Ropes are one of the most important parts of a rock climber’s gear, so it is important that a climber understands all of the certifications and tests their rope has been put through in order to ensure they pick the right rope for the job. Climbing rope is a dynamic rope that can be put into three different categories: Single, Half, and Twin. But how much can each one hold?
Single and twin climbing ropes can hold at least 80kg while half ropes can hold at least 55kg. However, depending on the height of the fall in comparison to the anchor, the impact weight can double or quadruple the impact weight on the rope. It is recommended to retire rope after a significant fall.
Read on to learn more about what climbing ropes are best for you and your climbing route and how much weight each one can hold!
Dynamic vs. Static
Dynamic rope is a specially made, slightly stretchy, rope that is used in rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering. The greater elasticity of the rope allows for more ability for the rope to slowly absorb the energy of a sudden load or fall. They can hold up to 1200 kilograms or 2,646 pounds, as do most of the climbing ropes mentioned below. (Source)
Static rope is a rope that is designed to not stretch less than 5% when placed under load. Static rope is most often used in fire rescue operations and caving where the fall risk is lower. Static ropes can be used in climbing applications such as hauling gear but are discouraged from being used as a lead climbing resource, as a fall with a static rope can be arrested too quickly and can lead to serious injury. (Source)
A single rope is the most common type of rope used among climbers due to being the easiest of the three types of dynamic rope to use. As their names suggest, a single rope is one rope strand and is denoted as such on the label as a “1” in a circle.
Twin ropes are a two-rope system that depends on a multi-pitched route, requiring a belay station to place rope. They are the equivalent of two single ropes and ensure there are reinforcements in place if one rope fails in a fall. However, twin ropes are not beginner-friendly because you must be aware of both ropes at the same time, as you will be placing them in the same area and have to account for their same weight and thickness.
Twin ropes are the lightest out of all the differing types of dynamic rope and are skinnier than other ropes due to their dual nature. They are easier to manage in comparison to other dual rope systems since they are so lightweight and thinner in size.
With twin ropes, you can climb farther than where you originally started since you have two ropes with you instead of one.
Twin ropes are marked with a tag that has a sideways “8” inside a circle, similar to an infinity symbol.
Half ropes use a two-rope system, but unlike twin ropes, you clip protection on both sides. This rope is far more advanced than single or twin ropes, due to the required techniques to use them, and their management is far more complex than other ropes and best suited for expert climbers.
However, if done properly, you can reduce the friction and weight felt by the climber with this type of rope, which is one of the attractions of using this technique in climbing.
Make sure when purchasing a half rope to get both ropes as a set to ensure that they are not mixed in with other ropes. Half ropes can lose their effectiveness when paired with other ropes of different types. Half ropes are designated by their tag as a “1/2” sign inside a circle.
The thicker a rope is, the more likely you will be able to continue using that rope for a longer amount of time and more often, due to the thickness giving it a more durable life.
Single ropes, due to their solitary nature, have more range in thickness than half and twin ropes and can go beyond the 9.0 millimeters max that half and twin ropes have. They range from 9.2 to 10.2 millimeters but can be as thin as 8.9 millimeters and as thick as 11 millimeters.
For more experienced, but still new to climbing, climbers using single ropes, a range between 9.0-9.9 is recommended, as it is a durable weight and allows climbers the ability to ascend their chosen route at a quicker pace while not being weighed down by overly heavy rope.
Twin ropes average out at eight millimeters in diameter but can be as thin as 7.5 millimeters. Half ropes are often found at about nine millimeters however they can go as thin as 8 millimeters.
The longer the length of rope is, the greater weight a climber has to carry between themself and the slack as they ascend.
The standard length of rope is around 60 meters, as in an outdoor setting a rope that is 60 meters will give you adequate length to ascend up the mountain and not have the weight become a hindrance to the ascent.
Indoor climbing is a bit more variable with gyms and other climbing facilities having non-standard ceiling standards, but the most often climbing rope is around 30 meters.
Always confirm how long your rope is before leaving to climb. Running out of rope or struggling to reach an anchor is a climber’s nightmare, which can cause you to become stuck in the middle of a climb with nowhere to go, so make sure your rope matches the location where you are going to be ascending.
Many accidents occur when a belayer stops paying attention and the end of the rope slips through their hands, causing the climber to drop to the ground. It is recommended to tie a knot at the end of the rope in order to stop this type of accident from occurring.
Dry Rope Treatment
Standard climbing rope will absorb water which is dangerous when you are climbing up a glacier or a cold mountain pass. Manufacturers have developed many different ways to dry treat rope to aid in safely climbing these climates.
The UIAA reports that a completely soaked rope weakens the nylon and causes it to lose elasticity and energy-absorbing properties when wet.
Dirt, however, does stick to dry treated ropes and making them more difficult to clean, which can lead to black ropes.
Dry-treated ropes are more expensive in comparison to standard ropes. If you are not intending on using your rope for ice or alpine climbing it is more cost-efficient to go for a standard rope.
Impact force is the force that is felt when a climber falls onto the rope.
Dynamic elongation aids the rope in helping absorb impact force but works in an inverse to conventional thought. The impact force is greater if the dynamic elongation of a rope is lower because the rope cannot move with the force of the fall and transmit that energy out.
A lower impact force is ideal for any climber due to the softer landing that can occur when a fall happens, leading to a less abrupt shock that can be braced for.
However, there is an additional factor to consider when accommodating the falling weight of your partner in a rope team when ensuring the impact force.
If your partner is the one belaying you and weighs significantly more than you, the forces change and lead to a harder impact force when you fall.
Drop weight should be considered when taking into account your ropes and the falls you take, as the impact force increases exponentially depending on the depth of the fall.
If an average person weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds) falls 2 meters, the climbing rope has to withstand the impact force of 140 kilograms (309 pounds). When this person falls at a greater length of 6 meters, that impact force increases to 420 kilograms (926 pounds). (Source)
This helps scale the fall severity when one includes the climber’s own weight on the rope, alongside the fall factor.
The fall factor is the distance fallen divided by the length of rope in the system at the time of fall. The higher the fall factor (to a limit of 2), the more force is applied to the anchors and other protections.
A fall taken close to the belay point puts a larger force on the protection than the same length of fall taken up higher. If a climber falls directly onto the belay device, it makes it more likely to fail. This is referred to as a Factor 2 fall. To prevent a factor 2 fall, place gear immediately off the belay in the chance of a fall.
Climbing Rope Ratings
In the UIAA standard for rope durability in falls, single and twin ropes are tested with a dropped 80 kilograms (176 pounds) to test the system until it breaks.
Single ropes can handle up to five major falls before becoming compromised and breaking. Twin ropes can handle up to 12 severe falls. Half ropes are tested with a 55 kilogram (121 pounds) weight and can last up to five falls before it breaks.
Bi-Color Rope vs Rope Marker
A bi-color rope is a rope that has two distinctive colors or patterns on one half of the rope in comparison to the other rope. This leads to easily seeing where the middle of the rope is, which is useful when setting up belays.
Non-bi-color ropes often have a foot-long black mark to identify the rope’s middle which can be less visible in comparison to the bi-color rope. However, like dry treatment, bi-color ropes are more expensive than standard ropes, which leads to personal preference when finding which rope may work for you.
When to Retire a Rope
The UIAA standard for ropes and their falls is the recommended amount a new freshly bought rope can sustain, at maximum. This number refers to lighter, less severe series of falls.
With an older, unused climbing rope you cannot be assured of the factor that is assured by the UIAA standard testing, and an already damaged rope is even less so.
If the rope you are using has sustained a very severe fall, it is highly recommended to retire the rope due to the impact putting unseen strain on the ropes.
It is possible that the rope can sustain further serious falls, however, the risks to the integrity of the rope are severe and the consequences of a rope failing can lead to serious injury or further loss of life.
Properly store your ropes in a cool dry environment, out of reach of any potentially caustic chemicals, moisture, heat, and direct sunlight. Observe your ropes for any nicks or tears by checking the texture of your rope. Check your ropes for damage every time you prepare for a climbing trip. It is not recommended to use a rope that is fraying or torn.
If your rope is frayed, you can cut 10 to 15 meters off of your rope from the fraying point. However, this will make the half indicator of your rope inaccurate, and it is highly recommended that you write down and tag how much length your rope has so you do not bring the wrong length of rope to a climb.
It is recommended that you retire a rope that is too short for your route and cutting your rope is highly discouraged due to the inaccuracy of the rope’s halfway mark and the significant amount of risk it brings to the climb.
It is recommended to purchase a rope that is longer than your route needs if you are intent on cutting your rope. To maintain a longer use out of the rope, make sure to maintain a 20-meter slack for emergencies on your route by the end of the rope’s life.