A good climbing rope is the first thing that is going to take your climbing addiction from a brief, plastic pulling workout into a full on obsession. Picking the right line for your climb is just as crucial as getting a rope in the first place.
Dynamic or static: There are two types of ropes involved in climbing.
Dynamic ropes: These ropes stretch to accommodate falls to absorb shock so when you peel off that lead project you don’t break you back from the impact. For all types of climbing — top rope, sport climbing, trad climbing, lead climbing — you will want a dynamic rope.
Static Ropes: These ropes are essential tools for hauling gear and jumaring up fixed lines when your expeditions grow a little more serious. You will know when you need them. Until then, never use anything but a dynamic rope.
Diameter (mm): Starting out in rock climbing, you’re definitely going to want an all-purpose dynamic rope. Novices should stick to thicker ropes (9.8-10.5mm) that can do everything you throw at them. Whether leading steep lines at your local crag or cruising up alpine treks, a 10mm rope will be durable, though a little heavier than say a 9.2. As you begin to project more and lead longer pitches, you’re going to want a rope between 9.2-9.6. Consider that the weight of the rope is more than just the weight in your pack — leading harder, longer lines can get tiresome with 100 feet of 10mm rope underfoot. Ropes from 7-8.5mm are extremely lightweight for alpine and multi-pitch outings. These ropes are typically used in a twin or dual rope setup and rarely used alone.
Length (m): Generally ropes come in 50, 60, 70 and even 80m lengths but for most purposes 60m is home base. This is the best compromise between all purpose and lightweight for the most enjoyable sport and trad climbing. Some climbers prefer longer ropes (70-80m) because over time they can chop the frayed ends and still have a considerable length to climb and rappel on. This adds longevity and adds security on long, sketchy rappels. Think realistically about how you spend most of your time climbing and pick the length that suits you best.
Coating type: Some ropes come with a Dry Coating that repels water. This is crucial for ice or alpine climbing. They tend to cost more than non-coated ropes, but ropes swell and become hard to manage when waterlogged. Dry coatings are mandatory for ice climbing, where a non-dry rope will turn into a dangerous ice-cable. A dry coating will also help protect your rope from abrasion on hard granite and slide through belay devices and gear with more efficiency.
Single, double, or twin: You’ll notice that ropes are sold in single, double and twin. Depending on diameter, some ropes are meant to be used only as part of a two-rope system. There are three types of ropes:
Single Ropes: These ropes are 9.2-11mm ropes and can be used for almost all sport and trad climbing. If you plan on doing multi-pitch climbs, bear in mind most routes require two rope rappels so you will have to haul a second rope with you.
Half or Double Ropes: Double ropes are 8-9mm and are meant to be used simultaneously; the climber alternates which rope he clips as he goes up. Alpinists prefer double ropes because they lower pack weight and reduce drag on long, wandering pitches. When the climbing team needs to rappel, they have both ropes handy instead of hauling a tag line or packing an additional single rope along.
Twin Ropes : These ropes are even lighter than half ropes (7-8mm) and offer the same advantages but MUST be clipped simultaneously. Most ice climbers and trad climbers use twin ropes because rappels almost always require two ropes and the added security of two life lines can be very mentally soothing.
UIAA Falls: The UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme) sets the safety standards for all climbing ropes. Every rope comes with a UIAA Fall Rating — a lab tested benchmark for the number of falls a rope can withstand before it is compromised beyond safe use. For the most part, the numbers range from 5-17 falls and are tested to extremes far greater than what your 160 lb climber’s frame can put it through. Nonetheless a rope with more UIAA falls will last much longer than one with less. Until your rope shows signs of physical wear it will hold your falls.
Dynamic Elongation: Dynamic elongation refers to the ropes elasticity, or amount of stretch, during a dynamic fall. This figure is linked with the impact force and measured in percentages. A good dynamic elongation is right around 30 percent — much more and you might as well be bungee jumping.
Static Elongation: Static elongation measures how much a rope stretches with a 176 lb weight tied to one end. Again this number is linked with impact force and dynamic elongation. A good percentage here to look for is right around 7 percent.
Impact Force: Impact force, measured in kiloNewtons, is the force that the first fall puts on the rope and the climber. The idea here is to look for a rope with the smallest impact force number, usually around 9 kN. This means that less force will be put on the climber, the gear and the belayer during a fall, making all parties involved that much happier.
Bi-pattern vs middle mark: Any way you slice it, you gotta get up to get down. If you’re planning on doing any multi-pitch routes with your climbing rope, look for one with either a bi-pattern or a middle mark. Bi-patterns are more expensive but there is no way to mistake the middle of your line to ensure a safe return to solid ground. In low light and inclement conditions, this can be a life saver. Rope manufacturers will often mark the middle with a black ink that doesn’t wear the sheath out but fades with use. There are also after-market rope markers you can apply yourself, but whatever you do don’t use a sharpie. The ink is terrible for your sheath.