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Buying Your First Climbing Rack

A set of DMM wallnuts

You need to know your nuts from your friends when buying your first climbing rack - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

When running rock climbing courses I often get asked what is needed for a first rack for a climber. The answer is not necessarily black or white, instead that climbing rack should be based on your current needs as well as your ambitions.

First off where are you likely to go climbing? Are you based near short single pitched venues like the gritstone edges or are you going to be doing most of your climbing on longer routes, this will effect the number of quickdraws and equipment you would need to buy.

Essentially though you are going to need the following equipment if you want to take up climbing:

  • Harness
  • Helmet
  • Rock Boots
  • Belay device
  • A selection of screwgates
  • Slings
  • Wires
  • Hexes
  • Cams
  • Quickdraws
  • If you don't know what this equipment is then I would advise coming on one of our beginners rock climbing courses. As we cover these basics and let you get hands on experience of using them.


    DMM Climbign Harness

    An ideal first harness with adjustable leg loops - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    Buying your first harness can be a beweildering experience, the range of different brands and designs seems endless. To be honest nowadays all are safe and reasonably comfortable, and given that they last five years you'll probably best buy a mid-priced harness. The most important thing in my opinion is to buy a harness with adjustable leg loops, as this allows you to wear a variety of clothing underneath it.


    DMM Climbign Harness

    Your going to need a helmet to climb, I can't say I would like to be this guys belayer though! - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    If you consider that of all the things we don't want to injure in a fall, then the head should be at the top. As such climbing without a helmet should be a big no no. Gone are the days when they were heavy and cumbersome. You helmet should be brought on both comfort and feel. All have similar protective qualities, although if I was alpine climbing I would choose a hardshell over one of the lighter polystyrene models. These lighter models can also be damaged in you bag. A good halfway house is the petzl Elios or similar.

    Rock Boots

    A selction of Rock Climbing Shoes

    A simply bewildering array of rock boots, take time to see which pair fits you best - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    It is easy to get carried away when buying your first rock boots and look to what various sponsored climbers are wearing. However be wary, often these climbers have become accustom over time to very tight fitting shoes that they remove after climbing a hard pitch. Instead think that you might be wearing them all day and it will be a long way down your climbing career until you are having to stand on the types of micro edges they are.

    As such try on many different makes and models, as they all have different shapes, one will fit your boots better than others. Buy the best fit and remember that they should be snug but feel like you foot is crammed into the front. Similarly if there is space between the end of your foot and the end of the boot they are too big. It is all about finding a compromise. Consider wearing the shoes for 10 minutes in the shop before you buy them, and never buy you first pair of boots online.

    Belay Device

    A selection of belay devices

    Loads of belays devices but which one to pick? - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    There are many belay devices on the market, to start with buy a simple model like a DMM bug, Black Diamond ATC or other similarly simple design. Your guide might have a guide plate or reverso, but they need them specifically for their work and probably generally use it as a normal belay plate.


    A selection of carabiners

    Load of carabiners, on D shaped bottom left, flank by 3 HMS of different sizes to the right. - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    There are many different designs but essentially only three main shapes.

  • D-shape
  • HMS or Pear shaped
  • Oval
  • Each has a specific use or purpose. HMS or Oval carabiner work really well as a carabiner for belay devices. Having another HMS carabiner means you can use it to tie clove hitches to when making a belay. After that having one or two spare D-shaped screwgates for making belays is probably all you'll need. Although you can carry a few more on slings which we cover next. Other than the HMS for tying clove hitches to which needs to be large the rest can be smaller and lighter.

    In total then you'll need:

  • 1 x HMS/Oval for your belay plate.
  • 1 x large HMS for tying clove hotches to.
  • 2 x spare D Shape carabiners on your harness.
  • 4+ D shaped carabiners for slings.

  • Slings

    There are several different sizes of slings a 60cm sling should go over your shoulder, a 120cm can go over your shoulder doubled up and a 240cm sling needs to be racked on your harness. You'll need at least:

  • 2 x 60 cm
  • 2+ x 120cm
  • 1 x 240cm
  • These slings can be made of nylon which tend to be much wider and slightly heavier or a mix of nylon and dyneema which are thinner and lighter. There are pros and cons that are beyond this article, but are covered fully in How to Climb Harder.


    A selection of wires

    A good selection of wires sort by size over three crabainers. - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    In the UK I recommend DMM or Wild Country wires, as many climbers use these and over time the placements and become shape exactly for these brands. At a bare minimum you need a set of 1 to 10. If you want to lead climb then I recommend a double set of 1 to 10 plus a number 11.

    You'll need to rack these on three carabiners so there are 7 wires on each.

  • Small - 1,1,2,2,3,3,4
  • Medium - 4,5,5,6,6,7,7
  • Large - 8,8,9,9,10,10,11

  • Hexes

    Some DMM Torque nut, a good alternative to hexes.

    Some DMM torque nuts a good alternative to hexes.- Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    Dependent on your budget, I often recommend that you don't use hexes but instead go for cams. However getting a full range of cams is very expensive. So having three hexes makes a massive difference. Buy a size up from the rock 11, around a hex 5, plus a hexes 7 and 9. I rack them on individual colour coordinated snapgates.


    Some DMM 4CU cams./>
<p style=Some DMM 4CU cams - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    There are many cams nowadays. I really like DMM range but there are others. I have both 4CU's and Dragon Cams. To start with get size one, two and three of either. After a while you'll know whether you need small or bigger cams for what you climb. But three is a good starting point and the Dragon cams have a nuch larger camming range than regular friends or the 4CU's.


    A selection of different length quickdraws./>
<p style=A variety of quickdraw for trad consider longer lengths - Photo courtsey of How to Climb Harder

    There are loads of different quickdraws with different carabiners and material. It is often cheaper to buy a set of four or five. If possible don't buy the smallest 15cm long ones instead go for some 20cm and some 25cm+. Especially if you are trad climbing as it helps extend the runners and stops them lifting out and reduces rope drag. I tend to go for wire gates for lightness as climbing long and sustain mountain routes or sea cliffs climbs requires upwards of 14 quickdraws. However to start off with 8 to 10 will suffice for shorter easier pitches.

    Additional Information

    For more imformation of trad climbing racks and how to use this equipment either book on an intro climbing course with Snowdonia Mountain Guides or buy the high acclaimed book by our head coach, How to Climb Harder.