A climbing rope is an asset. That it eventually breaks is thus inevitable. But you can do a lot to prolong the life of your climbing rope, by following a few tips.
In this article, we explain what you can do to reduce rope wear and maintain and store it properly, so that you can enjoy it for as long as possible. We also explain when your rope’s time is up, and how to recognize it.
How can I reduce rope wear?
The type of weave lets climbing ropes kink. Some start randomly just like signs of old age, whilst others never even start. What all ropes have in common, is that they can all start kinking when you for example roll them into a loop (as is done with cables), or unwind them wrong after purchase. To avoid or delay your rope from kinking, you should repeatedly pull it through the diverter. The rope can thus hang loose. If the lead climber is back on ground, you then need to pull on the loose end and not the end of the belayer. This takes a bit longer, but is much healthier for the rope.
Lowering also puts a lot of pressure on the rope, which is why slow and even lowering is healthier for the rope than fast and jerky lowering. The same principles apply for top rope climbing ropes. If you love top rope climbing, then we recommend a rope with a thick sheath percentage.
Especially frequent falls and route settings are unhealthy for the first 2-4 meters of a rope. Therefore you should swap the ends around every now and then, so that both ends of the rope are equally used and worn.
It is also important not to expose the rope to too much unnecessary sunlight, as then the material becomes brittle.
Actually the worst that your rope can come into contact with are sharp edges. Therefore you should always make sure not to let your rope run over sharp edges, or fall in such a way that the main weight falls on the part of the rope that is on a sharp edge.
What also plays a huge part in rope wear, is the amount of dirt. This is why you have to make sure to keep your rope fairly clean. To start off, you can put your rope into a rope bag. These are nowadays available in many different varieties: for the gym, lightweight, robust, comfortable to wear for long climbs, with a lot of space etc.
- Avoid sharp corners at all costs
- Aim for even lowering
- Rotate rope ends for even wearing
- Repeatedly pull the rope through the diverter
- Keep rope as clean as possible
- Make use of a rope bag
- Do not store in direct sunlight or moist conditions
How to wash your rope correctly
Even if you are extremely careful, your rope will get dirty and rigid during use. In order to get it back to its shiny self, it means only one thing: Washing time! Easiest is to let lukewarm water run into a bathtub and place the rope in large loops into the water. Carefully scrub the rope with synthetic detergent and a soft brush, and dry it in a cool, dark place. Very important: do not hang it, just let it lie.
Note that by washing your rope, coatings (impregnations) from the sheath and lead compounds can be washed out. As such the rope can be more rigid than before and less water repellent. To avoid this, you can only wash those parts with a soft brush and lukewarm water that need a wash, instead of washing your whole rope.
Those that do not want to wash the rope by hand, have the option of putting it into an old pillow case, and washing it in the washing machine. You must choose 30°C and a gentle program (Wool). But note the following! Under no circumstance should you spin or put the rope into the tumble drier!
- Lukewarm water, synthetic detergent, possibly with a special brush
- Maximum 30°C, wool program
- Do not spin
- Do not put in tumble drier!
- Dry lying, not hanging
- Dry in a cool, dark place
- Wait until rope is thoroughly dried
How to store a rope correctly
Similar to the drying procedure after washing, the rope should be stored in cool, dark and dry place, and it should be stored laying, not hanging. If you do not have enough space to let the rope lay down, you should draw wide loops or an accessory cord through the entire rope and hang the rope on it. Do not however only hang the rope on one loop! This will lead to the rope only being weighed down and brittle on that spot.
It is especially important that the rope is not stored near chemicals (gasoline) or acid (car batteries). So that means neither on a battery, nor directly above it. The same applies to UV radiation, as this makes the material porous and will speed up rope wear.
- Store in a cool, dry, dark place.
- Store laying, not hanging.
- If hung up, then not on one loop but many or add an accessory cord.
- Must stay far away from acid, UV radiation or sharp corners!
Checking the rope
A rope should be subjected to regular extensive check ups. How often these checks have to be done, depends on how often the rope is used. Was it used a lot recently, i.e. was it exposed to heavy pressure such as high falls or did the rope run over sharp edges or receive any tears? Then you should definitely check your rope closely.
To do this, you pull meter by meter through your fingers and check tactile as well as visually for thickened and thin spots, or for damages to the sheath. If the rope is a bit roughened, or a few threads stand out, you do not have to replace your rope yet. However if you can see the core of the rope, it is time to act. Our customer service will be glad to help if you have any questions about the check up of your rope.
But even if you do find a spot where the sheath is open or the rope is thin, it does not mean you have to throw away the whole rope. That is, when the rope is damaged on either of the ends and the rest is still in perfect condition. In this case it is enough to cut the rope at a proper distance away from the damaged part. That part should however be flawless. To cut the rope use a rope cutter, and then take a piece of tape, firmly wrap it around the cable end, exactly on the edge. A rope cutter is a kind of soldering iron, which fuses the rope during the cut. Just ask at your climbing gym, they surely have one. If you however do not have a rope cutter, you can also use a very sharp knife. When done cutting, you just use a lighter to melt together the threads (sheath and core), and voila, the „new” old rope is done. Caution with BiColor ropes or those with a center mark: Here it makes sense to cut off an equally long piece on both sides. It is further important to note down how many meters you had to cut off, to make sure the rope is still long enough for a certain route. You can write the length cut off, on the piece of tape you placed on the end of the rope.
- Meter by meter, both visual and tactile check up
- Look out for: Thickened and thin spots, damaged sheath
- If rope is shortened: note down new length, if necessary center mark (here please be aware of the DAV note)
Lifespan of ropes
Every manufacturer gives their own custom specifications regarding their rope’s lifespan. The manufacturers Mammut and Edelrid for example, look at about ten years – if used infrequently. With good treatment and little stress, a rope should hold between three to six years, whilst many falls and frequent use may need you to go buy a new one quite soon and use the old one only for top rope climbing. You should thus strongly take into account the different manufacturer’s specifications.
A rope should definitely be exchanged when:
- It came into contact with chemicals – specifically acids
- You can see the sheath is damaged and the core is showing
- The sheath is extremely used and exceptionally furry
- The sheath has moved a lot from its original position
- The rope is very deformed
- It had to withstand extreme usage (fall factor 1, fall over edge, rockfall, hit with ice axe)
- It is very dirty (tar, oil, grease)
- It has burned spots caused by heat or friction
A good example for orientation with ropes is the “Cable Guide” by Mammut.
And in case you want to build something creative from your old rope, why not make a doormat, a trivet or a purse. Or maybe the kids would love climb in a spider web?
If you have any further questions, our customer service team are happy to help. Reiner is our expert in climbing. You can contact him on weekdays from 10:00 to 16:00 by telephone +49 (0)7121/70 12 0 or by email.
There’s quite a lot happening in the world of climbing and outdoor activities. New products are developed, existing ones are revised or improved and we are learning many new things on a daily basis. And of course, we want to share our knowledge with our customers. Therefore we regularly revise our products in the base camp. So don’t be surprised if a few things have changed after a couple of months. This post was last updated on 17.11.2015.