Climbing Ropes Buying Guide
Half way up a cliff face, with burning forearms, shaky legs and your last piece of protection a little too far away; not the time to start thinking about the quality of your climbing rope. Or is it?
Modern construction techniques, rigorous testing and stringent safety guidelines mean that the humble rope has never been so strong, light and durable. But with such a wide array of options, how do you know which is the right one for you?
If you’re thinking about buying a new rope then we have put together this easy to understand climbing rope buying guide to help you make the best, and the safest decision for yourself.
Important Safety Information
Static and Dynamic Ropes
Generally speaking, there are two main types of rope available, ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’.
All ropes that are safe to use for climbing are referred to as dynamic. This means that they stretch under a weighted load.
Dynamic ropes are perfect for a number of reasons. Firstly they make a fall much safer by stretching and absorbing lots of the energy. This helps to avoid the rope from ripping out the top piece of protection or creating a knock on effect, pulling out the pieces below. This is particularly important when trad climbing. Dynamic ropes are much kinder on the body too, as the stretch helps to avoid jarring and injury to the climber.
Image An example of a 50m, 10mm dynamic rope
Static ropes should never be used for lead climbing, seconding or top roping. This is because they do not stretch when they bear a load and are therefore dangerous to climb with. Static ropes should only be used for hauling gear up a route, jumaring (climbing up the rope with an ascender), abseils and caving. These are the only times when a climber does not need the rope to be elastic.
Types Of Rope
Single ropes are the most common and adaptable types of rope available. Their main appeal is that they can be used on anything from indoor gyms to outdoor sport routes; all the way to big multi-pitch climbs, mountaineering and ice routes.
When choosing a single rope, there are many factors that should be taken into account; such as the diameter and the length, as well as any treatments like water resistance. For example; if you mostly climb inside then a 30m rope with a 10mm diameter should be enough. This keeps it short and neat in what can be a crowded area, is long enough to do many indoor routes and is a good thickness for the majority of belay devices.
If however you wish to go outside then you will want something longer. A 50 or 60m length will provide you with more freedom as you can safely access larger routes. It will also enable you to abseil greater distances if required.
As the rope gets longer however, you may also wish to minimise weight. One way of doing this is to reduce the diameter. This will make the rope lighter and more dexterous, but will subsequently make it less durable to wear and tear. Single ropes come in a ‘sliding-scale’ of thicknesses, but generally speaking you can get them in anything that ranges from around 8.9mm – 10mm.
Image An example of a single, 60m, 9.8mm rope
Half ropes are best suited to long, multi-pitch climbs and are therefore a very popular and effective choice for trad climbing. Designed to be used in pairs, you need to use two separate ropes in two , different colours. The concept behind half ropes is that when clipping in to your left and right, you select one of the two. So rather than one rope that zig-zags, with lots of bends and additional friction , you have two ropes, working like parallel tram lines; ideally either side of the climber . This is great because it stops gear being pulled sideways, which can compromise its placement, causing it to ‘walk’ out or fail if you fall.
Half ropes reduce drag and therefore provide a more equalised and safer system in the eventuality of a fall. They need to be in two clearly opposing colours to aid the belayer who will feed out the correct rope whilst isolating the other, and for the climber who needs to avoid selecting the wrong rope and creating a cross over.
Half ropes are usually thinner than even the skinniest single ropes, with the majority coming in somewhere between 8 and 9mm in diameter.
Image An example of two, 60m, 8.3mm half ropes
The other great advantage of half ropes is that when abseiling they can be more easily tied together. This allows the climber to use the full length of each rope, rather than half the length as is the case with a single rope. Generally speaking, half ropes are best suited to, and most commonly used on trad routes rather than sport climbs.
Ropes are made using two complementary parts; the core and the sheath. This is known as a kernmantle construction.
The core (kern) is made of many tiny fibres that are coiled around one another. This process combines the integral strength of one fibre with that of many, many others. By coiling the internal filaments around one another they become shorter, but when a load is applied they all stretch out in unison. This is how manufacturers create an exceptionally strong rope with the all-important dynamic (stretchy) qualities.
The sheath (mantle) is a tough outer wrap that protects the inner core from wear and tear. It is what gives the rope its colour and is the part you can see when visually checking a rope. When constructing a rope some manufacturers bond the core and the sheath together, as this enables them to expand and retract at the same rate. This is an additional stage of construction that increases its performance and durability and helps to stop the core from slipping around inside the sheath.
You can inspect a rope for this by feeling along its length for any prominent bulges or large amounts of movement between the two layers. You can also check the ends of the rope for excessive bagging. This is where the sheath may have migrated along the length of the core. If you can feel lots of these things, then consider replacing the rope.
Image Here you can see the outer mantle has been carefully separated to expose the inner kern. The thick white strands are made up of countless filaments all working together to provide dynamic strength.
Depending on the conditions you intend to climb in you may wish to consider purchasing a rope which has undergone a number of different treatments.
The main one to consider is a waterproof treatment. This is useful if you intend to climb ice routes, sea cliffs or will be taking the rope into changeable conditions in the mountains for example. However, for many climbs if the rain arrives it usually signals the end of the day. A wet rope that is properly dried at home will regain all its structural qualities.
Image This Edelrid rope has a toughened Teflon coated outer (Pro Shield), a water resistant finish (Dry Shield) and and special heat treatment to bond the kern and the mantle together (Thermo Shield).
Help Me Decide
Image From top to bottom: 10mm Static Rope, 10mm Dynamic Rope, 9.8mm Dynamic Rope, Two 8.3mm Half Ropes.
I do the majority of my climbing inside but would like to get out more. I mostly climb sport but would like to get into trad climbing too.
- Consider a 50/60m single rope with a diameter no greater than 10mm.
- This will be plenty long enough for indoor climbing but as you improve and explore routes outside the additional length it will certainly come in handy.
- By keeping the diameter less than 10m you help to keep weight to a minimum.
- You can use it for trad climbing too, but be aware of creating excessive rope drag as you meander you way up the line.
- Bear in mind that if you use this rope for abseiling you will need to loop it through or around an anchor. This means you will have half its length to abseil down.
I am new to climbing and for now only climb indoors. I want to get into lead climbing and in time get outside to my local crag.
- How about a 30m single rope with a diameter around 10mm, or if you can afford it a 50/60m.
- The 10mm diameter makes it easier to hold and use in belay devices, which helps keep your climber safe.
- The advantage of a 30m is that it is cheaper and easier to manage in a crowded climbing gym.
- The advantage of using a 60m is that when the time comes you can get outside and explore longer routes.
- It all depends on how long you think you will be exclusively climbing indoor for. If it is going to be for the foreseeable future then consider a 30m. Then when you are ready and have given your 30m a good go, you can upgrade to something like a 60m with a diameter of 9-10mm. If not then take the plunge and go for a 60m right away.
- Remember that many climbers choose to have a number of ropes, each with a special purpose.
I specialise in trad climbing and need to keep weight to a minimum. I have a 60m, 9.8mm single rope that has come to the end of its life. Should I go for Half Ropes?
- This all depends on how much you want to spend. Also if weight is your main concern then half ropes are not the answer as you will be carrying two ropes instead of one.
- Half ropes do however allow for a safer, more equalised system with greatly reduced drag.
- They come into their own on trad routes that traverse and when you want a big abseil.
- If weight is your main concern then go for the longest, thinnest, single rope available.
- Halves are however best for trad and if this is where you specialise then the ropes really are a brilliant option.
- If you can afford to, consider treating yourself to a pair of half ropes and a nice single. That way you have the halves for those meandering routes where you want to avoid your gear from walking out and lots of rope drag, and the single can be for those days where you are confident of a direct line or fancy a bit of sport climbing.
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