In typical OutdoorGearLab style, we begin our climbing rope test with detailed market research to determine which are the top climbing ropes on the market. We whittled down a very long list to fourteen promising contenders and then ordered them up, just like any other customer would. To begin our testing process, we record the specs of all of the ropes and research the options for each product. Knowing the specs and UIAA test results is a good place to start when evaluating ropes, but there is more to a climbing rope than what can be determined from a spreadsheet. Throughout all of our use and testing, the main objective is to see what the user would notice about each rope, and what features stick out in good or bad ways. It is easy to compile a list of specs of all the ropes on the market, but we are interested in knowing how they hold up in day-to-day use.
After researching specs comes the tedious process of unwinding and flaking brand new ropes. Then comes the fun part: climbing! For this review, ten testers teamed up to help bring you the best climbing rope review possible. Clipping and whipping on twelve ropes, as fun as it sounds, is no easy task. In order to use each rope enough to give you appropriate feedback on handling, durability, and long-term performance, we needed more than just a couple of people using these things. Our testers have almost 300 years of climbing experience combined! We took them on our summer road trips, and they got extensive use in a variety of locations, including Ten Sleep, WY, Boulder Canyon, CO, Taos, NM, and Yosemite, CA, Chulilla, Spain, not to mention at our home crags around Las Vegas, NV and Smith Rock, OR. Here's how we evaluate them on the specific testing criteria.
We weight the handling category as 40% of each rope's overall score, as this is the single most important feature of a rope. (You could argue that its ability to catch a fall and not break is the most important thing, but since each rope does this regardless, we gave handling a higher score.) After uncoiling each rope and flaking them out, we consider their hand feel, suppleness, and ease of belaying and clipping. Then we used them for at least 60 pitches and reconsidered the score. Some ropes had changed, either stiffened or loosened up compared to their new state, and others stay the same. While different climbers prefer different things when it comes to handling, we compared notes and came to a consensus among our test group.
This was one of the hardest metrics we've ever had to evaluate a piece of gear on. One, we had to take a lot of falls, which is something we're usually trying not to do, and two, we had to try and note the softness or hardness of the catch, which is a split second affair. In addition, there are so many other variables that can affect how a catch feels: how much rope is out, where on the climb you fall, the length of the fall, the rope drag on the route, the dynamic action of the belayer, the weight differential between the belayer and climber, if this was the first fall of the day or the second or third, etc., etc. We did our best to try and eliminate some of these variables (same belayer and climber), but many still exist. So, in addition to the field testing, we compared the UIAA ratings for each rope, since those are determined via very controlled conditions, though unrealistic ones. This helped us determine which ropes would be better suited for traditional climbing vs. sport, and top roping vs. leading.
After noting the stated gram/meter weight of each rope, we also weighed each model on a calibrated scale. The measured weights were all significantly different (and higher) than what they should have been going straight by the spec numbers. This could have been because of varying rope lengths (some ropes end up being cut slightly longer than the stated length to account for shrinkage over time). While the standard and most common rope length is still 60 m, some climbers purchase 70 or even 80 m ropes due to the prevalence of longer routes at their home crag, or the ones they like traveling to. So, we only compared the manufacturer's weight/meter rating when discussing weight, though we did the math and discussed what those differences in grams add up to when talking about a full rope length.
To test and rate for durability, we climbed on each rope, a lot. We kept a log of every climbing day and tried to keep a regular rotation of the test lines so as to get the same number of pitches on each one. We got each rope up to 60 pitches, and then most got an additional 10-20 more. After that, we carefully examined each line and compared the wear, if any, on the sheath, how dirty the rope was, and if there were any specific concerns.