The climbing rope is your most important piece of climbing equipment. A good climbing rope is the first thing that is going to take your climbing addiction from a brief pulling workout into a full on obsession. They are the strand that links together the entire safety chain and the thread that saves your life when you fall.
When you start climbing, you may be surprised by the large selection of ropes. We carry rope for rock, caves, ice, rescue, and more. Figuring out how to choose a climbing rope is going to depend on your personal uses and needs.
With so much riding on this piece of equipment, it’s vital to choose the most appropriate one for the kind of climbing you’re doing. Here’s how to choose a rope that will suit your climbing style and goals.
Here’s how to choose a rope that will suit your climbing style and goals.
A dynamic rope is designed to stretch or elongate to absorb the impact of a falling climber. It’s vital to ensure that you buy a dynamic climbing rope because static ropes will not absorb energy and also leave your body to take the full force of the fall.
For all types of climbing such as sports climbing, lead climbing, and trad climbing you will need a dynamic rope.
If you are looking for a dynamic rope for climbing, you’ll have three choices: single, half/double, and twin ropes. The choice between single, half/double, twin, and static ropes determined by what type of climbing you do.
Single ropes are the most popular type of climbing ropes and they are suitable to be used for a wide range of climbing styles. They are strong and simple to use for both lead climbers and belayers.
Single ropes typically come in 9.2 – to 10.2 mm in diameter. Single ropes are ideal when the route follows a fairly straight line, so choose one for indoor walls, sports climbing, and short straight-up trad climbs.
Most beginners start with a single rope. They are thick, durable and easy to belay with. Single ropes are marked with a ‘1’ symbol at the end of the rope.
A 60 m length with a diameter of between 9.4 – 10.2 mm will suit most beginners. Uses: Gym climbing / Sport climbing / Top roping / Less complex trad
Twin ropes are a two-rope system and both ropes are treated as the single rope in which both climbing ropes are clipped into each piece of protection. Making use of two ropes prevents the horrifying possibility of a rope being cut over a sharp edge.
Twin climbing rope has all the disadvantages of a single climbing rope. It is probably the least commonly used of the three dynamic choices of rope. They are the thinnest ropes of all, going down to 7.5 mm in diameter. Uses: Ice and mixed climbing
Many trad climbers use half ropes (also known as double ropes) instead of a single rope to help reduce rope drag on some routes. They also double the length of the abseil you can make – essential for epic retreats!
Safety is increased on complicated terrain where there are sharp edges that risk cutting the rope. If one rope is cut, you still have the other to catch you.
Half ropes need to be used as a pair – climbing with just one isn’t safe. Half ropes are marked by a ½ symbol.
60 m ropes will be great for most trad routes.
When buying half ropes, make sure the colors are very different. Ideally, you will be able to tell them apart in the dark. Uses: Trad climbing / Alpine climbing
Static ropes have very little stretch, so they cannot absorb the force of a fall like other ropes. They are mainly used as a ‘fixed’ rope to ascend or descend. They are usually marked with a EN 1891 code. Never lead climb on a static rope!
Static ropes are very efficient in situations where you don’t want the rope to stretch, such as when you are lowering an injured climber, hauling a load up with the rope or ascending a rope. Never use static ropes for lead climbing or top roping because they don’t stretch and it will not absorb any forces in a fall scenario and could lead to serious injury.
Climbing rope is one of the most important parts of your climbing gear. Most people face a real challenge in choosing the best climbing rope or the one that best fits their needs.
The diameter of your rope is going to dictate which activities you’ll be engaging in.
Novices should stick to thicker ropes that can do everything they throw at them. Ensure you know what range of rope diameters your belay device is approved to work with and don’t go outside those parameters.
Thicker ropes are more resistant to abrasion and probably last longer overall. Large diameter ropes are heavy but very durable, making them a good choice for top-roping and early lead climbs. Skinnier ropes are light and have low impact forces, making them best suited for alpine, ice and hard sport routes.
At the local crag, if you are top-roping you will possibly want a thicker rope. If you are hiking for multi-pitch climbs, you will want a skinnier and lighter rope. Skinner ropes feel smoother, clip more easily, and cut down on pack weight.
Ropes in this range are very lightweight, making them ideal for long multi-pitch climbs where weight is important.
However, skinny single ropes are not rated to hold as many falls as thicker ropes, they are harder to handle and they tend to be less durable.
If you plan to do lots of top-roping or take repeated falls while figuring out the moves on a sport climb, choose a thicker rope. Be aware that a skinny rope can move quickly through a belay device, so you need a very experienced and attentive belayer to climb with one.
A single rope in this range is good for all-around use, including trad and sport climbing.
These ropes are light enough to take into the mountains yet durable enough for top-roping. They’re generally more durable than very skinny ropes and they are easier to handle.
Ropes with a diameter of 10 mm and above are best for gym climbing, frequent top roping, figuring out the moves on sport routes and big-wall climbing. These styles of climbing can wear out a rope faster so it’s wise to go with a thicker, more durable rope.
Half ropes typically have a diameter of about 8 – 9 mm, while twin ropes are usually about 7 – 8 mm thick.
Static ropes have a diameter of 9 – 13 mm, and are commonly measured in inches, so you may see the diameter stated as 7/16”, for example.
Dynamic ropes for rock climbing range in length from 30 m to 80 m.
A 60 m rope is the standard and will meet your needs most of the time.
Outdoor climbing ropes: When deciding what length to buy, remember that your rope needs to be long enough so that half its length is equal to or greater than the route or pitch you’ll be climbing.
For example, if a climbing route is 30 m long, then you need at least a 60 m rope to be able to climb up and be lowered back down off of an anchor at the top of the climb. Some modern sport-climbing routes require a 70 m rope in order to lower to the ground.
Indoor climbing ropes: Shorter-length ropes, about 35 m long, are commonly used for gym climbing because indoor routes tend to be shorter than outdoor routes.
Again, be sure the length of rope is long enough to lower a climber.
Static ropes: Static ropes are for rescue work, caving, climbing fixed lines with ascenders and hauling loads. They come in a variety of lengths and are sometimes sold by the meter so you can get the exact length you need. If you’re unsure what length rope you need for a particular climbing area, it’s best to ask other climbers and consult a guidebook.
The overall weight of a climbing rope is largely determined by the diameter and length.
Generally, a skinnier rope will be lighter than a thicker rope, but core construction is a factor that can make a skinny rope heavier than a thick rope.
It’s standard for weight of dynamic climbing ropes to be listed as grams per meter (eg. 58 g/m), making it easy to compare rope weight regardless of the overall length.
Use the grams per meter number and the length of a rope to calculate a rope’s overall weight. Weight for static ropes is often given as weight per foot.
Look for these features when you are comparing climbing ropes. They can make a difference in performance and ease of use.
When a rope absorbs water, it gets heavier and is less able to withstand forces generated in a fall (the rope will regain all of its strength when dry).
When it’s cold enough for absorbed water to freeze, a rope gets stiff and unmanageable. To combat this, some ropes include a dry treatment that reduces water absorption.
Dry-treated ropes are more expensive than non-dry-treated ropes so consider whether or not you need dry treatment.
If you primarily sport climb, a non-dry rope is probably sufficient since most sport climbers will pull their ropes and go home when it rains. If you will be ice climbing, mountaineering or multi-pitch trad climbing, you will encounter rain, snow or ice at some point, so choose a dry-treated rope. Dry ropes can have a dry core, a dry sheath or both. Ropes with both offer the greatest moisture protection.
Most ropes include a middle mark, often black dye, to help you identify the middle of the rope. Being able to identify the middle of your rope is essential when rappelling.
Some ropes are bicolor, which means they have a change in weave pattern that clearly differentiates the two halves of the rope and creates a permanent, easy-to-identify middle mark. This is a more effective (if more expensive) way to mark the middle of a rope than black dye because dye can fade and become difficult to see.
Some ropes include thread or black dye showing that you are coming to the end of the rope. This is helpful when you’re rappelling or lowering a climber.
The Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme(UIAA) is the international mountaineering and climbing federation that creates safety standards to which all climbing ropes must adhere.
Independent labs are responsible for carrying out the tests. The packaging on dynamic climbing ropes lists the test results for UIAA safety standards, including fall rating, static elongation, dynamic elongation and impact force. Looking at these ratings while thinking about what type of climbing you will be doing can help you choose a rope.
The UIAA tests ropes to see how many falls they can hold before failing. Lab falls create much greater force than most real-world climbing falls. Therefore, the fall rating is mostly a comparative value.
Single ropes are tested by dropping an 80 kg weight onto the rope, half ropes are tested by dropping a 55 kg weight on a single strand, and twin ropes are tested by dropping an 80 kg weight on 2 strands.
All single ropes and half ropes must withstand a minimum of 5 UIAA falls. Twin ropes must withstand a minimum of 12 UIAA falls.
All ropes that meet the UIAA fall rating standard are safe for climbing. A rope with a higher fall rating may mean that that rope will last longer than a rope with a lower rating. However, always inspect your rope closely after a severe fall and consider retiring it if any damage is detected.
Static elongation, also called working elongation, is the amount that a dynamic rope stretches with an 80 kg weight hanging from it. Elongation on single and twin ropes cannot exceed 10% of the total rope length and half ropes cannot exceed 12%. Static elongation is important to consider when top-rope climbing, hauling gear and climbing fixed ropes with ascenders. Higher static elongation generally indicates less efficiency because energy is wasted through rope stretch.
Dynamic elongation is the distance the rope stretches during the first UIAA fall.
Higher elongation equals a longer fall, so generally speaking, a lower number is better because less stretch may prevent a falling climber from hitting a ledge or the ground. However, less dynamic elongation means a higher impact force on the climber, belayer and gear. The UIAA allows ropes to stretch no more than 40% of the length of the entire rope.
Impact force is the amount of force in kilonewtons that is put on the falling weight during the first UIAA fall.
A lower number indicates less force on the falling climber, the belayer and the gear. The higher the dynamic elongation, the lower the impact force.
Lower impact forces make for a soft landing on the rope when you fall, but with that usually comes greater stretch, which can be less efficient when top roping.
You should check your rope for damage frequently. Starting at one end, feed the rope through your hands, looking and feeling for non-uniform sections. Things to look out for:
A slightly fuzzy sheath isn’t a problem. However, severe fuzzing may make a rope unsafe.
As a general rule, if you can see a rope’s inner core, the sheath has worn too thin and you should retire the rope. If your rope is damaged, it should be retired. Make a nice rug out of it, or use it as a washing line.