When you’re buying a climbing rope, whether it’s your first or your 21st, there are some important features to consider (beyond the rope type, length, and diameter), depending on what you intend to use the rope for.
We’re here to demystify these rope properties for you so that you can be certain you’re purchasing the right rope for your next climbing adventure!
A few assumptions about your rope choice
This handy guide assumes that you’re buying a dynamic rope, i.e., one which stretches in a fall to lower the impact force on the climber and anchors holding the rope. This is as opposed to a static rope, frequently used in rigging scenarios.
We’re also assuming that you’ve chosen:
- Which type of rope – single, half or twin
- What rope length you want
- The diameter of the rope
If you’re unsure about any of these, check out our definitive guide to buying your first climbing rope – then head back over here once you’ve decided!
Climbing rope safety standards
Whilst these standards and certifications aren’t exactly properties of ropes, we decided to briefly cover them so that you know you’re looking at on rope labels and packaging.
CE and EN
CE stands for Conformity Europeenne, which is a legal requirement for the safety standard for goods sold in Europe. To meet CE requirements, the rope must comply with EN standards – for dynamic climbing ropes, this is the EN 892 test.
The UIAA stands for Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme, aka the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, and since 1964 climbers have been able to look for the UIAA safety label when buying climbing equipment. The UIAA 101 is a voluntary standard (only the EU label is a legal requirement) but it is the benchmark for most manufacturers.
A word on rope construction
Like climbing rope safety standards, the construction of a dynamic climbing rope might not really be considered one of its features. This is because most modern climbing ropes are constructed the same way – by kernmantle weave.
We’re telling you about it because we’ve been taking awesome people on epic adventures since 2005, so we consider ourselves proper climbing know-it-alls and we’re always keen to share our knowledge!
The word ‘kernmantle’ originates from the German language and describes the rope’s construction (core and sheath). In most ropes, the core bears most of the rope strength, and the sheath provides some strength, but its main function is to protect the core.
Manufacturers design some ropes, such as indoor climbing wall ropes, to have a higher level of strength in the sheath. This is to help with wear and tear, but a downside is that it reduces the handling quality.
Important features of climbing ropes
So, you know what type, length and diameter rope you’re going to buy, plus you’ve brushed up on your knowledge of safety standards and rope construction (you’re welcome!).
Now it’s time to consider some other important features of the climbing rope you’re going to buy, depending on what you’ll be using it for.
Static and dynamic tests measure a rope’s elongation. In the static test the rope is subjected to an 80kg load, and the measurement is recorded in a % of the rope length. This is a maximum of 10% for single and twin ropes and 12% for half ropes. For the dynamic test, the elongation is recorded on the first drop of the UIAA drop test and the maximum elongation is 40%.
The rope’s impact force (also called its peak force) is the force regenerated in the rope during the first drop in the rope drop test. As the rope elongates it gradually loses its elasticity and so the force generated goes up. The lower the impact force the better the rope, as this means there will less force generated on the climber, the belayer and anchors. The maximum forces must be lower than 12kn for a single rope, 8kn for half ropes and 12kn for twin ropes (on both ropes). You can only compare tests on similar ropes (single, half or twin) as the test for each type are different.
No. of Falls.
Single ropes must withstand 5 successive factor 1.77 falls with an 80kg weight, and double ropes with a weight of 55kg. Twin ropes must withstand 12 successive falls with an 80kg weight on both ropes. All rope labels will show the maximum number of falls (of the lowest results found at the time of testing).
A few points to note with the drop test:
- It’s carried out over a round edge (designed to mimic a carabiner). If we tested ropes over a corner or a sharp edge, they would most likely fail on the first couple of drops!
- It makes no account of dynamic belaying as it’s intended to be a worst case scenario.
- The largest weight used in the test is 80kg.
This is measured in grams per 1m of rope. Single ropes range from 55–88g, half ropes 42–50g and twin ropes 37–42g. The rope core must account for at least 50% of its total weight.
This test measures the diameter of a hole in the middle of an overhand knot with a 10kg weight applied. The test measures this at specific points to give the final figure. The lower the figure the more supple the rope, and the maximum allowed is 1.1 times the rope diameter.
Sheath slippage is measured on a 2m sample of rope, subjected to continuous pulling. The maximum allowed is 40mm (approximately 2%). Low sheath slippage is important if you do a lot of abseiling or lowering off (like in indoor climbing walls).
Non-quantifiable features of ropes
The following properties can’t currently be tested, so they aren’t quantifiable. However, they are worth thinking about when buying your rope.
Many manufacturers offer ropes with a dry treatment, all use their own treatments and chemicals. This useful in the UK as there is a high chance that your ropes will become wet. Wet ropes are heavier, harder to handle and are slightly weaker. Dry treatment is a must for winter and alpine climbing.
A more abrasion resistant rope is likely to affect its belaying and handling performance.
New ropes are always slicker and require more care when belaying and abseiling, however this will wear off with use. The sheaths finished with dry treatment are likely to be even slicker.
How the ropes feels and handles is entirely subjective and the only way to test this is to get your hands on the rope. It’s worth noting that all the above characteristics will affect the handling.
Climbing rope maintenance
Remember to look after your rope – it’s your lifeline! When not in use, store your rope in a dry place at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Let your rope dry naturally and away from direct heat sources, if it gets wet. Always read the manufacturers information on the rope’s care, maintenance, and life span.
Choose your climbing rope wisely
Like we said, we’re climbing fanatics and we love to share our knowledge with other adventurous folk. There’s plenty to consider when doing your climbing rope research.
To speak to us about climbing equipment, contact our friendly team – we love any excuse to chat about kit!