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I've lent my friend a five year old single climbing rope for a garden project. It was in meticulous condition until then.

Instead of a weekend it took him more like six weeks to complete his project to fix a leaking roof of a hut in a valley.

However, the rope got dirty and wet in typical central European autumn conditions. So not too much UV ingress. Unfortunately, it was not stored properly and stayed outdoors for the whole time.

The sheath and the core seem to have sustained no damage at all. Only some stains are to be seen.

How do I tell if the rope is still safe to be used (for sports climbing)?

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  • 15
    I'd be replacing a five year old climbing rope no matter the superficial condition.
    – Darren
    Dec 8, 2022 at 17:52
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    To put Darren's comment into context: Manufacturers specify about ten years lifetime if the rope is never used. Using a 5 year old rope regularly is not a great idea even if it were stored perfectly.
    – Voo
    Dec 9, 2022 at 10:48
  • 3
    "I have always been told that if you are not sure a climbing rope is safe it is deemed unsafe" Taken to a logical conclusion this would mean that no rope is ever safe.
    – bdsl
    Dec 10, 2022 at 19:34
  • @bdsl, not true, if you buy a rope from a good company and store and use it following instructions, know what happened every time you used it and so on, you can trust the rope to be safe within the limits the company set for it.
    – Willeke
    Dec 12, 2022 at 21:13
  • @Willeke OK. I was thinking that there's always some marginal range where you're not sure that a rope is safe or not. Applying the rule everything within the range is unsafe. But then the margin has it's own margin.
    – bdsl
    Dec 12, 2022 at 22:15

4 Answers 4

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I have always been told that if you are not sure a climbing rope is safe it is deemed unsafe and should be discarded, and many people do it in such way it can never be used for climbing anymore.

You know this rope has been left out in bad weather and got dirty.

Either see this as an expensive lesson never to let your climbing rope be used for building activities or claim the cost of replacement (minus devaluation for age) from your friend.
That might be a smaller bill than you expect as climbing rope needs regular replacement even when used proper.

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  • 22
    Better to be wrong and out a few bucks than wrong and dead!
    – user12250
    Dec 8, 2022 at 17:44
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    "many people do it in such way it can never be used for climbing anymore". This is definitely standard practice. Typically at a minimum the rope should be cut up into lengths too short for practical climbing (think 5-10m pieces). These smaller pieces can be used for art projects, or consider talking to your local gym and see if they want the scrap for teaching mock leading.
    – noah
    Dec 8, 2022 at 19:46
  • 10
    "minus devaluation for age" at 5 years means minus 100%.
    – fraxinus
    Dec 9, 2022 at 5:36
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    Better safe then… dead I guess! Told my friend that it has been basically my bad, that I‘ve should have told him how to handle it properly. Told him to consider to pay what he would consider a fair compensation. Worked out fine ultimately. Thank you for backing my gut feeling about it. Dec 15, 2022 at 20:48
  • Some people even advocate the mindset: Never lend your climbing rope! Apr 18, 2023 at 9:30
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You should replace your rope. 5 years is a long time for a climbing rope. 6 weeks of daily use in wet conditions (especially if it's a not a dry treated rope) is a fair amount of stress for an old rope. Storing a rope outside for 6 weeks, regardless of how cloudy, is a lot of exposure. Arguably an unacceptable level for a brand new rope even. Even if it wasn't for this 6 week stint I'd probably recommend consider replacing the rope soon due to its age.

Make sure to responsibly retire your rope. This means it should at least be cut up so it can't be practically used for climbing again.

See below table based on data from Mammut and the British Mountaineering Council. Also see Edelrid's very similar advice. You can learn a bit more about Mammut's extensive testing beyond the CE requirements on the Hard Is Easy YouTube channel. For example, this video on soft/fuzzy ropes.

Approx. Lifespan    |  Frequency of use
In Years            |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
10 years            | Maximum lifespan of a rope that is never used (shelf life)
Up to 7 years       | Used rarely - roughly twice per year.
Up to 5 years       | Occasional use - once per month.
Up to 3 years       | Used regularly - several times per month.
Up to 1 year        | Frequent use - once a week.
Less than 1 year    | Constant use - almost daily.
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8

I searched for the source of the chart posted by Noah (hoping to find a somewhat better quality version) and found this excellent page How Many Years Does a Climbing Rope Last? .

The article is well worthwhile overall, but one factor mentioned seems to relate well to your friend's described usage.

They discuss several areas of degradation.
One which may not be intuitive is "While a heavily used rope will likely not break, its ability to absorb the force of a fall is significantly less than a new rope"

Based on the following chart alone, it seems very likely that your rope has exceeded its "maximum number of pitches" equivalent.


Added from my comment below:

Deceleration in Gs = Fall_distance/arrest_distance.
So, if you fall 10 metres and arrest in 2 that's 10/2 = 5G.
Heavy but bearable.

Fall 10 and arrest in 1/2 metre (little stretch) = 20G.
Very nasty.

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  • 3
    Full size of my graphic is available here: blog.weighmyrack.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/… From source: blog.weighmyrack.com/lifespan-of-a-climbing-rope-when-to-retire I figured a smaller embed would make page less cluttered and would be enough to get the idea across.
    – noah
    Dec 9, 2022 at 0:32
  • How important is it for the rope to absorb the force of the fall? My understanding is that it's somewhat less comfortable to climb with a fully rigid rope but not necessarily dangerous? Dec 9, 2022 at 21:27
  • 4
    @JonathanReez Having a fall arrested by a rigid rope is not too different from having it arrested by landing on a hard surface (e.g., the ground) -- all the strain of deceleration is borne by the person's body. Ropes are used with lengths for which a fall to a surface would result in broken bones or worse. The ability of the rope to stretch and decelerate the user gradually is essential. In the extreme, note that execution by hanging, done according to protocol, occurs not by strangulation but by breaking the neck with a rigid rope and a fall of only a couple of meters.
    – nanoman
    Dec 9, 2022 at 22:54
  • Deceleration in Gs = Fall_distance/arrest_distance. So, if you fall 10 metres and arrest in 2 that's 10/2 = 5G. Heany but bearable. Fall 10 and attest in 1/2 metre (little stretch) = 20G. Very nasty. Dec 10, 2022 at 11:09
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Just have a look at one of the the countless guides out there or if you prefer visual media, have a look at one of these.

Basically run down the length of the rope and check for irregularities.

How was the rope used? Holding up beams and stretching the rope to the maximum flex for a long time? Did your friend fall off the roof a lot while tied in with the rope? Stored in a spill of roofing tar?

Climbing ropes usually break because of stress and friction. If its water and dirt you are worried about, a rope can take it if was in good condition before. It doesn't help with longevity but doesn't immediately break it either. Give it a wash (don't tumble dry) and check like one of the above guides explained.

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