What are Dry Treated Ropes Made for?

Dry treated ropes are designed for ice climbing, alpine climbing, mountaineering, and any other wet condition. The dry treatment is added to help keep the rope from absorbing water.

In addition, dry treatments also have a positive effect on increasing life span on dry rock, as the treatment is a coating that also prevents crud (sand, dirt, etc) from penetrating the rope. This slick (literally) coating will also help your rope slide over sharp edges and reduce the amount of abrasion to the rope.

That said, if you have a dry treated rope for ice climbing / mountaineering it is advisable to try to ONLY use it for those wet conditions to ensure maximum waterproofing. The dry treatment will wear off faster when used on rock.

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. Additionally, the less water a rope absorbs the safer it is (we get into this below).

Wet climbing requires a dry rope 1
Wet climbing, such as ice climbing, requires a dry rope to make the experience enjoyable.

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 treated 60m rope.

The only other (debatable) downside is that the rope handling will be slicker. New climbers may find that the rope slips through their hands more easily than they expect it to so it may feel harder to control versus a non-treated rope. This is less of an issue if you know to expect it, and if you prepare by wearing gloves to increase rope grip. Another similarly small issue is that knots may slip more on a dry treated rope. This isn’t huge, but is another reason to always tie tight knots vs loose knots.

Amount of Water Absorption

Below, we go over the benefits of each type of dry treatment and note an approximate amount of water absorption.

    This percentage is for new ropes

. Once ropes have been used (and abused) 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 a factory-fresh rope. Generally you can expect:

Non-Dry (no treatment) ~40-60% water absorption
Sheath only dry treatment ~30-40% water absorption
Sheath & core both dry treated – less than 15% water absorption ( <5% for UIAA Water Repellent Standard)

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 a perfect way to save money. Non-dry ropes are also perfect for gym lead ropes.

Some rock climbers buy a dry treated rope to increase longevity as the dry treatment adds a protective layer and abrasion resistance benefits. (You can also increase longevity by keeping your rope in a rope bag and limiting the amount of time it is in contact with sand and dirt).

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. Unfortunately, these PDF sources disappeared upon updated website designs, but a Sterling blogpost agrees.

Wet ropes will also be harder to manage. As the rope swells full of water, wetter ropes freeze faster and in general will be miserable to belay/rappel with. As a soaked rope moves through your belay device, it can create a waterfall on your lap as the tension wrings the water out. It may also be difficult to pass through your belay device at all if the rope becomes icy and frozen or swollen with water.

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

We wouldn’t recommend a sheath-only coating for ice climbing or mountaineering (we suggested ropes with sheath and core treated for that). Sheath only coatings are wonderful for sandy and dirty conditions or sharp rock areas, to increase longevity.

Adding a sheath treatment makes a rope feel smoother and slicker (varying by brand and tightness of weave). This is because the various slick coatings used to prevent water absorption also reduce surface friction of the rope 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 and ‘roll’ more than non-treated ropes. Unfortunately there isn’t any really great data still available on the internet to show this effect fully, but it is still always good to 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.

Unfortunately, many manufacturers have stopped making sheath only treatments because it does not comply with the UIAA Water Repellant certification. Many companies now only produce non-dry ropes and certified UIAA Water Repellant ropes. We’re bummed the UIAA Water Repellant standard has influenced this change, in what we felt was a nicely balanced and more affordable option for rock climbing in sandy conditions.

Note: On WeighMyRack we refer to sheath only treatment as “Dry.” This does not refer to the new UIAA Water Repellant certification. Dry just means sheath treatment while “2XDry,” is what we call ropes with both a sheath and core treatment.

Sheath & Core Treatment

~less than 15% water absorption, often less than 5% (the UIAA Water Repellant standard)

If you often head into cold, damp, wet and snowy conditions, this is the style of rope for you. Additionally, if you are climbing on sharp rock or in sandy conditions, a sheath+core dry rope will last the longest. Treating the sheath and the core is the only way ropes will pass the UIAA Water Repellant certification. This test is a nice start but it’s not ideal (read our post for more info). 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. In 2022, nearly half the ropes that are sheath+core treated are also certified UIAA Water Repellant.

A wet rope has decreased 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 separate rope for rock.

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 often with US made ropes versus European ones.

PFC-Free Dry Treatment

All non-dry ropes, from all the brands, are PFC-Free.

In recent years there have been big breakthroughs in PFC-Free coatings introduced into the market. Before we updated this post, there were only 2 models that used an eco-based coating to reduce the amount of long-term plastics in their manufacture. But its cool to say that at the moment, there are now 4 rope manufacturers that make 160 different rope models with PFC-free (water-repellant perfluoro-hydrocarbons) dry treatments, which are more environmentally friendly.

If you want to read more about PFC treatments and other ways ropes are more ecologically friendly, we wrote a whole post about sustainable climbing ropes.

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 and dirt ingress (especially in fine sandy environments).

If you are climbing in wet conditions (ice, mountaineering, alpine, etc), we highly recommend a dry treated rope that has both a sheath and core treatment. UIAA dry certified ropes ensure the highest level of treatment. And, we can’t stress it enough, if you climb ice/snow/wet areas, have a dedicated dry rope that you never use on rock so the dry coating stays on as long as possible.

We heartily recommend a non-dry rope if:

  • you are using it for leading in the gym
  • money is a top concern (and you’re not ice climbing or mountaineering)
  • you don’t climb in wet/sandy/dirty areas very often or promise to take extra good care of your rope (using a rope bag, etc)

Want to See All The Ropes (over 1000)?

At WeighMyRack, we list every rope and give you filters to find the right length, diameter, middle markings, level of dry treatment, and brand. Find eco-based ropes that are bluesign® certified or use a PFC-free dry treatment.

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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