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I just started rock climbing recently. I don't have any gear of my own and the first thing I wanted to get was a rope. There are various ropes of different prices. What should I look for when buying a climbing rope? I understand that I'm not supposed to get used rope since it can be hard to tell what it's been through (factor-2 falls, exposure to harmful elements, etc). I'm asking what features are important for a good climbing rope and what features are just marketing or only applicable to extreme climbing cases.

I'm starting out doing some single pitch bolted routes. No trad climbing yet since I don't have any gear of my own yet and it will take a while for me to piece together what I need, so it's one piece at a time. Don't worry, I'm not going to get the rope and think I can climb without the harness, belay device, shoes, etc. I just wanted some perspective because there are tons of different ropes with different features.

Edit: By the way, I won't be doing any ice climbing or climbing in alpine terrain. I've never even seen the snow in person!

  • I know this is way too late for you, but I bought a rope as my first piece of gear and I regretted it. It is much better to buy shoes, and a harness before you buy a rope. – Erik Jul 27 '17 at 19:01
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I have always found much help from people at outdoor outfitters that specialize in equipment (REI is my favorite, and I recommend the store if there is one near you)

Also I like this site at REI on choosing a climbing rope and I consult it for the different purposes ropes have. It will help you determine what you need for your specific plans (Top roping, sport routes, etc). It also gives great information about the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme) rating system i.e. how many falls each type of rope can handle.

Here's two questions from the FAQ on that site that are relevant to your question:

Q: Is there one rope that will fit all my needs?

A: While it is true there are many specialty ropes out there, if you are looking for one rope that you can get the most from, think about a single rope between 9.8 and 10.2mm and 60 or 70 meters long.

Q: I am on a budget. How can I limit the cost but still get what I need?

A: If you are sport climbing, consider buying a rope that is not dry treated. Yes, it is true a wet rope is actually weakened. But if it rains when you are sport climbing, you are probably just going to pull your rope and go home. A wet rope will regain all of its original characteristics once dry.

Always do your research, read books, talk to lots of people, and practice! There is a lot to know, but the information is also readily available. Rock climbing really is a great hobby.

  • While there is nothing against a good specialized outdoor salesperson, I wouldn't in general recommend getting your recommendation from there. They obviously want to make money and often have more knowledge on specs than actual performance in the field. So unless you know that the salesperson is active (at least as in frequents climbing communities if not climbing himself) I would go with the recommendation from someone with actual experience in the field (just beware of people being sponsored). You won't get one single answer, but there is more practically relevant insides to be gained. – imsodin Mar 28 '17 at 9:08
  • @imsodin REI in particular staffs their departments with people who have field experience in that department. I have always felt comfortable, and never pressured, asking for personal recommendations from REI staff because I know they've been there (and if the person you're talking to doesn't climb, there's another staffer nearby who does). That said, second opinions are useful and asking around at the local climbing gym will also give you plenty of other options to consider. – Dan A. Mar 28 '17 at 17:43
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As @whatsisname commented, the first thing to do is get your gear. Read this question for some useful tips.

Then you need to decide on what type of rope you need based on what you want to do. Read this question on mountaineering vs rock climbing as an example.

Read this question on fall ratings on ropes and this one on rope diameters, as there is a lot of good information in the answers on them both.

Sorry that's a lot of links, but I think the answers are there, just not in one place.

  • By the way, thanks for linking that question about beginner equipment. It's a great start. They don't mention anything about ropes, though. The two questions about rope diameter and fall ratings are really good as well. I was mainly asking because there's still a lot of variation between ropes. I want a good, solid rope but don't want to spend for features I'll never need. – GorrillaMcD Nov 27 '12 at 16:21
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Since this is your first rope and you're mostly doing single-pitch sport climbing, I would recommend you look for just a few simple things:

  • Dynamic rope: This is absolutely a requirement since you will be leading
  • 60m rope: This length will get you 99% of places.
  • diameter around 10mm: Do not go below 9.8mm (not as robust) or much higher than 10.2mm (harder to belay). 10mm is a great starting diameter, and will survive top-roping better than a thin rope.
  • A known brand: Ropes are one place you don't want to skimp.
  • A new rope: Not knowing a rope's history is bad news.

Don't worry about dry treatment or any of that other stuff (you will obsess about it for your second rope, promise!). Retailers often have sales on ropes, that would be a great place to start looking.

Other than that, make sure you know what you're doing (or get instruction), and take care of the rope well, and you're all set.

  • Diameter has nothing to do with robustness. I recently climbed with a 9.1 mm single rope (Beal Joker) and it was a real treat. However, diameter has to do with dynamicity; basically, thinner ropes are more elastic and require more experience for belaying. – Régis B. Mar 28 '17 at 8:01
  • @RégisB. I don't entirely agree with your statement. The most important factor for robustness is the sheath. So it is theoretically possible that a thin rope has the same sheath as a thicker one, but I doubt that's the case all the time. By making a rope smaller and lighter there are certainly compromises involved. Also bending diameter over an edge is a factor reducing the rope's strength and the bending diameter is smaller by design in thinner ropes. – imsodin Mar 28 '17 at 9:21
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A 60m, 10mm rope will get you 99% of places in some countries, including US, Brazil and, I think, UK. In Europe (France, Spain, Italy, for example) a 60m rope will only allow you to climb about ~80% of single pitch routes . There are many 40m-routes, so the standard single-pitch rope length here in France is 80m. And you will almost never find anyone in their right mind climbing a multi-pitch route, trad or sports, with a single rope. Most of the time, rappels are over 30m, and pretty often over 40m, so we use two 40m or 50m half ("double") ropes, clipped alternatively.

So if you ever travel to Europe, I would recommend to bring a 60m, 9.8-10.2mm single rope as well as a 2x50m, 8.1-8.3mm half rope. Look for durability over technicity when shopping.

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