Ropes matter, they matter a lot! They are our lifeline, our connection, both to the rock, and to each other. They save us when we fall and allow us to escape quickly if (or indeed, when) things don’t go to plan.
Different climbing styles demand different ropes types; whatever you get up to - from an evening at your local climbing wall to multi pitch trad climbing in the mountains, or perhaps a sport climbing trip abroad on some sun kissed limestone (now, there’s a good idea!) – you will need to make careful choices about which ropes you use.
What follows is a brief breakdown of the main factors to consider.
Single rope or double (half) ropes?
Single ropes, as their name suggests, are used on their own, most typically for single pitch climbs with easy descents. They work best on ‘straight-up’ lines; if there’s any significant weaving about expect rope drag and directional pulls on any gear you place. Single ropes can still be used in a retrievable abseil but only for half their length.
One of the big advantages of double ropes (or half ropes as they are sometimes known) is that you can tie your ropes together and abseil the full length of the rope. They also work much better on wandering lines where protection placements can be spread on either side of the route. Many traditional lines in the UK involve traversing, moving around arêtes and connecting separate crack lines. Having two ropes allows you to do this without the penalty of epic rope drag and multi-directional pulls on protection.
NB. Twin ropes are used by some climbers on the continent – they are designed to be clipped together as if they were a single rope. The key advantage of them is that they can be used for full rope length abseils.
The continuing trend is towards thinner and thinner ropes, but there are pros and cons to going ‘skinny’. As a general rule, the thicker the rope, the longer it’ll last. Thicker ropes tend to have a more durable sheath which protects the core from sharp edges, dust, grit and the like. They also have more core, which makes the whole rope better able to deal with normal wear and tear. If you think you will be taking repeated falls then a thicker rope is a better option.
The main advantage of thinner ropes is that they weigh much less (check out our Climbing Rope Weight Comparison Chart
to see the different ropes in our range compare); you can really feel the difference between two 8.5mm ropes dangling from your harness compared to two 8mm ones when you’re 40m up a pitch! (The weight difference for a pair of ropes could be as much as 960g.)
This weight difference can make a big difference if you’re doing lots of long routes with strenuous approaches, alpine routes for example, or long, rock and ice climbs. The drawback is that they can be prone to rapid wear from repeated falls (as is common in sport climbing), and are more susceptible to damage if dragged over sharp edges, or hit by stone fall.
There are variations on the single/double – thick/thin formula; the 9.1mm Beal Joker
for instance is a rope that is tested as both a single and half rope, and the 8.9mm Mammut Serenity
is a radically thin single rope.
We stock a wide range of ropes varying in length from 40m to 80m.
A 40m rope, such as the best selling Mammut Wall Rope
, is, as the name suggests perfect for indoor climbing walls; they are also a viable option for single pitch outcrop climbing.
Half ropes for trad climbing come in 50m or 60m lengths. For most multi pitch routes 50m will be adequate. You will be making significant weight savings and rope management will be quicker/less faff. However for some, the extra length on a 60m rope justifies the increase in weight/faff. Not only can you do extra long run outs, linking pitches if necessary, but perhaps more importantly you can cover a big distance (nearly 200 feet!) in a single abseil. This is often necessary on a sea cliff approach, or when descending (for example, it is possible to get down from the top of the Nexus buttress on Dinas Mot in a single 60m abseil – the alternative for a team carrying 50m ropes is two abseils or a laborious walk round and scramble where most people end up doing a further abseil).
For winter climbing 60m ropes are the norm – having that extra length when decent belays are scarce is a must; if you use 50m ropes in winter expect to do a lot of simul-climbing. Being able to make 60m drops when retreating or descending by abseil is also a real benefit in winter.
Single sport climbing ropes range from 50m to 80m in length. The length you need is dictated by the pitch length (i.e. to lower off safely you will need a rope that is more than twice the height of the route you have just done). While it is true that most sport routes in the UK are less than 25m long, the trend is towards longer and longer routes.
And if you head abroad for some Euro sport action +25m pitches are very common. Consequently most climbers opt for a 60m rope, and 70m or 80m ropes are growing in popularity. You can prolong the life of a rope by
Just because a rope has been dry treated doesn’t mean it won’t get wet if you drop it in a puddle, however the dry treatment slows the ingress of water which has a number of benefits (remember, a wet rope is a heavy rope). If you winter climb at all dry treatment is more or less essential. It basically means you won’t have frozen ropes after the first pitch, and you will be able to undo any knots and take apart your belay. If you climb a lot on sea cliffs dry treatment is also very handy, besides the risk of getting caught by an unexpected wave, the salt air can drastically reduce the lifespan of your rope.
Granted, you will have to pay a bit extra for dry treatment, but even if you don’t climb on sea cliffs or winter climb it will always have the effect of making your rope last longer, simply by acting as a shield against the ingress of moisture and dust particles.
The Vital Statistics
Ropes are rated in a number of ways – the key ones to consider are as follows:
Number of falls – the UIAA have established a standard rope fall test which involves attaching a heavy weight (80kg for single or twin ropes, or 50kg for double/half ropes) to the rope and dropping the weight in a special test tower to create a fall factor of 1.77. Single ropes must resist at least 5 successive falls and two strands of twin rope must resist at least 12 successive falls. Double or half ropes are tested on one strand with a 55kg weight – they must resist 5 successive falls.
Impact Force – this is a measure of the load imposed upon the climber/rope/runners/belay in a fall situation. Obviously the lower this is the less chance there will be of poor runners or belays ripping.
Sheath Percentage – normally this falls into the 35-45% bracket. A high percentage will normally indicate greater resistance to wear and tear.
Sheath slippage – the UIAA have a special test for this and on good quality ropes this is normally zero.
Weight per m – just multiply this figure by your chosen rope length (and if it is a double/half rope, double the figure). The weight soon adds up!
Uncoiling a new rope
Make sure you check out this film from Beal
which shows the correct method for uncoiling a new rope without introducing any kinks.
When should you retire a rope?
You should retire a rope if it gets damaged, for example, if there is a break in the sheath and the core becomes visible, even if it is only in one place. If the rope has held a big fall then you should also retire it.
In these two cases the decision to retire the rope is quite straightforward, however, most ropes suffer a slow deterioration over time, perhaps holding many smaller falls or just suffering general wear and tear associated with abseiling and climbing.
Look out for a reduction in elasticity or the appearance of inconsistencies in the feel of the rope, lumps or soft sections. When a rope gets older and has held numerous falls the impact force that it conveys will rise – this is not good for marginal gear placements or belays!
Sometimes it is a difficult call, but if you have any doubts about the performance of a rope it is time to stop using it.