Climbing Rope Basic Terms

climbing-ropesWhen you’re picking out climbing rope, there are a lot of things to know. After all, that rope is what is keeping you from really falling and potentially getting hurt so you should be informed about what goes into your ropes. Picking the right rope for the job is important, especially when you’re doing long climbs where ropes might be cut by crags or other obstacles. Here’s the basic terms you need to understand about ropes before going into the different types of ropes:


A filament is a thread — the slender fiber that is the basis of any rope. A bunch of filaments are woven together into a rope. Nylon 6 is now the most common filament in climbing ropes. Maila, hemp, and silk used to be common fibers used in climbing ropes, but nylon is lighter and longer lasting.


A group of 4-6 filaments twisted together to form a stronger piece is called “yarn.” The yarn you might use to knit a sweater has a number of strands of fiber — usually two, three, or more plies. If you try to break yarn, you’ll find it much more difficult than breaking thread. This is the first layer of strengthening


While knitting yarn is plied, ropes may be either plied or braided. A braid interweaves strands of fibers, just as you might braid your hair. Braiding takes more fiber, but it is also stronger.


Ropes have a center core with an outside covering. The inside of the rope may be either plied or braided. The most common pattern now for climbing ropes is a plied inner core and a braided sheath on the outside — this is called a Kernmantle rope. The core might be made of a different fiber from the outside.


The part of the rope you actually see is the sheath. This doesn’t do as much to create strength as the other parts of the rope but certain weaves can increase tensile strength. A sheath is woven around the core of the rope to protect and pad the rope itself. The thicker the sheath, the more protected your rope is against cuts and scrapes from rocks and dirt.

Kernmantle Rope

A Kernmantle rope, as mentioned above, is a rope with a plied core and a braided sheath. Kernmantle is a German word, literally meaning core-sheath. When you’re looking for ropes you’ll always want Kernmantle ropes that are UIAA certified. The UIAA is a group that ensures all mountaineering and climbing equipment is rated to the right use and that it will protect climbers from falls of certain heights. You can check ratings on their website.


Knowing these basic terms will help you understand more about selecting your climbing ropes and how to care for them, which we’ll com back to in future posts. We have experienced climbers on our staff to help you understand rope ratings and choose the right one for you so if you’re puzzled and want advice, be sure to stop by and talk to us.

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