How to Organize Gear for Multi-Pitch Climbing

It’s not just a question of organization and convenience (though that’s also true). Safety is the most important factor when it comes to having your gear properly organized on your harness for multi-pitch climbing so you can find the piece of pro you need quickly. In this article we’ll give you some tips on how to rack your quickdraws, friends, nuts and gear for building anchors.

Harness organization for multi-pitch climbing. Photo Álex Puyó

An example: You’re leading a pitch on a trad route 200 meters off the ground, and you’ve just reached a tricky section. Your position isn’t particularly comfortable and you have to make the crux move, so you decide to place a cam to protect the move just in case. The last piece of pro isn’t too far away, just far enough that you’d prefer not to have to take a fall. You look down and search for the right cam on your harness among the jumble of draws and cables. It should be there, you’re sure you haven’t placed it on this pitch, but you can’t find it. You try to check the other side of your harness, but the position you’re in won’t allow you to turn to that side, so you grab all the cams and lay them over your leg, mixing them up with all the draws on that side.

Your arm has been burning for awhile now, and you can feel your hand starting to open. You only have a few seconds before you’re going to fall and you curse yourself for not having organized your gear better before leaving the last belay station. Finally, not sure how, but you manage to locate the cam, place it and clip the rope through just in time to yell “take” to your belayer and hang on the rope as you sigh with relief.

If this scenario sounds familiar, then you’re probably aware of the benefits of having your harness properly organized in order to avoid repeating this situation. In this article we’ll give you some tips on how to do so.

Why should you organize the gear on your harness?

Climbing is based on three pillars – technique, physical strength and fear management, all of which are connected. Having to spend more time than necessary searching for the right piece of pro would be classified as a failure in technique, which then can also lead to a failure of strength or your ability to manage fear. In general, organizing your gear properly will allow to locate what you need more quickly, leading to a significant conservation of both physical strength and nerves, especially in precarious situations.

Quickdraws organized by length, great for bolted multi-pitch routes. Photo by Roberto Sainz

But that’s not all. A poorly organized rack can hinder your climbing, too. Long draws that get caught in a rope, gear that slides forward at an importune moment, unbalanced weight distribution...the consequences of a poorly organized harness can (at the least) make your climbing more awkward.

How to organize your gear will depend on your harness and the type and length of the route, as well as your individual capacity. We’re going to assume that for single-pitch sport climbing, although organization is convenient, you don’t need to be as scrupulous, as you’ll generally just be using a set of quickdraws of only slightly different lengths.

When climbing a multi-pitch route, the logistics become more complicated not only due to the amount of gear you’ll need, but also the wider variety of gear. In addition to draws of different lengths, you’ll also need a belay device, carabiners and slings or cordelette for building anchors. And that’s for bolted multi-pitch routes. When it comes to pure unbolted or partially bolted routes, you’ll also need a trad rack.

A trad rack can be anywhere from a simple set of mid-size cams to a double rack of cams and micro-cams, nuts of all different kinds, and even pitons and a hammer when it comes to infrequently repeated routes or when establishing new routes.

Álvaro Lafuente
Correct harness organization for trad climbing to facilitate finding the right gear quickly. Author Álvaro Lafuente

So we’re going to summarize what you’ll need for multi-pitch climbing in order to find the right piece of pro quickly every time.

Type of Harness

Preferably choose an adjustable harness with a wide waist belt so you can rest comfortably at the anchor and with at least four sturdy gear loops. Avoid minimalist ultralight sport harnesses, which are less comfortable when loaded down with lots of gear and for hanging off an anchor for long periods. A harness with a rear haul loop is good for hanging other gear you’ll need during the day, such as your approach shoes or a water bottle.

Necessary Gear

We’ll distinguish between bolted multi-pitch sport routes, where in addition to gear for building an anchor you’ll only need a set of quickdraws, and trad routes, where you’ll need a trad rack. You should rack the gear you’re going to use most often in your front gear loops and if necessary as far forward as possible on the rear loops. Your anchor gear should go at the back of the rear gear loops, and you can hang other gear and accessories in the rear 5th gear loop if your harness has one or the haul loop.

  • Frequently used gear: quickdraws. Also cams and nuts for trad routes, as well as alpine draws. Nut tool when following
  • Anchor gear: belay device with guide mode, locking carabiners, cordelette or webbing for the anchor
  • Additional gear: approach shoes, canteen, camera, windbreaker

How to Organize Your Harness

First off, we should say there is no one correct way to rack your gear for multi-pitch climbing. However, logically you should rack your gear so the pieces you need more often are where they are easy to reach.

On bolted routes it’s easy: what you’ll most need are quickdraws, and you may only occasionally use a cam on a run-out section where necessary. However, on semi-bolted routes or when establishing a new route, you will be using cams with their carabiners more and won’t need as many draws. In any case, you’ll need to adapt your harness organization to the type of route you’ll be climbing.

Rear Haul Loop

Any gear you won’t be using for actual climbing you should put at the back of your harness, on the rear gear loop or haul loop, depending on what features your harness has. Here we are talking about a water bottle, approach shoes, knife or windbreaker, to name some examples. Although it’s also common to carry extra gear in a pack instead of on your harness, a pack can cause problems climbing through chimneys or on overhangs, and can cause your back to overheat, making this a poor choice for climbing in such conditions.

Try to minimize the space used by any additional gear. Shoes with a rear loop are perfect for hanging off the back of your harness, and if you tie the laces together, it will be less likely for you to lose them in case one of the loops breaks. The inside of your shoes are perfect for sticking a 500ml soft flask of water, one in each shoe. The advantage of soft flasks is that they take up very little space once they’re empty.

Front Gear Loops

The shortest pieces should go in the front gear loops of your harness. This way longer pieces such as cams or extendable draws won’t get in the way of your legs while climbing. Including on the same gear loop you should go from short (towards the front) to long (in the back) and with all the carabiners facing in the same direction. Whether you put the carabiner gates facing in or out doesn’t matter, as long as they are all facing the same way and you don’t have to check when reaching for one.

Rear Gear Loops

If you’re only carrying a limited number of cams (around ten or less), you should be able to divide them up between the two rear gear loops. Generally cams are racked from small to large in order to find the right one more quickly, though there are climbers who alternate small and large number cams on the same gear loop so they can reach the right (or close) size if they’re in a position where they can’t release the hand on the side where the right cam is located. Another tip: pick up a set of color-coded carabiners to match your cams so you can identify the size you need even faster.

Locking carabiners and belay devices also belong on the rear gear loops and, in general, anything that you’re only going to use when building an anchor or belaying your partner.

Other Options for Racking Gear

For routes with no bolted protection at all where you’ll need lots of gear, we’d recommend taking along an additional gear sling, which allows you to rack gear around your chest. You can decide what to put on your sling and what to hang from your harness—cams or quickdraws. Habit may dictate you rack your draws on your harness and the cams then on the chest sling, but it’s actually more practical to do the opposite and rack the cams on your harness loops. Heavier than quickdraws, it’s more comfortable to have them on your harness, and it also makes it easier to find the cam you need by looking down at your harness and not trying to find it on your chest.

Pitons and nuts can be racked on the same carabiner (be careful not to drop the whole set) and unclipped once they’re in place so as not to waste too much time looking for the right size. It is faster to remove from the harness and also more practical for choosing the size that we need to place at that time. In this case, the carabiner-shaped gear loops are very practical, such as those They are used in ice climbing, although as they protrude from the harness they can get in the way in narrow passages where we have to climb in opposition.

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