Best Rock Climbing Ropes of 2021
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|Pros||Soft catches, low impact force rating, durable||Lightweight, good handling, and soft catches||Light for the diameter, smooth handling||Lightweight, great handling for a thin line, rated as a single, half and twin||Durable sheath, Bluesign certified, lap coiled for easy initial uncoiling|
|Cons||A little too stretchy for top roping, stiff||Not very durable, expensive||Expensive, difficult tale installation, no rip strip||Expensive, not as durable as a thicker rope||Stiffer and not as supple as others, heavy|
|Bottom Line||Not the best handling but excellent overall performance||A great rope for redpointing||A great rope for taking a lot of abuse||This "experts-only" rope was our favorite option for long sport routes||A thicker rope that will surely get the job done with few complaints, but which isn’t as compelling or as supple as its competition|
|Rating Categories||Beal Booster III||Petzl Arial||Sterling Velocity||Sterling Nano IX||Edelrid Boa Pro Dry|
|Specs||Beal Booster III||Petzl Arial||Sterling Velocity||Sterling Nano IX||Edelrid Boa Pro Dry|
|Diameter||9.7 mm||9.5 mm||9.8 mm||9 mm||9.8 mm|
|Weight (g/m)||61 g/m||58 g/m||62 g/m||52 g/m||62 g/m|
|Certified Use||Single||Single||Single||Single, Half and Twin||Single|
|UIAA Fall Rating||8||7||6||6||10|
|Impact Force||7.3 kN||8.8 kN||8.8 kN||8.5 kN||8.9 kN|
|Static Elongation % (in use)||9.7||7.6||8.6||7||8.3|
|Dynamic Elongation % (first fall)||38||32||26.4||26.4||34|
|Sheath Proportion %||42||40||35||29||39|
|Dry Coating Option||Dry Cover||DuraTec||Dry Coat||Dry XP, Dry Coat||Pro Dry|
|Middle Mark or Bi-Pattern Option||Middle mark||Middle mark||Bi-Pattern or middle mark||Middle mark, Bi-pattern option||Middle mark|
|Lengths Available||60m, 70m||50m, 60m, 70m, 80m||50m, 60m, 70m, 80m||30m, 40m, 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m||60m, 70m|
Best Overall Rock Climbing Rope
Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic
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 with different designations such as "sender, classic, dry, or workhorse." Combine the series type with the diameter names, and you're left with a repetitive amalgamation that represents diameter, series, and intended use. We recently tested the 9.5 Crag Classic, the replacement for Mammut's old Infinity rope, and found it to have nearly identical performance and handling. The Classic version comes without a dry treatment, but we found it 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 over time that we noticed in the past. With an excellent handle, a great catch, fantastic durability, and 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 it up a steep, long hill to the crag takes a bit of extra effort. We also noticed that the middle marker wears off quite quickly if you don't purchase a duodess version, so keep a middle marking pen handy to keep the indicator fresh. 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 should last for a long time. It is even highly affordable without a dry treatment, so it should also be a top consideration for budget-conscious buyers.
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 a "softer is better" approach with the Booster III, and it's advertised with the highest dynamic and static elongation of any line in this review, along with the lowest impact force rating. This makes it a great choice for trad or aid climbers that want to minimize the force on their gear in a fall.
Top-ropers and seconders should be a little careful with this rope because it has a lot of stretch. That could cause you to fall farther than you anticipate while seconding, which is a little disconcerting and potentially dangerous. It feels a bit stiff when new, but the handling softens up 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 a while, 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 can have a long lifespan, which we can attest to because one tester personally used one 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 when the rope is likely to endure 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, leaving their longevity and value in question. The Petzl Volta blows that characterization out of the water, and in our opinion, it's an ideal skinny 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-to0head 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 handling to water-repellency and even durability. Its 42% sheath percentage rivals the strongest and most durable ropes in our review, and delivered 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 the other 9.2mm ropes we've used, verified by comparing them close up. Despite this issue, however, it's very lightweight at only 55 g/m, so its thickness is not indicative of extra material being used. It's not available in a bi-pattern weave, which means that one must make sure the middle mark indicator stays well-marked, but we found the marking that came from the factory 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. The Beal Joker, with its Unicore construction, is also a top choice for a thin alpine climbing rope, but we think the Volta offers better longevity, and it's 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 climbing anchors in the US to be placed at 30m or occasionally 35m off the ground, in Europe, it is the standard to stretch the anchors to 40m or even much further when the rock allows — which it often does. The number 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 remains in great shape while we have watched our friend's cords wither and die, not worth the hassle of 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 makes sense when considering the pros and cons, but one significant consideration to keep in mind is the type of belay device being used. New Petzl GriGris are rated down to ropes as thin as 8.5mm, but many other assisted braking devices cut off right around 8.9mm or even 9.0mm. That means this rope may too skinny for some belay devices. 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 that's 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 now calls the mountains of southern Colorado home but spent the past few years testing ropes primarily at Smith Rock, Oregon, when 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. Cam has a similar 20+ years of climbing experience in pretty much every discipline. Her resume includes everything from boulders to El Cap big wall ascents. Before moving to her current home base in Las Vegas, she spent five years on Yosemite Search and Rescue. Additionally, we assembled a ground support team of ten testers to assist with this review, with combined climbing experience of almost 300 years.
Long before tying in, the review process began with market research and spec sheets, comparing products, and finalizing the selection of the best ropes to purchase. Once the ropes were in hand, we put them to use in various locations - Vegas, Ten Sleep, Smith Rock, Colorado, Spain, Greece, the Bugaboos, and Yosemite. Every characteristic we test these ropes for was considered with care. For example, the handling characteristics of each rope were noted when brand new, then re-evaluated after at least 60 pitches, with the understanding 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 believe our recommendations should give you a solid information base to make the perfect rope purchase.
Related: How We Tested Climbing Ropes
Comparing the prices of different ropes can be difficult due to the seemingly countless number of variables. Each rope typically comes in a wide variety of lengths, from 30m up to 100m, with 60m, 70m, and 80m being the most common these days. On top of that, you are usually given the choice of dry treated or not (dry treated ropes are more expensive but can present a better value because the dry treatment may enhance durability). 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 is visible as a different pattern than the other end, so the middle is easier to identify.
To make comparisons as easy as possible, we list the prices for dry-treated, 60m, single-pattern ropes. A major factor in determining the value of a rope is its longevity, considered below when we discuss durability. Ropes are expensive, so the longer you can make one last, the better the value in the end. However, most experiences with the longevity of a particular climbing rope are anecdotal. It's nearly impossible to directly compare the durability of separate ropes because they were likely subjected to different stresses depending on the size of falls, the type of rope, and the softness of the belay given. Online customer reviews can provide some insight into how a certain rope might last, but be aware that we've been able to find both positive and negative reviews about every rope's durability. Therefore, the best way to ensure good value seems to be to treat your rope with the best care that you can.
Analysis and Test Results
Although many of the experienced climbers we know have a favorite rope to recommend, the fact is that compared to many products we review, ropes often seem to be remarkably similar to each other. To help identify the subtle differences, we tested and assessed each rope based on four critical metrics: handling, durability, weight, and catch.
Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Ropes
This metric describes our overall impression of how it felt to use 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 climbers will start talking about when you ask how they like their rope. Handling is an undeniably subjective assessment, so we poled over ten different climbers to get a broad impression before assigning our ratings. We also compared 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, clipping draws, and belaying easier. Lower performers either felt stiff and inflexible or quickly broke down into an abrasive skin wrecker that nobody wanted to grab. Although 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 (the Arial and the Volta), and the Sterling Helix. The most impressive is the handling on the Maxim Pinnacle — it feels like no other rope out there, with a smooth and supple feel that doesn't cross the line into being slippery or noodle-like.
In general, thinner ropes like the Edelrid Swift Eco Dry are easier to handle because they feed through a GriGri or other belay device easier. 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 specific diameter. These are probably not the optimal choice if you typically belay with an ATC-style tube device, as the thinner ropes minimize friction in these devices and can make 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 think it is durable or not. Ropes are expensive, and since they are quite literally a climber's lifeline, they are also a piece of equipment that must be replaced often. A rope that lasts a long time can greatly increase the value you get for the money you spend, so this characteristic is often foremost on climbers' minds when they're shopping.
Ropes typically need to be retired for one of two reasons: by sustaining a core shot or by excessive sheath wear. A core shot is when something causes the sheath to tear all the way through so that the core becomes visible. Any rope that has sustained a core shot should be retired immediately for safety. Core shots have many causes and are sometimes a climber's fault, but often not. Due to this unpredictably, we don't think they're a great indicator of rope longevity. Common causes of core shots include weighting a rope over a sharp edge, falling when the rope runs through a sharp carabiner, jugging on a rope a lot, rockfall hitting a rope, or any number of other ways. Every single rope is susceptible to core shots, so stories you read about how a new rope sustained a core shot are more likely to result from user error or bad luck rather than an issue with the quality of the rope itself.The other common way a rope wears out is from sheath wear. The sheath is the outer, colorful part of the rope designed to protect the core fibers. While performing this purpose, the sheath fibers are exposed to wear and tear, which accumulates over time until they tear to create a core shot or they become visibly compromised in another way (a very fuzzy sheath, long stray fibers, or the rope becomes fat and squishy). 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 seem to be 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 or damage a rope. Same deal in the alpine, but add in falling rock and ice, as well as the need to rappel down features that are often less than smooth, so core shots become far more likely. Falling, hanging, and pulling up repeatedly while projecting a sport climb is also very hard on a rope. Usually, ropes used in this manner show extra sheath wear at the ends, closest to where the climber ties in. We have also seen sharp edges on fixed carabiners core shot many climber's ropes when they fall (particularly at sandstone areas such as the Red River Gorge). Always inspect all fixed gear.
You'll often hear people say that dry-treated ropes last longer than standard ones, and many people choose to purchase a line with dry treatment regardless of whether they'll be using it in a wet environment or not. In-house testing by Mammut indicated that their Dry treatment offered 50% more abrasion resistance over an untreated rope. We typically choose to buy and test only dry-treated ropes unless they were not available with a dry treatment.
To test these ropes for durability, we used 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 for that whole time. They've observed 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 compared our findings with a rope's sheath percentage, which is the weight of the fibers used to make the sheath versus the core. It stands to reason that higher sheath percentages should have more fibers to help protect and wear down slower than those with thinner sheaths. That said, a high sheather percentage on a thin rope may equate to less total sheath compared to a thicker rope with a lower percentage.
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 this review 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 indication 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 for non-guiding applications these days. "Single" means that the rope is designed and tested to be used alone, by itself, which is also the rope system most Americans choose for recreational climbing. "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 for alpine or ice climbing, we chose not to include them in this review because they are a specialty piece of equipment that fewer people use, and it would complicate comparisons within this review.
Diameter is the easiest and most obvious way to understand a rope. When you hold a climbing rope in your hand, the thickness is probably the first thing you will notice. Therefore, it tends to be the feature that consumers focus on the most when purchasing, with the current trend being towards thinner and thinner ropes. However, we think focusing solely on diameter can be somewhat 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 weight) as the thicker ropes of yesteryear. Though this thinner diameter can still improve the rope's handling, we think that it is probably more important for people to look at the weight of a rope rather than fixate on diameter. Also, manufacturers measure their diameters differently, and some ropes are even slightly oval-shaped, so they're measured under slight tension to achieve the stated diameter. That's why you might have two ropes of the "same" diameter that feel noticeably different in hand.
Rope weights are reported in grams per meter (g/m) 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 were 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 the same diameter, yet they weigh the same. The Fusion Nano IX could be considered a light 9.0mm rope, while the Swift Eco Dry is more robust for its diameter considering its heavier weight. While low weight alone might make your purchasing decision for you, considering the shorter lifespan of these thinner lines, many people will want to beef up slightly more. The 9.2 mm Petzl Volta is only slightly heavier at 55 g/m, yet should offer better 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, equates to 1.5 pounds for a 60m rope. These differences add up more when you get into longer 70m and 80m 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 can keep your pack lighter on the approach and reduce the strain of clipping the chains when you're reaching the end of a mega pitch.
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 to consider whether a catch felt hard or soft. In many instances, it was challenging to feel the difference between the different models in this review. There are so many other factors involved that influence whether a catch feels hard or soft, 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 was between 24% and 38% maximum Dynamic Elongation. This value is measured during the standard UIAA drop tests that rely on unrealistic scenarios for everyday use, so the specific numbers are not especially relevant, except in how they relate to each other. For example, if you fall with a bolt at your waist and 50 feet of rope out on a line with 38% elongation, the rope will not stretch 20 feet because the fall factor is small. Instead, you will probably find yourself 5 feet down due to a combination of rope stretch and any extra slack in the system. 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. In fact, we believe some of our hardest falls happened with ropes that are advertised with near-average dynamic elongation.
After falling on all of the ropes multiple times and noting if anything seemed out of the ordinary and 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 feature similar impact ratings and dynamic elongation (8.8 kN, and 33% and 32%). These ratings seem to lie within 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. Although 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 sometimes result in hitting a ledge or the ground, so the ropes with the highest stretch should be used with caution. As with the maximum dynamic elongation figures, the UIAA impact force ratings are from testing in a very controlled and unrealistic scenario. "Real" climbing falls typically generate much lower forces than these reported figures.
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 the specifics of the 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, trustworthy bolts, that might not be a huge concern, but for traditional climbers, this higher impact force may be something to consider because smaller wire nuts are often rated between 2 and 6 kN.
We found that the catches on the skinny lines in this review — the Beal Joker, Sterling Nano IX, and Edelrid Swift Eco Dry — all felt pretty soft. We like the catch of the Beal Booster III and Sterling Velocity, though the Booster is on the stretchy sides, so care should be taken when top-roping. This leads us to a final spec to consider: the static elongation.
Static elongation is probably the easiest rating to observe in real-world use, although again, the number on the package may not be exactly what you experience. The UIAA test for this figure involves hanging an 80 kg mass on the end of the rope, 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 feel this characteristic 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). Switching ends between burns can also help, as does switching ropes if you're climbing on back-to-back days.
Deciding which climbing rope to purchase can be a difficult 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 might give you a better idea of what type feels best to you. Hopefully, we have helped you fill in the blanks on the rest of your purchasing questions and that you can now make an informed decision on which one will suit your climbing needs the best.
— Cam McKenzie Ring & Andy Wellman