Today we’ll be telling you everything you need to know about the different types of climbing rope.
Perhaps you just searched for climbing rope online, and you were horrified with what you found.
Single rope, double rope, half rope, dry coating UIAA falls, static, dynamic, dry coating, rope diameter, rope elongation… the list goes on.
This article is a one-stop-shop for all things rock climbing ropes.
We’ve done all the research, so you don’t have to.
Rest assured, if you’re looking for any information about climbing ropes, you’re in the right place.
Let’s get going!
In this article you’ll find:
Different Types Of Climbing Rope
There are a ton of types of climbing rope out there.
Each was designed with its own specific use and intended purpose, so it’s important to know the differences.
There are essentially three different types of ropes out there and we’ll go into a bit more detail about those three now.
Dynamic Ropes – Use These For Rock Climbing!
Dynamic ropes have been specifically designed to elongate when weighted, usually around the 40% range.
The stretch is essentially what makes the rope ‘dynamic’.
All rock climbing ropes are dynamic.
The elasticity solves two huge problems.
First, it makes falling onto it way more comfortable as it greatly diminishes the initial jolt you would otherwise experience when falling onto a non-dynamic rope.
Second, by reducing the peak force internally experienced by rope itself and therefore greatly reducing the chance of a catastrophic ‘snapping’ failure.
The idea of a rope snapping under the impact force is so uncommon today that it is almost laughable.
But it wasn’t always like that.
My dad always used to tell me stories about climbing in the late 70s, when you only got a handful of falls on a rope before needing to retire them for fear of them literally breaking.
This was a reality of climbing not so long ago.
Not too long before that, during the golden era of Yosemite, rock climbing was done on completely static ropes.
To fall meant risking a potentially very painful or life-threatening injury caused from the rope itself.
Those were where a part of the “leader never falls” days, which I’m glad are long gone.
Static Climbing Ropes – Rappeling & Rope Access
Static ropes are essentially low elongation ropes. They are designed to stretch minimally when weighted
Normally they stretch less than 5% when weighted.
They should never be used for rock climbing. Their intended uses are: caving, rappelling, fire rescue, or rope access work.
The abrupt jolt caused from a fall onto a static rope could result in very serious injuries. Even small falls would be very uncomfortable.
Have you ever accidentally quickly weighed your personal anchor when cleaning a route? Imagine that but times 1000. No thanks.
Static vs Dynamic Climbing Rope
There still is a lot of confusion out there regarding static climbing vs dynamic climbing ropes.
Dynamic ropes have been designed to elongate a certain percentage when subjected to the shock loads which are commonly exerted on a rope when a climber falls.
Static ropes, on the other hand, have not been designed to elongate when subjected to impact loads. Because of this, static ropes should only be used for applications such as hauling gear, tieing off while working at heights or lowering an injured climber.
Static ropes are not designed for, and therefore, should never be used for, rock climbing!
Tree Climbing Ropes
The arborist industry has an entire market niche of ropes made just for its use.
All tree climbing ropes are static lines.
There are a few types of lines, 24-strand, 16-strand, 12-strand and some other rigging specific type ropes like a 3-strand.
I’m not an expert on tree climbing ropes, so I won’t get into it here.
If you’re in this industry you’ll need to do some specific research for the type of work you do.
How to Tell if a Rope is Static or Dynamic?
In the past you could almost always tell if a rope was static or dynamic simply by its appearance.
Static ropes always always had the same or very similar white and black design.
Even today, most static ropes have a simple sheath design, normally with only two colors.
Dynamic ropes usually have bright and intricate color patterns on the outside.
To be sure, check the tags located at the end of every rope, where it will stay dynamic or static.
If the tags are gone, you can usually test it by hand.
Static ropes are much stiffer, and will resist being bent on itself, while most dynamic ropes are soft, supple and flexible.
Climbing Rope Uses
So now you are aware of the types of ropes out there.
Next part, what are these ropes actually used for?
Here I’ll go over the most common activities for each type of climbing rope.
Outdoor Climbing Rope for Lead Climbing
The intended use for dynamic ropes is for rock climbing.
The only rope you should ever lead on is a dynamic rope.
Now, which climbing rope to choose for outdoor climbing is up to you. There are literally hundreds of choices at every type of price point available.
Generally speaking, when climbing outside you want something which is dry treated to keep out the dirt and water, light weight as you’ll be carrying it around and abrasion resistant.
It is one of the most durable, lightweight and best all around work horse ropes ever created; an absolute engineering marvel.
Gym Climbing Rope
Any rope used in the gym is also rated to be used outside.
All gym climbing ropes are dynamic ropes which can be used for outdoor climbing.
Gym Climbing Rope vs Outdoor Climbing Ropes
So you can always use your outdoor climbing rope for indoor climbing.
But you might now always want to.
Outdoor ropes, many times, are dry treated to keep water and dirt from entering the rope’s core.
This adds life to the rope and allows you to climb if you’re in wet conditions without the rope’s performance being affected.
It is a great feature to have, but usually adds a bit to the price of the rope.
Crucial when you’re outside, not when you’re inside.
Outdoor ropes often have a slimmer diameter to reduce rope drag and the weight of your backpack on approaches.
Also crucial when outside.
Slimmer diameter ropes inevitably reduce the rope’s life and also brings up the price point substantially.
For that reason it has become more common to have separate ropes for both jobs.
Companies have now started to market ropes specifically for gym climbing.
There is an entire industry built around rappelling specific ropes.
Essentially, you can use both dynamic or static ropes for rappelling.
But if you’re looking for a rope to be used exclusively for rappelling, caving or hauling gear, a static rope is the way to go.
Static ropes are cheaper when compared to dynamic, ridiculously strong and durable, and won’t stretch on long rappels.
They are also more resistant to the heat and abrasion caused by long rappels.
Static rappelling ropes are commonly used as haul ropes on big wall climbs, caving, fire and rescue and many other industrial uses.
Arborist Climbing Ropes
Arborist or ‘tree climbing’ ropes are designed specifically for the arborist industry.
There are some key differences between tree climbing ropes and climbing ropes, mainly that they have ridiculously thick sheaths designed to take abuse.
In dynamic or static ropes, the rope’s core takes most of the weight while in tree climbing ropes the sheath itself is taking most or sometimes all of the weight.
For this reason the ropes are super thick, usually between 11mm-13mm in diameter, and have very low elongations (less than 5%).
They are generally bright colors so that they can be easily found in a tree and so that people below will know that there is a person above.
They’re also extremely heavy and bulky and wouldn’t want to be used in any rock climbing or rappelling situation.
Single vs Twin vs Half Ropes
There are various types of rock climbing ropes out there, each with its own intended use and purpose.
This section should help demystify the differences between single, twin vs half ropes and help you buy the right rope for you.
Single ropes (left image) are what might normally come to mind when you think climbing rope.
These are single ropes which have been designed to resist the forces of falling. These are the ropes used by the overwhelming majority of modern climbers.
Generally speaking, they are much more durable, adaptable and thicker when compared to twin or half ropes.
If you are looking for a climbing rope for lead climbing, trad climbing, top roping, single, multi-pitch climbing etc, you will want a single rope.
The only exception would be for more alpine style climbing, which I’ll explain now.
Twin ropes are climbing ropes which are designed to be used in a pair of two identical ropes both clipped into the same piece of protection.
Not intended to take falls by themselves, so it is very important to understand what type of rope you’re using.
Generally speaking, a rope with a diameter of 8.5mm or below is considered a twin rope.
For instance, in the case of the Beal Opera, the rope is rated to be used as both a single or twin rope, however, it is recommended to be used as a twin.
This means that it is safe to take falls with just one rope, but it is advisable to use two, as it will greatly increase the life of the ropes.
This type of twin rope system is most commonly used when doing long multi-pitch or alpine climbs and two ropes are needed to safely rappel and there is risk of one of your lines being cut or damaged.
Half ropes are climbing ropes which are designed to be used in a pair of two identical ropes that are clipped into alternating pieces of protection.
These ropes are normally used when climbing long and wandering trad or alpine routes in order to reduce rope drag.
This system also comes with the added advantage of facilitating longer rappels, and adds redundancy in case one of your ropes gets damaged.
The only real disadvantage is that since half ropes are rated to take falls themselves, they are slightly heavier than twin ropes.
Climbing Rope Lengths – Which Do I Need?!
Nowadays you can buy ropes from 35m to 100m or more.
The rope length you want is going to depend on its intended use.
Obviously, the longer the route you’re climbing, the longer the rope you need.
Generally speaking, a rope less than 60m is going to be used for indoor gym climbing or other specific circumstances.
Anything 80m or longer is only necessary at certain crags which have very long routes.
The overwhelming majority of the time you’ll want a rope in the 60m-70m range.
60m climbing rope – The “Industry Standard”
A 60m (197ft) rope is the industry standard.
Most sport climbing crags have been bolted to accommodate a 60m rope by never putting the anchor more than 30m away from where the route started.
Essentially, if in doubt, buy a 60m.
70m climbing rope
It has become increasingly more common for areas to be bolted to be used with a 70m rope.
El Potrero Chico in Mexico is a good example of this, as essentially every route is 30-35m long.
70m ropes also have the added benefit of you being able to cut off ends that get worn down and therefore extending the life of the rope.
Essentially, there is no “right” answer to what rope to buy. It also depends on the type of climbing and areas you plan on going to.
Rope Size (Diameter) – How To Know Which To Choose
Now that we’ve gone over the different types of ropes and their uses, the question remains as to which rope diameter to choose.
There are trade-offs between every size of rope, but I’ll give you a few easy guidelines to follow if you’re starting off.
10.5mm – 9.8mm: Very thick ropes, heavy, cheaper, but extremely durable.
These ropes are most commonly used in the gyms, or at your local crag with short walk-ins.
9.8mm – 9.5mm: The nice middle zone, and by far the most common range for a climbing rope.
These ropes have hit the sweet spot between weight, strength, and durability, and are the best choice for most people.
Under 9.5mm are super lightweight, and high performance.
These ropes are ultra-light and won’t weigh down your pack, but they come with the downside of greatly sacrificing durability and abrasion resistance.
Skinny ropes like this are most commonly used for hard sport climbing send gos or in a half or twin rope style for alpine climbs when you’re trying to save weight.
Generally speaking, use a skinny rope when you’re trying to reduce rope drag, weight and don’t plan on falling on the rope regularly.
Climbing Rope Strength Comparison Chart
One of the biggest factors to consider with your rope diameter is going to be the weight.
As you might imagine, the thicker the rope, the heavier it is.
This comes into play for not only how much weight you’ll have to carry in on approaches, but also the amount of drag you’ll have the higher up you get on a route.
I’ve pretty much always used a 9.8mm.
It’s a nice middle ground between price, performance and durability.
I have used a few of my friends’ skinnier ropes, and I have to say that they’re really nice.
I could see myself going down to 9.5mm for a sport climbing rope, especially now that I have a few ropes to choose from.
If you’re in doubt, I’d go with a 9.8mm, but anywhere in the 9.5-10.1mm range is fine, especially if you’re just starting off.
UIAA Falls, What Does It Actually Mean?
Every climbing rope in existence has a UIAA falls ranking, generally between 5-10.
This number indicates the number of UIAA falls a rope is rated to take.
So the question you might ask yourself is, what is a UIAA fall?
The most important thing to know is that a UIAA fall is not a “normal” climbing fall, it is a ridiculously severe fall which a climber should never expect to take.
A UIAA fall is defined by a fall factor of 1.77 or greater. The factor is determined by dividing the distance of the fall by the amount of rope that catches you.
So for instance, a 5 foot fall which catches you on 20 feet of rope would have a fall factor of 0.25.
To achieve a UIAA fall with 20ft of rope out, you would have to fall 36ft!
It is nearly impossible to fall further than the amount of rope out unless you are multi-pitching and fall well below your belayer, as in most cases you would hit the ground before the rope caught you.
There is, however, a correlation between UIAA falls and overall durability of the rope, as seen on the graph.
Generally speaking, the more UIAA falls the rope is rated for, the longer it maintains its strength.
Total pitches and falls taken plays a bigger factor into the life of the rope as opposed to a few mega-wips.
The main takeaway is, more UIAA falls is good, but don’t get too hung up on it.
Static and Dynamic Elongation
Dynamic ropes usually have separate static and dynamic elongation values.
The static elongation is the percentage of the rope to stretch when weighed under a 80kg load statically, i.e. without falling on the rope.
Most ‘static’ ropes have a static elongation of less than 5%, most dynamic ropes are around 10%.
So for instance if a 80kg climber was to weigh 100m of a static rope with a 2.5% static elongation, the rope would stretch an extra 2.5m.
Dynamic elongation is a factor given to dynamic ropes only.
It is the percentage elongation of a rope under a standard dynamic test.
This number is usually in the 30-40% range, and is always less than 40%.
Maximum Impact Force of Climbing Ropes
You might have noticed another number that is associated with climbing ropes: the maximum impact force.
The maximum impact force of a climbing rope is the highest impact which the rope has been rated for, or the highest force which the rope has been designed to handle.
For climbing ropes, this number is 12kN.
This number comes from military study of paratroopers, where it was found that the maximum force which the human body can withstand without literally being ripped in half is 15G, or 12 kN for a 80kg body.
The good news is that you’re not going to get anywhere near that number in a real life climbing
Dry Coating Of Climbing Ropes
Dry ropes are an extra feature some ropes have which make them resistant to water and dirt.
This is essential for anyone ice climbing, alpine climbing, or who regularly does long multi-pitches where they might encounter unexpected weather.
Dry vs Non-dry Rope
When comparing dry vs non-dry ropes, dry treated ropes are much more resistant to abrasion and general wear and tear, and therefore have a much longer life when compared to standard ropes.
In addition, they keep dirt out of the core of the rope, which also greatly increases the rope’s overall life.
I’d suggest pretty much always buying dry coated ropes if you’re planning on using it for any outdoor climbing.
The only time when it wouldn’t be necessary to have a dry treated rope is if you’re using it exclusively for indoor gym climbing.
There are generally two types of dry treatment ropes out there: dry sheath or dry core (also called double dry).
Dry sheath ropes only have the dry treatment on the outside sheath, while double dry have the treatment on both the sheath and the core.
Double dry ropes tend to last longer and be more resistant to water due to having the treatment inside and out.
The only real downside of dry ropes is that they are more expensive, generally $50-$100 more.
In the long run you’ll make it back, as dry ropes have been shown to last longer than their standard counterparts.
I suggest to everyone that even if you don’t plan on using your rope for any ice/alpine climbing, you still get a rope with at least dry sheath technology.
It will greatly increase the life of your rope, give you peace of mind, and in the long run give you more bang for your buck.
Bi-Pattern Climbing Ropes and Halfway Point Markers
As names suggest, a bi-pattern rope is when the pattern on the sheath of the rope changes at the halfway point.
If your rope is not specifically labeled as a bi-pattern rope, then the middle of the rope will be delineated with a dark mark in the middle of the rope.
Bi-patterns are without a doubt better, as there are really no downsides of having this type of rope.
The only thing to keep in mind is that if you ever need to cut the rope, the middle point will no longer be at the point of the pattern change.
This added feature usually costs about $15-$30 extra, and is advisable if you do a lot of multi-pitches, rappels, or plan on going to crags with multi-pitches.
Storing Your Climbing Rope – The “Forgotten” Step
Rope care is an aspect of owning a climbing rope which tends to get overlooked.
For this reason, bad storage and rope care has become commonplace.
Best practices for storing your rope is to always coil your rope neatly and keep it in a dry cool place out of the sun.
If you are planning on using the rope for outdoor climbing, always store your rope in a rope bag.
I’ve used the Black Diamond Super Chute for almost 10 years now, and it has kept my ropes free of debris and dirt.
The only exception to using a rope bag would be if you’re planning on using the rope only for gym climbing, as the rope’s exposure to dirt and debris will be minimal.
Where to Buy Climbing Ropes
If you’re buying your first rope, I’d suggest going into a physical store so that you can talk to someone about which rope to buy.
When I bought my first climbing rope, I went to Feathered Friends in Seattle, as they’re known for having super knowledgeable people to help you.
If after reading this you’re unsure as to what rope is right for you, I’d suggest heading to a brick and mortar store to get some input.
There is no perfect rope out there, as every rope has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Use the information provided here as a start to do your own research and make a choice based on your unique circumstances.
The recommendations here will apply to the vast majority of my readers and should get you going toward the right rope for you.
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The Wandering Climber. Often seen at world class climbing destinations from around the world!