light but this comes at a bit of a cost in dollars, strength, and durability. So first thing first; I do not recommend getting the UL in the 0.4 and 0.5. For one the weight savings is so minimal (around the weight of a locking carrabiner for both), and secondly the stem cap is so large in these two pieces that when overcamed they are very likely to become stuck.

The UL has a dyneema sling that will not wear as well as the nylon on the C4s. I tend to replace my dyneema slings about every 6 to 9 months depending on use. I have some nylon that is almost 4 years old on my rack and still has some life in it. So if you are replacing cams every year, the ULs could be worth it except… PRICE! Whoa, these are expensive! How could any dirtbag afford these? My suggestion is to start with the big ones as they will save you the most weight, and if you feel the need or win the lottery buy some smaller ones. I recommend #1-#3.

C3 vs C4 and X4.

So again the C3s really shine when the placements are small.

The C3 does have a weird stem that some folks like, and others dislike. They are also made in micro sizes that are for aid climbing only. As Black Diamond has stated, “These are for aid only, with a nod to the free climbers”. So I recommend these pieces for those who are wanting to expand out of the normal rack with options in the smaller sizes.

Also of note the 0.3 C4 and 2 C3 are basically the same size. So you can swap one for the other depending on needs.

These are suggestions based on what we have found works best for us and our clients over the years. Please weigh in with your comments, and let us know what you think!