Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rope Care

The rope is your lifeline, arguably the most import piece of gear you have. All the quick-draws and cams in the world would be useless without your rope! This roughly 9mm length of nylon cord is all that stands between you and certain death! (Ok, a little dramatic, but you get the idea.) It's only right that you treat this wonderful piece of equipment with all the love and care it deserves.

I decided to write this post after a recent decision to retire my trusty 9.8mm Petzl NOMAD. This was my first rope! I received it as a Christmas present from my parents roughly six years ago. I always kept it in a rope bag and did my best to take care of it, but after denying the inevitable (for probably a little too long) I finally decided to send it to the big rope bag in the sky...

So here it is, Dirtbagging in the 21st Century's guide to rope care!


  • New Ropes: When you first get your rope make sure to completely uncoil and stack it at random. This will get some of the initial kink out of it. After that go ahead and coil your rope. 
  • Coiling: Use a method that stacks the rope in a series of bites. Try to avoid twists.
  • Twists: If you do end up with twists, let the rope hang and slide the twists out with your hands.
  • Rope Bag: If you don't have one, get one. A rope bag is an essential part of your crag arsenal. Keep your rope coiled and in your bag between climbs. There are many different types of bags out there, and can cost anywhere from $30 to $60 depending on how many bells and whistles you want. I prefer a bag with a few extra pockets and such so I can use it to store my crag gear. 
  • Rope Tarps: Most rope bags will either come with or double as a rope tarp. It is is important to try and keep your rope out of the dirt and other abrasives present in the wild. By keeping your rope on a tarp at the bottom of the crag you will help extend the life of your rope. 
  • Records: Theoretically you should keep a written record of all the uses and significant falls your rope sustains, but I usually just keep a mental tab.
A quick and dirty guid to falls and what they mean for rope care:

Fall Factor: This is a word you will hear thrown around a lot in climbing tech circles. The Formula for a fall factor is as follows:
 f = h/L 

The equation breaks down like this: Fall factor (f) is the ratio of the height (h) the climber falls before the quick draw catchs and the rope begins to stretch and the length (L) of the rope out.  

Now when you buy a rope it will usually come with a UIAA fall max. The number will vary based on the thickness and type of rope.
  • Big thick single ropes (10.1-11mm) will usually support 10-17 UIAA falls
  • The average single rope (9.5-10mm) will take somewhere in the range of 7-9 UIAA falls
  • Skinny single rope (8.9-9.4mm) will clock in around 5-6 UIAA falls.
Now, the UIAA measures these falls at a fall factor of 1.77 back to back. The odds of you even taking a fall at 1.77 are very low, so don't think that just because you took a few big falls on your rope you need to retire it.
REI makes the following suggestions for standard rope replacement:
  • Heavy sport use with repeated falls 3-6 months
  • Heavy trad use with few falls 1-2 years
  • Weekend warriors 2-3 years
  • Occasional use 4-5 years 
  • Rope damage - Immediately 


  • Avoid nylon on nylon situations. Don't run two ropes through the same top-rope anchors, and avoid crossing the top-rope lines by making sure the climber's rope does not twist around the belayer's rope. Also, NEVER run a top-rope directly through a sling. 
  • Don't step on the rope and try your best to keep it out of the dirt. When dirt and other particles get into the rope they tend to act like sandpaper on the fibers. 
  • Do your best to avoid catching your rope with your crampons and ice axes.
  • Avoid leaving your rope strung up for days on end. This can lead to sun damage and leaves the rope susceptible to animal damage.
  • Don't store your rope around harsh chemicals. Avoid car batteries and other caustic things you might find in your garage or trunk.
  • Be smart about rappelling. Avoid jerky and overly fast descents. 
  • The UIAA has warned against marking ropes, even with markers designated for rope marking, as the chemicals in the ink may harm the rope. Use a bicolored rope or other device instead. 


Now here is a controversial topic. Theoretically it should be fine to wash a climbing rope by hand or with a top-loading machine and mild soap. (NOT DETERGENT!) Dry uncoiled and out of direct sunlight. However, many people have had negative experiences washing their ropes, and many claim that it is an unnecessary exercise altogether. In the end, I don't think it's really necessary; as long as you take care of your rope there's really no need to wash it. 
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