Probably the most confusing part of trad climbing is how such seemingly simple pro can be put in the rock quickly and easily removed, while also being strong enough to hold a big fall. The secret is in the smart design of these pieces of metal, which has progressed and evolved over the last 50-plus years. Using advice and expertise from top trad climbers Miranda Oakley, Tim Emmett, and climbing guide Paul Rachele, we created an overview of the different types of pro, the basics of how to place trad gear, and some tips on getting ready for your first trad lead.
One of the big advantages of active protection is that it’s multidirectional, meaning it will stay in place even when pulled upward. Passive pro is unidirectional and usually protects a downward pull only, meaning it can come out when it’s pulled upward. While strong upward forces on trad protection aren’t super common, sometimes the force of the rope moving up through a nut is enough to jiggle it out of place. One way to lessen this force is by extending the gear, meaning clipping a sling or quickdraw between the pro and the rope to extend the distance between them. There are many other reasons to extend gear that are beyond the scope of this article, so make sure to get proper instruction.
Rachele has been climbing since 2005 and became an IFMGA-certified guide in 2016. He’s taught hundreds of clients and students the basics of gear placement using the simple acronym—ROCK STARS. Each letter represents one element you should consider every time you place a piece of gear. Since placement possibilities in rock are infinite, it’s rare to find perfect circumstances for each of these categories. However, you should be thinking about this checklist each time you go to place a cam or slot a nut, and then making micro-adjustments to maximize each one. The list might seem overwhelming at first, but the more you practice, the more it will become second nature to evaluate all these factors in an instant as you quickly slam in a solid piece of gear.