Climbing Rope – Everything you need to know

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A climbing rope is one of the most expensive pieces of climbing equipment you’ll own. So it is only logical to know what you are buying. To not bore you with too many rope technical specifications and details that 80% of climbers won’t be interested in, We’ll provide only the most relevant information.

Type of ropes

There are 2 types of ropes. A static rope is not suitable for climbing but necessary to have on your climbing trip. And dynamic rope which is used for climbing. Dynamic rope is divided into 3 subtypes. Single rope, twin rope, and half rope (also known as double rope).

Static Rope

A static rope is not designed to stretch when placed under load. This means a static rope will not stretch to absorb the force of a fall. If a climber took a lead fall on a static rope can result in serious injury. Hence it is necessary to understand and differentiate static rope from dynamic rope.

Static ropes serve an important purpose, especially for multi-pitch climbing. As static rope has minimum stretch hence it is great for hauling loads up a multi-pitch route and abseiling.

Dynamic Ropes

Single Ropes

single rope
Single Rope Symbol

The Single rope is used as an individual rope strand. The climber will clip the rope into every single protection on the route. The single rope is mainly used for single-pitch and multi-pitch routes.

Twin Ropes

twin ropes
Twin Ropes Symbol

The twin ropes are used in pairs with both ropes clipped together into every protection on the route. The purpose of climbing with twin rope is to enable climbers to abseil greater distances. It also functions as redundancy in situations where one of the ropes is cut or damaged over a sharp edge or falling object.

Half Rope or Double Rope

half rope
Half Rope Symbol

The Half ropes (also known as Double rope) very similar to twin ropes are used in pairs. Each strand of rope can be clipped together or separately into alternate protection points on the route. The purpose of half rope is to reduce rope drag on routes that go zigzag upwards where protection points can cause tremendous drag on the rope. It also enables climbers to abseil longer distances and provides redundancy in situations if one of the ropes is cut or damaged over a sharp edge or falling object.

Types of climbing rope
Climbing rope type

Selecting the right type of rope

If you want a rope that can be used for the majority of your climb. The single rope will be the obvious choice. It is the most common and highly versatile suitable for indoor climbing as well as outdoor single and multi-pitch routes.

Rope Length

The length of rope you use for a climb must be twice the height of the route and some excess. The excess may vary depending on the route (eg: whether the route is on an overhanging roof or zigzags up the face). These factors can eat significantly into the excess rope length you have.

With that in mind, you should buy a rope that is much longer than you need. Most indoor lead walls are 15 to 25 meters high, while outdoor single-pitch routes can go up to 30 meters. You need to buy a rope with a length that will allow you to climb all indoor walls as well as most outdoor single-pitch routes. The recommended rope length to buy is 70 meters which will enable you to climb most outdoor routes with sufficient excess to lower the climber back to the ground.

Rope Diameter

Climbing rope diameter

The common climbing rope diameter ranges from 9.8 mm to 10.2 mm. So going with a rope diameter between this range is just fine for general use. However, if you are looking at a more specialized type of climbing you can explore diameters beyond this standard range.

Thick Ropes (10.3 mm to 10.7 mm)

For big-wall multi-pitch climbing, you’ll want a thick rope because it is more durable and more resistant to abrasion and cuts over sharp edges. A rope with a bigger diameter makes catching a fall easier. Because it is easier for the belayer to grab onto the rope and for the belay device to lock up compared to thin ropes. However, there are some downsides to using thick ropes. They are heavier and cause more rope drag. Hence for long multi-pitch routes, a heavy rope can hinder your progress.

Thin Ropes (8.9 mm to 9.5 mm)

Experienced climbers will prefer a thin rope between 8.9 mm to 9.5 mm. Especially for onsighting or redpointing hard routes. Thin ropes are light which makes redpointing long hard routes easier. Thin ropes are also easier to clip into quickdraws which can save you precious seconds. Climbing multi-pitch with thin rope has its advantages especially if you want to go light. Unfortunately, there are downsides to using thin ropes. They are less durable and more susceptible to abrasion and cuts.

Belaying with a thin rope can be difficult because it is harder for the device to grab onto a thin rope. Thin ropes also tend to slip on some assisted braking devices.

Rope and Belay Device Compatibility

Belay device climbing rope diameter range

Most belay devices especially Assisted Braking Devices (ABDs) come with a recommended rope diameter specification. Using a rope diameter outside of the specification will make belaying difficult. If the diameter is too big you may have problems with rope jamming when feeding or taking in slack. If the diameter is too small the belay device may not lock up effectively to brake the rope. Always check if your device is compatible with the rope you are using.


The type of rope you choose is dependent on the type of climbing you do and the experience you have. If it is your first rope purchase always start with the basics.

Get a 9.8 mm to 10.2 mm 70-meter single rope. This will be more than sufficient to meet all your climbing needs both in the climbing gym and outdoor routes.

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