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In this comparison review, the UKC team has looked at 6 different lightweight sport climbing ropes from different manufacturers.
I remember back in 2008 I was in Lofoten with Mark Glaister for 2 weeks. We had done a fair share of the classic trad routes and wanted a day on the sport crag of Eggum. Of course, we only had double 9mm ropes with us so we climbed on these. Now anyone who is used to sport climbing on a single rope knows that double rope sport climbing is a right pain. It didn't take us long to reject the double ropes and push on with a single 9mm rope which obviously wasn't rated for single rope use (since we were not working any routes and mostly just lowering off this didn't seem too alarming although it is not recommended). What I noticed though was how great it was climbing with a lightweight 9mm rope - the clipping action was easy, the rope drag less, the knot was tidy and the rope felt really nice and supple.
Roll on 4 years and suddenly lightweight single ropes are all the rage. They also seem to come in some amazingly thin diametres like 8.9mm! So we decided to have a look at the current range and see how they perform - do they feel as good as the 9mm I used in Eggum?
Why would you want a lightweight rope?
Why wouldn't you want a lightweight rope?
The ropes were sent to us in May 2012 and have been used by various members of the UKClimbing team since then. This included two trips where the ropes were present together so that we could contrast and compare them all. We assessed them as single ropes only despite the fact that some were triple-rated (rated for single, double and twin use).
What we tested:
Colour and Middle mark
Sterling Nano in action at Auzat in the Ariege.
© UKC Gear, Nov 2012
What we didn't look at:
Manufacturer specifications - Weight/metre
Manufacturer specifications - Rope Length
You own a 60m rope that is really 65m but you don't know that. You climb a route and just get down to the ground when lowering. Someone else turns up and wants to do the same route and you tell them that a 60m rope is long enough. They lower off and end up 5m short - ouch!
Perhaps some standardisation in official extra rope length is called for? (Remember - always tie a knot in the end of your rope when lowering!)
Manufactures specifications - Diametre
Summary Table of Manufacturer Specifications
Beal Joker 9.1mm
The rope arrived factory-coiled and comes with a roomy and usable rope bag. We actually received a black rope which didn't have a middle-mark but I am assured that the normal colours available are anis-green and orange which do have middle-marks. The black we used is now discontinued.
The Joker has quite a thick and solid feel for its diametre giving you the impression that it is fatter than its stated 9.1mm. Despite this, it handles well with a reasonably smooth clipping feel. It creates a decent small knot without being ultra compact. It is a triple-rated rope (rated for single, double and twin use) which makes it appealing as a one-rope suits all solution.
During the testing the rope was used for sport climbing in France, the Peak and Spain, plus numerous sessions as single rope on gritstone trad. It took several falls while sport climbing. It didn't give the softest of catches but was certainly adequate. On a few routes it was used for basic working before a red-point and performed well for this since it's more-substantial feel gave more reassurance.
For belaying the Joker works well with all the main devices giving a reliable grip despite its diametre.
The abrasion of the gritstone and French granite did take their toll on the rope but was up to the job. Some slight fraying but nothing more than would be expected for the use it had. The middle mark wasn't present on our black test version so we can't comment on how durable it is on the current colour range of anis-green and orange.
Summary - A more substantial rope that feels fatter than it is. It doesn't give the lightness of touch that many might expect from a lightweight single but does appear to be more resilient so could be an option for those who want a more lightweight rope that can be used for sport and trad owing to its triple-rated status.
Revelation Mammut 9.2mm
The Revelation 9.2 is a single rope for 2012 but it will be triple-rated in 2013. It arrived in a correctly looped coil making it easy to unpack. It didn't come with a free rope bag but did have a middle mark.
This was certainly the most substantial of the ropes we had on review. It really did feel like a 10mm but had the specifications of a much thinner rope which meant that it didn't handle and feel as light as the others. The clipping action was solid but not very supple.
It was used primarily for sport climbing in France, Kalymnos and Spain. Some falls were taken and the catch again felt more like a 10mm rope - solid but not very elastic. It handles well enough with the belay devices we tried.
Where this rope lost out on feel and touch, it gained on durability. Mammut ropes are renowned as being hard wearing and this certainly fits that bill since it looked pretty much as new 6 months into use.
Summary - The most solid-feeling of the ropes we tried. Ideal for those after a lightweight rope with the handling and durability of a 10mm work-horse. It could also be a good choice for those who want a lightweight rope but need the mental reassurance that they have something a little more substantial tied into their harness. It will be triple-rated in 2013.
Additional Notes on Mammut Revelation - Duncan Campbell - After the review team had finished with these ropes I was given this one by Alan as it was a spare rope he didn't need. After reading through this review I felt that the Revelation wasn't represented as well as it could have been throughout the short space of this review. I have recently returned from a 10 week climbing trip to America, during which I used the Revelation virtually everyday, mainly on granite, which is a very unforgiving rock type for ropes. I felt that the handling and light weight of this rope were very good, yet it easily took all the abuse I put it through over those 10 weeks and still has a lot of life left in it.
I used it both as a single and as a half rope, and found whilst it is useable as a half, it felt a little heavy in comparison to other triple rated ropes I have used. However, these have often felt alarmingly skinny when used as a single and would not be able to handle 10 weeks of use as a single without looking significantly more tired than the Revelation. All in all, I think this is a great, hardwearing, yet light single rope and will certainly be looking to get a longer one for European sport climbing trips.
Edelrid Kite 9.2mm
The Edelrid Kite 9.2 was an exceptionally slick and thin rope for the first couple of months of use. This gave advantages in that it reduced rope drag, and was easy to pay out, but perhaps due to the slippy nature of the coating, the rope had to be used with caution, even in assisted devices such as a Petzl Gri-Gri 2. In fact it was so slick that any belayer who was not familiar with the rope was given an extra warning at the start of the climbing day.
After a couple of months of use the rope had bedded in nicely and was a joy to use, being both supple, easy to use and also very responsive in the belay plate. Lots of falls were taken, and the rope performed well. After 6 months of use it is now showing classic signs of wear close to the ends, but on the whole has been an excellent rope with no serious wear issues.
The green colour has been slowly replaced with a good old dirty black, as the rope has been used, but the black middle mark (a double black stripe) has remained visible and usable. The rope is supplied loop-coiled secured with two tensile bands and a cardboard wrap. No rope bag was included.
Summary - The Edelrid Kite is a good thin and light rope for those wanting to climb long routes or push their grade. The handling was at first too slick and not recomended for novice users or people belaying a much heavier climber.
Tendon Master 8.9mm
The thinnest of all the ropes on trial and also a triple-rated rope (rated for single, double and twin use). It arrived factory-coiled and with a small storage bag which wasn't usable as a rope bag.
The Master 8.9mm had a very light feel, almost wire-like. Although only 0.2 or 0.3mm thinner than most of the other ropes, it felt significantly thinner than most of them. It has an incredibly light feel and is beautifully easy to clip.
The rope was used for sport climbing in France, Spain, the Peak District and trad climbing in the Peak and North Wales. It took a few sport falls and gave a soft catch with a reasonable amount of stretch. For belaying it was fine with all the main devices although you do need to be very careful to stay within specifications since some devices aren't rated for diametres of less than 9mm.
Despite its lightness, the rope appeared to stand up to the job showing little signs of wear and tear after a summer of reasonably heavy use.
Summary - An excellent rope which combines a very lightweight feel with a decent amount of durability. It does feels like you are climbing on a half rope, which might not suit everyone, but handles well as a single rope giving you the best of both worlds (if your head can take it). This was probably the stand-out performer of the set and as a triple-rated rope, it can also double-up as a one-purchase solution for all your rope requirements but, at £200, it is quite expensive.
The tidy knot on the 8.9mm Tendon Master
© UKC Gear, Dec 2012
DMM New Breed 9.4mm
This is in DMM's Pro range of ropes which have been designed to handle high levels of use. It is supplied shrink-wrapped for protection and factory-coiled requiring it to be properly flaked out prior to use.
The rope was used for sport climbing in France and the Peak District and lots of trad climbing in the Peak District. There was no problem with belaying using the Gri-gri 2, traditional bugs or the Click-Up. The rope did become dirty quite quickly and it is unclear why this happened but most likely it was from use of an old and tarnished belay device. The rope responded well to a session with some Beal rope cleaner though and there was no visible damage to the sheath other than slight discolouration in places.
Even though this is the thickest rope on test here, it still felt very soft and is easy to clip with thanks to DMM's Pro-dry treatment. Its use with the Click-Up was noticeably smoother than an old 10mm single in comparison.
The mid-point is clearly marked with dye (see the photo right) so should easily stay visible for the lifetime of the rope.
Summary - After a season of concerted use this rope still feels great and should stand up to plenty of abuse. It'll be ideal for those looking for a lightweight single for trad and sport routes that gives great handling while offering added reassurance of a more substantial rope.
Sterling Nano 9.2mm
This is the second Sterling Nano 9.2mm rope that I have owned and its technical characteristics have not changed since I reviewed the rope for UKC in this article last year. However this purchase was made with a new colour in mind - a vivid block orange, not a choice for those who are looking for understatement or subtlety. At 80m this Nano was procured with continental sport climbing in mind, its minimal weight being good for both carrying to and from the crag as well as keeping the weight and volume of hold luggage down for the plane journey.
The rope was supplied in a plastic bag and factory-coiled. The solid colour of the rope contrasts well with the thick black middle mark of the Nano making its passing easy to spot as well as when looking out for it on the ground when attempting to see 'how far is it to the halfway' mark.
The Nano handles extremely well being a relatively stiff line coupled with what I can only describe as a cloth like textured sheath, which allows the rope to be easily held and clipped whilst still retaining the smoothest of passage through karabiners and belay devices. The Nano knots easily but does seem to pick–up dirt on the sheath more quickly than other ropes I have used, although this has done little to dull, the vivid orange or purple colour that I had previously. The older of the two Nano's that I have owned is still in regular use and shows no more wear than my experience of ropes would suggest, being still easily handled, coiled and with no signs of severe wear on the sheath. The ropes have both held a good number falls and have provided a softish take and have not slipped or run in any of the belay devices.
The Nano is rated for use not only as a single rope but is triple rated being OK for use as a double or twin line, which could be handy if need be on the odd Trad route where a separate set of double ropes is not really necessary.
Summary - The Nano has proved to be an excellent lightweight sport rope that is both hard-wearing and possess superb handling characteristics.
We tested 6 ropes and, to be honest, they were all pretty good. This wasn't such a surprise though since rope technology has come on so far in recent years and the manufacturer that makes a bad rope is unlikely to get very far.
The ropes dropped into 2 fairly distinct styles. On one hand we had the ropes like the Tendon Master, the Sterling Nano and the Edelrid Kite that gave performance like a previous generation 9mm half-rope that had been engineered to fulfil the specs of a single. These are the ones to consider if you are a confident climber after a rope that you can virtually ignore and concentrate on your climbing. On the other hand we had the Mammut Revelation, the Beal Joker and the DMM New Breed that seemed as if they had approached the problem from the other side by making thin versions of their thicker 10mm single ropes. Go for this category if you are the sort of person who feels your knot before a run-out and likes to use the reassurance of the rope to boost your confidence before a hard move but still wants the performance of a lightweight rope. As a third buying option, if you want to buy just one rope to fulfil all their climbing needs - sport, trad, twin, single and double - then consider one the triple-rated options - Tendon Master, Beal Joker and Sterling Nano currently, with the Mammut Revelation being added to this list in 2013.
Price-wise they are all quite expensive but shop around a bit since many are available on better deals than the RRPs. Also, always consider buying the longest rope you can afford; one of the golden rules of sport climbing is that you never regret buying a longer rope so go for a 70m or an 80m if you can afford it.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Alan James, contributions from Jack Geldard, Mark Glaister and Paul Phillips: