Climbing ropes lead a tough life. They’re expected to catch frequent falls, feed smoothly through belay devises and hold up to the abuse of climbing on rope-shredding rock. Thankfully, most modern climbing ropes easily meet these conflicting performance qualities, but that does not mean that every rope is perfect for every climbing situation. The skinny sub-10mm cord that’s ideal for hard overhanging sport routes is probably a poor choice on a long route with rope-eating flakes and edges.
Below are a few points that should help climbers choose the right rope for their climbing.
Climbing ropes are available in a variety of diameters for different climbing situations. Thick burly cords are ideal for working routes, top roping and situations requiring extra durability or cut protection. Skinny singles are better suited to difficult redpoints or onsight attempts. A skinny rope’s small diameter also decreases friction on long pitches, making them a good option for some multi-pitch climbs. Unfortunately, all these benefits come at a cost and in this case, that includes the need for extra attention during belaying (thin ropes slip more easily through belay devices) and a reduction in cut resistance.
Weight plays a role on long pitches where lifting 35m of cord for the next clip can mean the difference between clipping the chains and going home with another unfinished project. Heavier cords can also be problematic during long approaches as the added weight (sometimes more than a kilogram) can sap strength needed for the climb.
Beginners always fixate on this number when buying a new rope. They mistakenly believe that a rope with a higher falls-held number is better. What they perhaps don’t understand is that this number refers to the incredibly severe UIAA drop test which involves catching five almost fall-factor two falls in a row. The test is so severe that in the real world it can only occur on a multi-pitch route where the climber falls before placing any protection and lands below the belayer, with the anchors receiving the full impact of the fall. The forces generated by these falls are so severe that a rope should likely be retired after holding even one. Furthermore, if all things are equal, ropes that can hold more UIAA falls are generally thicker or heavier and have more material.
Ropes with low impact forces yield soft catches and reduce the impact on marginal natural protection. Unfortunately, the decreased impact comes from increased rope stretch, which might expose climbers to injury when falling on ledgy terrain.
These water-repelling treatments are mandatory for winter climbing where a rope could freeze into a steel-like cable it if absorbs water. In some cases, manufacturers also use these treatments to achieve greater rope durability. It seems that these chemical treatments allow rope fibres to slide more easily against each other, which reduces wear and increases rope life. While these treatments increase the cost of the rope, they are worthwhile for winter climbers and anyone wanting maximum rope durability.
Cobra – $125
With its 10.3mm diameter and 68g/m weight, the Cobra delivers versatile performance suitable for almost any climbing situation; not too heavy for challenging climbing and durable enough for working routes. This balanced construction also ensures the Cobra clips easily and feeds smoothly through most belay devices. Handling is typical Edelrid (smooth without being too soft) while the permanent middle marking simplifies rappel set-ups and improves safety during long sport climbing lower-offs. Recently, Edelrid became the first rope company to manufacture all its ropes to the stringent bluesign environmental standards. This ensures the Cobra’s production does not harm the environment. A great all-round cord.
Ion 2 – $196-$215
By combining the thin and lightweight core from their popular 9.2mm Nano with a new 48-carrier sheath, Sterling creates a surprisingly durable and versatile skinny rope. This hybrid construction allows the Ion 2 to deliver soft catches without sacrificing handling or abrasion resistance. In fact, the new sheath is actually more durable than the original Ion’s 40-carrier construction. Clipping with this rope is effortless and there is almost no friction on long steep sport climbs. The thin diameter requires more attention when belaying, but thanks to the slightly firm handling it won’t fly through belay devices as easily as some super soft cords.
Monster – $175-$225
This soft handling cord is ideal for climbers wanting a lighter and sleeker rope without sacrificing too much durability. The Monster’s low impact force (just 7.6kN) ensures soft catches but unlike some similarly soft-catching cords, the Monster has a surprisingly durable sheath. And while these are all important qualities, what most climbers will first notice about this rope is the unique middle-point marker – two tufts of florescent orange thread. Although it’s unusual, this marking system works, allowing for easy identification of the middle and producing a slight warning-thump as it passed through belay devices.
Nomad – $196-$225
Arriving with a kink-free butterfly coil, the Nomad is ready for climbing the moment it’s pulled from the package. Sporting a reasonable 9.8mm diameter, this rope does a good job of balancing durability with low weight, making it a good candidate for sport or trad climbing. The Nomad’s slightly stiff initial feel quickly softens and yields excellent handling and easy feeding through belay devices. The relatively low impact forces ensure the Nomad delivers soft catches but this increased stretch also makes the rope less suitable for extended toproping. Climbers seeking a versatile lightweight rope suitable for a variety of climbing situations will be impressed.
Pinnacle – $210
This vibrant coloured, skinny cord rules on long, difficult climbs where weight and friction can mean the difference between success and failure. Much of this performance boost comes from the Yellow Jacket’s tightly woven twill construction, which creates a slick, smooth and firm friction-fighting sheath. Belaying is smooth and easy but as with all skinny ropes, the Yellow Jacket requires extra attention for catching and holding falls. Smaller climbers might find the Yellow Jacket’s impact forces a little jarring but this won’t an issue for average weight climbers who will appreciate the reduced stretch when trying to get back onto steep routes after a fall.
Pulse – $220
Bluewater’s latest rope may be its best ever. The Pulse delivers very low impact forces but avoids the durability issues often associated with soft-catching cords by using a firmly braided 40-bobbin sheath. The results are excellent durability and handling without any spine-compressing surprises. The 9.9mm diameter is a great compromise between ultra-thin specialized ropes and beefy workhorses and ensures smooth belays with almost any belay device. This is an excellent rope for most trad and sport climbers.
Superflash – $315-$365
With the new Superflash, Mammut has created an incredibly durable and smooth handling rope that exceeds the legendary robustness of the classic Flash 10.5mm and many old beefy 11mm cords. But unlike those classic 11mm workhorses, the Superflash comes in at a respectable 72g/m making it a more viable option for difficult climbing. Mammut achieves this impressive weight and performance with the addition of its Teflon Coating Finish that reduces the friction between the rope’s fibres. This treatment results in a uniform distribution of any loads and impact forces along the rope, which increases overall durability. Belaying and clipping is relatively easy but the Superflash does not feed through certain belay devices or clip tiny biners as quickly or fluidly as some thinner cords. While this may not make the Superflash the best option for difficult sport climbing redpoints, it is a perfect rope for heavier climbers, extended route-working sessions or anyone climbing on abrasive and sharp rock. –GA