Understanding the difference between dynamic vs static rope is essential to ensure you are using the correct type of rope for your next adventure. Ropes are classified depending on their reaction when loaded and, even if two ropes are identical in quality, each one can be suited for a different purpose.
A good example can be found in the different characteristics that rescue workers and mountain climbers look for in ropes.
When you are rock-climbing, you want to be using dynamic ropes: the design of dynamic ropes have more elongation, which means it will stretch when loaded. I.e. catch your fall more softly.
On the other hand…
Static rope, will not stretch as it does not have much elongation. These ropes are used for rappelling, rescue, etc.
Because of the construction method and fibers used there are elongation differences between the two types of rope. It’s important to know the differences, so let’s learn more.
Static Climbing Rope
Static climbing rope is not actually used for climbing itself, but it can be used for activities closely related to climbing, like rappelling, gear lines, rescue work, etc.
Here’s the details you need to know.
What is a Static Rope Made Of?
Traditionally, there have been various construction methods for static ropes. Natural materials were used to make rope in the past, but have generally been replaced in favor of synthetic fibers. In most instances, static rope is low-elongation and constructed from durable nylon. Static ropes can vary from 9-13 mm diameter. Of course, the thicker they are, the more durable and resistant.
The uses of static rope include:
- Fire rescue operations
Static rope is better for ascending on fixed ropes, hauling a load up or lowering an injured climber. In these situations, you do not really want the rope to stretch as a dynamic rope would.
For example, jumaring up a static rope is not as tiring as it would be a dynamic one, because there is less fatigue placed on your muscles.
How Much Stretch (Static Elongation) Does a Static Rope Have?
Static ropes are not completely static and they are designed to stretch minimally under load. In most cases, the static elongation or stretch is less than five percent. Static ropes are designed for maximum strength and minimal elongation to ensure as little stretch as possible.
Dynamic Climbing Rope
Dynamic rope helps absorb the impact of a falling climber thanks to its elasticity. The impact and injury risk during a fall diminish dramatically with dynamic rope when compared to static.
This is why you should never use a static rope for climbing (no, not even top roping!).
What is Dynamic Rope Made Of?
Dynamic rope is also made of nylon, but in this case it is designed to stretch. The material is an effective energy absorber and in reducing rope drag. Dynamic ropes’ diameters can go from 7 to 11mm and they can go from 30 to 80+ metres in length.
Most Common Uses Of Dynamic Ropes
Dynamic ropes are most suitable for climbing activities such as:
- Ice climbing
- Rock climbing (leading and top roping)
- Alpine Climbing
Of course, a dynamic rope can also be used for rappelling, rescuing and jumaring if need be. It is just not the most comfortable and efficient option!
UIAA Fall Factor Safety Ratings for Dynamic Ropes
UIAA dynamic rope is tested for dynamic elongation, falls held and impact force. Everything is based on a 176-pound weight for standard tests. If you are above this weight, you should still be able to climb safely. Dynamic rope in good condition rarely fails and failure is usually the result of an excessive load.
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Even if your climbing equipment pulls out or fails, your rope will most likely not break. The highest risk of a dynamic rope is a extremely high energy going through the rope (know as the impact force). According to the UIAA, dynamic rope is certified for a minimum number of five test falls. Once you have had five falls, the UIAA no longer certifies your rope.
Dynamic single ropes are your best option for top-roping, big-wall climbing, sport climbing and trad climbing. The majority of climbers purchase single ropes. The word single is an indication the rope was created to be used alone as opposed to with another rope.
Single ropes are suitable for a variety of climbing situations due to the different lengths and diameters. Single ropes are usually the easiest type of dynamic rope to handle. They are marked on the ends and on the manufacturer’s instructions with the number 1 enclosed in a circle.
Dynamic half ropes are your best option for ice climbing, mountaineering and multi-pitch wandering rock routes. If you use a half rope, you will require two. While you are ascending, you need to clip into protection alternatively. Usually, you will use one rope for gear on your right and the other to clip into gear on your left. This will help reduce drag.
In comparison to a single rope, more effort and skill are necessary for the management of half ropes. This is because you are belaying and climbing with two ropes so you will need to get used to managing them smoothly. The fact that they are two different ropes will mean that you can share the weight of the load with your climbing partner on the approach.
For further reading on half and twing ropes see: “Half Rope vs Twin Rope: Are They Different & Does It Matter?“
Half ropes have been tested and designed to use as matching pairs.This means you should not mix different brands or sizes for your safety. Specific half ropes have also received a rating as twin ropes. This means they can be used for both techniques.
To ensure maximum versatility, certain triple-rated ropes can be used as single, twin and half ropes. You should use your ropes the way the testing and design intended. At the end of every half rope is a circled symbol of 1/2.
Twin ropes are ideal for ice climbing, multi-pitch non-wandering rock routes, trad climbing and mountaineering. This type of rope might look similar to half ropes, but they are designed to always be used in pairs. When using twin ropes both strands must always be clipped through every piece of protection.
You will have more drag with twin ropes than half ropes, but they are less bulky and lighter than half ropes, as they are usually thinner, and will give you double the length of rappel compared to a single rope.
How to Tell if a Rope is Static vs Dynamic
The ability to differentiate between static vs dynamic rope is critical for your safety. In the past, the difference was obvious due to the design since static climbing ropes were always black and white. Although this is still true for most ropes, your best option is looking at the label.
The type of rope is denoted on a little tag located at the end. If the tag is already removed, the rope must be tested physically. You need to use specific loads while holding and bending the rope to test the stretching capabilities. If the stretch is more than five percent, it is a dynamic rope.
Generally speaking, dynamic ropes have shiny colors, while static ropes are black, or black and white. Of course, there might be exceptions, so make sure you always check the manufacturer’s instructions to know if you’re buying the right kind of rope for the activity you will be performing.
Can You Rappel with a Dynamic Rope?
You can rappel completely safely with a dynamic rope. Your descent will be more awkward and difficult due to the stretch. Many climbers consider the bouncing sensation both inconvenient and uncomfortable making extra caution necessary.
Dynamic rope should only be used to rappel if there is no other option available. Your rope of choice for rappelling should be static. In the event of an emergency, you can use a dynamic rope.
Can You Rock Climb with a Static Rope?
Static ropes offer very little stretch vs dynamic ropes. This is the reason they are efficient for hauling up a load, ascending a rope or lowering an injured climber. Static rope should not be used for lead rock climbing or top-roping because it was not certified or designed for these purposes.
How to Choose a Climbing Rope for You
If you are new to climbing, you should choose climbing ropes with a diameter between 10 and 10.5 mm with a climbing rope length of 60-70m . This type of single dynamic rope is recommended for your first few climbs and top-roping. The thicker your rope is, the longer it will resist damage and abuse. Once you have gained some experience with climbing and can handle your rope better while belaying, you can start using a thinner rope.
Most experienced climbers prefer a thinner rope to decrease pack weight and for easier clipping. The UIAA watches the industry to ensure the appropriate technical criteria is enforced. Your impact force, sheath slippage and elongation percentage should be in line with all of the requirements of the UIAA. Before you purchase any type of rope, make sure to check and compare the UIAA.
Ask Yourself, Where am I Going to be Climbing?
You need to consider the type of climbing you are interested in before deciding whether to use a single, half or twin ropes. Each type is designed for different types of climbs. The standard rope length is 60 meters for the majority of areas.
If you want to make sure you can climb anywhere in the world, get a 70 or 80m rope, as sometimes routes are longer than 30m. This rope length will also enable you to cut off a worn section at the end with a decent length left for most routes.
If you plan to do wandering trad routes and want to have a longer rappel, go for half ropes, and if you will be going ice climbing, choose twin ropes.
And Remember, Always Check The Tag
When comparing similar ropes, look at the fall rating from the UIAA. UIAA testing involves the simulation of worst-case scenarios. A weight of 80 kg is tied to a sample rope then repeatedly dropped over a bar until failure occurs.
The simulations are different from the falls most climbers experience. Despite this, the number is extremely useful when making a comparison. When the number of falls held is higher, you know the rope is more durable.
If you do not see UIAA on the label, the rope has not been approved for the industry. This means the appropriate criteria for the industry have not been met and the rope might be unsafe.
Remember, you should get a static rope only for activities like rappelling, caving, hauling gear, etc. Static ropes CANNOT be used for climbing!
For more reading see: “Dry Rope vs Non Dry Rope: Does It Matter?” and “Types of Climbing Rope: A Guide To Everything You Need To Know“.