When rock climbing, our life might not be hanging by a thread… But it literally hangs by a rope!
This most important piece of equipment is what makes our passion possible and safe, and it really must be given the attention and care it deserves.
And… I’ll be the first to admit it, we could all learn to take better care of our climbing rope. And we definitely should!
Taking care of your climbing rope means learning how to use it, store it and clean it, and also being aware of what behaviours might unintentionally damage it.
This is why, in this article, we decided to teach you all you need to know to take care of and store climbing rope properly, from the moment you welcome it into your world, to the moment you decide it is time for it to retire.
Follow these tips and you’re sure to be safe and make your climbing rope last longer.
How to Take Care of a Climbing Rope
Caring for a climbing rope begins as soon as you walk out of the shop with your new lifeline under your arm. The first thing you need to do is learn to treat it with respect, meticulousness and care.
Once you get home and are ready to check out your new rope (don’t wait to do it at the crag!), make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions to uncoil it. Trust me, you do not want to just open it up, throw it on a carpet and try to untangle it as you would any old rope!
Doing this step properly can reduce/avoid future kinking and twisting. Usually, you will need to reverse the factory coiling process by placing your arms through the center of the coil and rotating them, so that the free end will flake into a pile, like so.
Once the rope is uncoiled, flake it again, and there you go, your lifeline is ready for your whippers!
At the Crag
When using your new (or old!) rope at the crag, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure it does not get damaged.
First of all, try to keep your rope as free of debris and dirt as possible. Use a rope bag with a tarp, or even just a plastic sheet or big Ikea bag to protect it from the ground. When a rope gets very dirty, it might become stiff and hard to manage.
Another thing to keep in mind is not to step on the rope, nor let your furry friends do it (they all love to have a nap on the rope, don’t they!). If there are sharp objects or rocks under the rope, this might cause damage.
Exposure to direct sunlight in the hottest hours or to water (if it is not dry treated) will also likely cause damage to the rope and affect its longevity.
This tip is more about your longevity rather than the rope’s!
Regularly go through the whole length of your rope, checking with your fingers for cuts, abrasions and flat spots.
Make sure you create a routine for these inspections, so that you will never forget to do it before setting off on a climb.
A rope might become fuzzy, dirty and stiff, and it’s fine, but if you feel something like sponginess it might indicate that your rope is core shot.
How to Cut a Rope When It’s Damaged
Whenever you find a damaged spot, make sure you do not climb on the rope as it is. If the damaged spot is close to one end (which is usually what happens), cut the damaged rope length out.
If you cut one end, be careful with the middle mark of the rope, it will not be the middle anymore! If you want to mark the “new middle”, make sure you use a rope-specific marker, and not just any sharpie!
If the damage is in the middle or just quite far from the ends, I am sorry to inform you that you need to say goodbye to your old rope and invest in a new one!
How to Wash Climbing Rope
The best way to wash a rope is by hand in a tub filled with lukewarm water (not hot!). Let it soak and then swish it around and run your hands down the entire length of the rope to remove dirt.
If you want to use soap or detergent, make sure it is a product made specifically for cleaning climbing rope. Once you’re finished, empty the tub and fill it up again with water to rinse the rope.
To dry it, flake it onto a towel or hang it on the shower rod until it is dry. Do not expose it to direct sunlight and make sure it is completely dry before storing it away!
All you Need to Know for Storing Climbing Rope
I am sure we would all love to use our climbing rope every day, but unfortunately this is rarely the case, and ropes might end up spending weeks at a time stored away.
Anyway, whether we talk about long or short-term storage, it is essential to know what you’re doing, as even just leaving your rope for a few hours or days in the wrong place could damage it permanently!
How to Coil
First things first: when we finish our day at the crag, we will need to coil our rope. Coiling is actually quite important to avoid tangles and twists while transporting the rope on your back or in a rope bag.
There are different ways to coil a rope, and I highly suggest you try them out to find the one that works best for you and for your rope.
One useful tip for me is to start coiling it not from the middle point, but from one end. It will take slightly longer, sure, but the result will be much more tidy and, above all, easier to flake out for the next use.
Once it is coiled, you can wrap it in a tarp or put it in a rope bag.
How and Where to Store
The main aspects to consider when storing a climbing rope are temperature, moisture, sunlight and chemicals.
As you probably imagine, keep it away from chemicals at all times! Do not store your rope near anything that could spill out and damage it (yes, it has happened!).
Since climbing ropes experience a loss in resistance when exposed to direct sunlight or moisture, the best place to store them is a dry, shady, cool place. For example, the bottom of a wardrobe. A damp cellar or sunny spot? Bad idea.
If you live in a very humid climate, rope bags can help keep the moisture out.
Loosely coil your rope, or flake it, put it in a rope bag (or not), and leave it in a dry, cool shady place. That’s all!
It is also essential to remember not to store your rope in extreme heat or freezing temperature, such as in a car on a summer day, or during a winter storm in Russia. Extreme temperatures can damage the rope’s fibers, and you really don’t want that!
How Long Does a Rope Last?
Of course, there is no straight answer to this question. How long a rope will last depends on a huge number of factors like how often you use it, what kind of climbing you use it for, how often (and from how high) you fall on it, etc.
Of course, if you follow our tips on how to care for and store your rope properly, you will definitely extend its lifespan.
When to Retire Climbing Rope
Unfortunately, even with the best care in the world, your climbing rope will not last forever.
At some point, you will have to say goodbye to your rope and retire it on a shelf (or use its remains for all kinds of crafts!).
The following table is what manufacturers usually give as a general reference for how long a rope can last if cared for and stored properly.
Never used, still packaged
Occasional use (monthly) with proper cleaning and storage
Occasional use (bi-weekly) with proper cleaning and storage
Frequent use (weekly), lots of lead falls
1 year (but can be used for top-roping for another 2-3 years)
Following a large fall or damage
If you want to be extra safe, you could, for example, take note of the purchase date and keep a record of how frequently you use it, and of the number and severity of falls it took.
This will help you determine when to retire a rope more accurately.
Also, if, after an inspection, you find yourself doubting if you should use it or not, it is probably best not to risk it. After all, it really is not worth it to put yourself (or others!) in danger just to save a few bucks.