Where to start?
The first thing to start with when choosing a rope is its intended use. Are you looking to buy 1 rope that you can use for a range of different types of climbing, or are you looking for a rope designed for a specific purpose?
Different Types of Climbing Rope
There are 2 main types of rope that climbers use, first is dynamic rope which is designed to stretch in a fall to lower the impact force on the climber and anchors holding the rope. The second is commonly referred to a Static rope (although this in not strictly true as all ropes have some stretch in them and the correct term is semi-static or low stretch rope). semi-static rope is mainly used in situations where climbers may have to ascend or descend the rope over a long distance (such as abseiling) or used for rigging rope systems.
We will be looking at dynamic climbing ropes for the rest of this article.
Dynamic climbing ropes are subdivided into a further 3 categories:
Single Ropes (8.7mm-11mm)
(Single rope identifying logo)
Single ropes are where the majority of climbers start and finish with their choice of ropes. Single ropes are simple to use (there’s only 1 rope!) and can be used for everything from indoor climbing to long alpine routes.
Indoor climbing, sport climbing, top/bottom ropes, single pitch traditional routes and alpine climbing.
· Simple to use.
· There is only 1 rope (2 is always going to be safer).
· Rope drag on long or winding routes.
· Limited abseil length (only half the length of the rope).
Half Ropes (often call Double Ropes) – (7.9mm-9mm)
(Half rope identifying logo)
Half ropes are really the benchmark for traditional and muliti-pitch climbing. Both ropes can be clipped into alternative runners but must be used as a pair of ropes as they are not designed for single rope use.
Traditional climbing, multi-pitch climbing, winter climbing and harder alpine routes.
· 2 Ropes are safer than 1.
· Full rope length abseils can be made.
· Less rope drag on long or winding routes.
· Higher level of ropes skills are required to belay with 2 ropes.
· Higher lever of rope management skills required at stances.
· Heavier overall rope weight.
(Twin rope identifying logo)
Twin ropes must NOT be confused with half ropes. When using twin ropes, both ropes MUST be clipped into every runner! Twin ropes have an advantage over single ropes, as it unlikely that both ropes will become damaged at the same time. Twin ropes are mainly used in long mountain routes where there are long run outs so are less prone to rope drag, but where full length abseils will be required.
Ice climbs, multi-pitch sport routes and alpine climbs.
· 2 Ropes are safer than 1.
· Full rope length abseils can be made.
· Limited UK application.
· There is a possibility that 2 ropes in one karabiner can place an incorrect load.
Properties of a Rope
Most modern climbing ropes are constructed kernmantel weave. The word Kernmantel originates form the German language which describes the construction (core and sheath). In most ropes the design is that the core bares the majority of the rope strength, and the sheath provides some strength but its main function is to protect the core. Some ropes such as indoor climbing wall ropes, are designed to have a higher level of strength in the sheath, this is to help with wear and tear but also reduces the handling quality.
EU Standards – Dynamic Mountaineering Rope EN892
All climbing ropes sold in the EU have to meet stringent safety requirements and standards. Paying more for a rope won’t necessarily mean you’re getting a stronger or safer rope, but it may have other features associated with it such as dry treatment, more abrasion resistant and better handling etc.
UIAA – (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme)
The UIAA is the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, and since 1964 climbers have been able to look for the UIAA safety label when buying climbing equipment. The UIAA is a voluntary standard (only the EU label is a legal requirement) but it is the benchmark for most manufactures.
How to Choose your Rope?
Once you have decided on either single, half or twin ropes, its time to decide on the rope length and diameter, before looking at additional features.
If you are only ever going to be climbing on the Southern Sandstone, then you would want to choose a 30m rope. If however you were thinking of Trad climbing in the UK, then you would need a minimum of 50m or may opt for added security with a 60m rope. If sport climbing and travelling abroad is your thing, then you would be better off with a 60m or even 70m rope.
The diameter of the rope will affect the weight and the durability of the rope. If you are pushing performance, then choosing the lightest thinnest rope possible would help, however there is generally a trade off with the amount of falls and the wear and tear a thin rope can handle in comparison to the a slightly thicker rope.
Elongation is measured by both a static and dynamic test. In the static test the rope is subjected to an 80kg load and the measurement is recorded in a % of the rope length, with a maximum of 10% for single ropes and twin ropes and 12% for half ropes. For dynamic the test, the elongation is recorded on the first drop of the UIAA drop test and the maximum elongation is 40%.
Impact Force or Peak Force
The impact force (or peak force as it is sometimes known) is the force regenerated in the rope during the first drop in the rope drop test. As the rope elongates the rope gradually loses its elasticity and so the force generated goes up. The lower the impact force the better the rope, as this means there will less force generated on the climber, the belayer and anchors.
The maximum forces must be lower than 12kn for a single rope, 8kn for half ropes and 12kn for twin ropes (on both ropes). It should be remembered that only tests on similar ropes (single, half or twin) can be compared as the test for each are different.
No. of Falls.
All single ropes must withstand 5 successive factor 1.77 falls, with an 80kg weight and double ropes with a weight of 55kg. Twin ropes must withstand12 successive falls with a weight 80kg (on both ropes). All ropes will show the maximum number of falls (of the lowest results found at the time of testing).
A few points to note with the drop test are that the test is carried out over a round edge (which is designed to mimic a karabiner). If the ropes were tested over a corner or a sharp edge then the ropes would most likely fail on the first couple of drops! The test also makes no account of dynamic belaying as it is intended to be a worst case scenario, however it should also be remembered that the test is only carried out with an 80kg weight (so if you’ve eaten too many pies) the results would be different again.
The weight of a rope is measured in grams per 1m of rope. Single ropes range from 55-88g, half ropes 42-50g and twin ropes 37-42g. The rope core must account for at least 50% of its total weight.
This is the diameter of a hole in the middle of an overhand knot and a 10kg weight is applied. It is measured at specific points and a figure is given. The lower the figure the more supple the rope. The maximum allowed is 1.1-multiple of the rope diameter.
Sheath slippage is measured on a 2m sample of rope and the rope is subjected to continuous pulling. The maximum allowed is 40mm or approximately 2%. A low sheath slippage rope is important if you intend to do a lot of abseiling or lowering of (as in the case of indoor climbing walls).
The following headings are not quantifiable (as they can’t currently be tested) however they are well worth thinking about when buying a rope.
Many manufactures offer ropes with a dry treatment, all use their own treatments and chemicals. This is worth considering in the UK as there is a high chance that your ropes will become wet. Wet ropes are heavier, harder to handle and are slightly weaker. Dry treatment is a must for winter and alpine climbing.
There is currently no standard test for this; however a more abrasion resistant rope will be most likely affect the belaying and handling performance.
New ropes are always slicker and require more care when belaying and abseiling, however this will wear off with use. The sheaths finished with dry treatment are likely to be even slicker.
How the ropes feels and handles is entirely subjective and the only way to test this is to get your hands on the rope. All of the above characteristics will affect the handling.
Remember to look after your rope (it’s the most important piece of kit in the climbers arsenal) and is your lifeline! When its not is use, store your rope in a dry place at room temperature out of direct sunlight. If your rope gets wet, let it dry naturally away from direct heat sources. Always read the manufactures information of care, maintenance and rope life span.
Over the years we have used a range of ropes from a variety of manufactures and have found that like most things in life, you get what you pay for.