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Sterling Helix Review

One of the best ropes you can buy, striking a perfect balance between low weight and durability
Sterling Helix
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Price:  $285 List
Pros:  Durable, excellent feel and handle, soft catches
Cons:  Pricey
Manufacturer:   Sterling
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 29, 2021
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76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling - 35% 8.0
  • Durability - 25% 8.0
  • Weight - 20% 6.0
  • Catch - 20% 8.0

Our Verdict

Sterling touts their 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 the Editors' Choice winner. 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. At 9.5mm it is a fair bit easier to manipulate through a GriGri and weighs less than your standard 9.8mm workhorse. We climbed with this rope every day 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 has discontinued the Helix as of 2022.

Our Analysis and Test Results

Now Just Called the Helix
When we tested this rope Sterling was calling this rope the Evolution Helix. Now it is simply referred to as the Helix. The ropes are identical in performance characteristics, except for the minor name change.

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 feels newer than some ropes that we have only climbed 30 pitches on. Its smooth, treated finish does an amazing job of repelling dirt, not to mention water. It comes in a ton of lengths options (40m — 80m), a couple of patterns (standard w/ middle marked or BiColor), and dry treatments (either not treated or DryXP), so no matter what specifications you are looking for, you can find it with the 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. 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 thicker cords made by Sterling. If you want durability, a great handle, and less weight, then we highly recommend this rope to you.

Performance Comparison


Pulling the roof crux on pitch 2 of Levitation 29 in Red Rocks using...
Pulling the roof crux on pitch 2 of Levitation 29 in Red Rocks using the Sterling Helix 9.5, a durable, relatively lightweight rope that can handle all sorts of climbing.

Handling


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 stayed 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 your typical Petzl rope. 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 you need 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, and it's just as soft as when we bought it.

The Evolution Helix is a soft and supple rope that never gets...
The Evolution Helix is a soft and supple rope that never gets stiffer or more "cord-like" over time as it handles many falls. It also remains slippery and comfortable to the touch, with incredible sheath longevity, making it one of the easiest ropes to pull through a belay device. or tie knots with.

Catch


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 Helix's 8.9kN impact force rating is slightly higher than a couple of the other 9.5mm ropes we tested. However, its 7.2% static elongation figure is a bit less, and we would have to say that comparing it head-to-head during top-rope burns, the Helix seemed to sag a little less from rope stretch than others. 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 a high crux, 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 from.

Falls low on a route can be particularly jarring because there isn't...
Falls low on a route can be particularly jarring because there isn't a whole lot of rope out to absorb the impact. Belayer technique has a lot to do with how the fall will feel for the climber, but the Evolution Helix also provided for relatively soft catches.

Weight


The Helix weighs 59 g/m, which is 1 g/m more than a couple of the other very similar ropes we compared it to. Since all of these ropes were 9.5mm it's not a big surprise that they weigh very close to the same. 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.

At 59 g/m, the Evolution Helix is about average for a 9.5mm rope...
At 59 g/m, the Evolution Helix is about average for a 9.5mm rope, but is quite a bit lighter than thicker 9.8 or even 10mm ropes. On long approaches and multi-pitch routes, a 9.5mm rope can be a great compromise between durability and weight.

Durability


After over 200 pitches of climbing, we 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.

The sheath wear on the Sterling Helix (now discontinued) on top...
The sheath wear on the Sterling Helix (now discontinued) on top, compared to the Petzl Arial on the bottom. The sheath of the Helix has gotten a bit dirty from metal dust running through carabiners, but otherwise remains quite intact after over 200 pitches, while you can see the Arial is more worn, frayed, and rough.

We didn't give it our highest score for this metric, however, simply because it doesn't have all of the features as 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, a feature that bonds the sheath fibers to the core so that the sheath will not slip if you happen to sustain a coreshot.

Pulling back up to the high point after a fall is one of the harder...
Pulling back up to the high point after a fall is one of the harder things for a rope in terms of durability. Doing this repeatedly can quickly wear out the ends of the rope.

The Evolution Helix is the consummate all-around rope, ideal for...
The Evolution Helix is the consummate all-around rope, ideal for heaps of days at the sport crag, or for single pitch trad climbing, or multi-pitch adventures. Here working Latest Rage at Smith Rock.

Value


A 60m DryXP version of this rope will run you roughly average for a single color, or expect to add on about $20 if you want the bi-color dual weave. This incorporates 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 likely to last a long time, we think the extra money is probably worth it.

This rope presents great value because it has a durable sheath and...
This rope presents great value because it has a durable sheath and can withstand tons of abuse, while coming in plenty of different options for those looking to stick to the budget.

Conclusion


The Sterling Helix is a mid-sized workhorse rope that hits the perfect sweet spot between lightweight and great durability. We think it is one of the best ropes we have used for almost any type of climbing.

Whether sport or trad climbing, single pitch cragging or long...
Whether sport or trad climbing, single pitch cragging or long multi-pitch adventures, the Evolution Helix 9.5 is a rope that can handle all of it for a long time.

Andy Wellman
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