Rock Climbing Gear Guide: Best Ropes

At the heart of every climber’s gear closet hangs a rope. But when new to the sport, buying your first climbing rope can be an overwhelming task. Use this guide to better understand how climbing ropes are classified and to assist you in your rope-buying process. Recommendations are unbiased, based on personal experience and community reputation. Your purchases support our free content.

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Part 1: best climbing ropes by diameter

Ropes have correlations: a great diameter is correlated with greater durability, more weight, and slightly inferior handling (tying knots, sliding through the belay device, etc.). Conversely, thin ropes are less durable, lightweight, and have excellent handling.

If you’re purchasing your first rope and anticipate a lot of top roping, consider a thick rope. However, if you’ll mostly be lead climbing, a medium rope is a great starting spot.

Thick rope recommendations: 10.0mm-10.2mm

Thick ropes provide excellent durability, especially for climbing styles that put excessive wear on the rope (such as repeated falls on a hard sport climb or top roping, where the rope is continually rubbing against the upper anchors). However, the benefits of a thick rope’s extended life span are a side effect of a thick rope’s added weight.

Medium rope recommendations: 9.6mm-9.9mm

Best suited for sport and trad climbing, medium-width ropes get the durability benefits of a wider rope, while still maintaining a relatively light weight. Many lead climbers—sport or trad—prefer ropes in this range because they can be used in almost any climbing discipline. For top roping, though, you would likely want something just a little thicker.

Thin rope recommendations: 8.9mm-9.5mm

For the light and fast climber, these are best suited for multi-pitches or all day alpine epics. Some sport climbers attempt their hardest routes with a thin rope due to its light weight. On the downside, these ropes are not as durable as greater width ropes; they typically have a shorter lifespan and you don’t want to use a thin rope for top roping!

Part 2: other information about climbing ropes

Determining your optimal rope length

The standard length for a climbing rope is 60 meters, but 70-meter ropes are becoming increasingly common. The benefits of a 60m rope are that it is light, less cumbersome, and generally sufficient for most climbs.

In select areas, a 70m climbing rope has become standard. Not only does a 70m climbing rope allow you to climb further, but it can also assist in rappelling. For example, whereas you may need two 60m ropes to do a full rappel from the top of a pitch, just one 70m may be sufficient.

In summary, 60m is standard for most climbs, but some areas are more well-suited for 70m (consider asking another climber which is better at your climbing areas). If you don’t mind the added price of a 70m, you can’t go wrong with the extra length.

Middle marks and bi-pattern ropes

A middle mark helps you identify the center of the rope, which has various applications and is especially helpful when rappelling. There are three ways the midpoint might be identified:

  1. In some cases, the middle mark is applied by the manufacturer; the downside is that with time, the middle mark can wear off or become covered in dirt, making it hard to identify.
  2. Bi-pattern ropes help you quickly identify the midpoint—when the rope’s design pattern/color changes, you’re halfway. Many of the ropes recommended above are available in bi-pattern versions, seen here.
  3. If there is no middle mark, you might consider applying it yourself; Beal makes a rope marker for this purpose.

Dry treatment and recommendations

A dry treatment helps prevent your climbing rope from absorbing water. This is beneficial on a couple fronts:

  1. When a rope becomes wet, its strength is reduced, it becomes prone to freezing in alpine environments, and it becomes very heavy.
  2. A dry treatment can help prevent dirt from entering into a rope’s sheath, therefore increasing its life expectancy.

While dry treatment is a nice benefit to protect your rope and prevent water absorption, it is not required if climbing in a gym and/or in dry outdoor terrain.

BlueWater Lightning Pro Double Dry 9.7mm

Types of climbing ropes

Now we’re getting deeper into the world of climbing ropes. There are three main types: single, double, and twin.

  • Single ropes: These are your standard climbing ropes that you use at the gym, which you will likely use for the vast majority of your climbs. All ropes recommended on this page are single ropes and widths are generally 8.9mm-10.2mm.
  • Double ropes: As the name implies, this is a two-rope system where the climber is tied into both ropes and clips into protection with either rope. This helps to reduce rope drag on winding routes.
  • Twin ropes: Like double ropes, this is a two-rope system in which the climber clips both climbing ropes to every piece of protection. Using two ropes allows for faster rappelling and it prevents the horrifying possibility of a rope being cut over a sharp edge.

Static vs. dynamic ropes

Ropes used in climbing applications are either static or dynamic and feature a kernmantle construction—a nylon interior core, or kern, and a woven outer sheath, its mantle.

  • Dynamic ropes: These ropes have give or stretchiness to help absorb the impact of a falling climber. Even for top roping, a dynamic rope is essential to prevent excessive (and dangerous) impact on the climber. Every rope recommended on this page is dynamic.
  • Static ropes: Best suited for big wall scenarios (like those pictures of climbers sleeping on the walls of Yosemite!). They are generally used to haul loads or to set up a fixed line … not for actual climbing.

Gym climbing ropes

Ropes specifically designed for indoor climbing have become popular in recent years. Gym ropes tend to be 30-40 meters in length and are convenient for use in indoor settings, where walls do not reach a height that would require a full-length rope. Thus, with a gym rope, you have less rope to manage and you can spare your longer ropes from the wear and tear of indoor climbing.

If buying a gym rope, you may also consider going in with a friend to purchase a full-length (generally 70m) rope and having it cut in half (most gyms have a hot knife to do this). Double-check with your gym to determine the necessary rope length for their walls.

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