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

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

December 1, 2020 fmg-adminGear Reviews Guides' Tech Tips Rock Climbing

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

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  • Erik

    Thanks for putting this together! I’m willing to move more slowly and methodically and I’m getting Totem cams for my doubles (currently have .2-.4 totem and 0.5-3 BD). From what I understand the black totem is equivalent to a 0.2 BD Z4/C4, so I’ll get a full set of totems and a second BD for the #3. I don’t have any tricams yet, maybe I’ll consider adding those after the rest of the totems.

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