Climbing rope – the essential beginners guide

The subject of climbing rope can be pretty bewildering, but knowing how to select and care for this essential piece of climbing equipment should be high on every climbers list.

Here’s my simple breakdown of the basic categories of rope, how and when to use them, and how to look after them.

3 main categories of climbing rope

Climbing ropes can essentially be grouped into 3 main categories:

  1. Single rope – Single ropes are exactly that, a single rope, identified by a 1 in a circle. They are usually 10 or 11mm in diameter and are mostly used for sport climbing and smaller trad climbing routes.The primary advantages of single ropes is that they are easy to handle for both the climber and the belayer, and they are generally less expensive than twin or half ropes. When climbing with a single rope you should always aim to climb routes up to a half rope length in height, so at any point of the climb you can safely lower off.
  2. Twin ropes – Twin ropes are denoted by two overlapping circles, and come in diameters from 7.5 – 8.5mm. They can only be used in pairs, and both ropes are clipped into each piece of protection, as you would with a single rope.The advantages of using twin ropes is that they offer an extra margin of safety where shock loading over a sharp edge is possible. They also offer full length abseils, making them ideal for difficult routes where you may want to bail out.
  3. Half (Double) ropes – Half ropes are identified by a 1/2 in a circle. They are always used in pairs, which is why they are often referred to as double ropes. Half ropes come in diameters from 8 – 9mm.When using them, you can choose between using the same technique as you would with twin ropes or clipping independently on your left and right into different pieces of protection. Clipping independently is ideal for meandering routes where rope drag would start to become an issue with a single rope, as each rope passes through fewer quick-draws.Half ropes require extra care from both the climber, (who must take care not to get them twisted together), and the belayer (who needs to belay each rope independently). Half ropes are ideal for big mountain routes, and can be much lighter to carry in, as they can be split between 2 climbers.

Taking care of your climbing rope

Your rope will probably be your single most expensive piece of kit. It is also responsible for preventing you from making contact with the ground if you fall off, so learn to love your climbing rope and take good care of it.

Regular health checks

Periodically check your rope. Run it slowly through your hands and feel for any bulges, thinning, hard spots or obvious damage. If you are in any doubt whatsoever, take the rope along to your nearest climbing shop and ask them for some advice.

Coiling climbing rope – how to?

For carrying and storing your rope, you need to learn how to coil it properly, don’t just loop it. One useful technique is called the butterfly coil, here’s how to do it:

  1. Find the middle of the rope (most ropes are marked in the middle). If preferred you can start with the ends.
  2. Hold the middle part of the rope in one hand, down by your side and pass the doubled rope across the back of your neck with the other hand, until it reaches your other side, and is hanging down in front of you at hand level.
  3. Let go of the hand holding the middle of the rope and pull the doubled up rope across the back of your neck in the opposite direction, while holding the first coil by your side with your other hand. You should have coils of rope hanging at equal levels either side of you.
  4. Repeat until you have about 4 metres of rope left.
  5. Here’s the tricky part. Carefully lift the rope from the back of your neck onto one of your forearms, so the coils hang down either side.
  6. Take the remaining doubled rope in your other hand and wrap it around the 2 coils, near the top so that it kind of traps your forearm (not to tightly of course), wrap it a couple of times around.
  7. Take your forearm out of the loop you have created and pass a bight of the doubled rope remaining through it. Then pass the ends of the doubled rope though the bight to hold it all in place. You can pass it round and through a couple of times to put the rope away for storage, or you can carry the rope on your back; separate the two ends and pull the rope up against the back of your neck, pull the two ends over your shoulders and then under your arms and round the back of the rope, wrap them in opposite directions around your body and tie in an overhand knot around your waist.

Washing

Whether you use it inside or outside, eventually your rope will get dirty. We tend to wipe ours regularly with a damp cloth to prevent dirt from building up. You can wash your rope by either; washing it by hand in your bath or putting it in the washing machine (yes really) on a wool / delicates program. Use a mild synthetic detergent. To dry it; lay it out in a cool, dark place. Don’t hang it up and never put it in a tumble dryer.

Storage

It’s best to store your rope in a cool dark place, ideally in your climbing or rope bag.

If you have any climbing rope tips or advice, please drop me a comment below. Oh hell, drop me a comment anyway, I would love to hear from you!