Climbing ropes are one of the necessary gear pieces that pretty much every climber needs to own or at least have access to. Ropes are responsible for keeping climbers safe and alive and as such they have been specifically engineered to do so. This causes them to be pretty pricey. But just how much use are you able to get out of a pricey climbing rope before you need to retire it and get a new one?
In general, climbing ropes typically last between 2 and 3 years with moderate use. Any climbing rope manufactured prior to 10 years ago should be immediately retired according to manufacturer safety standards. The lifespan of a climbing rope is affected by its thickness, fall rating, care and storage, amount of use, severity of the falls it takes, and the environment it is used in.
Due to these reasons, one climbing rope can last over 5 times as long as a different one. The reasons behind this vast difference are explored in great detail in the remainder of this article. In addition to this, this article provides four tips to easily extend the lifespan of your rope at the end.
If you are interested in seeing what the current prices are for the most popular climbing ropes, you can find them on Amazon by clicking here. Using the Amazon affiliate link above and/or other links in the article helps support this website.
Expected and Maximum Lifespan of Climbing Ropes
It is easy for climbers to get sentimentally attached to some pieces of climbing gear and ropes are not an exception to this. However, climbing with worn out and unsafe gear because it has sentimental value is a sure fire way to eventually have it fail. Some pieces of gear failing (like climbing shoes or a chalk bag) are not nearly as serious or life threatening as when climbing ropes fail.
So just how long can you expect your rope to last you?
The table below summarizes the expected lifespan of an average climbing rope based on the frequency it is used.
|Frequency of Climbing Rope Use||Expected Rope Lifespan|
|Heavy Use (Daily)||6 months to 1 year|
|Frequent Use (3 to 4 times per week)||1 to 2 years|
|Moderate Use (Once to twice a week)||2 to 3 years|
|Occasional Use (Once a month)||4 to 5 years|
|Rare Use (A few times each year)||5 to 7 years|
It should be noted that the table above is by no means a set standard and will vary based on the factors we will discuss in detail below. Just because your rope falls within the age range above does not necessarily mean it needs to be retired.
The above table should serve as more of a guideline as to how long you can anticipate your rope to last. Some ropes will need to be replaced well before the timeframe listed while others may be safe to climb with long past it. The reasons behind this will be flushed out further in the article below.
Therefore, ropes should not solely be retired based on their age but rather on the presence of any signs that indicate it is damaged or deteriorating. That said, rope manufacturers maintain that any rope made 10 years ago and prior is not safe to climb with and needs to be retired.
If you are currently in the market to buy your first climbing rope or are looking to replace your current one, check out my article that lists what I think are the best budget climbing ropes for beginners. This will also give you an idea of what the important characteristics are to look for in your next rope.
I recommend keeping a rope usage log to track just how many times you have used your rope. In addition to when you are using your rope, you should note what type of climbing you are doing (for reasons discussed later), how long your session was, if you experienced any significant falls (aka if you took a whipper), and if you observed anything out of the ordinary about your equipment.
Keeping track of this will allow you to know just how much use your rope has gotten and ensure that you are being safe. You can use the table below for an idea of how to set up your rope usage log and what to write in it.
|Date||Rope Inspection||Type of Climbing||Session Duration||Significant Falls?||Notes and Observations|
|5/30/22||Completed, in good condition||Sport||1.5 hours||No||None|
|6/4/2022||Completed, in good condition||Top rope||2 hours||No||None|
Factors That Determine How Long Climbing Ropes Last
Every rope can only handle so much falling force or amount of use before it starts to lose its integrity. The speed at which it will lose this integrity and performance primarily depends on six factors. Each of these factors is explored further below.
Climbing ropes come in a wide variety of different thicknesses generally ranging from 8.5mm to 10.2mm in diameter. Thinner ropes are typically less durable than thicker ones as they have much less material. The durability provided by a rope should not be confused with how safe it is however. All climbing ropes must meet UIAA safety standards.
If you ever come across a rope that is not UIAA certified I would be very apprehensive about purchasing/using it. To be safe, I recommend only purchasing ropes that you know are UIAA certified.
That said, and assuming everything else is relatively the same, the increased material of thicker ropes allows them to last longer than their thinner counterparts. This is why most gym ropes climbing ropes are thicker than outside ropes – to better withstand the frequent beating they are needed to.
UIAA Fall Rating
One of the safety standards a climbing rope is tested on is called the fall rating. The fall rating is a number of falls the rope must be able to withstand without failing. All climbing ropes must meet a fall rating of 5 (i.e. they survived 5 falls) to be UIAA certified.
This does not mean that the rope can only take 5 falls on it before it needs to be retired. It indicates that the rope survived 5 laboratory tested falls of a much larger force than what it would normally experience. Most climbing ropes will have fall ratings ranging between 5 and 9.
Ropes with larger fall ratings are able to withstand more falls than ropes with lower fall ratings. This typically translates to the higher fall rated ropes lasting longer than the lower rated ones.
Severity of the Falls it Takes
As you may have inferred from the fall rating above, climbing ropes can only handle so much force before they are damaged and are no longer able to perform to the degree necessary.
Taking longer and harder falls will wear them down quicker than taking shorter and softer falls. This is one reason why top roping is typically less harmful to your rope’s lifespan than lead climbing.
The length of the fall is not the only thing that impacts the force of it. The climber’s weight also plays a role in this. Heavier climbers will put more force on their rope when they fall and on average wear out their rope quicker than lighter climbers.
For example, a 100 pound climber and a 200 pound climber both take a 4 foot fall sport climbing. The 200 pound climber will have put two times as much force on their climbing rope than the 100 pound climber.
While the cumulative amount of falls and their force matter, so does the acute severity of the fall. Because ropes can only handle so much, just taking one extreme whipper can damage the rope significantly enough to retire it. If this happens, retire your climbing rope immediately.
Duration and Frequency of Use
It should come as no surprise that how much you use your rope will directly impact how long it lasts you. Using your rope every day will wear it out a lot quicker than if you were only to use it once a year.
While how often you use it matters a lot, how long you use it in each session almost matters just as much. For instance, if you climb 3 days a week but only have one hour long sessions, your rope will last much longer than someone who uses their rope only twice a week but has 6 hour long sessions with it.
It is the total amount of time your rope is used for that matters. This does not mean the total number of falls your rope takes either (although that is incredibly important). Your rope will be rubbing against the other gear and sometimes the rock as you use it. This will abrade your rope and wear it down. So even if you don’t take a single fall on your rope, you will be wearing it down through the abrasion alone whenever you use it.
Lead climbing typically requires your rope to be in much more contact with the gear and rock than top roping does. This results in increased abrasion on the rope and is another reason why top roping is typically easier on it than lead climbing.
Climbing outdoors will typically result in a shortened lifespan for climbing ropes compared to gym climbing assuming everything else is the same.
Ropes are typically subjected to much more abrasive forces from the uneven and rough surface of the rock compared to the gym walls. In addition to this, outdoor climbing subjects climbing ropes to dirt, uv rays, and heat. Excessive exposure to UV rays (sunlight) and heat are especially detrimental to your rope’s lifespan as they will cause the rope to deteriorate overtime.
Gym climbing eliminates the majority of these environmental factors and provides a much more rope friendly atmosphere.
Care and Storage
How you care for and maintain your climbing rope is one of the most underrated factors that determine its lifespan. Allowing climbing ropes to sit in dirt and cake up is great way to shorten their lifespan. Also, storing them in the detrimental environmental factors above (i.e. leaving them outside in the hot sunlight) is another easy way to shorten their life.
The table above which listed the expected timeframe a rope would last a climber assume that proper care and storage of the ropes was taking place. If this is not the case, all of the timeframes provided above would need to be shortened drastically.
Signs Your Climbing Rope Needs To Be Retired
It is extremely important to perform a climbing rope inspection before every time you use it. Not inspecting your rope before each use can lead to catastrophic consequences.
When inspecting your rope, there are a few indicators of damage that you should be on the lookout for. If you notice any of them, you should not use the rope to climb with and get rid of it right away. According to REI.com, the following are signs that your climbing rope should be retired immediately.
- Extremely fuzzy areas
- Any cuts
- Any flat spots
- Stiffness in the rope
- You can see the core
- Visible discoloration from UV rays or chemicals
Climbing ropes are one of the pieces of climbing gear that you should never take a chance with. If you decide to “risk it” and climb with a rope that you are not sure about and it fails, you are risking serious injury or worse. Just like with climbing harnesses, when in doubt throw it out.
If you have never performed a rope inspection, watch the YouTube video below to see how it is done. The video also gives helpful examples of what the signs will look and feel like.
4 Tips To Extend The Lifespan Of Climbing Ropes
Now that you know how long you can expect your climbing rope to last you and what factors can affect its lifespan, you may be wondering if there are any ways to extend it (besides climbing less). You are in luck as there are four easy ways to do this.
1. Use A Rope Bag
rope bags are not only a great way to transport your rope, but are fantastic at keeping it clean and out of the dirt during your crag sessions. They even can be used to store your rope in to keep it out of direct sunlight. That said, they are definitely not a necessary piece of climbing gear.
Check out my article to see if a rope bag is worth it for you.
2. Clean and Store Your Rope Properly
As mentioned above, neglecting your rope will greatly decrease its lifespan. So, to keep it functional for as long as possible you should make sure you are taking proper care of it.
This will include washing it when needed and storing it properly (i.e. in a dry room temperature place inside out of direct sunlight and away from heaters).
In addition to washing your rope when it gets excessively dirty, I recommend washing it before you store it for extended periods of time (i.e. you know you won’t be using it for a few months).
To clean your rope properly I recommend checking out this article on theclimbingguy.com. It does a great job of detailing the correct way to go about it. After your rope has gotten wet (either through cleaning or getting caught out in the rain) you will need to dry it. Check out my article that lays out the fastest way to properly dry a climbing rope step-by-step.
Always be sure that your rope is completely dry before your next session or storing it away for a long time.
3. Alternate Between Climbing Ropes
Not every climber has the luxury or the need to have multiple climbing ropes. However, if you are climbing very often then getting a second rope can make a lot of sense.
Having two ropes will allow you to alternate between them and essentially double the lifespan of each of them. (If you are using a rope log be sure to indicate which rope you used for which session).
In addition to this, if you take a severe fall on one rope or notice that it has been damaged during your pre-climbing inspection, you will have a backup ready to go.
If you are on a tight budget or do not anticipate using a rope frequently, having a second rope does not make a lot of sense.
4. Repurpose Your Climbing Rope
You can repurpose your rope once it is no longer safe to climb with and needs to be retired. While this tip doesn’t directly extend your rope’s climbing lifespan, it allows you to keep using it even after retirement.
Common ways climbers have been known to repurpose their rope include making it into:
- Dog leashes
- Drink coasters
- Pet toys
- Clothes lines
Plus, if you have a sentimental attachment to your rope, this will allow you to hang onto it!