Reviews You Can Rely On

The 6 Best Rock Climbing Ropes

We put climbing ropes from Sterling, Petzl, Edelrid, Mammut, and others through head-to-head testing to find the best options for you
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Best Climbing Rope Review
Credit: Jack Cramer
Wednesday October 25, 2023

If you want to get off the ground when climbing, you're going to need a rope — but which one? We can help. For this review, we bought 13 of the best ropes available today and tested them side-by-side, building on the over 35 different models we've tested and reviewed in the past decade. This comparative, head-to-head review describes which ropes feel the best, last the longest, weigh the least, and offer the softest, most dynamic catches. This info has come at the expense of lots of rope-stretching falls by our expert gear testers, who certainly aren't shy about going for it. We test ropes year-round on our local sport crags, at famous destinations, and in the big cliffs such as the Bugaboos and Yosemite, all so we can bring you the very best recommendations, regardless of the diameter or length that you seek.

Curious about our favorite climbing gear? We gotcha. We've accumulated hundreds of days bouldering, hanging off ropes, and even spent rainy days in the gym testing out everything from the best men's climbing shoes to the best climbing harnesses, top belay devices, and more.

Editor's Note: We revised our climbing rope review on October 25, 2023, to share more recommendations as alternatives to our award winners.

Top 13 Climbing Ropes - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $127.46 at Backcountry
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$260 List
$209.96 at Backcountry
$82.39 at REI
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$224.00 at Amazon
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Check Price at Backcountry
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Overall Score
78
73
76
73
77
Star Rating
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Pros Durable sheath, supple feel, soft catches, saves some weight over thicker workhorsesLightweight, good handling, and soft catchesOutstanding handling and catch, great bargain, impressive durability, sheath is made from repurposed yarnSoft catches, low impact force rating, durableDistinct bi-pattern colors, dense weave inspires confidence, excellent handling when broken in
Cons Middle marker wears out quickly, still heavier than thinner ropesNot very durable, expensiveSlightly heavy, not available with any dry treatments or as a bi-pattern, lighter color stains easilyA little too stretchy for top roping, stiffExpensive, slippery at first, not available without dry treatment
Bottom Line This rope is a winner due to its superior handling, durability, and excellent catchesA nice handling rope that is great for redpointingAn environmentally friendly and high-performance rope at an affordable priceNot the best handling but excellent overall performanceA top-of-the-line climbing rope with the most distinct bi-pattern on the market
Rating Categories Mammut 9.5 Crag Cla... Petzl Arial Mammut Crag We Care... Beal Booster III Edelrid Tommy Caldw...
Handling (35%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
9.0
Durability (25%)
8.0
5.0
7.0
9.0
6.0
Weight (20%)
6.0
7.0
6.0
5.0
7.0
Catch (20%) Sort Icon
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
Specs Mammut 9.5 Crag Cla... Petzl Arial Mammut Crag We Care... Beal Booster III Edelrid Tommy Caldw...
Diameter 9.5 mm 9.5 mm 9.5 mm 9.7 mm 9.3 mm
Weight 59 g/m 58 g/m 59 g/m 61 g/m 57 g/m
Lengths Available 60m, 70m, 80m 50m, 60m, 70m, 80m 60m, 70m, 80m 60m, 70m 60m, 70m, 80m
Dry Coating Option Classic, No Dry Treatment DuraTec Classic, No Dry Treatment Dry Cover Eco Dry
Middle Mark or Bi-Pattern Option Middle mark Middle mark Middle mark Middle mark Bi-pattern
Certified Use Single Single Single Single Single
UIAA Fall Rating 6-7 7 6-7 8 7
Impact Force 8.8 kN 8.8 kN 8.8 kN 7.3 kN 9 kN
Static Elongation % (in use) 8.8 7.6 8.8 9.7 7.4
Dynamic Elongation % (first fall) 33.8 32 33.8 38 34
Sheath Proportion % 40 40 40 42 39
Calculated Weight of Sheath 24 g/m 23 g/m 24 g/m 26 g/m 22 g/m


The Best Climbing Ropes


Best Overall Rock Climbing Rope


Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 8.0
  • Durability 8.0
  • Weight 6.0
  • Catch 9.0
Diameter: 9.5 mm | Weight: 59 g/m
REASONS TO BUY
Handles great
High sheath percentage suggests longer life
Durable
Great catch
Affordable
REASONS TO AVOID
Middle mark wears off quickly
Relatively heavy

Mammut's latest line of ropes features three categories — alpine, crag, and gym — leaving the guesswork out of what each rope is designed for. Each category is available 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. It's the replacement for Mammut's old Infinity rope, and we 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 over time that we noticed in the past. With an excellent handle, a great catch, and fantastic durability — not to mention a very reasonable price — it's no wonder this model came out on top.

If we have any complaints (and there are very few), it would be that this rope is relatively heavy at 59 g/m. Lugging it up a long, steep hill to the crag takes a bit of extra effort. If you don't opt for their duodess (bi-pattern) version, you simply get a dyed middle mark, and we noticed that it wears off fairly quickly, so it's good to keep a 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. Without a dry treatment, it's even more affordable, so it should also be a top consideration for budget-conscious buyers. If you prefer to shed a few grams, the Edelrid Swift Eco Dry is the lightest option in our lineup.

Read more: Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic review

climbing rope - the mammut crag classic 9.5 might not score the best in any...
The Mammut Crag Classic 9.5 might not score the best in any particular metric, but it's a solid performer in all of them.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Best Bang for the Buck


Mammut Crag We Care Classic 9.5


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 8.0
  • Durability 7.0
  • Weight 6.0
  • Catch 9.0
Diameter: 9.5 mm | Weight: 59 g/m
REASONS TO BUY
Bargain price
Respectable performance
Nice balance of durability with weight
Repurposed yarn reduces environmental impact
REASONS TO AVOID
Slippery handling at first
Speckled color shows dirt quickly
Impermanent middle mark

Your climbing rope is your lifeline, so it's vital to retire it as soon as it shows any wear that could harm its integrity. For folks that climb a lot, that can mean wearing through multiple ropes a year. The Mammut Crag We Care Classic 9.5 can help you feel a little bit better about going through so many ropes because the sheath on this affordable rope is composed of residual yarn left over from the production of other ropes. Its environmental impact is further reduced because it's also PFC-free. This eco-friendliness is paired with outstanding performance, including excellent handling and a nice balance of minimal weight and decent durability.

The main drawback to the Crag We Care Classic is a lack of options available. For instance, this rope is not available in a bi-pattern or with a dry treatment. The former means you will have to reapply your own middle mark, while the latter means this rope isn't suitable for ice climbing or wet climates. Another issue we encountered was that the pale pink version we tested quickly showed dirt. That said, other versions of this rope may not have the same issue because each version is a different color depending on the repurposed yarns utilized in the sheath. Despite these minor shortcomings, the Mammut Crag We Care Classic is the best bargain we've found for a quality rock climbing rope. But if a bi-pattern rope is a must, the blue and pink Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Eco Dry ColorTec 9.3 is the one to reach for.

Read more: Mammut Crag We Care Classic review

climbing rope - the mammut crag we care classic is an affordable rope that still...
The Mammut Crag We Care Classic is an affordable rope that still offers excellent handling and an eco-friendly design.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Best Workhorse Rope


Sterling Velocity Xeros 9.8


75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 8.0
  • Durability 9.0
  • Weight 5.0
  • Catch 7.0
Diameter: 9.8 mm | Weight: 62 g/m
REASONS TO BUY
Lightweight for the diameter
Smooth handling
Durable construction
PFOA-free dry treatment
REASONS TO AVOID
Not as high-performing as skinnier options
Pricey

The 9.8mm Sterling Velocity Xeros 9.8 is one of our favorite choices for working a route and all-around heavy use, such as working projects, repeated top-roping, or single-pitch guiding. It's also an ideal option for ice cragging due to its unique Xeros dry treatment. This a PFOA-free dry treatment that's applied to the individual fibers before they're spun rather than to a finished rope like most other companies. Sterling claims that this improves the durability of the dry treatment, and our tests confirmed this. During our side-by-side tests, it performed well for the diameter, displaying good handling, soft catches, and an impressive lifespan.

It's a few grams lighter than other ropes in the 9.7-9.8mm range but considerably heavier than some of the thinner options in this review. Those looking to lighten their packs should look elsewhere. The Velocity Xeros can be used for any climbing discipline, 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 when it is destined to endure repeated falls. For climbers in the market for a light and skinny rope, we recommend the 9.2mm and 55 g/m Petzl Volta.

Read more: Sterling Velocity Xeros review

climbing rope - the sterling velocity xeros is a solid all-arounder with a unique...
The Sterling Velocity XEROS is a solid all-arounder with a unique dry-treatment for enhanced water and abrasion-resistance.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Best for Alpine and Multi-Pitch Climbing


Petzl Volta


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 8.0
  • Durability 7.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Catch 7.0
Diameter: 9.2 mm | Weight: 55 g/m
REASONS TO BUY
Skinny and light
High sheath percentage implies durability
Incredibly soft and supple
Long-lasting dry coating
REASONS TO AVOID
Feels thicker (although not heavier) than other 9.2mm ropes
Not available in a bi-pattern

Skinnier ropes are often marketed towards “elite” climbers or purposes, with the understanding that they offer a clear advantage with their lightness but are lacking in the durability department. This leaves their longevity and value as a concern. The Petzl Volta eliminated any concern, 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), 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 abrasive granite of Canada's Bugaboos, the Volta outperformed the competition in almost every way, from weight to handling to water-repellency and even durability. Its 23 g/m of sheath rivals many far thicker ropes in our review, and it was noticeably more resistant to wear compared to ropes with less sheath. 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 a few downsides we should mention. For instance, this rope sure seems fatter than the other 9.2mm models we've used, verified by comparing them up close. And yet, it's relatively lightweight at 55 g/m, so its thickness is not indicative of extra material being used in the construction. It's not available in a bi-pattern weave, so you'll want to ensure the middle indicator stays well-marked. That said, we found the factory marking to be long-lasting. Also, the fact that it's a mere 9.2mm, which has admittedly become somewhat commonplace for sport climbing, means there's less friction in belay devices. Therefore, we only recommend this rope for experienced and careful climbers. Overall, the Volta offers awesome longevity, and it's thus our top choice for alpine climbing or long multi-pitch routes. For those new to climbing, the durable and versatile Sterling Velocity Xeros 9.8 is a more suitable option.

Read more: Petzl Volta review

climbing rope - the last pitch of voyage of the cow dog at smith rock follows a cool...
The last pitch of Voyage of the Cow Dog at Smith Rock follows a cool steep panel up one of the most exposed ridgelines in the park. The Volta is one of our favorite ropes for multi-pitch excursions such as this one.

Best Choice for an 80m Sport Rope


Edelrid Swift Eco Dry


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 7.0
  • Durability 6.0
  • Weight 10.0
  • Catch 7.0
Diameter: 8.9 mm | Weight: 52 g/m
REASONS TO BUY
Super light
Impressively durable for thin diameter
Eco Dry treatment is free of harmful PFC chemicals
Rated as single, half, and twin, making it especially versatile for guiding
REASONS TO AVOID
Not ideal for lots of hang-dogging
Dry treatment wears off quickly
Is on the small side for some belay devices

Want to caress the pockets of Spanish limestone 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 intervals, in Europe, it is the standard to stretch the anchors to 40m or further when the rock allows — which it often does. The number of classics that would be inconvenient or unclimbable with your old 70m rope is substantial, so be sure you bring something longer. With an 8.9mm diameter, the Edelrid Swift Eco Dry is the lightest model in this review and weighs in at a paltry 52 g/m. This ensures you won't be pulling up any extra weight as you try to clip those chains (and also helps with staying under your luggage 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 fallen more times than we can count. This rope remains in great shape while we have watched our friend's cords fray and retire. To top it off, it has a PFC-free dry treatment and is both Bluesign certified and made of recycled fibers off the ends of other almost finished spools.

We've put around 200 pitches into this rope in six weeks and are very impressed with how it still looks and feels, but 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 mainly for those onsight attempts or projects that only take a couple of tries rather than expect it to handle the abuse of prolonged project burns day after day, month after month. We feel that choosing 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 you're using. New Petzl GriGris are rated down to ropes as thin as 8.5mm, but the usable range on many other assisted braking devices ends at 8.9mm or even 9.0mm. That means this rope might be too skinny for some belay devices. We think this climbing rope is ideal for old-world limestone adventures, and we have also heard it lauded by mountain guides who appreciate the versatility offered by a lightweight cord that's rated for single, half, or twin use. And yet, some climbers may still need a thicker option. In that case, we like the 9.8 mm Sterling Velocity Xeros 9.8, which can take some serious abuse.

Read more: Edelrid Swift Eco Dry review

climbing rope - the ends of our swift took a beating, with blowout happening on one...
The ends of our Swift took a beating, with blowout happening on one end, which often happens when pulling a rope that doesn't land on the ground and cracks like a whip in the air. This happens to all different ropes, regardless of brand and diameter.

Best Bi-Pattern Rope


Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Eco Dry ColorTec 9.3


77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 9.0
  • Durability 6.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Catch 8.0
Diameter: 9.3 mm | Weight: 57 g/m
REASONS TO BUY
Obvious and durable middle mark
Clear middle improves convenience and safety
Tight weave offers excellent handling
Impressive durability
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Eco dry treatment attracts dirt

The Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Eco Dry ColorTec 9.3 features the brightest, most distinct bi-pattern color scheme that we've ever seen. One half of the rope is blue and the other half is pink. It's never been so easy to identify the middle of a rope before. We believe this presents clear advantages for convenience and safety. Convenience is enhanced because you can quickly spot the middle while rappelling to ensure that both strands are equal length. Safety is increased because it's easier to notice when the leader has gone beyond halfway on a single-pitch lead. Noticing when this happens can reduce the likelihood of the belayer mistakenly lowering the climber off the end of a rope that's too short.

Beyond the advantages of this rope's innovative bi-pattern design, we also found that it supplied surprising durability and outstanding handling. Our only gripes were its high cost and a dry treatment that seemed to attract higher quantities of dirt and grime. We can't fault the dry treatment too much, however, because it's an eco-friendly formulation that's free of harmful PFCs. For the time being, this is the only rope that Edelrid offers with a ColorTec bi-pattern design, but we look forward to seeing it offered on new models with diameters beyond 9.3mm. If this rope is not within your budget, we recommend looking at the Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic. It's available in a bi-pattern design and lacks a dry treatment, which helps keep the costs down, making it a great budget buy.

Read more: Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Eco Dry ColorTec 9.3 review

climbing rope - it can be a little disconcerting to tie in to some 9.3mm ropes. this...
It can be a little disconcerting to tie in to some 9.3mm ropes. This was hardly an issue with the Tommy Caldwell Eco Dry because the tight weave of the sheath inspires confidence.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
78
Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic
Best Overall Rock Climbing Rope
$200
Editors' Choice Award
77
Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Eco Dry ColorTec 9.3
Best Bi-Pattern Rope
$340
Top Pick Award
76
Mammut Crag We Care Classic 9.5
Best Bang for the Buck
$200
Best Buy Award
76
Petzl Volta
Best for Alpine and Multi-Pitch Climbing
$300
Top Pick Award
75
Sterling Velocity Xeros 9.8
Best Workhorse Rope
$250
Top Pick Award
74
Edelrid Swift Eco Dry
Best Choice for an 80m Sport Rope
$310
Top Pick Award
73
Beal Booster III
$220
Best Buy Award
73
Petzl Arial
$260
72
Bluewater Xenon 9.2
$240
72
Trango Agility Duo Dry 9.1
$470
70
Maxim Pinnacle
$305
67
Beal Joker
$250
66
Black Diamond 9.4 Dry
$280

climbing rope - rope weight might no be an issue at single-pitch crags close to your...
Rope weight might no be an issue at single-pitch crags close to your car, but it can be a huge factor when making a clip at the top of a long, taxing route.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Why Trust GearLab


Long before tying in, our review process began with market research and spec sheets, comparing products, and finalizing the selection of the best ropes, which we purchased at full price. 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.

Our climbing rope evaluation is divided into four different metrics:
  • Handling (35% of overall score weighting)
  • Durability (25% weighting)
  • Weight (20% weighting)
  • Catch (20% weighting)

This review was written by a tag team of three veteran climbers Jack Cramer, Andy Wellman, and Cam McKenzie Ring. Together they share nearly 50 years of climbing experience. All have climbed El Cap multiple times, but on more casual days they have different interests. Jack is a former member of Yosemite Search and Rescue who has found himself more focused on ice and alpine climbing in recent years. Andy is settled in the mountains of southern Colorado home but spent a few years testing ropes primarily on the bolted Volcanic Tuff of Smith Rock, Oregon, when he lived only a few minutes away. Cam is another former member of Yosemite Search and Rescue who now calls Las Vegas home. Red Rock sandstone and the neighboring limestone crags are her closest testing labs. Additionally, we recruited a support team of ten more testers to assist with this review, who possess combined climbing experience of almost 300 years.

Climbing a wide fists and offwidth pitch high on the...
Climbing a wide fists and offwidth pitch high on the Beckey-Chouinard in the Bugaboos, using the Volta, which survived better than the competition after a week of running over the very course and abrasive alpine granite that this wonderful climbing area is known for.
On of our reviewers on the fabled cliffs of Smith Rock, Oregon.
On of our reviewers on the fabled cliffs of Smith Rock, Oregon.
Whether sport or trad climbing, single pitch cragging or long...
Whether sport or trad climbing, single pitch cragging or long multi-pitch adventures, the Evolution Helix 9.5 is a rope that can handle all of it for a long time.

Analysis and Test Results


Although many of the experienced climbers we know have a favorite rope to recommend, the fact is climbing ropes can often seem to be remarkably similar to each other. That's especially true because many climbers use the same rope day to day or even year to year before they eventually have to buy a new one. During our tests, we discovered that it's easier to recognize the subtle differences when you have multiple ropes in your hands on the same day. Lugging several ropes to the crag thus became a necessary, but informative, part of our testing.


Value


Comparing the prices of different ropes can be difficult due to the seemingly countless number of variables. Many ropes come in several 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 a single or a bi-pattern weave. A bi-pattern means that the sheath on one half of the rope is a different pattern than the other end, so the middle of the rope is easier to identify. This convenience, however, comes with added cost.

To make comparisons as easy as possible, we list the prices for dry-treated, 60m, single-pattern ropes, when available. A major factor in determining the value of a rope is its longevity, represented by our durability metric. Ropes are expensive, so the longer you can make one last, the better the value in the end. However, most assessments of the longevity of a particular climbing rope are anecdotal. It's nearly impossible to directly compare the durability of separate ropes because they are usually subjected to different stresses depending on the size of the fall, the coarseness of the rock, and the softness of the belay given. Online customer reviews can provide some insight into how a certain rope might last, but you can 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 care.

climbing rope - one of our lead testers on the sharp end of the maxim pinnacle.
One of our lead testers on the sharp end of the Maxim Pinnacle.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

Handling


The handling metric assesses our overall impression of how it feels to use each rope. We evaluated each model based on its suppleness and the ease of coiling, climbing, clipping carabiners, tying knots, and belaying. 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 a subjective assessment, however, so we poled several different climbers to get a broad impression before assigning our ratings. We also compared the feel of each rope when brand new vs. broken in to understand how they change over time.


In general, the ropes that handle best are those that are smooth, supple, and easily bent. This 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 or belay with, so the differences often balance out.

The top performers in this category are the Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Eco Dry and both Petzl ropes, the Arial and the Volta. The most impressive is the handling on the TC Eco Dry — it feels like no other rope out there, with an unusually tight weave on the sheath that still manages to feel smooth and supple feel in the hands.

climbing rope - rappelling in a snowstorm from the bugaboo-snowpatch col, coiling...
Rappelling in a snowstorm from the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col, coiling the ends of the rope before tossing them down the gully. This rope handles nicely, although like most Mammut ropes tends toward the slightly stiffer side.

climbing rope - if you&#039;re making quick clips from tenuous positions, a supple rope...
If you're making quick clips from tenuous positions, a supple rope is key. Brendan O'Neill gets a fast clip with the Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

In general, thinner ropes like the Edelrid Swift Eco Dry feel nicer 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 and your partner can handle the specific diameter. Skinny ropes are not an ideal choice for lead belays with an ordinary ATC-style tube device, because it can be challenging to safely hold a fall. Using gloves can help, or better yet, switch to a tube-style or assisted braking device that's designed specifically for smaller diameters.

climbing rope - the type of climbing you prefer should influence the importance of...
The type of climbing you prefer should influence the importance of durability. Big wall climbers and coarse rock craggers should probably opt for the most durable models.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Durability


Ask any climber whether they like their rope or not, and if they don't first start talking about how it handles, they will surely bring up its durability. 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. On the other hand, 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.


Core Shots vs. Sheath Wear

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 strands become visible and exposed to getting damaged. Any rope that sustains a core shot should be retired immediately. Core shots have many causes and they can sometimes be the user's fault, but not in all cases. Due to this unpredictability, 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, rockfall hitting a rope, or any number of other ways. Any 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 reason ropes often need to be retired is due to excessive sheath wear. The sheath is the outer, colorful part of a kernmantle rope that's placed to surround and protect the core fibers. While performing this purpose, the sheath fibers are exposed to abrasion from any surface they come in contact with. Over time this abrasion tears through more and more sheath fibers to expose the core or become visibly compromised in another way (a very fuzzy sheath, long stray fibers, or the rope becomes fat and squishy). User error can certainly cause sheath wear, but the speed of wear is also commonly influenced by the attributes of the rope itself.

climbing rope - we dragged these ropes through melting snow to test their water...
We dragged these ropes through melting snow to test their water repellency.

Big wall climbing, alpine climbing, and projecting sport routes seem to be the three types of climbing that will trash a rope the fastest. Big walls can be especially hard on a rope's sheath because there are frequently edges and coarse rock for a rope to rub against while the follower ascends the weighted rope. Alpine climbing can be hard on ropes in other ways, from falling rock and ice, combined with 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 presents its own challenges for a rope. Usually, sport climbing ropes 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 climber's ropes when they fall. No matter the type of climbing, always be careful.

climbing rope - in the alpine, you don&#039;t have to worry so much about big falls...
In the alpine, you don't have to worry so much about big falls damaging your rope. The primary concerns are rockfall and coarse rock which can quickly comprise a skinny lightweight line.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Dry Treatment Improving Durability?
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 are not available with a dry treatment.

climbing rope - pulling back up to the high point after a fall is one of the harder...
Pulling back up to the high point after a fall is one of the harder things for a rope in terms of durability. Doing this repeatedly can quickly wear out the ends of the rope.

To test these ropes for durability, we used them a lot. Our three testers all have at least a decade of climbing experience. They've observed the entire lifespans of at least 25 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 the amount of sheath a rope contains, which we calculated by multiplying the sheath percentage by the weight per meter of rope. The result indicates the number of grams of sheath per meter. It stands to reason that more sheath per meter should contain more or denser fibers to help resist premature wear.

climbing rope - does the end of your rope look like this? soft, fuzzy and a wider...
Does the end of your rope look like this? Soft, fuzzy and a wider diameter than the rest of the line is a good indication that it's time to chop the ends or retire your rope.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

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 didn't 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 handful of ropes that we have used almost daily for months 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 Xeros 9.8, and Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Exo Dry.

Weight


For this review, we chose to test “single” climbing ropes between 8.9-9.8mm, which encompasses the most common diameters used for recreational rock climbing. “Single” means that the rope is designed and UIAA-rated to be used by itself, which is the rope system most people in North America use. “Half” and “twin” ropes each have their own safety ratings and are meant to be used as pairs in two-rope systems. While these rope systems are seen more often in the UK and can offer some 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.

climbing rope - we tested &quot;single&quot; ropes in this review ranging between 8.9 and 9.8...
We tested “single” ropes in this review ranging between 8.9 and 9.8 mm. While some single ropes are even thinner these days, for general climbing purposes, we don't think going below 9.0 mm is necessary. We usually prefer 9.5 to 9.8 mm for most cragging situations. However, when getting off the deck a little, a thinner line can be nice.
Credit: Scott Ring

Diameter is one of the easiest and most obvious ways to measure a rope. When you hold a climbing rope in your hand, the thickness is probably the first thing you 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 too much on diameter can be a mistake. Many people opt for something skinny because they want a rope 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 consider the weight of a rope than to fixate on the diameter. Also, some manufacturers measure the diameter under slight tension while others do not, and some ropes can be oval rather than round. That's why you can have two ropes with the same listed 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 their total weight. The 8.9mm Edelrid Swift Eco Dry was the lightest of the bunch at 52 g/m. This shouldn't be surprising since it's also one of the thinnest in our lineup. However, it's robust for its diameter. While low weight alone might drive your purchasing decision, thinner lines can have shorter lifespans, and many folks opt for something a little beefier. The 9.2 mm Petzl Volta is only slightly heavier at 55 g/m, yet should offer better longevity, all things being equal. The Petzl Arial, at 58 g/m, could be another tempting choice. It's the lightest of the 9.5mm lines we tested.

climbing rope - an alpine route with a big approach is one situation where a...
An alpine route with a big approach is one situation where a lightweight rope offers real advantages.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Unless you're schlepping a quadruple rack of wide gear to the wall, a climbing rope is probably the heaviest single piece of climbing equipment you carry to the crag. The difference between the 8.9mm Swift Eco Dry and the heaviest lines in this review equates to 1.5 pounds for a 60m rope. These differences increase when it's a 70m or 80m rope and when you're climbing longer pitches with more of the rope 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.

climbing rope - when you&#039;re already toting 20 quickdraws and your hiking shoes, and...
When you're already toting 20 quickdraws and your hiking shoes, and looking up at a 150-foot pitch, a lightweight rope like the 9.1 mm Beal Joker is a nice option.
Credit: Scott Ring

Catch


Rating the catch of a rope is highly subjective. 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. It wasn't always easy to feel a difference between the different models we tested. There are so many other factors involved that can 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 UIAA drop tests that rely on improbable scenarios compared to everyday use, so the specific numbers are not especially relevant. Rather it's their relationship with one another that's informative. For example, if you fall with 50 feet of rope out and a bolt at your waist, a rope with 40% elongation won't stretch 20 feet because the fall factor is small. Instead, you will probably find yourself 5-10 feet down due to a combination of rope stretch and extra slack in the system. While the dynamic elongation figures give a good indication of the stretchiness of the rope, we couldn't always tell the difference when falling. In fact, we observed some of our hardest falls with ropes that are advertised with near-average dynamic elongation.

climbing rope - taking a big one on the maxim pinnacle. we never felt like the...
Taking a big one on the Maxim Pinnacle. We never felt like the catches on this rope were particularly hard, but the higher impact force rating is something to consider when falling on gear as opposed to bolts.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring


After falling on all of the ropes multiple times and taking notes, we “liked” falling the best on the Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic and the Petzl Arial. Interestingly, these lines feature similar impact ratings and dynamic elongation (8.8 kN, with 33% and 32%). These ratings seem to lie within a sweet spot between providing a soft catch on a lead fall, but 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, a few extra feet of a stretch at the wrong time could result in hitting a ledge or the ground, so the ropes with the highest stretch should be used with caution.


The impact force is related to but not completely determined by the elongation. That means that two ropes might have the same elongation but different impact forces 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 could mean there is potential for greater forces on your protection with this line. If you're only falling on well-placed, trustworthy bolts, that might not be a huge concern, but this higher impact force may be something to consider for aid or trad climbers because tiny gear can often be rated between 2 and 6 kN.

climbing rope - a lower static elongation is nice for ascending ropes because it...
A lower static elongation is nice for ascending ropes because it reduces the bounciness that can occur when you weight and unweight either ascender.
Credit: Jack Cramer

We found that the catches on the skinny lines in this review — the Beal Joker, Trango Agility Duo, and Edelrid Swift Eco Dry — all felt pretty soft. We like the catch of the Beal Booster III and Sterling Velocity Xeros 9.8, 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: static elongation.


Static elongation is probably the easiest rating to observe in real-world use. 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 feet until the holds are just out of reach. If you prefer tight top-rope belays, 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 curve is sufficient). Switching ends between burns can also help, as does switching ropes if you're climbing on back-to-back days.

climbing rope - as the great john dill once wrote, &quot;there&#039;s an art to falling safely...
As the great John Dill once wrote, “There's an art to falling safely - like a cat.” Glenda Huxter prepares to land on her feet, though the rope did catch her first.
Credit: Cam McKenzie Ring

Conclusion


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. We hope we've helped 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.

Jack Cramer, Cam McKenzie Ring & Andy Wellman