Learn to Climb Trad: A Complete Beginner's Guide

Julie Ellison
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Trad is Rad Promo Burr

Photo: Andrew Burr

You’re 800 feet off the ground and your mind is racing to solve the complicated gear puzzle in front of you as your arms slowly pump out, still four pitches to go... Traditional climbing can be mentally challenging, confusing, frustrating, scary, and just plain hard, but it’s also freaking awesome! It can take you to new heights, breathtaking places, and give you a feeling of accomplishment like nothing else. If you climb trad, you can branch out from the sport crags and explore the world’s greatest routes. Whether you want to fine-tune your rappel skills, build better anchors, or crush your first multi-pitch, this comprehensive guide to trad climbing has everything you need. 

Part 1—Learn to Climb Trad: The Gear

Trad is Rad Gear Promo

Trad climbing requires a large and somewhat complex set of gear that’s used instead of bolts to stop a fall. This protection, also called pro, is placed in cracks and fissures as you climb up, and then removed, or cleaned, when you’re done, so all you leave on the rock is a few chalk marks. Learn about the different types of pro and find advice on building your first rack. Read the full article.

Part 2—Learn to Climb Trad: Leading and Following


Tying in to the sharp end is what it’s all about. You'll need to thoroughly understand gear placements, rope systems, and how to keep your second safe, among many other things. Read the full article. 

Part 3—Learn to Climb Trad: Placements and Anchors


The trickiest—and most important—parts of multi-pitch trad climbing are placing solid gear and building safe anchors fast. There are dozens of ways to do it correctly—as well as horribly wrong. Read the full article.

Part 4—Learn to Climb Trad: Knots, Rappelling, and Logistics


More fundamentals for multi-pitch awesomeness to get you to the top—and back down—safely. Read the full article.


Get your start at one of these eight gear-plugging paradises.

Shawangunks, New York

Trad Destinations The Gunks

Characterized by horizontal cracks running through quartz conglomerate, the Gunks can be called the most popular rock climbing area in the Northeast. Most climbs here are one to three pitches with many overhangs and roofs. There might be a few bolts, but there are definitely no sport climbs.

Rack: Standard rack plus micro-nuts, small cams, Tricams, and extra runners.

Smith Rock, Oregon

Trad destinations smith rock

With new routes going up every year—and also home to the nation’s first 5.14 (To Bolt or Not To Be), climbed in 1986—this Northwest haven has not waned in popularity. It has a large collection of difficult sport climbs, but the volcanic welded tuff provides plenty of easier to moderate trad routes as well.

Rack: Gear to 4”.

Red Rock, Nevada

Trad Destinations Red Rock

Great weather, beautiful sandstone, and a couple thousand routes mean you can’t go wrong with a visit here. Plus, who doesn’t want to spend a rest day at a resort pool or in the casino?

Rack: Standard rack plus small cams and extra slings.

Joshua Tree, California

trad destinations Joshua Tree

One of the most popular climbing sites in the U.S., J-Tree continues to attract new climbers with its plethora of ultra-classic climbs. The quartz monzonite is so climbable that heinous-looking routes tend to be moderate due to the high friction of the rock.

Rack: Small nuts, micro-nuts, and cams to 3”.

City of Rocks, Idaho

Trad destinations City of Rocks

Once a stop for migrants looking for a fresh life in California, City of Rocks features ancient rock that offers always-fun pockets and chickenheads. Keep a lookout for hidden treasure—legend has it that $90,000 in gold was stashed near Treasure Rock in 1878 but never found.

Rack: Standard rack plus extra small cams.

New River Gorge, West Virginia

Trad Destinations New River Gorge

Solid sandstone makes up the walls of this gorge and premier climbing center in the East. The Gorge is home to many styles, including overhangs, cracks, and slabs, and many grades.

Rack: Standard rack.

Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire

Trad destinations Cathedral Ledge

The granite of North Conway is home to many classic climbs and very beautiful scenery. The various styles of climbing, including excellent beginner routes, make this place a good fit for any climber.

Rack: Standard rack plus Tricams.

Tennessee Wall, Tennessee

Trad desitinations tennessee wall

Known affectionately as T-Wall, this area looks out over the Tennessee River Gorge and features super-fun, well-protected face climbing. Located in the sandstone belt, the holds on T-Wall are kind and won’t shred your hands.

Rack: Gear to 4”, small cams, extra slings.