How To: Pick the Right Rope

// by: MWO

So the vertical has called. Hiking is no longer as thrilling; you need to gain elevation faster. Climbing is usually the next progression for the outdoorsy adventurer, and now you’ve found yourself needing a rope. With so many options out there, it may be overwhelming.    What length of rope do you need? Does diameter matter? What’s the difference between half and twin ropes?! Fret no more; hopefully this article will help you with some of those questions.

Before you select a rope, you need to consider what it is that you are going to be doing. Are you only going to be rock climbing or do you want to branch into ice or mixed climbing? Are you getting a rope for mountaineering and glacial travel? Alpine climbing? What you choose will dictate your rope dimensions. We’ll go through these dimensions and what makes a rope ideal for you.

Static Vs Dynamic

The first thing to know about ropes is the difference between a static and dynamic rope. For any sort of climbing, a dynamic rope will always be used. These ropes stretch, which is vitally important if a climber takes a fall, as the rope will absorb some of the downward force produced. Static ropes do not give at all, which would make taking a fall on one extremely painful, and potentially harmful. However, static ropes are often used in rescue situations, or when needing to rappel or ascend efficiently.

Single/Half/Twin Ropes

Single Ropes

Single ropes are self sustained units, able to be used as standalone protection. Single ropes are usually for general rock climbing at crags, quick multipitches, top roping, etc. Single ropes are usually the first rope purchased as they are quite versatile.

Half Ropes

Half ropes are used in pairs. Generally they are slightly thinner than single ropes. They are often used on meandering routes, or ice routes where they are never clipped into the same piece of protection. For example, one half rope can be used on all the left most pieces of protection on a particular climb, and the other half rope on all the right most pieces. This helps reduce rope drag, and they add redundancy in the belaying/climbing system. Half rope work separately to catch a climber’s fall at different times on different pieces of protection so it actually reduces the concentration of a downward force caused be a fall. These ropes can also be tied together for rappels, which allows for full rope length descents. Half ropes usually range between 8-9mm in diameter.

Twin Ropes

Twin ropes are not as common in North America. They are even thinner than half ropes, and are usually 7-8mm in diameter. The purpose of twin ropes is again, to add redundancy into the climbing system. However, they differ from half ropes because twin ropes are clipped into every single piece of protection together. They are designed to work together to catch falls, and do not increase the downward force of a fall like using two single or half ropes in the same protection would. Twin ropes can also be tied together for full rope length rappels. When using two ropes like this though, rope management is crucial to avoid tangles and snags.


Rope diameters for climbing have quite a large range. A typical single rope used for general climbing, usually ranges between 11 and 8.7 millimeter in width. This is a very important factor. A rope with a larger diameter will be able to withstand more abuse and abrasion, acting as more of a “work horse”. If you’re just starting out and are new to climbing, if you know you’re going to be top-roping frequently, or if you know you’re going to be working some hard projects and falling/hanging out on the rope quite often, then a thicker rope should be on your radar. Anything near the 10.2mm range would be ideal for the above situations.
On the other hand, a thinner rope would be more ideal for the weight conscious sport or trad climber. A smaller diameter obviously means less rope, therefore less weight, which is sought after when on those tough climbs where you don’t want to be weighed down, or if you’re on long multipitches where rope management is much easier with less bulky ropes. If you’re looking for a higher performance rope, anything in the 9.2mm range would work awesomely. Lastly, if you’re looking for a rope to get on to glaciers with and pursue some mountaineering objectives, A rope around 8-9mm is typically quite common.


In the past few decades, the ‘normal’ climbing rope length was 50 meters. Now it’s more common at crags to see 60, or even 70 meter ropes as the go-to. Some 80meter ropes have been floating around but usually those lengths compromise weight and bulk too much and are more of a pain.
Regardless, your ideal rope length is going to be determined by what you’re getting into. A rope used for mostly cragging, maybe a few multipitches can easily be 60-70m. A rope used for alpine climbing can fall into that category but more often than not, weight is a large factor so ropes near 50-60m are quite common.
If you’re planning on getting a rope for glacial travel and mountaineering purposes, you may come across ropes that are significantly shorter. A popular length for mountaineering is often 30+ meters, however party size must be considered. You will want extra rope in order to set up a rescue, and this may be easier executed with a party of 3 versus a party of 4 on a particular length. 40 or 50 meter ropes are also quite popular and can also be more versatile. 50 or 60 meter ropes or often used where some section of the mountaineering objectives involve areas where a belay needs to be set up, such as some ice sections, or mixed climbing zones in the ascent.

Dry Treated Ropes

Ropes usually come as standard non-treated ropes, or some have a water resistant coating making dry treated or “double dry”. Double dry ropes are ideal for situations where you may find yourself in snow, or in wet or icy conditions. These ropes are evidently popular for alpine climbing and mountaineering. If you will only be using your rope for rock routes on nice dry days, a dry treated rope would not be necessary.


Get out there and enjoy the vertical world!