Which climbing rope is best?
With rock climbing gyms popping up in towns all over, it’s not hard to find a place to climb near you. While these gyms have all the gear you need for a successful climb, you may find yourself wanting to climb outdoors as well, in which case you’ll need to rent or purchase all that gear yourself. Between harnesses, belay clips, chalk bags and ropes, collecting all that gear can be daunting. With the right basics, you can make the right purchases for your climbing needs.
What to know before you buy a climbing rope
In terms of climbing, there are two main types of ropes: static and dynamic. As they are designed for different uses, it is important to have the correct type of rope for your task to avoid injury or failure.
Static ropes are not intended to stretch when they are put under a load. So if you hung 150 pounds from 10 feet of rope, the rope would remain 10 feet with or without the weight. Static ropes are great for uses like:
Rappelling: Also known as abseiling, rappelling is an activity that involves attaching a rope to a fixed point at the top of a cliff and then using the rope to safely descend. A static rope works well for this activity, as you won’t have falls involving slack in the rope, so there won’t be as much energy to absorb.
Caving: Caving, also known as spelunking, describes the activity of exploring caves. Like with rappelling, your rope will usually be dropped down, so a static rope works well.
Rescue operations: If you need to attach a rope to a helicopter and pull someone out of the ocean or a burning building, you don’t want the rope to stretch at all so that you can control the height.
Dynamic rope is designed to stretch when put under a load. This means that if you fall when climbing, your dynamic rope will stretch to slow your fall. The stretch of the rope also serves to absorb some of the energy so that you aren’t injured by a sudden stop. On average, these ropes will stretch 30-40%, so 10 feet of rope would stretch to 13 feet or 14 feet under a falling weight. Dynamic ropes are mostly used for rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering.
Rock climbing: If you plan on climbing up a cliff face, hammering in or clipping in as you go up and attaching rope as you go, you will want a dynamic rope. When you’re rock climbing, it’s important to have a dynamic rope so that any slips or falls will be slower and easier to control. For rope climbing, in which your rope is anchored at the top when you begin, a dynamic rope is still safer, but not quite as necessary because there won’t typically be much slack in the rope when you fall.
Ice climbing: Since dynamic ropes are designed for safer falls, they are non-negotiable when it comes to ice climbing, where falling is all-but-inevitable. A dynamic rope will ensure that you fall slowly and with more control so you can keep on climbing.
Mountaineering: Mountaineering refers to the general activity of attempting to summit a mountain. It often includes rock climbing, as well as ice climbing, skiing, hiking and other related activities. As with other types of climbing, a dynamic rope will absorb the shock of your fall and help you remain uninjured.
Once you know if you need a static or a dynamic rope, the big remaining question is how much rope you need. For longer climbs, also called pitches, you’ll need longer ropes. If you’re only doing shorter climbs, such as 30-40 foot pitches, you can opt for a shorter rope which also tends to be less expensive.
What to look for in a quality climbing rope
Climbing ropes will consistently be exposed to the elements, so finding one that has been treated to resist moisture is essential. One option is fast-drying ropes, which are designed to quickly lose any added moisture. The only downside is that the drying process creates a stiffness that you have to work out.
Alternatively, dry-treated ropes have been treated to protect against absorbing water in the first place. These are more expensive than untreated ropes, but it can be worth it as the dry treatment will make your rope last longer and keep dirt out.
As most outdoor climbs require a bit of a hike to access, every pound counts when it comes to your climbing gear. A rope that is 100 feet will weigh twice as much as 50 feet of the same rope, so the more rope you need, the more the weight of the material will matter.
Some ropes come with built-in eyelets, which are high-strength plastic or steel loops sewn onto the ends of the rope to give you a place to attach your carabiners, also known as D-rings.
For serious climbers, you’re likely to collect multiple ropes over time. Maybe you have some static and some dynamic, or one rope you only use for indoor climbing. Paying attention to the color of the ropes you purchase is an easy way to keep your ropes apart.
How much you can expect to spend on climbing rope
Depending on quality and length, you can pay as little as $15 or as much as $600 for a climbing rope. On the low end, you’ll find ropes around 30 feet, usually static, for $15-$30. On the high end, you can pay $500-$600 for a 600-foot dry treated rope. For typical outdoor climbers, you’ll want around 100 feet of quality dynamic rope, which will cost $100-$300.
Climbing rope FAQ
Q. How do I preserve the life of my rope?
A. The ends usually experience most of the stress, so you can cut off a few feet on either side to get rid of worn pieces while maintaining the structural integrity of the rest of your rope. When you do cut, tightly tape the area first, cut through the tape, and then melt the individual strands with a lighter to prevent fraying.
Q. What is a fall rating?
A. A fall rating is determined by a standardized test in which a heavy weight is attached to a rope, and the weight is then allowed to fall for a set length of rope. The number of times that a rope can endure this test before breaking is the fall rating.
Q. Is the fall rating test realistic?
A. Probably not. However, it does provide a general idea of the strength and durability of a particular rope. Because the test is performed repeatedly in quick succession, the ropes being tested don’t have time to recover elasticity, so they are more likely to break sooner in the test than they would on a rock face with more time in between uses.
What’s the best climbing rope to buy?
Top climbing rope
What you need to know: An all-around dynamic rope for all your climbing needs.
What you’ll love: This fan-favorite boasts nearly 200 feet of dry-treated, durable rope that will last a long time. Professional quality combined with a thin design and reasonable price makes this rope perfect for any type of climb.
What you should consider: Needs a little breaking in.
Where to buy: Available from Backcountry
Top climbing rope for the money
What you need to know: Burly yet lightweight for a sturdy, drag-free climb.
What you’ll love: Named rope of choice by renowned climbers, this dynamic dry treated rope is easy to handle, durable and reaches the perfect balance between thickness and weight to give you the most bang for your buck. Has a middle marker.
What you should consider: Some users found that it handles differently than others its size.
Worth checking out
What you need to know: Ideal for beginners or climbers who feel nervous, this thick, high-quality rope tops the charts for security, durability and a high fall rating.
What you’ll love: Lightweight for its thickness, this sturdy rope works for any type of climb and climbers of any skill level. It also features low-impact elongation for a comfortable catch whenever you fall. Comes with or without bi-color for those who want to be able to find the middle in a snap.
What you should consider: As a thick rope, it is fairly heavy, so it may not be ideal for climbs that require a long hike to access.
Where to buy: Sold by Backcountry
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Collette Bliss writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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