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BLOG | TIPS | 04 August 2016

How to choose a rope for climbing and mountaineering

Learn about the different kinds of climbing and mountaineering ropes and the safety standards regulating their use.

As with most safety equipment, the correct use of climbing rope is made clear by the certified standards it complies to. It is therefore essential to understand these standards when choosing a rope, be it for mountaineering, climbing, canyoning, caving or any other outdoor activity.

Each kind of climbing rope has to comply with tough, legal safety standards in order to go out for sale. These standards provide the consumer with a guarantee of the durability and properties of the rope and clearly indicate its use. A different kind of rope is required, depending on the type of climbing, type of route and logistics implied (single, half, twin, semi-static, etc.). The right rope should be chosen for the right activity and you should never use, for example, a rope marked only as a half rope for single rope climbing, or any other combination.

UIAA 101, EN 892:2012, EN 1891

The standards that ensure quality and use of sport climbing ropes are indicated by UIAA 101 & EN 892:2012 (both for dynamic ropes) and EN1981 (for static ropes).

The standard for the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) is the only standard that is globally recognized and complies with legal guidelines, which in the case of climbing, are regulated by the European Standard EN 892:2012

Traditionally, the UIAA (Association formed by most international mountaineering federations around the world), together with the manufacturers affiliated to their Safety Commission created the norms and tests that the ropes had to comply to. These were the only standards for some time.

The European Union then created its own standards basing them on the UIAA norms. Nowadays most ropes in Europe are labelled with the UIAA and EU norm.

These standards are extremely rigorous and the equipment has to pass a series of tests before it is guaranteed. Once approved, the performance, wear and damage depend on how it is used by the consumer, but even this is partly regulated, as we will see with the standard that ensures a certain number of falls.

Even though the European Standard EN 892:2012 is very complex for the average user, the UIAA has published a user-friendly version that is available for consultation.
Once the use of the rope is clear, it’s time to consider other factors and here, the climber has more say about which features are most suitable for the situation: a range of diameters are available for each use, chemical treatments, such as water-repellency or abrasion-resistance. The climber should also consider how the rope will perform in the kind of belay device to be used.

Here, we are going to talk about the different features of climbing ropes and their purpose. As the certified label defines the specific use of the rope, we will also look at the European and international standards which apply.

At the end of the article is an appendix which explains the technical parameters used to certify climbing ropes, such as the fall factor, impact force or number of falls. This is extremely useful in order to understand how and why each rope functions as it does and understanding these parameters is directly related to belaying and handling the rope correctly and will help avoid serious problems.

This is logical, as the standards guarantee the essential properties required in a mountaineering rope. The safety tests simulate the rope in use and inform the climber of useful information, regarding belaying, rappel and so on. The fall factor, for example, is something every climber should know about, because this is directly related to how to belay correctly.

Now that it is clear that the safety of a climbing rope is guaranteed by rigorous European standards and by entities superior to the actual manufacturers, it is time to look at how these standards categorize climbing ropes. The first main category divides ropes into dynamic, semi-static and static.

These are used for climbing and mountaineering. The high elongation percentage is specifically designed to absorb and cushion a fall. These ropes comply with the EN 892:2012. norm.

This classic climbing and mountaineering rope can be single, half (or double) or twin.

Again, we should stress that each rope can only be used for the activity it is rated for and never use belay techniques which are specific for one kind of rope on another (a single rope for a half or twin belay device or any other combination)

This said, ropes are becoming more and more versatile and many are now double or triple rated for use as twin, half and single.

There are three standards:
  • Ropes Rated for Single Use (1)
    Single ropes are extremely popular, especially for indoor and sport climbing. A single rope is easy to clip onto carabiners and simple to use on sport climbs. Just clip the rope to the anchors as you ascend, following a line that is as straight as possible until you reach the top, where you are then lowered back to the ground.

    The symbol that marks a single rope is a number 1 inside a circle.

    Dynamic ropes are used to belay rock climbers and mountaineers.
    Dynamic elongation (of a fall) during the first fall must be equal to 40% with a weight of 80 kg. Sheath slippage must be under 20mm and the core percentage above 50%. The maximum impact force must be below 12kN with a 1.77 fall factor with an 80kg load. Under the same conditions, static elongation must be under 10%

    It is important that a single rope has a halfway mark, to locate the middle quickly when preparing a rappel.

    Rope with a halfway mark
    hese ropes are sometimes treated for greater abrasion-resistance against sharp edges or for water resistance, depending on what they are used for. Sport climbers don’t usually climb in wet weather or on wet walls, and if you tend to climb in very dry areas, water-repellency treatment is probably unnecessary. If you climb hard grades with overhangs, you may not want a rope treated for abrasion-resistance against sharp edges.


    • Core: the heart or inner section of the rope. It is not visible and is made of thousands of filaments that guarantee approx. 70 to 85% general strength of the rope. Depending on the rope, it can be made with different filaments: parallel filaments for static rope, twisted filaments for dynamic rope.

    • Sheath: outer part. This protects the core from the elements, abrasion, etc. and provides 25 to 30% rope strength.
    The greater the diameter, the safer the rope, but this will also be heavier and more difficult to manage. Nowadays, single rated ropes are available with a narrower diameter, but each climber has to decide on which combination of weight-safety-durability is most suitable for his/her situation. As a precaution, climbers weighing over 80kg should avoid using the narrowest ropes because these ropes resist a lower number of falls.

    Another important factor to consider when choosing a rope is that the diameter must be compatible and certified for your belay device.

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