The Care and Maintenance of Ropes

Unlike what many people think ropes are not something that you just throw in the corner letting them get wet and dirty.  They require maintenance and care.

Ropes are not all the same.  Climbing ropes are dynamic – they are designed to stretch in case of a fall, absorbing and dissipating the energy generated by the fall.  Static ropes are used for rappelling, rescuing, caving, tying down and hauling, in situations where there is no chance of significant impact loading with minimal stretch.   Although static and dynamic ropes look the same, they are not interchangeable.  Do not use static ropes for climbing.  Most of the ropes you will encounter are static ropes.  Dynamic ropes are normally sold for rock climbing and are more expensive.

The weak spot in most ropes is the knot.  Angles, kinks, and knots, stress the fibers unevenly and weaken rope.  Some knots weaken some rope to as little as 40% of its rated strength.  Even with new rope try not to use it at more than 50% of its rated strength.  If your rope is old, worn, or damaged by sunlight or chemicals – expect less.  The following websites will give you information  on the breaking strength of rope.  Tom Moyer’s website for: High Strength Cord TestingEuro Death-Knot Testing, and Rope Gear and Testing,

To get the most out of your ropes.  Store them in a rope bag and keep them clean.  Dirt shortens the life of your rope by causing internal as well as external abrasion.  Dirty rope can be washed in cold water using mild, non-detergent soap.  Adding fabric softener while washing improves rope flexibility by lubricating the fibers.  Do not bleach your rope.  Do not dry your rope in direct sunlight.  Do not dry it in a dryer.

Store your rope away from heat, sunlight and chemicals.  Protect your rope from all compounds containing acids, alkalis and oxidizing agents.  Avoid contact with battery acid and bleach.  Avoid contact with petroleum substances such as gasoline and oil which do not appreciably affect nylon ropes by themselves but may contain additives that can cause damage.  These substances also attract dirt which causes the rope to wear more quickly.

On the fire department, we learned to take good care of our ropes since our lives could depend on them.  In a serious emergency your life or the lives of others could depend on your ropes, take good care of them.

Howard

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2 Responses to The Care and Maintenance of Ropes

  1. DJL says:

    Thanks for the info! This isn’t an area that I knew much about or had even properly considered. Now I at least know that there’s stuff to learn about rope. I figured as long as I had some rope and could tie some knots I would be fine. I guess a rope bag is in my not-too distant future…

  2. Canadian says:

    Ropes are very important for many things. “Rope Bags” as sold by climbing shops are not completely necessary unless you need to deploy them quickly. Simply storing a rope in a clean and sturdy nylon bag works well enough. Learning to properly coil a rope is important, but storing in a bag is simpler. The rope is placed in the bag using a “backfeed” aka “rat’s nest”. Simply place the end of the rope in the bottom of the bag and feed it naturally onto itself. DO NOT force the rope in, just let it fall on itself. In this manner the rope will not tangle as it has fallen natually with the lay of the rope. In a tight bag it can remain carried for a very long time, and then when ready for use you simply pull the top end of the rope (tie a loose thumb knot in it so you can grab it quickly) and it will feed out of the bag tangle free.

    Another concern for rope damage are hydrocarbons such as contained in exhaust fumes. Over time they will cause rope damage, so don’t store your rope in a garage or other closed space if you run a vehicle or generator nearby. Acids are straight up killer for rope.

    Determining dynamic vs static can be difficult for many people if they find an unknown rope. One of the simplest ways is to cut off about 2-3 inches of the end. The vast majority of static ropes will have a plastic tag on the inside with the name of the manufacturer and the date of production. Dynamic ropes will not. Just remember to seal the end of the rope with heat (blowtorch is best, or a rope knife) the prevent fraying.

    The final distinction is the difference between static and dynamic ropes. The real concern for preparedness is that static ropes are best for hauling and tying. Under load static ropes generally stretch 5-10% maximum (generally 5%). Dynamic ropes stretch 15-40% (generally 30%) under load. So if you plan to use a rope to pull out a stuck vehicle etc, then dynamic will take significantly more effort.

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