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How to Care for Climbing Ropes: Part 1 – What causes damage?

How to Care for Climbing Ropes: Part 1 – What causes damage?

Buying your first rope or set of ropes is a big investment. You’re investing in your personal safety and security as a climber by spending a big chunk of your hard-earned cash. A rope is probably the single biggest investment you’ll make and it’s easy to feel that your investment ends there, but it doesn’t. If you care for your rope, it will look after you and last longer. In this article we are looking at how to care for your ropes, to give them the longest life, starting with some of the main culprits that cause rope damage, so that you can prevent problems before they begin. 

#1 Chemicals

It’s surprising how much hidden damage can be done to a rope by chemicals, including household cleaning products. One of the worst culprits is battery acid. At the crag, we regularly use sunscreen and midge spray. These, too, are chemicals that can cause degradation of the integrity of your rope. When chemicals attack your ropes, you will often not seen the damage, and it will only become clear when the rope breaks. It’s therefore critical that you protect your ropes from coming into contact with chemicals when they are being used, transported and stored.

#2 Cutting/Abrasion: Rock/Axe/Crampon

Winter Climbing in Aviemore
Photo: Sam Leary Leading Edge

If you’ve been climbing outdoors and put your hand into a gritstone crack you will know how abrasive rock can be. Depending on where you climb, the rock can be extremely sharp and this can cause abrasion and cutting of ropes. If you’re climbing in winter, standing on your rope while you’re wearing crampons, or swinging your axe into your rope are both hazards. Consideration of these factors are key when you are climbing and setting up your ropes.

#3 Abrasion – floor surfaces (e.g. sand)

Photo: Natasha Hirst Photography

It’s not just the vertical faces that cause abrasion. When our ropes are hanging around at the bottom or top of the crag, they pick up all sorts of dirt, sand and sediments. This can be compounded if someone decides to stand on your rope. Thinking about this in advance can help you to think about ways of reducing the damage from dirt and grime.

#4 Heat

Photo: Natasha Hirst Photography

Ropes are not designed to withstand heat, so you should pay close attention to ensuring they are kept away from sources of heat. Each rope manufacturer will give guidance on this, which you should closely observe. Friction can cause high temperatures. Where two ropes or a rope and sling rub over each other under load, incredibly high temperatures can be produced, which can melt the rope or sling. Pay attention to this when you’re climbing and setting up ropes and belays.

#5 Sunlight

We might love to climb in the sunshine (the sun was shining at Women’s Trad fest 2019), but it’s surprising how much damage can be caused to gear by prolonged exposure to sunlight. The sun is powerful and you should always store your gear out of direct sunlight.


These are some of the factors that contribute to rope degradation.

In our next article we will show some ways that you can protect your ropes from these risks.

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