Many Rope Types for Many Climbing Types

Just as climbers may choose one climbing shoe for bouldering and another for trad climbing, or prefer one belay device for toprope and another for lead belaying, there are multiple versions of dynamic rope that are designed with certain climbing situations in mind.

3 Climbing Rope Types

To identify which type of rope you’re looking at, these rope symbols will appear on rope packaging and are also marked on the rope ends. You may also see these icons on belay devices, when they describe what rope diameters the belay device is designed to work with.

Climbing Rope Type Icons on Rope Ends 1
An example showing the rope type icons that are seen on rope end markers. Left: A single rated rope. Middle: A half rated rope. Right: A triple rated, single/half/twin rope.

While most climbers (especially in North America) don’t venture very far down the rabbit hole of rope type complexity, it’s always good to talk about all of the functions of the gear we use. So in this article we’re going to discuss the various dynamic rope types and how each one fits into the world of climbing.

Single Climbing Ropes

Whenever people think generally about ropes used in climbing endeavors, the single rope is usually what comes to mind. The word Single refers to how they are intended to be used, as the sole rope for protecting a climber during a fall. Climbers tie one rope to themselves and move up a climb clipping into protection such as pre-placed bolts as they go. When they fall, the single rope is designed to stretch and absorb some of the force and transmit the the rest to the protection, keeping the climber off the ground and ideally the protection in the wall.

Single Rope Type

Because it is one of the few non-redundant parts of the climbing system, a single rope is made and tested to handle a lot of this abuse. In fact, the UIAA strength test for single ropes requires that the rope statically catch an 80kg (176.37lb) weight falling 4.8m at least 5 times on 2.5m of rope without breaking. If you think that sounds like a complicated test that doesn’t give a very clear way to picture the forces involved, we agree.

Every rope has different amount of elongation, so it is difficult to say how much force every rope can absorb, but the UIAA requires that each rope tested does not allow the anchor to feel more than 12kN (2697.70 lbs) or just about the weight of two cows, while not breaking.

Basically, if you have a UIAA certified Single rope, it has been tested to take and absorb about 4000 lbs of force and turn it into less than 2700 lbs– 5 times without breaking– and most humans weigh between 120-250 lbs.

If you’ve top roped, lead climbed, or hauled a bag on a dynamic rope, chances are it was Single rated. Single ropes have the widest range of lengths and diameters available and are used in every type of climbing from indoor gyms to sport, trad, multi pitch, and bigwalls. There are currently over 900 Single rated ropes on WeighMyRack.com.

The Tendon 8.6mm Master 2XDry is currently the thinnest and lightest single-only rated rope on the market, but its small size can make it difficult to pair with a belay device, since many aren’t that great at handling a rope smaller than 8.9mm. On the thicker end of the spectrum, the most-owned currently available rope among WeighMyRack users is the Black Diamond 9.9 60M. Due partially to its availability in many climbing shops in the US, this workhorse is often the first rope most new climbers buy. But if you’re looking for the highest-end sort of specialty sending rope that is single-rated, look no further than the Beal 8.5mm Opera Unicore 2XDry. The Opera is the first rope to limbo under the 50g/m bar and it also is rated to be used as a half rope AND a twin, which we’ll get to next.

Half (Double) Climbing Ropes

The next most common designation of rope type is the Half rope, which is a bit confusingly ALSO known as a Double rope. Halfs or Doubles as they are called are used in much the same way a Single rope is and in fact their UIAA testing method is nearly the same, though they only need to catch a 55kg (121lb) weight. The one huge difference though, is that they are in fact used as a pair.

Half Double Rope Types

The obvious advantage of climbing with 2 ropes instead of one is that there is redundancy in case a rock fall or a sharp edge were to damage or cut your rope. The more nuanced benefits come because they change the way the climbing system operates. Like Single ropes, Halfs and Doubles are each only clipped to a piece of protection individually, but as a climber moves upward they now have the option of clipping one rope or the other. This becomes hugely advantageous when climbing routes that wander greatly from left to right, as the climber can now minimize rope drag in the system by only clipping one rope to the left and the other to the right. When catching a fall, the two ropes in the system also greatly reduce the amount of force that any one piece of gear absorbs, so they are ideal for areas where marginal protection is common.

Half ropes also have the benefit of allowing the climbing team to double the length of their rappels, since they now can join two ropes and descend a full rope length’s distance rather than halving the rope through an anchor for a standard rappel.

There are however some disadvantages with a double rope system. It should go without saying that managing 2 ropes is considerably more complicated than managing one. Doubling the amount of time flaking and stacking ropes is one thing, but as a belayer you must also have a good amount of practice managing slack in a system with two ropes that are often feeding at different speeds.

Half ropes are also not always sold in pairs as some might expect, and since there are two they do cost more than a Single. Regardless, Double ropes should be bought together in a matched set to ensure they are the same length and diameter so they will stretch and handle the same. Half ropes are also thinner than Singles so special care should also be taken to ensure your belay device is made to work with ropes that average around the 8.2mm mark.

Currently the most wanted Half/Double rope on WeighMyRack.com is the Beal 8.1mm Ice Line Unicore dry. This all-arounder sits comfortably at the low end of the price range and is often a first go-to rope for those getting into ice climbing. The 8.5mm Rubix Triaxiale from Millet is the lightest Half/Double rope that is sold in pairs. Millet has dry treated both the core and the sheath, making it a good choice for wet and icy mountain climbing and glacier travel. Currently the lightest Half/Double rated rope available is the 7.3mm Gully Unicore 2X Dry from Beal. At 36g/m this featherweight wonder comes in 40,50,60, and 70m lengths and is also rated to be used as Twin rope which we’ll cover next.

Twin Climbing Ropes

Finally, the last and least common rope type is the Twin rope. Similar to Doubles, the Twin rope is made to be used in pairs, with the one major difference being that BOTH ropes should be clipped to every piece of protection. Two ropes give added protection and redundancy, but do not mitigate rope drag like their left/right clippable cousins. Because of this fact, they function best in straighter terrain such as ice climbing, though it is not unheard of for Europeans to use this method in mixed or alpine routes as well.

Twin Ropes

Because Twin ropes are a two rope system, they carry with them some of the advantages seen with Doubles, including redundancy and the ability to rappel full rope lengths. But the real standout of the twin rope is its small size and light weight. Twins average below the 8mm mark in diameter and are often small and lightweight enough to be split up and carried by partners. Because they are made to be used together and clipped in pairs to each piece, Twins are tested by the UIAA in pairs. To pass, they must be able to catch a whopping 12 falls of that 80kg block, making them the most robust setup by far, which explains why folks who climb in sharp crampons and swing pointy ice tools can prefer them.

It should be noted that belaying and rappelling with ropes that approach the 7mm mark is tricky and are significantly harder to manage and control for newer climbers. There aren’t many belay devices out there that handle the thinnest of Twin ropes and controlling the weight of a climber with two skinny strands is not as straight forward as you might think. Another thing to note is that because they are clipped together, Twins do create a bit more rope drag than a single rope, and though they are individually very light and small, climbing with twins can feel heavier and bulkier than with a Single.

Beal’s 8mm Rando 2XDry holds down the least expensive end of the Twin rope spectrum, though it only comes in 20, 30, and 48m versions, so might be less useful if very tall objectives are on your agenda. Weighing in at 34g/m the 7.0mm Master 2XDry from Tendon is the lightest rope in the world. Of course as a twin rope it is not made to catch any falls by itself, but having 2 lines that light to split the load in the mountains is most definitely a plus. The most widely available Twin rope on the market is the Black Diamond 7.0mm 2XDry 60m. It sits around the higher end of price point for its class and is only made in 60m lengths, but is likely to be the Twin rope you’re going to find first if you walk into a gear shop or search around online retailers in the US.

Double and Triple Rated Ropes

As rope technologies have progressed over the years, manufacturers have pushed the capabilities of climbing ropes. Not only have average rope diameters gotten smaller, they have gotten lighter and stronger. What this means is that the lines between what a rope can be used for have begun to blur greatly.

Now ropes that are made to be used as Twins also happen to be able to pass the UIAA test for Halfs and Doubles, which means that technically, they’re dual-rated. Similarly, some ropes that are made to be Singles have the right amount of stretch and size to absorb a ton of falls and can pass the test for Halfs easily, making them by default also able to be tested as twins. These ropes are known as triple-rated and are among a growing number of rope types out there, simply due to the advancing technology of rope manufacturing.

So why buy a Rope that isn’t triple-rated? The quick answer is price. The lower price end of a triple-rated 60m rope is currently somewhere around $200-210, compared to Single 60m ropes which are in the $140-150 range. To some, that extra $50 might seem worth having a rope that is more versatile, but remember that to use a rope as a Half or a Twin means that you actually need TWO of them, which of course doubles that cost.

Summary

The vast majority of climbing any of us will do in our lives will take place on a single rated rope. Unless you live in the Verdon or Chamonix or never go sport cragging or to a gym, the usefulness of owning special ropes to use as Doubles and Twins is a bit of a rarity for most modern climbers who aren’t leading ice. As brands continue to push the limits of what ropes can handle we will likely see more and more ropes that pass UIAA standards for all three rope types. By then it will be even easier to simply grab a rope (or two) and go.

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