Looking to purchase a new lifeline but aren't sure which one is the perfect fit for you? We researched over 70 of the best, most popular climbing ropes of 2019, comparison testing 14 for inclusion in this review. Climbing ropes are arguably the most important piece of climbing equipment you will own, so it's critical to choose one that best matches your needs. After taking whippers and catching them, dispatching with multi-pitch routes as well as mega-long sport pitches, coiling ropes, carrying them, rappelling on them and stuffing them through all sorts of different belay devices, we have a pretty solid idea of how each rope performs. Whether you are looking for a bomber first rope, a skinny sport line, a versatile alpine climber's dream, or a solid 9.5 machine that can do all of the above, we have recommendations for you!
The Best Rock Climbing Ropes of 2019
|Price||$259.95 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Great balance of weight, handling, catch, and durability||Great handling, durable||Durable, excellent feel and handle, soft catches||Soft catches, low impact force rating, durable||Lightweight, good handling, and soft catches|
|Cons||Expensive||Heavy for the diameter, high impact force rating||Pricey||A little too stretchy for top roping, stiff||Not very durable, expensive|
|Bottom Line||A great all-around rope that's not specialized to any one discipline.||A great rope for advanced sport climbing.||One of the best ropes you can buy, striking a perfect balance between low weight and durability.||Not the best handling but excellent overall performance.||A great rope for redpointing.|
|Rating Categories||Mammut Infinity||Maxim Pinnacle||Sterling Evolution Helix||Beal Booster III||Petzl Arial|
|Specs||Mammut Infinity||Maxim Pinnacle||Sterling Evolution...||Beal Booster III||Petzl Arial|
|Diameter||9.5 mm||9.5 mm||9.5 mm||9.7 mm||9.5 mm|
|Weight (g/m)||58 g/m||61 g/m||59 g/m||61 g/m||58 g/m|
|UIAA Fall Rating||6-7||7||7||8||7|
|Impact Force||8.6 kN||10.3 kN||8.9 kN||7.3 kN||8.8 kN|
|Static Elongation % (in use)||6.8||5||7.2||9.7||7.6|
|Dynamic Elongation % (first fall)||30||26||31.9||38||32|
|Sheath Proportion %||42||36||41||42||40|
|Dry Coating Option||Mammut's Dry Treatment||Endura Dry 2x treatment||DryXP||Dry Cover||DuraTec|
|Middle Mark or Bi-Pattern Option||Bi-Pattern or Middle Mark||Bi-pattern option||Middle Mark and Bi-Color Option||Middle mark||Middle mark|
|Lengths Available||50m, 60m, 70m, 80m||60m, 70m||40m, 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m. DryXP: 60m, 70m, 80m||60m, 70m||50m, 60m, 70m, 80m|
Best Overall Rock Climbing Rope
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. 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. 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.
Speaking of costs, this is an expensive line, and the Dry treated bi-pattern version that we tested was the most expensive model in this review. The Classic can be purchased at a much more affordable price point though. The 9.5 mm diameter might be a little thin for newer climbers, but it never felt slippery in hand to our experienced belayers. If we had to buy only one rope for all of our climbing applications, we would pick the Infinity.
Read review: Mammut Infinity
Best Bang for the Buck
Beal Booster III
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, there is a significant price range in the Mammut Infinity, depending on length and treatment options. Enter the Beal Booster III which costs significantly less (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.
Top ropers and seconders should be a little careful with this rope, as it does have a lot of stretch to it. That could cause you to fall farther than you anticipate while seconding, which is always a little disconcerting. It 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
Our testers really like the Maxim Pinnacle, but while our Editors' Choice winner is a great all-around climbing rope, this one is more specialized and is not suitable for all applications or all climbers. It has great handling, and we were able to give out slack quickly for fast sport clips, and the falls felt soft each time, regardless of the impact rating. We 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.
Though we didn't notice that this rope had harder catches than others, the high impact rating (10.3 kN) makes it a better choice for sport climbing than trad routes on marginal gear. This 9.5 mm line has a unique feel that is soft and supple in hand, but it 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, consider the Pinnacle, as it feels like no other rope you've ever used.
Read review: Maxim Pinnacle
Best Workhorse Rope
Sterling Evolution Velocity
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. Those looking to lighten their packs should look elsewhere. The Evolution Velocity can be used for any climbing discipline though, 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 Alpine and Multi-Pitch Routes
Sure, there are skinnier lines out there — and those who regularly use twin and half rope techniques might find the 9.1 mm Beal Joker to be on thick side! The rest of us who aren't used to "dental floss" lines but need something for long routes should consider the Joker. Constructed with UNICORE technology, the sheath gets bonded to the core to prevent sheath stripping in the case of a deep slice. While this can happen on single-pitch routes too, the consequences on a long route are often greater, and the Joker will stay more intact than a traditional line, giving you more options for retreat.
The Joker is not for every application though, nor for every climber. It's harder to handle than the thicker 9.9 mm and up ropes that most people start climbing on these days, and our testers experienced some worrying slippage when we were breaking it in. While it's handling improved with use, it also showed signs of wear faster than it's thicker sister line mentioned above, the Booster III. You could easily chew through this rope in a season by using it as your main cragging line. Instead, keep this one in the closet except for days when you plan to put air below your feet, or you are particularly worried about some sharp rock on your route.
Read Review: Beal Joker
Top Pick for Top Roping and Gym Climbing
Black Diamond 9.9mm
Black Diamond finally dipped their toe in the climbing rope 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. It provides 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 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 does not come with a dry treatment though, so if you do climb ice, then this wouldn't be the best option for you. The price point is great though, for the full 60 m rope, as well as for the 35 and 40 m dedicated gym lengths. No more ruining your redpointing line in the climbing gym — just pick up one of these instead!
Read review: Black Diamond 9.9mm
Best Choice for an 80m Sport Rope
Edelrid Swift Eco Dry
Want to take advantage of the cheap airfare deals and touch for yourself the scintillating pockets of Spain or the world-famous tufas of Greece? Then you are going to need an 80m rope! While it's common for sport pitches in the US to end at 30m, or occasionally 35m, in Europe it is the standard to stretch the anchors to 40m or even much further if the rock allows — which it often does! The amount of classic climbs that would be immediately ruled out by simply lugging your old beater 70m rope with you almost makes the trip not worth it, so invest in the right tool, the Edelrid Swift Eco Dry. This 8.9mm cord is the lightest in the review at only 52 g/m, ensuring that you aren't pulling up any extra weight as you try to clip those chains (and also helps with staying under your baggage weight limit). Even more impressive than its weight, however, is its durability. While Edelrid says it's not suitable for projecting routes or top-roping, we did just every day for three weeks on our last trip to Spain. To top it off, it's the only climbing rope treated without harmful PFC dry coating, and is both Bluesign certified and made of recycled fibers off the ends of other almost finished spools, making it possibly the most environmentally friendly rope you can buy.
While we put around 100 pitches into this rope in three short weeks and are very impressed with how it still looks and feels, we can't argue with the fact that this sort of abuse will wear the rope out sooner than a thicker 9.5mm cord. It's wiser to use it mostly for those onsight attempts or projects that only take a couple tries, and not expect it to carry the load of multi-hour project burns day after day. And while we laud the environmentally friendly dry treatment, it seemed to wear off the sheath of our cord pretty darn quickly. Finally, while we feel that opting for such a thin cord is a net gain, rather than loss when considering the pros and cons, one significant consideration is to be mindful of the type of belay device being used. New Petzl GriGris are usable on ropes down to 8.5mm, but many other assisted braking devices cut off right around 8.9mm or even 9.0mm, which means this rope could slip through one of those. While we think this rope is ideal for old-world limestone adventures, we have also heard it lauded by mountain guides who appreciate the versatility afforded by a lightweight cord rated for single, half, and twin use.
Read review: Edelrid Swift Eco Dry
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is a tag-team effort between longtime veteran climbers Andy Wellman and Cam McKenzie Ring. Andy lives in Terrebonne, Oregon, a few minutes from Smith Rock, where he conducts a lot of our rope testing. As a former guidebook publisher and author, he is a jack of all trades with over 22 years of climbing experience, ranging from El Cap big walls to long free routes around the world, as well as tons of time spent at the best sport crags and boulder fields. Cam has over 20 years of climbing experience in pretty much all disciplines. She has everything from boulders to El Cap big wall ascents on her resume. Before moving to her current base in Vegas, she spent five years on Yosemite Search and Rescue. Additionally, a ground support team of ten testers was assembled to assist with this review, with combined climbing experience of almost 300 years.
Long before tying in, our process begins with market research and spec sheets, comparing products and finalizing our selection of the 14 best ropes for purchase. Once the ropes are in hand, we flake them out and put them to use in a variety of locations - Vegas, Ten Sleep, Smith Rock, Boulder, Spain, Taos, Yosemite. Every characteristic we test these ropes for is considered with care. For example, the handling characteristics of each rope are noted when brand new, then re-evaluated after at least 60 pitches, respecting that ropes often look and feel different after their initial break-in period. With exhaustive comparative testing and multiple people weighing in on each rope, we feel that our recommendations should give you a solid base of information for your rope purchase.
Related: How We Tested Climbing Ropes
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, and what to look for when searching for an inexpensive model.
Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Ropes
It can sometimes be hard to compare the various prices of climbing ropes due to the different diameters, lengths available, dry treatment options, and specialty weaves. The price of our Editors' Choice winner, the Mammut Infinity, ranges from moderate for a non-dry 60 m single color model to high for a bi-pattern dry-treated one. We tried to compare apples to apples in this review, and have listed the prices for the 60m dry treated version in most cases. If you are new to climbing and purchasing a lot of gear at once, you'll appreciate saving a few dollars on each purchase. If you're on a budget, look for a rope that earned a good score at a modest price, like the Black Diamond 9.9 (not dry treated) and the Beal Booster III. Another value factor to consider is the durability of the line (which we discuss below), particularly when you are just starting out and may not be aware of all of the ways to increase the longevity of your rope.
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, so we polled ten 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 best handling ropes are the ones that are smooth, have tighter weaves, and are supple and easily bendable into knots or easy to manipulate through a belay device. Lower scorers are often overly stiff and inflexible, or quickly break down into an abrasive skin wrecker that nobody wants to grab. While thinner ropes are often a bit easier to manipulate than thicker ones, they can conversely be harder to grip, so the differences often balance out.
The top performers in this category are all 9.5 mm lines, including the Maxim Pinnacle, Mammut Infinity, and the Petzl Arial. We also like 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 it has a smooth and supple hand feel without being slippery or noodle-like.
The Mammut Infinity, our Editors' Choice winner, has a more standard feel — not quite as smooth and you can feel the weave pattern — but still feels great both while clipping and belaying. We were also surprised and pleased by the handling on the Petzl Arial, which is relatively soft, but feeds smoothly, and was a top favorite of our testers.
We also like the handling of the thinner ropes we tested, such as the Edelrid Swift Eco Dry, because they feed through the GriGri very easily. However, this rope, and the Beal Joker can be more challenging to hold on to when stopping a fall, so it is important to make sure your belay device can handle the thin gauge if you are using one of these cords. These may not be the optimal choice if you typically hold falls with an ATC style tube device, as it requires extra effort to grip thinner ropes and there is also less friction within the device. 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. Back in the day, ropes as thick as 10.5mm were common for a "first rope" purchase, but these days the technology has improved enough that 9.8mm ropes are just as durable, are lighter and feed through belay devices easier. 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 solid choices for new climbers, as they still handle 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. It 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, including the Beal Joker, 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, with years of experience to draw upon in considering whether a catch felt hard or soft. In many instances, it was challenging to tell the difference between the different models in this review. For one, the faller is often thinking "I can't believe I fell off that move AGAIN!" or, "I hope I don't die!". With these thoughts in mind, it can be hard to also notice if 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, so a particular catch cannot always be isolated strictly to the performance of the rope. That being said, there are some significant differences between the way different ropes catch falls, enough that it warrants 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 is between 24% and 38% maximum Dynamic Elongation. This value is measured during the standard UIAA drop tests that involve unrealistic scenarios for everyday use, so the particular numbers are not very relevant, except in how they relate to each other. 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.
After falling on all of the ropes multiple times and noting if anything seemed out of the ordinary, and also considering how much they seem to stretch while top-roping, 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 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 found the catches similar on the skinny lines in this review, the Beal Joker, Sterling Fusion Nano IX, and Edelrid Swift Eco Dry, which all felt pretty soft. As a caution, we did have some slippage with the Joker when using a GriGri 2 (the 9.1 mm rope is within its range but not in the "optimal" zone, but the newest GriGri is usable with ropes as skinny as 8.5mm), and you should always make sure that the belay device that you are using is recommended for the diameter of your rope. We like 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 is 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 with a larger static elongation percentage, such as 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, 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). Switching ends between burns also helps, as does switching ropes if you're climbing on back to back days.
Weight and Diameter
For this review, we chose to test "single" climbing ropes between a relatively narrow range of 8.9-9.9 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.
Diameter is the easiest and most obvious way to understand 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 rather than simply fixate on diameter. 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.
Rope weights are measured in grams per meter increments since the variable length of climbing ropes changes the total weight. (A 70m will usually always be heavier than a 50m unless you're comparing a 7.8 mm half rope to a 10.5 mm big wall line.) As you can see, the 8.9mm Edelrid Swift Eco Dry and the 9.0 mm Sterling Fusion Nano IX are the lightest of the bunch at 52 g/m; this shouldn't be surprising since they are also the thinnest, but what is also interesting is that they are not quite the same diameter, yet weigh the same. The Fusion Nano IX could be considered a light 9.0mm rope, while the Swift Eco Dry is obviously made robustly for its diameter, with a heavier weight. While low weight alone might make your purchasing decision for you, considering the shorter lifespan of these thinner lines you may want to beef up a little bit more. The 9.5 mm Petzl Arial and Mammut Infinity are only a little heavier (58 g/m) but will likely last significantly longer.
Another 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 Arial and Infinity. 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 impress 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 8.9mm Swift Eco Dry and heaviest lines in this review, the Black Diamond 9.9mm and the Edelweiss Curve Unicore Supereverdry (64 g/m) amounts to 1.5 pounds for a 60m rope. These differences add up even more when you get into longer 70 and 80m 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. We see more and more people moving to even thinner climbing ropes for single pitch climbing when the routes are longer and longer, 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. First, we looked at the analytics, including diameter (thicker ropes tend to last longer), and sheath %, as sheaths are usually what wear out, ropes with a higher percentage of fibers in the sheath stand a better chance of taking more abuse. We then compared the numbers with what we saw in real life, including the weave pattern of the rope, how dirty the sheath gets, what sort (if any) of dry treatment does it have, 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 some of 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, are on the thicker side of our range though. The Curve is 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.
When it comes to assessing durability based on rope diameter, we have found it's also important to consider what type of climbing and rock the rope will be subjected to. While diameter can be a great indication of how long a rope will last if it doesn't sustain a core shot, put any rope into the wrong situations, and you will have to expect core shots, ending the life of your rope prematurely. Big wall climbing is far and away the roughest on ropes, in particular, the bouncing action of jugging with ascenders as the rope passes over a lip can core shot a rope in no time. Many times we have had to retire a new rope after only one wall. Top roping can be very hard on a rope, especially if you are on a low angle wall where the rope runs over edges.
Lastly, projecting sport climbs is also a good way to wear out a rope quickly, although this wear is rarely a core shot, but more often the wear at both ends from repeated falling and pulling back up, a reason that sport climbers often bring their own ropes to the crag and sometimes refrain from letting their partner take burns on their rope. Sharp edges are of course a rope's worst nightmare, but one rock type, in particular, is devilish at wearing out ropes even when the edges are all round — sandstone. Although it may seem like the softest of rocks, ropes running over sandstone literally get sanded away, and it is remarkable how quickly sheaths can fuzz out or even core shot when weighted repeatedly. The rope that sees the fewest falls and is used under tension the least will last the longest, no matter how thick it is or what style of climbing you are doing, so be aware that your choices, not simply the rope's characteristics, play a significant role in determining durability.
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 is a high scorer, as is the Sterling Evolution Helix, showing very minimal signs of wear, whereas the BlueWater Ropes Lightning Pro showed 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 do appreciate the ropes that stay 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. It is possible for dirt to become "glazed" onto a rope, 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 9.5 to 9.9mm lines that we tested, and all the way down to 29% in the Sterling Fusion Nano. 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.
Deciding which climbing rope you're going to purchase is an important decision. It's also challenging to try them out first! Since the way a rope handles could influence your decision more than anything else, checking out your friends' ropes at the crag or gym could help give you an idea of what type feels best to you. Hopefully, we have helped you fill in the blanks on the rest of your purchasing criteria, and that you can now make an informed decision on which one will suit your climbing style best, and keep you safe!
— Cam McKenzie Ring & Andy Wellman