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Beal Joker Review

A specialty climbing rope for experts on multi-pitch routes or other situations where you want some extra protection from sharp rock
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Price:  $250 List | $153.96 at Backcountry
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Pros:  Unicore construction offers more protection against accidental severing, lightweight
Cons:  Slippery, hard to handle, not a good choice for cragging or toproping
Manufacturer:   Beal
By Cam McKenzie Ring ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 29, 2018
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67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#11 of 11
  • Handling - 35% 5
  • Durability - 25% 6
  • Weight - 20% 10
  • Catch - 20% 7

Our Verdict

The Beal Joker has been a favorite of skinny line enthusiasts for years now, and the combination of this line with the Unicore construction several years ago made it even better. You can double it up for half or twin line climbing techniques, and the bonded sheath/core design gives you the peace of mind that if you encounter a sharp edge or knife-like flake that this rope will offer you a bit more protection from an abysmal result. While we also tried the Joker out while sport climbing, but we found the durability of the sheath lacking for that type of application. The action of multiple falls worked the exterior of this rope, and it showed significant wear after only 80 pitches. The Joker is not the line that we want to crag on day after day. In fact, one of our testers did just that when working a 40-meter route, and they blew it out in one season. However, for alpine routes, multi-pitch climbs, or anywhere that light-is-right and rocks are sharp, the Joker is a great choice.

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Our Analysis and Test Results

EXPERIENCED CLIMBERS ONLY!
Before we delve into the ins and outs of the Joker's performance in our test metrics, we need to mention that this is a specialty line that is designed for those climbers who are highly experienced at belaying. Thinner 9-9.1 mm ropes, like the Joker, are harder to handle, can slip through belay devices, and they will generally wear out faster than a 9.5 mm rope. Even the manufacturer states that this "is not a rope to put in all hands, or in all belay devices: Its thinness makes it a rope which absolutely demands an expert belayer." It can be tempting to purchase a thin rope like this one due to the weight savings (who doesn't want to shave a pound or two off their pack?), but they are not designed for everyday cragging use. Instead, they are meant for certain situations where weight savings is critical. Most of our testers who have been climbing for years prefer to use at least a 9.5 mm line for most climbing applications. Read on to see where and when a thin line like the Joker might be useful.

The Beal Joker was the first rope to be certified for single, twin and half use, and it remains the leader in the skinny rope field thanks to its "Unicore" construction. Sure, there are skinnier 8.5 mm lines out there, and you may want to go there for certain situations. But, if you're heading up on a multi-pitch or alpine route and only plan on bringing one rope, we think the Joker is a solid choice to bring. Still not sure what the advantage of a Unicore rope is? Check out the video below. The sheath is bonded to the core, so in the case of a damaging slice the sheath does not strip, and the rope is still serviceable (enough) to get out of whatever situation you are in. This doesn't mean that the sheath is more durable though, which we will discuss in our durability section below.



Performance Comparison


Getting off the ground with our Top Pick for Alpine and Multi-Pitch climbing. This was our favorite option for big routes where weight savings is key and wandering routes can take your rope over suspect edges.
Getting off the ground with our Top Pick for Alpine and Multi-Pitch climbing. This was our favorite option for big routes where weight savings is key and wandering routes can take your rope over suspect edges.

Handling


Thinner ropes are going to be harder to handle than mid-range ones (9.5 mm) just by design, but the Joker was even more challenging to handle than most other super thin lines.


The dry coating on the Joker makes it slick to handle straight out of the bag, and it slipped on us a bit when belaying with an older Petzl GriGri 2. (Note, the newest version of the Petzl GriGri is now rated for use with ropes down to 8.5mm.) Once the coating "wore off" a little, the catch and hold were better. The feel of this line did soften up over time (which is generally better than stiffening), but it still wasn't our favorite.

The Joker is a supple rope and it felt great for the climber when clipping  however  it was very slippery at first and we had to be extra careful when belaying.
The Joker is a supple rope and it felt great for the climber when clipping, however, it was very slippery at first and we had to be extra careful when belaying.

Catch


This rope had slightly higher impact forces than the other Beal line that we tested, the Booster III. Could we tell the difference between 7.3 and 8.2 kN with our bodies? Not really. When compared to the Sterling Nano IX we thought the two felt similar in the catch department, particularly after the Joker was broken in a little and not so slippery.


One thing to keep in mind about thinner ropes is that they are often, but not always, rated for fewer falls than a thicker one. The Joker has a 6-7 fall UIAA rating, which is similar to our Editors' Choice winner, but quite a few less than the 10 falls of the 9.8 mm Edelrid Boa Pro Dry. What do these lab ratings have to do with real-world applications? Generally, we like to think of them as an indicator of the longevity of the rope — so the more falls the rope can withstand, the better the overall durability.

Weight


The Joker is one of the lightest ropes that we have ever used, weighing in at a mere 53g/m, nearly as light as the thinner 8.9 and 9.0mm lines in this review.


It weighs in at roughly 7 pounds for a 60m length and 8 pounds for a 70 m length, shaving a couple off when compared to the heaviest rope in this review. It's even a pound lighter than our favorite 9.5mm diameter ropes, which is significant. This weight savings is nice for situations where you are hiking in over long distances, climbing long pitches on a multi-pitch route, or struggling on that last clip on your 40-meter sport project.

This rope is a pound or two lighter than thicker lines  which we preferred when getting several pitches off the ground.
This rope is a pound or two lighter than thicker lines, which we preferred when getting several pitches off the ground.

Durability


If you watched the video above you can see that the Unicore Joker's sheath doesn't strip when sliced. Rather, the line remains intact, saving you from a potentially catastrophic incident, and allowing you to escape the situation with more rope in play. It doesn't mean that the cord is impossible to sever or won't get a core shot, nor that you can keep using it regularly afterward once it's been sliced. When compared to the other ropes in this review, we found it to be one of the least durable models that we tested.


We put the Joker through the same paces as the other lines that we tested (over 80 pitches, many of them sport pitches with multiple falls in the same spot and yarding back up the rope), and after our testing was done the rope was a little beat up. We saw a lot of abrasions on the sheath and a worrisome spot about a meter out from our tie-in spot. When compared to the Sterling Nano IX, it looked a lot worse for wear. The Joker is not meant for cragging use, in our estimation, but rather as a dedicated Alpine line or for the "send" gos.

This nick was the result of repeated whips and takes in the same spot while working a route. We don't recommend using the Joker as projecting rope (unless money is no object or your project really is 40-meters long) as the thinner diameter has less material in the sheath and won't hold up to this type of use as well as a thicker one.
This nick was the result of repeated whips and takes in the same spot while working a route. We don't recommend using the Joker as projecting rope (unless money is no object or your project really is 40-meters long) as the thinner diameter has less material in the sheath and won't hold up to this type of use as well as a thicker one.

We've heard from other people that they used it on one route, and it got a core shot, but that's not necessarily the rope's fault. Any rope that gets stuck in a bad spot can be damaged, regardless of the diameter and construction.

There was quite a bit of fuzz "growing" on this rope by the end of our testing period  and it was looking worse for wear when compared to the Nano IX.
There was quite a bit of fuzz "growing" on this rope by the end of our testing period, and it was looking worse for wear when compared to the Nano IX.

Value


The Beal Joker retails for a little less expensive than the Sterling Nano IX or other thin ropes we've tested, and as long as you don't choose to use it for daily sport climbing, likely presents a decent value.

The author leading up the last pitch of the Monitor Wall  CO. The Joker's Unicore design gave her some peace of mind as she weaved around large blocks and flakes on her way to the summit.
The author leading up the last pitch of the Monitor Wall, CO. The Joker's Unicore design gave her some peace of mind as she weaved around large blocks and flakes on her way to the summit.

Conclusion


Beal does make thinner lines than the Joker with Unicore construction, like the Opera 8.5mm (single, 48 g/m) and the Gulley 7.3mm (half/twin — 36 g/m!), and these lines have a useful purpose, particularly for guides or alpinists. But if you want something that can go from a multi-pitch route one day to a long sport route the next, the Joker is the better choice.

Cam McKenzie Ring