The climbing rope is a unifying piece of gear. Primarily, it connects a climber to his belayer, but every tribe member who wants to get higher than 15 feet off the ground ties into one, whether he’s toproping or big walling. (The Honnolds and Crofts of the world don’t count!) However, a toproper and a big waller will be looking for two very different cords. Our testing crew visited nearby Colorado areas, Ten Sleep, Wyoming, half a dozen Utah crags, and California’s High Sierra to find the five best single ropes on sport, trad, and alpine routes. Whatever your personal preference, there’s an exceptional line for you.
Mammut Serenity 8.7$250 (60m), $280 (70m); mammut.ch
Performance: We refer to ropes as “buttery” when they’re lightweight, supple, and easy to clip, and the Serenity embodied this. One guide tester chose this cord over his 12 others time and time again. It’s the thinnest and lightest (51 g/m, so 6.8 lbs. for 60 meters) single rope that our testers have climbed on; they used it at crags like American Fork, Utah, and alpine-heaven Mt. Whitney in California, where they praised it for not adding considerable weight to already-overloaded packs. One tester was hesitant about the diameter at first, but he quickly gained confidence after watching the rope rake over granite, sandstone, and rough limestone with no signs of wear or fuzz. Mammut’s Coating finish protected from abrasion, moisture, and dirt, which is the true rope killer. Drawback: It’s not technically approved for use in some belay devices, including the Petzl Grigri 2 (designed only for ropes from 8.9 to 11mm), but testers found that the Grigri 2 still bit down on the cord, with no slippage during belaying, taking, or falling. Still, the belayer should be attentive at all times. Bonus: This rope is certified as a half and twin rope, too.
Cons: Lifespan and possible uses are limited due to its diminutive diameter; watch for abrasion. It requires an attentive belayer who has prior experience with thin cords. Relatively expensive compared to others in the test.
Conclusion: Thanks to its scant weight and easy handling, this rope shines on hard sport climbs or projects (especially overhanging where there’s less rock abrasion) and on alpine rock routes where falls and rope tension are minimal.
Beal Aviator 10.2$160 (60m), $190 (70m); libertymountainclimbing.com
Performance: “Nothing about this rope stood out—and that’s exactly why I love it!” one traveling tester said. “It’s dependable in any trad or sport situation, nothing annoyed me, and I didn’t have to worry about my rope among countless other safety concerns while climbing.” In the first month of use on sport pitches in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming, and full-day routes in Chamonix, France, it showed no signs of kinking—outstanding for a brand-new cord. The rope felt slippery at first due to the Dry Cover treatment, but it locked up successfully in the Grigri 2, and it was easy to lock off and feed slack in the Petzl Reverso 4. The dry treatment upped durability and resistance to water and dirt, too. Knots were easy to tie and untie, even after a few long and rope-cinching falls on a project in the gym. The pleasantly low price tag comes thanks to its eco-friendly manufacturing process: By using less water and power in the dying stage, it saves money and has less impact on the environment. “I don’t climb on anything less than 10mm, and this was by far the best fatty I’ve tied into,” our tester said.
Cons: No middle marker or pattern change, so you must be aware when you’re getting to the center. On longer pitches, testers felt weighed down by rope drag more with this cord than others.
Conclusion: A solid workhorse rope for traddies, sportsters, and topropers who are less concerned with weight. Trust this rope in every situation and know it won’t have any kinking or fuzzing issues for a long time.
Edelweiss Toplight 10.2$140 (60m), $170 (70m); libertymountainclimbing.com
Performance: “This rope has the durability of a fat rope with the feel of a skinnier cord,” one tester said. We loved it right out of the box thanks to its ideal balance of stiffness and flexibility. Add that to the lowest price in the review, and this rope is a win-win-win. The Toplight is the thickest of three ropes in Edelweiss’ Essential line (9.8 and 10 are the others), which aims to offer “top performance at the right price.” Our testers say they hit the nail on the head with the Toplight: “It clips and feeds through both tube-style and assisted-braking devices easily and smoothly—more like a 9.8,” one multi-discipline tester said, “but it gives me the confidence of a thicker rope when it comes to rock abrasion and lifespan.” For five days in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, six testers led, whipped on, and toproped dozens of pitches, and the rope still looked and felt new. Four of those testers haven’t bought or used a rope above 10mm in a few years, and they all agreed they would purchase this 10.2 lifeline because of its excellent performance and skinny feel. A 65 g/m weight doesn’t add too much heft, either: 8.6 lbs. for 60 meters.
Cons: No dry treatment means it’s more susceptible to dirt and water. It didn’t kink at first, but after about 10 pitches it started to curl slightly—not enough to prove difficult when belaying or lowering, though.
Conclusion: Don’t be fooled by the “thick” 10.2 diameter—this rope is skinny at heart. If you’re unsure about making the move to a skinny rope but want seamless operation and low cost, this is your pick.
Trango Diamond 9.4$195 (60m), $225 (70m); trango.com
Performance: Trango’s new line of ropes goes toe-to-toe with the best cords on the market—and the Diamond 9.4 is the shining star of the group. It handled just right: smooth clipping, easy tying and untying knots, and even feeding through every belay device we threw at it. “This diameter is the sweet spot for ropes: just skinny enough for maximum ease of use and just fat enough to be confident when I see it dragging over a sharp edge,” one discerning tester said. “The Diamond became my favorite cord that ended up riding in my pack for everything from a day of sport climbing to full-value alpine routes.” One 5.13 climber loved it for redpointing projects while a moderate traddie loved it for long routes. The weight (59 g/m) didn’t drag testers down too much on approaches; the 60-meter version comes in at about 7.8 pounds. Although it lost that new-rope shine after a few uses, another month of climbing almost every day in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons of Utah didn’t add any noticable wear. The bright color combined with a distinct middle marker made this cord rise above the rest to become a top pick.
Cons: The Diamond kinked more than the others in the test, especially on the first few pitches. But after pulling it completely through the chains and flaking on every pitch, it evened out.
Conclusion: Bolt-clippers and gear-pluggers will love this line as their go-to cord for working routes, redpointing, and long routes. If you’re looking for one high-end rope to satisfy many needs, this is it.
Metolius Tendon 8.9$299 (70m); metoliusclimbing.com
Performance: The Tendon is what a skinny sport climbing cord should be: It clips fluidly, it’s lightweight (52 g/m; 8 pounds for 70 meters), and it gives a soft catch. One redpointing tester called it “the stuff dreams are made of.” This rope goes above and beyond in the durability department by including a Teflon coating, which protects from dirt, water, and abrasion, giving the rope a much longer lifespan—especially important for a cord of this diameter. Although it felt slippery at first, the Tendon showed zero wear after several dozen pitches in Utah, California, and Colorado. This coating ups the price significantly, but that extra sturdiness also gives you peace of mind with such a thin line. (Metolius’ version of the Teflon coating is eco-friendly, too.) It kinked slightly on the first few climbs, but straightened out after being pulled through the chains. High-country climbers will like this rope for multi-use missions when they need a lightweight glacier rope and a leading line for technical rock, because it’s rated as a single, half, and twin. This is a great first rope for those looking to break into the sub-9mm category.
Cons: Teflon’s durability comes at a premium: At almost $300, the Tendon is the most expensive in the review and one of the priciest on the market. Plus, it’s only available in a 70-meter version.
Conclusion: Ideal for sport climbers who want to slim down their redpointing rope, or alpinists who like to clip bolts every now and then. The Tendon is a top-of-the-line skinny cord with added burl for a longer life.