The most eco-friendly ropes on the market today are Bluesign-certified, have PFC-free waterproof coatings, and/or are made of “recycled” material.

Bluesign Ropes

bluesign® is the strictest textile standard for protection of the environment, the consumer, and the worker. bluesign®AUDITS include all aspects of production related to the environment: use of materials, energy, wastewater, air emissions, and the use and handling of hazardous chemicals.

Dive Deeper: You can learn more about bluesign (& their labeling) and other 3rd party standards climbing brands use in this post.

Edelrid was the first climbing brand to partner with Bluesign, ten years ago in 2009. Since then, 100% of their ropes are official bluesign® PRODUCT’s. This label means that Edelrid is an official bluesign partner (which requires audits) and all the rope materials are bluesign® APPROVED to not have any toxic chemicals, and their manufacturing processes use less energy and wastewater. To achieve this status, Edelrid found and made the following improvements when dyeing sheath yarns:

  • 62% CO reduction
  • 89% decrease in water consumption
  • 63% decrease in energy usage
  • 63% reduction in chemical usage

The decreases are largely due to the fact that Edelrid now uses a reduced range of colors that all have environmentally friendly dye processes.

PFC-Free Waterproof Treatment

PFC’s is the shortened name given to perfluorocarbons. PFC’s shed liquid consistently over time because they have strong molecular bonds that do not readily break down. Unfortunately, their wonderful water/oil shedding properties also mean that PFC’s persist in the environment, in animals, and in human bodies. The EPA has stated that PFCs present “persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree.”

In recent years PFC’s have come under great scrutiny from the Outdoor community along with a large anti-PFC campaign by Greenpeace. Today, PFC’s are still found in the majority of waterproof climbing ropes, most rain jackets and nearly all non-stick pans. The Outdoor Industry is still scrambling to find alternative solutions for durable waterproof treatments that are as effective as using PFC’s.

Edelrid was the first company to come out with a PFC-free waterproof treatment in their Swift Eco Dry rope. Edelrid worked on this solution for years, and waited to release their results until they had a rope that would pass the UIAA Dry requirements, and that is long-lasting (the Eco treatment is still not quite as durable as Edelrid’s traditional dry treatments).

In this video Edelrid’s Climbing Manager explains the pros/cons to PFC’s in regards to the Swift Eco Dry:

In 2020, Edelrid’s 7.1mm Skimmer rope will also be available in the Eco Dry treatment. Edelrid is working towards making their entire rope range to have PFC-free treatments, but it’s not an instant process for 2 main reasons.

  1. There are many other internal processes that must change to ensure the same rope handing characteristics – it’s not as simple as changing one bath of chemicals for another.
  2. Since the Eco Dry rope costs more ($10 more than the standard dry treatment), there needs to be proof that retailers will bring it into their stores, and that consumers are willing to pay the cost difference.

Ocun has followed in Edelrid’s steps and also lept ahead, making their entire range of dry ropes with a PFC-free treatment. It’s quite an impressive feat. They were able to do this because partly because they own their own rope making facility in the Czech Republic, where they are also headquartered. You can compare all of Ocun’s ropes on WeighMyRack.

Alternatively

To avoid PFC’s you could also by ropes that are not dry treated (buying treated versus untreated ropes is a whole different discussion…).

Dry Treatment Pro Tip

If you buy a dry treated rope for ice climbing or mountaineering, try to only use it in wet conditions. This will help the dry treatment last significantly longer (PFC-free or not).

Using “Scrap” Materials / Recycling

Normally, ropes are made from large spools of yarn, and are braided to very long lengths, like 1000m or 2000m. It is rare to create ropes that are 60m, 70m, or 80m at one time because it would be an inefficient process. In this case you’d need to constantly change the bobbins on the rope braider. This process of making large amounts of ropes also means that there are inevitably scraps of yarn that are say, less than 100m in length – long enough to be a rope.

If you’re curious how Edelrid makes ropes, check out this video (or read this detailed post):

Edelrid is now using these rope-length long leftover scrap yarns to make the 9.8mm Boa Eco. This rope requires more labor to create, as somebody has to manually change the bobbins more frequently, but Edelrid is also saving money on the yarns as they were previously “scrap.” The cost savings of the scrap cancels out with the additional labor, and the Boa Eco is priced competitively among Edelrid’s ropes and also compared to similar diameter ropes by other brands ($160 for 60m, $180 for 70m).

Since the Boa Eco is made from leftover ends of other ropes, nearly all the Boa Eco ropes have a completely different pattern and colors.

Edelrid-Boa-Eco-Parrot-2016-climbing-rope
These are all examples of Boa Eco ropes

The wide range of color patterns can be a pro or a con depending on how concerned you are about rope colors. Ordering online: it’s luck of the draw. Buying in person allows a range of colors to choose from.

Summary

If you’re going to buy a rope, and you’d like it to be the most eco-friendly rope, buy a rope that is certified by Bluesign. This ensures there were no toxic chemicals used, and that the whole manufacturing process was optimized for air and water emissions, energy consumption, and other environmental impacts.

If you’re buying a dry treated rope, you can now look for PFC-free treatments from Ocun and Edelrid.

Otherwise, you could buy a colorful rope that uses “recycled” materials.

Finally, you could also try to buy ropes that are made in the same country that you reside, and are not traveling across the world to get to you (look at this post to see where ropes are made).


This post is sponsored by REI as part of an Educational / Sustainability Series. This sponsorship means if there are specific products mentioned in the post, we’ll link them to REI’s product pages when possible. Also, if there is a relevant sale period, we'll talk about that too. All words are solely the authors and have in no way been altered because of the sponsored nature of the post.

Other sponsored posts you may find interesting:

  • Sustainable Climbing Ropes
  • Sustainable Climbing Shoes
  • Sustainable Climbing Slings
  • Sustainable Climbing Harnesses


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    Alison Dennis

    Alison Dennis

    Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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