What are rope middle marks, how are they made, and are they worth the extra cost? Read on to find out.

What is a Middle Mark?

A middle mark is a signifier that makes the middle of the rope obvious. The middle mark can come in many forms such as a painted black mark, bicolor design, or bipattern design (all discussed below).

Finding the middle of your rope is most important while rappelling to ensure you have the center of the rope through the anchors. When the rope is centered for a rappel you know there are two equal rope lengths to rappel from, ensuring that you won’t rappel off one of the ends.

middle mark rappel anchor example 1
The black middle mark of the rope is at the rappel anchors which ensures each side of the rope is the same length.

Loving Reminder: Always tie knots at the end of your rope before a rappel, rappelling off the end of the rope is the most common rope-related accident.

Black Middle Mark

The simplest and most common way of marking the middle of the rope is to put black ink on the rope to mark the middle. Manufactures can add this for much less cost than other middle marking designs. In fact, there are more ropes that come with a black middle mark than ropes that come with no middle mark.

black middle mark climbing rope 2

Some manufacturers, like BlueWater Ropes do not add black middle marks on the rope in case a climber cuts the rope, changing the impact of the middle mark — they believe the climber should be intimately familiar with all inked markings and make them themselves.

See and compare all ropes with a black middle mark

How to Make A Middle Mark

If you get a rope without a middle mark, you may create one yourself. There are a few commercial markers made to do this from the climbing brands Béal and Black Diamond. And the Ocun 10mm Guru and 9.1mm Vision ropes come with a rope marker. These are are essentially water-based laundry markers that are fabric safe and don’t have any particularly strong chemicals that could compromise the rope fiber strength. Other commercial examples would be the Sharpie Rub-a-Dub marker or if in Europe, Edelrid suggests the EDDING 3000.

Sharpie Note: There are many people online who say any Sharpie is fine, and many folks who say to never use a Sharpie. Black Diamonds QC report implies a Sharpie is probably OK. The debate is always: What are the chemicals in the Sharpie? The ingredient list is not on the package and could change at any time. Some older permanent markers certainly have stronger chemical compositions than todays offerings. The WeighMyRack crew personally chooses the middle ground and has no issue marking our rope with any water-based laundry marker.

Bicolor and Bipattern Ropes

A bicolor/bipattern rope helps ensure you find the middle faster and easier than a simpler inked middle mark. Sometimes it can be hard to see the smallish black middle mark quickly, or if you stop paying attention for a moment (perhaps looking at the view or just chatting with your partner), it could pass you by. With a rope design change, you’ll definitely know if you’ve hit the middle, need to keep going, or need to backtrack.

The look of bicolor and bipattern ropes can be nearly identical. The reason for the name difference is in the construction of how the rope is made, not how the final outcome looks.

bicolor climbing rope examples 3
The left rope looks like it has a pattern change and would be a bipattern rope BUT bicolor and bipattern designs can have the same effect looks wise, as the difference in name is in the construction.

Multi-Pitch Climbing

Bicolor and bipattern designs really shine when you climb multi-pitch. It allows you to quickly identify your side and your partners side of the rope and is useful in communication (yelling up “HALF WAY!”). Most importantly, when multi-pitch climbing you often have many more rappels and bicolor/bipattern makes it faster to find the middle.

Also, if you climb into the night (or even at dawn/dusk), which will be more likely while climbing multi-pitch, it can be harder to see a black mark versus a design change.

Price

Other than the design, the most notable part of a bicolor/bipattern rope is the added $50 – $90 price of the rope compared to a solid colored rope.

Both bicolor and bipattern are more expensive because a) the braiding machine is not making 200+ meters of rope that will be cut into smaller lengths, but instead is making one specific rope length at a time b) the machine is stopped until attended to by a human.

Bicolor Details

The name bicolor comes from the fact that some strands of rope change color halfway through the rope.

Bicolor ropes are made when a human splices stands of rope together that are different colors. To do this they use an air splicer, which is a specific method of joining strands of rope that uses compressed air. This splicing method has been used for decades and has no known issues. Sometimes you might notice a small negligible bump where the splicing has occurred (where the strands are joined and they momentarily overlap). If you want to see what an air splicer looks like and its effect Sterling has some detailed photos.

Good Bicolor

In this example you can see the red and black threads are swapped while the green background stays the same.

OK Bicolor

Here you can see the rope is almost entirely blue on one side, and some blue fibers are swapped for red on the other. This design choice would be harder to tell the difference at night.

Bipattern

Unlike bicolor, no splicing is involved in a bipattern design. Instead, half way through the rope braiding process, a human will move a few key bobbins on the braiding machine to change the pattern of the rope.

Good Bipattern

This is one of our favorite examples of a very obvious rope design difference from one side to the other.

OK Bipattern

The pattern on each side of this rope is different but still feels similar. This design choice would be harder to tell the difference at night.

If you want to see the rope braiders in action (and learn the whole rope making process) we made a video of how ropes are made at Edelrid:

Every Meter Markings

Lacaida ropes is planning to release ropes that have a marking every meter, plus a “MIDPOINT” in text. The markings count down from the middle mark and reads how many meters are left on the rope as you rappel. With this marking method, as a belayer, you can shout up to your climber how many meters are left at any time (most helpful while trad climbing).

Lacaida rope Chris Royer @iamchrisroyer Photo Credit- Tyler Main @tylerleemain 4
Lacaida rope with every meter marked. Photo: Chris Royer @iamchrisroyer Photographer - Tyler Main @tylerleemain

End Markers

Over the years there have been various companies making some kind of marking ~5 meters from the end of the rope. Today, the Trango 9.1mm Agility rope is the only rope that has an end marker. The 9.1mm Agility rope is a solid bright yellow (or bright green) with the last 5 meters of rope in a bright red color, which Trango calls the RED FLAG treatment.

Note: Trango makes a number of ropes with the Agility name, but only the 9.1mm option has this RED FLAG treatment.

You Can Make Your Own End Markings: Similar to making your own middle mark, you could also mark the ends of your rope. It could be helpful to mark the ends of your rope at the 5 meter or 3 meter mark. Or you could make tally marks of how many meters left counting down from 5 meters.

Sensory Markings

In the past, Edelrid and Mammut both made ropes with sensory markings but neither brand has continued this process.

Overall Middle Mark Notes

A middle mark is always helpful for rappelling which is why the vast majority of single ropes come with one.

Most online advice says, don’t pay more on your first rope for a bipattern/bicolor marking. Although that statement is often true, it doesn’t cover the full story. A few worthy reasons to splurge, even if it’s your first rope:

  • Your already looking to do a lot of rappelling (example: your tall local crag doesn’t have anchors suited for lowering)
  • You plan on doing a lot of multi-pitch climbing
  • Your budget isn’t super tight and you like to prioritize simplicity in your systems

If you mostly climb single pitch or mostly toprope and lower, bipattern and bicolor designs are less worth the extra money for the fancy middle mark. But there are no downsides (other than cost).

Final Note: All middle marks will become harder to see the dirtier your rope gets.

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