Buying a rope can be an intimidating task, especially if you are new to climbing and are looking to move from your gym’s climbing holds and top ropes to real rock and the great outdoors.
First things first: you decided what type of rope system you will be using (single rope, half ropes, twin ropes?), the length you will need, and what diameter. But there is one more thing you want to understand before making the big investment. What is the difference between a dry rope vs non dry rope? Does it really matter?
In this article, we will explore all the differences between dry ropes vs non-dry ropes and what they can and cannot be used for safely, so that you can choose which one best meets your climbing needs.
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Dry Rope: What Does it Mean?
Careful though: this does not make them waterproof as, for example, your rain jacket would be. The treatments are done on the rope’s fibers, but as a rope is made up of weaved fibers, water can still get trapped in between them, causing the rope to feel wet or damp when exposed to moisture and/or water. Actually, even the best climbing ropes on the market are not totally waterproof.
The treatment, however, minimizes the amount of water that can get inside the rope, and it is also often a good coating against dirt and damage.
If you’ve done some research, you will know that there are many types of dry treatments out there, and also many ways of describing them, as there are no standardized categories for them yet.
Let’s clear up some of the most commonly used terms out there.
Sheath Only Treatment
In this case, the rope is only treated with the waterproof coating on the outside sheath and not the core. This is a good protection against moisture and water, and it makes for quite a versatile rope.
A dry sheath treatment is also great for protecting the rope from dirt, abrasion and damage, making it more durable and easier to handle.
Sheath & Core Treatment
In this type of treatment, both the sheath and the core are treated with a water-repellent coating. This provides an additional protection against any moisture that can get through the sheath treatment. As the core is made of many more fibres than the sheath, this is usually more expensive.
Here are some examples of he best dry ropes on the market:
Single or Double Dry
Sometimes, you might see the label “single” or “double” dry to describe dry-treated ropes. This may refer to the number of times that the water-repellent coating has been applied to the fibers.
Sometimes, however, “double dry” will indicate a “sheath and core” treatment.
Make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to make sure you know which one it is!
What is a Dry Rope For?
When the rope’s fibers absorb water, the rope can get a lot heavier (sometimes up to 60%!) and becomes less able to withstand the force generated by a fall. Even if, once dry, the rope will regain all of its strength, it might get badly damaged or even snap in the case of a bad fall while it is wet or damp.
Also, if you are climbing in the winter and it gets cold enough for the absorbed water to freeze, the rope will get stiff and impossible to manage, and it might not even go through a belay device.
So, I bet you guessed that to avoid these situations for some types and styles of climbing you will definitely need a rope with dry treatment!
Which Treatment For Which Use
- Sheath only treatment is best for any kind of multi-pitch alpine climbing and mountaineering that does not involve heavy icing or snow. The sheath treatment will help keep the water out in case of humid environments and light drizzle. If you were caught in rain in the middle of a multi-pitch climb with a non-dry rope, you’d want to rappel down and go home. With a dry-sheath, you might be able to continue and finish the climb!
- Sheath and core: This is a must if you are planning to do any kind of ice-climbing and/or mountaineering in mixed conditions. In these cases, it is likely that a wet rope would freeze, making your lifeline unmanageable, so it is always best to keep it dry.
Downsides of a Dry Rope
Of course, dry-treated ropes are great, but they also have some downsides. One of the most obvious ones is the price.
Dry ropes can be a lot more expensive than non-dry ropes, and the more water-repellent they get, the more expensive they become.
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Also, it is worth noting that the coating is not permanent: it wears off with use and time. If you do not really need a dry-treated rope then it makes no sense to buy one just to use indoors as the treatment will be worn off whether in contact with water or not!
So, let’s talk about the cheaper option now.
Well, as you probably understand by now, non-dry ropes simply do not have any special water-repellent treatments, which makes them susceptible to absorbing water when exposed to moisture or wet environments.
If you do not climb in this kind of environment, though, they work perfectly!
Let’s say you mostly climb indoors, with some weekend sport climbing trips outdoors every few weeks. I’d imagine if it starts raining you will just pack up your stuff and go to the pub.
Usually, sport climbing is not really done in wet environments, is it? If that is your case, a non-dry rope will work just fine.
Or, for example, if you go to the crag every day, but live in a dry, almost desert-like climate (as I do, in the wonderful La Mojarra, Colombia!). Dry-treated rope… What for, if it rains once a month?
To sum up, there is no point in buying a dry treated rope if you have no intention (or need) of using it in wet or icy environments.
When a Non-Dry Rope Gets Wet
Regardless of your intentions… What happens if that once-a-month-rain falls while you are at the crag, working on your project, and your non-dry rope is suddenly soaking wet?
You must know that manufacturers DO NOT recommend falling on a wet rope, which, even when damp, may end up having its dynamic properties reduced by up to 70%. Basically, it’d be almost like falling on a static rope, and you really don’t want that!
Also, falling on a wet rope will cause more damage to the rope itself, so that its future performance, even once dry, will be compromised.
Static strength, which is what matters when lowering or rappelling, is not hugely compromised in a wet rope, so If your non-dry rope gets wet or damp while climbing, the best call is to lower slowly, or rappel down, and go home!
Dry Rope vs Non Dry Rope: Which One Do I Want?
I hope this info helped you out in deciding which one to choose: dry-treated or non-dry rope.
In the end, it all boils down to what use you will make of the rope you buy. If your adventures include snow, ice and glacier crossing, get the “driest” treatment you can afford.
If you are a fan of multi-pitch trad climbing in potentially wet and rainy environments, you will also need a dry rope, although sheath-dry treated might be enough.
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If you are a sport climbing weekend warrior and you pack up and go home (or to the wall!) when it starts raining, then a non-dry rope will work for you.
Of course, the price difference between dry-treated and non-dry ropes can be huge. In general, dry ropes are more expensive by more than a hundred dollars…
However, do not try to save some bucks by compromising your (or your partner’s) safety!
If you think you will need a dry-treated rope to be safe, it is definitely worth investing in one.
And remember, the water-repellent coating also makes the rope more durable and resistant, so why not?
For further reading see: “Half Rope vs Twin Rope: Are They Different & Does It Matter?” and “Types of Climbing Rope: A Guide To Everything You Need To Know”