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How to choose sport climbing rope

choosing the right climbing rope

Choosing a climbing rope is not a simple matter. The market is moving in the direction of lightness and diameter reduction, but the thinnest and lightest ropes are not necessarily the best.

The first question to answer in order to make the best choice is: “What do I want to do with my climbing rope?

To answer this question, let’s take a closer look at the main technical characteristics of climbing ropes.

tips to choose sport climbing rope

Technical features of sport climbing rope

First, a premise: when we talk about rock climbing ropes, we are talking about single ropes (ropes that can be used individually) and dynamic ropes (ropes that can stretch to absorb kinetic energy).

In order to be marketed, they must comply with EN 892 of Directive 89/686/EEC. In fact, the European Union requires that ropes have precise characteristics in terms of diameter, strength and elongation, without which they cannot be used for climbing.

Rope diameter

Diameter is one of the most important aspects when choosing a climbing rope. Thickness has a major impact on overall durability and ease of use during belaying manoeuvres.

Thicker ropes (Ø 9.8 to 10.5), such as the Beal Karma 9.8, are more durable but more difficult to handle and heavier. They are suitable for beginners who often climb top rope (a very abrasive practice) or in gyms (more abrasive than rock).

Thinner ropes (Ø 9 to 9.5), such as the Beal Joker, are more suitable for advanced climbing, where weight and handling can make a difference when completing a pitch. Although they are easier to use for belaying, they do require experience to avoid dangerous slippage in safety gear.

Weight

Obviously, the thicker the rope, the heavier it will be. An important parameter for deciphering rope characteristics is the weight per metre. As a rule of thumb, a light rope weighs around 50 grams per metre, while a heavier rope can be close to 70 grams.

To make an interesting comparison between two ropes of the same diameter, the weight per meter can be used. The one with the higher weight will also be the stronger and more durable.

Core

In technical descriptions of a rope you will find little information about the core and braid, although these determine much of its characteristics.

The core is composed of a weave of strands that make up the inner part and “skeleton” of the rope.

the core of a sport climbing rope

Depending on how it is braided, it can be more or less elastic. For example, the triaxial construction adopted by Millet involves 3 large braided strands and gives greater wear resistance and stiffness. In contrast, the cabled construction with many small strands twisted together adopted by Beal gives softness and elasticity.

Sheath

The sheath is composed of the set of outer strands that enclose and protect the rope core. There are two technical features to consider: the type of construction and the percentage of the sheath to the overall diameter.

Double-stitch sheath constructions give greater strength and stiffness, while single-stitch constructions provide more softness to the rope.

Sheath percentages around 30% correspond to dynamic ropes with lower impact force, while percentages above 40% result in greater stiffness and strength.

The market then offers other types of construction, where sheath and core are welded together increasing resistance to cuts and wear, as in the case of Unicore technology (see video below) used by Beal and Edelweiss.

Dynamics

Rope elongation is always reported among the technical features. Specifically, a distinction is made between static elongation (occurs when climbing in a moulinette) and dynamic elongation (fall of the lead climber).

More dynamic ropes are preferred when “softer” falls are preferred, with less risk of impacting the rock. Conversely, ropes with less static elongation may be useful for beginners climbing top rope.

how to choose sport climbing rope regarding elongation

Be careful, however. The rope’s dynamicity is reduced by usage and repeated falls: the more frequently you fly, the faster the rope will become stiff. For this reason, ropes with a higher percentage of elasticity are more delicate and wear out more easily than stiffer ones.

One could give this example: a thin elastic will lose its initial characteristics faster than a thick, strong elastic.

Treatments

The most commonly used treatment is water repellent, which is aimed at reducing water absorption and preventing annoying and irreparable swelling due to moisture.

These chemical treatments can be on the sheath and/or core.

Chemical treatments also affect the final cost of the rope, so consider carefully whether it makes sense to buy a rope with or without a water-repellent treatment. If you use it exclusively at the crag you could probably do without it.

which treatment for a crag climbing rope

​​Stopping force and number of falls

Another set of data always provided by manufacturers are the arrest force and the number of falls.

Regarding the arrest force, that is, the amount of energy dissipated by the rope, we will discuss this in detail in the guide on choosing mountaineering ropes. In the case of crag and sport climbing ropes, it is sufficient to say that low impact forces (between 8Kn and 8.3Kn) correspond to more elastic ropes, while higher impact forces (8.8Kn to 9Kn) indicate ropes with reduced elongation rates.

The choice of Low impact force value may be influenced by the climber’s weight. For climbers “of size,” it is best to opt for ropes with high impact forces to avoid excessive elongation and rapid rope usage.

number of falls for a climbing rope

When choosing a sport climbing rope, the data on the number of falls is not that relevant. It is, however, in mountaineering, as we will see in the dedicated article.

For now, suffice it to say that by law ropes must be able to withstand at least 5 falls with a factor of 1.77. As a reminder, the fall factor is the ratio between the height of the fall and the length of the rope and ranges from a minimum of 0 to a maximum of 2.

Length

Deliberately this aspect is at the bottom of the list because it is extremely subjective. Sport climbing ropes are sold in 60, 70, or 80 meters, which can correspond to use on 30-, 35-, and 40-meter single pitch climbers, respectively. To figure out how long a rope to buy should be, one needs to have an idea of the characteristics of the crags one frequents.

how to choose sport climbing rope

Certainly a longer rope lends itself to being cut if the piece where the knot is tied wears out, however, it is more inconvenient to carry due to the greater weight.

Are you looking for a climbing equipment?

Final tips on how to choose climbing rope

In the chart we have tried to place the various types of climbers and climbers according to two key variables: diameter (or weight per gram) and low impact force. Examining one’s climbing style will help guide one to a choice that is as consistent as possible.

For example, in the simulation below, we have identified two “typical” climbers.

The first, identified by the blue area, is a beginner, heavy weight climber who climbs mostly as a second and in the gym. When choosing a climbing rope, he will target a rope with a high impact force (close to 9 KN) and a generous diameter (about 10 mm).

The second, identified by the orange area, is still a beginner, but of low weight and climbing first at the crag. Low impact force rope (close to 8 KN) and small diameter (9-9.5 mm) will be optimal for him.

Article developed in collaboration with Beal’s technical staff.

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