Why Are Climbing Ropes Like Apples?

They both go well with Saucy Tarts.

Actually, they are both basically commodities. Homogeneous, interchangeable products with little difference between the item from one apple orchard (or rope weaver) to the next. Anyone who tells you that a certain climbing rope is "the best" or far superior (or inferior) to others is probably obligated to have that viewpoint by dint of employment for a rope company, or free ropes provided by a given company. And as ropes are both expensive and expendable, they make up a pretty significant cost for climbers.

The veteran climbers I know think a rope is a rope is a rope. Determine what length and width you want, and buy the cheapest one you can find. Has there ever been a route or peak that was climbed because the rope was a 9.4mm Bluewater, not a 9.4mm PMI? Sure Chris sent with a Sterling, and said it made a difference, but I have my doubts. One could make the same case about jackets, gloves, carabiners, etc but the difference among equally-sized ropes is far less than any other type of equipment. I've used ropes from just about all the mainstream manufacturers, and can't really notice any overall differences in handling or durability. If the labels were removed and I was belaying blindly, I have NO confidence that I would be able to tell one from the other or would consistently prefer the ropes of a single manufacturer. And just like I've never had one fuji apple that was much worse (or better) than any other, I've never used a 10.2mm climbing rope that felt, or lasted, much differently than the others. Do all these companies use the same rope-weaving machines in the first place?

Ignoring brands is not to say that different rope types don't matter. If I'm eating a snack and want to cover my apple slices in peanut butter, I'm going to choose a different type of apple than I would for making a pie. In this way, I'd choose a different length and width of rope (or different rope system) for a climb depending on its length, ice vs rock, descent, number of climbers, approach, etc. But once I settle on which length and width I'll need, I'm basically interested in price.

There are a few other small differences, but none which I think are worth paying a whole lot more for:

  • Dry coatings are somewhat helpful, but don't bother paying for one if just using your rope for rock climbing during nice weather. That's probably 90% of users. Likewise, no dry coating is going to keep your rope from getting saturated in this kind of rappel.

  • Light-colored ropes show up well in photos and maintain a sharper contrast to their middle mark.
  • Middle marks are very useful. But if that on-sale rope doesn't have one, then use a sharpie or sew dental floss through the sheath rather than paying an extra $20.
  • Bi-Pattern ropes (changing color at the halfway point) are handy if you want to tie into both ends and use a single rope with half-rope technique, however...
  • Finding the middle point (color change location) on a Bi-Pattern rope piled on a belay ledge or rope tarp is a huge pain, and actually takes way longer than finding the middle point when this spot is marked on a one-pattern rope.
  • If you're about to make multiple rappels on a rope with a bad middle mark, grab a band-aid, a piece of tape, or some chalk, and mark the middle. These will last through a surprising number of rappels.
  • Metolius/Monster ropes sew two pieces of orange floss through the rope's middle, and one 10m from each end. You can see and feel these. Smart...
  • Some folks want a low impact force in order to minimize the potential for marginal gear pulling from the rock/ice. I've never paid much attention to these, maybe just because I'm not brave enough to climb routes with high fall-factor potential on very dicey gear. If in these situations, I think using a screamer and having an attentive/dynamic belayer would help just as much as using a rope with a lower impact force.
I'm curious if anyone really does think certain ropes brands are better or worse than others. As for now, I'll stick with whatever is on sale. And remember, the best rope to use is always your partner's. Happy rope buying!


  1. Son give it a few more years and you will be able to tell the
    difference between certain rope manufacturers. That's not to say I
    could close my eyes and pick correctly everytime which brand rope I
    was given, but I bet I could get a few right. Cut the ends off and
    let me do an open eyed test and I bet I'd be at over 80%.

    I've learnt over the years which manufactures make a bouncy rope and
    which ones make a cable and who make a stiff sheath and who makes a
    soft one. These detail maybe aren't that important to everyone but
    after years of guiding, taking whippers, big walling and sport
    climbing I've learnt to choose different characteristics for different
    adventures. A soft sheethed rope is way easier on the shoulders if
    you are guiding alot. It's just as important rope diameter. Even on
    really long climbs the reduced energy spent pulling rope through an
    atc guide is noticable. Go pull 1000ft of a Beal rope through an Atc
    guide and then do the same with and Edelweiss. But then on the flip
    side go jug a 1000ft on the Beal and then an Edelweiss. You will
    watch that bouncy Beal with the soft sheath and be gripped and be
    loving the Edelweiss.

    One day you will tie into a rope with a compatent belayer and get a
    good catch but it will feel like you fell onto a cable. And then you
    will fall again and it will feel even more like a cable. This will
    happen a few more times and you will realize not all ropes are created
    equal. Go tie into a Beal rope ( generally a really low impact force)
    and take some whippers and then go tie into a New England rope. Your
    back will notice the difference.

    And I've found only one rope better than my partners rope and that is
    my girlfriends rope.

  2. Ha, thanks Mikey. Maybe I just use one rope until it is dead and gone, then move on to another one, so I don't have a really good day-to-day comparison between 2 or 3 or 4 brands back-to-back. I think the pink rope you got from me from in El Chalten is a beal, gonna be nice and smooth for those whippers when you get back and head up Royal Flush.

  3. Some brands certainly handle better or worse than other fruits in the grocery. That is, some ropes seem to be constructed so stiff as to resemble wire cable. So there are certain brands that I stray away from. The 2008 Petzl models were a good example of this, but supposedly this has been addressed in the 2009 models.

    And I'll disagree with you about mid marks. I had a near miss last year when I mistook a dirty spot on the rope for the faded mid mark (it was certainly my mistake - it was cold, windy, and we were rushing to get down). But it did make me a huge believer that unmistakable mid-marks are invaluable. That, or nothing at all.

  4. Do you think this will hurt your chances of getting sponsored by a rope company?

  5. Rad,

    Your comment implies that 'said chances' exist. Check your premise.


    I think we actually agree here about bad mid marks being a huge PITA. Old/faded ones are annoying, and as I pull my rope through the anchor, I always convince myself "oh yeah, that little clump of mud and GU must be the mid mark." When, of course, it is not.

    Ropes that are already dark-colored, and then apply a subtle (and fading) mid mark, shouldn't even bother. This is where using a sharpie to maintain a distinct black mark is a good idea. It's easy to pick out the mid-point on a bipattern rope as you are pulling it through the anchor, but much harder if you are just standing there with the rope piled up at your feet. Unless the process adds a lot of time or money to the manufacturing of ropes, I predict all the companies will switch to a bright piece of floss sewn through. You can feel it, see it, and it's easy to pick out while the rope is piled up or while it's being pulled from a higher anchor.

    One trick that I have used more times than you'd imagine, is estimating the middle mark by arm-lengths. I know that if I pull out 18 arm-lengths of rope, this will be very close to 30m. For raps in the dark, on with un-marked ropes, or when exact symmetry is not required, it works very well and saves time.

  6. Here's le storie I told you about the other day: