Do you need a new climbing rope, but can't decide which one is ideal for your needs? We are here to help! We chose 16 of the best and most popular single ropes after researching over 70 different models, and put them to the test in this head-to-head review. Whether you are new to the game, want a workhorse that will last forever, a high-end sport climbing wonder, or a skinny and light cord for fast alpine missions, we have great recommendations for you. We tested ropes that range from 8.9mm on the skinny side up to fatter 9.9mm cords, by putting them through the wringer at the sport crags, on heady gear leads, while multi-pitching in the alpine, and even while tromping over glaciers. Read on for our top picks for your needs!
The Best Rock Climbing Ropes of 2019
|Price||$194.95 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$215.96 at Backcountry||$220.00 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$177.79 at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|$309.95 at Amazon|
|Pros||Skinny for its diameter, durable, great catch, smooth handling||Durable, excellent feel and handle, soft catches||Light, durable, super soft and supple handle||Great handling, durable||Eco friendly, nice handle, super light, triple rated, uncoils perfectly from the bag|
|Cons||Slightly stiff, middle mark wears off quickly||Pricey||Not durable enough for heavy duty sport climbing, a lot of stretch when seconding||Heavy for the diameter, high impact force rating||Expensive, dry coating wears off sheath quickly, a tad stiff|
|Bottom Line||The top-performing do-everything rope that is also a crowd favorite||One of the best ropes you can buy, striking a perfect balance between low weight and durability.||The perfect light and skinny rope for climbing high above the ground||A great rope for advanced sport climbing.||The best choice among the skinny lines we have tested for an extended sport climbing trip.|
|Rating Categories||Mammut Infinity||Sterling Evolution Helix||Petzl Volta||Maxim Pinnacle||Edelrid Swift Eco Dry|
|Specs||Mammut Infinity||Sterling Evolution...||Petzl Volta||Maxim Pinnacle||Edelrid Swift Eco...|
|Diameter||9.5 mm||9.5 mm||9.2 mm||9.5 mm||8.9 mm|
|Weight (g/m)||59 g/m||59 g/m||55 g/m||61 g/m||52 g/m|
|Certified Use||Single||Single||Single, Half and Twin||Single||Single, Half and Twin|
|UIAA Fall Rating||8-9||7||6||7||7 (single), 22 (half/twin)|
|Impact Force||8.4 kN||8.9 kN||8.6 kN||10.3 kN||8.8 (single), 6.7 (half), 10.4 kN (twin)|
|Static Elongation % (in use)||6.5||7.2||7.5||5||9 (single), 8.6 (half), 5.3 (twin)|
|Dynamic Elongation % (first fall)||30||31.9||33||26||31 (single), 28 (half), 26 (twin)|
|Sheath Proportion %||40||41||42||36||34|
|Dry Coating Option||Mammut's Dry Treatment||DryXP||Duratec Dry||Endura Dry 2x treatment||Eco Dry|
|Middle Mark or Bi-Pattern Option||Bi-Pattern or Middle Mark||Middle Mark and Bi-Color Option||Middle Mark||Bi-pattern option||Middle mark|
|Lengths Available||50m, 60m, 70m, 80m||40m, 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m. DryXP: 60m, 70m, 80m||50m, 60m, 70m, 80m||60m, 70m||60m, 70m, 80m|
Best Overall Rock Climbing Rope
In some respects, climbing is a game of maximizing strength while minimizing the weight you have to haul up the cliff, so choosing the lightest climbing gear can provide a valuable advantage. This is certainly true of climbing ropes, which you may be surprised to learn are the single heaviest piece of equipment you carry. However, lowering the weight typically comes with the trade-off of lower durability and a shorter life span, something that no climber really wants to sacrifice when it comes to a rope. That's why we love the Mammut Inifinity Dry, a 9.5mm thick rope (which feels thinner), that is both intensely durable and long-lasting, while also lighter than what you would expect from a workhorse. The 9.5mm range seems to be just about ideal when it comes to keeping a rope relatively light, while also maintaining enough durability that it doesn't wear out too quickly and present poor value, which is why most of our top scorers come from this diameter. Of these, the Inifinity Dry is far and away testers (and their friends) favorite rope, with a whopping 42% sheath percentage guaranteeing a cord that is not easy to wear out. This rope has all the qualities of a true workhorse, and is an ideal sport climbing project rope, but lacks the weight and the added resistance in the GriGri that often comes from fat ropes.
While most people seem to love the handle of this rope, there is no doubt that it feels a bit stiffer than many, especially compared to Sterling or Petzl ropes. This effect seems to be become more prevalent over time, especially as the rope becomes dirty or glazed from carabiner burn, so consider washing it if it feels a bit too stiff. It also comes with a heft price tag, especially if you order it with the dry treatment (recommended for greater longevity, even if you don't climb in the snow or on ice) and with a bi-weave pattern. It also isn't quite as skinny or as light as a 9.1mm or 9.2mm specialty sending sport rope, but like we said, you will get miles more wear out of this rope than one of those, so it is clearly a better value purchase. Regardless of what style of climbing you prefer — sport or trad cragging, multi-pitching, or winter climbing — the Infinity Dry is the ideal choice, and presents fantastic value unless you are on the strictest of budgets.
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 with 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 Climbing
9.2mm thick ropes are often described as for "elite" climbers and purposes, with the characterization that they provide awesome performance due to their lightness, but are lacking in the durability department, bringing their longevity and value into question. The Petzl Volta blows that characterization out of the water, and in our opinion, is an ideal thin choice for any type of climbing. While Petzl recommends it for sport climbing (sold in 80m and 100m versions) as well as for alpine climbing and mountaineering, we primarily tested it, and loved it, as a lightweight option for alpine rock climbing, glacier travel, and multi-pitch climbing. Tested head to head against the alpine specific Mammut Revelation 9.2 over a week of climbing on the highly abrasive, but oh so fine, granite of the Bugaboos, the Volta outperformed it in almost every way, from weight to handle to water repellency and even durability. Its 42% sheath percentage rivals the strongest and most durable ropes in our review, and delivers noticeable longevity and resistance to wear compared to ropes with thinner sheaths. It stayed dry as we dragged it through sloppy snow on glacier crossings in the rain, and is, as one tester put it, "the softest and most supple climbing rope I have ever used."
There are few downsides to point out with this rope, but one is the fact that it sure seems to be fatter than other 9.2mm ropes we have used, verified by comparing them close up. Despite this, however, it retains a very lightweight at only 55 g/m, so its thickness is not indicative of extra material being used. It doesn't come in a bi-patterned weave, which means that one must make sure the middle marker stays well-marked, but we found the marking that came in place to be highly durable. The fact that it is a mere 9.2mm, which has admittedly become somewhat commonplace while sport climbing, means that there is an increased risk of belaying accidents due to less friction in belay devices, so it may be best for experienced climbers only. While the Beal Joker, with its Unicore construction, is also a top choice for a thin alpine climbing rope, we think the Volta offers better longevity and is our top choice for alpine climbing or long multi-pitch routes.
Read Review: Petzl Volta
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 of 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 16 best ropes for purchase. Once the ropes are in hand, we put them to use in a variety of locations - Vegas, Ten Sleep, Smith Rock, Boulder, Spain, the Bugaboos, 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
While all the experienced climbers we know have a favorite rope to recommend, the fact is that compared to a lot of products we review, ropes can be remarkably similar to each other. In order to help judge those differences, we tested and assessed each rope based upon four critical metrics: handle, durability, weight, and catch. Each of these metrics, which are described in detail below, were also weighted based upon what we deemed their contribution to a rope's overall performance is.
Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Ropes
Comparing the prices of different ropes can be difficult due to the seemingly countless variable in your purchase. Each rope typically comes in a wide variety of length choices, from 30m up to 100m (60m, 70m, and 80m are the most common these days). On top of that you are often given the choice of dry treatment or not (dry treated ropes are more expensive, but might present a better value because the dry treatment usually helps prevent it from wearing out super fast). Finally, some ropes come with a choice of single pattern weave (cheaper), or bi-pattern weave (more expensive), which means that the sheath on one half of the rope has a different pattern than the other end, so the middle is always easy to discern. To make comparisons simply, we have listed the prices for 60m dry treated, single pattern ropes. A major factor in determining the value of a rope for most climbers is its longevity, discussed below when we talk about durability. Ropes are expensive, so the longer you can make one last, the better the value in the end. However, most climber's experiences with the longevity of their rope are simply anecdotal, and cannot be compared consistently side-to-side, since each individual rope will experience different stresses from falls, rock type, and user handling. While reading online customer reviews about how a certain rope doesn't last very long might seem helpful, be aware that these types of reviews and stories are ubiquitous for every type of climbing rope, and the best way to ensure good value is to treat your rope the best you can.
This category describes our overall impression of using each climbing rope, or "how it handles". We evaluated each model on its suppleness and the overall feel while carrying, coiling, climbing, clipping, and belaying with it. This handling score accounts for 35% of the overall score — that's how important we feel this category is. Along with how durable a rope is, this is the first thing most climbers will start talking about when you ask them how they like their rope. Handling as a metric is also a subjective assessment, so we polled over ten different climbers to get an overall impression before assigning our ratings. We also compared the feel of each one when brand new vs. broken in to compare how they changed over time.
In general, the best handling ropes are the ones that are smooth and are supple and easily bendable, which makes tying knots and manipulating them through belay devices easier. 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 the Maxim Pinnacle, both Petzl ropes (Arial and Volta), and the Sterling Evolution Helix. We also like the handling on the BlueWater Ropes Lightning Pro 9.7 mm. The most impressive is the handling on the Maxim Pinnacle — it feels like no other rope out there, and it has a smooth and supple hand feel without being slippery or noodle-like.
In general, thinner ropes, such as the Edelrid Swift Eco Dry, are easier to handle because they feed through the GriGri very easily. However, they can be more challenging to hold on to when stopping a fall, so it is important to make sure your belay device (or that of your partner) can handle the thin gauge if you are using one of these cords. These may not be the optimal choice if you typically belay with an ATC style tube device, as the thinner ropes minimize friction in these devices, making it more challenging to safely hold a fall. Using gloves can help, as does a lot of practice with a thicker line first.
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 %. Since sheaths form the outer layer of each rope, they are usually what wear out, and 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 well the dry treatment holds up over time and helps preserve the sheath fibers, and the state of the sheath after at least 60 pitches. Here's how we rated the various models for 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. The Curve is one of only two lines in this review to use a 1x1 weave, which is tighter than a 2x2, and therefore affords 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.
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.
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. When sport climbing, the part of the rope that wears out the quickest is usually one of the ends, leading climbers to start chopping pieces of the rope rather than retire it. 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.
For this review, we chose to test "single" climbing ropes between 8.9-9.9 mm, which encompasses almost all of the climbing ropes used in non-guiding applications these days. "Single" means that the rope is designed and tested to be used alone, by itself, which is also how almost everyone is taught and climbs these days. "Half" and "twin" ropes have different safety ratings than single ropes, and are meant to be used as a pair of two ropes. While using ropes in this manner is somewhat common in the UK, and can offer some great advantages while alpine or ice climbing, we chose not to include them in this review because they are a specialty piece of equipment that few people use or understand, and it would only complicate matters, and our specs, to compare these apples to oranges.
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. 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.
Rope weights are measured in grams per meter (g/m) increments since the variable length of climbing ropes changes the total weight. 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 9.2 mm Petzl Volta is only a little bit heavier at 55 g/m, yet should offer greater longevity, all things being equal, while the Petzl Arial, at 58 g/m, is the lightest of the all-around 9.5mm lines we tested.
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 70m 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 generally not last as long as something thicker. This brings us to our next testing metric: durability.
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. 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.
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. 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. A rope with a larger static elongation percentage, such as the Beal Booster III, will stretch more than one with less, like the Maxim Pinnacle. You are most likely to experience these relationships first hand when top-roping — we have all sat down on a tight top-rope, only to sag a few extra feet until the holds are just out of reach! If top-roping is your jam, consider a rope with lower static elongation.
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.
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