How to Choose a Climbing Rope

Climbing Rope

If you’re thinking about buying a climbing rope, chances are you already have some experience with rock climbing. In that case, you probably know that climbing ropes are “dynamic,” meaning they will stretch slightly when under load. This stretching action, called elongation, helps absorb the force applied to a rope during a fall. Different dynamic ropes have different amounts of elongation. Ropes with minimal elongation are ideal for top-roping because fall distances are usually short. Since falls can be longer when lead climbing, ropes with a higher elongation are better for leading. Static line (zero elongation rope) should only be used for rappelling or hauling gear.

There are three primary climbing rope systems on the market today: single rope, half rope and twin rope. Because a single rope system is the oldest and most common, we’ll focus on that in this article. Below are three steps to keep in mind when buying a single climbing rope:

  1. First, choose between regular, dry or double dry climbing ropes. Regular climbing rope doesn’t have any water-repellent treatment, so it should only be used in dry weather conditions. Dry climbing ropes either have a water-repellent core or a water-repellent sheath. Double dry climbing ropes have a core and sheath that both repel water. If you’ll be climbing in damp conditions, choose a dry climbing rope. For very wet and snowy conditions, consider going with a double dry climbing rope.
  2. Next, narrow your selection by rope diameter (measured in millimeters). A rope’s UIAA fall rating and impact force rating are both related to the rope’s diameter and elongation. UIAA fall rating refers to the number of “moderate” falls a climbing rope can withstand under laboratory conditions. For more information on these conditions, review the UIAA Safety Standards. In general, thicker ropes can sustain slightly more impact force and more falls compared to thinner ropes. Of course, as rope thickness increases, so does weight. In general, novice and intermediate climbers should probably stick with thicker ropes (about 9.8mm or more) because these offer more durability and are easier to grasp when belaying.
  3. Rope length (usually measured in meters) is the third specification you’ll need to choose. The ideal length of your rope will depend on the type of climbing and the routes being climbed. In order to top-rope belay a 25 meter rock face, for example, climbers will need a rope that is at least 55 meters or more in length. For lead climbing, the rope length will determine how far a leader can climb during each pitch.

Climbing Rope Tips

  • It’s very important to log the number of falls a rope has sustained, including the severity of those falls. Most climbing ropes are designed to withstand a limited number of “moderate” falls. This is usually indicated as a UIAA fall rating. Over time, successive falls will cause a rope to lose elasticity, becoming less resistant to impact forces each time. A rope that has experienced moderate falls equal to its UIAA fall rating or a single severe fall should be retired.
  • It’s a good idea to choose a rope with a middle mark or bi-pattern design that identifies the center point. If your rope doesn’t have a middle mark, don’t add your own with a permanent marker or tape. Applying ink or adhesive tape could potentially weaken the nylon sheath, thus weakening the rope. If you must mark the center point yourself, use a marking method that is approved by the rope manufacturer.
  • Be sure to properly coil your rope before transporting or storing it. This will make it much easier to uncoil when you’re ready to start setting up for a new climb. Take a look at our blog post on How to Coil a Climbing Rope for full details.

Finally, check out our full Climbing Guide for more information on climbing gear and tips.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide an introduction to basic climbing information. This is not a substitute for a climbing course or program. Climbing, mountaineering and other related activities are inherently dangerous. Anyone purchasing or using equipment for this purpose is personally responsible for getting proper instruction on its correct and safe use. Please seek out a professional climbing guide or certified climbing instructor to address any questions you may have about climbing gear or gear usage.