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This article was first published in July 2011 but since then we attended the Friedrichshafen Trade Show which included some new products, and some old ones being discontinued. Here is the updated article ready for those winter-sun trips, or the climbing wall season.
Alan James, rope mule with the Beal and Edelrid rope bags.
Rope bags were first developed by Metolius almost 20 years ago. They were born out of necessity - Smith Rock, Oregon is the local crag to the Metolius crew, and the cliffs there are tuff and basalt. The dirt at the base of the cliffs is composed of sharp, abrasive, glass-like particles that impregnate and penetrate ropes. Local climber Scott Frye designed the first Metolius rope bag, the Dirt Bag, back in the early 90's, and since then Metolius have added to their range and most other major brands have come up with their variation on the theme.
The standard rope bag consists of a rope sheet attached to a stuff bag of some description, with the only real variation being whether it uses over-the-shoulder straps or rucksack straps.
Shoulder Strap - A shoulder-strap bag is intended to work with a rucksack for the rest of your gear. It isn't a comfortable way to carry heavy loads long distances so is not a good choice for long walk-ins, or large bags with heavy extra gear, but is great for just a rope with the rest of your gear in your rucksack.
Rucsack - Obviously you only have one back, so if your rope is on your back, your other pack can't go there. Not a problem if you are travelling light and sharing gear with a friend, or have a large rope bag that can take extra gear. Smaller rope bags can be carried on your front (photo right) but this isn't advisable for long walk-ins or for those with bad backs.
Combination Straps - A few manufacturers have adapted their bags to have removable straps so that you can carry it in either of the above methods as required.
Why Should you Use a Rope Bag?
All rope manufacturers recommend the use of a rope bag to protect your rope from dirt and abrasive particles which will reduce the strength and performance of your rope. It will certainly increase the life of your rope and easily pay for itself.
Which Rope Bag?
The first thing you need to ask yourself is how do you want to carry it - over the shoulder, or on your back - this will narrow down the choice. If you want something that you can stuff in your main rucksack then you are best off considering one of the more simple versions (see end of review). If you want something a little more sophisticated, then have a look at the selection below, which are some of the more innovative versions that manufacturers have been coming up with over the last few years. This is only a selection of what is available.
Metolius Roperanger/Ropemaster - £35
Metolius produce a range of rope bags including the simple Dirt Bag, the Ropemaster, Roperanger (until the end of 2011) and the Porta-Bag - a rope bag/bucket rucksack.
We tested the Roperanger which is being discontinued in favour of the Ropemaster for 2012, but is identical in all respects except that it is a shoulder carry rather than the rucksack.
The Roperanger/Ropemaster comprises of a generous 1.2 x 1.5m sheet and bag. The bag capacity is 22 litres, which Metolius say is enough for a 60m or 70m rope. Our 70m, 9.7mm rope fitted in the bag easily with room to spare. An 80m rope would fit, but that spare space could also easily be filled with two pairs of rock shoes, harness, chalk bag, spare clothing, a water bottle and maybe even squeeze in some quickdraws, or give those to your climbing partner. The Roperanger/Ropemaster cinches up very neatly with a sturdy drawcord and two compression straps that close with unbreakable aluminium buckles.
The Roperanger version has two adjustable shoulder straps and can be used as a crag pack that was comfortable to carry fully loaded. The straps can be adjusted to be carried on the shoulder but this is quite awkward. This version is still available but is being replaced by the Ropemaster in 2012 as previously mentioned. The Ropemaster version has a single shoulder strap allowing you to carry a rucksack on your back as well.
At the crag you get nearly 2m square of sheet to lay your rope and sit on yourself, as well as the essential tie-off loops for both ends of your rope. A feature of the Roperanger/Ropemaster is a built-in tarp pocket that holds the rope when carrying the bag between routes; a very clever innovation that also helps at the end of the day when folding/wrestling the sheet and rope into the bag.
Other features include a clear window-opening on top so you know which rope is in your bag, an accessory pocket - spacious enough for keys and your wallet - and a rubberised carrying handle for ease of carrying with one hand.
The bag is made from ballistic nylon and is well constructed, it should last you years.
Summary - The older Roperanger is a good big rope bag that doubled up as a rucksack for most of your gear. The newer Ropemaster version allows you to carry a rucksack as well. The Roperanger might have been a little small for all your gear, and it remains to be seen if the Ropemaster is a little too big as a rope bag only (if there is such a thing). Apart from these considerations the Roperanger/Ropemaster is a well thought out rope bag that does its job; it is spacious, easy to pack, comfortable to carry, and does its main job as a rope sheet at the crag well. With a SRP of £35 it represents great value for money.
La Sportiva Medium Rope Bag - £35.50
This is a good-sized rope bag, that easily fits a 60m/70m rope, shoes, a dozen quick-draws and your butties. There is a useful zipped internal pocket for car keys, wallet or even a guidebook. A couple of adjustable shoulder straps (and a linking chest-strap) means it works well enough as a rucksack when fully loaded. The sheet itself is normally clipped to the interior of the bag though it can easily be removed. The sheet has a tie-in loop at each of the four corners which makes it nice and easy to pick up and move, complete with the rope when travelling between routes along the base of the crag. There are also a couple of tape handles which offer another portage solution.
The main part of the bag is accessed via a zip and the bag is constructed in such a way that it can be used as a rope-bucket if needed. This slightly restricts the size of the opening making it a little tricky to bundle into the bag even when it is fully opened. When fully loaded it is a bit of a 'sack-of-potatoes', though this is no great surprise as the bag itself is very light.
On the down-side, the compressions straps on the back don't seem to function, even when the bag is full to busting, they are simply too short. There are also two other straps that are of a mysterious purpose. Finally it could do with a light-weight waist belt to make it more comfy when full.
Summary - A good-sized and solid rope sheet/bag. Cut off the errant straps and add a waist belt and it will become a much more functional piece of kit at a very reasonable price.
Edelrid Caddy - £40
New for 2012 is this innovative look at the basic rope bag. It consists of a central cylinder bucket with a square rope sheet attached. The idea is that the rope generally falls into the centre of the bag keeping it tidier and making it easier to gather together when packing up to move around the crag, or at the end of the day - you just grab the four big corner handles and pick it up and everything drops into the central bucket. It is a bit like a combination between a rope bucket and a rope sheet.
The rope sheet itself is of standard size - about 1.2m square - and it has rope fastening at each corner. There is also a dead end rope tie in the base of the central bucket. The bag has a single shoulder strap.
In use we found that the bag performed well and the central bucket did make keeping the rope central on the mat, moving around and packing it away, significantly easier than with a normal rope sheet. The bag carries well and is easy to combine with a rucksack on your back. One small drawback was that, when you unwrap the rope for the first time, it is obviously still bundeled in the central bucket. If you start climbing on it straight away then you will find that the rope doesn't always pay out as smoothly as it might. Usually you have to pull it out to loosen the rope tangle a bit before climbing. Another curiosity about this bag was that it seems to pack to roughly the same size with or without the rope in it since the bag itself is quite bulky however this isn't a big problem.
Summary - A significant improvement on the previous Edelrid rope bags and an innovative approach which works well. The rope can tangle on first use.
Edelrid Crag Bag II - £65
Another new rope bag for 2012 from Edelrid and also one with an innovative approach. The Crag Bag II is a full gear/rope bag rucksack combined and is in the same bracket as the Beal Combi Cliff (below) and the Climbing Technology Falesia (below). A difference to the other two though is that the rope sheet is integral to the bag and folds out as you open the bag. Inside the bag are some secure pockets and some loops for clipping your draws and gear, plus the rope sheet has a small foot mat attached to one corner.
The bag proved to be extremely easy to use on a sport climbing holiday where you just bundeled your boots, harness, draws, etc. into the bag on top of the rope then folded the mat in on itself and zipped the bag shut. One slight drawback is that, once closed, you pretty much have to completely unfold the rope sheet in order to get back in again.
It is quite a small bag which might make carrying trad gear, spare clothes, a helmet and other clutter difficult if using it for trad climbing. It doesn't have a waist belt which makes it a little awkward if fully loaded but then it isn't that big so this isn't a major problem. The size also means that you can easily use it as hand luggage on a plane.
The security pockets have a strange feature of being accessible from either side via a zip. This actually makes them less secure I think since you could shut the zip on one side and forget that you had left it open on the other side. It seems to be a pointless extra zip since access from one side would be fine. The back of the bag also has a ridge-back of clipping loops which don't appear to have any obvious purpose apart from maybe clipping the odd extra bit of gear on. However it does seem a little elaborate for that purpose.
The jury is still out on the foot mat - useful maybe to cushion your feet when putting boots on but not if it gets filthy.
Summary - A sophisticated and innovative bag that does its job well and is solidly built. It shows some signs of being slightly over-designed and could probably do with dropping a few gimmic features like the double zip pockets and the ridge-back tape, and maybe shedding a few pounds from the price.
DMM Classic Rope Bag - £30
DMM rope bags have been around for almost as long as Metolius. The latest version of their classic rope bag has a few features that elevate it from a standard bag. Firstly, the bag incorporates a combination strap system. The rucksacks straps can be removed and fastened on to make it a shoulder strap. Unfortunately, as with other bags, the strap ends need unpicking before you can do this easily. Also, another small design ommission is that there is no extra buckle to attached the shoulder strap to forcing you to carry the bag in vertical mode rather than horizontally. This does make it dangle a little low and swing around a bit.
The bag itself is a very good size with a sewn-in rope sheet and the normal rope tie-in loops. It is easily big enough for a 70m rope and a good selection of gear although the straps are a little uncomfortable for long walk-ins if the bag is heavy.
The main strength of this bag is its closing system. It has a full zip but, unlike most of the other zip closing bags we looked at, this one functions with the compression straps. You can zip it shut, but also you can use the compression straps to do a quick closure for carting it along the crag. It also has a clever third strap that ties the whole bundle up really nicely into a neat rectangular pack.
Summary - An excellent large rope bag that has been well designed. An extra buckle to aid carrying would make it even better.
DMM Courier Bag - £60
DMM also offer a radical alternative solution with their stylish Courier bag. This large over-the-shoulder bag is easily big enough for all your gear and a rope and also doubles as a good bouldering bag. It has a myriad of internal pockets and a solid closing system and a detachable rope sheet with tie-in loops.
The only slight problem with this bag is that it is very uncomfortable to carry if stuffed with heavy gear so is not ideal for long approaches.
As a bag though it is probably the one rope bag we looked at that you will end up using as a travel bag at other times. It is incredibly useful for airplane hand luggage and significantly more robust than most other travel bags of the same price bracket.
Summary - A bit too spacious as a main climbing gear bag due to the uncomfortable carrying system, but great as a bouldering bag and also really good for general use or as something to supplement your rucksack.
Climbing Technology Falesia- £45
The Falesia is a stylish offering from Climbing Technology. It is an all-in-one rucksack similar to the Beal Combi Cliff, with a separate rope sheet and split zip down the middle of the back panel which tucks away at the top of the bag so as not to rub against your back. The idea is that you flop the bag on the ground off your back and then split the bag open for easy access to everything.
It has two large side pockets, plus two external pouches for water bottles. Other features include a hardwearing PVC back (the bit you flop on the ground), a waist belt, some extra double straps on the top of the sack for a second rope, or your main rope coiled if you are carrying a lot of gear. The main zipper is robust with string tabs that are easy to shut. It also has a very clever system of back straps and carry handles that fold away as required turning it from a back pack into a tidy holdall. The compact size means it just fits in the requirements for airplane hand luggage. The holdall handles also serve well to easily carry the bag around the crag or wall without zipping it up each time.
The Falesia is suitable for sport and trad climbing. The design of the split open bag makes it easy to pack, unpack and access gear. It is quite sizeable hence the addition of the waist belt is essential and the two extra straps on the top of the bag make it very versatile for big loads or carrying a coiled rope or two when trad climbing. There are not many people who won't be able to get all their gear in this and yet it is a comfortable carry.
If there is one tiny criticsim it is that it could do with a small security pocket for keys, wallet etc. The bigger side pockets are okay but they are easy to leave open, although one does have a tag for a key ring.
Summary - An exceptionally well-designed bag at a very attractive price with plenty of well thought out features. Very versatile with potential to be used for lighter sport gear and full trad gear - for many people it will be the only bag you need. No small security pocket but the pros far outweight the cons on this one.
Moon Voyager Rope Bag - £40
Ben Moon and his Moon company have always tried to put an innovative look onto their gear. The Voyager Rope Bag is no different in that it looks and handles differently to most of the other rope bags on the market. It has a very versatile carrying system which has been transferred across from other Moon products so that you can either carry it as a rucksack or a shoulder bag using the same handle. It is also has a tear-drop style zip opener and compression strap that allow it to be used as a rope bag or a rope bucket.
The rope sheet is a pretty standard 1.2m square with tie-in loops. In this case it is detachable which means that the bag can easily be used as a general small rucksack without the sheet in place.
The carrying system is probably the big attraction of this bag which has been very well done since it is a comfortable carry in either mode. However, as a rucksack, the bag isn't really big enough for all your gear so most will usually want to carry it in the shoulder strap mode. The simple system for rearranging the same strap in shoulder strap mode is slighty hampered by the fact that threading the buckles is tricky due to the sewn-over ends. As with the Metolius Rope Master and the DMM Classic, it has been necessary to unpick the stitching on the strap ends to enable quick and easy re-threading of the shoulder strap.
The bag itself is a little short on room. It will, with a squeeze, just hold a 70m single-rope but you are straining at the zips to shut the bag. It won't hold two 9mm ropes, which makes it less useful as a rope bucket for hanging belays above the sea. This is a real shame as the shape and design of the closing system is good and just a little more fabric in the bag itself would have made it excellent. There are two curious compression straps which seem to have no real purpose since they don't help to get the zip shut, and once the zip is shut they don't compress anything. The top strap does function when using it as a rope bucket, but the buckle itself has been put on the wrong way up so that it drops open when not under tension. This could be solved by putting the buckle on the other way up.
Summary - Some nice innovate ideas in this bag, but the final product has a few problems that still need ironing out. A potentially great product that just misses the mark.
Beal Combi Cliff Rope Bag - £57
The Beal Combi Cliff Rope Bag serves as a rucksack for all your gear and a rope bag at the same time. It is basically a full-size pack that can take all your gear and still hold a 70m rope and rope sheet. It has a clever split back opening system that means that all your gear is easy to access once you dump your sack, outer face down on the ground. Inside there are some internal pockets and even a few gear loops for quickdraws and gear. The heavyweight internal rope sheet is not attached to anything but is the usual 1.2m square size with tie-in loops.
The opening system is great for easy access, but does present a couple of problems. You need to be quite careful of how you pack the thing to avoid having a boot, helmet or water bottle sticking in your back for the walk, but a bit of practice soon sorts this out. The second, more serious problem is that the strain placed on the crucial closing zip tab is huge, so much so that mine has broken already after a few months of use. A cord pull on the zippers would avoid this problem. The zip is a two-way zip, but you tend to only zip it one way to avoid having the opening at the base of the sack, so the two-way aspect is a little redundant. The tabs do fold out of the way when the pack is on your back.
For carrying, the sack holds plenty, and you have no need of the shoulder strap option since you won't need another bag with this one. However, it can get heavy, and the omission of a waist belt is regretable. A full sack with heavy rope and gear soon weighs down shoulders on a long walk-in. This simple addition would raise this to an excellent product.
Summary - A good bag that is let down by the lack of waist belt and the zip-tab closing method.
Wild Country Rope Bag - £30
Wild Country haven't tried to do anything radical with this bag, just follow an established format and make a good job of it. This rope bag is in the same mould as the original Metolius rope bags - a rope sheet attached to a sack with a compression draw string and compression straps, carried using an over-the-shoulder strap. The sheet itself has tie-in straps that are marked in this case just to remind you which end to tie on with, but more importantly, which end to leave tied to your rope bag to avoid dropping your leader when lowering. This simple reminder is a good addition to help establish this as good practice for all of us when sport climbing.
The bag itself is a solid build with no real faults, it does what it is designed to do and does it well. This system works and is all you need if you use the two bag system - one for your gear and one for the rope. The bag itself is actually big enough to accommodate quite a bit of extra gear, but probably not everything you need for a full day.
Other features include a small security pocket on the outside for keys etc. and a padded section to give more comfort while carrying the bag.
Summary - A good take on a classic design at a very good price. It does what it does well, but could perhaps be improved by at least including one extra strap for the back pack option.
IKEA Shopping Bag - 40p
The budget option remains popular at many climbing walls, especially those near an IKEA. It has no features, and isn't designed for the purpose, but does a pretty good job. It is awkward to pack it small and keep the rope tidy, and it isn't very good to carry long distances unless packed in another bag.
Summary - You get what you pay for, but it could also last you for your entire climbing career.
The IKEA carrier bag - a bargain at 40p!
Standard Rope Bags
We haven't looked at any of the most popular style of rope bag which mostly adopt an over-the-shoulder strap style and with space for the rope and little more. There are a number of these on the market and the table below covers some of these basic models but there are others available.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Alan James, Mick Ryan and Chris Craggs: