Bob Wightman

Racks for Beginners

Another question that often pops up on internet newsgroups and chatrooms is: “What is a good first rack for leading?”. Like so many things, it depends. It depends on what type of rock you intend to be climbing on; whether you are sharing a rack with a mate; how much money you have; etc., etc.

The following notes assume that the climber has climbed on an indoor wall and has a few quickdraws, harness and belay device suitable for use with leader placed gear.

The simplest, and cheapest, form of protection is from slings. These may be draped over spikes on the rockface or threaded around naturally jammed chockstones in cracks. It is possible to buy ready made 4ft, 8ft & 16ft (1.2m, 2.4m & 4.8m) tape slings with the first two being the most useful whilst on the lead and the longest is useful for belays. Often overlooked these days are line slings: these are loops made from static cord - this is often used for prusik slings or for loose hexcentrics and some larger nuts. It comes in various diameters from 3mm to 9mm with diameters between 4mm and 7mm being the most useful. The cord is bought by the metre and knotted using a double fisherman’s knot. For a 1.2m sling you will need around 1.6m of cord to allow for the knot and the safety tails. The thicker the cord the larger this extra amount needs to be. For around five pounds you can have four such slings.

Next come wired chocks or nuts. There are various makes available - all must pass the CE mark for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) so are equally safe, so the final decision usually comes down to either price or personal preference if you have used someone elses rack. Some people just prefer one make over another. Prices start around £7 per wire though there are deals where you can purchase the whole set of ten or eleven wires for around £50 - £60. One set will do to begin with until you find that you tend to always use three size 3s on a route and you start to add to it.

Hexes (Hexcentrics) are not popular these days but they can fit where nothing else will, they are also quite versatile, light and each can be used in several orientations. Best to get them loose and thread your own cord onto them. I prefer short loops of cord so that they hang on the harness like wires. I carry a set of sizes 1 - 7 on a single krab. Something like this should cost in the region of £20-£30.

The most expensive pieces of kit are cams, sometimes known as Spring Loaded Camming Devices or SLDCs (Americans!). Again there are several makes and which make you go for is down to personal preference. At £25 - £70 per device these are not something you are going to buy a lot of. I would avoid buying cams at first until you become proficient at using the passive gear - wires, hexes and the like. After all: until the late 1970s climbers did not have the option and were able to protect most climbs without them.

Thus for somewhere in the region of £75 to £100 you should be able to get the beginnings of a leader rack. Of course your partner will also be buying similar equipment so you will have anywhere up to double this. As your rack expands the problem becomes one of deciding what to leave behind rather than do you have enough!

One last thing you will need is a nut key - for those times when your partner has used a little too much “enthusiasm” in ensuring that the placement is good.