There are many rope bags on the market today, and the options may seem overwhelming. To help, we analyzed over 35 models and chose the top 9 to test side-by-side. We compared them across a variety of metrics to determine which would best suit your needs. We looked at tarp size, how easily we could pack the rope within them, the level of difficulty when packing inside a larger climbing pack, durability, and how many other items we could pack inside in addition to the rope itself. We looked at different features and extras and how well they worked in the field, testing in national parks and local climbing crags. We dragged them across rocks, trees, and pavement with the hopes of finding which bag would come out on top. No matter your climbing style, we've found something to suit your tastes.
The Best Rope Bags for Climbing
For our 2018 update, the Petzl Kab remains the reigning champ and the winner of our Editors' Choice award, and the Metolius Dirt Bag II holds the title of Best Buy award winner for the third year in a row. The Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito and the Trango Antidote were our two new bags, rounding out the review, and giving the competitors in our fleet a run for their money. The Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito came out on top in our lightweight/minimal category, winning a Top Pick award.
Best Overall Model
The Petzl Kab is our Editors' Choice for the fourth year in a row. This model continues to be one of the best on the market, performing exceptionally in just about all of our testing categories. It has tons of extra features, making it unique, and of course, outperforms its competitors in in doing what a rope bag should: keeping your rope clean and untangled. Additionally, it's ultra burly, and has a polyurethane bottom that helps it to stand up like a rope bucket. It also features a removable tarp that connects with 4 snaps further increasing its versatility. Although it's a little more pricey, it undoubtedly will last you for many years to come, if not the entirety of your climbing career (provided you take proper care of it).
Read review: Petzl Kab
Best Bang for the Buck
Metolius Dirt Bag II
The Metolius Dirt Bag II is Outdoorgearlab's pick for Best Buy award winner again this year. It's a fantastic base option for climbers who want nothing more and nothing less. The Dirt Bag II has a huge tarp, heavy duty construction, and only costs $30. This makes it "dirtbag cheap," as the name implies, and a great bargain for the product you get. The spacious zippered opening makes it easy enough to pack and unpack the rope, and the single padded shoulder strap, although not as padded as others, made short and medium distance approaches comfortable.
Read review: Metolius Dirt Bag II
Top Pick for Versatility
The Metolius Speedster is a design you'll either hate or love depending on your style of climbing and what you're looking to do for the day. We found the Speedster to be a great option for those that are looking to go out for a day of cragging in warmer weather. This is because it works phenomenally as a single day cragging pack. You can easily fit a rope, harness, chalk bag, draws, shoes, and water in the speedster. Additionally it also features comfortable backpack styled straps that make it great for long hikes into your climbing area. For these reasons, it's our Top Pick for Versatility.
Read review: Metolius Speedster
Top Pick for Lightweight
Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito
The Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito is OutdoorGearLab's Top Pick for a lightweight/ minimal option. It's a fantastic choice for those who always pack their rope into their pack. A simple, yet ingenious elastic opening on the rope bag itself makes it simple to pack and unpack your cord efficiently. While the Kab is our burly Humvee, we like to think of the Full Rope Burrito as more of the Ferrari. Sleek and stripped down to all that you need, and nothing that you don't.
Read review: Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito
Analysis and Test Results
If you're climbing outside, you should have a bag or, at the very least, a tarp to put your rope on, as you'll extend the life of your rope by keeping it out of the dirt and grit at the crag. When dirt gets ground into your rope, it can wear at the overall construction and shorten the life of your rope significantly. Climbing ropes are expensive pieces of equipment, and your lifeline as a climber; it's best to take care of your rope, and it will take care of you. Such items can extend the life of ropes by at least 25% or more if used properly; being one of the cheaper pieces of equipment that a climber will purchase in their lifetime, it pays for itself after you buy a few ropes. Additionally, rope bags make it easier and quicker to pack and unpack your rope, which can increase your efficiency at the crag. This has the potential to let you squeeze in another pitch or two before the day is over, or give another burn on your project to get you that much closer to sending. The last thing that you want to be stuck doing when you're trying to climb is dealing with messy and tangled ropes or constantly flaking and stacking your cord.
Rope-specific bags generally don't run much over $50 or $60, and all of the models we tested ran from $30-$50. In the grand scheme of things, this is relatively cheap for a piece of climbing equipment. Further, tarps and bags generally don't wear out very quickly unless you're purposely dragging them behind you while hiking to the crag. A quick poll of our gear testers revealed that most of us hadn't replaced the models we had bought years ago, and they were still going strong.
It can be difficult to choose from a field of competitors that all seem sufficiently capable of getting the job done, but require you to make trade-offs on features. We've compared the qualities that we believe add the most value to a rope bag, and created the graph below to show which products have the greatest value relative to their price. The further into the lower right quadrant an item is, the better its value.
The number one job before anything else is to keep your rope clean and out of the dirt. We define rope cleanliness as keeping it off of the ground and out of the dirt.
Naturally, products with larger tarps tended to do this job a little better. Tarps that were more rectangular in shape also tended to lie more flat which allowed more surface area to catch falling cords after pulling the chains, and more space to flake your rope before and after climbing. Generally, burrito style products would lay more flat than their funnel style counterparts.
The Kab had the largest tarp of the products we tested, at 55"x55"x20" it surpassed all other products, although only by a few inches. The Bolsa had a tarp at 55"x55" which had it coming in close second, while the Metolius bags all featured similar sizes at 52"x58" putting them at the third largest. Most of the products we tested ran in the 45" range. In real-world testing situations, we really couldn't tell much of a difference between it and other top scorers as they all had similar dimensions. However, the larger diameter of the Kab allowed us to flake and catch falling cords swiftly and efficiently. Additionally, it also featured a removable tarp. We thought this feature was great, and further added to its overall versatility, as the other bags we tested all had permanently integrated rope tarps.
Ease of Packing
We tested each product side-by-side and determined how difficult it was to pack up the rope. For this test, we used a 70m x 9.8 mm rope. Without a doubt, the Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito was the easiest to pack, with the Petzl Bolsa coming in close second.
Although generally speaking funnel style products like the Bolsa are easier to pack, the Full Rope Burrito surprised us in being a simple no frills packing system and was by far the easiest to pack even being burrito style. This is due to itS simple elastic opening which allowed it to swallow up even messily stacked cords that sprawled across the width of the tarp. Other top scorers in the burrito style category were the Metolius Ropemaster HC, the Kab, and Black Diamond Super Chute. All of these bags were over-sized, easy to push in designs. While the Speedster and the Dirtbag II were some of the least easy to pack.
Ease of Unpacking
Unpacking the rope is the next big step in how effective a product is. There are two types of basic design, the burrito style, and the funnel style. Generally speaking, burrito style bags pin the flaked rope against the tarp when rolled up and packed. This keeps everything in place during transport and keeps the rope neat and tidy. The funnel style contenders essentially "funnels" the rope into the bag. Although this works most of the time, occasionally the rope can get badly tangled and require an entire re-flaking of the rope. For this reason, the burrito style products in our review received higher ratings as they performed much more consistently.
As we saw with the ease of packing the Full Rope Burrito was also equally as easy to unpack. Again, with the simple elastic band around the top of the rope bag, it made it simple to unpack the rope without getting it tangled. The Kab also scored top points here as well, not only with its standard burrito style unloading, but also its rope bucket feature. This allowed us to feed rope out of the bucket itself without having to actually even take the rope out of the bag.
Ease of Transport
We took out all of our competitors to both crags that were local and also those that were in other adjacent states with long and short approaches. We determined that long approaches were 30+ minutes and short approaches were anything less than 30 minutes. Another important metric was short sub 5 minute moves in between climbing routes that were nearby.
For something to be considered effective over short distances, we needed something that either didn't need to be packed up fully or was easy to pack. Generally, we considered short distances to be 20-50ft. We loved the Kab's rope bucket option with shorty grab handles and we thought this was by far the easiest design to carry. The Bolsa also excelled here, as the funnel style design allowed us to give the bag a few shakes and the rope would dump inside. The Full Rope Burrito was also a top contender here, as it's easy to pack elastic-style bag and shorty grab handles make it perfect to throw together quickly and then move to other routes. The Black Diamond Super Slacker also deserves mention here, as itS fold and walk design made it easy to pack as well.
Longer distances are important for comfort, especially when hiking into the crag you'll be climbing at. Although most climbers we know generally pack their rope bags into a larger cragging pack, ultimately at some point you'll end up slinging it over your shoulder to move awkward in-between distances that are shorter than the hike in, but longer than the route just a few feet down. We found that the products with backpack straps were the most comfortable, as it evenly distributes the load over your body, versus a single sling. These two bags are the Bolsa and the Speedster.
With their backpack straps, we felt that we could hike just about any length of approach with them. Although the single padded strap generally gets more uncomfortable as the approach lengthens, a shout out to the Kab for its thick, well-padded shoulder strap and waist strap made even long approaches comfortable. Another top contender for long distance was the updated Ropemaster HC, which featured a single comfortable shoulder strap that we found to be comparable to the other top scorers in these categories.
Using a Rope Bag as Your Primary Climbing Pack
Most of the time, rope bags aren't made for much more than a rope and maybe a few extras. However, a couple of manufacturers make them for this exact purpose. These are convenient for short approaches, warm days where you don't need a lot of extra layers, and sport crags where you only need limited equipment. Both the Bolsa and the Speedster are constructed for this exact purpose and performed fantastically. They both can fit your cord, shoes, harness, chalk bag, draws, water, and some extras for a dawn patrol morning before work or a weekend afternoon.
Compressibility and Packability
As we mentioned above, most climbers we know will carry their rope inside their pack at least once in their climbing careers (if not all of the time). This metric is particularly important because if your bag does not pack effectively into your larger cragging pack, then you'll have dead space. This means you won't be able to pack the rest of your equipment, or you'll just have an unevenly loaded pack, both of which are not friendly for long approaches.
We used a 70m x 9.8 mm cord and tested the packability of each product. The Full Rope Burrito took the cake for packability, itS soft construction allowed it to spread out in your pack and fill up all dead space around it, making it more evenly loaded in our packs. Although designs with compression straps were a nice addition and generally make packing your bag into a larger pack easier, the Full Rope Burrito didn't have this issue, and it was actually a good thing that it didn't feature them. Aside from the Full Rope Burrito, the most compressible contenders were the Metolius Ropemaster HC and the Super Chute. This was one of the only metrics that the Kab didn't destroy, as its super burly fabric made it a little stiffer to load into packs; that being said, it wasn't that much more difficult. The Super Slacker compressed fairly well even though it was a larger bag because, like the Full Rope Burrito, there wasn't much shape to the bag itself. Naturally, the hardest ones to pack were the Speedster and the Bolsa as they aren't designed to be packed into larger backpacks.
Since all competitors have a tarp, as this is their primary function, we compared all of the extra additions that manufacturers had added outside of that. Without a doubt, the Kab is the most feature-rich product. The Kab had two zippered pockets, interior gear loops, roll-top closure, and many others.
The great thing about these extra features is that they were actually incredibly useful. Further, the ability to function as a rope bucket or a bag made it incredibly versatile. one interesting feature that both the Ropemaster HC and the Antidote featured was a rope window.
Which we initially thought wouldn't be very helpful, but once we stored our ropes for some time in a closet, it made it easy to pick out which ones we needed for the day without having to unpack all of them. If you only have one rope, this might not be a big deal, but as your gear collection grows, it can save you quite a bit of time. The Speedster also scores top points in the extra features categories for its useful outer zippered pocket and comfortable padded shoulder straps.
After careful review and selection of our bags, and heavy testing of each one, we believe that we've picked out the best products on the market. Although many folks will say that a rope bag is just a rope bag, depending on your needs, there are many features and options that can change your experience with one or another style or type. Truly, it depends on the user, and what they personally find useful. We've picked out the top four in different categories that we think will serve users best. For general usability and Editors Choice, the Petzl Kab is hands down the best overall, with numerous features, two styles of carrying (bucket or bag), and toughness. While others who pack their rope in their backpack all the time, we found the Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito to be a sleek, no-frills option that packed easily and quickly into a larger cragging pack. The Metolius Speedster is a great choice for those who only want one pack for short and fast approaches with its comfortable backpack style carrying straps and spacious interior. Finally, the Metolius Dirt Bag II is our Best Buy as it's the least expensive in our review, and gets the basic job done. However, while reading through our reviews, you may find that a different bag other than our top picks suits your needs better. You can read through our Buying Advice article for factors to consider when deciding which is appropriate for you.
— Ian Nicholson & Graham Williams