Choosing the Right Rappelling Rope

You are learning to rappel but now need to make the decision on choosing the right rappelling rope. This is a significant choice where it is important to understand all the specific details on what a great rappelling rope provides. There is a lot to consider when selecting a rappelling rope and how it will perform during the actual rappel. The intention of this article is to understand the differences between a Dynamic and Static Rope and which will be the best for your specific activity.

Static Ropes

Think about trying to rappel with a stretchy dynamic rope. It’d be frustrating, especially trying to ascend. Talk about three steps forward and two steps back. The much less elastic and flexible static ropes have many uses, including working at heights (think of high rise window washing), rescue work, caving, and the most fun and my favorite, rappelling. Static ropes are braided ropes. They are composed of a core and a sheath. The core’s purpose is to support weight and is made up individual strands. The sheath serves to hold the strands together and protect the core from wear and tear.

Before I get into all the technical parts of a rope and how to choose a rope out of all the ropes out there and how to know which one will work best for you, let me tell you about a rope I’ve been impressed with. The Singing Rock R44 NFPA Static Rope. It’s a fantastic rope with great durability. I really can’t say enough good things about this rope. As for the diameter, I prefer the 10.5 mm. It has great friction, and slides nicely through my rappel devices. I never feel like I’m slipping in anyway and it has very little bounce. I’ll be honest, sometimes on those longer rappels, and after a few uses, there is a just a little bounce, but you have to be paying close attention to notice. A little bounce is to be expected. You’ll notice a little bounce with most static ropes as you continue to use them. The other thing I really love about this rope is that it stands up to all the abuse ropes go through. The sheath is dense so it will hold up to abrasions against rocks. This rope should have a good long life, if it is cared for correctly (see my article on how to care for your ropes). It’s a solid rope that I’d recommend any day to a beginner or advanced rappeller.

Singing Rock Static Rope

Dynamic Ropes

Dynamic ropes are designed for rock climbing. They have some elasticity, stretching up to 40% of their original length. They are designed to catch you in a fall, so they need that elasticity. Static ropes should not stretch more than 10% of their original length, but there should not be too much falling in rappelling. Dynamic ropes are made to absorb some of the blow in a fall, to protect your body. Imagine falling with a static rope there to catch you. Even though you are not going to hit the ground, your body would still absorb all of the blow from your fall and you could be in a very dangerous, if not fatal situation, depending on the length of your fall. Never use a static rope to rock climb. Always use a dynamic rope that adheres to the standards set by the The Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA.) The UIAA is the international mountaineering and climbing federations that sets all safety standards that climbing equipment must adhere to.

Many people have asked if you can rappel with a dynamic rope. Yes, you can. (See my article here.) If you are looking for a dynamic rope, let me suggest the Black Diamond 9.9mm Dynamic Climbing Rope (available on amazon.)

Diameter and Length

You will have some choices when choosing ropes. Static ropes have a minimum diameter of 8.5 mm (anything less than 8mm is considered a cord. See “Cords” below.) and a maximum diameter of 16 mm. In general, the thicker the rope, the stronger it is. The rope that I have found is the Singing Rock R44 NFPA Static Rope 11.2-mm x 200 Feet. It comes in 10.5 mm and 11 mm diameters. This rope, in either diameter is very durable and holds up well and comes anywhere between 150-600 feet. The standard length of a rappelling rope is 200 feet or 60 meters. You will need to determine the length to use based on the length of your rappel.

Strength

These ropes are meant to hold people. In general, if you are purchasing a 10.5 or 11mm rope, it will hold you and protect you while you are in the air. While your shopping for ropes you will see strength ratings or strength capacity (not to be confused with the weight of the rope). The 11 mm Singing Rock rope has a strength rating of 34.7 kN. At first glance that means nothing. As a beginner, I felt that the rope should just be labeled with a general weight capacity. To break that down for you, the kN stands for kilo Newton. One kilo Newton is equal to about 225 pounds. To be even more specific 11 mm rope has a safe load capacity of 263 pounds and a minimum breaking strength of 3150 pounds, with a strength rating of 34.7kN, the rope should withstand 7,800 pounds of force. The minimum breaking strength is the minimum amount of force required to break the rope. The minimum breaking strength is also referred to as tensile strength or breaking strength.

Cords

Cords are products that look like a thin rope, and designed in the same way, but cords are classified as 8mm or less in diameter. Cords are not for protecting climbers from falls. These are used for purposes like the Prusik slings. Cords have a small capacity and are not able to absorb much energy or hold much weight. An 8mm cord can only carry about 145 pounds.

The Labels

Each rope you buy should come with a small label wrapped around the end. If it is not label or mislabeled from what you believe you purchased, return the rope and replace it with a rope that has been properly labeled. You want to be sure of what you are buying and using to ensure a safe rappel. The labels are covered with a lot of information in a very small area. Let’s go through what all the symbols are on the labels.

First you should see an A or a B on static ropes. A is a high performance rope and B is a lower performing rope.

Static ropes will have a 1 with a circle around it. This means it is a single strand of rope. When you rock climb you will see symbols like ½ for half ropes and a venn diagram symbol for twin ropes. You just need a single static rope for rappelling purposes.

The CE is a symbol of compliance. It’s a declaration that the rope is in compliance with European safety standards. Usually there is a number after the CE symbol to identify the accredited testing lab.

Next you should see a circle with a in the middle mountain and the letters UIAA. This symbol means the rope has passed even strict safety requirements established by the UIAA.

If the rope hasn’t already passed enough safety requirements, you should see the letters “EN” followed by a 3 digit number. This again defines safety requirements and procedures in Europe for testing ropes. The ropes labeled with the symbol comply with given safety regulations.

Lastly, you will also see the length and strength of the rope on the label. Strength will be a number followed by kN (kilo Newton).

The singing rock rope I recommend meets all of the above safety requirements and has also been approved by National Fire Protection Association for rescue purposes.

When to Dispose of your Rope

Regardless of how long your rope has been used, you should always retire your rope if:

  • It has come into contact with chemicals, especially acid.
  • The sheath has become damaged and the core is visible.
  • The sheath has worn and has become frayed.
  • The sheath is beginning to slip.
  • The rope has become stiff, has indentations, has hard or weak spots.
  • The rope has been subject to heavy loads and hard falls.
  • The rope has become dirty and you are no longer able to wash it completely clean.
  • The rope has had sun damage, heat damage, or has been damaged by abrasions or friction.
  • Lastly, the recommended service life stated in the instruction manual has expired.

It is important to note the service life regardless of use. Again, read my article on how to care for your rope to get the most out of your ropes life.

Often ropes are rubbed up against rough rocks and can wear the sheath down quickly. If you know you are going to be in an area with rough rocks, make the investment in a rope protector. I highly recommend them to protect your ropes to get the most life out of them. Petzl Protec Rope Protector. Its very durable PVC plastic with Velcro to make it quick and easy to wrap around your rope. Your rope will thank you.

Conclusion

There are so many ropes to choose from with various specifications and uses for each rope type. It can be overwhelming just looking at them. I’ve found that the Singing Rock 10.5 mm Static rope to be a great, durable rope, that can be used over and over again. This static rope will give any beginner or intermediate rappeller specifically what is sought to perform a safe descent in a rappel. At the end of the day it is important that you don’t rush your selection. Take your time to think about your specific intentions with your rappelling rope and research what will be just right for you.

Jacob

I love the great outdoors. I've tried to write the go-to info for all the Rappelling enthusiasts out there. Whether you finished your climb or hiked and rappelled down you will find tips, tutorials, and additional resources to help you. I live in Idaho with my wife and three kids and the great outdoors is our playground.

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