Few pieces of climbing gear are expected to perform as many different and conflicting duties as modern climbing rope; they must be strong, stretchy, supple, durable, light and abrasion resistant – the list is almost endless. Thankfully, rope manufacturers have refined their construction methods and can produce ropes that meet most of these contradictory requirements. And while any properly maintained climbing rope can safely catch a climber’s fall, there are now specific models more suitable for certain climbing situations. Big wall climbers can choose from beefy cables capable of handling the abuse of climbing and jugging, sport climbers can buy skinny singles for desperate redpoints while the rest the of us will likely be satisfied with something between these extremes.

Before buying a new rope, consider the following points:

Weight per Metre

Lighter ropes create less resistance at the end of long pitches and are easier to carry during epic approaches. The weight savings however, trade-off durability as lighter ropes incorporate less material. Examine the rope’s weight-per-metre statistic, and if two cords have the same diameter, the one with the greater weight-per-metre will likely be more robust.

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Smaller diameter ropes are often lighter, feed easily through belay devices and create less drag on long, wandering pitches. Unfortunately, they are also less durable than their thicker cousins. Some evidence also suggests ultra skinny cords may not be ideal for climbers significantly heavier than the 80kg test-load used in the UIAA certification test. Even if you are light, consider the added load of a massive big wall rack, heavy ice gear or a big pack and choose a thicker cord if the overall weight is creeping significantly above 80kg.


This is the spec most climbers consider when buying a new rope. Unfortunately it is also is also the spec that’s least understood. Ropes receive UIAA approval by holding five consecutive fall-factor 1.78 falls.  These falls can only occur in multi-pitch situations when the climber falls on a piece placed just above the anchors landing below their belayer. These falls are so severe that ropes should be retired after even a single fall of similar magnitude. Falls quoted beyond this number are interesting but do not necessarily suggest a safer rope; thicker, heavier ropes will obviously hold more of these severe falls as they have more material to absorb the impact and strain.

Impact Force

Ropes with lower impact forces provide soft catches when lead climbing and minimize impact on marginal trad gear. Their added stretch, however, is problematic during top rope sessions where sitting on the rope results in dropping below the highpoint.

Tusk – $235

Diameter 9.8mm. Impact Forces 9.1 kN Weight 63 g/m

This robust 9.8mm cord can handle almost any climbing situation. The thick, rugged sheath shrugs off abuse from multiple dogging sessions or abrasive granite topouts while the low weight minimizes drag on long wandering pitches.  Feeding through a Grigri or belay plate is easy without compromising lock-off security during unexpected falls.

Hawk – $157

Diameter 10mm. Impact Forces 8.8 kN. Weight 63 g/m.

In last years’ review, the Hawk stood out with outstanding handling and balanced performance.  This year is no different.  This rope glides effortlessly through belay devices, clips easily and softly catches even unexpected falls.  The sheath’s durability is good but it’s perhaps not as abrasion-resistant as some of the other burlier chords.  No matter, this rope is a pleasure to use and worth considering for almost any kind of climbing.

Pulse – $245
Blue Water

Diameter 10mm. Impact Forces 8.78 kN. Weight 64 g/m

Available in January 2010, the 10mm Pulse is Blue Water’s newest rope and bridges the gap between super skinny singles and traditional beefier cords.  As such, it delivers and exceptional combination of light weight , durability and smooth handling.  The tightly woven sheath creates a firm hand and ensures easy clipping with solid abrasion resistance.  At 10m in diameter and only 64 g/m the Pulse feels light during long pitches and difficult redpoints, while maintaining a reassuringly high level of safety  A great rope for a variety of climbing situations.

Fuse – $215
Diameter 9.4mm. Impact Forces 8.25kN. Weight 56 g/m
The skinny Fuse is deal for difficult sport climbing or cutting-edge gear routes. The low weight and slick sheath won’t increase the pump when racing for the anchors while the soft-catching construction ensures stress-free falls if the finishing jug proves to be too far away. Unlike many super skinny cords, the Fuse admirably resists flattening, even after extended use. The medium-firm sheath encourages fast rope feeding during desperate clips but won’t slip when catching falls.

Aspire – $210
Diameter 10.2mm. Impact Forces 10.6 kN. Weight 69 g/m

This burly cord effortlessly withstands the abuse encountered during regular gym climbing. The robust sheath is 33 per cent thicker than traditional ropes and minimizes unexpected core shots while the twill construction reduces drag through a Grigri or belay plate. This heavy-duty construction also makes the Aspire a good candidate for difficult multipitch or big wall routes where a cord is subjected to days of jugging and abrasion. Perhaps not the best choice for difficult onsights and redpoints, the Aspire is an excellent specialized rope that excels in any high-use situation.-GA