Once you have decided if you are going to use twin, single or double rope, the question is, should you get a dry treatment?
So what’s the difference, and is it really worth spending an extra hard earned $$ on it?
First: What are Treated Ropes Made for?
So the question is, what are dry ropes made for, and do I need one?
This depends on what style of rock and ice focused adventures you’ll be doing, and where!
Rope treatments make them more resistant to water and the coating also serves as a bit of extra protection from rock edges, dust or sand.
They also protect from abrasion over its entire length, reducing rope wear and therefore extending its life!
Should I Get a Dry Treated Rope?
Dry ropes are best if you climb outdoors a lot and live in an area that is more prone to rain, or if you know that you will spend long days outside on multi-pitches.
Not to mention…
You could always go for a sheath-only dry treatment (more on this later), which is a bit more affordable and still offers some extra protection for your climbing gear.
If you do any kind ice or alpine climbing, or harsh conditions (snow, rock and ice, lots of rain) you definitely need a dry treated rope.
Who Does Not Need a Dry Treated Rope?
Climbers who almost exclusively climb indoors and only rarely venture out onto the rock for a sport climb on a sunny day are fine with non dry treated ropes.
Keep in mind that the treatment still improves the handling and durability, but from a “water point of view” it might not be necessary to get a dry rope.
What are the Downsides of a Treated Rope?
The most obvious downside of dry ropes is their price, they cost about $50 or so more.
If you combine that with other middle marker alternatives (like bi-pattern ropes), it can end up being a pretty big chunk of money.
Keep in mind the coating tends to wear off over time, and the water repellent effect gets significantly weaker over time.
Also, the fibers are constantly breaking down and the weave becomes looser, which causes ropes to grow thicker and appear ‘fuzzy’ with time.
This allows even more moisture to penetrate the core.
So it’s possible a non-treated option with a tight weave might be more moisture-repellent than an old dry-treated option with a looser weave and bigger gaps between the individual strands.
The treatment makes the sheath smooth and easy to handle, but climbers also suggest that knots can slip and come undone more easily on dry ropes because of its smooth surface, though this claim has never been tested scientifically.
What Are Dry Treated Ropes?
A dry treated rope is covered in a special coating that makes it water repellent.
Repellent, not “proof”. It won’t keep your rope 100% dry and keep it from ever getting dirty, but it sure does help!
The coating covers the fibers of the sheath and/or core of the rope and keeps the nylon fibers from absorbing moisture.
However, because the rope is woven together from many strands, even a dry treated rope can get soaked because the water droplets can penetrate the fibers.
This is why the treatment make ropes “water repellent”, but not “waterproof”.
What Is So Good About a Treated Rope?
The main difference of a dry rope when compared to other options is that it prevents it from getting wet while you are using it, which is particularly helpful if you’re ice or alpine climbing.
The coating also helps to keep out dust and is an extra layer of protection from wear when ropes pass over a sharp edge on the rock.
Not only does this add durability, and can also increase the life of your gear, allowing you to take a higher number of falls, but also addeds abrasion resistance, which causes ropes to significantly last longer, and prevents the ropes from getting fuzzy with time.
(Not to mention)
They essentially always feed way nicer for a given diameter than non-treated ropes, making the belay experience oh so smooth.
Types of Rope Treatments
Non Dry Rope
This is your standard rope, without any special coating to make it more resistant to water.
This is perfectly fine for climbs in the gym or sport climbing in warm and/or arid climates.
What About “Sheath Only” Treatment?
A rope consists of two parts, the outer sheath and inner core .
Sheath only dry ropes only get protective coating over the outermost layer.
This means it’s more protected from moisture, as well as abrasion. But if the water does manage to get past the outer layer, the core can still absorb it.
Sheath only are a “compromise” between non-untreated and double treated ropes.
Often it is a bit cheaper than a double treatment and suitable for people who might hit the occasional shower on a multi-pitch but who are not aiming to go ice or alpine climbing.
Sheath And Core “Double Dry”
When it comes to dry treatments, it is important to read the small print from your manufacturer.
Double dry ropes can either mean that both the sheath and the core have a special coating, but it can also mean that the coating was applied twice.
If both the core and sheath are treated, the rope has additional protection against moisture, dirt and abrasions, and is also the most expensive option out of these three.
It is important to keep in mind that even though a manufacturer might call this double treated, the UIAA has started certifying water repellent ropes in 2014 according to quite strict parameters.
According to the UIAA, only ropes with sheath and core treatment can qualify as water repellent ropes.
In addition, they conduct a simple test to determine the rope’s water resistance level.
They essentially weigh the ropes before and after they have been wetted, and then express that change as a percentage.
As long as the amount of water absorbed is not greater than 5 % of the total weight, it “passes” the test can be classified as treated.
How to wash and Care For a Treated Rope
While you can wash dry treated ropes like you would any normal rope, be aware that washing it will make the coating of the rope come off faster.
It’s best to avoid washing it with water.
You can clean it with a brush after use to protect the coating longer.
Normally the first few meters tend to get slightly more dirty, so you can also focus on those areas when cleaning it.
According to Mammut, you can wash their treated ropes like you would a normal non dry rope by giving it a gentle hand wash in lukewarm or cold water.
If you choose to use detergent, make sure it is a specific synthetic detergent that you can get from outdoor retailers.
However, many recommend to wash ropes without any soap.
How Bad Is It To Get a Non-Treated Climbing Rope Wet?
There are several downsides to using a wet climbing rope, be it dry treated or not.
Non-dry treated ropes tends to suffer more from the effect of water and therefore are even more vulnerable to damage than a rope that has some kind of try treatment.
Difficult To Handle
Ropes that are full of moisture are way heavier.
This makes it more difficult to carry and handle, and of course, belay.
While a rope with dry treatment gets wet at a slower rate and does not soak up quite as much water as a non-treated option, with time and heavy rain it can still get wet.
If you are climbing in cold weather it can freeze, making it stiff and impossible to handle and pass through your belay device.
This can also happen with a dry treated rope, as the water droplets that get lodged between the nylon strands can still freeze and make the rope unusable.
Loss of Dynamic Stretch and Easier To Damage
Remember: moisture in the rope reduces the stretch.
Many manufacturers state 30% to 70% loss of dynamic strength when the ropes are wet.
Keep in mind: both dry-treated or non dry treated ropes lose strength while wet.
Dry treated ropes lose less of their dynamic stretch when damp because the dry treatment helps to keep some water out of the fibers as they don’t absorb the water directly.
Wet ropes are therefore less stretchy when falling on them, which can make things particularly dangerous when ice climbing.
Stiff ropes are not only uncomfortable and also makes the rope weaker and more prone to damage.
The impact of the fall is said to increase 5 to 10 % on a wet rope, in comparison to a dry one.
This only applies to the dynamic stretch. Static stretch essentially stays the same so it is possible to rappel on a soaked rope.
How to Dry Your Rope Once It’s wet
Once you get back home and unpack your not-so-dry-anymore-rope, it is important to dry it correctly, to not compromise its further use.
To do so: dry it flaked out on the floor, preferably indoors and out of direct sunlight, as the UV rays can cause damage to the nylon.
It should be away from a direct heat source, but in an area with good air circulation, to speed up the drying process.
Keep in mind that chemicals from household cleaners or the liquid from car batteries can permanently damage your rope, so be careful where you spread it!
You can use a fan to speed up the process, but not any heat like from hair dryers or small electrical heaters!
If you don’t fall on the rope while its wet and dry it properly afterwords, there is no long-term damage from getting your rope wet.
Just like it is possible to wash the rope with water to clean it, the water itself does not do any damage to the material.
For further reading see: “How to Store Climbing Rope: Steps to Keeping Your Rope Pristine!”
Hi there, I am Mirjam and have recently discovered rock climbing for me while backpacking in Colombia. Originally from Switzerland I currently live in Venezuela and work as a freelance writer and translator. I have always loved being in nature and the mountains and am stoked to explore more of the world’s best climbing in the years to come!
You can find me at @mirigoesround or www.bosstranslations.com