I have climbed indoors and outdoors for several years, both top rope and sport, and I somewhat recently took an outdoor trad climbing class. In the class, we placed protection while on top rope and never took any falls on the gear.

Now, after the class, I would like to try putting some of the knowledge to use, but I am not yet comfortable enough doing an entire route on trad gear.

Are there any methods for practicing trad climbing on the gear while not 100% using it as protection? How do people usually transition from sport climbing to trad climbing?

  • 3
    In addition to what others have suggested, two more options: (1) Do a mock lead where you're on a top rope, but you also practice placing gear and clipping in to it just as if it were the real thing. (2) Climb stuff that's so easy for you that you feel totally secure. 4th class, 5.0. – Ben Crowell Jul 25 '15 at 3:33
up vote 16 down vote accepted

The best way to lear how to place protections is to climb sport routes that are also suited to protection placement. Bring plenty of quickdraws (and of gear to place of course).

Use the bolts, but place protections as if those were your only alternative up there. This will, as the very first and foremost thing, allow you to place plenty of them. The more, the better. You will have a the real feel for that, and will be able to notice if they slip out of their socket when you move up the route.

Repeat.

Repeat again, plenty of times.

Next step is, place a protection just above a bolt, then FALL on that protection on purpose.

You will then be able to really tell if it would have held an accidental fall or not: while safely having the safety backup of the bolt just beneath it. This will also teach you how to remove protections, which sometimes can be very tricky. Warning: it may take quite a long time until you get the hang of it.

Such is the way to learn how to trad climb. You trad climb alongside with bolts (eventually using fewer of them as you learn and feel more confident with your placements) so that you have the real experience of trad leading with the safety backup of bolts.

  • 1
    This is exactly what I would recommend (and do/did). Regarding falling on protection on purpose: If you are using nuts or hexentrics (not just cams), you'll probably also learn to clean stuck ones that way. Bring a hammer and a nut removal tool! – anderas Jul 24 '15 at 8:21
  • exactly. I am going to explicitly add that in the answer, thanks – Dakatine Jul 24 '15 at 8:27
  • The problem is with this approach is that often (in the UK at least) these climbs have been bolted due to lack of trad gear placements. So you may struggle to place good gear in the route – Liam Jul 25 '16 at 15:25
  • In many areas in the USA, the ethics allows only bolting climbs that aren't protect-able. Additionally, in my specific area, if people bolt climbs that were ever climbed without those bolts, the FA will come along and chop the bolts out. – Adonalsium Aug 9 at 12:40

Liam hinted at the method that was popular in the US while back, and probably still is: follow an experienced climber and clean their gear. You'll get to see actual placements & find out how hard or easily a piece of pro should come out.

Aid climbing (with bounce testing) is a great way to learn too. And a great way to kill six hours going only 100 feet...

If you have access to multi-pitch crags, you can try leading when you're far enough up a route with a bomber anchor and not too many ledges. Being close to the ground may be comforting, but remember that the ground is what often makes falls lethal.

In the UK trad climbing is the most popular form of outdoor rock climbing: there are sport routes but there are many many more trad routes, so many people (me included) actually trad climb before they sport climb (outdoors anyway).

Instruction

Obviously the best (and safest) way to learn is from someone more experienced than yourself. Three good options for this:

  1. Join a climbing club
  2. befriend that old guy in your climbing gym who's been trad climbing for 20 years and get him to take you out and teach you!
  3. Get some professional instruction from someone who knows what they're doing.

My personal route

I learnt by trial and error with a little instruction, mostly. This way is possibly more risky but I manged the risk myself and I was confident with my own abilities; if you're not confident then this may well not be the best route for you. This is what I personally did to start trad climbing:

  • I took a course and learned how to set top ropes - this involved some basic techniques for using protection, setting up belays, placing gear, etc.
  • I then used this to top rope trad climbing venues. Setting up the top ropes allowed me to get a feel for what protection to use at the top of the crag, what worked in what scenarios and what didn't. This is also good practice for setting up belays for later on, a top rope set up and a belay share many features, equalizing the load, etc.
  • I then started practising what I'd learned at the top of the crag while climbing on a top rope
  • Once confident I would go to easy low grade trad crags, practice them on top ropes until I was confident on them, then move onto leading them. I'd pick short safe crags where I was confident of finishing (this is often called red pointing); many of the early ones were high boulder problems so the consequences of a dangerous fall were low.
  • From then on it's just a case of ramping up the grade, etc. as your confidence grows.
  • I've learnt a lot from being a member of my local climbing club. A lot of guys I now climb with are more experienced and climb a lot harder than me so it's been good to absorb this information by watching them and asking questions etc. This has only cost me £26 a year too, where as a professional instructor would cost several hundred pounds for a single day.

I also bought books on the subject and read these religiously, the more information you can absorb on the subject the better,

Another alternative that may be appropriate to areas where sport routes and trad routes do not coincide is to top rope while mock leading. You have your belayer put you on belay for a top rope set up, while also belaying you on lead. Obviously, they can mostly free-spool the lead rope and focus on keeping you from decking via the top rope, but you still get the experience of placing pro and having to clip in and everything else. If your top rope is a dynamic rope and the route is long and ledge-free, you can even fall test the lead placements without too much risk, although you get into the fun game of eyeballing how much top rope slack will let you load the anchor without decking.

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