The ropes we use nowadays are called Kernmantel ropes. Kernmantel ropes were invented around the 1950’s, the ropes are made up of two layers, a core and a sheath, the core provides the strength and elasticity of the rope and the sheath provides protection to the core. The core is made of nylon filaments which are spun together to make a strong yarn, the yarns are then coated with a protective layer. Around four to six yarns are combined to make braids that are twisted to create the core of the rope.
Types of ropes
Single ropes are the most common, they are marked with a 1 in a circle. They are generally around 9.4-11mm thick. They are most useful for pretty much any type of roped climbing and the only main disadvantages are if you are trad (placing protection yourself) climbing and the route is a bit all over the place then the rope going from side to side causes a lot of rope drag. The other thing is for abseiling, you can only abseil a distance of half the length of your rope (thats if you want your rope back!).
Half ropes are very common in winter climbing, trad climbing and multi-pitch routes. They are marked with ½ inside a circle and are about 8-9mm in thickness. They allow for two separate ropes to be used on one climb, so you can clip one rope into runners on the right hand side and the other rope into runners on the left, this significantly reduces rope drag on zigzagging climbs. The other advantage is if you tie the two ropes together you can abseil twice the distance as one single rope. Two half ropes are bulkier and heavier than one single rope though.
Twin ropes are less popular but used often in winter climbing. They are marked with two overlapping circles inside a circle and are generally around 7.5-8.5mm thick. They must be clipped in to each runner together so they cannot be used to reduce rope drag but two twin ropes can be almost as light as one single rope. They can also be tied together for abseiling.
Confidence ropes are just walking ropes really, they are much thinner and weaker and are marked with a 0 inside a circle. They are great for walking use as they are small and light. Never to be used for lead climbing
Static or low-stretch ropes are perfect for applications where stretch in the rope is not desirable such as abseiling and often rigging bottom ropes and for tyrolean traverses. Should never be used for lead climbing.
How long should my rope be?
This depends o what you are doing. For most UK single pitch climbing you can get away with a 50 metre rope but for many bolted routes in the UK and around the world, and even lots of indoor climbing centres. You will need a 60 metre or above. Generally 60meters will cover you for most situations and unless you are going somewhere where you know you will need longer, that is what I would go for.
How long will my rope last
That is difficult to say and depends on a number of factors, if you are unsure of the safety of your rope then you should consult a professional or just ditch it. A rough lifespan and guide for when to ditch your rope is below (source: Mammut Ropes).
|Frequency of User||Approximate Life Span|
|Never used||10 years maximum|
|Rarely used: twice per year||up to 7 years|
|Occasionally used: once per month||up to 5 years|
|Regularly used: several times per month||up to 3 years|
|Frequently used: each week||up to 1 year|
|Constantly used: almost daily||less than 1 year|
Independent of frequency of use, a rope should be disposed of if:
- The rope came in contact with chemicals, particularly acids.
- The sheath is damaged and the core is visible.
- The sheath is extremely worn, or particularly fuzzy.
- The sheath has slipped noticeably.
- Strong deformations are present (stiffness, nicks, sponginess).
- The rope was subjected to extreme loads (e.g. heavy falls, clearly over fall factor 1).
- The rope is extremely dirty (grease, oil, tar).
- Heat, abrasion, or friction burns have caused damage.
This is only a guide about ropes in general, it is not intended to teach you how to use ropes safely, always consult manufacturers guidelines. Pictures from Mammut Ropes.