Handling is often the first thing climbers notice in a rope and it was also the topic discussed most regularly by testers. Hand is the technical term used in the industry but we’ve opted for the more everyday term used by climbers at the crag; handling. A rope with good handling should be easy to tie knots in and those knots should hold securely. Ropes popular with testers fed through a variety of belay devices with ease made clipping quick and were smooth in their general handling. Despite being the thickest in diameter of the three categories of ropes tested, the handling of most ropes was appreciated by testers, with the Sterling Evolution Velocity and Edelrid Boa Eco coming out on top. Both ropes featured soft, supple handling that made knot tying easy and secure, and worked well in a variety of belay devices.
Resistance to Dirt
Having a rope that holds up well to dirt gives a rope a long-term appeal, both out of its function by making it easier to spot a middle mark and in the visual attractiveness of having a rope that doesn’t look ancient and haggard when pulled out of a pack. The Sterling Evolution Velocity won this category but the DMM Zone and Edelrid Boa Eco were a close second. Sections of new rope were saved to be used as a comparison as each rope was put through tough field use and testers all remarked about a rope’s cleanliness or lack thereof.
All climbers appreciate a rope that will hold up to the demands placed upon it and we’ve probably all heard about a rope that was “shredded” after a few days of use on the rock. While real field testing is valuable for determining a rope’s durability, we also used in-house testing on isolated sections of new rope to determine how ropes fared. The Maxim Glider stood out from the ropes tested in terms of durability, with the DMM Zone and Sterling Evolution Velocity tied for second. The Glider impressed testers during field testing for its durability and the ability of the sheath to hold up after repeated use.
If all ropes were made the same then there wouldn’t be much to review. Instead, each rope has its own features that are often highly touted by companies and in the case of thick ropes, this was certainly the case. Testers found great appeal in the Edlerid Boa Eco for the unique, colorful patterns created by the use of leftover yarns. The process gets high marks for its environmental pros, while the colorful patterns turned heads and attracted attention as well. The Maxim Glider’s many options of color, bicolor pattern, dry treatment as well as different lengths and diameters make it a rope that can be ordered to the exact specifications a climber wants. Plus, the Twill Pattern technology used gave the rope great durability and smooth feeding.
The versatility of a rope able to perform well in a wide range of climbing styles can give a rope great appeal to be less of a one-dimensional rope and closer to a quiver-of-one rope. The Lightning Pro from BlueWater stood out for testers because of the balance between handling, durability, and features made it feel like a rope that was at home on single pitch sport, long trad routes and winter days on the ice. Close behind was the Sterling Evolution Velocity, whose popular handling and good durability made it a popular rope on a wide variety of climbing missions.
Our test results came after dozens of days of field testing on desert towers, limestone sport climbs, long alpine routes, and freezing through cold belay sessions while ice climbing plus hours in the garage handling ropes, tying knots and repeatedly hauling a heavy bag to test the durability of each. The Sterling Evolution Velocity won the prize for top rope in the thick rope category but it was a close competition and there was something to be loved in every rope tested. The Velocity drew rave reviews for its handling and it held up well in durability testing. The Maxim Glider proved to be a workhorse of a rope that was more durable than any other rope that was tested. Testers loved the versatility of the BlueWater Lightning Pro, a rope that performed well in a wide range of environments. The Edelrid Boa Eco’s use of recycled yarns gave it an environmental and visual appeal while the DMM Zone proved to be a well-handling and durable rope that was particularly popular for single pitch cragging. All of the thick ropes proved to be capable of taking some abuse compared to their skinnier cousins and were popular with testers in a variety of climbing venues.
Our tests put these ropes through the wringer, subjecting them to dozens of days of sport, trad, and ice climbing on a variety of rock types, including granite, sandstone, and limestone. Our before and after photos show how the rope held up to dirt with a section of new rope compared next to the well-traveled rope. Numerous climbers of varying experience, guides, clients, and students gave feedback on characteristics like handling. We’ve used the term “handling” instead of the more appropriate term “hand” because I don’t think I’ve ever heard hand used at the crag.
We also took that new section of rope and put it through some in-house testing to judge the rope’s durability. With a haul bag weighing 55 pounds, each section of rope was run repeatedly over a rough edge as an abrasion test and then moved side to side along a sharp edge. That new section of rope was also used to compare the rope’s condition in terms of durability and resistance to dirt after extended use.
Additionally, each rope was rated on features included in its manufacturing and the rope’s ability to be effectively used across a wide platform of use to give the rope a versatility rating. Most ropes today feature middle marks and testers rated each rope for the presence of a middle mark and how easily it was visible, both new and over time as the rope picked up dirt and wear and tear. Ropes could receive higher marks for having a variety of colors or length options or if it came in a bicolor pattern option and how effective that bicolor pattern scheme was. A rope’s dry treatment, and how well it worked, was another key component of a rope’s features rating. Testers also rated a rope’s ability or preference to be used in a variety of climbing styles.
What is a Thick Rope?
While at one time climbers may have chosen a rope in the neighborhood of 10.5 mm for their first rope or as their daily workhorse for cragging and top roping, today most climbers are choosing ropes in the thick rope category in the 9.7-9.9 mm range. This size range is the most popular sized rope sold along with the midsize category (9.3-9.5 mm) at online retailer Backcountry.com. The change to smaller diameter ropes is with good reason as today’s thick ropes offer greater durability than their skinnier counterparts and offer weight savings compared to those 10.5 mm ropes of old.
While the trend in climbing has been to make ropes smaller and smaller in diameter, there’s obviously a place in many climber’s rope quiver for a thick rope in this size range. Today, you’ll see a lot of ropes in the thick rope category out at the crag, being whipped on repeatedly while projecting sport climbs or hung on over and over again while on top roping sessions. For these uses they are perfect and increasingly you see companies cap their rope line in this size range, as evidenced by Metolius and Black Diamond. Metolius dropped the 10.2 mm sized Monster rope from their line and now features a 9.8 mm rope at the upper end of their size range that begins with an 8.9 Monster for a single rope. Why carry the weight of an old 10.5-11 mm cord when a 9.8 will get the job done?
If the thick rope climbing category is representing the top of the size range for popular climbing ropes you’ll see many climbers using them outside of top roping or projecting sport climbs. With good handling, dry treatment, and bicolor pattern options many climbers are taking these thick ropes out on long routes and alpine adventures where the increased security and durability of their size is appreciated. In choosing a rope for a day climb of El Capitan’s famous Nose route we opted for a rope in this size range, seeing a balance between weight and security for the sharp edges, pendulums and other dangers on the route.
The thick ropes don’t have to stay in storage during the cold winter months as many climbers will opt for one of these ropes for their ice climbing forays. Many of these ropes feature dry treatment options that help the rope repel water during use and keep from, or delay, becoming a frozen cable like a standard climbing rope is more apt to. The dry treatments on the ropes tested proved effective at their job and while some may notice the heavier weight or different handling of a thicker rope many climbers, particularly new ice climbers, will appreciate the extra peace of mind offered by a slightly thicker rope and sheath to fend off errant ice tool swings.
The thick ropes on the market today have a variety of features to appeal to a wide range of climber. All of the thick ropes can be expected to last longer and prove more durable than the skinnier rope choices but they also feature traits that make them a versatile bunch. The environmentally friendly construction of the Edelrid Boa Eco, along with a bargain price of $150 gives it great appeal as a rope for that cash-poor climber. Other ropes in this size range will set you back closer to $200, depending on options and lengths. The best in class Sterling Evolution Velocity, available in many lengths and colors including a Chris Sharma color pattern, is a reasonable $208 and was really popular with testers for handling. The tough, durable Maxim Glider impressed people with its Twill Pattern sheath technology and inability to fray during field testing. The DMM Zone featured smooth handling and was a hit with testers when cragging and the BlueWater Lightning Pro proved to be a versatile rope that was up for challenges in a wide range of climbing disciplines. All of the thick ropes tested proved their ability to be everyday workhorse ropes and a popular size for good reason.