Best Rock Climbing Ropes of 2020
Best Overall Rock Climbing Rope
Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic
For 2020, Mammut has scrapped their previous line of ropes and replaced them with three new series — the alpine, crag, and gym — making it easy to tell what the rope is designed for. Each type of rope comes in multiple diameters. However, with different designations such as "sender, classic, dry, or workhorse," such that the names of all their new ropes are a repetitive amalgamation of a diameter, series, and type. We recently tested the 9.5 Crag Classic, the replacement for Mammut's Infinity rope, and found it to have nearly identical performance and handling. The Classic version comes without a dry treatment, but which we found to be just as durable and abrasion resistant as our old Infinity Dry. We even thought this rope handled a bit better overall, without the propensity to stiffen up like a cord that we have experienced in the past. With an excellent handle, a great catch, fantastic durability, and at a very reasonable price, it's no wonder this model came out on top.
If we have any complaints, and they are few, it would be that this rope is relatively heavy at 59 g/m. Lugging up a steep, long hill to the crag takes a fair bit of work. We also notice that the middle marker wears off quite quickly if you don't purchase a duodess version, so keep a middle marking pen handy if you often find yourself rappelling after big adventures. With a 9.5mm diameter that often feels a bit skinnier than other brands' 9.5s, this is an excellent all-around rope that can handle any type of cragging, and will last for a long time. Purchased without the dry treatment, it is even highly affordable, and should also be a top consideration for the budget-conscious.
Read review: Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic
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. Enter the Beal Booster III which costs significantly less than your average cragging rope (Classic or Dry). The combination of price point, performance, and durability helped it stand out in our minds. 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 feels a little stiff when new, but the handling softens 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 bumps up its value even more in our estimation. If you are on a tight budget and want a rope that will last you awhile, while also providing the softest catches around, you can't go wrong with the Booster III.
Read review: Beal Booster III
Best Workhorse Rope
The 9.8 mm Sterling Velocity is one of our favorite options for working a route and all-around heavy use such as repeated top-roping or single-pitch guiding. 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 9.7-9.8mm range, but considerably heavier than some of the 9.5s (or thinner) in this review. Those looking to lighten their packs should look elsewhere. The 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 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 where the rope is likely to get super thrashed by repeated falls.
Read review: Sterling Velocity
Best for Alpine and Multi-Pitch Climbing
9.2mm 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 over a week of climbing on the highly abrasive, but oh so fine, granite of the Bugaboos, the Volta outperformed the competition 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've used, verified by comparing them close up. Despite this, however, it's 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's a mere 9.2mm, which has admittedly become somewhat commonplace for 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 thus 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 touch the scintillating pockets of Spain or the world-famous tufas of Greece for yourself? 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've used it on two different European sport trips, to both Greece and Spain, and both hung and whipped more times than we can count. This rope is still in great shape, while we have watched our friend's cords wither and die, not worth the hassle to consider bringing them home. 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've put around 200 pitches into this rope in six 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, month after month. We feel that opting for such a thin cord is a net gain, rather than loss when considering the pros and cons, but 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 the mountains of southern Colorado, but has spent the past few years testing ropes primarily at Smith Rock, Oregon, where he lived only a few minutes away. As a former guidebook publisher and author, he is a jack of all trades with over 23 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 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, Colorado, Spain, Greece, 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
Comparing the prices of different ropes can be difficult due to the seemingly countless variables 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 simple, 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 with the best care that you can.
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.
Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Ropes
This metric describes our overall impression of using each climbing rope, or "how it handles". We evaluated each model based on its suppleness and the overall feel while carrying, coiling, climbing, clipping, and belaying with it. Handling is a rope's most important characteristic, and is usually the first thing most climber's will bring start talking about when you ask how they like their rope. As a metric is, handling is a subjective assessment, so we polled over ten different climbers to get an overall impression before assigning our ratings. We also compare the feel of each one when brand new vs. broken in to understand how they change over time.
In general, the best handling ropes are the ones that are smooth, supple, and easily bendable, which makes tying knots and manipulating them through belay devices easier. Lower performers 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 Helix. 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 diameter 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.
Ask any climber whether they like their rope or not, and if they don't first start talking about its handle, they will surely bring up whether they have found it to be durable or not. Ropes are expensive, and since they are quite literally a climber's lifeline, they are also the piece of equipment that must be retired most often. A rope that lasts a longtime greatly increases the value you get for the money you spend, so this is foremost among most climber's opinions of a rope.
Ropes typically "wear out" in one of two ways: by sustaining a core shot, or by excessive sheath wear. A core shot is where something causes the sheath to tear all the way through, so that the core is now showing. Any rope that has sustained a core shot must be retired immediately, for safety. Core shots can come about many ways, are sometimes the climber's fault (but often not), and are rarely predictable as it pertains to a ropes longevity. Common causes include weighting a rope over a sharp edge, falling when the rope runs through a sharp carabiner (check fixed carabiners at sport crags), jugging on a rope a lot, rockfall hitting a rope, or any number of other ways. Every single rope is susceptible to core shots, and so stories you read about how a certain rope core shot right away are much more likely to be either user error, or simple bad luck, than to have anything to do with the quality of the rope itself.The other common way a rope wears out is through sheath wear. The sheath is the outer, colorful part of the rope, and is designed to protect the core fibers. While doing this job, the sheath fibers sustain wear and damage, which accumulates over time, until they are obviously compromised to the point where they are no longer suitable for use (very fuzzy sheath, rope becomes fat and super squishy), or they tear, exposing the core. How a rope is used affects sheath wear, but in this case, the particular attributes of a rope itself also matter.
Big wall climbing, alpine climbing, and projecting sport routes on lead are the three types of climbing that will trash a rope the fastest. Jugging on big walls is hard on a rope's sheath, and there are also frequently sharp edges to deal with that can knick and ding the rope. Same deal in the alpine, but adding in falling rock and ice, as well as the need to rappel down features that are not smooth, where a rope can easily get stuck on sharp rocks, and core shots become far more likely. Falling, hanging, and pulling up repeatedly on sport climbs is also very hard on a rope. Usually, ropes used in this manner show significant sheath wear at the ends, closest to where the climber ties in. We have also seen sharp edges on fixed carabiners, particularly at sandstone areas such as the Red River Gorge, core shot many climber's ropes when they fell. Check that fixed gear!
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 dry 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. We typically choose to buy and test only dry treated ropes, unless they were not available or only come without dry treatment.
To test these ropes for durability, we use them a lot. Our two testers each have over 20 years of climbing experience, and not merely once a month for 20+ years, more like 2-4 days per week, average, for that whole time. They've watched the entire lifespans of at least 50 ropes, each, and so have a good frame of reference for how quickly and easily a sheath is wearing down. We then compare our use findings with a rope's sheath percentage, which is the percentage of fibers found in the sheath versus the core. It stands to reason that higher sheath percentages have more fibers to help protect and wear down slower than those with thinner sheaths. That said, a high percentage on a thin rope may have the same number of sheath fibers as a lower percentage on a thicker rope.
While it's reasonable to assume that a 10.2mm line would have better abrasion resistance and a longer lifespan than a 9.0mm one, the difference between some of the 9.8 and 9.5mm lines in our test range did not seem quite as significant. On a dedicated rope testing trip to Ten Sleep, where we used different models of ropes side-by-side, one after the other, for over 10 days with a whole posse of friends, the Beal Booster III stood out based upon its observed durability. On the other hand, there are a whole handful of ropes that we have used for months and months on end, nearly daily, that are still in absolutely excellent shape, with no sign of needing to be retired anytime soon. These are the Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic, Sterling Velocity and Helix, Maxim Pinnacle, and the Edelrid Boa Pro Dry.
For this review, we chose to test "single" climbing ropes between 8.9-9.8mm, 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 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 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 line in this review, the 63g/m Edelrid Boa Pro Dry amounts to around 1.5 pounds for a 60m rope. These differences add up more when you get into longer 70m and 80m climbing ropes, and when you're climbing longer pitches, where more of the weight is hanging from your harness instead of sitting on the ground. 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.
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 feel as if some of our hardest falls have happened on plenty average ropes when looking only at the dynamic elongation.
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 9.5 Crag Classic and the Petzl Arial. Interestingly, these lines do have similar impact ratings and dynamic elongation (8.8 kN, and 33% 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 smaller cams only 8 kN.
We found the catches similar on the skinny lines in this review, the Beal Joker, Sterling Nano IX, and Edelrid Swift Eco Dry, which all felt pretty soft. We like the catch of the Beal Booster III and Sterling Velocity, though the Booster is on the stretchy side and care should be taken when top-roping. 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 firsthand 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), or 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 can also be a challenge to try one out before you buy! 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