Starting Your Trad Journey

Learn the basics from Climbable founder and adventure guide Brigitte Pegado.

By Brigitte Pegado

When it comes to adrenaline-fuelled adventures, trad climbing is pretty difficult to beat. But before you can rack up and explore nature’s playground, you need to master the basics. To get your journey started, seasoned adventurer and qualified guide Brigitte Pegado of Climbable has put together this post on everything you need to know before joining the #tradisrad club…


What is trad climbing?

Traditional climbing, colloquially known as ‘trad’ climbing, requires the climber to place protective gear (i.e. gear that will catch the climber in case of a fall) as they ascend, with the follower (the second climber) removing it when it is their turn to climb the pitch. It is a style of rock climbing that applies a leave no trace principle, and many consider it a purist form of mountaineering. 


Climbing prepared rock (i.e. rock with fixed bolts and anchors) is a thrill… however, it’s hard to beat the exhilaration of finding your own line on unprepared rock. Trad climbing engages your body, mind and soul – it’s just you and the rock, making for a flow and focus unlike any other adventure. 


Trad climbing takes place on rock that has sufficient features for gear placement i.e. cracks and other features in which one can place gear. Trad climbing can also be done in amazing areas that cannot be bolted, such as Table Mountain. Note that not all routes are ‘well protected’ and great care must be taken in selecting routes. It is generally recommended that you choose routes with grades well below your max sport climbing grade and within your leading comfort zone. 


While we firmly believe that climbing is a sport for everyone, it is strongly recommended that you get some good experience under your belt before venturing into trad climbing. Ideally, you should have been climbing for a year or more and be comfortable leading sport routes. The next step would be seeking formal trad climbing training and experiences with an instructor or guide respectively. In order to venture into trad climbing, it is also advised that you first master multi-pitching on prepared (i.e. bolted) rock. You can learn more about this from last week’s blog, written by the wonderful Ryan Peel of 1on1Adventures.  

Learning from the professionals will ensure that you are in safe hands as you absorb new information and master advanced skills. Plus, you will learn all the essential etiquette and standard safety procedures. You may be tempted to just head out into the mountains with a friend in DIY approach, but this is hardly the ideal situation – especially if your mates are of the “safety third” philosophy. Consider the DIR (Do it Right) approach! 

Learning from online videos is a great complement to hands-on training, but it is certainly not a substitute. The best teacher is experience, but to gain experience you need to ensure you’re starting on the right foot. Formal instruction will not only keep you safe, but it will also equip you to become a competent, confident and self-reliant climber. 


Trad climbing requires not only mastery of advanced technical skills, but also a firm grasp of risk management, responsibility, mapwork and other soft skills that could be the difference between life and death. You need to be confident that you can set out on an adventure and calmly manage any crisis that may occur – you are responsible not only for your safety, but also the safety of your partner. Hard skills, such as gear use and rope management, can be learnt from an instructor, but soft skills come with time and hard-won experience.

In trad climbing, the norm is combining all of your basic skills to conquer unknown challenges in an unpredictable, sometimes turbulent setting. 


Crucial pre-adventure checks:

● Route description and details 

(you can find this in a guidebook; it is recommended that you take a guide up the rock with you, either the full book, a small printed topo or even a digital version). 

● Entry and exit routes 

(make sure to identify early exit options if you and your partner are unable to complete the climb for any reason)  

● Weather forecast and possible changes

● Time estimate 

● Let your loved ones know where you are planning to climb and what time you are expected back 

● Make sure you have food, water, warm gear and basic first aid supplies 

● Have your local Mountain Search and Rescue number handy; even better, save their number on a charged phone

Personal climbing kit (for each climber): 

● Helmet

● Harness

● Belay device 

(ideally a device you can use for belaying and rappelling)

Prusik with a locking carabiner

Personal anchor system with a locking carabiner

Shared climbing kit: 

● Trad rack comprising 10-12 nuts of various sizes and 6-12 cams of various sizes

● 10-12 quickdraws/alpine draws, 10 draws if not alpine draws

● 4 locking carabiners for stances

● 4 x 120 cm slings

● 240 cm cordelette or sling

● Double/half ropes (make sure that the ropes are long enough for your climb)

Top Tip: Make sure you are very comfortable placing the type of gear you will be using. Other gear options include hexes, ball nuts and tri-cams, which are great if you know how to use them. Check the route guide or talk to people that have climbed the route you are planning for before to find out what protective gear will work best.



Sport climbing generally has evenly spaced protection (i.e. bolts) that are well aligned with the route to prevent rope drag and make clipping as easy as possible. Furthermore, sport climbs usually have safe fall zones – although it is always risky to fall before/at the first three draws due to rope stretch. 

In trad climbing, you are adapting to the rock and protection will most likely not align perfectly with the route; especially since trad climbs often include traverses. As such, you will need to place your protection wisely in order to create as little rope drag as possible and avoid crossing ropes. Rope drag, especially when it’s caused by a Z-formation, will not only pull on your protection as a secondary force in a less-than-ideal way, but it can also hinder your movement which can be very dangerous. To combat drag, it is important to extend using alpine draws (two carabiners connected with a sling or webbing) or extend nuts with quickdraws. Climbing movement skills are an essential part of fall protection in trad, as you will likely face unevenly spaced protection and mandatory run-outs, along with the usual challenges of rock climbing.  


When you’re up on a cliff, you and your partner are each other’s lifeline. It is advisable that you (a) know your partner well, (b) understand each other’s experience levels, and (c) make sure you are willing to accommodate each other’s weaknesses.

But remember, gear placement is just one facet of trad climbing. Risk management, movement skills, mental skills, resting skills and route-reading skills are all a part of protecting you and your partner in-climb. To manage risks correctly and safely, you should:

● Climb well within your limit

● Know your limit – let the more experienced climber lead if you don’t feel 110% confident

● ONLY take risks that are calculated, well understood, and within safe error margins 

Individuals often overestimate their ability to climb and place protection at the same time. Especially considering that your protection not only needs to catch you in the event of a fall and align with the route, but it also needs to protect your second AND be removable from the rock, to leave nothing behind. 

WARNING: A fall on trad is a serious concern if you are not 100% confident in not only your last gear placement but the ones preceding it. Even if you placed good gear, routes are often not fully vertical or positive, meaning you could find yourself hanging in midair, unable to reach the ropes or rock. This is where your prusik will be required to ascend the rope. HOWEVER, it is very important that you practice ascending a rope in a safe environment before attempting it during a climb on a mountain. 

The best part…

At the end of the day, trad climbing is one hell of an adventure. Exploring places that may seem insurmountable, conquering the challenge and leaving the mountain as beautiful as you found it – it doesn’t get any better than that. Trad enthusiasts would tell you that one of the best parts of trad climbing is moving up the rock in a free and flowing way while enjoying the thrill of heights and exposure.

And, above all, the ability to get from the ground to the summit by relying on your own physicality, knowledge and well-deserved experience is nothing short of magical.

So, shoot for the stars, believe and achieve your full-potential, and enjoy the ride. 

Brigitte Pegado is a qualified mountain guide and the founder of Climbable. With this exciting new venture, she hopes to make the mountains more accessible through professional and enjoyable instruction.

Climbable offers a range of courses for all skill levels, from those looking to experience their first outdoor climb, to seasoned adventurers wanting to master trad. These courses provide a roadmap to take you towards your ultimate adventure.