What Is Trad Climbing (Traditional Climbing Guide)


Traditional climbing did not exist until the birth of sport climbing. As pre-bolted climbing routes became more popular, a term for the older climbing style had to be developed. Rock climbers decided to call the old climbing style trad climbing. 

If you are new to rock climbing, there is a possibility that you do not know what is trad climbing. By looking at the basics of traditional climbing, we hope to help you understand what to expect when on trad climbing routes. 

What Is Trad Climbing? 

Trad climbing, as most people know it today, is how rock climbing was always done until fairly recently. In the 1980s, climbers knew trad as simply climbing. However, after sport climbing took off, the name trad climbing was introduced to help distinguish this type of climbing

To have a better understanding of what is trad climbing, you need to understand the trad vs sport climbing differences. Below, we will compare these 2 types of climbing: 

  • Sport climbing largely focuses on physical challenges. Traditional climbing focuses on both mental and physical challenges. 
  • Trad climbing involves using a climbing backpack to carry protection gear (camming devices, chocks, climbing harnesses, etc.) – you will have to place this gear as you move up. Sport climbers just have to clip their protection gear into preplaced bolts. 
  • A trad climber has to practice route-finding. A sport climber just has to follow bolts up the route. 
  • Trad climbing requires climbers to have technical knowledge of climbing anchors and skills to make them. Sport climbing requires minimal equipment knowledge. 
  • Sport climbers do not have to worry about falling while figuring out a tough move. Traditional climbers have to be careful to avoid falling on the climbing anchors they place. 
  • Traditional climbing is usually done outside on real rocks where there are no pre-placed bolts. Sport climbing is very common in climbing gyms, though it can also be done outdoors. 

Trad Climbing Protection 

Protection, or what experienced climbers prefer to call “pro”, is the mainstay of traditional climbing. Compared to sport climbing, trad climbing requires a somewhat complex gear set that is used instead of bolts to keep the climber from falling. 

The protection is usually placed in fissures and cracks as the trad climber moves up and is then cleaned or removed when the climber is done. During trad climbing, all that is left on the climbing routes are just a few climbing chalk marks. 

Protection in trad climbing is usually divided into two types: 

  • Active Pro – These are pieces featuring moving parts. A good example of an active pro is the camming device. 
  • Passive Pro – These are pieces that do not have any moving parts. Examples include nuts, tapers, and chocks.

Some of the protection gear you may need to have when attempting trad climbing include: 

  • Nuts – These are simple metal wedges that one can easily place in crack constrictions. 
  • Cams – Short for “Camming devices”, cams feature lobes that expand against the walls of a fissure or crack. Along with nuts, cams happen to be the most common element of trad racks. 
  • Hexes – Popular before the introduction of cams, hexes are simply hexagonal nuts. In parallel cracks, they offer some camming ability. 
  • Tricams – A polarizing piece of protection gear, tricams are small metal pieces that can cam against the crack walls. 
  • Big bros – These are expandable tube chocks. They are a weapon of choice for cracks that are too big for the camming devices. 

Cracks and rock climb features are generally very inconsistent. Even in a single climb, placement tends to run the gamut from micro nuts to the massive cams. 

With every placement being unique, the trad climber has to assess the shape of the rock, select the right gear piece, and place his or her pro gear effectively. The best placements are usually as good as the rock that is surrounding them. This means that as you climb, you have to watch for friable or loose rock. 

Anchors and Following 

While bolts used in sport climbing can be allowed to remain on the wall year-round, the trad protection gear, as noted earlier, goes with the climber as he/she leaves. Trad gear is generally designed to be removable, although some pieces are usually easier to clean compared to others. After the leader has placed his/her gear on the way up, he/she will secure the climbing rope to an anchor at the top. 

The anchor can either be on fixed hardware or built from more pro gear. A follower then ties into the other end of the rope and cleans the pro gear as he/she moves up. 

Is Trad Climbing Safe?

Is_Trad_Climbing_Safe_Now that you know what is trad climbing, it is easy to wonder whether this type of climbing is safe. The short answer to the question is yes. The slightly longer answer is that traditional climbing can be as safe as you want it to be. 

Because more assessment and knowledge are generally required, trad climbing often requires a longer learning period. With sound skills and experience, gear placement can be consistent and reliable. 

Trad climbing places safety in the hands of the climber. He/she generally decides when, where, and how often to place the protection gear. If you come across a hard section, you can opt to place as many protection pieces as you would want. 

Limits do exist. Some routes may feature long climbing stretches without readily available gear placement locations – these are usually called runouts. Still, you will be in total control. If you feel uncomfortable on a runout, you can easily choose not to continue. 

Risk is usually exacerbated when you are climbing near or at your limit. Protection placement generally requires focus and calmness, which tend to be in short supply when you are operating outside your comfort zone. With the added gear placement burden, most climbers usually find their limit much lower than it usually is on sport climbs. 

Understanding your protection gear before attempting a trad climb is extremely important. Consider working with an experienced instructor to learn how to make solid anchors and how to place protection. Go to the base of a cliff and determine how to fit hexes, cams, and wedges into different rock features. Doing all this will help boost your safety. 

Globo Surf Overview 

If you have been wondering what is trad climbing, this article gives you the answer. While traditional climbing can be scary, confusing, and challenging, it is freaking awesome. It can take any climber to new heights, breathtaking places, and give you the feeling of accomplishment. 

If you climb trad, you can choose to branch out from the sport climbs and explore the greatest climbing routes in the world. If you are thinking of moving on to something more challenging, invest in some trad climbing shoes, teach yourself how to place protection, and then get on your first trad climbing route.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!