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Which Rope to Hang Yourself With!?!?

One of the things I often get asked by climbers is, “what rope should I buy”. Over the years I have used many different ropes from different companies: Beal, Petzl, Sterling, BlueWater, Edelwiess, Mammut, Metolius, Tendon, Maxim, Edelrid, Millet, Singing Rock…to name a few… Not all ropes are made equal though. When it comes to climbing gear you pay for what you get; cheaper ropes are cheap for a reason. A good climbing rope (and good gear period) is an investment towards LIFE. Ropes I currently own are; Single Rope: Beal Diablo 9.8, Beal Flier 10.2, Metolius Monster 9.8, Singing Rock Duran 10.4 Half Ropes: Mammut Pheonix 8.0 and Tendon  Ambition 7.9. My favorite brands are Petzl, Sterling, BlueWater, Beal, Mammut and Metolius.  Below are my personal thoughts and review of a few the ropes I own as well as a guide on selecting rope.

When it comes to ropes in the UAE we are limited on selection. My opinion is that you can get three of the best brands at Barracuda Fishing at the best price: Petzl, Beal and Sterling. BlueWater, Mammut and Metolius Ropes are not available here; so I wouldn’t bother getting rope anywhere else, unless your buying outside the UAE. The next rope I plan to get is a Sterling; still deciding which one though as they are all awesome.

The newest rope I have is the 70m Petzl Contact 9.8; this rope is not yet on the market and will be released in 2014, you also will not find information online about this rope yet (except here 🙂 YAAAY! I’m the first lol). The Contact is one of three new single ropes designed by Petzl to be released 2014; which I received courtesy of TraksPro to test out along with the new Bolsa Rope Bag. Thank you TRAKS! 🙂 I love the new rope. Since receiving it I have used it two weekends in the UAE and for FIVE days straight in Jordan recently. I also had many of the other climbers in the UAE and Jordan use the rope and got much positive feedback. Everyone that has used it so far has loved it compared to my other ropes and their ropes. We even tested it against the Beal Diablo.

Compared to all the ropes I currently have and have used in the past the Petzl Contact 9.8 and Sterling Evolution Velocity 9.8 are my top two favorite.

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Petzl Contact 9.8– Petzl has an outstanding history for developing superior quality and innovative products; their new line of ropes hold to the same Petzl standards of innovation, safety and quality. The bright blue color is very aesthetic and stands out well. The Contact immediately caught my interest out of the bag; it’s manufactured “ready for action” with ClimbReady Coil, which requires no irritating uncoiling or restacking. Combined with the new Bolsa Bag it make transporting and from route to route easy and efficient.  UltraSonic Finish binds the core and sheath at the end; making the ends more durable to avoid fraying and the annoying sheath sliding over the end as you find on some other ropes.

Petzl has distinctively Middle Marked the rope to indicate the middle of the rope to facilitate maneuvers.

My favorite feature of the rope is the handling. The contact has EverFlex Treatment, a special thermal treatment that stabilizes the core strands, improves consistency, and provides excellent grip and handling over time. The feel and handling of the rope are excellent; it is nice and supple, not stiff. The clipping action of the rope is smooth and on longer routes over rock there is not much rope drag compared to other rope. Belaying with this rope is also smooth and delicate, making the belaying action feel better. The Contact easily slides through the GriGri and Reverso. When using the GriGri the Contact does not easily “pinch/grab” causing the cam to engage and locking of the GriGri while belaying. If the GriGri is locked off the smoothness of the rope allows the GriGri to release VERY easily. So if you are one of those climbers that think the GriGri is a hands free device (which I often see) while belaying please think again (read the GriGri product guide). The Contact is very smooth and doesn’t lock off easily or quickly, this allows it to slide very efficiently. So if you do go improperly go hands free this rope WILL unlock and slide. So be safe and keep your hand on the rope.

Another feature of the rope that I love is that it barely twists while belaying. It’s very irritating when belaying and the rope twists and bunches up (more common on the GriGri). Then you have to run the rope to get the twists out. Many other ropes have this issue (especially the Beal Diablo), not the Contact 🙂 . The design of the rope ensures minimal twisting.

I took a two nice lead falls with the Contact on routes I was working as well; which provided me with a very soft catch. On thing that can be frustrating is untying a figure eight that is tight after falling on it. The Contact come undone with minimal effort even when tight.

The Sheath construction is very durable as well giving it has good edge resistance. This is very important; especially when climbing in the UAE with all the sharp rock. Usually most new ropes get the “fuzz” on the sheath after a few days of climbing in the UAE or can snag on the small sharp edges. I have not experienced this yet, as I have with other ropes, even with the recent heavy use.

Pros: High quality; durable sheath; soft catches; middle and ends well-marked; versatile for all skill levels, top roping and leading; light weight.

Cons: None….yet.

If you are purchasing a rope I highly recommend this rope be the next one you purchase. The next top two ropes I recommend are the Beal Diablo 9.8 for more experienced climber and the 10.2 if you are new or the Sterling Evolution 9.8 for all skill level or Ion 9.4 for advanced (definitely not for beginner belayers)

The Beal Diablo comes with the Unicore feature. To my knowledge it is the only dynamic rope currently being produced by any company; where the sheath and core are bound together as one for the full length of the rope. This feature means the sheath will never slide over the core; even if you cut around the sheath. It is very durable. It has very smooth and excellent handling like the Petzl Contact. Two cons of this rope are: 1. It TWISTS A LOT! 2. The sheath gets the “fuzz” rather quickly; especially when using a Reverso.

The Sterling Evolution and Ion are very versatile and durable. They can be purchased with a few options BiColor, Dry and SuperDry treatment which prolongs life. These ropes are not as supple as the Diablo or Contact. They are specifically designed to be more rigid and hold their stiffness over long use; whereas most ropes soften over time. If you are looking for a stiff rope then one of these ropes is the best choice. Cons of these ropes: $$$ they cost a bit more then other ropes you pay for what you get.

So which one one do we hang ourselves with? and how do we choose a rope with so many options?

I have my choices and know what to look for when it comes to rope, what about you? Lets take a look at the different options when choosing a rope. REI has a great guide when looking at rope seletion which I have reposted from REI below. My Comments are in RED.

Diameter
(mm)
Weight
(g/m)
UIAA Fall Rating
Workhorse Single Ropes 10.1-11mm (65-77 g/m) 10-17 UIAA falls
All-Around Single Ropes 9.5-10mm (60-64 g/m) 7-9 UIAA falls
Skinny Single Ropes 8.9-9.4mm (52-59 g/m) 5-6 UIAA falls
Half Ropes 8-9mm (41-53 g/m) 6-16 UIAA falls
Twin Ropes 7-8mm (37-42 g/m) 12-19 UIAA falls
Static Ropes 9-13mm (commonly 7/16″ and 1/2″ diameter)*

*Static ropes are not intended to be used for lead climbing and are not approved for that use by the UIAA. These ropes are designed for abseiling, caving, rope access work, and are not for climbing. They are not designed for and will not take a dynamic load. If you use one for climbing and take a whippeeer on one kiss your ass goodbye.

Workhorse Singles

A workhorse rope is one that will hold up to lots of use and abuse. It is good for routes with rough rock and edges. In conjunction with a thicker sheath, a fat rope will give you the most sharp-edge protection. Its larger diameter makes it easier to hold onto and less likely for a belayer to drop the climber; though it’s less smooth with some belay devices.

  • Ideal uses: Big walls, top roping, working sport routes, extreme use. Great for *Beginners* especially ones learning to lead and taking MANY FALLS.
  • Shortcomings: Heavy and big in your pack. Can be a pain in the ass when belaying; especially “light” people.

All-Around Singles

These are the meat-and-potatoes ropes. They are the ones most people will buy, because they are of average diameter, weight and fall ratings. Not too light, nor too heavy. They are the do-everything, go-to ropes.

  • Ideal uses: Sport, trad, alpine (rock, ice and snow). Ok for beginners, better for intermediate to advanced depending on the rope specifications.
  • Shortcomings: Not much, unless you are specializing in fast and light or thrashing up a big wall.

Skinny Singles

These ropes are flashy, trendy and skinny. Their light weight can make a big difference. Think long routes where you are turning over many belays, pulling in slack belay after belay; or in an alpine setting where you are coiling most of the rope over your shoulder to move together and switching techniques back and forth. Hard sport routes are also a great place to use this kind of rope. A word of warning, however: Be sure you can catch a fall with your skinny rope. Use a complementary belay device designed for skinny rope (preferably with a friction groove) and PRACTICE catching falls in the gym.

  • Ideal uses: Fast and light for onsights and redpoints at your limit. NOT for beginner climbers or belayers. Make sure you have a really good belayer. Okay for intermediate climbers, I recommend that experienced climbers use thees ropes only.
  • Shortcomings: More risk of rope cutting over an edge. More difficulty in catching a fall—make sure you have a belay device that offers maximum friction and is rated for the diameter of your rope.

Half Ropes

These are a great option for long, wandering routes. Whether on rock, ice or mixed, half ropes offer many advantages. By alternating clips, you can limit rope drag. You can also limit the fall potential during a clip by pulling slack in the rope that is not running from the closest piece of pro. When it comes time to rappel, you can go twice as far by tying the 2 ropes together. And lastly, 2 strands of rope reduce the odds of your lifeline being severed either from a leader fall over an edge or from rockfall.

  • Ideal uses: Wandering multi-pitch rock or alpine routes that you will need to rappel or might have to retreat part-way through.
  • Shortcomings: More time and energy consuming to use due to the extra bulk and weight of 2 strands and while managing belay transitions. If you clip both strands to 1 piece of protection, the impact force goes up on the pro and on you (this is not recommended, especially on weaker gear).

Twin Ropes

Another great 2-rope that is lighter and less bulky than half ropes. You can still rappel twice as far, like with half ropes.

  • Ideal uses: Ice climbs and non-wandering rock climbs where rappelling is in the cards.
  • Shortcomings: You have to clip both strands ALWAYS through each piece of protection, so there will be more rope drag than with half ropes.

Static Ropes

These excel in situations where you don’t want the rope to stretch. The first time I climbed El Cap, I was so worried that the dynamic rope we brought for jugging (rope ascension) was going to be cut while rubbing over an edge that I wouldn’t budge. Finally, I was reassured by my partner that the rope was running cleanly and padded if it was running over an edge. Only then did I cut loose from the belay station and swing into the void to begin vertiginous process of climbing the free hanging rope.

  • Ideal uses: Rappelling, rescue and big-wall ascending—any time you are lowering, ascending or pulling a load up with the rope.
  • Shortcomings: Not to be used for climbing as these ropes are not designed, tested nor certified for those types of loads. (See related Rope FAQ below.)

Shop REI’s selection of static and rescue ropes.

Rope Construction Glossary

Climbing Rope

Here are terms that describe parts of a rope:

  • Sheath: The protective braided cover of the rope. It keeps the core from getting dirty, abraided or cut, and it adds some strength and shock absorption as well. Sheaths comprise between 30-40% of a rope’s mass. The thicker the sheath, the more it resists cutting and abrasion, especially over an edge.
  • Core: The inner twisted core strands of the rope. It provides the majority of the strength and shock absorption.
  • Sheath and Core are made from different materiel depending on manufacturer and type of rope: Nylon, Kevlar, Dynema/Spectra…
  • Kernmantle: A combination of a pair of German words, kern meaning core and mantle meaning sheath. This type of construction is used as opposed to old climbing ropes that were just 3 to 4 strands twisted together and with no protective sheath.
  • Sheath weave patterns: These different patterns create nuances in handling and durability.
  • Filament: The thinnest thread from which a rope is woven. Usually it’s “Nylon 6” and is purchased on spools by the rope companies.
  • Yarns: Twisted groups of 4 to 6 filaments that make up braids.
  • Braids: Yarns bundled together to make the core. Half the braids twist one way, half the other. The sheath is then woven around this bundle.

Rope Characteristics and Qualities Glossary

You should know these terms about rope selection and usage:

  • Dynamic: A stretchy rope for rock climbing that absorbs force during a fall.
  • Static: A rope for rappelling, rescue and rope ascension that stretches very little.
  • Single: A rope that is made to use singly.
  • Half: Also known as a double rope; you climb with 2 half ropes of the same brand and model, alternating clips.
  • Twin: Unlike half ropes, you climb on 2 twin ropes always clipping both strands.
  • Length: Ropes are between 30 and 80 meters long, the most common length being 60m.
  • Bicolor: A change in weave pattern that clearly differentiates the 2 halves of the rope and easily identifies the midpoint.
  • Middle mark: The use of black dye or thread to easily identify the middle of the rope.
  • End warning marks: A dye or threads showing that you are coming to the end of the rope.
  • Suppleness: A supple rope handles more easily, but tends to wear more quickly. Pick a supple rope for glacier and alpine travel when you will often be traveling with coils tied off over your shoulder.
  • Rope diameter and weight: This refers to the weight of the rope and how it responds in your belay device. See above for a look at the different diameter/weight categories and pros and cons of each. Rope weight is usually listed as grams/meter; diameter in millimeters.
  • Dry treatments: Water-resistant coatings are often applied to the sheath and to the core fibers as well. This makes a rope more water-resistant, stronger and last longer. When the fibers absorb moisture, the rope loses its rebound characteristics and weakens. Furthermore, ropes slide better when treated.
  • Different manufacturers also have different type of treatments and construction: Ultrasonic Ends, Unicore, Coil Ready, Abrasion Resistant…
  • Fall Factor Please follow the link for more information http://bealplanet.com/sport/anglais/facteurdechute.php

UIAA Criteria and Testing (Petzl and Beal test their equipment to a  higher personal company standard)

The UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme) is the international mountaineering and climbing federation that creates safety standards to which all climbing ropes must adhere. Independent labs are responsible for carrying out the tests. All ropes carried by REI pass the UIAA tests. See The UIAA Web site for testing details. The main UIAA criteria:

Number of falls: This indicates how many UIAA falls the rope can hold before failing. The lab falls create much greater force than a real climbing fall; therefore it is mostly a comparative value. A rope rated for 5 falls will probably not break after 5 falls unless it is old and very worn out. (See our discussion of rope care.) Always closely inspect your rope after a severe fall and consider retirement if any damage is detected.

Impact force: The amount of force, measured in kiloNewtons, that the first UIAA fall puts on the falling object. The idea is to make a rope that has the least amount of impact force without going above the UIAA’s required maximum elongation figures. Less impact force will put less force on you, your belayer and your protection during a fall, decreasing the chance of injury, belay failure or protection failure.

Static elongation: Sometimes called “working elongation,” this is the amount of stretch in the rope with a 176-lb. weight hanging from it. Linked to dynamic elongation and impact force, this figure is most important in top roping or hauling.

Dynamic elongation: The amount of stretch in the rope after the first lab fall. This is linked to static elongation and impact force. The more a rope stretches, the less impact force there is when a falling climber is caught. The UIAA caps the maximum dynamic elongation to 40% of the amount of rope that is out. If you fell on a bungee cord, there would be even less impact force, but much more risk of hitting a rock ledge.

Edge fall: While no longer a UIAA–tested characteristic, this spec is worth considering for big-wall climbs. You want your rope to resist being cut when it is waited over a sharp edge of rock. Basically, the thicker a rope and the thicker its sheath, the better it will do in the event of an edge fall.

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