by Jullie

October 19, 2021

What is Trad Climbing

You might have come across an old friend who is now an expert in climbing. Then the person begins to talk about trad climbing, and you are there wondering what is trad climbing; it is the old style of sport climbing that used to happen in the 80s, it happens today as well.

Trad climbing is also known as traditional climbing, and it’s similar to learning how to drive a vehicle. The training requires commitment, effort and takes time. However, it is risky if you are not aware of what you are doing or very secure if you are competent. 

Keep in mind that you can conquer any route with the right skills, equipment, and training. Here is a low down on the fundamentals of trad climbing.

What Is Traditional Climbing?

The Origin of Trad Climbing

It’s among the climbing techniques that provide an unmatched sense of freedom. In traditional climbing, the climbers affix their safety equipment as they ascend the rock face and then get rid of them as they descend; it’s called cleaning. Not like in sport climbing that uses preplaced bolts or any other type of permanently fixed protection gears. 

A completed traditional route is often clear of anchors, without any past climbs trace. Like sport climbing, trad climbing also uses anchors, but traditional climbers place them into the rock, unlike in sport climbing routes, which often have pitons and anchors attached to the wall. 

Trad climbing is not an easy task; it’s perilous and calls for skills, knowledge, endurance, and training. With that, you don’t dip your toes into outdoor climbing. 

Besides its expensive protection gear, you need to practice and learn how to use it and have extensive knowledge. Once you position any protection inappropriately, it will not hold your weight once you slip. Many climbers are dead, and others injured for lack of utilizing the trad gear properly and fell from the wall. 

The Origin of Trad Climbing

As the name suggests, traditional climbing is the oldest way of competitive climbing that began to differentiate from the latest sport climbing scenarios back in the 80s. Since there are various other ways of the discipline, it generally refers to ascending where the gear is placed as the lead and not while rappelling, which is common in sports climbing. 

The Difference between Trad and Sport climbing

Climbers referred to traditional climbing as a form that was throughout the 80s without any distinction. The word “traditional” distinguishes it from the famous kind of climbing known as “sport climbing”-another climbing style that uses pre-bolted routes while climbing.

The trad technique bolstered after the climber Ray Jardine’s invented a spring-loaded camming item that enabled climbers to begin using protection- a gear that climbers affix to the wall-quicker than before when they could use protective gears such as hexes, chocks, and pitons. 

How Does Trad Climbing Works

In trad climbing, you can get to the crag base and stare upwards at a blank granite slab and beyond, in the abyss. It’s more likely that you need to move your body from your fixed point to the top of the slab, and to be fully honest, you don’t look forward to becoming a pile of bones or guts on the valley floor, so you’d rather be extra careful about safety purposes. 

The major challenge is that no bolts exist in the wall to help secure yourself. That’s where the trad climbing comes in; as you ascend, you have to affix your anchors and clear them up on your way back. That’s how this old-time technique works.

Before you ascend with your protective gear, ensure you understand how they operate. It’s essential to get an experienced person to help you learn how to make the anchors strong and place them appropriately. 

First, take your time at the rock base, figure out how to fit the cams, wedges, and hexes into various features in the wall or rock. 

Essential Practices in Trad Climbing

1) Anchoring

Anchoring is building a gear that holds the weight of your body as you ascend a wall or a rock. It’s a vital and most challenging skill in traditional climbing since you have to build anchors safely. 

For the anchor construction, use the fixed hardware along the route, and a great anchor will ensure the load or weight is distributed across the gears used. Angle each gear correctly and let them be redundant; every piece of gear should be independently robust and securely placed in the wall.

What is Traditional Climbing

2) Cleaning

In trad climbing, you are supposed to remove all the gear after the climb; it’s referred to as cleaning. It effectively helps you cycle the equipment from the wall surface below you to the face above you. 

Though you could typically get rid of the gear using your hand, a nut tool is a powerful device to do the task-an instrument made mainly to remove the equipment known as “nut” from the wall.

3) Extending

As you ascend, you may need to extend or lengthen a specific gear using devices such as long slings and quickdraws, also called runners. It’s a required practice in scenarios that involve gear placements to your right or left on a vertical, straight climb. 

When you extend the gear to attach the rope and the protection points, it allows the rope to hang straight up or down instead of being zigzagged. Remember that the zigzagging rope is very dangerous as it causes friction, also known as rope drag; it weakens the rope.

4) Following

In trad climbing, another primary practice is following, whereby a climber leads while another one follows. The following will tie themselves on one end of the rope opposite the leader while using the figure-eight follow-through knot, after which you clip into a belay device.

The leader will ascend the pitch as they place the gear while on the move and when the lead climber clips to the top anchor, the other person starts to climb while retrieving any removable gear. The follower then organizes it to their sling or harness while ascending. Once at the top of the climb, the follower will as well clip into the anchor. 

Is Trad Climbing Difficult or Beginner-Friendly

5) Knot tying

It’s recommendable that climbers understand the various kinds of knots for the sake of both practicality and safety. Mostly, trad climbing will use two knots: the clove hitch, a knot that is great to utilize when clipping into the anchor since it’s easy to adjust the clove hitch length without having to untie it. 

And then there is the figure eight on a bight, a secure knot that helps tie into the anchor. However, keep in mind that the latter knot is not adjustable and can’t be as easy to untie as the former knot. 

6) Lead climbing

In lead climbing, the lead climber places the protection gear into fissures, cracks, and slots as they ascend, while the follower is the belayer below. While at the top, the lead constructs and ties into the anchor, pulls up the slack in the rope, and coiling it

Then, they either directly anchor the follower or belay on their harness to help the follower to ascend. As the other climber follows, the lead begins to pull an additional slack in their rope. 

7) Rappelling

The rappelling technique is used to rapidly descend a rock or a wall whereby you can either use a single – or a double-rope rappel.

8) Route-finding

Handfolds, footholds, and the gear placement spots may not be as clear; therefore, the climbers in trad should scope out the complex routes as they approach the rock; they can match the rock features with the description in the guidebook or any other resources. 

The popularly known routes may have some clues-for example, chalked footholds or handholds that the climbing shoe polish-to show a path, though the great trad climbers understand how to scout them ahead of time.

The Difference between Trad and Sport climbing

These are two separate art forms that involve climbing a rock or a wall. While trad focuses more on careful, slow progression as it places safety first, sport is about the indomitable power, intricate moves, and turning the try-hard up, even though, at times, it means committing oneself to a fifty footfall.

While sometimes it is compared to aid climbing, whereby you stand on protective gear to help you climb, or free climbing, where you use equipment or safety more than progressing, trad climbing is commonly compared more to sport climbing. Here are the key differences between the sport and trad climbing:

Essential Practices in Trad Climbing

1) Location

Primarily, trad climbing is an outdoor activity, while sport climbing can either occur indoors or outdoors using the preset routes bolted on the rock.

2) Protection

In trad climbing, you require more gear since you have to carry and place the anchors on your own and the protective equipment such as camming devices and chocks as you move. 

Contrary, while sport climbing, you clip yourself and the climbing gear into the preplaced bolts utilizing the unique knots and carabiner devices.

3) Route

The trad climbers will use their route-searching skills that they need then to get the best foothold and handhold combinations, while the sports climbers have to follow the preset bolts to go up a route, as they eliminate the necessary guesswork.

4) Skills

Unlike the sport climbing style, trad climbing needs relevant technical knowledge that revolves around building anchors that you use to ascend and descend. 

Is Trad Climbing Difficult or Beginner-Friendly

It all depends on the routes you begin with. Often, there are beginner-friendly, accessible trad routes, though you need to be completely confident with the equipment before you start. If you understand the devices well, that’s much more than the actual rock climbing since you are beginning as a trad climber. 

For better understanding, you need to learn and practice this style of climbing; there are online courses you should enroll in. 

How Does Trad Climbing Works

Becoming a Trad Climber

Note that outdoor climbing has a lot of risks; therefore, you need a solid foundation with basic knowledge and experience before trying it out. Beyond that, let’s check on a few considerations that could help you become a trad climber:

Seek out an instructor

A trained trad instructor can quickly assist you in building solid anchors and position protection so that the climbs are secure for you. The professionals can identify several other areas you should work on to perfect your skills and try the simple pitches to gain confidence. 

There are much more skills that you should learn to lead the trad route than the indoor one. You can climb the first trad route with an instructor. Observe how the protection gears are placed and cleaned. While at the top, you should keenly examine the belay.

Learn about the trad climbing gear

The sets of gear in trad climbing might appear complex and large; therefore, there is a need to familiarize yourself with the equipment and tools. 

You get to stand at the base of your big wall or cliff and practice how to fit the cams, wedges, and hexes into various areas of the wall until you are proficient. Make sure that you are equipped with a good pair of trad climbing shoes.

Find a trustworthy partner

Look for a partner you can trust in trad climbing, whereby an instructor can evaluate your skill levels and that of your partner-to-be. 

Practicing using protection

It will take some time to understand the size of the type of protective gear you might need to fit in the rock weakness or crack. 

Therefore, you should practice at ground level. You might as well learn how to set up a belay before you encounter the responsibility in reality. 

Final Thoughts on Traditional Climbing

Remember that climbing a rock is a high-impact sport that has a considerable risk of severe injury. Therefore, proper guidance, practice, and taking extensive safer precautions are critically essential when attempting the climbing pursuit. 

Trad climbing is confusing, mentally challenging, scary, plain hard, and just frustrating, but freaking awesome! It takes you to breathtaking places and new heights and gives you a feeling of accomplishment like nothing you could think of. 

With trad, you get to branch off from sport crags and adventure or explore the most incredible routes in the world. So, whether you are looking to construct better anchors, fine-tune your skills, or crush the first multi-pitch, our trad climbing comprehensive guide has all you need.

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About the author 

Jullie

Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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