What are Dry Treated Ropes Made for?

Dry treated ropes aren’t only for alpine climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering. The dry treatment definitely helps keep your rope from absorbing water, but it can also increase a ropes life by making sure other crud (sand, dirt, etc) can’t get in either. And, with the slick (literally) treatment, it will help your rope slide over sharp edges and reduce the amount of abrasion to the rope.

What does a “Dry Treated Rope” Mean?

In the climbing world, dry treatments don’t make a rope waterproof, but they do dramatically increase water resistance. Regardless of the level of coating, your rope will still get damp/wet when exposed to moisture. What will change is how much water your rope will absorb. And the less water a rope absorbs the safer it is (we get into this much deeper below).

What are the Downsides of a Dry Treated Rope?

The biggest downside of a dry treated rope is that it often costs at least $50 more for a fully (sheath and core) dry 60m rope.

Below, we go over the benefits of each type of treatment and note an approximate amount of water absorption. It’s worth noting that this percentage is for new ropes. Once ropes have been used they will absorb a higher percentage of water. This is caused by the dry treatment wearing off, the rope fibers breaking down, and the weave becoming looser compared to the factory-fresh rope.

Non-Dry Treated Ropes (No Treatment)

~40-60% water absorption

A non-dry treated rope is the cheapest option as it’s $30 – $100 cheaper than it’s dry treated brethren. If you don’t climb in wet weather or sandy areas, buying an untreated rope is good way to save money. Non-dry ropes are perfect for gym lead ropes. Although you can save money initially with non-dry ropes, you don’t get the abrasion resistance benefits that a dry treatment provides, so many climbers still choose a dry treated rope to ensure longevity.

Non-dry ropes can technically be used in wet conditions, but the strength will be reduced significantly. New England Rope’s FAQ states that nylon’s wet strength retention is 80-90% of its dry strength. When Singing Rock tested wet and icy ropes they found that the number of falls of a wet rope can be reduced to 1/3 the initial value. Singing Rock also noted that the impact force at the first fall with the wet rope is significantly higher (5-10%), because the rope becomes more “rigid” as it lengthens with the extra water weight.

Wet ropes will also be harder to manage as the rope swells full of water, they’ll freeze faster, and will be miserable to belay/rappel with (read: waterfall on your lap).

Sheath Only Treatment

~30-40% water absorption

A Sheath-only treatment is when the individual fibers of the sheath (outer coating) are treated to repel water. The biggest benefit of ropes with only the sheath treated is that the amount of abrasion will be reduced. Mammut has done extensive testing with their ropes to show the difference that dry treating makes.

Mammut Rope Lines compared Classic Protect Dry
See video showing the sharp edge test at: https://youtu.be/bZ9Ni7gNCh8?t=21s

Adding a sheath treatment makes a rope feel smoother and slicker (varying by brand and tightness of weave). This is because the Teflon™ or similar coating used to prevent water absorption also reduces surface friction of the fibers. The thinner the rope, the more exaggerated the “slickness” will feel while belaying too.

Some climbers report better handling on dry treated ropes because they feel smoother in the hand and pass through the belay device more fluidly. This reduction in friction can also be problematic for belayers transitioning from large, fuzzy, non-treated gym ropes to thinner dry ropes as there will be substantially less friction while using the same belay device and technique. 

Another difference is the possibility of dry treated ropes to have their knots slip more than non-treated ropes. Rock and Ice did identify rope slickness as a possible factor in a knot failure accident report (further testing is needed to make a solid conclusion). Regardless, always make sure to have sufficient tail for every knot. And, if the rope is dry treated, it won’t hurt to give even more tail.

That said, sheath-only dry treated ropes are a great balance for buying a rope that has more durability, but without adding as significant a chunk of money compared to ropes that have the sheath and core treated. If this will be your first dry-treated rope, try not to go down significantly in diameter (less than .5mm difference) compared to the ropes you’re used to belaying on.

Note: On WeighMyRack we refer to sheath only treatment as “Dry.” This does not refer to the new UIAA Dry certification, but is distinguished from “2XDry,” which is what we call ropes with both a sheath and core treatment.

Read more about the UIAA Dry standard

Sheath & Core Treatment

~less than 15% water absorption, often less than 5% (the UIAA dry test standard)

If you often head into cold, damp, wet and snowy conditions, or if you simply want the rope that will last the longest, this is the style of rope for you. Treating the sheath and the core is the only way ropes will pass the UIAA Dry Test. This relatively new test is a nice start, but it’s a pass/fail test that passes a rope as “Dry” only if the rope absorbs less than 5% water when tested in-house by the manufacturers. The test does not provide any information as to the actual percentage of water absorbed.

A wet rope decreases its ability to absorb impact so the less water the rope absorbs the better. Warning: Dry treatment will wear off over time, especially when used on the rock. If you climb rock and ice, it would be best to have two ropes: one dedicated sheath+core treated ice rope to prolong the water treatment and a rock rope.

Although a fully dry treated rope will reduce abrasion slightly more than a sheath-only treated rope, the additional cost generally isn’t justified (unless you find a really good rope sale) if your goal isn’t to use the rope in wet conditions.

Note: On WeighMyRack we refer to sheath + core treatments as “2XDry” to distinguish it from sheath-only dry ropes.

Core Only Treatment

No data available for water absorption levels

This treatment increases durability as it protects against water and dirt from the inner fibers. Core-only treatment is found more with US made ropes versus European ones.

Summary: Should I buy a dry treated rope?

Whenever you’re climbing outdoors you will benefit from a dry treated rope that has a sheath treatment as it will significantly reduce abrasion. If you are climbing in very wet conditions consistently, we highly recommend a dry treated rope that has both a sheath and core treatment.

The only time we heartily recommend a non-dry treated rope is if you are using it for leading in the gym, or want to save money initially and you don’t climb in wet/sandy/dirty areas very often.


Looking for a new rope?

At WeighMyRack, we list every rope there is (500+ options) and let you filter your results to find the right level of dry treatment along with other filters like length, diameter, middle markings and brand. Find the gear that best suits your needs.


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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