Types of Climbing Rope:
Climbing Ropes are either Dynamic (stretchy) or Static (non-stretchy). For climbing we only use Dynamic ropes, as a fall onto a static rope could cause serious injury due to the lack of bounce.
Static (or semi-static) ropes ropes are mainly used for abseiling in situations where you do not want any rope stretch.
Dynamic ropes are available in three major types.
Single ropes have been tested as safe to use on their own. Currently they can range in diameter from 8.9mm to 11mm. These are generally used for bolted sport climbs, at climbing walls, and for outdoor education use, where all the protection points are in a straight line.
Half (or Double) ropes have been tested as safe to use in a pair where each rope is clipped alternately into the protection. They range from 8mm - 9mm in diameter. Using a pair of double ropes (Double Rope Technique) is common practice in the UK where most routes involve natural protection, but little known in many other parts of the world where bolt runners are the norm.
Twin ropes are those that are tested to be safe only when both ropes are clipped through every protection point. Their main advantage over half ropes is that they are lighter, and over single ropes that they are less likely to get chopped. However the disadvantage of not being able to clip into several laterally positioned gear placements means that they really aren't suitable for UK use.
In reality there is no absolutely safe rope and what is offered are varying degrees of safety. Broadly speaking, the thicker the rope, the less likely it is to be cut on a sharp edge. There is no absolute reason why a climber should not lead a route on one 8mm rope but there is a greater risk of the rope being damaged or cut in a fall. In certain circumstances this risk is slight and so 9mm (or less diameter) half ropes are often recommended for ski-touring, glacier travel, easy alpine routes and scrambling, but not for rock-climbing.
Virtually all ropes come in standard 50m lengths these days and this is the best length for most people wanting them for trad use.
However if you are a regular vistor to bolted continental rock you will find a 60m (or even 70m or 80m) single rope a great benefit as most pitches are over 25m long and some now are as long as 40m, and of course you need double the length of the pitch to lower back to the ground. It is possible to climb 30m sport routes on a pair of 50m ropes but this involves considerable faffing at the lower-off with a consequent extra risk involved.
For half ropes, 60m ropes can be a good idea for harder winter and alpine routes where good belays are scarce, but be warned you will need two as you will seldom find anyone else who has one! 99% of UK climbers will find 50m half ropes the best choice for about 90% of what they do.
All Kernmantle ropes shrink with use by as much as 10%. Good manufacturers allow for this by cutting their ropes longer than the advertised length.
Different diameter ropes work best with different belay devices. For fat ropes (10.5mm/11mm) a "slicker" (smoother running) belay device such as a Black Diamond ATC is ideal whereas for narrow ropes (8mm/8.5mm) the Black Diamond ATC XP and other similar devices offer a much better braking effect. For sport climbing, specialist belay devices such as the Petzl Grigri and the Mammut Smart are well worth considering as they minimise the risk of the belayer failing to hold a fall. However, they are not so suitable for trad climbing.
When looking at ropes in a shop you will see that the labels contain some or all of the information listed below.
The number of Factor 1.77 falls that the rope will survive in a standard UIAA rope test using an 80Kg weight for single ropes or a 55Kg weight for half and twin ropes. Bear in mind that most climbing falls are less than Factor 1 (Fall Factor = Height of Fall/Length of Rope which Holds It). In normal circumstances the maximum possible is Fall Factor 2, sustained when a climber falls off with no gear in and doesn't hit anything on the way down. So a climber who falls off with 5m of rope out and a runner at 2.5m, and so falls 5m, generates a Factor 1 fall.
The number of factor 1.77 falls is only an indication of one aspect of a rope's "strength". Abrasion resistance and the ability to pass a sharp edge test are possibly more important. Most climbers would consider retiring a rope after only one big factor 2 fall - and many would probably themselves retire after such a fall!
There are also several test houses for ropes, and one in particular was extremely generous with its test ratings a some years ago. There are still a few ropes out there with unlikely-looking test results and this can explain the large differences in fall factors between otherwise similar ropes.
Once upon a time ropes were either Standard (also referred to as Classic) or Dry-Treated. (also referred to as Superdry), the latter being suitable for winter and alpine climbers as the extra treatment helps stop the rope from becoming waterlogged.
Each manufacturer offered a rather bewildering variety of treatments on their ropes (see below). However, in 2014, after ten years research, the UIAA anounced a new standard test for rope dry treatment
whereby to pass the test at a certified laboratory, the amount of absorbed water must not be greater than 5% of the rope's weight. For comparison, a non-treated rope absorbs around 50% of water in this test, and ropes labelled as "dry” but lacking adequate treatments can absorb between 20% and 40% of water. As a result of this new standard all the reputable manufacturers have reclassified their ropes and it is thought that many of the terms previously used will probably disappear.
Older dry treatments just treated the rope's sheath, but now leading firms such as Mammut and Beal treat both the sheath and core. Superdry and Golden Dry treatments are similar in what they do and result in a more effective and durable dry treatment that optimises handling, abrasion resistance, dirt resistance and life span.
Tangles (and how to avoid them):
Once ropes were literally coiled but nowadys most climbers lap (or butterfly coil) them as it results in far fewer kinks in the rope and provides a much better method of carrying it when on steep ground. This video from Stephen Koch is one of many on You Tube and illustrates well how it is done.
When uncoiling a new rope for the first time, it is particularly important that this process is reversed and the rope is "un-lapped" without putting any twists or kinks in it. Having done this, carefully run the rope through your hands, from one end to the other, checking for any lumps or other defects (if you find any, return it straight away to the shop you bought it from). If all is OK, then lap-coil it as above.
For more information on ropes, see Mammut's Rope PDF.
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