If you have been climbing for a while now then you know that your rope is definitely not just another equipment. You and the rope have gone on a ton of adventures. But like all good things, it has an expiration day too. It is important for every climber to know when to retire a climbing rope and replace it with another one.
But you should know when it is time to retire the rope. Yes, replacing your rope with a new one may be expensive but not replacing it can cost you your life. So, if you have ever wondered when you should retire your rope, this guide is perfect for you.
In this guide, we will try to cover everything there is you need to know about replacing ropes so that you don’t have to worry about roaming around with faulty rope. Go through the entire article to get information about all the red flags.
Frequency of Use
This is a factor that you must consider while using any other equipment for climbing. How often you use your climbing rope is a major factor to calculate when you should upgrade. Although, you yourself will have to determine when your climbing rope should be replaced but there are a few guidelines or patterns that can help you make that decision easier.
An easy way would be to look at the packaging of the rope. Manufacturers must send a manual along with the rope, by law, in which they should include all the guidelines of discarding a rope. Most companies suggest that climbing ropes should be replaced after using them for three to five years.
But we don’t know whether to trust the accuracy of it or not. The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) had stated that these guidelines are very general and they don’t consider the factor of the frequency of you using the climbing rope.
This is exactly the reason why we need a few guidelines for the retirement of your beloved rope.
Before that, you must know that these pointers are just meant to be used as guidelines. There are a lot of other factors like the times a rope falls, the condition in which it is stored or the dirt that it lives in also has an effect on the lifespan of the climbing rope. So, don’t follow this guideline blindly, make logical decisions.
Ropes that you haven’t used can last till 10 years
You probably found a climbing rope in your garage while cleaning it. It may be three to four years old when you had decided you wanted to try rock climbing but you never got the time or the opportunity to do it. So, it just sat there being unused.
But now you know that you really want to start climbing and are thus reading various guides. You also talked to your experienced climbing friends and are ready to soon try your skills on the rocks.
You have shoes and everything, but the only question running through your head will be whether the rope is good to go or not? To answer your question, yes, if the rope is completely unused then that climbing rope can last until ten years. As long as the rope was not exposed to any kind of damage.
If you only use your rope 2-3 times a year
If you are one of the occasional climbers who climb only twice or thrice a year then your climbing rope can last up to seven years, considering the fact that no external damage has been caused to it. So, you don’t have to buy a new rope after a few years if you just use it occasionally.
If you use your rope monthly
If you climb once every month, then a climbing rope can last you up to five years with just occasional climbing. Again, we need to factor in that the rope has not been exposed to any other external damage.
If you use it several times a month
If you are a climber who likes to climb every weekend and are wondering how long your rope will last then let us answer that to you. The rope can last you about three years by using it frequently for several times a month. This is not bad at all. You can freely use your climbing rope multiple times before replacing it.
If you use the rope weekly
If you are one of the diligent climbers who like to climb every week then we suggest that you should replace your rope every year. It does seem a little expensive but if you are dedicated and safety is important to you then you must change the rope.
If you climb daily
If you have completely dedicated your whole life to climbing and you climb daily, then you should change your rope more frequently than the regular rock climbers.
If your rope has been through heavy impact
If while climbing, you endured a heavy fall then we suggest you should immediately replace your rope. UIAA in its safety standards guide said that the rope can get damage that might not be visible. And hence, you should not take any risk if you have endured a serious fall, it doesn’t matter if you just started using your rope. By changing the climbing rope, you are ensuring your safety stays intact.
Now, let’s look at what kind of red flags you should check when you think your climbing rope has reached its expiration day. Fortunately for you, it is not that difficult to understand when you should replace your rope.
You should look out for the following signs
If your ropes are dirty, then it is a clear sign it needs to be replaced as quickly as you can. Yes, if you are climbing outdoors, then your ropes are bound to get dirty easily. But we don’t mean that kind of dirty. If your rope has started to look like it was used to pull ten people from a dirt pit then you definitely need to change it.
You may think this is a small thing, but having dirt on the rope can reduce its efficiency by about 20-40%. So, get a new rope once you think your climbing ropes are getting too dirty to use.
The stiffness of the ropes
If your climbing rope has lost all its elasticity then it is a terrible thing. This is because if there is no elasticity left in your rope then there is less chance that it will catch you when you fall.
So, if you think the rope is stiff then replace it immediately. You want to be safe while climbing and having a stiff rope is definitely not that. So, if you are on a vacation and you have to cut your trip short, do it! It is more important to get a new rope.
Your rope has two basic components called the sheath and the core. The sheath is covered on the outside of the rope that protects the core of the rope and the core is the component that defines the elasticity of the rope.
So if there are any deformities you can see in the core or the sheath-like flat spots or bends, you must change your climbing rope. This is because climbing ropes with deformities cannot work properly and it may not be able to hold the pressure of the climber.
The same way, if you can clearly see the core of your rope then it is a straight sign that you should replace your rope with a new one. Being able to see the core clearly is an indication that your rope has been through some serious external damage.
Falling can wear out your rope
UIAA gives all the climbing rope a fall rating. It tells you how strong the climbing rope is and how many falls it can sustain. If your climbing rope has a rating of 1.77 or higher than that, then the rope is a high-factor fall rope.
The question is how is the rating calculated? It is a simple physics formula that you can calculate easily too. The fall rating can be calculated by the distance of the fall divided by the rope out.
If the UIAA number of the falls is met then you should immediately replace your rope.
Does sheath slippage mean you should replace your rope?
You might have seen that your rope’s ends might have deteriorated a bit and they don’t seem protected like they were. If this is the case then it is a sign your rope has started slipping. Don’t take this casually and think that it is not a big deal. That sheath slip will start spreading through the entire climbing rope faster than you realize.
This slippage will expose your rope to other external damage and will also reduce your safety significantly. It will also be difficult to rappel and for belaying as well. So even though you think sheath slippage is minor, it can lead to major incidents and you should retire the rope soon.
Goodbye is a sad part of life. But if your climbing rope has succumbed to damage, is dirty, or looks like it has taken a huge beating then it doesn’t matter how painful goodbyes are, you must immediately retire it. Plus a fresh new safe rope can help you improve your performance significantly.
If you stick to the information we had mentioned in the guide, you will inch closer and closer to having a safe and enjoyable climb. We would repeat again that this is a guide meant for your reference only. At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide when to replace your climbing rope.