You've been scaling indoor walls for some time now and you've decided it's time to take it outside or just improve your gym lead climbing. One of the very first steps to making the indoor-outdoor transition is to invest in a good rope. This is an important stage in a climber's journey and could be an expensive one, so we want to help guide you in the right direction before making that jump.
When you’re shopping for a climbing rope, there are four main considerations:
Rope features: Features like dry treatments and middle marks affect how you use the rope.
Rope type: The choice between single, half, twin and static ropes depends on what type of climbing you do.
Diameter and length: The diameter and length of a rope affect the rope’s weight and durability and largely determine its best use.
Safety ratings: Looking at these ratings while thinking about what type of climbing you will be doing can help you choose a rope. Remember, climbing safety is your responsibility.
There are two main types of ropes: dynamic and static. Dynamic ropes are designed to stretch to absorb the impact of a falling climber. Static ropes stretch very little, making them very efficient in situations like ascending/descending or for industrial use like hauling heavy loads. Never use static ropes for top roping or lead climbing as they are not designed, tested or certified for those types of loads and it will definitely hurt if you take a fall on it. If you are looking for a dynamic rope for climbing, you’ll have three choices: single, half and twin ropes.
These ropes are generally 9.2–11mm in diameter and can be used for almost all sport and trad climbing. The vast majority of climbers purchase single ropes. The name “single” indicates that the rope is designed to be used by itself and not with another rope as some other rope types are. These ropes are marked with a circled 1 on each end of the rope.
These ropes are generally 8–9mm in diameter and are meant to be used simultaneously. The climber alternates which rope he clips as he goes up. Half ropes are designed and tested only for use as a matching pair so don’t mix sizes or brands. This type of rope is great to reduce rope drag on wandering routes and provide redundancy if one gets damaged during a fall or cut by rockfall but it requires more skill/effort to manage and increases pack weight. Half ropes have a circled ½ symbol on each end.
These ropes are even lighter than half ropes (7–8mm) and offer the same advantages however, with twin ropes, you ALWAYS clip both strands through each piece of protection, just like you would with a single rope. These ropes are most commonly used when ice climbing. Sharp ice creates a risk of damaging rope so redundancy of the second rope is important. Just as with half ropes, twin ropes are designed and tested only for use as a matching pair; don’t mix sizes or brands. Twin ropes have a circled infinity symbol (∞) on each end.
When planning a trip consider what type of rope is needed. This can have a big difference on pack weight but also make the whole trip a lot safer as you have the right rope for the right conditions. Some ropes are certified for use in all three categories and are great all rounders but come with a compromise in each category.
Dynamic ropes for rock climbing range in length from 30m to 80m. A 60m rope is the standard and will meet your needs most of the time however we recommend having an additional length to your rope so if damage occurs on either end that piece can always be cut off and you will still have a usable length for climbing.
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 you’ll be climbing. For example, if a climbing route is 30m long, then you need at least a 60m rope to be able to climb up and be lowered back down off of an anchor at the top of the climb.
Indoor climbing ropes
Shorter-length ropes, about 40m 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 for rescue work, climbing fixed lines with ascenders and industrial use come in a variety of lengths and are sold by the meter so you can get the exact length you need.
A common accident in climbing is when the rope is too short and it slips through the belay or abseiling device. Remember to tie a knot in the end of your rope. If you plan and climbing and exploring a new environment, consider bringing along a guide book to the area to get a better understanding of the terrain as well as the routes you want to climb. The guide book should have a suggestion on what length rope you need but some routes might be longer so having a few extra meters is useful.
A common question we get from first time buyers of rope is, "what is the difference in brands and why do they have different names?". Some ropes provide different features depending on the environment you’re climbing in and what type of climbing you’ll be doing. Ropes for hard sport climbing aren’t very durable but can take a lot of falls and ropes for alpine climbing are durable and tough but don’t often take many falls.
Dry Treatment: 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). 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. Dry ropes can have a dry core, a dry sheath or both. Ropes with both offer the greatest moisture protection. A dry treatment also enhances the durability of the rope.
Middle mark: 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. This can wear off over time so some manufacturers sell a marker for climbing ropes.
Bi-colour: Some ropes are bicolour, which means they change colour at the halfway mark and some are bipattern which is a change in weave pattern, these systems clearly differentiate the two halves of the rope and creates a permanent, easy-to-identify middle mark.
Having the above features added to your ropes not only effect the price but can make a big difference in lifespan and convenience. Safety should be your top priority so pick a rope which has the features to suit your adventures.
So how safe are climbing ropes to use? The UIAA is the international mountaineering and climbing federation that creates safety standards to which all climbing ropes must adhere. All dynamic ropes carried by CityROCK/MMO pass the UIAA tests.
The UIAA tests ropes to see how many falls they can hold before failing. Single ropes are tested by dropping an 80kg weight onto the rope, half ropes are tested by dropping a 55kg weight on a single strand, and twin ropes are tested by dropping an 80kg 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. If that sounds scary and you’ve taken more than five falls on your rope don’t be alarmed, these falls are with a high fall factor (1.77) which is almost never seen in a normal scenario and the falls occur every five minutes till failure (swapping ends after a big fall or series of falls allows your rope to rest and regain some of its elasticity)
All ropes that meet the UIAA fall rating standard are safe for climbing. 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 80kg weight hanging from it. Elongation on single and twin ropes cannot exceed 10 percent of the total rope length and half ropes cannot exceed 12 percent.
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 percent of the length of the entire rope.
Impact force is the amount of force in kilo-newtons 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.
Understanding these safety measures allows you to know what shape your rope is in at all times and whether or not you should retire it. Inspect your rope after each adventure and make sure there is no visible/internal damage. You can test this by running your hands through the full length and feel for any differences in the core.
We hope this covers the top questions you have before purchasing a rope. If you have any further queries feel free to contact us or visit us in the CityROCK Gear Shop.