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A few years ago I, er… a friend of mine, put up a rope swing in a nearby park. It's in a large eucalyptus, about 25 metres high, and is much loved by many local kids – and parents.

Originaly I just used super cheap polypropylene rope (I think it was polypropylene, it was that cheap, hard, twisted stuff sold in hardware stores for general utility) with an eye splice forming a slip-knot around the branch. The splice has held up well, but the rope started to deteriorate to the point where it is fraying, so I had to cut it down.

Since then I've been seeing kids and parents turn up to the "swing tree", look up at the cut-off end of the rope and walk away in disappointment. And it's Summer holiday time here, so I need to replace it.

So, can anyone recommend what sort for rope I should use? Selection criteria are:

  • Durability - It's out in the weather all day long, Winter (mild, never freezes) and Summer (can be blazing hot)
  • Enough strength to support an adult swinging from it; and lastly,
  • affordability - While it doesn't have to be super cheap, it could get cut down by the council or some grump (I did have a problem with it getting cut off at head height by some unknown person for a while, there's a few grumpy old Boo Radleys around), so I'm not going to use proper climbing rope or anything.

Also, any suggestions for better ways to attach it to the branch would be good. I'm thinking this time of having a stopper knot below the loop, so that it doesn't cinch on the branch, and maybe adding a sleeve of some flexible tubing to avoid rubbing on the tree.

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    6 mm perlon cord is cheap and should work. – Ben Crowell Dec 29 '14 at 17:38
  • Perlon is roughly equivalent to nylon is it not? – stib Jan 2 '15 at 11:03
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I think it was polypropylene, it was that cheap, hard, twisted stuff sold in hardware stores for general utility

You may find a larger hardware store sells a wider quality spectrum of plastic-based ropes. Your best bet will be to browse stores until you find something that seems well-made, at a price you're willing to pay. Hemp rope is an old classic, but can rot over time (confirmed by Wikipedia). Manilla rope is supposed to be resistant to rot, but you may find it prohibitively expensive.

As far as specific rope, the cheapest durable rope I've found was marketed as "anchor rope" for small boats. It had an incredibly high rated breaking strength, and was a reasonable price for a 100 foot spool. It was a little small for good hand-gripping, but you could solve that with knots. I found this particular spool in Wal Mart, but your local stores may carry something similar.

For fastening, a clove hitch will probably cinch less than a slipknot, but could shift around the branch. A bowline won't cinch at all, but will rotate around the branch, possibly abrading the rope and the branch. My go-to knot for this kind of thing is two half hitches - which will cinch down, but will keep the rope fixed relative to the branch.

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    The reason I used an eye splice as a slip knot is that the tree branch is about 25m in the air, with no lower branches, so it's impossible to climb. I threw a fishing line over the branch, used that to haul up the end of the rope, and threaded it down through the eye forming a slip knot which I then closed on the branch. This also has the advantage that the splice made the rope thicker over the branch. I see what you mean about a loose loop rubbing on the branch, that would probably be bad. Since the system I used worked well, maybe I'll stick with it. – stib Jan 3 '15 at 1:08
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    IMHO hemp rope is easier to grip for a swing, especially if it reasonably thin. Although lifetime may be an issue depending on environment. – nivag Jan 5 '15 at 9:38
  • @stib that's a pretty ingenious way to get it hitched when it's out of reach. I think you could tie half hitches in a similar fashion if you want to - if you don't have an eye splice, you could thread the rope through a set of two loops instead. But like you said - if it worked well, stick with it! – John Walthour Jan 5 '15 at 13:44
  • I would also like to mention a Buntline hitch as another knot that will cinch down and be secure. It is my go-to knot for things like this. – g19fanatic Jan 5 '15 at 15:01
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    I won't lie: part of the reason I used an eye splice is that I like tying eye splices. – stib Sep 15 '17 at 7:55
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Providing you're not setting this up too high, a good cheap alternative is to pop down your local climbing wall and ask if they have any old rope. Climbing walls throw out rope all the time. Depending on how friendly you are with them you might just get several tens of meters for free! It's not safe for climbing on any more, but it should be adequate for a swing and if/when it breaks you can just go back for more!

Bear in mind it will likely stretch quite a bit, but this shouldn't be too much of an issue for a swing.

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    Interesting suggestion, but I'd say the stretch on the dynamic rope they use at my local climbing gym is probably too much for a swing. And knowing the owner, he might be loathe to give people unsafe rope, just in case they try to use it for climbing. – stib Jun 13 '18 at 13:55
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    My local wall gives it away. They make a point of stating that it "should not be climbed with at all". I do appreciate the stretch might not be ideal but providing you allow for it (make the swing shorter than you need it to be) it should be ok. Just an idea TBH – user2766 Jun 13 '18 at 13:58
  • Certainly a good source of rope that I hadn't considered. I'll give it a try, but I think my local gym owner is a bit more risk-averse. I wouldn't be surprised if he chops it up. – stib Jun 14 '18 at 0:40
  • some ropes used in climbing gyms as top ropes are actually static, and do not strech much, maybe you can get one of those? – april rain Jun 14 '18 at 8:36
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    Caving rope is probably better - less stretchy, and happier about being loaded when soaked. Caving clubs retire ropes just as climbing walls do. Some of the other suggestions are better though (most kernmantel ropes don't enjoy kids spinning instead of swinging). – Toby Speight Jun 19 '18 at 14:11
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I have been doing quite a bit a research on rope as I am nearing the completion of my magnificent 40 foot tree swing project. in all that I have gathered from seemingly knowledgeable sources...braided polyester is what you want, for durability, and non-stretch. After that it seems the fallback would be a natural rope fibre requiring replacement at least every 2 years, and inspection more frequently.

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I'd go with either polyester rope or Dyneema cord. Both are resistant to UV and neither rot nor stretch. Dyneema has superior wear resistance and is much stronger by weight, but is probably more expensive. Maybe have a look at an (online) marine store.

Other yarns such as polyamide (nylon), polypropylene, etc. tend to have inferior UV resistance.

I'd try to completely avoid knots, as they weaken the rope by at least 50% what in turn forces you to buy heavier and more expensive stuff. Just attaching a handle and the branch by eye splice as you did before, 1/8 in resp. 4mm dyneema should definitely be enough, holding more than 1000kg.

Here's a sample manufacturer, but you may want to look for an Australian rope maker that uses Dyneema fibers: http://www.samsonrope.com/Pages/Product.aspx?ProductID=872

The thinner cord might also help in terms of not being removed by local authorities...

  • Knots weaken rope, but there aren't many that weaken it by 50%. A square knot weakens the rope by more than 50%, but there is no need to use that one since there are better alternatives. All the other knots that have breaking strength listed in Freedom of the Hills reduce it by at most 40%. – Qudit Jun 13 '18 at 3:44
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My first reaction is Hempex, which looks like and feels like traditional hemp rope, but is made of polypropylene. Or of course the same kind of rope from other manufacturers. It is widely available in several sizes, not cheap but long lasting.

It has the advantage of being easy to splice to get your eye, holds knots well and is water and rot proof (at least more than hemp rope.)

It is not a climbing type rope but a ship type rope and is used extensively there. The unspecified polypropylene rope mentioned in one of the other answers may as well be hempex, but can be one of several other kinds.

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If you live anywhere near an ocean harbor, there's not a better rope for a swing than good old 3" halyard, double braided nylon (mooring lines for ships) Search the yard to find a pile of it coiled up and then ask around for permission to take it. Even a river docking will have it. We always put a big knot at the bottom and then single half hitches spaced up the line a few feet apart. Sometimes we would have every knot occupied and then all drop at once into the bayou. Amazing we never got killed or hurt.

  • I like the mental picture of turning up to the harbour and asking an old salt if I can have some old rope, as well as a bunch of kids swinging into the bayou on it. But I'm not sure if it will work at my local container port, I don't think they let people anywhere near it these days. – stib Oct 29 '18 at 3:10
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For a rope swing I'd recommend polypropylene. It's pretty durable, UV resistand and won't rot from water outside. It's also pretty soft. We bought a couple swings for our daughters from https://treeswingstore.com/kidstreeswings/ and they had poly rope. Turned out to be pretty soft. We hand't really thought about it before hand so I gues we were lucky.

  • I would advice against polypropylene ropes. For one I haven't seen any climbing-ropes (i.e. normed dynamic kern-mantle ropes) made from PP and for the other it is less UV and friction resistant. – imsodin Sep 13 '17 at 21:02
  • We're not looking for a climbing rope, we're looking for a swinging rope. – Beanluc Jun 15 '18 at 22:59
  • Polypropylene is pretty unpleasant on the hands when sliding (e.g. as you are falling off the swing). Perhaps okay for a two-rope swing, but tree swings are normally single-rope. – Toby Speight Jun 19 '18 at 14:13

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