Everything You Wanted to Know About Choosing Ropes

When choosing ropes there are basically two “types” of ropes to consider, Dynamic and Static. These can be used in a number of applications, depending on their width, length and options. The following will give you an understanding of the different types and options used in most climbing ropes today.

 Choosing Ropes: Type

Dynamic: The rope is designed to stretch at a designated percentage given a static load of a designated weight (i.e. 6.5% stretch on static load of 80Kg). The reason these ropes are designed to stretch is to minimize and absorb some of the impact of a fall – imagine taking a 20′ fall w/ no stretch, you could snap your back in two! These ropes are used in any/all lead climbing to protect the climber by absorbing the impact of a large fall. This is the standard in rock climbing. These ropes can be used for rappelling, top-roping and hauling gear like it’s cousin, the static rope, but understand that these practices will put more wear and tear on the ropes and cause them to wear out faster. Static: Static lines are the opposite of dynamic ropes and market their ability to NOT stretch under load. These are primarily used for rappelling, top-roping and hauling gear, however should NEVER be used for lead climbing

Choosing Ropes: Size

Sizes (Both lengths and widths)

Single: Single ropes are generally between 9.5mm and 11mm in width and vary greatly in length, although the climbing standard seems to be the 10.5mmx50m. The general rule of thumb that thicker is stronger does not necessarily hold true as you would imagine. For example, my Sterling 10.2mmx60m is rated for 10-11 falls; while their 11mmx60m is also rated to 11; and their 9.7mmx60m is only rated to 5. Despite the .5mm difference between mine and the 9.7mm, mine will take 5-6 more falls, where as the .8mm difference between mine and the 11mm really sees no gain. Check the rope’s ratings and decide what you’re going to be doing on the rope when you make that decision. The thinner the rope, the lighter it is, especially when you have 150′ of thread strung out – it can get pretty heavy.Twin: Twin ropes are two separate ropes of the same size that are designed to be clipped together through each piece of gear. These ropes are extremely thin, usually about 7.6mm each, and are primarily used in ultra-long rock, ice, mixed routes and expeditions that require light-weight gear. Half or Double: Half or Double ropes are two separate ropes of the same size that are designed to be clipped independently into pieces of gear. These ropes are considerably thicker than the Twin ropes, usually about 8.8mm, so that they can hold a fall should the other fail. Shaky pro, long, scary traverses, and razor sharp rock require the confidence and the security of half (double) ropes. Because they’re used in pairs, half ropes offer climbers many advantages over single ropes such as allowing the leader to clip into protection independently which places far less force on questionable gear; providing more safety for the second in the event of a fall on long traverses; and, they provide the security of an extra rope in case the rope becomes cut from rockfall, sharp edges, or ice tools.

Choosing Ropes: Other Options


Dry versus Standard(non-Dry): Some ropes are given a special treatment to keep them from absorbing water in the same way that you would waterproof a boot. These ropes, called Dry ropes, are used primarily for ice climbing and mountaineering where you expect your rope to encounter wet conditions and where if it does get wet, it would turn into a long, skinny, chunk of ice. While ropes are not adversely affected simply by getting wet, they do, however, absorb water easily, which greatly increases its weight, making it that much harder to climb. If you only plan on rock climbing, I see no need to get a Dry rope. Something to keep in mind is that like any waterproof treatment, this too will eventually wear off the rope as well depending on how often and under what conditions you use your rope.Bi-Color or Half-n-Half: These ropes are unique in that the color or pattern of the rope changes at the halfway point of the rope making it easily distinguishable. Nearly every climbing rope is sold with some sort of mark that designates the mid-point of the rope, but most of them wear off one way or another, whereas Bi-color or Half-n-Half ropes will never lose their easy to find mid-point designator. It’s extremely important that climbers’ ropes are marked for the halfway point so they can determine whether they can make it down on one rope, or if they need to bring two.

Fall Ratings

Fall ratings are governed by the UIAA (International Union of Alpine Associations) who issues standards that ropes must meet to become “CE” certified. Ensure that any rope you purchase is CE certified, basically saying, “This product is fit for its intended use.” Fall ratings measure the number of falls that your rope is rated to safely take. While the UIAA standard for falls is 5 falls for single and half (double), and 12 falls for Twin ropes; you’ll often see ropes that advertise much higher fall ratings, these numbers are given by the manufacturer, but are still only tested to the UIAA standard. It’s important to keep a log of your falls so you can track the wear on your rope. Fall Ratings vary greatly by size and manufacturer – do some research on this and find the rope that will suit your climbing applications and style.Here are some other UIAA shock load standards:

  • Anchors: 25 kN
  • Carabiners: 20 kN
  • Slings: 22 kN
  • Harnesses: 15 kN
  • Rope: 9 kN