Trad Climbing


Traditional (Trad) climbing has long been the method of ascent for climbs in the UK and later the wider world. The name comes from the more 'natural' style of ascent where the leader places temporary gear in the rock to protect a lead fall, while the second removes the piece during their ascent. Trad climbing can be the most mentally challenging of all climbing disciplines as good, regular protection may not always be available.

Types of Ascent

As trad climbing is centred around ethics, the style of ascents are also quite strict. Historically, ascents were made ground-up (meaning starting at the bottom each time on every attempt) and on-sight (not pre-rehearsing the route before hand). This sense of adventure is where trad climbing experience varies massively from sport climbing. Nowadays the harder trad climbs are headpointed (the same as redpointed but for trad, see Sport Climbing).

A pitch is the length of climbing done by a single leader and belayer team. For longer climbs, multiple pitches may be used (this is multi-pitch). This is where the leader may climb a section and build an anchor, with which they can bring up their second. Then the either the original leader or second may lead the next pitch to the top or another intermediate point. That leader builds a belay and then brings up their partner etc. This cycle can be continued as long as necessary and as many times as necessary, although usually the less pitches, the quicker the ascent and less faffing is done.

Protecting a Fall

With sport climbing, bolts are permanently placed in the rock prior to the ascent either by resin or other methods. When clipped correctly with a quickdraw, the force of a lead fall/rest is transmitted directly to these bolts. With trad climbing however, the strict ethics forbid the use of bolts so alternative, temporary, non-damaging methods must be used.

There are many types of protection which all act in different ways and are used in many different situations. The most commonly used however are nuts (often called wires. These are simply shapes of metal (usually tapered) with either steel cable or rated accessory cord attached to them. They are placed in cracks in the rock face in such a way that a downward fall does not dislodge the nut. Cracks that contract in width downwards are great placements for nuts. Hexes act in exactly the same way as nuts, only they are larger and a slightly different shape. They often have a flexible attachment such as dyneema or nylon to increase functionality.

Cams are the third type of system which are more complex. Spring loaded camming devices (the full name for cams) are useful in parallel sided cracks both horizontal and vertical. The final type of protection commonly used are simple slings. These are loops of dyneema or nylon that are very strong and lightweight and can be used in anyway possible - from poking through small rock 'tunnels' (known as threads) to placing around a spike of rock. They are very useful during mountaineering pitches in North Wales and Scotland due to the common rock formations.


The equipment list for trad climbing is the one of the most extensive and expensive lists (second to Winter Climbing). As well as the usual climbing equipment such as shoes and harnesses etc. a trad climber will also require a variety of protection equipment (such as nuts, cams and hexes), a number of quickdraws to connect the protection to the rope (of different sizes, from 15cm to 180cm in some cases!), locking carabiners for building a belay and 2x half ropes (also known as 1 set of double ropes or doubles) to lead on. These trad racks alone can cost up to £500 as well as ropes costing £200 upwards. Coupled with usual rock climbing kit, trad climbing could cost around the £1000 mark. Therefore it is unwise to buy gear unless you know you want to lead!

Two Ropes?

Doubles are used for trad because they have the ability of reducing rope drag. The diagram below should explain how.

Doubles vs Single ropes

Here, the route is marked in red and weaves a complicated line up the rock face. If protection is available on the left and right sides of the rope, then the route the rope takes creates a large number of angles. This is bad news, because the changes in rope direction mean friction is created between the rope and carabiner of the quickdraw. The greater the change in rope direction, the greater the friction. Over a long route the drag can be so bad you can't actually move! Instead by using 2 ropes and clipping the protection on the left with one rope (blue) and the protection on the right with the other rope (purple) the drag is reduced. The changes in rope direction are still there, but overall there is less friction created. There is still a sudden change on the purple rope, but this can be remedied by extending the quickdraw.

Although trad is usually climbed on doubles for this reason, it is almost equally as commonly to climb using a single rope so long as careful ropework is performed.


Most people are unable to climb to their physical limit whilst trad climbing compared to sport climbing. This is largely attributed to the pyschological barriers imposed by the nature of trad climbing. Whereas sport climbing has a significantly increased level of safety (because protection is permanently fixed into the rock) trad climbing can be less reliable. Infact it can be worse if you know you're gear is bad. While this may sound off-putting, the rewards for successfully completing a trad route are much higher than most other climbing styles.

Unfortunately there is not much words on the internet can do to help you here. The easiest way to tackle it is to get out there and keep doing and dont be put off!


The club spends most trips climbing out onto the Gower as it is close. Because there are many areas listed as SSSI's bolting is NOT permitted, however trad climbing is. Similar scenarios exist elsewhere in South Wales such as Ogmore, Pembroke, the welsh Valleys and Symonds Yat.

North Wales is also a prime location and is strictly trad only. This is a historically important area to climbers and has one of the highest concentration of routes in the UK. The Peak District is home to some fantastic adventurous trad routes on the famous gritstone - a rounded, grippy, friction relying rock type. Further a field are places such as the Lake District, Scotland (particularly the Isle of Skye) and Northumberland. In reality, trad climbing is the more preferred style of climbing due to its more forgiving nature on the environment.