When Your Rope Is Your Life

Climbers care a lot about their ropes because their lives literally depend on them. And while there’s been tremendous progress in climbing rope tech since people first started falling onto hemp fibers, there are still accidents where rope failure is to blame.

This long, detailed, and interesting video from [Hard is Easy] follows him on a trip to the Mammut test labs to see what’s up with their relatively new abrasion-resistant rope. His visit was full of cool engineering test rigs that pushed the ropes to breaking in numerous ways. If you climb, though, be warned that some of the scenes are gut-wrenchingly fascinating, watching the ropes fail horribly in well-shot slow-mo.

Long story short, some climbing ropes are strong but stiff. These are called static ropes, and they’re rated to hold a given weight, and tested to breaking under a static load. The thinnest and strongest static ropes are made of Kevlar, and they are correspondingly very abrasion resistant, but they hurt to fall into.

Dynamic climbing ropes have some stretch, and are rated both for how gently they let you down and their maximum breaking force. These are mostly made of nylon, and they are tested by dropping a mass with an accelerometer onto a slack rope — a pretty good simulation of falling back off of a flat face like at the climbing gym.

Now what if you wanted an abrasion resistant dynamic rope? A couple of manufacturers have created custom Kevlar-nylon filaments where the Kevlar is wrapped loosely around the nylon. This filament is abrasion resistant because of the Kevlar, but gives like a nylon rope because the Kevlar fibers have slack built in.

Testing these ropes involved creating a custom test that drops a mass onto the rope, but pulls it across a 45-degree granite edge as it falls. These tests absolutely shred the normal nylon dynamic ropes, but the Kevlar-reinforced ropes held fast. They’re both fun and terrifying to watch.

We’ve said it before, and it’s said a number of times in this video: “you can’t improve what you can’t measure“. In this context, it’s a little sobering is that there isn’t an industry standard test for abrasion resistance, but it’s cool to see the Mammut folks working on it.

16 thoughts on “When Your Rope Is Your Life

    1. Yeah youtube has gotten really bad about this… There is too much thumbnail meta-game going on, and the results are really grotesque. I think they should start taking a random frame from the video again to make the thumbnail, hard reset.

          1. For Firefox, there’s “Clickbait Remover for Youtube”. It pulls a frame from the video to use as a thumbnail, instead of the one the poster chose.

          2. The creator of SponsorBlock has an extension called DeArrow, that crowdsources better titles/thumbnails. And for videos that have no user submission, it can pick a random thumbnail, and clean up the title with proper capitalization. Check the project website for more info.

      1. I’m a rock climber and PhD scientist. I would place no confidence whatsoever in the results of this test. That being said, all my ropes are kevlar-nylon. Just put in your practice time (falls) to understand what they can and cannot do.

        1. Really? What rope do you climb with? My understanding was that only Mammut and Edelrid are making kevlar/dynamic ropes.

          You certainly are not lead climbing with static ropes? There’s a reason they’re rated static, and that is that they tend to snap under dynamic loads.

          You do you, but ropes have ratings so that you don’t need to “practice” life-threatening situations.

        2. What does your PhD have to do with this subject? If your posted name is real, then I don’t see how expertise in organic chemistry is relevant to rope composition and testing. Seems like pointless posturing, “I’m a doctor so you can trust my opinion about anything!”

      2. Unfortunately thumbnail quality is a sufficient but not necessary condition.

        All crappy clickbait videos have crappy clickbait thumbnails, but not all videos with crappy clickbait thumbnails are crappy videos.

        On the other hand, being posted on Hackaday is a necessary condition. If I liked it, it’s not crappy. QED. :)

        (That said, you might find it a little long — depends on your interest level in rope stuff and whether it’s a weekend.)

    2. It’s actually a really good video, well worth the watch if the topic interest you. the thumbnail is not clickbait but very relevant and shows up multiple times in the video when they test different ropes.

  1. In this video the “Hard Is Easy” channel is demonstrating a real issue with ropes and showing how Mammut is attempting to understand and mitigate the the problem. Some (not me) may characterize the thumbnail as clickbait, as it correctly shows the mechanism of rope damage that has resulted in serious injury and death. As a climber, caver and member of a high angle search and rescue team, I have personally had to deal with the the aftermath of rope failures. I applaud anyone or any company attempting to provide insight into the issue.

  2. Strap Wars : Episode IV – A New Rope

    Usually when you rock-climb you try to avoid rocks with sharp edges at all cost and in case you can’t then you put a special fabric pad between the rope and the rock or around the rope. You also make sure you don’t do lateral moves (pendulum ??? – don’t know the right name in english) on a saw-shapped rock – you mainly see this in thriller movies.

    The promotional Mammut Youtube movie is great but a little bit excessive on the actual risks that climbers are willing to accept. Also it tends to say Mammut is the only rope manufacturer that care for climbers or the only one that is good while it’s mainly the most expensive : there are many other very good ropes manufacturers that are also very good quality and they are all CE/UIAA approved.

    Btw I’m no PhD but I do/did rock-climbing, mountaining, speleology and canyoning, the two latters involving only static ropes – except one time inside a cave when we had to climb up a pit with a pair of ascenders on a…dynamic rope (we were short on static ropes) : it took hours just to absorb the elasticity of the 100m rope !

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