The Best Rock Climbing Rope
Looking for a new climbing rope but confused by all the ratings and sizes? We can help! We researched over 65 climbing ropes and then tested the 10 best side by side. We flaked, coiled, climbed, and carried all of these ropes in a wide range of applications to help you find the right rope for you, whether you want the overall best, lowest price, or a workhorse champion. After three months of testing and over 20 vertical miles, we evaluated each one based on specific criteria, such as how well they handled and whether they were durable enough to withstand heavy use. Keep reading below to see which ones were our favorites, and what you want to consider for your next purchase.
Read the full review below >
Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Rock Climbing Rope
Good for both leading and top roping
Our Editors' Choice award goes to the Mammut Infinity, a durable and versatile 9.5 mm climbing rope. It weighs 58 g/m and handles smoothly, whether you choose to belay with a GriGri or an ATC style device. While the 9.5 mm diameter might be a little thin for newer climbers, it never felt slippery in hand. The thinner diameter and light weight make it appealing for long approaches and multi-pitch climbs, but it works equally well on sport routes, and the lighter weight is always appreciated there as well. If we had to buy only one rope for all of our climbing applications, we would pick the Infinity. This rope comes with a range of water repellent coating treatments: the Classic (no treatment), Protect (sheath only), and Dry (core and sheath). According to Mammut, both the Protect and Dry treatments increase the abrasion resistance by an astounding 40 and 50% respectively, but they do add to the cost. In fact, the Dry treated bi-pattern version that we tested was also the most expensive line in this review ($280), but the Classic can be purchased at a much more affordable $150 price point.
Read review: Mammut Infinity
Best Bang for the Buck
Beal Booster III
Low impact force rating
Feels stretchy when top roping
Stiff when new
With climbing ropes available in so many different lengths, sheath treatments, and weave patterns, it can be difficult to tell which one is a good value. As we mentioned above, the Mammut Infinity's price ranges from $150 to $280 for a 60 m, which is a significant difference. Enter the Beal Booster III which costs between $190 and $210 (Classic or Dry). While still not the least expensive line in this review, the combination of price point, performance, and durability made it stand out in our minds and we've given it our Best Buy award. The Booster has been in production for over 20 years, but if you tried this line years ago and didn't like it, it's worth taking another look. Beal has taken the "softer is better" approach with the Booster III, and it has the highest dynamic and static elongation of any line in this review coupled with the lowest impact force rating. This makes it a great choice for trad climbers who want to minimize the force applied to their gear in a fall, but top ropers and seconders should beware. This rope felt a little stiff when new, but the handling softened up a bit with use. It was also one of the most durable lines in this review, and aside from a little dirt accumulation in the sheath, it looked almost new after over 70 pitches, which bumped up its value even more in our estimation.
Read review: Beal Booster III
Top Pick for Sport Climbing
Lighter than a 9.8 or 9.9 mm line
Heavier than other 9.5 mm lines
High impact force rating
Our testers really liked the Maxim Pinnacle, but while our Editors' Choice winner was a great all-around climbing rope, this one is more specialized and not suitable for everyone. This 9.5 mm line has a unique feel that is soft and supple in hand, but might feel slippery to a novice belayer. That, combined with the thinner diameter, could make it more challenging for someone without a lot of experience belaying to arrest a fall, so we do recommend that you use all "thinner" diameter ropes with extreme caution (9.5 mm and under). That being said, if you're done with anything over 9.5, love fast clips and even faster feeding action when belaying, you need to check out the Pinnacle, as it feels like no other rope you've ever used. We took a ton of sport whippers on it, and the falls felt nice and soft each time, but this line does have a higher impact force rating (10.3 kN), making it a better choice for sport climbing than trad routes on marginal gear. We did like the 5% static elongation for top rope burns, and the tight 1x1 sheath did a great job of keeping out the dirt, with the rope still looking almost like new after 70 pitches.
Read review: Maxim Pinnacle
Top Pick for a Workhorse Rope
Sterling Evolution Velocity
Light for the diameter
Not as high-performing as skinnier options
While the 9.8 mm Sterling Evolution Velocity hovers at the lighter and thinner end of our workhorse rope classification (62 g/m), it was our favorite option for working a route and all-around heavy use. This rope has a long lifespan, which we can attest to having personally used it for years in an unforgiving desert environment full of sand and sheath destroying edges. During our side-by-side tests it performed well for the diameter, with good handling and soft catches. It's a few grams lighter than other ropes in the 9.8-9.9 mm range, but considerably heavier than some of the 9.5s in this review. The Evolution Velocity 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.
Read review: Sterling Evolution Velocity
Top Pick for Top Roping and Gym Climbing
Black Diamond 9.9mm
Good handling that's not too thin for newer climbers
Soft catches with safe top ropes
Available in 35 and 40 m lengths for gym climbing
No Dry treatment available
Black Diamond finally dipped their toe in the climbing rope manufacturing business, and we're sure glad they did. We tested the workhorse/gym oriented 9.9mm line for this review, as it is already one of the most popular ropes on the market after only one season. They do make a whole range of climbing ropes now, and if the other models, like their 9.6mm and 9.2mm, are as well-constructed as this one, then you're sure to like them. The 9.9mm is definitely on the heavier and thicker end of the spectrum, but that makes it an excellent choice for certain applications, as well as newer climbers. It provided a soft catch while not being too stretchy for top roping (7.6% static elongation), which is key to helping newer climbers feel secure on TR and helping to eliminate ankle injuries if they slip off close to the ground. The price point is great too, at only $150 for the full 60 m rope, and $80 and $90 for the 35 and 40 m dedicated gym lines. No more ruining your redpointing line in the climbing gym — just pick up one of these lines instead!
Read review: Black Diamond 9.9mm
Analysis and Test Results
There is quite an impressive selection of dynamic climbing ropes on the market today. 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 of the ropes performed the basic functions of catching falls and protecting climbers, and none were inherently unsafe, so what are the main differences? We put our experience and knowledge to work for you, using a group of 10 testers who each had at least 20 years climbing experience, and some close to 40 — yes, we're an old bunch! While we occasionally had differences of opinion regarding handling or catch, after much discussion and collaboration we were able to come to a consensus on each rope's handling, catch, and durability relative to the others. Read on to see what we discovered.
This category describes our overall impression of using each climbing rope. We evaluated each model on its suppleness and the overall feel while carrying, coiling, climbing, clipping, and belaying with it. This handling score accounted for 40% of the overall score — that's how important we feel this category is. It is also subjective, with some testers preferring thinner ropes over thicker, or vice versa, and so we polled 10 different testers to get an overall impression as opposed to only one person's opinion. We also compared the feel of each one when brand new vs. broken in to determine if there was any stiffening or loosening up. Here's how we rated the various lines for handling.
In general, the lighter, thinner ropes handled the best. Thinner diameters allow the ropes to be more flexible, and the light weight makes them less cumbersome to carry and clip. The top performers in this category were all 9.5 mm lines, including the Maxim Pinnacle, Mammut Infinity, and the Petzl Arial. We also liked the handling on the BlueWater Ropes Lightning Pro 9.7 mm. We were most impressed with the handling on the Maxim Pinnacle, and gave it a 9/10 for this category. It feels like no other rope out there, and has a smooth and supple hand feel without being slippery or noodle-like.
The Mammut Infinity, our Editors' Choice winner, has a more standard hand feel — not quite as smooth and you can feel the weave pattern — but still felt great both while clipping and belaying. We were also surprised and pleased by the handling on the Petzl Arial — it had been a few years since we've used their ropes, and Petzl changed their manufacturing partner in that time. Their current offering clips and feeds smoothly, and was a top favorite of our testers.
While the 9.5 mm lines had the best handling, they may not be the best choice for a newer climber, as they can be more challenging to hold on to when stopping a fall. Using gloves can help, as does a lot of practice with a thicker line first. If you're reading this review and are new to the sport, we strongly suggest you purchase a 9.8 or 9.9 mm first. You could even go as thick as a 10.3 mm, but with so many belay devices designed for thinner ropes now, a thicker rope might work against you. While Petzl states that the GriGri 2 can work well with ropes up to 10.3 mm, our testers felt like 10.3 mm was just too thick for effective belaying with that device, and it locked up too much with a line that thick. Our Top Pick for a Workhorse Rope, the 9.8 mm Sterling Evolution Velocity, or our Top Pick for Top Roping and Gym Climbing, the Black Diamond 9.9mm, are better choices for newer climbers, as they still handled well for the size.
Finally, we have to mention our least favorite line for handling, the Edelweiss Curve Unicore Supereverdry. This rope uses the "Unicore" technology, where the sheath is bonded to the core. This prevents the sheath from slipping in case of a total cut to the sheath, and you can still descend safely on one of these lines in case of that happening. This construction is an important safety feature for rope access workers, as well as alpine climbers and mountaineers, where you'll still need to rely on your rope to get you down safely even in the event of a sheath slice. We've used "Unicore" dynamic ropes from other manufacturers and still found them to be supple and flexible, but not so with the Curve. We didn't test the regular Curve either, so we can't tell you whether this was the rope itself or the "Unicore" construction, but the result is not good. As you can see from the photos below, this line is stiff and wire-like, and it feels like you need to force it through a belay device, resulting in short-roped leaders and exhausted belayers.
Rating the catch of a rope is a highly subjective affair. We took a lot of falls on each line, and did so with the same two people who weigh the same and have been climbing together for years. We know what to expect from each other's whippers, how much slack to feed out, and what a "soft" or "hard" catch feels like. And in many instances, it was very difficult to tell the difference between the different models in this review. For one, the faller is simultaneously thinking "I can't believe I fell off that move AGAIN!" along with "I hope I don't die!" while trying to notice if this one line is bouncier than the previous one. But most importantly, there are so many other factors involved with what makes for a hard or soft catch beyond the rope, which we'll discuss below. All that being said, there are some significant differences between the way different ropes catch falls, and so we felt like it warranted a testing metric. Here's how we scored the various lines for their catch.
Climbing ropes help absorb the impact of your fall (which is really your deceleration), by stretching. Some ropes stretch more than others, and the range in our test group was between 26% and 38% maximum Dynamic Elongation. Note that this value is measured during the standard UIAA drop tests that involve unrealistic scenarios for everyday use. For example, if you fall right by a bolt with 50 feet of rope out on a line with 38% elongation, the rope will not stretch 20 feet. You may find yourself 5 feet down by the previous bolt due to a combination of rope stretch and any extra rope out though. While the dynamic elongation figures do give a good indication of the stretchiness of the rope, we couldn't always tell the difference when falling, and in fact had some of the "hardest" falls on the BlueWater Ropes Lightning Pro, which didn't have particularly low elongation or high impact force ratings, but more on that in a minute. The chart below shows the various dynamic elongation ratings for each model.
After falling on all of the lines multiple times and noting if anything seemed out of the ordinary, and also considering to top rope feel of each line, we "liked" falling the best on the Mammut Infinity and the Petzl Arial. Interestingly, these lines do have similar impact ratings and dynamic elongation (8.6 kN and 8.8 kN, and 30 and 32%). These ratings seem to hit a sweet spot between providing a soft catch, stretching just enough but not too much, and not feeling like a bungee cord when top roping. While we mentioned that you aren't likely to reach the full dynamic elongation in a real-world scenario, an extra foot or two of stretch could result in hitting a ledge or the ground, so those ropes with the highest stretch should be used with caution. As with the maximum dynamic elongation figures, the impact force ratings are the maximum recorded in a very controlled and unrealistic scenario. "Real" climbing falls typically generate much lower forces than these. The chart below shows the impact force ratings of each line.
The impact force is related to but not directly equal to the elongation. That means that two ropes might have the same elongation, but different impact force due to construction and materials. However, models with lower stretch do tend to have higher impact forces, and vice versa. The Maxim Pinnacle had the highest impact force rating in this review (10.3 kN), and the lowest elongation (26%). While we didn't notice this during our test falls — the catches all felt fine and soft — this does mean that there is the potential for greater forces on your protection with this line vs. the 7.3 kN Beal Booster III. If you're only falling on well-placed, bomber bolts, that might not be a huge concern, but for traditional climbers, this higher impact force is something to consider, as smaller wires are rated between 2 and 6 kN, and thin cams only 8 kN.
We also liked the catch on the Trango Lotus, Beal Booster III, and Sterling Evolution Velocity, though the first two are on the stretchy side and care should be taken when top roping with those models. This leads us to a final spec to consider, the static elongation.
This was probably the easiest rating to correlate to real-world use, although again the number on the package isn't exactly what you'll experience. This test involves hanging an 80 kg mass on the end of the rope in a tower, with no other source of friction in the system. Once a rope is in a top rope configuration and the belayer already has some tension on the line, part of that elongation will already be reduced. But, we've all been in those situations where we are on top rope, feel like there's tension on the line and rest on it, only to sink a few feet lower. A rope like the Beal Booster III will stretch more than the Maxim Pinnacle in this situation. Regardless of the stated elongation, a belayer should always take the time to take a bit of the stretch out at the start of a top rope, just in case the climber falls in the first few feet, to help keep them from hitting the ground.
If you're still with us then you might remember us mentioning the BlueWater Ropes Lightning Pro at the top of this section. This rope looked good on spec (7.8 kN impact force, 32.3% dynamic elongation), but the falls we took felt hard. We particularly noticed this on one occasion where we were working a harder route and taking successive falls in the same spot. The first fall felt noticeably hard with the standard amount of rope out. (The route was dead vertical and the draws all in a line.) On the second fall, the belayer let even more rope out than normal, but that fall felt even harder, and by the third, we were done with falling on this line. Both the climber and the belayer felt the jarring effects. This brings up the point of ropes needing to rest between falls in order to rebound. Black Diamond has done some interesting testing in this area, and concluded that higher forces are exerted in successive falls and that it requires both time and/or switching ends for climbing ropes to rebound. But, they conducted the tests on one type of rope, and didn't compare the rebound rates of different ropes. We think this would be an interesting next test, because we didn't have this noticeable of an increase in impact force on any other line (and we took successive falls on all of them while working a route).
As a final note for catching falls, there are many things that both the climber and belayer can do to decrease the forces of a fall, including a dynamic belay action (jumping up a bit when the climber falls), having sufficient rope out but not too much (typically a gentle c curve is sufficient, the bottom of which should not be touching the ground), and minimizing rope drag on a route, which ends up shortening the amount of rope that can actually absorb the impact and thereby increases the fall factor. Switching ends between burns also helps, as does switching ropes if you're climbing on back to back days.
Diameter and Weight
For this review, we chose to test "single" climbing ropes between a relatively narrow range of 9.5-9.9 mm. While climbing ropes are manufactured in various uses (single, half, and twin) and a wide range of sizes (7.8 mm to 11 mm), the majority of climbers use options in the above mentioned range, and it would be like comparing apples to oranges to have a set of 7.8 mm half ropes in this review along with a 10.5 mm behemoth of old. If you're not sure of the difference between single, half and twin lines, you can head over to our Buying Advice article where we break all that down further.
Diameter is the easiest and most obvious way to judge a rope. When you hold a climbing rope in your hand, the thickness is the first thing you can tangibly feel. Therefore, it tends to be the feature that consumers focus on the most when purchasing a new one, with the current trend leaning toward thinner and thinner ropes. Black Diamond has even chosen to use diameters as the names for their climbing ropes. However, we think the trend of focusing solely on diameter 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 if they are looking to shed weight. Also, manufacturers do measure their diameters differently, and some ropes are even slightly oval-shaped and are therefore measured under slight tension to get the stated diameter. That's why you might have two ropes of the "same" diameter that feel completely different in hand and have different weights-per-gram. The chart below shows the different weights of the lines we tested.
Rope weights are measured in grams per meter increments since the variable length of climbing ropes changes the total weight. (A 70 m will usually always be heavier than a 50 m, unless you're comparing a 7.8 mm half rope to a 10.5 mm big wall behemoth.) As you can see, the 9.5 mm Petzl Arial and Mammut Infinity are the lightest of the bunch, at only 58 g/m, while the other 9.5 mm line that we tested, the Maxim Pinnacle, actually weighs a bit more at 61 g/m. To put that in a more useful perspective, the 60 m Pinnacle weighs 6 ounces more than the other two. Is that enough to mean the difference between a send and falling off your high point again? It's hard to say — but in a world where every ounce counts, and people cut calories to drop ounces off their bodies, shedding a few from your rope as well can't hurt. The Beal Booster III and BlueWater Ropes Lightning Pro also impressed us with their weight rating, as they are 61 g/m for a 9.7 mm line.
A climbing rope is typically the heaviest single piece of climbing equipment used. The difference between the lightweight 9.5 mm models that we tested and heaviest lines in this review, the Black Diamond 9.9mm and the Edelweiss Curve Unicore Supereverdry (64 g/m), amounts to almost a pound. These differences add up even more when you get into longer 70 and 80 m climbing ropes, and when you're climbing longer pitches. Using a lightweight rope will keep your pack lighter on the approach and the difficulty of clipping down when you've led a mega pitch at Indian Creek and are hauling the weight of the entire rope for your desperate anchor clip. People are moving to even thinner climbing ropes (9.0-9.2 mm range) for these scenarios, but keep in mind that the lighter, skinnier ropes will not last as long as something thicker. This brings us to our final testing metric: durability.
When you throw down a chunk of change on an expensive piece of equipment, you want it to last a while. A climbing rope is the piece of climbing equipment that gets retired most often, and with good reason — it is both your lifeline and the most subject to wear. We evaluated durability in a few different ways. We took into account the diameter, as thicker ropes do tend to last longer than skinnier ones, the weave, how dirty the sheath got, and the state of the sheath after at least 60 pitches. Here's how we rated the various models on their durability.
While it's reasonable to assume that a 10.5 mm line would have greater abrasion resistance and a longer lifespan to a 9.0 mm one, the difference between the 9.9 and 9.5 mm lines in our test range did not seem quite as significant. The two models that stood out the most for durability, the Beal Booster III and Edelweiss Curve Unicore Supereverdry, were on the thicker side of our range though. The Curve was one of only two lines in this review to use a 1x1 weave, which tends to have a tighter weave than a 2x2 and therefore better abrasion resistance.
You'll often hear people commenting on how dry-treated ropes last longer than standard ones, and many people choose to purchase a line with that treatment regardless of whether they're using it in a wet environment or not. Mammut did some in-house testing on their lines and determined that their Dry treatment offers 50% more abrasion resistance than an untreated line, and their "Protect" (treated sheath only) delivers 40% more. We chose to test all dry treated ropes, except for the Black Diamond 9.9mm, which only comes in a standard finish. Then we compared sheath wear after our testing period, to see which ones were showing some fuzz and which looked brand new. The Maxim Pinnacle was another high scorer, and it was showing very minimal signs of wear, whereas the BlueWater Ropes Lightning Pro had some significant sheath wear in several locations on the line. This could have been due to one bad pitch where it ran over a sharp edge, or one climb where we whipped on a "sharp" carabiner, but considering that we used every line extensively and on a variety of types of rock and styles of climbing, the fact that this one showed the most wear resulted in us dropping its score considerably.
While a dry treatment may help prevent dirt and grime from working its way into the core, it can still accumulate on the surface of the rope! While we did evaluate for "dirtiness," we also accepted that all ropes get dirty, regardless if you're using a rope bag or not. You can wash your rope and get rid of some of that dirt, but it's a bit of a chore, and not the easiest thing to do on a road trip or if you're living the dirtbag lifestyle. So we did appreciate the ropes that stayed cleaner longer. After testing was done we washed all the lines (front load washer, mild soap, indoor dry), and most took back on their brand new look, except for the Edelrid Boa Pro Dry. It seems as though the dirt was "glazed" onto this line, which can happen when the sheath heats up due to fast lowering through a hot belay device. These glazed sections can stiffen up and ultimately affect the handling and longevity of your rope.
Climbing ropes typically get retired due to sheath wear, so we also considered how much of the line was sheath vs. core. 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 might be. The sheath proportion ranged from 35% to 42% in the lines that we tested, and there wasn't really a correlation that we could detect by the end of 60-80 pitches, but it's possible that further down the line, a 42% sheath model like the Mammut Infinity could last longer than the 35% Sterling Evolution Velocity. Once your sheath starts to wear out though, or if you have any concerns about the integrity of the core, your best option is to retire the rope, or at the very least cut the ends (though that creates a separate problem of having a line that is shorter than some routes). Too often we see people tying in to battered and frayed ends, which is a serious safety concern. Go ahead and read Black Diamond's quality control testing on this issue, and then go to your garage and retire your own offenders.
As a fundamental part of any climber's crag pack, a rope is more than a decision of just a cool color. At first glance, the multitude of ropes on the market have an extensive list of numbers and specs all while tending to look quite similar. We hope that this review helps you to make an informed decision on the rope that will not only help to keep you safe, but fit your climbing style as well.
— Cam McKenzie Ring
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.
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