Sterling touts their Evolution Helix 9.5mm as a "skinny workhorse," and we wholeheartedly agree. It is one of the top scorers in our comparative review, performing on par with our Editors' Choice winning Mammut Infinity. There is almost nothing to not love about his rope — it handles well and is quite soft, it does a great job of repelling dirt and has a very durable sheath, and at 9.5mm is a fair bit easier to manipulate through a GriGri, and weighs less, than your standard 9.8mm workhorse. We climbed with this rope everyday for months, letting everyone we climbed with take burns on it as well, and it still looks practically new. While it doesn't come cheap, if you are in the market for a long lasting rope but don't want the fattest rope at the crag, then check out the Evolution Helix.
Sterling Evolution Helix Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Durable, excellent feel and handle, soft catches
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We tested this rope for around three months at Smith Rock and in Red Rocks and must say that it still seems like it has barely been broken in. After over 200 pitches it still looks newer than some ropes that we have only climbed 30 pitches on, with a smooth, treated finish that does an amazing job of repelling dirt, not to mention water. It comes in a ton of variations of length (40m — 80m), weave (standard w/ middle marked or BiColor), and dry treatment (either not treated or DryXP), so no matter what specifications you are looking for, you can find it with the Evolution Helix. To us, this rope perfectly embodies the newer generation of ropes that tend toward thinner and lighter while still offering incredible durability, and we firmly believe that 9.5mm is the new 9.8 — 10.0. Sterling calls this rope their skinny workhorse, and in our testing and experience, it perfectly matches that description, holding up to abuse just as well as the Sterling Evolution Velocity, the 9.8mm "workhorse" that we recommend as the best. If you want durability, a great handle, and less weight, then we highly recommend this rope to you.
It's hard for us to think of how we would describe a rope with a nicer handle than this one. It starts out slippery, and actually stays that way for months of heavy sport climbing use, exhibiting the amazing durability of its DryXP coating. The cord is supple and soft, but not quite as squishy as the Petzl Arial. It stays perfectly circular and is very easy to bend and manipulate for tying knots or shoving into a belay device. We have never encountered an issue with it sticking in an active assisted device like the GriGri, and feel that it pulls really smoothly through when needing to pay out armloads of slack. After over 200 pitches of use, the rope is a little dirtier, but not much so, and has not changed its general character one iota. It remains slippery and smooth to the touch, is just as soft as when we bought it and has not stiffened or become cord-like at all.
Assessing the quality of a rope's catch is one of the hardest testing tasks we have been presented with, in large part because there are so many factors that go into a hard or soft catch besides only the rope. The Evolution Helix's 8.9kN Impact force rating is slightly higher than a couple of the other 9.5mm ropes we tested, such as the Mammut Infinity or the Arial. However, its 7.2% static elongation figure is a bit less than the Arial, and we would have to say that comparing them head-to-head on top-rope burns, we sagged a little less with rope stretch when using the Helix. This would lend one to believe that it doesn't give the absolute softest catch possible, but our experience says there is nothing to complain about. After repeated 20 ft. whippers at the crux high on one route, we didn't feel like the rope was begging for an end change, although we changed it up anyway in the name of preservation. Regardless, we can think of ropes that we did not receive as friendly a catch with.
The Evolution Helix weighs 59 g/m, which is 1 g/m more than either the Mammut Infinity or Petzl Arial, but is 2 g/m lighter than the Maxim Pinnacle, our Top Pick for Sport Climbing. All of these ropes are 9.5mm, so it is no surprise that they weigh very close to the same amount. If you multiply out the math, you will find that a 60m rope will weigh you about 7.8 lbs., which isn't too bad for a workhorse rope. In fact, the combination of low weight and great durability is why we think this rope is one of the best.
After over 200 pitches of climbing, we would have to say that with the exception of a bit of metal dust and some dirt, this rope looks almost the same as when we pulled it out of the bag. The sheath shows virtually no sign of fraying, and the DryXP coating on the outside of the sheath remains largely intact. This rope certainly does not absorb dirt very quickly, which helps it retain a long life span. Without a doubt, it is one of the more durable ropes you can buy, especially among 9.5 offerings.
We didn't give it our highest score for this metric however, simply because of some features that it doesn't have compared to the competition. For instance, the sheath follows a 2x2 weave pattern, which is not quite as tight and durable as the 1x1 pattern found on the Maxim Pinnacle. It is also doesn't have Unicore technology, like the Edelweiss Curve Unicore Supereverdry, a feature that bonds the sheath fibers to the core so that the sheath will not slip if you happen to sustain a coreshot.
This 9.5mm rope can do it all. We used it extensively for working on sport climbing projects at Smith Rock but also used it as our single lead line for 10+ pitch routes on a trip to Red Rocks. It is light enough for long climbs, and also durable enough for abusive days at the sport crag.
A 60m DryXP version of this rope will run $244 for a single color with a middle mark, or $270 if you want the Bicolor dual weave that uses a different thread pattern on each end of the rope, making it super easy to identify the middle. While this isn't the most expensive rope in this review, it sure costs a lot more than some of our Best Buy candidates. However, since it is so durable and obviously lasts a long time, we think the extra money is worth it for the top quality.
The Sterling Evolution Helix is a skinny workhorse rope that hits the perfect sweet spot between light weight and great durability. We think it is one of the best ropes we have used for almost any type of climbing.
— Andy Wellman