Rope talk: Single, Double, Half, Twin – What’s the difference?
Ropes can be confusing when we are starting out climbing. It can take a bit of time to become familiar with the terminology, but it’s important, because the rope is one of your key bits of safety kit as a climber. If you aren’t sure about something, you should always ask someone in the know. Asking in a specialist shop, like Outside in Hathersage or Joe Brown in Llanberis is a good idea, as they will share their expert knowledge, or tell you if they don’t know the answer.
Here’s a short lowdown on rope terminology, to equip you with a basic understanding, so you can make informed choices when you invest in this crucial bit of safety kit:
This is a rope which is safety rated and designed for use on its own. If you’re climbing indoors on a top rope or lead, or sport climbing, you’ll usually be using single ropes.
(also referred to as Double Ropes)
These ropes are designed to be used in a pair. They are not designed to be used on their own. They are skinnier and lighter, and because of this their safety rating when used on their own doesn’t match a single rope. Half ropes are most often used in trad climbing and in winter climbing. When climbing with half/doube ropes, you will usually clip one rope into protection to one side of the route and the other rope into protection on the other side to help the ropes run smoothly. More about the reasons for using double ropes in our next blog post of this series.
Triple rated ropes are a relatively new kid on the block – they are skinny, like a half rope, but are single rated. You can use them on their own or in a pair. They are extremely versatile ropes, which can be appealing, as it means you might get away with one set of ropes for all your different climbing activities. They may have a shorter lifespan than a thicker single rope, due to being considerably thinner and lighter. They are also more expensive, overall, than a lot of standard half ropes.
Twin ropes are the least popular option and are rarely used in the UK. “Twin-ropes” are not the same as “half-ropes”. Twin-ropes very specifically require BOTH ropes to be clipped in ALL protection – very different from using two half-ropes. I have never seen anyone using twin ropes, and I’ve never climbed with them in 12 years of climbing. If you intend to use twin ropes, then you should seek expert information and advice.
How do I know which is which?
You can’t usually tell from looking at a rope whether it’s a single, twin or half rope. If you’re buying new (we advise against buying second hand ropes, as you have no way of knowing whether the rope was accidentally left out in direct sunlight for its whole life or had chemicals spilled on it), then there will be information on the manufacturer’s website or packaging.
It’s worth looking at the markings you might find on a rope when you buy it, so you’re familiar with what the markings look like and mean. Here is a Mammut Serenity 60m 8.7mm triple rated rope, to give you an idea of the symbols you might see:
With increased internationalisation, the UK has seen an influx of non-safety tested equipment. When you are buying a new rope, you should consider where you are buying from and whether the rope is genuine. By going to an independent store like Joe Brown* in Llanberis or Outside* in Hathersage, you are supporting UK businesses. When you buy off the internet, especially at places like Amazon, if the price of something sounds too good to be true, it’s usually because it is!
*We are not sponsored by these shops, we use them ourselves and trust their advice and gear! The staff are brilliant and they provide a great service to climbers and hillwalkers.