Few gear items are quite so consequential to the wellbeing of the rock climber as his/her climbing rope. Whenever we hit the rock, only this ‘slender thread’ and a reliable belayer below stand between us and an impromptu landing beside that belayer. In that way, your climbing rope is best viewed as not just another piece of climbing gear but as a curiously shaped best friend and guardian angel while out getting our climb on.
While all climbing ropes are designed to prevent the mild inconveniences that are hospitalization and the Big D, it doesn’t mean that we can just pluck any old rope from the shelves or plump for this season’s sexiest color when it comes to buying. Not at all, in fact… As with any piece of climbing kit, a number of factors need to be weighed up to make sure our rope is the best match for our rock-bound adventures and a reliable climb-time companion for years to come. Below, we’ll take a look at the most significant of these factors and also introduce you to your potential rock and mountain-going besties for 2021.
- The best climbing ropes for 2021
- What to look for in a climbing rope
- Rope types
- Rope diameter
- Rope length
- Dry treatment
Summary of the best climbing ropes
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|Edelrid Tommy Caldwell Pro DuoTec 9.6mm Dry Rope||Crag and multi-pitch climbers||High fall rating||9.6mm||$$$|
|Mammut Infinity Dry Rope||All types of climbing||Handles very well||9.5mm||$$$|
|Black Diamond 9.9 Rope||Gym climbers and beginners||Great value||9.9mm||$|
|Petzl Mambo Rope||Beginners||Very durable||10.1mm||$|
|Sterling Evolution Velocity||Crag and gym climbers||Very durable||9.8mm||$$|
|Maxim Alex Honnold Signature Bi-Pattern Glider Dry Rope||Crag and multi-pitch climbers||Very supple||9.9mm||$$$|
|Beal Opera Unicore GoldenDry||Alpine and multi-pitch climbers||Very lightweight||8.5mm||$$$|
|Blue Water Lightning Pro||Crag climbing||Good value||9.7mm||$$|
The best climbing ropes for 2021
Best for: crag and multi-pitch climbers
A 9.6mm rope with a UIAA 9-fall rating? Sounds pretty good, right? “Good,” to be frank, doesn’t come near to cutting it! With the Tommy Caldwell Pro, Edelrid set out to create a rope capable of withstanding the impact of the big-whippers their illustrious ambassador takes as a matter of course on his everyday big wall adventures. For the rest of us, that translates to a superbly durable, reliable rope that offers almost peerless long-term protection and peace of mind at a reasonably light weight and with the excellent handling you’d expect from a 9.6 mill’ model.
- UIAA 9-fall rating
- Smooth handling
- Very durable
- Abrasion resistant
- Available in cheaper Non-Dry and more expensive 2xDry models
- Overkill for gym use
Best for: all types of climbing
In recent years the Mammut Infinity Dry has become one of the most popular ropes out there for sport climbers, multi-pitch climbers, and gym climbers alike. While much of this is down to the happy-medium 9.5 mill’ diameter, it’s the finer details that make the Infinity Dry stand out above its competitors in its girth and weight class. The most notable of these are its outstanding durability, excellent handling, and solid water resistance. It isn’t the cheapest 70-meter rope on the market, but with a UIAA 6-7-fall rating, dry treatment, and weighing in at only 59 g/m, this is one of the most reliable and versatile all-rounders out there. It is as suitable for short sport routes as it is longer alpine expeditions. A winner for anyone who wants one rope to do it all!
- Handles very well
- Excellent water repellency
- Very durable
- UIAA 6-7-fall rating
- Sheath can lose smoothness over time
Best for: gym climbers and beginners
Newbies or gym climbers working on a budget will be hard pressed to find a rope that packs a performance-to-price ratio quite so favorable as this wallet-friendly wonder. Sure, it only measures 35 meters and has none of the frilly add-ons found on more expensive models (water repellency, Unicore technology, advanced abrasion resistance). But if you’re climbing in a gym with 15-meter walls and unlikely to be taking big whippers every five minutes, then why would you need any more?
The bottom line? Possibly the best climbing rope for beginners and best budget gym climbing rope out there.
- UIAA 6-fall rating
- Ideal for gym climbing (if the routes are under 17 meters!)
- No Unicore technology
- No dry treatment
- Not suitable for outdoor use
- Very short!
Best for: Beginners
With a diameter of 10.1 mm, the Petzl Mambo is a true workhorse of a rope. While it may lack a dry treatment and weigh a fairly ponderous 65 grams per meter, the added girth, bonded core and sheath, and thermal-treated core all equate to added peace of mind, sturdiness, and more secure handling in a belay device. These features also add durability and abrasion resistance, making it the ideal choice for anyone placing toughness over top-end performance.
- A true workhorse
- Can deal with plenty of abuse
- Very durable
- Ideal for beginners
- 10.1 mm inspires confidence but makes rope heavy and bulky
Best for: crag and gym climbers
While not the cheapest 9.8 mill’ rope out there, the Velocity has justifiably been a favorite of crag and gym climbers for many years. The main reason behind its popularity is the Velocity’s ability to withstand epic amounts of abuse and still provide good handling at a reasonable weight. Many would-be buyers are, of course, sure to balk at the price. But whether you’re an absolute beginner or a seasoned veteran, the Velocity does exactly what you need it to do and has proven itself capable of doing it, moreover, in the long run—not a claim that can be made by all sub-10mm ropes.
- Solid abrasion resistance
- Light (62 g/m)
- UIAA 6-fall rating
Best for: crag and multi-pitch climbers
Many prospective buyers may suspect a marketing ruse when coming across a rope bearing the name of a dude who earned his place in the climbing hall of fame precisely because he opts to do his climbing rope-free. Behind the scenes, however, Alex Honnold does his homework, “working” routes just like the rest of us in preparation for the grand finale of free-solo sashays up some of the world’s most notorious big walls.
For us mere mortals undertaking less audacious adventures, the Alex Honnold Signature Bi-Pattern Glider 9.9mm Dry Rope is the ideal climbing companion. It’s durable, light, wonderfully supple, boasts excellent abrasion resistance, and has that all-important feature of water resistance provided by the Endura Dry treatment. As an added bonus, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every rope goes to the Alex Honnold Foundation, which seeks simple, sustainable ways to improve lives around the world.
- Very supple
- 5-7 fall UIAA rating
- A portion of sale proceeds go to the Alex Honnold Foundation
- Endura Dry treatment
- Great abrasion resistance
- 9.5kn impact force
- Just a little on the chunky side for elite sport climbers
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Best for: alpine and multi-pitch climbers
Measuring in at a mere 8.5mm and 48 grams per meter, the Opera Unicore is the lightest and thinnest single rope currently on the market. That diameter may feel just a little on the skinny side for climbers more used to something in the 9.5 mm range, and isn’t something you’d like to try out with a novice belayer. But with a UIAA 5-fall rating and Beal’s simultaneously stiff and supple Unicore technology, this rope is the ideal choice for those who like to move fast and light or who envision using their rope on long alpine routes, glacier crossings, and multi-pitch climbs as opposed to roadside crags.
- Incredibly light
- Good handling
- Toughness comparable to much thicker ropes
- Very supple
- Not ideal for crag climbing
- 8.5mm diameter doesn’t inspire confidence
Best for: crag climbing
Affordable crag ropes don’t get much better than the Blue Water Lightning Pro. This 9.7 mill’ rope is wonderfully supple, boasts a UIAA 8-fall rating, handles very well, and costs almost half of what you can expect to pay for elite models in its diameter range. While this rope is very durable in terms of fall rating, the toughness of the sheath, and bounce of the core, it does tend to turn a little floppy and less rigid after a few outings. This results in more wear at the rope ends where you tie your knots and slightly trickier handling when trying to clip in a hurry.
- Very supple
- UIAA 8-fall rating
- Easy handling
- No middle mark
- Rigidity declines fairly quickly
What to look for in a climbing rope
As single ropes are the most common type used by craggers, gym-climbers, and even a number of trad and multi-pitch climbers, the ropes featured in our review below are all of the single variety.
Although a number of slimmer models have appeared on the market in recent years, single ropes usually measure 9-11 millimeters in diameter and anywhere between 30 and 80 meters in length. Single ropes are tough enough to take a lead fall on their lonesome (not quite so true of half or double ropes) and involve a lot less “handling” than double or half ropes by virtue of halving the amount of rope in use. As such, single ropes are the preferred rope type for the vast majority of climbers not venturing onto long, wandering alpine or multi-pitch routes.
There are, however, a couple of minor drawbacks to using a single rope that should be considered:
- You are likely to get a lot of “drag” on a wandering/indirect route because the rope will be clipped at various angles that restrict its movement.
- You lose length when abseiling because the rope has to be doubled up, thus halving the total meter count.
- You have no “back up” rope should this one happen to catch a nick or be cut through by a crampon or sharp rock.
The diameter of your climbing rope will ordinarily impact directly upon its best use. Most climbing enthusiasts who climb varying types of route, therefore, usually have a selection of ropes in their climbing cupboard:
- a short, non-dry rope for gym climbing
- a chunkier “workhorse” rope for “working” new routes and top roping
- a thinner rope for alpine ascents, redpointing, and projecting routes.
While there are now a few notable exceptions to the rule (see the Beal Opera), the best use for varying diameters of rope are, generally speaking, as follows:
- 8.5mm – 9.3mm (alpine routes, redpointing, multi-pitch climbing)
- 9.4mm – 9.8mm (crag/sport climbing, top roping, multi-pitch climbing)
- 9.9mm – 10.5mm (crag/sport, top roping, gym climbing)
In recent years, 80-meter ropes have become all the rage, mainly owing to the increase in longer sport routes in many popular climbing destinations around the globe. Having an 80-meter model, therefore, opens up or at least simplifies many routes that would be undoable with a shorter rope or else require pitching.
Opting for a longer rope, however, also has its downsides. For starters, it will, of course, set you back a few extra $. Secondly, if you’re working shorter routes it means you’ll be spending a lot of time handling the rope between climbs.
So, what’s the ideal length of rope for me? you might ask.
If you’re a gym climber and the longest routes in your gym are under the 20-meter mark, then the decision is an easy one—save yourself time and effort by shooting for a 40 to 45-meter rope.
If you’re a crag-climber, however, the trend towards ever-longer routes means opting for a 70 or 80-meter rope is a wise decision. It would be hugely frustrating to “rock up” at a new crag and miss out on longer routes because you lack a meter or two of rope. In the long run, moreover, there’s every chance you’ll need to do some trimming of your rope’s ends owing to the wear and tear in the heavy use areas where you tie your knots. This will also end up shaving a few meters off the rope’s overall length.
For multi-pitch climbers, likewise, having those extra few meters is very handy to ensure you’re not caught short on rappels.
For crag, multi-pitch, and alpine climbers, the bottom line with regard to dry-treated ropes is fairly straightforward—if you can afford it, get it! While dry treatments usually add a hefty whack to a rope’s price tag, the benefits are well worth it for outdoor climbers. First up, dry-treated ropes don’t soak up water and grow heavy when wet. Secondly, the treatment adds to longevity by keeping out dirt and grime. Plus it resists abrasion more effectively protecting the rope’s core from the expedited deterioration that comes of taking falls on the rope when wet.
Although there are a few exceptions to the rule, the thinner and shorter your rope, the lighter it will be.
For crag climbers and gym climbers, weight isn’t so crucial a consideration, particularly if you’re parking up close to where you’ll be doing your climbing.
For multi-pitch or alpine climbers, however, every gram has to earn its place in your kit. As such, an 80-meter, 10.5mm rope is likely to be overkill. Or you will have 20-30 meters that are just plain redundant and leave you with an awful lot of extra handling between pitches and added weight on approaches.
From frill-free gym ropes and every-weekend workhorses to top-end all-rounders that are ideal for just about anything you might wish to get up to climbing-wise, in the above review we’ve seen a little bit of everything. The best climbing ropes for your time on the rock will, of course, depend on what you plan on getting up to. Whatever that may be, we’re sure you’ll find at least a handful of ropes perfectly suited to your needs in the selection above.
Happy climbing, peeps!