Forums: Climbing Disciplines: Big Wall and Aid Climbing: Ask Dr. Piton ... about how to rack your rack: Edit Log


Apr 10, 2002, 7:35 PM

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Ask Dr. Piton ... about how to rack your rack
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When it comes to racking your gear on a big wall, the general order of business

Chaos! Chaos! Chaos!

This is what we chemical engineers refer to as "entropy" - the spontaneous tendency towards disorder.

If you have ever climbed a big wall - or better yet, tried to climb a big wall but failed - then you will understand exactly what I mean.

"You must alvays have a vell-organicized rack," or you will forever be fighting your gear and getting nowhere. Wigglestick has found this out the hard way, as have I, incidentally. Perhaps if you read this post and do as I suggest, you can find out the easy way instead. You can learn by avoiding my mistakes, for I have made many.

As Paul has pointed out, just because my rack is efficiently organized and I can climb fast does not mean that I must climb fast. In fact, it's because my rack is so well organized that I can take my time and smell the daffodils. Those obsessed with speed might do well to consider pursuing a bit of Big Wall Leisure, instead.

"On a toujours la choix!"

Note to Impressionable Youths:

While the benefits of having a well organized lead rack cannot be understated, the same does not hold true for your desk or locker at school. You should only keep these areas as neat and tidy as you need to in order to keep your schoolteacher off of your back. To keep your school work area any neater would be a colossal waste of your precious time and energy which you could otherwise invest climbing. (This is not to imply in any way that you should invest too much time in climbing - the benefits of loafing cannot be understated either.

Those who may doubt that I practise what I preach need only check out my office, assuming of course you can open the door through all of the clutter.


I am going to divide this post into two parts, the first being how to rack your stuff on carabiners, and the second being how to put the stuff on your rack.


When it comes to racking your gear on crabs, you must ALWAYS RACK FOR REDUNDANCY! This means that you must NEVER have two or more of the same thing on any single crab.

If you learn nothing else from this post, LEARN THIS:


For instance, if you only have two half-inch sawed-offs, then you would never rack both of them on the same crab. What on earth would you do if you ever dropped that one carabiner, and you were faced with a crack where absolutely nothing but a sawed-off baby would fit? Your whole ascent could grind to a halt on the spot!

ALWAYS MAINTAIN REDUNDANCY in your racking. You must develop this habit from the beginning, and stick with it. Because sooner or later you will drop gear. This is not prophecy - this is fact.

Wigglestick is correct in his post above, where his BWT partner suggests racking similar-sized wired stoppers on the same carabiner. While Dr. Piton does do this himself on such rare occasions as he goes free climbing, this is NOT the better way to rack wires on the big wall! You need only read of my ascent of the West Face of El Cap to understand the benefits of maintaining redundancy in your racking systems.


A racking label is a temporary piece of coloured tape that you stick on gear to categorize it into a particular grouping.

For instance, I have a blue set of nuts, and I also have a green set of nuts. Each set goes on its own carabiner to maintain redundancy. This way if I am stupid enough to drop one of these carabiners, I do not lose all of one size of stoppers! I still have a complete set in backup.

I also have two sets of micro-nuts, divided into two groups with racking labels.

My hooks are divided into three sets, each identified by its own colour of sling. Same idea applies - my red hooks go on one crab, white on another, black on a third. If I drop any one crab, then I'm not completely buggered.

If you have read my ascent of Mescalito, then you will realize the benefits of not putting all of your hooks onto one crab!

I used to have racking labels on my pins and on my cams, in order to divide them into three sets. I no longer bother.

In the case of the latter, I now rack each of my cams on its own colour-coded designated carabiner. For instance, each of my yellow Aliens goes on its own yellow-gated crab, and my red #1 Camalot goes on a red gated crab. Paul has already mentioned above the benefits of colour coding his gear into sets, eh?

If you cannot afford to put each cam on its own designated carabiner, then you might want to divide your cams into two or three sets using racking labels to help maintain redundancy, and make sure you don't accidentally stick two of the same size on any one carabiner. With the myriad of cam manufacturers and colours, this mistake can be easily made.

In the case of pitons, I simply make a point out of not putting two of the same pins on any single crab.

Note that racking labels are temporary. This means that if you hook up with a partner and need to organize your gear into sets, you can do so with a temporary piece of coloured tape. Don't confuse your racking labels with your gear identification labels, if you use such traditional big wall technology.

Arnold voice:

"Real Mahnly Men use nail polish to mark zer gear. Just do not use pinky-purple, or I shall haf to kill you."


Please see above.


Rack your pins on oval carabiners. You need to use ovals with their smooth curves. Buy a few ovals for this purpose if you don't already own some. Ovals aren't much good for anything else anyway!

I usually put three or four pins on each oval. If you rack Lost Arrows, then you might put a #1, #2 and #3 on one oval. Note that if you alternate their orientation, Lost Arrows sit better on the crab.

For racking angles, I might put a baby, a stubby and a standard on one oval. Always maintain redundancy, especially with key pieces like sawed-offs!

Ditto for beaks and peckers - just make sure you break them down into two or three sets. Racking labels can be handy for novices to put on pins, until such time as you are so conditioned that you would never even dream of putting two of the same thing on one carabiner.

Some people like to throw all of their pins into a bag like a Fish Beef Bag. Just make sure you have two bags - one for each set of pins. It is hard to maintain redundancy with this system unless you have racking labels on your pins.


It's not really practicable to put racking labels on heads. I usually keep two of each size on a single crab, and leave the rest on the tag rack if I'm soloing, or with my partner to zip up as needed.


As mentioned above, divide your hooks into sets, and keep them in sets by putting one set on the same colour of sling. You can put one set on one carabiner.

Store each set of hooks in a little drawstring bag that you put around the hooks when they are attached to their crab but are not in use. This will save you
endless heartache and entanglement! Hooks are designed to hook [duh] and this is precisely what they will do.


If ever there were a place where I might cheat a bit on my redundancy, it is racking nylon.

I use wide-gate standard crabs to rack my short slings, standard slings, double-length slings, tie-offs and keepers. I might have as many as ten or fifteen items of nylon on a single crab.

Bring a TON of nylon on a big wall! You will use it for everything - even taped down [or prusiked-down] for pro. Your belays, bivis and gear will eat the stuff up! So pack accordingly.


There is one fundamental premise that you must internalize, and it is that you CANNOT have enough free carabiners!! Having enough free crabs is even more important than having enough nylon.

It is simply not possible to have too many of the things! They are the rigging glue that holds together your machine. They disappear so fast you won't believe it. If you are "always" looking for a free carabiner, then you didn't bring enough, did you?

If this ever again happens to you, then you will hear my words mocking you,

"I told you to bring more free biners! Sheesh."

Rack your free biners in "footballs" of seven. I refer to "christmas trees" of seven free biners as "footballs" since when you watch the game, you learn to count in sevens. This was told to me by my Merrican partner on Lurking Fear - little did he know we have our own Canadian Football League up here, which also counts in sevens. And like, we only need three downs, eh?

I prefer to rack my free biners in "footballs" because I like the way they hang, and they are easy to count at a glance.

I can't help but laugh when I read of Matt running out of free crabs! Funny how that happens, eh?

After I have racked everything, much of which goes on its own designated crabs, I like to have about seven or eight "footballs" of free crabs left over. You just can't have too many!

[ This Message was edited by: passthepitonspete on 2002-12-19 12:06 ]

(This post was edited by cliffhanger9 on Mar 26, 2013, 5:56 PM)

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Post edited by cliffhanger9 (Moderator) on Mar 26, 2013, 5:56 PM

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