by Morgan Cvetkovic-Jones
Knowing which climbing rope to buy can have you tied up in knots with an abundance of choice and so many confusing factors that determine a ropes use and suitability for you. But, don’t worry, by the end of this article you should have all the information you need to make the correct climbing rope purchase.
Static or Dynamic?
There are two types of climbing rope – static and dynamic. Any rope that’s intended to be used for climbing will be ‘dynamic’ which means it’ll stretch when loaded or weighted by a falling climber. More on the specifics below.
Static – A static rope should never be used for top roping, lead climbing or seconding. A static rope is used for activities which require the rope to maintain its shape with no stretch. Some examples include hauling gear up a wall, route setting, rescues, ascending the rope, caving or abseiling.
Dynamic – Unlike a static rope, a dynamic rope is designed to stretch, making it the perfect option for top roping or lead climbing. The stretch in the rope absorbs and spreads the forces of a fall. This is essential to protect the climber’s body, the anchor, pieces of protection and the rope itself.
What size climbing rope should I buy?
There are two measurements you should think about when purchasing a climbing rope:
Length – Climbing ropes are generally available in a range of lengths from 30 metres all the way up to 80 metres. The length of rope you choose will be determined by your intended climbing destination(s). It’s important to over compensate when calculating the length of rope, you’ll need; routes aren’t always straight and can traverse, meaning that, for example, your 15 metre climb actually requires 17 metres of rope. Here’s a brief outline of our recommended rope lengths for different climbing disciplines:
- Indoor climbing – Most indoor walls are between 10 and 15 metres in height so a 30-40 metre rope should suffice. We’d recommend the Edelweiss Thruster 9.8mm x 30m (also available at 40m).
- Sport climbing – Sport climbing venues in the UK can be anywhere from 12-30 metres in height so a 50-60 metre rope is a must. If you’re planning on travelling abroad to the likes of Catalunya or Kalymnos, then a 70-80 metre rope might be necessary. We’d recommend the Fixe IO 9.4mm 60m or the Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Pro Dry DT 9.6mm x 80m.
- Trad climbing – Single pitch trad crags in the UK are usually 12-30 metres so 50 60 metre twin or half ropes (more on these later) are recommended. This applies to alpine, mixed and multi pitch climbing too. We’d recommend the Beal Cobra II Unicore Golden Dry 8.6mm x 50m.
Diameter – Ropes can come as thin as 8mm and as thick as 11mm, but most single ropes will be between 9.5mm and 10.5mm. Thinner ropes will be lighter and smoother to handle whilst larger diameters will be more robust and resilient to continued use, just make sure you’re purchasing the right type of rope for the job (see below).
What type of rope do I need?
There are a few classifications of rope to choose from, each with a different climbing use:
Single ropes – A single rope is the most commonly used. Often deployed for sport climbing, indoor climbing and safer trad routes that stay relatively direct, a single rope is designed to be used as the name suggests, on its own. Single ropes come in a range of lengths and diameters, making them versatile across a range of climbing disciplines.
Single ropes will be marked with a circled 1.
Half ropes – Sometimes known as double ropes, half ropes are intended to be used as a pair on wandering trad, multi-pitch or alpine routes. Climbing with half ropes involves clipping one rope to protection on the left of the route and the other to the protection on the right of the route. This, although heavier and requiring more skill, should reduce rope drag on routes that zig zag whilst backing you up in case one of your ropes becomes damaged or cut.
Half ropes will be marked with a circled ½.
Twin ropes – Like half ropes, twin ropes are meant to be used as a pair. But, unlike half ropes, when climbing with twin ropes the climber must always clip both ropes through each piece of protection. So, twin ropes are best used on more direct routes. Why not use a single rope? Well, twin ropes hybridise single and half ropes, giving you that extra security of a second rope without the faff that comes with clipping different ropes into different bits of protection. Both twin and half ropes are generally thinner in diameter than single ropes and come with the added bonus of being able to rappel twice as far when both ropes are tied together.
Twin ropes will be marked with a circled infinity symbol (∞).
Multi rated rope – Certified for use in multiple rope systems, a multi rated rope is often strong enough to be used on its own whilst skinny enough to be used in conjunction with another rope. The most premium option is a triple rated rope which is suitable for use as a single, half or twin. The Edelrid Swift 48 Pro Dry 8.9mm x 50m is a great example.
Walking rope – Also recognised as a confidence rope, a walking rope is a shorter, thinner length of rope used to give hikers or children confidence on exposed walks, descents or scrambles. A great, safe and packable addition to your kit although definitely not suitable for climbing or rappelling. We’d recommend the Beal Rando Walking Rope 8mm x 20m.
Do I need a treated rope?
Climbing ropes can come with various treatments to their sheath and core. Ropes are treated to limit the amount of water they absorb, stop dirt infiltrating the sheath and core and to improve a rope’s handling and abrasion resistance. The name of the treatment will vary between companies, but the common treatment applied to a rope will be a ‘dry treatment’. The most effective (and the most expensive) application of a dry treatment is to a rope’s core and sheath; in some cases, a treatment will be present solely on the sheath (slightly less expensive)1, this isn’t as effective at protecting your rope against water and dirt but should vastly improve its handling and abrasion durability.
Why is a dry treatment important? When a rope absorbs water, it shrinks and swells by up to 10% as its nylon fibres shorten, this drastically hinders its dynamic properties and renders it unsafe and prone to major damage – not to mention the weight increase. In a worst-case alpine scenario, the rope will completely freeze. An untreated rope absorbs 40-60% water whilst a rope with a fully treated core and sheath absorbs less than 15% (commonly less than 5%).
Who needs a dry treated rope?
- Essential for alpinists or ice climbers.
- Outdoor climbers who expose their rope to dirt and abrasive edges.
- Any climber that requires slicker handling from their rope.