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Nowadays rock climbing ropes are elastic and do not snap when used correctly. This has not always been the case. Until the 1950s/60s rock climbing ropes were mostly made of hemp or other non-elastic fibers. At that time there was one rule for rock climbing: Don’t fall! A rope that is not elastic will break if it is subjected to too much stress. It is also very unpleasant to be abruptly slowed down in the fall. If the rope is holding, injuries are therefore the consequence and can end fatal depending on the length of the fall. Nowadays rock climbing ropes are made of nylon, an elastic plastic or synthetic fiber. Nylon does not tear and is elastic. This slows the fall over a longer distance, dramatically reducing the force on the body, the rope and safety equipment compared to a static rope. Therefore falls are quite normal nowadays when rock climbing, because they are harmless due to the better, elastic rope. Another advantage of an elastic nylon climbing rope is that anchors and other securing devices cannot be torn off as easily as would be the case with a fast, static pull.
The Tensile Strength of Climbing Rope
Since rock climbing ropes are safety equipment, they are subject to strict rules and must have certain properties. One of the most important characteristics of rock climbing rope is, of course, its tensile strength. The tensile strength is measured not in the maximum force that would lead to a tear, but in the number of times the rope can withstand a standardized fall. The specifications for this standardized fall are defined by the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme) and the European norm EN 892.
The fall is carried out with a certain weight from a certain height and is deflected by a carabiner. The end of the rope is fixed, which makes the fall static. Such a fall with such a high level of stress does not occur during normal climbing. A worst-case scenario is always used for safety-relevant tests.
A normal rock climbing rope must survive 5 such falls before it breaks. There are also so-called multi fall ropes, which have to withstand at least 10 falls.
It never happens that a rock climbing rope breaks in normal use. Accidents in which the rope has snapped can always be traced back to a damaged rope. Always make sure that the rope is not guided over a sharp edge. If the climbing rope rubs over a sharp edge with the force of a falling person, it can be damaged and in the worst case tear.
Dynamic Rope vs. Static Rope
To avoid confusion, the difference between dynamic and static climbing ropes is explained in this section. A dynamic rock climbing rope (stretches by up to 40%) is used whenever you don’t hang constantly on it but only use it for fall protection. However, if the rope is under tension most of the time and is a major component of the activity, a static rope (stretches by only up to 5%) is more suitable. Dynamic ropes on Amazon*.
Applications for static ropes include abseiling/rappelling, mountain rescue and canyoning.
These activities are perfect for the use of static ropes. You’re always hanging in the rope and it’s stretched all the time. With a dynamic rock climbing rope, you would have the feeling of hanging in a rubber band. Especially during ascending, it would be very difficult. Static ropes on Amazon*.
Length and Diameter
Dynamic rock climbing ropes are available in many different lengths and diameters. Most rock climbing ropes are 40 to 70 meters long. For particularly long distances there are also 80 to 100 meter long ropes.
If you are only climbing in indoor climbing halls, short ropes (around 40 meters) are sufficient. If you prefer to climb outdoors, you should be well equipped with a climbing rope 60 meters long. You can cover a lot with that. If you know in advance how high the rock faces are, you can adapt your ropes to the conditions better.
The diameter of a climbing rope is between 8.3 and 11.5 mm. The thinner the climbing rope is, the less it can withstand falls and is more susceptible to other damage. Thicker climbing ropes are more robust and last longer but are also heavier.
Beginners should definitely start in the upper middle range, around 10 to 10.5 mm. This diameter is robust, long lasting and has a very good handling.
Care and Maintenance of a Rock Climbing Rope
To increase the lifespan of a rock climbing rope and to ensure its safety over a long period of time, here are a few basic tips. For the full article on climbing rope maintenance, click here.
- The rock climbing rope should never be thrown on the naked ground. There should always be a protective layer between the ground and the rope. A piece of fabric, a tarp or a rope bag are well suited for this. The rock climbing rope should have as little contact with dust, sharp-edged stones and other dirt as possible to increase its lifespan. The crystalline, sharp-edged dust gets between the individual fibers and acts like sandpaper. Due to the friction of the stretching rope and the dust, the fibers are permanently rubbed off and lose strength.
- You should never step on the rope. Besides the possibility of cutting the rope by pressing on a sharp edge, you could press dirt and dust with your foot into the sheath of the rope. This causes internal damage to the climbing rope which cannot be seen.
- After a rock climbing session, the first and last 2-3 meters of the rock climbing rope should be cleaned with a brush. This extends its lifespan since dirt, needles, dust and especially climbing chalk are removed.
- Wash the rope occasionally. Yes, you can wash climbing ropes if you consider a few things. The water may only be lukewarm and never hot. Special detergents should be used for washing climbing ropes. The climbing rope can be washed by hand or with a washing machine. The washing machine should not work at temperatures warmer than 30°C and should be operated in a wool or fine wash cycle. If you wash by hand, you should pay special attention to both ends. The climbing rope has to be dried in air. It is important to ensure that the rope does not get direct sunlight, as the UV rays damage the fibers in the rope.
- If the rope is not being used, it should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place. A rope bag is ideal for storage. Most rope bags can be carried comfortably as a bag or backpack and protect the rope ideally.
- The climbing rope must be protected from chemicals and acids. These can damage the rope from the inside, which is particularly serious because it cannot be seen with the naked eye, such as mechanical damage.
- Always change sides between two climbing sessions. The load of a fall and other stress during climbing affects both ends of the rope differently. In order to distribute this stress evenly and to increase the general lifespan, the ends of the climbing rope should be swapped each time.
When to Retire a Rock Climbing Rope
The lifespan of a rock climbing rope depends significantly on how it is cared for and, of course, how often it is used.
Manufacturers are required to make a statement about the lifespan. With good care and within this time, the manufacturer guarantees proper function. Here are the usual recommendations for the lifespan of climbing ropes:
|Frequency of use||Recommended period of use|
|1-2 times a year||7 years|
|several times a month||3 years|
|once a week||1 year|
|almost daily||less than 1 year|
For private use, this generous lifespan information can be regarded as a best before date. Exceeding the recommended lifespan does not automatically lead to rope failure, but properties such as stretching and handling become worse and worse over time. You have to decide for yourself when to dispose of the climbing rope.
In any case, you should dump your climbing rope when one of the following things has happened:
- The climbing rope has come into contact with chemicals. Acids are particularly bad.
- The sheath is very frayed and worn.
- The sheath is so worn that you can see the core.
- The sheath slips over the core.
- The climbing rope is so dirty that it can no longer be washed clean.
- The climbing rope is damaged by sun or heat.
- The climbing rope is rigid or has hard spots.
- The climbing rope has already taken several hard falls. You have to imagine the rope as a spring. The more often you stretch it, the less elastic it becomes. At a certain time, the point is reached when the elasticity is gone and a fall can be fatal. Before this point, it is necessary to replace it.
Rock climbing ropes are made of nylon so that they are elastic and robust. A nylon climbing rope stretches up to 40% and gently catches the falling climber. The load on climbers, ropes and other safety equipment is thus minimized.
Climbing ropes are designed to withstand several heavy falls in their lifespan. Nowadays, climbing ropes only break if they are pulled over a sharp edge during the fall in extremely unfortunate circumstances or if they have already been severely damaged.
When choosing rock climbing ropes, you have to choose a length and a thickness. For beginners, we recommend 40 meters for climbing indoors and 60 meters for climbing outdoors. The diameter should be about 10 to 10.5 mm.
If you pay attention to a few things during use and storage, you will have a great time with it.
Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on climbtheearth.com only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.
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