Climbing rope buying guide
Not sure what type of climbing rope to buy? Read our rope buying guide to help you purchase the right one.
About your climbing rope
Climbing ropes are dynamic; that is to say, they are slightly elastic ropes which can absorb the energy from a sudden fall. Kernmantle ropes are the most common type of dynamic rope, made from a protective outer sheath around a strong fibre core.
A tighter/stiffer sheath means the rope will be more abrasion resistant and it will stop dirt getting into the rope, but it will be more difficult to handle. A looser sheath will be easier to handle (tie/untie knots) but will probably wear faster and lead to furring of the sheath. This means the rope grows increasingly thicker and more difficult to handle, allowing damaging dirt and moisture to get into the sheath and making it more difficult to run through the belay device.
There are many different types of core; generally the more you pay, the more complex the core and the better it will handle and resist twisting and abuse.
Single or double ropes?
As the name suggests, single ropes are designed to be used alone. They are most often used for sport climbing and indoor climbing. They are also perfectly safe for use in trad climbing, in areas where routes follow single features or straight lines. Single ropes are frequently the cheapest option; they are simpler to use and most importantly the lightest choice for most climbers.
Double Ropes/Half Ropes
Double ropes or half ropes are used for lead climbing, and are designed to be used in a pair. They are tested to different standards, and unless specifically stated otherwise, they are not strong enough to be used as a single rope.
Double ropes are the most common set up for UK trad climbing. Though two ropes will work out heavier, they do have several advantages over a single rope. Firstly, there is the extra security offered by having two ropes on two different lines of protection, which can be especially important on long or complex pitches. Additionally, double ropes give the leader more flexibility; it's possible to reduce rope drag issues and the thinner, stretchier ropes reduce the impact on first runners in the event of a fall. Lastly, double ropes offer the option of full length retrievable abseils which are very useful in the event of retreat.
Not to be confused with double ropes! Twin ropes are ultra skinny and they are also designed to be used as a pair, but both ropes must be clipped into every piece of gear. Twin ropes are most often seen on long alpine climbs and winter and ice climbing routes.
Individually, a twin rope is not rated to hold a fall. The advantages offered over other rope systems are reduced weight, the ability to offer full length abseils and redundancy, particularly for winter climbing when your gear is sharp! They are also used in mountaineering where protection is going be spaced so drag is not an issue, but where full length abseils are going to be needed.
What are the main things to consider when buying a rope?
Climbing rope ratings and safety
Ropes are tested and rated for use in different rope systems as above. However you can also find (usually more expensive) triple rated ropes, which are suitable for all three uses. These ratings will be clearly stated on our product pages.
What are climbing rope safety standards?
There are universal testing criteria laid out by the UIAA for climbing ropes (attached to every rope tag) but an in depth look is beyond the scope of this article. We've highlighted the key aspects of UIAA climbing rope testing below but if you want more technical and in depth information go to the UIAA website
- Falls held: an 80 kg weight is dropped five metres on 2.8 m of rope repeatedly until it breaks. The more falls a rope takes before it brakes, the better it is.
- Impact force is measured in kN. This is the amount of force exerted on your top runner when you fall on to it. This indicates how stretchy a rope is and how much shock it absorbs when you fall onto it (very important when trad climbing). The lower the number the better.
- Static elongation. 80 kg is hung on one metre of rope. The rope is given a percentage figure of how much it stretched. This lets you know how much the rope will stretch when you are lowering someone or abseiling - only really important if you are going to be jumarring or hauling.
Diameter is measured in millimetres, with single ropes ranging from 8.7 mm through to 10.5 mm and double ropes from 7.3 mm to 9 mm. A thicker rope will last longer and be more abrasion resistant. A thinner rope is lighter and stretchier, offering less impact force in the event of a fall.
Warning: Very thin double ropes of 7.8mm or less are only used by climbers who want the lightest possible ropes and fully understand the safety limitations of doing so.
Length (how long is a bit of rope?)
Single ropes range from 30 m to 80 m. A 30 m single rope would be most often used for indoor climbing or grit outcrop climbing. (Before you buy, please check the height of your local climbing wall!)
There are now plenty of sport routes that are more than 25 m long, so to get up and down again you will need a climbing rope longer than 50 m.
With double ropes most people will buy 60 m lines to offer that little bit extra for climbing up and abseiling down. Many climbers invest in a 40 m pair of double ropes for outcrop climbing so they don't destroy their longer, more expensive ropes climbing on gritstone.
Dry treated or non dry treated ropes?
Wet or frozen ropes are heavy. Wet or frozen ropes are weaker, as the rope is less dynamic. Dry coatings mean the rope will resist the ingress of dirt. A wise investment.
What colour climbing rope?
Don't laugh, this is very important. The colour of your double ropes should be significantly different; this helps with identification and communication between climbers. It also doesn't hurt if the rope is visible in the beam of a head torch at night.
How much should I spend on a climbing rope?
As with everything, you get what you pay for. When you pay more you generally get lighter ropes, with more longevity, better abrasion resistance and better handling.
Slowly but surely the environmental impact created by the production of your rope is creeping into the mix. You can now buy recycled ropes, ropes made with bluesign® approved materials and ropes with non-PFC waterproofing. Where we can, you'll find these things specified on our product pages, too.
When purchasing a rope there will always be a compromise - weight/length/durability etc. Hopefully our rope buying guide helped. If you have any questions please Contact us via email, phone us on 01433 631111 or drop into the Hathersage Rock Room for expert advice.
Photo Credit: Athlete - Conrad Anker Location: Yosemite Valley, CA © Jimmy Chin, The North Face