The Best Rock Climbing Rope

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A good climbing rope gives you confidence and keeps you safe. Certain attributes such as handling and weight can affect how easily the rope fits into your day and climbing plans.
Credit: McKenzie Long
We gathered a selection of nine of the top climbing ropes on the market, and after a healthy amount of unwinding and flaking, put them to the test by climbing as much as possible across multiple different climbing disciplines. We cragged, aided, projected, whipped, climbed long multi-pitch routes, coiled, backpacked, and carried these ropes on long alpine routes. From Yosemite Valley to the High Sierra, and Red Rock, Nevada to Kalymnos, Greece, we drug these ropes over granite, clipped them up limestone, and rapped over sandstone. Ultimately, all of the ropes in this review are safe and successful pieces of equipment. So we paid careful attention to the small details a user would notice, which allowed a few ropes to edge ahead of the others in our tests.

If you want to further geek out on UIAA specs, reference our Buying Advice article. Also don't miss our other reviews of harnesses for men and women and climbing shoes for men and women.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and McKenzie Long

Top Ranked Climbing Ropes (Dynamic)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 9 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Mammut Infinity
Mammut Infinity
Read the Review
Video video review
Edelrid Eagle Light
Edelrid Eagle Light
Read the Review
Sterling Fusion Ion R
Sterling Fusion Ion R
Read the Review
Sterling Fusion Nano IX
Sterling Fusion Nano IX
Read the Review
Sterling Marathon Pro
Sterling Marathon Pro
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award      Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award 
Street Price Varies $120 - $270
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Varies $240 - $270
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Varies $169 - $240
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Varies $173 - $209
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $167 - $205
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Good balance of weight, handling, catch, and durabilitySupple handlingExceptional handling, lower weightExtermely light, pleasant handling, rated as a single, half and twinLight for its diameter, extra thick sheath that increases durability
Cons An all-arounder, so not specializedHeavier than other ropes of the same diameter, high impact force ratingReduced durability, above average priceLow durability, expensiveWorse handling than the skinnier options
Best Uses Clipping bolts, plugging cams, or stretching top ropesAll-around climbing, any disciplineA hybrid of sorts; good at many disciplines, but not a workhorseDifficult sport climbing redpoints, "fast and light" alpinismBig wall/aid uses, guiding, general climbing for folks that don't mind 10.1 mm
Date Reviewed Jun 09, 2015Jun 09, 2015Jun 09, 2015Jun 09, 2015Jun 09, 2015
Weighted Scores Mammut Infinity Edelrid Eagle Light Sterling Fusion Ion R Sterling Fusion Nano IX Sterling Marathon Pro
Weight - 20%
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Catch - 15%
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Handling - 40%
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Durability - 25%
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Product Specs Mammut Infinity Edelrid Eagle Light Sterling Fusion Ion R Sterling Fusion Nano IX Sterling Marathon Pro
Diameter 9.5 mm 9.5 mm 9.4 mm 9.0 mm 10.1 mm
Weight 58 g/m 62 g/m 57 g/m 52 g/m 63 g/m
Certified Use single single single singe, half, twin single
UIAA Fall Rating 8 9 6 6 6
Impact Force 8.7 kN 9.3 kN 8.7 kN 8.5 kN 8.6 kN
Static Elongation (in use) 6.8% 7.8% 7.2% 7% 8.4%
Dynamic Elongation (first fall) 30% 28% 33.1% 33.1% 35.3%
Sheath Proportion 40% 36% 37% 27% 42%
Sheath Slippage 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm 5 mm 0 mm
Dry Coating Option SuperDry, CoatingFinish Dry Shield Dry Core and Dry Coat Dry Core and Dry Coat Dry Core and Dry Coat
Middle Mark or Bi-Pattern Option Middle Mark Middle Mark Bipattern for ~$25 more Bipattern for ~$70 more Bipattern for ~$50 more
Lengths Available 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m

  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



There is quite an impressive selection of dynamic climbing ropes on the market. Each rope has a long list of technical specs and numbers which can make deciding on the one that is best for you a bit overwhelming. In fact, we found that comparing ropes turned out to be much harder than expected. All the ropes perform the basic functions of catching falls and protecting climbers, and none are inherently unsafe, so what are the main differences? Obviously, ropes differ in length and diameter, but what about two ropes of the same diameter? Some ropes have special features, such as the rumble strips on the Mammut Sensor that alert a belayer when they are reaching the end of the rope. Aside from this outlier, from the point of view of a buyer standing in a store and looking at two 9.5mm ropes, such as the Edelrid Eagle Light and the Mammut Infinity – what can we say about the differences?

After much discussion and collaboration and a close evaluation and comparison of many different ropes, noting how they felt while climbing and belaying, and observing how they perform in real world climbing applications, we were able to find the details that matter. Read on to see what we discovered.

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A good climbing rope gives you confidence and keeps you safe. Certain attributes such as handling and weight can affect how easily the rope fits into your day and climbing plans.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Selecting the Right Product


Though this review focuses solely on single dynamic ropes, we're going to start off with an introduction to climbing ropes to make sure you are in the right place. Here we explain the kernmantle construction and the differences between dynamic, static, single, half, and twin ropes. For more technical details on single ropes, refer to our in-depth Buying Advice article.

Kernmantle Ropes


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String Theory: A kernmantle rope has two parts, the hollow tube of the sheath (green) and the twisted fibers of the core (white). At the bottom you can see how they are arranged in cross section.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Modern climbing ropes consist of two layers: a strong inner core (kern) and a protective outer sheath (mantle). The strange word they create, kernmantle, is derived from German meaning core-jacket. The core is composed of strands of nylon twisted together that provide a dynamic stretch when catching a fall. A tube of woven nylon fibers makes up the sheath that is designed to protect the core and resist abrasion. The two layers combine to produce a rope that is strong and durable, yet light and flexible. It is the proper balancing of these characteristics that produces the best climbing ropes.

Static vs. Dynamic


Using a kern mantle construction, it is possible to make a rope that will not stretch when subjected to a sudden load. This is accomplished by reducing the number of twists in the strands of the core. The result is called a static rope and is popular in industrial and caving applications. Belayed climbing, however, necessitates the use of a dynamic rope that can stretch to provide a soft and safe catch. This rope needs to temporarily elongate under load to help reduce the force on the gear and participants during a fall.

Static ropes may look or feel similar to dynamic ropes at first, but their uses are entirely different. Modern climbers will occasionally use statics in situations where no stretch is desirable, such as fixing ropes or hauling heaving loads on big walls, but they should never be used to belay. This review will only examine the properties of dynamic ropes.

The Three Types of Dynamic Ropes


Dynamic ropes for climbing can further be divided into three categories, each with their own strengths and intended uses: single, twin, and half.

Single Rope
The single rope system is the simplest and most common rope system. Each rope is rated to hold multiple falls by itself. The leader only has to tie-in to one rope and clip each piece of protection into just that rope. Also, the second only has to manage a single line and can use a convenient assisted braking belay device, like Petzl's popular GriGri. The deficiencies of this method are increased drag on wandering pitches, no redundancy, and the need for a second rope or tagline to complete long rappels. (For a static tagline we like the Esprit Alpine Personal Escape Rope).

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McKenzie Long sport climbing in the Owen's River Gorge, CA, a place notorious for being hard on ropes that proved to be an excellent testing ground. Sport climbing is done using a single dynamic rope.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Twin Ropes
The simplest of the two rope systems is called twin. In this system the leader ties in to two ropes and clips both ropes into every piece of protection while they climb a pitch, treating the two ropes as if they were a single. Neither rope is designed to hold a fall alone, but with their combined strength they can catch multiple. These ropes are usually very skinny, making it the lightest two rope arrangement, while also providing redundancy, and the ability to rappel a full rope length. Twins, however, are the least popular rope system because of the inconvenience of clipping both ropes and durability problems with thin diameters.

Half Ropes
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At the crag the consensus rope choice has settled on singles. In the mountains the debate still continues. Long pitches, wandering terrain, suspect gear, and mandatory rappels strengthen the case for twin or half rope systems.
Credit: Carter Stritch
More complicated than the single or twin methods is the half rope system. Each half rope is rated to hold a fall on its own. They are skinnier, however, than single ropes, which means they are less durable and cannot sustain repeated hard falls. In practice, the leader will be tied into both ropes, will climb and alternate clipping each piece of protection with one of the two ropes they're tied in to. This provides a backup; should the first rope fail, they can be caught on the second. This system is more difficult to learn and creates rope management hassles, but it can greatly decrease the rope drag if the leader is strategic about which rope they clip into particular pieces. Additionally, it can save time for a party of three by allowing two followers to climb simultaneously.

Further complicating this landscape has been the introduction of ropes that are approved for all three systems. These are usually skinny single ropes by manufacturers who are willing to go through the cost and hassle of having their ropes tested for all three categories by the UIAA. The Petzl Volta is one example. We think this versatility is more of a marketing device than a practical feature. One of the greatest advantages of twin and half rope systems is the weight savings. This is sacrificed when the ropes must also be strong and heavy enough to be certified as a single rope.

Two rope systems are great for particular applications like party of three climbing or routes with sharp edges that require a redundant system. Keep in mind that it is unsafe to combine twin and half rope techniques on any one pitch because it can cross the ropes and potentially damage them in a fall.

Criteria for Evaluation


We put nine top climbing ropes to the test though many days of sport climbing, ice climbing, and alpine climbing. We have tied-in and taken big falls on each one, and likewise been on the catching end with each rope. We have asked numerous climbers to try the ropes with us, and have gotten a great deal of feedback and advice. Here are our observations and conclusions about which are the best.

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A selection of brand new climbing ropes ready for testing.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Diameter and Weight


Diameter is the easiest and most obvious way to judge a rope. When you hold a rope in your hand, the thickness if the first thing you can tangibly feel. Therefore, it tends to be the feature that consumers focus on the most when purchasing a new rope, with the current trend leaning toward thinner and thinner ropes. However, we think this is slightly misguided. Many people look for a skinny rope because they want one that is lightweight, but modern technology has allowed manufacturers to produce thinner cords with the same amount of materials, and therefore the same amount of weight as a past thicker version. Though this thinner diameter can still improve the handling of the rope, we think that it is equally as important for people to look at the weight of a rope along with the diameter rather than focus on the diameter alone.

Additionally, there is no standardized method of measuring a rope diameter. Some manufacturers will measure their ropes under tension, while others do not, which results in quite different measurements. In our testing we have noticed that the feel of a rope's thickness varies wildly by brand. For instance, the 9.2mm Petzl Volta feels much thicker than the 9.4mm Sterling Fusion Ion R, proving that it is difficult to assess a rope on the listed diameter alone.

Rope weights are measured in grams per meter increments, since the variable length of climbing ropes changes the total weight. (Obviously, a 70 meter will always be heavier than a 50 meter, no matter the diameter.) A rope is typically the heaviest single piece of climbing equipment used. Using a lightweight rope will keep your pack lighter on the approach and the difficulty of clipping down when you have led a mega pitch at Indian Creek and are hauling the weight of the entire rope for your desperate anchor clip. This is where the skinny sending ropes shine. But keep in mind that a lighter, skinnier rope will not last as long as something thicker.

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Adam Selby sending at the Secret Garden, Kalymnos, Greece while climbing on the super supple 9.2 mm Edelrid Eagle Light.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

For the purposes of this review, we have categorized the ropes into three groups based on diameter and weight and also application since different diameters work better for different uses.

Thick Workhorse Ropes — (10.2 – 9.8 mm or >60 g/m)
Ropes are like runway models; diameters that were once the norm are now considered fat. Don't let society or your partner's shallowness stop you from considering a larger rope that will easily outlast the skinnier competition.
Ideal Uses: gyms, big walls/aid climbing, extended top-roping, locations with rough rock
+ Durable, best value
- Heavy, bulky, sometimes too much friction

Ropes in our test that fall into this category are:
Sterling Evolution Velocity, 9.8mm
Sterling Marathon Pro, 10.1mm
Mammut Sensor, 10mm
New England Alex Honnold Signature Glider, 9.9mm

Medium All-Around Ropes — (9.7-9.4 mm or 55-60 g/m)
The middle road of ropes provide the most versatility and are also the most popular. One of these would be our recommendation for first time shoppers.
Ideal Uses: Sport or trad climbing, multi-pitch, top roping, ice climbing, etc… anything!
+ Good balance between weight and durability
- A compromise for some specific uses

The all-around products that we tested are:
Elderid Eagle Light, 9.5mm
Sterling Fusion Ion, 9.4mm
Mammut Infinity, 9.5mm

Skinny Sending Ropes — (<9.4 mm or <55 g/m)
New technologies have recently brought single ropes into the sub 9mm range. The weight savings can be substantial, but it comes with a high price tag and lower longevity.
Ideal Uses Alpine climbing, hard redpoints, freeing big walls
+ Lowest weight and friction
- Decreased durability, care needed to catch falls

The super skinny cords we tested are:
Petzl Volta, 9.2mm
Sterling Fusion Nano IX, 9mm

After comparing the specs of all the ropes in our test, we have noticed some interesting variances in regards to weight. The lightest rope in our review was predictably also the skinniest, the Sterling Fusion Nano IX, 9.0mm at 52 g/m. But the heaviest was not the thickest. The 10.0mm Mammut Sensor weighs 67 g/m, but the 10.1mm Sterling Marathon Pro, while slightly thicker, weighs quite a bit less at 63 g/m. Even ropes of the same diameter do not necessarily compare in weight. The 9.5mm Mammut Infinity weighs 58 g/m while the Edelrid Eagle Light, with an identical diameter, weighs more at 62 g/m, which is incidentally the same weight as the thicker 9.8mm Sterling Evolution Velocity.

Needless to say, the diameter has some correlation to the weight, but as you can see, it does not always accurately predict how much a rope will weigh, which is why we think both weight and diameter should be considered together in your search for a new rope.

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The Mammut Infinity (blue and yellow) with the Edelrid Eagle Light in the foreground. Both of these 9.5mm ropes are excellent for all-around use in just about any climbing application. They scored very near each other in our metrics, with the Infinity edging ahead with lighter weight (58 g/m vs. 62) and higher durability. The Edelrid, however, it more supple with slightly smoother handling.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Catch


Catch is an extremely subjective metric to measure. After many a fall on each of our test ropes, we found it difficult to quantify exactly which ropes have the best catches, mainly because there are so many other factors that contribute to the comfort or softness of a catch. How much rope you have out before the fall, how far above a piece of protection you are, and the motion of your belayer all have an affect on the catch. If your belayer is paying attention and jumps slightly, your fall will be more pleasant.

So, to more objectively rate each rope, we took a look at impact force ratings. The reigning wisdom is that the lower the impact force rating (in kiloNewtons), the less force is applied to the falling climber, ie the softer the catch. After giving out our awards for Editors' Choice, Best Buy, and two Top Picks we realized that each of these ropes have impact forces are all close to each other, somewhere between 8.5 and 8.8 kN. So we took a look at our old review. All of our award winners then were also inside that range, while the lowest scoring ropes each had impact forces outside this range. We're beginning to think that this may not be a coincidence but an actual preference by our testers.

The rope in this test with the lowest impact force rating is the Sterling Fusion Nano IX, with a rating of 8.5 kN, while the highest impact force rating is found in the New England Alex Honnold Glider, with a rating of 9.5 kN.

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Exploring the elasticity of the Mammut Sensor. It withstood ten falls in the UIAA's drop test and placed in the middle of the pack for impact force and dynamic elongation.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Handling


This category describes our overall impression of using each rope. We evaluated each model on its suppleness and the overall feel while carrying, coiling, climbing, clipping, and belaying. Does it feed well while you pay out slack to the leader? Is it easy to pull up and clip into your protection? Are you ruining your shoulder when you belay a follower from above using an ATC style device in auto-block mode, or does it feed smoothly?

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Some ropes that initially handled well became stiff after heavy use. Here is a comparison between three diffrent workhorse ropes at the end of testing, from top to bottom: New England Alex Honnold Glider, Mammut Sensor, Sterling Marathon Pro. The Marathon Pro felt the nicest to handle when actually climbing.
Credit: Jack Cramer

In general, the lighter thinner ropes handle the best. Thinner diameters allow the ropes to be more flexible and the light weight makes them less cumbersome to carry and clip. The most supple ropes in our test were the two skinny Sterlings, the Ion R and Nano IX, as well as the Edelrid Eagle Light. By far the worst rope to use was the New England Alex Honnold Glider. This wire-like rope is so stiff that it feels like you need to force it through a belay device, resulting in short-roped leaders and exhausted belayers.

We noticed that ropes with surface treatments have a much smoother glide when new, and keep this feel much longer than ropes with no surface treatment. The Petzl Volta felt slippery when first out of the package, and we noticed that it slipped a little through a Gri-Gri when holding the weight of a fallen leader, but this went away after a couple of weeks of use.

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When the Volta was brand new, we noticed that the rope slipped slightly through a Gri Gri when holding the weight of the leader. This went away after a couple weeks of use.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Durability


When you throw down a chunk of change on an expensive piece of equipment, you want it to last a while. A rope is the piece of climbing equipment that gets retired most often, and with good reason – it is your lifeline. However, some ropes still last longer than others.

Overall, the thicker diameter ropes, like all the workhorse ropes, last a bit longer than the thin diameter ropes. We noticed that the skinny diameter Sterling ropes were the first to wear out in our test by a large margin. We enjoy climbing with these ropes so much that we are willing to overlook this fault, but keep in mind that these thin ropes will have the least amount of life in them.

Ropes with surface treatments, whether a dry treatment or a different type of coating designed to enhance durability and handling, do seem to stay newer longer than ropes without treatments. The coatings prevent the ropes from picking up dirt and absorbing water, prolonging the new, smooth feeling. Some models come standard with treatments, while other brands sell ropes with different treatment options. We suggest purchasing a rope with a dry treatment if you can afford it, mostly because it extends the life of your rope.

Another variable that we found to at least somewhat correlate to durability is the sheath percentage. Most manufacturers are now providing a spec that lists the percentage of the rope's weight that is devoted to just the sheath. Since most people retire a climbing rope when the sheath shows significant wear, the durability of the sheath obviously matters. Clearly this spec can be a little misleading when comparing ropes of different weights. A heavier rope with less percentage of sheath can still have a thicker sheath than a lightweight rope with a higher percentage of sheath. But, when comparing ropes of similar weight, this spec can give you some idea of how thick the sheath is, and therefore how abrasion resistant it will be.

Editors' Choice Award: Mammut Infinity


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Using the SuperDry Mammut Infinity with a Teflon CoatingFinish on a multi-pitch ice and mixed route outside Ouray, Colorado. This lightweight, durable, and versatile rope wins our Editors' Choice award for working well in almost any climbing scenario and holding up to quite a bit of use.
Credit: Jack Cramer

The 9.5 mm Mammut Infinity wins the Editors' Choice award because it is one of the most durable and versatile ropes we evaluated, giving it the widest appeal. The medium diameter allows it to handle any style of climbing, and the Teflon coating keeps the rope feeling fresh longer than most other ropes. It only weighs 58 grams per meter, which is one of the lightest in our test, and it handles smoothly in Gri-Gris and ATC style belay devices alike, making it the perfect choice for long approaches or multi-pitch climbs. If we had to buy just one rope, this would be the one we would put our money on. While we appreciate and love climbing with super-skinny sending ropes like the Sterling Fusion Nano, and find uses for workhorse ropes like the Sterling Marathon Pro, this rope performs better over a wider range of applications, which is what wins it top billing. You can purchase it with three different coating treatments from Mammut, in a variety of lengths, and in regular or bi-pattern versions.

Best Buy Award: Sterling Evolution Velocity


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At 62 grams per meter, the Sterling Evolution Velocity is lightweight for its 9.8 diameter. this could be a selling point for this model over other ropes of a similar size. Additionally, this Best Buy winner is durable, reliable, and does not cost too much.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

The 9.8 mm Sterling Evolution Velocity, weighing 62 g/m, hovers at the lighter end of our workhorse rope classification. This allows it to have a long lifespan without being too burdensome to carry. We find that it provides the ideal balance of durability, smooth handling, and low weight while keeping the price relatively low as well. This earns it our accolades for the best value climbing rope. This rope can be used for any climbing discipline, from ice to difficult sport climbing, and is versatile enough for the well-rounded climber to bring along on every new mission. We recommend it as someone's first climbing rope, the rope for someone who will only own one rope, or as part of a rope quiver to bring out for the hang-dog days.

Top Pick Award for Best Skinny Sending Rope: Sterning Nano IX


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Luke Lydiard in Red Rock, NV. After working the moves with a beefier rope, the redpoint can feel almost too easy with a 52 g/m Nano IX, our top Pick winner for a lightweight rope.
Credit: Drew Smith

The recently revamped 9.0 mm Sterling Fusion Nano IX is hands-down our favorite skinny sending cord. It weighs a mere 52 grams per meter, shedding extra unneeded ounces so you can send your project or bust out an epic push in a day. The tightly woven sheath makes it feel thinner than the specified diameter while making it last longer than you would expect with such a thin rope. With smooth, supple handling, this rope is just plain fun to climb with, however belayers should use extra caution when catching falls with this tiny rope, especially when it is new. This thin cord will not last as long as thicker ropes, but no other rope is quite so featherweight and fun. Use this as your specialty rope and get the Best Buy winner as your everyday project tool.

Top Pick Award for Best Workhorse Rope: Sterling Marathon Pro


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The incredible Shield headwall on Yosemite's El Capitan wore down our testers but not their Sterling Marathon Pro, our Top Pick winner for a workhorse rope, the perfect tool for aid climbing.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Burly enough for jugging and repeated top-roping sessions, the 10.1 mm Sterling Marathon Pro earns the distinction of the best workhorse rope. Time and again, this rope has outlasted other models in our tests, proving that it has enough life in it to take the hardest abuse. Weighing 63 grams per meter, it is not the heaviest rope in our review by any means, though it is the thickest. Also with a relatively low impact force rating of 8.6 kN, the catch on this beast is quite soft and comfortable. For those who like the confidence supplied by fatter ropes or who want a rope that can take a beating, the Marathon Pro is the one that will withstand the harshest conditions.

To fully flesh our your climbing kit, take a look at our Dream Rock Climbing Gear list to find the gear that will compliment your new rope.

Jack Cramer and McKenzie Long
Helpful Buying Tips
How to Choose the Best Climbing Rope - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Climbing Rope

by Jack Cramer and McKenzie Long
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