When you have been climbing for a few years, you’ve probably gone through more than one climbing rope.
Through wear and tear, abrasions or big falls, there are many reasons to retire a climbing rope, so the question is, what do you do with your old climbing rope now?
Here we have compiled a list of cool upcycling projects for old climbing ropes as well as other uses or places to donate it or recycle it!
From a rope rug to a tree swing out of an old climbing rope, the options are endless…
What to Do With Your Old Climbing Rope
You’ve tried everything, but the moment has come and the climbing-life of your favourite rope has come to an end.
But instead of throwing it away (don’t! But more on recycling later) there are some cool things you can still do with your trusty companion.
By getting crafty and creative, you can upcycle your climbing rope(s) and give it a new life in your home or garden. Might also make a good gift for the climbing fanatic in your life!
This is one of the classics, especially if you have several old ropes in different colours ~ why don’t you try to make a rope rug?
Using up your old gear to make a climbing rope rug can be a fun project for a rainy day.
You can sow, glue, weave or knot all types of different designs out of climbing ropes, here is some rope rug inspiration for the overachievers among you.
Upcycling my favourite old climbing rope and keeping my beer cool?
You just need a lighter and some old climbing rope to make this nifty little beer koozie, so there is no excuse. Have a look at this tutorial video for the instructions.
Swings or nets for playgrounds
Using old climbing rope to make a swing set, rope ladder or a rope net for the playground will get some extra points with the kids.
There are tons of tutorials for the right net-knotting-technique, but if you like it more straight forward, all you need is a tree, a plank of wood and some old climbing rope and there you have the perfect garden swing.
If you want an even simpler toy for your kids or yourself, a jump rope is easily made from your favourite old rock climbing rope.
Dog chew toy/cat scratch pole
Whether you are a dog or cat person, with some old climbing rope you can easily make some toys for your pets.
A monkey-fist knot is an easy way to turn your old climbing rope into a chew toy for your dog, while a pole wrapped in old rope makes the perfect scratching-station for your feline friend.
Staying in the animal kingdom. With 2 meters of retired rope and an old carabiner, you can easily make a stylish dog leash for your crag doggo.
Furniture – chairs, hammock, sofa
With some creativity, you can even make furniture out of old ropes. From hammocks to Ottomans, chairs and sofas, the possibilities are endless.
If you have an old chair lying around, you can give it a new life by replacing some cushions with a net of ropes. Out of an old tire and some pieces of wood to close the top and bottom, you can make an Ottoman covered in rope with very little necessary tools.
Plant hanger, coaster, basket
If you are looking for something smaller to start with, try making a basket or plant pot holder out of some climbing rope.
You can either sow it together or glue it, crafting it into whatever shape you like.
Why not use the old rope to hang up your new one? When it comes to gear storage, the options are endless and you can incorporate your old rope in it, too!
Be it a hanging shelf made with the old climbing rope, loops to clip your cams into or just lines strung along the ceiling where you can hang everything up, there are many options to repurpose your rope for storage.
When To Retire Your Climbing Rope
The big question, when should you stop using your climbing rope and invest in a new one?
This depends on a lot of different factors and there is no clear answer, as it depends a lot on the specific (ab)use your climbing rope experiences during its life.
But here are some general tips on when to tell your climbing rope is done and also on how to make it last longer!
The normal lifespan of a climbing rope
Climbing ropes are made of nylon fibres, which break down over time. So, ropes do have a shelf life. And considering that it is literally your lifeline, it is worth knowing a thing or two about just how much you can put your rope through and it still be safe for you.
If you don’t use your climbing rope, and it just sits in your cupboard, you should get rid of it after 10 years.
At least that’s what most brands recommend.
If you climb on it, the lifespan of the climbing rope will get shorter, depending on how often you climb.
According to the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), based on data from Mammut, a rope that gets used almost daily can be at the end of its life after less than a year.
If you use it once a week, it can last up to 1 year, 3 years if you climb several times a month and 5 years if you climb only once a month.
Factors that reduce the lifespan of your rope
Some of these factors are more obvious, like taking a big fall or strong abrasion, but there are other things that can deteriorate your rope slowly, like the impact of UV rays or exposure to chemicals.
So, it is important to regularly inspect the rope, to clean it when needed and to store it properly.
When you take a big fall, it might be time to retire your rope (at least from lead climbing).
A big fall means a fall of more than a factor 1, generally one with a large distance and high impact force where you will feel pain on your hips afterwards. Ropes have fall ratings by the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alinisme (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, UIAA) that indicate how many falls you can take on it.
This ranges from five to twelve and indicates the strength of the rope.
You might be able to detect the impact of the fall on your rope, like a shot core, but sometimes the internal damage is hard to see.
This happens when the loaded rope runs over a rough edge or rock, which can cause friction and abrasion on the sheath of the rope.
The core of the rope is still intact, but its protective coating (the sheath) is weakened. This is easily detected by the fuzziness of the rope in certain areas, which makes regular inspection even more important.
Retire the rope when the abrasion is so strong that you can see the core of the rope, it feels spongy or the fuzz causes problems in the belay device.
Also, when you have the choice, rappel instead of being lowered down after a climb as this is gentler on the rope and won’t cause friction as the rope is not moving during rappelling.
Inspection and storage
To be sure that your rope is still safe to use, you should regularly inspect it.
A few good times to do so is when you get home from climbing and are storing it away, or when washing it.
Don’t wait until you get to the crag to inspect and maybe discover that the rope you bought is not suitable!
For a proper inspection, run the whole length of the rope through your hands and check for abrasions, a shot core or other damage.
When ropes are exposed to certain chemicals like car battery acid, but even to certain laundry detergents or household cleaners, they can get damaged.
This is why it is so important to store your rope away from sunlight and in a dry area where there is no risk of contact with such substances.
The garage might not be the best idea and when travelling, make sure to use rope bags and not chuck your rope in the boot of your car without protection.
How to make it last
If you detect any damage in the first few meters of the rope, there is always the option to cut the ends off, if you are comfortable with that (this is very common practice).
If your rope has a marker in the middle, remember to either move the marker or cut the same distance off at both ends.
Another option is to use the rope for top-roping or rappelling, where it will take fewer shocks than when using it while lead climbing.
Keeping a rope usage log can also be a good idea to remember which rope you used for what and how many falls you have taken on it.
In general, to keep your rope from deteriorating, make sure to use a rope bag and tarps when out and about to keep your climbing rope as clean as possible.
Avoid baking your rope in the sun or drenching it in water, as this can slowly deteriorate the fibres and also take away some of its elasticity, especially when wet. And finally, place protective gear in sensitive distances from each other to avoid big whippers in the first place.
Cutting Your Rope
Sometimes, the best way to prolong the life of your rope is to simply cut and seal the rope’s end. Many times, the wear of the rope is centralized near the ends and this is what takes falls.
But cutting a meter or two off the end, many times you can continue using a rope for much more time.
How Do You Recycle Your Old Climbing Rope?
If you’ve run out of upcycling projects and really need to get rid of rope, there are a few ways to do so.
First, rope should not go into a landfill, so try one of the options below to give your rope a second life in the spirit of Mama Earth.
Where to recycle and/or donate
Please note that this is just a small selection of organizations and projects to donate gear to. Depending on your area, there might be local organizations or maybe your climbing gym even has use for used gear. When it comes to used ropes that are not fit for climbing any more, the options can be more limited.
In the US, normal recycling probably won’t accept your rope for recycling. However, there are a few rope manufacturers who will recycle your rope, no matter the brand.
The three we found are Sterling, Millet, and PMI.
In Europe, the recycling regulations are different than in the States when it comes to the materials and objects the recycling plants accept. In places like Germany, the chances are greater that a local recycling plant will accept the rope, which is old nylon fabric, by the way. There are also some specialized recycling companies you can ask or call to pick up used climbing gear when it is too worn to donate or do anything else with it.
Donating still usable climbing gear is a good way to provide other people with access to the outdoors and bring down barriers of entry.
However, make sure to read the requirements for the gear and make sure the equipment is still safe to use.
If the gear is not safe to use any more, there are still organizations where you can donate the material to, who can upcycle it into new products.
Some options in the US are Dogpatch SF or Green Guru Gear
If you are based in the UK, two options are Green Peak Gear or Dirtbags Climbing, who make things like a rope chalk bag, boulder pads and more out of used and retired gear.
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