Best Workhorse Ropes of 2017 (9.7-9.9mm)
Ropes have come a long way since I bought my first rope 20 years ago. It was 10.5mm, lacked dry treatment, and was absent standout features like a middle mark or a fancy new sheath construction. At the time, 10.5 was considered a standard diameter for a rope and for years I tied into ropes of similar size.
It was several years before I bought my first sub-10mm rope and it was with great nervousness when I tied in. But, today, most climbers are buying a sub-10mm rope for their first cord or for their everyday workhorse rope. In this round of rope tests we bring you the workhorse ropes.
Why call these the workhorse ropes? My first sub-10mm rope was reserved for hard sport sends and long alpine routes, but today it’s standard to see people tying into a 9.7 to 9.9 rope as their everyday rope. According to online retailer Backcountry.com, the 9.5 to 9.8 size range are the most popular ropes sold. Companies like Sterling and Maxim have chosen this 9.7-9.9 size range for their big name athlete signature ropes, the Chris Sharma Evolution Velocity and Alex Honnold Signature.
For testing, we subjected these ropes to dozens of days of sport, trad, and ice climbing on a variety of rock types, including granite, sandstone, and limestone. By saving a length of new rope then placing it next to a section of the well-traveled rope, our pictures show how the rope held up to dirt. Numerous climbers of varying experience, plus guides, clients, and students gave feedback on characteristics like handling (aka hand) for tying knots, weaving it through belay devices, and running the belay itself.
After the side by side photos, we took that new section of rope and put it through some in-house durability testing to simulate extended use. With a standardized process using a 55 pound haul bag, each section of rope was moved repeatedly over a rough edge as an abrasion test and then moved side to side along a sharp edge. The ropes were then compared side by side and rated on visual cues of damage like fraying or core exposure.
Additionally, each rope was rated on included features as well as the rope’s ability to be effectively used across a wide platform of settings for a versatility rating.
For the workhorse ropes, it was a tight competition as every rope was tested was a joy to use and climb on. The Sterling Evolution Velocity ($205 for 60 meter standard) came out on top owing in large part to its popular handling characteristics and resistance to dirt. The Maxim Glider ($295 for 70 meter dry) proved to be the most durable rope tested while the DMM Zone ($193.55 for 60 meter standard) was the second most durable rope tested and fared well across a number of categories. Testers loved the handling and eye popping color of the BlueWater Lightning Pro ($167.95 for 60 meter standard) and the Edelrid Boa Eco’s ($149.95 for 60 meter standard) use of recycled yarns gave it a unique and popular sheath as well as appealing to the environmentally conscious.