LIFE ON THE LINE The skinny on new ropes
Over the winter, we climbed with a wide sampling of single ropes (most are new for 2010/2011) and boiled the selection down to eight favorites. During the review process, certain biases became evident: Some testers wouldn’t even look at a rope above 10mm in diameter, while others nervously said “no thanks” to anything under 9.8mm. Dry treatments also became a point of contention: Sport climbers in Colorado shrugged them off as an unnecessary extra expense, while ice climbers were incredulous at this indifference. While such characteristics will factor into your own decision, we hope to at least point you in the right direction on the journey to find your dream cord.
We used these ropes for a couple of months, and though we can’t speak to their long-term durability, we did get a solid sense of each rope’s handling. Because comparing a 10.6mm, the largest rope in our review, to an 8.9mm (the smallest) is like comparing apples to oranges, or at least a Granny Smith to a Pink Lady, we’ve broken this review into two parts: 10mm-and-above workhorse ropes, and under-10mm redpoint ropes. They’re fruits of the same species, but distinctively different. All prices listed are for 60m and non-dry-treated unless otherwise noted.
Editors' Choice BEAL JOKER 9.1 $229.95libertymountain.com
One of our most experienced testers called this rope “one of my all-time favorites, especially for onsight and redpoint attempts.” It rated the highest possible scores for ease of clipping and ease of knotting/untying. Of course, 9.1mm is on the far skinny end of skinny single ropes, and not for beginners or toproping—rope stretch was noticeably long. But for experienced sport climbers looking to redpoint diffi cult projects, this rope was the ticket. Durability wasn’t possible to test in our short winter season, but Beal has a good track record of quality ropes.
Number Cruncher TENDON AMBITION 10.2 $189mytendonusa.com
Although we received this cord late in the testing process, it scored above-average marks in all categories: It fed smoothly, felt flexible, and handled nicely. It also is rated to 12 to 13 UIAA falls, where many other ropes of similar diameter only rated nine or ten falls, and some as low as seven. Tendon’s Ambition line is designed for beginning to moderate leaders, with beefier sizes (9.8mm to 10.5mm). All ropes have the option of dry treatment.
Deceptively Skinny PMI CIRQUE 10.6 $196.95pmirope.com
As the fattest cord in our review, the Cirque had a lot to prove to skinny-rope-loving testers. But while sport climbing in New Mexico and Colorado, and with a little ice climbing on the side, this rope proved to be performance-minded. It managed to be stiff and slick at the same time—“in a good way,” said one tester. It “felt skinnier than its 10.6mm label,” knotted easily, “slithered like an eel” through pro, and stayed dry in wet snow while ice climbing in January.
Flexible Flyer PETZL XION 10.1 $199petzl.com
This rope proved itself again and again as solid for everything from toproping vertical pitches to projecting overhanging sport routes. One satisfied tester called the Xion his “first choice” out of the three cords he tested. It handled easily and was very flexible, especially for its size; other ropes around this diameter were stiffer and a bit more unruly. Nice touch: The rope comes from the shop ready to flake out—no specialized uncoiling or tedious untangling required.
Smooth Operator EDELRID HARRIER 10 $179.95edelridna.com
With minimal kinkage out of the box, this rope had a soft feel and managed to maintain smooth operation through a variety of belay devices, including an old-school Sticht plate. Every tester said he or she would definitely buy this rope, including a grizzled veteran bolter who needs a high-performance workhorse rope. That same tester complimented the hard-wearing sheath, which he estimated would take a long time to wear out.
Supple-ment STERLING FUSION NANO 9.2 $202sterlingrope.com
Despite the thin diameter of the Nano, our testers enjoyed its stiffness-to-flexibility ratio. “Some ropes already feel coreshot when they’re brand new,” said a diehard skinny-rope user. But not so with the Nano. This rope is only available with a dry treatment and, like all ca. 9mm ropes, it has fairly high dynamic elongation (32.5 percent), meaning you could still drop a long way after the belay comes tight. Do not toprope with this cord—it is best saved for redpoint or onsight attempts on steep terrain.
Nice on Ice BEAL TIGER 10 $219.95libertymountain.com
As a “Goldilocks rope: not too stiff, not too flexible—just right,” this cord was a crowd-pleaser, earning compliments from belayers and climbers alike. This rope handled nicely, didn’t freeze up in dripping ice and snow, and held up to multiple crampon kicks. (Don’t worry, we checked the rope.) It also didn’t fuzz after multiple high-abrasion toprope attempts on rock (high points from testers for this). Bummer: the Tiger included a rope bag that quickly disintegrated—“good for selling ropes, bad for a rope bag.”
Butter and Velvet EDELRID KITE 9.2 $213.95edelridna.com
One tester of this rope described it as a “buttered strand of spaghetti or velvet dental floss,” and like it was “dipped in lubricant.” When used for alpine climbing in Colorado’s Indian Peaks, the dry-treated-only Kite ran along snow all day and didn’t soak up water. This rope is a great compromise between sub-9mm alpine cords and heavier and bulkier full-strength rigs.
The standard lead-climbing rope is a nylon line that’s 60 meters (ca. 200 feet) long and approximately 10mm in diameter. These “dynamic” ropes will stretch significantly to absorb the force of a lead fall; they have colorful, tightwoven sheaths on the outside that provide protection and determine much of the “feel” of the rope, and more loosely laid yarns inside that provide most of the rope’s tensile strength and shock absorbing capacities.
Climbers use single ropes as thin as 8.9mm and as thick as 11mm for normal leading, favoring the skinny ropes when light weight and reduced friction are most important (such as hard sport-climbing redpoints or alpine climbs), and preferring fatties for climbs where durability is more important (such as “working” a route or climbing big walls).
As a beginner, avoid the 70-meter ropes that are becoming increasingly popular. There’s more rope to coil and carry, and the advantages come on climbs you’ll tackle farther down the road. A dry treatment is useful if you plan to climb in snow or on wet rock. The number of UIAA falls held, impact force, elongation, and other specs will be important for the technically inclined advanced climber—who might be choosing a rope for a specific style of climb, or even a single expedition—while most beginners will be well served with a thicker, economical line in a color they like. No matter what rope you choose, invest in a rope bag to keep your cord clean at the crag and make it easier to carry. —Jeff Achey
FINAL WORD • Choose your first rope for durability • 60 meters is enough for starting out • Don’t forget the rope bag