How To Buy Climbing Rope

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.