Beal Joker Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Unicore construction offers more protection against accidental severing, lightweight
Cons: Slippery, hard to handle, not a good choice for cragging or toproping
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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. Please check out the Black Diamond 9.9 or the Sterling Evolution Velocity for thicker (and safer, and longer lasting) options.
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.
Thinner ropes are going to be harder to handle than mid-range ones (9.5-9.9 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. Check out the Maxim Pinnacle for a line with great handling.
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, the 9.5mm Mammut Infinity, 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.
The Joker is one of the lightest ropes that we have ever used, weighing in a t 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, the Black Diamond 9.9 (64g/m). It's even a pound lighter than the Mammut Infinity. 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.
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.
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.
The Joker is not the line that we want to crag on day to 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.
The Beal Joker retails for $220 for a 60 m length and $250 for a 70 m line. This makes it a little less expensive than the Sterling Fusion Nano IX ($265 and $305), and as long as you don't choose to use it for daily sport climbing, likely presents a decent value..
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