Ropes, how to use


For rock, snow and ice climbing use only UIAA certified dynamic ropes. Never use semi-static ropes for any of the above activities. The only situation where it is permissible to use semi-static rope for climbing is in a top-rope or bottom-rope situation such as may be found in a climbing gym. It is recommended to also read the Ropes-Properties and standards document on the Peak High Mountaineering website.


  • Mark the ends of your ropes with reflective tape. This makes the ends easier to find and in particular easy to see at night under torch-light.
  • Wash ropes, slings and harnesses when dirty. Place items in pillow case or similar bag and wash in washing machine in cold water with Nikwax Tech Wash cleaning agent. Spin dry and hang in a cool, dry place.
  • Try not to stand on your ropes.
  • In wet or icy areas buy ropes that are dry treated, such as the Beal rope system of Dry Cover and Golden Dry. Over time retreat dry cover ropes with Nikwax Rope Proof.


These are ropes which have full strength for lead climbing on and can safely hold many falls. They are indicated as Single rope by a figure 1 on the rope end label. When leading the leader can simply tie into the harness with a figure 8 or Bowline knot. Single ropes are used mainly in single pitch Sport-climbing and Traditional climbing where the route follows a fairly straight line. They are made in 8,5mm up to 11mm in diameter. When using a rope in this conventional manner it is sometimes called “single-rope technique”.


  • It is simple to use.
  • It is cheap compared to other systems.
  • You can lead on this rope.
  • You can second climbs on this rope.
  • You can abseil on double strand or a single strand.


  • It is only practical to climb in pairs with a single rope.
  • When abseiling from a retrievable abseil, one can only descend half the ropes length: e.g. with a 50m rope you can only abseil 25m.
  • Singles ropes cause rope-drag on meandering routes.


Half-ropes are usually used for Trad, ice and mountaineering situations. They have similar properties to a Single rope. The main difference in their use is as follows: When lead climbing, two Half-ropes must be used by the leader and the ropes must be clipped separately into alternative running-belays. It is safe to second or to top-rope on a single strand of this rope. These ropes carry a figure ½ at each end of the rope. However they should not be viewed as having half the required strength.

The main reason why climbers use two Half-ropes is to reduce the amount of rope drag on climbs with traverses and corners. In double-rope-technique, the leader clips the left hand rope into the protection on their left or the right hand rope into protection on the right. This means the leader can move left to right across a face, yet the ropes run in an approximately straight line.

Clipping the half-ropes individually into the protection points is vital to the leader’s safety, especially when using “sketchy” Trad gear or ice-screws. In these situations the aim is to keep the smallest amount of Impact Force on the running-belay in the case of a leader falling. Half-ropes are made to have an Impact Force of less than 8kN in a UIAA test fall (a single stand of half-rope). If a leader had to clip both Half-ropes into the same protection point then, the Impact Force will be also double in the event of a fall, and this could cause the running belay to fail. The only time when a leader could possibly clip both Half-ropes into the same running belay is on bolted protection or on a horizontal traverse, where the Impact Force can never exceed twice the weight of the falling climber.

By clipping alternatively and if the running belays are fairly close together, it also means that in the event of a leader fall, that there are two independent ropes clipped to two independent protection points to arrest the fall. It is thereby doubling the safety.

This technique also has the advantage of having one rope clipped and ready to catch a fall when a leader is trying to clip a point above head height, while still close to the ground.


  • Reduces rope drag on meandering climbs.
  • Double the safety when clipped alternatively.
  • Safer when clipping protections above the leaders head and still close the ground.
  • Convenient to climb in parties of 3.
  • Allows ropes to be joined and a full rope length can be abseiled.
  • Extra safety in the event of a rope being cut.
  • Extra rope is useful in the event of an emergency.
  • Reduced Impact Force.


  • A little more difficult for the belayer to master handling two ropes.
  • More expensive.
  • Heavier than a Single-rope.

Twin-Ropes are two thin ropes which, when leading on are used as if they were a one rope. Unlike Half-ropes, they must be clipped into each piece of protection, together in the same karabiner as if they were one strand. This includes the belay stance protection. When used like this they have similar properties as a Single rope. They are indicated by two inter-locked circles on the ends of the rope. They are usually used on long alpine routes and ice climbing and are seldom used outside of major alpine or ice areas.


  • They are lighter than 2 Half-ropes.
  • Similar Impact Forces as a single strand of Half-rope.
  • They can be joined together for full rope length abseils.
  • They are often produced in lengths of 60 to 70 meters.


  • Useful only for parties of 2 climbers.
  • Rope drag is often a problem.
  • They are practical only really in alpine situations on long routes.

Note: Beal Ropes produce a rope called a Joker of 9.1mm diameter. This rope passes all the specification for Single, Half and Twin ropes.

Gavin Raubenheimer

Gavin is the owner & operator of Peak High Mountaineering. He is a certified Mountaineering Instructor (M.I.A.) endorsed by the Mountain Development Trust of SA. He is a NQF National Mountaineering (level 7), Cultural and Nature Guide (level 4). Gavin is a past President of the KwaZulu-Natal Section of the Mountain Club of SA. He has been involved in mountain rescue since 1992 and since 2005 has been the Convener of Mountain Rescue in the province. Want Gavin and his team at Peak High to guide you on a hike? Put yourself in the hands of the certified and experienced experts in mountain hiking, guiding and climbing. See Gavin's Google + profile