Climbing Ropes: Best of 2019 and Buying Guide

So you want to buy a rope. Great! There’s so much choice out there…maybe too much at times. But fret not, Outdoor Wildling is here to provide some simple and straightforward advice on how to find the best climbing rope for you.  You can find all that in our buying guide below. But if you’re feeling impatient, have a look at our suggestions in our top picks:

The Good:

  • Versatile – single, double & twin certified
  • Light
  • Middle mark present
  • Dry coating – resists water, dirt and abrasion
  • Handles well
  • Ready to use immediately

The Not So Good:

  • Not the cheapest
  • May be less durable than thicker ropes
  • Diameter: 9.2mm
  • Length: 30m - 100m
  • Weight: 55g/m
  • Impact Force: 8.6 kN (single rope), 6.8 kN (half rope), 10.5 kN (twin rope)
  • UIAA Falls: 6
  • Dry Treatment: Yes Duratec

The Petzl Volta is a sleek and supple rope that amazingly is certified for use as not only a single rope but a twin and half rope as well!  That means you can take this baby from the hot arid sport routes of Spain to the cold and wet trad routes of the UK.

The Volta’s skinnier 9.2mm diameter and Duratec dry treatment means it handles very well; many have remarked how it knots, coils and clips like a dream.  The Petzl Volta features a ClimbReady coil where the factory coils the rope in such a way that kinks don’t develop. This does away with the removal of twists and kinks that usually come when uncoiling a new rope for the first time and means your rope will be immediately ready to climb with.

The Volta is available in a range of different lengths from 30m all the way to 100m and features a bonded core and sheath that both minimises fraying but also improves overall durability.  This all-rounder does come at a slightly higher price point than something like the Edelrid Python workhorse of a rope but the superior handling, great versatility and lower weight makes it worth it well worth it for us.  

The Good:

  • Cheap!
  • Durable workhorse rope
  • Handles well
  • Ready to use immediately

The Not So Good:

  • Not the lightest
  • Diameter: 10mm
  • Length: 60 or 70m
  • Weight: 64g/m
  • Impact Force: 8.9kN
  • UIAA Falls: 7
  • Dry Treatment: No

The Edelrid Python is a durable, dependable and affordable rope.  10mm in diameter, this rope is perfect for being your trusty indoor workhorse rope and is available in 60m or 70m.  If you’re mainly going to be climbing indoors, 60m will be more than enough (should be long enough for most outdoor sport routes as well).  The Python has a lovely supple feel despite the larger diameter and knots well. For ease of use, it also has a handy middle mark.

Like the Petzl Volta, the Edelrid Python is lap-coiled in the factory to prevent kinks and twists forming allowing the rope to be used directly after purchase.  Note, you must pass the rope through the slot in the front of the packaging as per the instructions.

The Good:

  • Durable workhorse of a rope
  • Handles very well
  • Versatile

The Not So Good:

  • Can get dirty quickly
  • Not the lightest
  • Diameter: 9.8mm
  • Length: 60 or 70m
  • Weight: 62g/m
  • Impact Force: 8.8kN
  • UIAA Falls: 6
  • Dry Treatment: Available

The Sterling Velocity is a firm favourite of many; both novice and experienced climbers alike.  Apparently it’s also used frequently by Chris Sharma when he’s working his hardest routes! What makes it so beloved is the solid 9.8mm diameter combined with how supple and well it handles.  

Whether you’re clipping in or passing it through a belay device, the Velocity feels smooth and soft resulting in a great user experience.  No dry treatment has been applied on the outside of the rope so it’s not one to take ice climbing but a dry treatment has been applied to the core which reduces wear and tear within the rope.  This CoreDry treatment and relatively tight weave add to the Velocity’s impressive durability.

As a beginner, this rope will easily take you from top-roping in the gym to your first lead climbs outdoors.

The Good:

  • Cheap!
  • Durable
  • Handles well

The Not So Good:

  • Not the lightest
  • Diameter: 9.9mm
  • Length: 35, 40, 60, 70m
  • Weight: 64g/m
  • Impact Force: 8.4kN
  • UIAA Falls: 6
  • Dry Treatment: No

The Black Diamond 9.9 is a great workhorse of a rope and one of the few we could find under the $100 mark (if you get 40m or lower).  Despite it’s larger diameter, the rope still handles well and feel supple, even performing well in GriGris. This the kind of rope you want to keep in your car so it’s also to hand when you decide to hit the gym for a sweat session.  

There’s no dry treatment on this rope but to be honest that’s not necessary if you’re using this as a gym rope or using it in dry outdoor sport environments and you save yourself a lot of $$$ without it.  It’s especially designed to be tough, durable and take repeated falls so it’s perfect for beginners and/or for top-rope use.

The Good:

  • Very light
  • Versatile – triple certified
  • Handles well
  • Dry treatment – can use in wet environments

The Not So Good:

  • Not the cheapest
  • Not the most durable
  • Diameter: 8.7mm
  • Length: 50, 60, 70, 80m
  • Weight: 51g/m
  • Impact Force: 8.10 kN (single rope), 6.30 kN (half rope), 9.70 kN (twin rope)
  • UIAA Falls: 5
  • Dry Treatment: Yes, superDRYTM

Another triple-certified rope i.e. one that has been deemed safe to use a single, twin and half rope, the Mammut Serenity is a specialist rope designed to be one of the skinniest and lightest in the world.  We chose it as our best ultralight rope for use when red-pointing or for fast-and-light alpine adventures.

Despite it’s miniscule diameter the Mammut Serenity did a great job catching falls with the feel of a larger rope.  Perfect when you’re desperately in need of that little edge in less weight and rope drag on your hardest redpoint project.  Don’t be expecting to use this in a GriGri 2, a specialist belay device like the Fader SUM auto-locking belay device will do a better job as they were designed with smaller diameter ropes in mind.  Note that after big falls, your knot may be harder to undo due to the smaller diameter of the rope.

To survive in alpine environments, Mammut have laid on their superDRYTM dry treatment on both the core and sheath as well as a finishing treatment to the coating.  This is to improve the Serenity’s water resistance and overall strength.

Buying Guide

The 2 Main Categories of Rope: Dynamic vs Static

Dynamic ropes are designed to stretch a little so when you fall on them, you bounce and this reduces the shock factor on the rope. Static ropes, on the other hand, are designed to not stretch very much and are great for when you’re rappelling.  

What you don’t want to do is fall on a static rope, that would be painful and not to mention unsafe as the rope is more likely to snap.  They just aren’t designed to handle falls. So when it comes to climbing, you’ll want a dynamic rope.

Types of Dynamic Rope

Single Ropes

Single ropes are by far the most common ropes used in rock climbing – especially when it comes to sport, trad and indoor climbing (whether that’s single or multi-pitch).  This is why we’ve solely focused on them in our top picks. They usually vary anywhere between a skinny 8.5 – 11 mm in diameter and 50 – 70 m in length. They’re dynamic which means they have a little stretch to them so when you fall it’s not as jarring on the bones!

Half Ropes

Half ropes consistent of two thinner ropes (about 8mm in diameter usually) that need to be used together.  They’re mostly used when climbing trad or alpine routes or when climbing as a trio. With half ropes you usually clip each rope into alternate pieces of gear as you go along the route.  This works really well when on routes that tend to meander as it reduces the amount of rope drag the climber experiences i.e. how heavy the rope feels. Another use case for half ropes is the ability to tie the two ropes together when going down really large abseils.

Twin Ropes

Twin ropes consist of two thin ropes that are always used together as if they were one rope.  They tend to be a bit skinnier than half ropes as they are meant to be clipped into each piece of protection together.

Quick note, if using anything other than a single rope, best get some training first as they are trickier to belay with and require more rope management!

By Meganbeckett27 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Rope Length

So how long a rope should you get?  Well that would depend on what type of climbing you want to do and where.  One place to start would be to ask your local climbing wall or friends what is sufficient for your area.  In most cases when climbing sport outdoors, 60m will do the job. But if you want a more versatile option and have the cash and will to lug it around, you may prefer to get a 70m.  If climbing indoors a 30-40m rope is standard and anything longer will be more of a nuisance when it comes to uncoiling and recoiling.

Photo via Good Free Photos

Rope Diameter

Thick Ropes: 9.7mm+

If you’re a novice climber or plan to use the rope for top-roping or gym-climbing then you’ll probably want a thicker diameter rope that tend to be called ‘workhorses’.  These are the ropes you want when you plan to take lots of falls and you need something durable that can withstand all that abuse. These ropes are normally in and around the 10mm diameter. 

Mid-Size Ropes: ~9.5mm

Then come your slightly skinnier middle of the road ropes that are versatile and used for all sorts of climbing including sport, trad, ice etc.  These tend to be in the mid to later 9mm diameter categories. They offer that all important balance between durability vs weight and tend to handle better when clipping in, tying knots etc.

Skinny Ropes: 8.5 – 9.2mm

Then lastly are your skinny and light ropes that hover between 8.5 – 9.4mm.  These are the more niche ropes that tend to be used in alpine environments when weight-cutting is a major issue or when rope drag is really affecting your redpoint project.

 

Dry Treatment

Dry treatments are one of those things that are oft misunderstood in climbing ropes.  There are many different types of dry treatments that are usually proprietary to individual brands and go to different extents to protect the rope from environmental influences.  Some dry treatments only apply to the core, sheath or to both, obviously applying to both will provide the most protection.

Some dry treatments work to reduce water absorption and when a rope absorbs water, it becomes heavier and less able to take the force associated with big falls.  The rope usually regains its’ strength after it drys. And in alpine environments, the cold can cause ropes to freeze, get stiff and become less manageable. Dry treatments aim to reduce these effects.

Dry treatments add a lot of expense to a rope and if you’re going to be climbing in dry environments like the gym or sport routes, it’s an unnecessary expense.  Especially as they tend to gradually diminish from the rope with continued use. This is counter to the idea some may have that dry treatments improve durability, they do not.

But if you will be ice climbing, multi-pitch trad climbing or mountaineering, you will benefit from dry-treated ropes as you’ll mostly be getting battered with water in all its’ forms.

UIAA Specifications

The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) test climbing ropes by subjecting them to a set of experiments more extreme than what the ropes will likely go through in the real world.  Before buying a rope, ensure the rope is UIAA certified. Below we give brief explanations of each metric they provide but if you wish to properly nerd out you can read more from their official website here. https://www.theuiaa.org/safety-standards/

Impact Force Rating

Personally I believe this to be the most important metric from a customer perspective.  The impact force rating is the amount of force felt by the climber at the end of a fall as the rope tightens.  Single climbing ropes must not have an impact force higher than 12kN (this is when the UIAA test the first 4.6m fall with a 80kg weight attached which results in a 1.77 factor fall).  Generally the lower the impact force, the softer catches will feel to the climber as the rope absorbs more of the force. We like soft catches.

climbing fall

No. UIAA Falls

This is the number of 1.77 factor falls a rope can survive while still retaining their dynamic properties.  This could indicate a rope’s potential lifespan but it’s not a perfect metric and after any large fall you should inspect your rope for damage.  A single rope should be able to recover from at least 5 of these falls.

Middle Mark

Most ropes will have a mark of some kind to tell you where the middle of the rope is, usually a dyed area.  But some ropes have two halves weaved different or in different colours which serves as a more permanent middle mark, this are bicolor ropes.  Though bear in mind that you’ll be paying a premium for this feature and if you ever decide to cut one end of the rope the middle will no longer be accurate unless you cut the same distance from the other side.

All the ropes in our list have a middle mark.

When Should You Retire Your Rope?

There’s no real hard rule/time period when it comes to knowing when to retire a rope.  You could get a vague idea by looking at what the manufacturer estimates for that rope from the documentation.  But mostly ropes get retired if they suffer damage, have held big falls or are very old. If any of the sheath has fallen away to reveal the core, definitely retire the rope.  Though if your rope’s sheath is a little furry then that’s fairly normal and not something to worry too much about. And if there’s damage on only one end, you can always cut that bit of the rope off and continue using the rest.

www.adventurejay.com

That’s it for our climbing rope buying guide and top picks.  Remember to have a shop around, sometimes you can find ropes on sale at great discounts but make sure it’s not because of a quality issue.  And if you’ve found this article helpful, you can support us by clicking through to Amazon through one of our buttons and we may receive a portion of your purchase at no extra cost to yourself.

Until next time,

Outdoor Wildling

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