Living in a van leaves you with a very limited amount of storage space. However, having limited space does NOT mean you need to have a limited rack. It may not be the world’s largest gear collection, but what I do have, fits comfortably in the back of my vehicle/home and has given me plenty of memories and summits. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn down free gear, and I will always spend at least 30 minutes trying to pull a booty cam, but overall, I’m happy with my rack and where she has taken me. This is how I filled my dirtbag climber van.
How I built my trad rack: The birth of an addiction
My rack, like my trad career, started in Joshua Tree National Park. For $60 dollars I found myself the proud owner of an ancient Black Diamond .5, yellow and blue Metolius Master Cams from a questionable era, small Metolius hexes, and large unknown hexes (that I quite like.) This was the beginning of a slight addiction. Though I was desperately in love with my pre-owned gear, it wasn’t long (same trip) before I purchased some new pieces to add on. With a bit of insight from an east coast guide that I ran into, I extended my tiny rack with number one, two and three Black Diamond Camalot C4’s and a set of DMM Wallnuts.
I started a tradition after that. Every time I go on a climbing trip outside of San Diego (home base), I buy a new piece of gear to add to the rack. Preferably from a new shop. Not the cheapest way to build a rack, but a fun way. I talked to a lot of experienced people and tried to purchase what they recommended. Where you’re climbing obviously makes a large difference in the protection, and local shop owners can give you the best beta.
I’ve ended up with DMM HB alloy offset nuts (probably the best nuts in the world) from Red Rocks, a yellow Fixe Alien Revo from Yosemite, CAMP ball nuts from Zion, an orange Metolius Ultralight from Idyllwild, a purple Totem from Joshua Tree and many many more. It is my favorite way to build my rack and try new gear. Otherwise (since I have a deal) I would only purchase Black Diamond. So I’m glad I’ve been able to branch out.
The trad racks that perform best for me
Though I have an assortment of gear to choose from, my gold standard for most climbs consists of:
- 00 Metolius Ultralight TCU
- .3 Black Diamond C4
- .4 Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight
- Purple Totem (I am in love)
- .75 – 3 Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights
- DMM Peenuts
- DMM Alloy Offsets
- 2 largest DMM Walnuts
- 12 alpine draws made from Black Diamond Oz’s with an assortment of sling sizes
This is simply my base. It is always racked up and ready to grab at a moments notice and I will add/remove as needed. If I need to add more, I start with my supplemental rack:
- .3 – 5 Black Diamond Camalot C4’s
- .5 & 4 Black Diamond Camalot Ultralight’s
- CAMP Ball nuts
- DMM Wallnuts 1-11
- CAMP Tri-cam EVOs
- Unknown self-slung hexes (they’re bomber)
- Yellow Fixe Alien Revolution
- Orange Metolius Ultralight
- Yellow Wild Country Friend
- Black Diamond offset micro stoppers
When doubling up on sizes, I try to pull from different companies to have more variety. For instance, If I need doubles of BD .4, I will add the yellow Alien for pin scars. Doubles of BD #2? I’d use the yellow Wild Country Friend, it has a slightly higher range than the BD and compliments it well.
Other than my base rack and my supplemental rack (yes I name my racks) I have what I call my Creek rack. The Creek rack is a large assortment of cams from all kinds of years and companies. Master Cams, Dragon Cams, old Friends, and ancient Camalots to name a few. I use this rack for when I need quadruple or more of a certain size. Hence the name Creek rack. Most of this gear I found for REALLY good deals on craigslist or an equivalent and couldn’t turn it down. Who says no to any cam for under $10? I know I don’t.
Lastly, as protection goes, I have my sport rack. This, obviously, is just a bunch of quickdraws and a “sport anchor” (in case somebody wants to toprope) that I made. I have just recently made the switch over to a full rack (12) of the Edelrid Bulletproof Quickdraws as my primary protection. Though they are NOT cheap, even with the deal I got with ‘em, they do keep your rope from turning black and are great for projecting. I also have a couple BD PosiWires, Neutrino’s, and some randos to beef up the numbers (27 total) for sport multi-pitch totaling. 27 draws total.
For a quick TR anchor, I have two dogbones, one with a Bulletproof locker and a normal locker, the other with a single locker and a Bulletproof bent gate non-locker. This is so the next person can either top-rope or pull the rope and lead it without having to fumble with a locked biner at the end. (Hard to explain, check the pic)
Harness, shoes, and rope. Oh my!
Everything listed above fits into a single drawer in the back of my Sprinter van, Frieda. There’s even enough space left over for random booty gear and a couple chains of biners. Above my protection drawer is where I keep my quiver of shoes, harness, and chalk bags. I own two pairs of Katana Laces (sized differently for boulder or sport), a pair of TC pros, and 5.10 Gambit laces. These four pairs of shoes do well against most terrain and overlap enough to be able to resole one at a time without inconveniencing me. I find it’s important to not rely on a single shoe for anything. It’s not a perfect system though, you never know when a shoe might blow early.
I have too many ropes for a man that lives in a vehicle. I was once lucky enough to booty two 70m ropes off of Unimpeachable Groping in Red Rocks and couldn’t track down the owner(s) to save my life. I also won a 9.8mm 70m Mammut Tusk from Randy Leavitt at an Allied Climbers event in San Diego. On top of my free ropes, I have purchased:
- 70m Sterling Fusion Nano IX 9.0 – My go-to rope. Since traditional multipitch is my favorite, I find myself tied into this rope a lot. I love it!
- 60m Black Diamond Dry 9.4 – My go-to for single pitch sport. Not my favorite rope, but it’s caught every fall so far.
- 6mm Edelrid Rap Line II
- 35m Black Diamond gym rope
- 60m Sterling Evolution Velocity
- 100ft Bluewater static line
I cut one of the booty ropes for gym ropes for my friends, and the other went to the climbing partner that found them with me. He claimed the 70m Edelrid Boa Eco 9.8 and left me with the unknown rope.
Organization and storage
I used to store the ropes nice and neatly hanging from one of my rear doors. Sadly, they could potentially protrude into the area that I store my drying wetsuit. Now I just kind of keep the ropes wherever they will fit in the back. It’s not the prettiest, but it gets the job done. I’m currently in the process of revamping the garage space though. Hopefully when I’m done my gear will not only look better but won’t get saturated in salt water either. Organization in a van is extremely important. Proper utilization of space makes all the difference.
I know this didn’t cover ALL of my gear, but I covered most of it. The pictures should fill in some blanks. And no, I don’t have the grandest gear stash. However, I do have (in my opinion) the most suitable for my current condition. I like to think I’ve been doing a decent job of balancing my rack with available space and needs. Within the past year, there hasn’t been a single time that I wasn’t able to climb something due to lack of gear. But when that time comes, you better believe I’ll get the gear needed and say to hell with the extra living/storage space. (Alpine gear is next on the list!)
What’s your go-to rack? Prefer Metolius? Hate Ultralights? Comment below! I’d love to hear about what gets YOU to the summit!