The Basic Setup
By Abrahm Lustgarten
You don't need a 65-pound El Capitan rack before you're ready to lead. Your basic set-up should be an estimation of how much gear you'll use in your average pitch—150 feet of climbing. Don't over-rack, it's both heavy and expensive.
It's best to start with a good selection of passive protection: solid, non-moving nuts and hexes that can be wedged in the rock, and stay (hopefully) in exactly the position you put them. These are both the lightest to carry and the cheapest to buy, so an initial investment of about $200 can get you going. I like to carry a full set of Black Diamond Stoppers (#1-13) and Hugh Banner Off-sets with doubles of a few popular sizes (#5-8), but there are a variety of brands and shapes to choose from. These piece cost between $9-$15 each.
Your active pro—spring-loaded camming gear that literally works for you by expanding and gripping the rock harder when pulled outward—should consist of a variety of devices fitting cracks from about a half-inch to five inches. There are lots to choose from in terms of brand and style, and it's worth doing some extra reading before putting all your eggs in one brand basket. These things aren't cheap either. Smaller sizes start at around $40 and the bigger cams for wide cracks can run as high as $90 each. Purchasing four or five pieces of active protection is a good start for a useable rack, but over time, and as you take on longer routes, you may build a collection of 25-30, with doubles in many sizes.