The Best Rope Bags for Climbing
Best Overall Model
The DMM Classic is an outstanding model that sports some of the best features that we have seen on any model and works well for all types of climbing. It has a large removable tarp to keep your cord out of the dirt and a space-efficient closure system. Our testers appreciated the comfortable backpack straps on long approaches. We were able to pack a 70m rope and all of the essentials into the main compartment, including a harness, chalk, and one pair of shoes. The Classic also stands out because you can get your hands on one at a reasonable mid-range price.
We struggled to find many flaws in the Classic for outdoor use but wouldn't recommend it for an indoor climbing-only pack. It is far better suited for cragging or long approaches because of its large tarp and compression straps, that otherwise feel excessive for climbing in the gym. If you're looking for an impressively functional crag bag that is easy to use and comfortable to carry, the DMM Classic is tough to beat.
Read review: DMM Classic
Best Bang for the Buck
Metolius Dirt Bag II
The Metolius Dirt Bag II easily earns our Best Buy Award for its solid performance and low cost. It's a fantastic option for climbers who want a functional rope bag and no frills. The Dirt Bag II has durable construction, a huge tarp, and enough space for some extra gear. This makes it "dirtbag cheap," as the name implies, and a great bargain considering the product you get. It costs about as much as a large pizza in Yosemite but it will last much longer.
The spacious zippered opening makes it easy enough to pack and unpack the rope, but it definitely has less volume than other packs we tested. The single shoulder strap isn't great for long approaches, and you probably wouldn't want to carry it for more than 20 minutes or so. Despite being limited in pack space and features, the Dirt Bag II is a solid budget option and we recommend it to anyone who is on the fence about whether or not to buy a rope bag.
Read review: Metolius Dirt Bag II
Best for Indoor Climbing
If climbing indoors is a part of your daily routine and you want to pack everything you need for a day at the office and gym into one bag, then the Petzl KAB is an excellent option. It has a stylish messenger bag-design that doesn't look like a rope bag until you open it up. The integrated, trapezoidal tarp is removable and won't take up too much space if you have a gym rope that is 60 meters or shorter. The KAB's most unique feature is a padded laptop sleeve, which means it can pull double duty as a messenger bag if you take out the rope tarp. This feature greatly expands the bag's functionality if you want to stop at the climbing gym on your commute to school or the office. It also has extra compartments that can be used for books or additional climbing gear.
The main disadvantage of the KAB is that it does not function well as a bag for outdoor climbing. The tarp is too small to cover much dirt outside, and its carrying strap isn't especially comfortable for long approaches. If you only climb indoors then this will not be a problem, but for those who are hoping to transition from gym to crag, the KAB isn't a versatile option. It is also one of the most expensive models that we tested, and unless the additional laptop carrying features appeal to you, the Metolius Dirt Bag II is significantly cheaper and equally functional as a rope bag. Yet, in the golden age of gym climbing, this rope bag fills an important niche better than any other.
Read review: Petzl KAB
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel behind this review consists of professional mountain guide Ian Nicholson, avid climber Steven Tata, and outdoor educator Graham Williams. Ian is internationally licensed by IFMGA/UIAGM and has spent over 3,000 days guiding in the European Alps and the Pacific Northwest. He holds an AIARE Level III certification as well as a Level I Avalanche Instructor. Ian has guided over 1,000 clients, many of whom he has assisted in selecting gear for climbing, backpacking, and ski trips. Graham is an outdoor educator who works with college students. He is also an avid climber, backcountry skier, surfer, and fitness enthusiast. He holds a BS in Nutrition, Health and Exercise from the University of Nebraska. Steven has climbed thousands of routes across the country and enjoys everything from big wall nail-ups on El Cap to limestone sport cragging in Catalonia. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts and lives in Yosemite National Park as a Climbing Steward.
Before cinching any bags or flaking any ropes, we had to decide which ones to test. We purchased the nine most promising rope bags to put through a gamut of field tests. We then used each one heavily, laying them out next to each other to get a relative sense of their size, dragging them across the dirt, stuffing them into packs, and filling them with rope and gear to see which organizational schemes worked best with each bag. What we ended up with is a comprehensive review that will ensure you get the best bag to protect and transport your climbing lifeline.
Related: How We Tested Rope Bags
Analysis and Test Results
If you're going to climb outside, you should have a bag or, at the very least a tarp to put your rope on. This will help extend the life of your rope by keeping it out of the dirt and grit at the crag. When dirt is ground into your rope, it can shorten its lifespan significantly. Climbing ropes are expensive pieces of equipment and your nonredundant lifeline as a climber. Rope bags can significantly extend the life of your rope when used properly and are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of a rope. Additionally, they make it quicker and earier 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, and get another burn on your project to push you that much closer to sending. The last thing that you want to be doing when you're trying to climb is dealing with a messy and tangled rope or constantly flaking and restacking your cord.
Related: Buying Advice for Rope Bags
Despite a wide range of costs, all of the rope bags that we tested have the same basic components. Even the cheapest ones will protect your rope during travel and keep it off the ground when you're climbing. Most of the more expensive models come with additional features to improve ease of use and carrying comfort, yet they don't offer much more in terms of rope protection than even the cheapest models. If you only want to keep your rope clean, don't waste cash on the highest-performing models. For example, the Metolius Dirt Bag II is an excellent choice for the budget-minded climber and gets the job done if you want a no-frills model to keep your rope clean and tidy.
Some of the higher-scoring models in our review are twice as expensive but only advantageous for those desiring additional features like a removable tarp or padded backpack straps. The Petzl KAB is the most expensive model that we tested, and it offers relatively little protection compared to other models in our review, despite having some of the most extravagant features. It may, however, hold a lot of value for urban gym climbers looking to combine their rope bag and work bag into one. The Editors' Choice Award-winning DMM Classic is in the middle of the pack when it comes to cost. It offers a great dollar-for-dollar value.
We tested each bag side-by-side to determine how difficult it is to pack and unpack a rope and some gear. We used a 9.8-millimeter 70-meter line as our main testing rope to ensure that each bag could fit a rope that is relatively long and thick by modern standards. The ideal bag for outdoor use is one that can fit a rope, shoes, harness, quickdraws, chalk, water, and some snacks for a day of climbing. High scorers in the packability metric have a large volume and can be neatly packed for long approaches. The most common use for rope bags is outdoor single-pitch sport climbing, so we mainly focused on this application in our testing. We also considered gym climbing in our testing and chose to highlight models that stand out for their indoor performance.
Models with large removable tarps are usually the easiest to pack, and our testers preferred these for outdoor cragging. The two main styles of rope bags are "funnel" and "burrito." Funnel-style bags are packed by sliding the rope off of the tarp into the main pack, while burrito-style bags are packed by rolling the rope inside the tarp and then into the main pack. We tested several bags of each style and found that the main pack design is more significant when it came to assessing packability.
The DMM Classic is the most packable model that we tested. It's unparalleled when it comes to efficiently packing a modest amount of gear. It is the only backpack-style model with multiple compression straps, which eliminates loose space and helps to consolidate the load. The Mammut Crag is noticeably larger than the Classic and is better suited for being loaded with lots of gear, thus tying in our packability testing. Several over-the-shoulder burrito-style models tied for packability, including the Metolius Ropemaster HC, Trango Antidote, and Black Diamond Super Chute. These all share a similar design and cinch down well if you're only carrying a rope. The Metolius Speedster and Metolius Dirt Bag II didn't perform as well in packability because they lack compression straps and can't hold a ton of gear. This makes them a bit more cumbersome to load, and they can feel awkward to carry when not properly filled.
Carrying comfort is a very significant attribute when it comes to outdoor cragging, especially when the approach is long. We evaluated carrying comfort by getting outside and taking each bag on long approaches. We paid attention to how breathable each pack's carrying straps were and took note of any that felt too narrow or cumbersome. Packs with two backpack-style straps scored higher in this metric, and we subjectively evaluated the back padding for comfort and breathability.
The Mammut Crag and DMM Classic led the pack in terms of carrying comfort. Both have nice backpack straps and are great options if your favorite crag is over an hour from the trailhead. The Classic feels more like a hiking backpack, while the Crag has more of a well-padded school bag feel. We prefer the DMM for longer approaches because it packs more efficiently, but the Mammut has much more padding and a spacious main compartment. The Metolius Speedster also has backpack straps, but is not as comfortable as the Classic or Crag.
For urban use and indoor climbing, messenger bag-style packs with single carrying straps can be comfortable to carry. The Petzl KAB sports a plushly padded strap and is indistinguishable from a laptop bag. This is a unique model for its ability to blend into the city while also having enough space to carry a rope and some gear for gym climbing. Some of the simpler models that we tested only have single straps and are good enough for short approaches or carrying inside of a larger backpack. The Black Diamond Super Chute and Metolius Dirt Bag II are some of our favorite simple bags that have single carrying straps. The Super Chute is more spacious than the Dirt Bag II but is also more expensive.
The main purpose of a rope bag is to protect your rope during travel and to keep it off of the ground while you climb. We scored each bag's rope protection abilities based upon tarp size and shape, and for how durable each bag felt for traveling. Despite being a significant rating metric, most of the models performed well in rope protection testing, and the results were not as differentiating as those of Packability and Carrying Comfort. Using a rope bag is a simple way to prolong the life of your rope and mitigate its exposure to potentially hazardous substances or conditions.
Naturally, products with larger tarps have more to offer in the way of rope protection. Tarps that are more rectangular in shape also tend to lie flatter, which corresponds to more surface area to catch falling cords after pulling them through the chains, and more space to flake your rope before and after climbing. The highest-scoring models in our rope protection metric all have large tarps and spacious packs that can accommodate 70-meter ropes. Bags that scored poorly either have small tarps or flimsy packs. All of the models in our review perform adequately when it comes to keeping your rope safe, but some stand out for having especially large tarps.
The three Metolius models, the Dirt Bag II, Speedster, and Ropemaster HC, all have 52" x 58" rectangular tarps, which are the largest tarps of any bags in our review. Each bag is unique, but the Dirt Bag II stands out because it is one of the most affordable bags and provides you with the most tarp per dollar. The lowest scoring bag for rope protection is the Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito, which only has a 40" x 40" tarp. Although this is relatively small, it is still plenty spacious if you flake your rope neatly. All other models are durable enough to last for many years and supply plenty of tarp space to accommodate a wide variety of ropes. The tarp on the Petzl KAB is trapezoidal, and therefore has less usable space than many others. However, this fits its intended use — gym climbers often utilize shorter ropes for indoor climbing (35-40 meters), so less tarp space is required.
Ease of Use
We evaluated Ease of Use by paying attention to design attributes that make bags more user-friendly while climbing, hiking, and in daily use outside of climbing. These include zippered pouches for valuables, removable tarps, additional straps for gear, and organizational pouches within the main pack compartment. Although none of the bags are particularly difficult to use, some of the simpler models left us wishing for more. We consider bags without removable tarps less versatile for cragging because it's usually easier to move the rope between climbs when it is on a tarp that is not attached to a pack. We also prefer bags with zippered pouches because climbing with keys can be annoying. It's nice to have a place for small items that might otherwise get lost inside a backpack.
The Petzl KAB and DMM Classic are some of the most convenient packs for indoor and outdoor climbing, respectively. The Classic earned the top score in our ease of use testing because it has a convenient zippered pocket, spacious removable tarp, and compression straps that accommodate extra gear on the outside of the pack. The KAB is designed for daily life and indoor climbing, with a padded laptop sleeve and several organizational compartments. It is unique for its ability to function as a messenger bag in addition to being a rope bag.
The Mammut Crag has a large roll-top closure that allows it to function as a somewhat floppy rope bucket. Although the roll-top closure is easy to use, it is not as space-efficient as packs with zippered or pull-cord closures. The Metolius Dirt Bag II didn't stand out for being easy to use and its small opening is a bit of an annoyance when packing larger ropes. Burrito-style packs like the Metolius Ropemaster HC and Black Diamond Super Chute are easy to pack but neither has removable tarps or spacious zippered pouches.
After meticulous research and thoughtful selection of our bags, combined with heavy testing of each model, this review is one of the most thorough and comprehensive available. We paid out thousands of feet of rope in our testing and hiked hundreds of approach miles. The best rope bag purchase for you depends on what you're looking for in a bag and what types of climbing you engage in. Regardless of which model you choose, it's always smart to keep your rope safe and use a rope bag. Have fun climbing!
— Ian Nicholson, Graham Williams, and Steven Tata