12th December 2017
Purchase, Care and Maintenance of Ropes
Theis is a simple introductory explanation about what can be a highly technical subject; so please don't interpret everything here as the final word - it's just our opinion distilled as a summary.
Types of Rope
There are two types of rope generally used for climbing and outdoor type activities:
1. Dynamic rope- this is what you need for climbing. The rope is stretchy, so that when you fall a lot of the shock is absorbed by the stretch. To help visualise how a non-stretchy rope would be no use, imagine bungee jumping on a steel cable - what would happen when you stopped? You'd snap, as none of the force would be gradually taken up by the rope!
Therefore the stretch of the rope is a good thing, but you must also be aware of the stretch when thinking, for example, 'would I hit the ground from here?'...
Dynamic rope has a 'core' (the white bit in the middle) and a 'sheath' - the coloured bit on the outside that holds the rope together and prevents wear. It is essential that both of these parts of the rope are in good condition, as they work together to give the rope its dynamic properties.
2. 'Static' rope - this isn't actually static at all, but is very low stretch rope. In technical terms it's called 'semi-static' rope, but as that's not quite so easy to say, people use 'static' as shorthand. This is used for abseiling, tyrolean traverses for groups and setting up climbs for groups at the top of the rocks. Therefore nearly all purchasers of 'static' rope are groups, people working with the ropes or instructors. 'Static' is cheaper, but for the reasons described above you should never use it for climbing.
3. Accessory cord - the small bits of cord that look very much like rope. The only reason we've mentioned these is to clarify that, because of how they're made (see next section), you should never use them in place of rope, even if you think they look almost as thick.They are for specific non-critical purposes only.
How is rope made?
Basically in a big machine with woven strands of plastic. The only important thing we need to know about the process is that climbing rope has no 'joins' inside it - the machine produces rope for kilometres until it stops, and there's never a point when one strand runs out and they tie a new one on This is what they do with accessory cord - when one strand runs out of material, there's a join (weak point) inside where they tie a new one on. This is a ridiculous simplification, but illustrates the point that accessory cord is completely different.
This video is a bit of an advert for Sterling Ropes, but it does have some good footage on how the process works.
Rope maintenance and storage
Easily the most common question we get is, 'How long can I keep my rope?' The simple answer is that you can use it for as long as the manufacturer says you can. Most people throw away the card that comes with every rope, but this contains essential information- a typical time frame would be from a year of intensive use up to 5 years of occasional use, but most importantly the condition of the rope must be checked every time you climb. Is it frayed? Can you feel any kinks inside the rope? Is the sheath worn or glazed anywhere? If so, you would be best advised to stop using the rope and get it checked. It is always tempting to think of saving money, but in this case your life or health could depend on it - so use your common sense! Nowadays of course the card has been superseded by internet tracing, so look up your rope's provenance and instructions on the Internet.
Cases of climbing ropes simply breaking, no matter how old, without misuse are rare to unheard of. Rope nearly always breaks only because it runs over a sharp edge, is frayed, etc. - so using a rope correctly is by far the most important factor.
REI, a large outdoor chain in the USA, have some good advice pages. Try: https://www.rei.com/
DMM have a rope care guide at: https://dmmclimbing.com/
For matters concerning the care and maintenance of all climbing gear we refer you to the British Mountaineering Council, whose website at www.thebmc.co.uk contains a lot of useful information. They also publish there a downloadable free booklet at: http://www.thebmc.co.uk/