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A Few Words About Climbing Ropes


Submitted by caughtinside on 2010-12-15

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by Dave unknown


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To me, ropes are one of the pieces of gear that is hard to make an informed decision about prior to purchasing one. Shoes you get to try on prior to use, so usually few surprises there and you can learn a bit about how hardware will handle by just checking it out in a shop. But not so for ropes. Iíve trolled the internet a couple times and havenít come up with much.

Rope reviews are generally worthless in my opinion, as they are an amalgamation of the ropes stats/numbers and a small discussion about how they handle, ie, stiff or soft. Most climbers already buy their ropes based on the kind of climbing they plan to do with it, so the basic numbers only guide tell you what the rope is good for. 10.5mm diameter? Probably a good rope for a beginner, a big guy, climbing on rough rock or aiding. 9.7-10.2, the all arounders. Good at most things but less durable than the fatties but able to hold up to more than an extra skinny speciality rope.

Just for fun, I decided to compile a list of all the ropes Iíve owned in my 10 year climbing career. I have used many more ropes than just these, but these are the ropes Iíve owned, and some notes on them.

1st rope: 10.5 maxim leavittator, 60m. First rope! I got this one on sale from REI for like $110. I was mostly a sport climber in those days and when I did trad climb you can be sure I didnít fall because I was too afraid. I became the sub of a guy who was putting up sport routes, and this rope got used hard for dangling over dirty, rough cliffs while I scrubbed and bolted choss. I had a couple 6Ē long coreshots that I taped over. I finally retired it after 3 years of abuse when I fell, looked at the quickdraw and saw that my rope was impossibly flat, like noodle flat, yikes! I donated it to my uncleís boy scout troop and they cut it up and use it for knot practice. 2001-2004.

2nd rope: 9.8 maxim bicolor, 50m. A funny little rope, and the only 50m I have ever owned. This one got soft very quickly, even though it didnít see close to the abuse of my 1st rope. I could only take it to certain short crags, and got used intermittently over the years. I got some closeout on the REI.com deal of the day, $77 so I couldnít pass it up. After a couple spots got super soft, I trimmed it, used it as a gym rope for a month and then gave it to a buddy when I went on the road. 2003-2008.

3rd rope: 10.5 bluewater accelerator, 60m. Think I paid $110 for this one? Both the stiffest and the hardest wearing rope I have ever owned! We were developing a really rough volcanic cliff, and this rope picked up where rope #1 left off. The sheath was woven much tighter, and this thing wore like iron! It handled rougher too, but it was a great choice for the rough cliff. Never got too fuzzy, but I stopped going to that rough crag so I stopped using the rope and just retired it to the scout troop for more knot practice. 2003-2008.

4th rope: 9.7 Beal Booster, 60m. Great rope, maybe my favorite? The rope that refuses to die. Got a deal on this one, maybe $115 or so. Amazing for sport climbing, it remained springy throughout itís life and is still today. I took this one to Thailand, and after 3 weeks of heavy use it was black and disgusting. I almost left it there, but brought it home, washed it, and it kept going for 3 more years. I trimmed it and still use it very infrequently as my gym rope. Still springy!! 2004-current

5th rope: 9.1 Beal Joker, 70m. Some place was clearing this one out and I got it for $100. Kind of a weird rope and it doesnít get used a lot. I used to try to do massive pitch links, but a few full 70m trad pitches taught me that I donít have 70m worth of endurance! Mega springy, and with all the rope out you can stretch 20+ feet into the ground. Too skinny to be a sport rope and too skinny/springy to be a good trad cragging rope on 35m pitches. It is great at Indian Creek, which is the only place left I really use it. If I trim it down a bit it would be a good alpine rope, but 70m is too much to be taking on long approaches. 2006-current.

6th rope: 10.5 Maxim G60, 60m. Bought it at REI, $85 on some after Christmas sale. This is the heaviest rope I have ever owned, weighs a ton. Very cheap, pretty stiff. I bought it because I thought I might aid climb some more. I didnít. I do use this rope periodically for top rope soloing with the mini traxion, or going to Joshua Tree. I think this rope won some award from climbing mag years ago as the best value rope. It certainly is a cheap piece of crap, but it has its place. 2007-current.

7th rope: 9.4 Bluewater Dominator, 60m. Some online place blew this rope out for $70 so I got one. Itís picked up where that 9.7 booster left off, as the primary sport (which I donít do too much of) rope and some trad climbing. I also use it as my alpine rope, as itís the lightest 60 I got. Good rope but not remarkable. 2007-current.

8th rope: 9.8 Sterling Velocity, 70m. Got an ok deal on this one too, $150? Wanted a good all arounder, and a 70m. Once I started using this rope the 9.4 dominator saw a lot less action, because so many crags have that one 35m pitch where you can either lug 2 ropes, or just bring one 70m. Used this one almost exclusively for 2 years straight. I also used it for top rope mini traxioning and jugged up a couple faces to pull and replace old bolts. Wears very well, 2nd to that 10.5 accelerator and a much nicer rope that that one. An ill advised toprope set up where I fell on a single move 20 times in a row did a bunch of damage to the sheath in one 5 foot section near an end and I should trim it to a 60. 2008-current.

Long story short, Iíve learned next to nothing about how to shop for a rope on the front end! So here is what I do: I pick out the attributes I need, which are generally weight and length. The diameter is an unreliable measurement of weight, as all rope manufacturers seem to measure differently, so check weight on g/m.

Next, I shop around based more or less on price. Thereís almost always a deal somewhere! I know some guys have to have that bicolor or bipattern, but rope manufacturers really get you there, they tend to be substantially more expensive. A lot of climbers are loyal to a brand or two, or want to have a high end and therefore more expensive rope. Personally, while I have preferred some ropes over others, I wouldnít pay substantially more for one over another. Out climbing one day with a friendís brand new fancy Mammut, a plate got kicked off, fell right into the rope bag and chopped it almost right in the center. Certainly not the ropeís fault, but there went a couple bills down the drain.

Impact force can be a kind of Ďveto numberí for me, I try to steer clear of ropes with an impact force higher than 10kn, although that maxim G60 is over 10. Better that the rope absorb more of the impact to put less force on your gear.

If you want the best bang for your buck, buy a fatter rope, as more sheath material will generally mean a longer lasting rope. One thing I like about my strategy of buying less expensive ropes is that I buy more ropes and climb on newer ropes more often. Iíll leave you with a good troll I posted on rockclimbing.com a few years ago, http://www.rockclimbing.com/cgi-bin/forum/gforum.cgi?do=post_view_flat;post=1687195;page=1;sb=post_latest_reply;so=ASC;mh=25;

There is a lot of nonsense in that 6 page thread, but there is something to be learned about ropes if you read all the way through it. In particular, this post http://www.rockclimbing.com/cgi-bin/forum/gforum.cgi?post=1688189#1688189 by Roy Hinkley jr has some interesting information in it, which I admit I havenít investigated at all.

Please comment!

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24 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 brianri
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 2010-12-15
I agree with you... I've owned lots of ropes from different manufacturers and I've experienced no consistency in performance/longevity/handling from one model to another. I remember seeing a rope test once in one of the climbing mags and the test results did not jive with the manufacturer's claimed specs so take those with skepticism. One thing I'd mention is generally lower impact force means higher stretch. There is a trade-off between low impact on the gear and high stretch of falling that extra five feet and hitting the ledge especially if you climb places where there are a lot of blocky ledges like the Gunks. Current rope: Maxim Glider 9.9mm, 60m.
 Arrogant_Bastard
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 2010-12-15
2 out of 5 stars I found this "review" to mostly be an amalgamation of rope stats/numbers and subjective qualities such as 'hand' and stretch; pretty much worthless. It also oozes elitism.
 caughtinside
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 2010-12-15
he has a point.
 j_ung
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 2010-12-16
The most important point in this review (not that it's the only point) is that you never, ever, EVER, paid more than $150 for a rope. It certainly caught my eye.
 edge
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 2010-12-16
You left out the blort factor ratings, or are you saving those for a post in the Lab?
 boadman
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 2010-12-16
I had a personal rule that I would never pay more than $100 for a rope. It worked pretty well until the last couple of years. A 70m is practically required around here, and it's hard to find them for less than $130. My personal opinion is that ropes are like toilet paper, they're all pretty shitty after you use them.

I've had the best luck with Sterling and the worst with Beal.
 caughtinside
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 2010-12-16
Out of all the ropes I listed, I'd say the maxim G60 is the only one I wouldn't get again. The other Maxims were ok but not great.

Yes, it seems to be true that you can find screaming deals if you are patient, where they get you are either the bi pattern, or the 70m. The same rope as a 60 or 70 can have like a 40 or 50 dollar price difference, go figure.

I was thinking about it some more, and I remember when I got that sterling velocity, I didn't like it. It was pretty stiff, and the sheath slipped on both ends. I trimmed the ends and it softened up just a tad and ended up my all around favorite though.
 Bats
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 2010-12-16
I have been in the market for a rope...and its so confusing. I agree that REI does not have a good selection either at the store or online. I want a purple bicolor 70m, not too skinny nor too fat. I would be climbing on sharp granite and chossy limestone. I would be doing some sport. barely trad, but mostly toprope. So if anyone finds this rope, please let me know. Thanks!
 Arrogant_Bastard
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 2010-12-16
2 out of 5 stars I find that purple ropes get shredded pretty quick on limestone. You might want to look into a blue or green rope if you climb on limestone a lot.
 donald949
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 2010-12-17
I've had very good luck with my purple rope. Its a 15 year old 50x11 mammut. While admitedly lightly used it feels brand new. As its so old I don't use it for leading. But short TR's and rapping.
Bats, check out http://www.gearexpress.biz/ if your looking for a 70. They have large selection, with a number of 70 on sale for 150. Albeit not bipattern, those run more. Happy shopping.
 caughtinside
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 2010-12-17
Actually, as an interesting anecdote, a friend of a friend has some kind of relationship with Sterling. I guess they tested a ton of old ropes, and found that on average, purple ropes are 1-2% stronger than any other color ropes.
 caughtinside
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 2010-12-17
But to answer Mr. Bats question... you actually need two ropes. If you are a Texas climber, you're probably climbing the local Austin limestone and E-Rock. A 70m is way overkill for these short areas. I'm guessing you want the 70 for Potrero raps. I'd get a cheap 50 and a cheap 70.
 rightarmbad
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 2010-12-17
I suppose the take home message is that they are a consumable item, so spend as little on them as possible.
I do like bi colour though.
 Vegasclimber10
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 2010-12-18
I don't even remember the make of my first rope, it was a dark green bicolor 60 that a friend gave to me. It was about 2 years old and lightly used at that point. I used it for another 3 years, very lightly, and semi-retired it when I bought an orange 10.3 Petzl 60m single color.
The Petzl has it's good and bad points, it's a little stiff but just enough that it tends to go over corners rather then drag across them. The mid mark has faded pretty fast, and I have heard of people mistaking the mid and end marks on the rope. The main downside is that it sheds like an old dog, orange fuzz all the time. I haven't seen any serious degradation of the sheath yet though.

I was recently using my old rope as a rap rope and it caught a snag and the core felt damaged, so with the age it was time to cut it down to haul lines. I just bought a 60m 9.7 Bluewater Lightning Pro yellow dual color. So far, I love it, little kinky but the coating is great, and the weaves are very easy to see, which wasn't the case on my old green rope. After the marking issues on my Petzl, I am going to stay with dual color unless it's a forced issue, like being on a trip and out of money and needing a new cord.
 j_ung
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 2010-12-20
Vegasclimber10, have you seen this?

http://www.rockclimbing.com/cgi-bin/forum/gforum.cgi?post=1785716;search_string=petzl%20zephyr;#1785716
 ludias
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 2010-12-21
Its amazing how many ropes you bought these last ten years. I suppose you climb several times a week to use them off. In the same period I've bought 3 ropes and 2 of them are still on the road.
 Vegasclimber10
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 2010-12-22
j_ung, I most assuredly did NOT see that, or I wouldn't have bought the rope. Thank you VERY much for the information, and I will be keeping a very close eye on the rope. Even with the shedding, it's held up ok under pretty heavy use the last few months, but I am very appreciative of the heads up.
 JohnnyMcPiperson
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 2011-01-20
I actually just got my first rope last summer, at REI for $110 it's a New England I have no idea the model name, it's a 60m 9.8 I think... I'm not even sure, I left it in the States tho, I'm living in Spain now and it was too much weight to throw in my bag. I usually just go with a friend or show up at the crag and find somebody to climb with... This was interesting info tho good to know that I didn't go wrong just picking up a rope and not dropping a load of cash! Any thoughts on New England ropes tho?
 caughtinside
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 2011-01-26
Hi Johnny,
I haven't owned a New England branded rope, but I have owned 3 Maxims, which are manufactured by New England. All three have been inexpensive and lasted for several seasons. The G60 I owned is very heavy, but other than that they are decent ropes.
 thegeneral
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 2011-01-29
so let me get this straight, you will pay $175 for a pair of Italian rock shoes, but won't pay more than $130 for a rope?
Stupid is as stupid does-
the rope is your #1 purchase period. it keeps you from hitting the deck.
Not all rope companies are the same, innovation and production cost money, and then more a company invests in machinery and new technology, the more expensive their products become..
wake up people and get off the cheap ass program, or buy better health insurance from the GOP!!!!
 caughtinside
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 2011-01-31
Hello thegeneral. No, you haven't got it straight. I won't and have never paid $175 for a pair of italian rock shoes.

You can call me stupid all you like, but I'd say the onus is on rope manufacturers... like the one you work for. These manufacturers make good products, but have generally failed to inform the rope buying public of why one rope is better than another.

If I can't see the value in a more expensive rope, why would I pay more? I go with the general rule of thumb that Ropes Don't Break w/o some sort of freakish factor like chemicals or a very sharp edge.

I would suggest to you, or anyone interested in providing a service to everyday climbers like myself, to produce an informative and impartial article on ropes that explains the difference between ropes, and how to find one that has a springy catch or above normal longevity.
 Bats
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 2011-03-18
Caught Inside...
With a 70m you can do 2nd pitches as a one pitch at Erock like Dome Driver and a 70m barely does the Cracken. Also my partner and I are planning trips around the country like Red Rocks, Smith Rocks. Her rope is green which her favorite color, purple is mine. It might be a girl thing. We have tons of shorties. They were once longer.
 caughtinside
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 2011-04-14
Hello Mr. Bats,
Having done a few full 70m pitches I have come to the conclusion that it is just too long a pitch for my taste. It is either hard climbing which becomes exhausting, you might need to take extra gear which adds weight to adequately protect the pitch. If it is easy enough to simulclimb, a 70 is too long.

Those other crags you mention might be great places for a 70 though.
 tomask
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 2012-05-25
I enjoyed this write up.
I have been climbing for over 30 years and am used to fat ropes. My favorite has been the 10.5 Bluewater Accelerator, which I reluctantly retired due to age. I have sentimental attachments to my rope, which I guess is kind of weird.

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