Beal Cobra II Half Rope
The Beal Cobra is an all round rope that can be used for trad, winter and alpine. These mid-weight ropes are ideal for anyone who wants just one pair for a bit of everything, says Martin McKenna
Designed to be used as a pair, half ropes help reduce drag on long, wandering pitches, or routes on which gear is placed to either side of the climber. Since that describes most British trad, climbing with a pair of half ropes is really our default option. Over summer and autumn we've been putting six pairs of all-round half ropes to the test. All are good ropes, and any is worth having, but the test team did come to a consensus on our favourites.
Dynamic ropes are classified in three different ways:
To confuse the issue, a few modern ropes are designed to meet two or even all three of these ratings. The triple-rated rope is a fairly new development, and only one of the models in this review is triple rated. A Twin specification may be of limited interest to most of us, but a rope that can be used as either a Half or a Single is clearly more versatile than a rope rated only as a Half.
The ropes in this review range from 8mm to 8.5mm. For an all-round trad half rope that may see heavy use on single pitch crags, sea cliffs, mountain multi pitch and winter routes, 8mm is about as thin as most of us would want to go, and many will prefer a little more beef in the hand. The thicker models on test here are very much mid-range in terms of diameter - fewer people these days use the once-standard 9mm.
The brands' stated rope diameters are based on a standard measuring method. Despite this, some ropes can look (and handle) thinner than expected when compared to ropes claiming similar diameters. On balance a thinner rope is likely to be lighter, and should suffer less rope drag; on the other hand it may be less durable and more prone to damage over sharp edges. Thinner ropes tend to be less 'grabby' in many belay devices too. This obviously has pros and cons. Paying out slack to the leader can be quicker and smoother with a thinner rope, but holding a fall and controlling the rate of descent on an abseil may both be more difficult. When using thinner ropes - and we'd include the 8mm and 8.2mm models on review here - it pays to be doubly careful when belaying, and to select a belay device that's designed for ropes of smaller diameter.
The ropes in this review have been used over a period of a few months trad climbing all over the UK, from outcrops to mountain crags. Ideally we would like to test how the rope performs after a year of consistent use, however we don't have the time to test them for such a long period. We do continue to use them after the review has been published and we will make later updates if we find that a particular rope performs differently than expected.
Ropes from the shop come in either factory loop coils or factory lap coils. The former puts the rope in spiral coils, and is less desirable since it puts a twist in the rope for every coil. Any new rope with factory loop coils needs carefully flaking out in order to get these twists out before use. Failure to do this can result in hideous kinking and even a rope being damaged. Factory lap coils are similar to the normal way of coiling a rope, looping from side to side without adding any twists to the rope. Lap coiled ropes are much better since these can be flaked out quickly and easily and used pretty much straight away.
Most rope manufacturers offer a weight per metre. This is a consideration for those trying to save weight on bigger routes, but perhaps less so if most of your climbing is done on outcrops close to the road. Ranging from 44g/m to 49g/m, the ropes in this review vary in total weight by up to 250g over a 50m length. For a pair of ropes, this 500g extra weight might easily be enough to notice when you're carrying them on a long walk-in, or running them out as a pair at the top of a big pitch.
You will often hear people talking about ropes in terms of softness and hardness. A 'soft' rope is exactly that, soft to the feel and more supple. A softer rope tends to be easier to use and clip, but can be less hardwearing. Other ropes feel harder and more wiry. These are not as supple, and can be a bit more slippy in a belay or abseil device; on the plus side though, they are usually more hardwearing, and will tend to soften over time anyway. Dry treatments tend to make new ropes feel harder and more wirey. Whether you prefer the smooth handling of a softy or the reassuringly robust feel of a hard rope is a matter of personal preference too.
Having a higher proportion of sheath over core tends to make for a more durable rope, albeit generally a stiffer one. The sheath percentage is not the only influence on a rope's lifespan, but it can be worth considering when you're choosing a model. In this review the proportions range from 39% (the very soft Beal Opera) to 50% (the much harder-feeling Edelrid Kestrel).
The international standards for measuring ropes are clearly defined but quite complex - we could write an entire article just on this. For most people, it is enough to know that the UIAA Falls rating is a relative comparison of a rope's durability. It doesn't mean you should ditch the rope after the prescribed number of falls, although if the falls are all significant, then you should certainly check it for wear and tear.
Maximum Impact Force and Elongation
A rope's ability to absorb energy is indicated by its Maximum Impact Force, a measure of the maximum tension in the rope when a climber falls. A low impact force is good for most scenarios - it makes for a 'softer' fall, for instance, and can add peace of mind if your anchors are less reliable (ice screws, for instance); on the other hand it usually also means a more elastic rope and greater elongation, hence a longer fall and very bouncy abseils. A balance needs to be struck here.
Whether you're climbing in the mountains, on sea cliffs, or in winter conditions, a 'dry treatment' is a big advantage for an all-round trad half rope. Different manufacturers use their own proprietary treatment. The main aim is to keep the rope dry and hence light during use, especially if winter climbing. However, it also has the benefit of reducing friction on both the rope surface, and internally, which reduces drag and wear and tear. To be certified as a UIAA Dry Treated rope, the amount of water absorbed by a rope cannot be greater than 5% of the rope's weight. For comparison, untreated ropes absorb around 50% and ropes claiming to be 'dry ropes' (but not UIAA Dry) may still absorb 20% to 40% of their weight in water. Even these lesser treatments are useful for reducing wear and dirt uptake, and for improving performance. Dry treatments do tend to make ropes more wirey, and hence they can be less 'grabby' in belay devices.
The prices given here are for one 50m rope; you'll obviously need to budget for twice that when buying a pair.
Rating: half & twin
Impact force: 5.6kN (half)
Rating: single, half and twin
Impact force: 5.5kN (half)
Impact force: 6.4kN
Impact force: 6.5kN
Impact force: 5.5kN
Rating: half & twin
Impact force: 5.9kN (half)
The Genesis has a durable feel, it handles smoothly (almost too smoothly at times), and it weighs significantly less than the heaviest 8.5mm rivals on review here. This makes it an attractive choice for mountain rock or winter routes. It's rated as a twin rope as well as a half, and while that's not going to really interest the average UK trad climber, alpine specialists might find it useful. Overall this is a quality offering from Mammut, and for general trad use it feels just right; but the cost is high versus comparable models.
The Genesis is factory lap-coiled, and in testing it fed out smoothly from new with no need to run it through umpteen times first.
Initially the Genesis was definitely one of the stiffer, more cable-like ropes on review, but it's softened up a little with use. Nevertheless it's still harder than the real softies. It may not be as thin as the skinnies in this review, but the Genesis does seems marginally thinner for its stated diameter than the other 8.5mm ropes. This thinness, combined with its smooth surface, means it can be quite slick in a belay device - something to look out for when belaying or abseiling, especially for beginners.
The upside to its hardness is a durable feel. Its 45% sheath is a bigger proportion than some of its rivals, and the Genesis promises to last well. Ours still looks pretty much new after a few dozen routes. With quite a dense braid, a shiny feel and a good dry treatment, the Genesis seems to resist dirt uptake well. It's also less prone than some rivals to getting in a spontaneous tangle.
Perhaps thanks to its relative thinness, the Genesis is the lightest of the four 8.5mm ropes in this review - and by a significant margin. At just 45g/m it is on a par with the thinner ropes we've looked at, and works out a full 4g/m lighter than the heaviest rival, the DMM Pitch. Over a pair of 50m ropes that adds up to a 400g weight saving. While this may be fairly academic if you spend your time at Stanage, it looks more of an advantage for those occasions when weight saving is more of a concern - think long winter walk-ins or Alpine routes for instance. Having carried these ropes on a couple of longer walk-ins, we're sold on their lightness. It's also an advantage, we've found, at the top of a long pitch with the weight of two long strands of rope hanging below you.
Though there is a middle mark, it is less bold than some, and on the darker rope in our review pair it's faint enough to be potentially missable in low light.
Robust double rope with high safety margins. The 8.5 Genesis offers outstanding handling and excellent safety for alpine climbing routes on rock and ice as well as for classic glacier travel even in three-person rope teams. The DRY treatment guarantees long lasting protection from dirt and water.
For more info see uk.mammut.com
A very supple rope, the Opera has great easy handling from first use. The only triple-rated model in this review, its particular selling point is that you can use it either as a pair or a single (most UK-based climbers will be less bothered that it's also usable as a twin). If you want one rope to do it all - trad, mountains, and sport - then this is it. However for alpine/winter use you'd be better off with the more expensive Golden Dry version of this rope.
Our review pair were not lap coiled, so needed careful uncoiling from the packet. However this is what Beal tell us:
"Currently our rope is wound as a continuous loop and so the end user will need to reverse the process in order to avoid tangles. What will be interesting to Beal fans is that we have designed in-house a new machine that will coil the rope so that the end user can simply take the rope out of the packaging and feed the rope straight into their rope bag. It means no more tangles! This will be rolled out to all of our dynamic ropes by January 2019."
The Opera has a really soft feel for easier handling, and good grip in belay plates. It also seems less prone to twisting and tangling than some of its rivals. This is probably the softest rope in the review, but it's one that still feels hard-wearing. The Unicore construction that bonds the sheath and core must help in this regard, and is likely to help make up for the Opera's comparatively smaller proportion of sheath (just 39%). That said, there's already some light furring on our review pair - nothing serious but worth watching (we'll report back in a few months is this gets worse).
It is thick for its stated 8.5mm diameter, and definitely feels thicker than the other 8.5mm ropes. This, combined with its softer feel, makes it initially nice and grabby through a belay device. Despite this it's smooth when paying out, not too jerky. By comparison some of the stiffer/thinner ropes are a bit slick and harder to control when new.
As the only triple-rated rope on review, the Opera can be used as a pair in either half or twin rope style, or you can climb on just one of them in single rope mode. This makes it highly versatile. If you go to the crag with a pair but find yourself doing a route that only really needs one rope, then you can use just one; if it's a very zigzagging line on which you end up clipping only one of the pair for ages, then you can feel reassured that at least that one rope is rated to full strength; using one is good for long easy mountain routes on which a pair of ropes would be a hassle to carry; and we've even top-roped kids using one.
At 48g/m it is not particularly light by the standards of half ropes, but Beal claim it is the lightest and thinnest single rope on the market. Being a triple rated rope also means that you can double up and reduce luggage on your trips if planning to both sport climb and trad climb in the same holiday. We haven't tested it for sport climbing but experience tells us it will compare very well with the ropes reviewed here - light, supple and easy to climb with. When used as a single rope it won't be particularly hard wearing though, and it's definitely on the skinny side. As a half rope its rated impact force is 5.5kN, while as a single it is 7.4kN; these are both comparatively low values, which suggest it will give a nice soft catch but a fair bit of stretch in the event of a fall (not a property we've actively sought to test in this review!).
The ropes come in nice bold colours, with a good strong middle mark that's hard to miss. The quoted price of £122 is for 50m of the Dry Cover treated rope that we've been using. The Golden Dry version is £143; this is a slightly better treatment that conforms to the UIAA Dry label, and it's the one we'd recommend if you intend to winter climb with the Opera.
Weighing in at only 48 g/m, the Opera 8.5 is the first sub 50g rope and is the lightest and thinnest single rope on the market. It is also rated as a double and twin rope. The rope is made with technology that combines all of Béals know-how, resulting in low impact forces, UNICORE technology, DRY COVER protection and the UIAA Water Repellent standard for the GOLDEN DRY version.
This ultra-supple, ultralight rope will please the most demanding sport climbers while remaining versatile for mountaineering.
For more info see sport.beal-planet.com
Initially the Kestrel Pro Dry was one of the harder, stiffer ropes on review but still easy to handle from new and not too slippy in a belay plate - in fact it can seem a bit too grabby if you're paying out fast. It softened up nicely with a little use. This is a versatile half rope for all-round climbing, decent enough but maybe nothing special for the price. With some furring already in evidence the jury is out on its long term durability.
It's lap coiled, and supposedly usable straight out of the packet: but we still managed to get one of our pair quite kinked on first use, so we'd recommend running them through carefully a few times from new.
When first using it in hot weather (and we're talking the summer heatwave) we noticed that the dry treated sheath has an almost sticky feel - but this seems to go over time. Compared to some others of ostensibly identical diameter - the Mammut Genesis and DMM Pitch for instance - the Kestrel feels a wee bit fatter. It's also a little softer than these two, but not by much. Having a less-smooth surface texture, it does feel a bit grabby in some belay devices. When you're paying out quick slack to a leader this jerky feel can seem like a bit of a disadvantage, but on the other hand it's usually a good thing for abseiling, where a really thin, slick rope can feel hairy. On a full-rope-length abseil in the Cairngorms, for instance, we were quite pleased to be using the Kestrel Pros rather than one of the smoother ropes on review.
This is rated only as a half rope, and while that might make it less versatile than double- or triple-rated rivals, for standard UK trad climbing a half is all you need - and that's primarily what we were looking for in this review. Its impact force, 6.4kN, is the second highest on test, and it's a bit less stretchy than most too. While that may be something to think about if you're intending to climb on the most marginal gear (for which a lower impact force is ideal), most users can just go ahead and climb with the Kestrel without thinking about the figures.
At 48g/m the Kestrel is among the heavier ropes on test. For a 50m pair it works out at 400g heavier than the ultralight model in this review, the Petzl RUMBA. Most users aren't going to worry about that extra weight, but more serious mountaineers and winter climbers might consider it a drawback.
The sheath has quite a matt texture that's noticeable rougher than the rest of the ropes on review. It soon shows up dirt: we're not sure if it actually holds onto dirt and dust more readily than other ropes, or if it's just more visible. The Kestrel has also got a bit furry and used-looking more rapidly than the smoother ropes on review - nothing remotely serious as yet, but we thought worth mentioning in case it's a long-term concern. On the other hand, to counterbalance this possible longevity issue, the Kestrel's 50% sheath proportion is the highest of any on test, and as a rule more sheath means more abrasion resistance, and thus a longer life. The jury is out for now, so we will have to report back in a few months time.
There's a middle mark on these ropes, but it's a lot fainter than on some of the rival models, and in poor light it might be possible to miss it.
An extremely robust half rope with unparalleled quality and durability. Particularly suitable for professional use, or additional safety when climbing in a team of three.
For more info see edelrid.de
An all-round workhorse that errs towards durability rather than saving every last gram, the Pitch is quite rigid and heavy but would be a good choice if you want one pair of half ropes to do it all - from sea cliffs and roadside crags to mountain rock and winter routes - and to take a bit of abuse. It's not cheap though.
Four of the six ropes in this review are 8.5mm in diameter, and the Pitch is one of them. This is a sensible sort of thickness for a general all-round half rope - beefy enough to inspire a bit of confidence in its longevity and sharp edge resistance, thick enough to safely belay and abseil with on most devices, and yet thin enough to keep the weight manageable.
That said, however, at 49g per metre the Pitch is the heaviest rope on test. For a 50m length it's around 250g heavier than the lightest rope in this review, the Petzl RUMBA, so for a pair this equates to half a kilo of extra weight. For fast-and-light alpine use, where saving weight is the name of the game, this will make the Pitch a less attractive option. The added weight is just enough to notice on a strenuous mountain walk-in, and maybe even when leading with a full rope length below you. However for general UK trad use, and we'd include most winter climbing here, the weight of the Pitch really won't be a massive concern for most people.
It's not an ultra-skinny lightweight; what you're getting instead is a durable half rope that can take a bit of abuse, a workhorse for the wear and tear of regular use on sea cliffs, mountain crags and winter routes. Its 49% sheath proportion is a bigger figure in this review than all but the Edelrid Kestrel (50%), and this suggests good long term abrasion resistance. Along with its weight and thickness, the smooth, hard, tightly braided sheath of the Pitch certainly feels tough, an impression confirmed by a review we carried out back in 2016 (see here). If you want a half rope that's likely to last well, this would be a good choice.
The Pitch is rated only as a half rope, and while that might make it less versatile than double- or triple-rated rivals, for standard UK trad climbing a half is all you need - and that's primarily what we were looking for in this review. Its impact force, 6.5kN, is higher than the others on test, but not by a lot. While that may be something to think about if you're intending to climb on the most marginal gear (for which a lower impact force is ideal), the rest of us can get on happily using the Pitch without worrying about the figures.
In terms of handling this is the stiffest rope on review, though it does soften a little over time. That hardness won't be everyone's cup of tea though. For its middle-of-the-road thickness it feels quite slick in a belay device, so you need to belay and abseil with a bit of extra attention, especially if you're used to thicker ropes or old furry ones. With its relative rigidity and smoothness, we'd advise adding a stopper knot when tying in too, at least until the ends have become a bit more supple.
Its dry treatment makes the Pitch well suited to use on spray-drenched sea cliffs, or drippy winter routes. Its two colours are good and strong (without being tastelessly dayglow - these things matter to some!) and the bold black middle mark is unmissable. We've found that thanks to the '3D' lap coil this rope feeds straight out of the package when brand new, with no tangles or kinks, too.
The Pitch has an 8.5mm diameter that gives low weight while being robust enough for year round climbing. UIAA Dry treatment minimises water absorption, keeping the Pitch light and supple in wet or freezing environments. High performance from the Scottish mountains to summer sea cliffs, the Pitch is a versatile and durable half rope.
For more info see dmmclimbing.com
The second thinnest rope on review, the Oxygen II may be a bit skinny to be the perfect all-rounder, but will certainly save you some weight. As one of the softest and most flexible models here, it's a nice easy-handling rope, and considering its thin diameter it's not too slippy in a belay device. However there are niggles, including the lack of a middle mark and its uncanny ability to get in a tangle.
Made, unusually, in Madagascar, this model is not lap coiled, and needed careful uncoiling before we first used it. Even after this it was very problematic first time out on a multi-pitch route, with a big plate of spaghetti resulting - not ideal on a hanging belay. Only after a long clean abseil were we able to sort the kinks. Subsequent use has confirmed that the Oxygen II is definitely more prone to getting tangled than any other half rope in this review. You only have to turn your back on it for a minute and it's in a knot.
Straight out of the packet this is one of the softest ropes on test, and in use it quickly seems to soften more - something we first noticed at the ends (which get a lot of handling when repeatedly tying on). Its softness and flexibility make it really nice to handle. But it won't be to everyone's taste, as being both very soft and very thin makes the Oxygen feel a little insubstantial compared to thicker and harder alternatives; most of our review team were a bit unconvinced by it.
Relative to its thinness it's not too difficult to belay with, but at just 8.2mm this is the second thinnest rope on review, and less experienced belayers in particular will still need to be doubly attentive because it's definitely less grabby in a belay device than the thicker ropes we've looked at here. Abseiling on the Oxygen II is also faster and less confidence inspiring.
For all-round trad climbing and repeated heavy use, we would tend to prefer ropes a little thicker than the 8.2mm Oxygen. The combination of thinness and softness does inevitably make us wonder about its long-term durability, and so too does its low sheath proportion - at just 40%, among the lowest in the review. In its defence the Oxygen II does have a Unicore construction, which tends to increase a rope's lifespan. As yet we've no cause for complaint in terms of its longevity, but this is something we will be able to report back on after these ropes have had a lot more use. For now we'll just say that the sheath feels quite 'open' and almost baggy, which is something that a number of users have commented on - and not positively.
The colours are good and bold (if you like dayglo orange!) but one big criticism is the lack of a middle mark, something we think all ropes ought to have as standard since it's so useful for belaying and abseiling on a single strand.
Weighing just 45g/m, the Oxygen II is the joint second lightest rope on test, only 1g per metre more than the thinner Petzl RUMBA. For casual cragging use this may not be a major factor, but in a situation in which every gram counts it's worth bearing in mind that a pair of 50m Oxygens will weigh about 400g less than the heaviest ropes we've looked at here. If you're packing for a flight or lugging them up an Alp that may well seem a significant weight saving.
Oxygen II is a half rope of superb quality, performance and exceptional life span. Unicore now makes it even safer for the most severe terrain conditions. Its very low impact force and light weight make it great for long routes and demanding mountaineers. HD Cover greatly reduces abrasion and snags while allowing the rope to run fluidly through protection and across the rocks.
For more info see edelweiss-ropes.com
This is a superb rope, but we feel it is something of a considered purchase. Its thinness makes it harder to control when holding a leader fall or abseiling, and likely has a bearing on how much rough treatment it's advisable to give this rope too. As such, the half-and-twin-rated RUMBA is arguably a bit specialist to be the staple pair for the average UK trad climber. Take it to the Alps or on a big Ben Nevis ice route and it'll shine.
At only 8mm this is a very skinny rope, and in use it definitely feels it. For an all-round trad half rope this is as thin as we'd want to go, and arguably a bit of a borderline inclusion in this review. It has a stiffness that is normally associated with thicker ropes and feels quite slick initially, which makes its initial handling less smooth than you might expect for something so thin. Nonetheless that's only relative, and of all the ropes on test the skinny RUMBA is still the most demanding to belay with. Abseiling is exciting too! Using this rope safely takes some care, and we'd not recommend it to beginners. Choosing a suitable belay device is key, since some twin-rope devices don't really have enough grip on a rope of this diameter and slick finish.
Due to the initial hardness, we've found that knots also have a worrying tendency to loosen - something a test team first discovered on an exposed belay halfway up Esk Buttress. When new we'd advise tying on with a figure of eight, and a stopper knot might not be a bad idea too.
The encouraging news is that it does get better with use as some of the slickness wears off and it softens up a bit. Then you start to gain the benefit of this lightweight thin diameter rope that really performs; the RUMBA is smooth-running, and just feels right. The RUMBA has a good dense-feeling sheath, and a 41% sheath proportion that seems respectable for a rope this skinny. As a result it has a surprisingly robust feel despite being so thin. As yet our review pair looks unblemished, though it will be particularly interesting to see how they fare after a few more months of heavy use.
At only 44g per metre this is the lightest rope on review, and though it's only marginally lighter than the Oxygen II and the Genesis, even this modest difference adds up to 100g over a pair of 50m ropes. Whether it's a long hard trad pitch, an alpine route or just a sweaty walk-in to a mountain crag, there are definitely situations in which every little weight saving helps. Rather than the trad all-rounders we've mostly been looking at in this review the RUMBA does have more of the feel of an alpine or winter rope, an impression that its dual rating (both half and twin) does nothing to dispel.
Basically this is a really high-spec rope that takes a bit of getting used to but, like a fine wine, improves with age (or would it be better to compare it a pair of boots that improves once they've been broken in...?). Yes it's a bit speciaist if all you want to do is bimble up the Idwal Slabs or tick Classic Rock routes, but it's such a nice rope - and at such a good price - that we really had to give it a Highly Recommended.
The RUMBA 8mm half rope offers great versatility in multi-pitch climbing, mountaineering or ice climbing. Featuring a reinforced sheath for great durability, it also has the Duratec Dry treatment for enhanced performance under all conditions.
For more info see petzl.com
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