Do Climbing Ropes Have a Shelf Life?


Climbing ropes are essential for ascending mountains and cliffs, so taking care to make sure that you will be able to use them for a long time is necessary.

Do climbing ropes expire? Technically, no, but they can get worn down if they are used too much. What’s more, if they are not stored properly, they can get brittle and will be liable to snapping with even the lightest of uses. Climbing ropes might be made of materials that can last a long time, but this does not mean that they will last forever.

Knowing how often ropes should be changed and how they should be stored is critical for climbers who want to be able to climb mountains in a safe and effective manner.

Considerations Regarding Climbing Ropes

There are quite a few considerations that would need to go into the selection and the use of climbing ropes. You can’t just walk up to a sports retailer, grab the first ropes you find, and start scaling mountains. The matter of expiration or the lack thereof is just one of them. After all, climbing ropes are supposed to fulfill multiple functions, including helping with:

·         Climbing

·         Descending

·         Securing

·         Rescuing

·         Camping

·         Crossing

Those functions can be applied to numerous purposes during a climb, especially ones that would last a few days. To that end, a climbing rope will need to meet a few requirements so that it can actually fulfill them. The table below should offer a clearer understanding of what these requirements are, which can then allow you to make better decisions when you are shopping:

RequirementsDescription
LengthIt needs to be long enough to for the uses, distance, and duration of the climb
MaterialsIt must be made of high-quality synthetic fibers to provide both flexibility and durability
ThicknessThe thickness must suit the nature of the climb
WeightThe longer and thicker the rope, the heavier it will be
QualityThe craftsmanship dictates the tautness and shelf life of the rope
BrandCompany or manufacturer reputations will factor into the shopping choice

Given the importance of the role that a climbing rope plays when you are ascending mountains, it only makes sense that you would buy it after considering all of the requirements above. There are no hard and fast rules with regards to those items, though, since they will all depend on the circumstances and the destination.

For example, if you are heading to the same mountain twice on different occasions with different durations and activities, you might not even bring the same rope. This is how subjective such a choice can be. Fortunately, there are ways in which you can make sure that you can make decisions to suit your needs, but they do require quite a bit of experience and research.

Length – Considering what you are going to be using your climbing ropes for, they would naturally need to be of a particular length. This is where your previous research into the area and your plans there will come in handy. Basically, they can inform you how long your rope will need to be.

For rock climbing that involves scaling a tall, sheer cliff face, for example, you are going to need ropes that might even exceed 100 meters. Depending on the circumstances, you might even need to bring multiple ropes of varying lengths. This is something that you will need to consider because you do not want to fall short of the rope’s length.

This could lead to either your failure in achieving your objective or increasing your risk of injury. Both are worth avoiding.

Materials – Then there is the matter of the materials, which is something that can have quite a large variety. It should be noted, though, that most professional climbers use ropes that are made of synthetic materials for an excellent balance in terms of flexibility, strength, and weight. They are basically made of strands that are intertwined to form larger strips that then form the entire cord.

This is why most good climbing ropes have such long lifespans and can even be functional after years in storage. They are also able to withstand repeated use, being scraped against jagged rocks while supporting the weight of the climbers. This is why the materials can be one of the most important considerations when buying a rope.

Thickness – Just as is the case with the length of the rope, the thickness is also a concern that you simply can’t ignore. That is to say, the rope will need to be of a particular diameter to suit the job that you have for it. This includes the weight it will need to handle and the surfaces that it will be coming in contact with.

As already mentioned, ropes are not just meant to carry people but also to secure things. These could include equipment, which will then need to be transported upwards if there is a rock face in the way. The heavier the equipment, the thicker the rope will need to be. Of course, there are also those cases where more than one person will be climbing at one time.

There can be times when groups will need to use one rope to ascend, after all. If the rope is too thin, it could easily snap from the weight, which would spell bad news for the people climbing up.

Weight – Having mentioned thickness and length, the next order of business has to do with weight. You need to remember that your rope is only one of the pieces of equipment that you will need to bring with you. There will still be things like your harness, the carabiners, and the supplies. As such, you need to make sure that everything will be as light as possible.

This is also where the material, thickness, and length considerations about the rope will need to be addressed. Ropes that are made of lightweight, sturdy materials of the right measurement are ideal. If you don’t get this part right, they will become more of a burden than a boon, especially when the slopes on the mountain are too steep.

Quality – Then comes the matter of the quality of the rope, which becomes apparent the moment you actually see it. The entire length of the cord needs to be free of tears or signs of being worn out. The surface should be smooth and supple all the way through, with no obvious overlaps with regards to how each individual strand was intertwined.

Of course, if the rope is damaged, it might come down to how it was stored, to begin with. Then again, if the rope can be damaged that easily, it might not be worth your time anyway. After all, it will need to withstand a lot more punishments than what a retail store employee can dish out. If the rope gets torn or ripped as a result of that, then you might want to go with another one.

Brand – Finally, there are certain makers of climbing gear that have earned a reputation both positive and negative within the community. As such, there are companies and brands that have become more trusted than others when it comes to the quality of their wards. This will then be a good point of reference when you are shopping for a rope.

None of the brands will be mentioned here, but you should be able to find some of the most trustworthy names with a quick search online. When you compared the reviews with the feedback found at climber forums, you can easily make your decision with regards to whether or not to buy their ropes.

When to Change Climbing Ropes

Assuming you have taken all of the points above into consideration and you have already made the decision to purchase a rope, when should you do it again? That is to say, how often should you change your ropes to ensure that your climbing activities will be as safe and enjoyable as possible? The answer would depend on a few factors, including:

·         Time

·         Number of climbs

·         Level of use

·         Quality

The most telling indicator of when you should change your climbing ropes on that list would have to be time. On average, climbers change ropes once every year, but that is only when you include climbers who don’t really go on excursions that often. This is where the number of climbs per year metric can come in handy.

If you are going out climbing every week, for example, you will need to replace your ropes at about that rate. Then again, this is assuming that you are only doing regular climbing where the rope is only seeing a moderate level of use. If you are a rock climber who likes to push things to the limit, though, the rate at which you should replace your ropes can go up.

Rock climbing basically subjects your ropes to some of the most rigorous exercises that it can go through. Sharp rocks, rough gravel, roots, branches, tree trunks, and mud can all wear it down quite quickly. In the case of extreme climbers, the climbing equipment can go through quite a high level of abuse.

This is understandable since more challenging climbs will naturally place the priorities of keeping the climber safe. This also means that the gear will only be a secondary or even tertiary concern. For the most hardcore climbers, it would not be unheard of for ropes to be replaced in a matter of weeks.

How to Store Climbing Ropes for Maximum Shelf Life

With those matters settles, let’s talk about how you can make sure that your rope will last as long as possible and one of the major concerns about that has to do with storage. This is understandable since you are going to have to deal with a lot of questions on how you are going to put away your climbing ropes after use.

Before we go any further, though, it should be pointed out that not all climbing ropes are the same and they react different to differing scenarios. For example, even if the rope you got is brand new, if you just leave it out in the sun and rain, you can expect it to be useless in just a matter of weeks. As such, you will want to approach this subject carefully.

Even when you do place the rope in a location where it is protected from the elements, you still need to think about things like humidity, mildew, mold, and pests. Rats can still chew through even the toughest of ropes, though, goodness only knows why they do it. Still, these are the facts that you will need to keep in mind when storing your climbing ropes.

With that said, the best way to put away all of your equipment is in a clean, dry place that is away from direct sunlight or any source of moisture. Generally speaking, the dryer the area, the better. With regards to the ropes, specifically, you might want to place it somewhere elevated.

Having a spot on the wall where you can hang it after you roll it up would be good since this is the best way to preserve its shape and material strength. If you just place it on a shelf, for example, there is a chance that it could get squished by its own weight or whatever you might carelessly place on top of it.

With that said, you might want to spend some time cleaning your rope after using it and before storage. The cleaner and dryer the rope is before you leave it in place, the better its condition will be when next you take it out. When you just drop it somewhere while it is still wet and dirty, its materials could be compromised and it might become brittle, as a result. Keep that in mind.

Related Questions

Does Climbing Rope Expire?

If kept in good condition with the right storage methods, climbing ropes will be usable for decades. As such, they don’t really expire in the way that you would normally think. However, if they are poorly treated, cleaned, and stored, then they are liable to be useless in months or weeks.

How Strong Are Climbing Ropes?

It usually comes down to the brand, materials, and type, but a typical climbing rope is strong enough to hold several hundred pounds of weight. The thicker the rope, the stronger it is, which makes the thickest climbing ropes perfect for pulling heavy things up a mountainside.

What to Do with Old Climbing Ropes

If you have climbing ropes that you have had for a while and are wondering what you could do with them, there are several options. Assuming that they are just a bit worn and can still be used, you could just give them to an aspiring climber who didn’t have the funds for equipment. While not exactly the most expensive items for the practice, ropes can still be pricey.

You could also just use the ropes for other things that might need a cord. After all, just because it isn’t good enough to withstand the rigors involved in climbing anymore, this doesn’t mean that it is already worthless. Other, less demanding uses might still be an option such as creating a swing set or creating a rope ladder for a treehouse.

Then there is the option of simply donating it to goodwill. There are bound to be many who will find a strong rope useful, even if it is not related to climbing. You never know where people’s ingenuity will take them and your old rope might just make the lives of the less fortunate a little easier.

Dangers of Using Old Climbing Ropes

With all of that said, how dangerous is it exactly to keep on using old climbing ropes? Again, it would depend on the condition of the ropes. Just because the ropes have been around for years, this does not mean that you can’t use them anymore. Assuming that you stored it properly, a climbing rope can still be as functional as the day you bought it several years later.

The only real problem is when there are clear signs of damages or weakness to the ropes. These are fairly easy to identify, as well. When it comes to damages, what you want to look for most are cuts and spots of wear and tear. That is to say, these are places where the strands have started separating due to how this indicated material weakness in the ropes.

For a better idea of how strong the ropes still are, you can try pulling and tugging at them. You should feel some weight on the item and resistance. If the ropes feel like they have become somewhat lighter and more brittle than when you last held them, the safest thing to do would be to replace them. If you don’t you are risking falling and getting injured or dying. 

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