How to Choose a Climbing Rope

The climbing rope is responsible for saving thousands of climbers’ lives every single day. No piece of gear more important than the rope. It’s not only your lifeline, but a link to your partner—and your ticket to a wild, high place. It’s a metaphor for everything that is truly meaningful in this vertical sport. It’s also a pretty cool piece of gear.




Andrew Bisharat is a prominent climbing blogger, publishing at his site Evening Sends.  A few weeks back he published How to Choose a Climbing Rope, which contained a good bit of information for people looking to purchase a rope or simply desiring to know a bit more about them.  The paragraph before the break above is from his article, as is the excerpt below.  To see the rest, visit his blog.

Early climbing ropes (from the 1700s up to the 1930s) appeared around alpine villages like Zermatt, Switzerland, and were made of braided hemp, flax, manila, cotton or horsehair. These early experiments resulted in climbing cords with terrible strength-to-weight ratios, poor durability and low elasticity. They snapped in falls easily, often resulting in tragedy. The mantra of the era, “The leader must not fall,” wasn’t just a catchy phrase.

World War II was a catalyst for innovation in the climbing world, with advances made in carabiners and pitons. However, nothing revolutionized climbing as greatly as the introduction of ropes made of nylon, a material Arnold Wexler of the U.S. Bureau of Standards concluded, in 1945, was superior to all other materials for this application. In 1953, the German rope manufactuer Edelrid introduced the kernmantle rope, an even bigger innovation that resulted in extremely durable ropes that didn’t kink or twist—and best of all, they could handle repeated lead falls. A kernmantle rope has a strong braided-nylon “core” of strands (the kern) that are encased within an abrasion-resistant sheath (the mantle). All modern climbing ropes now use the kernmantle design.

Today, climbing ropes are extremely reliable. “The leader must not fall” has been replaced with “If you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough!” There are over 100 different climbing ropes on the market, all of which come in various lengths, diameters, and categories. It’s important to understand how ropes are classified before making a purchase. Here is a basic primer for getting onto the sharp end.

Static vs. Dynamic: This is the most general categorization of ropes, but also the most important to not confuse. Static ropes do not stretch. Dynamic ropes stretch a lot. Static ropes are not for lead climbing! Because static ropes don’t stretch, climbers typically use them for hauling loads on big-walls, or fixing lines on new routes. Static ropes can be used for top-roping, but, again, never for leading. The elastic qualities of a dynamic rope are what make falling on lead safe because, with rope stretch, the forces on the gear, belayer and climber go way down. Dynamic ropes are what you will use 99 percent of the time.

There’s more to this story! Visit Andrew’s blog here to read the rest of this article.


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