Not sure what kind of rope you should get for outdoor use? We can help you figure that out! In this guide to the best rope for outdoor use, I will talk you through the types of rope, their purposes, and the materials that rope is most commonly made with.
I’ll talk about climbing rope, boating rope, and rope that’s used for more general purposes like tying your umbrella down or securing your tent when camping. I will also talk in detail about static versus dynamic ropes, single twin and half ropes, and everything else you need to know when deciding which kind of rope you should buy for yourself.
Read on to learn about the different kinds of rope, and see which ones are the best for outdoor use!
In this section, I will go through the types of rope used in rock climbing. If that doesn’t interest you, just skip to the section on rope materials – that’s where I’ll cover other types of outdoor ropes, like boating rope, camping, and more general outdoor use.
The two main types of rope used for rock climbing are static and dynamic. The dynamic rope stretches and is used for activities that include a lot of movement – hiking, rock climbing, rappelling, etc. The static rope stretches very little, and it’s generally used for rescuing, hauling a load, and anything that requires a rope that doesn’t stretch.
You should never use static rope for climbing – just think about what would happen if you were to fall during an ascent. You would either come to an immediate stop, or the force would be too much for the rope and it would break. In either case, you would end up badly injured in the best-case scenario.
Similarly, if you need to lower an injured climber, you should never use a dynamic rope. They need to be as still as possible, and that’s exactly why a static rope is used in such situations. It gives you full control, allowing you to lower the injured person inch by inch, without then bouncing around.
How to tell the difference between static and dynamic rope? If there is factory tape on the rope, you can easily tell whether it’s static or dynamic. A dynamic rope has one of three markings – 1, ½, or 00, which indicate whether it’s single, twin, or half rope (more on that later). Any other marking indicates that it’s static rope.
In addition to that, you can just pull on the rope if it’s hanging, to tell whether it’s dynamic or not. Plus, in some cases you can tell by the color – muted and neutral colors are usually used for static ropes, whereas dynamic ropes are more likely to be brightly colored or multi-colored. However, that’s not always the case, and you should always inspect the rope more thoroughly before using it for rock climbing.
Another thing to note about rock climbing rope is that they usually feature a kernmantle construction. This means that the interior of the rope, or in other words the core, is protected by an exterior sheath, which optimizes the general durability, flexibility, and strength of the rope.
There are three main types of climbing rope: single rope, twin rope, and half rope. Each type is used differently while ascending summits, and there are pros and cons to using every single of these rope kinds. Whether we’re talking about single, twin, or half rope, It’s important to keep in mind that we are always talking about dynamic, elastic rope.
A single rope is exactly what its name says – a rope that is used on its own. This type of rope is often used in sport climbing and trad climbing, and it’s at least 60m long.
A half rope is a system of two ropes that are designed to be used in a pair. The double rope setup has several advantages, the main one being that it reduces rope drag, which in turn means that your ropes can last longer.
Additionally, with the double rope system, the climber is usually securing one rope on the left pitch and the other rope on the right pitch. With that, climbing is slightly more secure because even if one of the ropes fails, you can always rely on the other one.
Twin rope is used exactly the same as a single rope, But instead of having one thicker rope, you have two thinner ropes. When using twin rope, you have to clip both ropes into all the protection which is the opposite of what you’re doing with half rope. The main advantage of this system is that, when weight is critically important, it offers the lightest option of all. On the other hand, twin ropes are quite awkward to use and they can be heavy, but you always have the option of splitting the carrying weight with your partner.
In this section, I will talk about the materials that outdoor rope is most commonly made with. I’ve covered everything from a nylon rope to Kevlar rope, so whether you need a good climbing rope or one for anchoring a boat, I’m pretty sure you will find at least one fitting option below.
Nylon rope is elastic, tough, and durable, which is why it’s often used for rock climbing. It’s also resistant to UV rays, chemical exposure, and rot, so it’s great for almost all weather conditions. The main issue with nylon rope is that it can absorb water, which in turn weakens the strength of the rope. However, this effect is minimal, and nylon ropes are still often used for anchor and mooring lines.
Because of the elasticity, nylon is often used for dynamic rope, and it’s one of the most popular materials among rock climbers and mountaineers. However, when used for ice climbing or any other activity where the rope is exposed to moisture for prolonged periods of time, it’s necessary to look specifically for dry-treated rope.
But that’s the thing – the only downside of nylon rope is that it’s not 100% water-resistant. It’s tougher and stronger than polypropylene, it performs much better than any type of rope made from natural fibers, it has excellent shock absorption, and it even beats polyester rope by a small margin. Because of all that, nylon rope is thought to be the best type of outdoor rope.
Polyester rope is widely considered the best all-purpose rope. It is resistant to water, UV rays, rot, and it’s exceptionally tough and durable. Polyester rope is not as elastic as nylon, so it’s more often used in static instead of dynamic ropes if we’re talking about rock climbing.
On the other hand, a polyester rope is much better at retaining strength when wet, so it’s a better option for use in wet conditions. This is exactly why polyester rope is often used for boating and marine purposes.
Polyester and nylon are two very similar materials. The differences are minimal, but they are what determines the use of ropes made from them. Both are used in rock climbing, but polyester offers slightly better performance in general application.
Polypropylene rope is another type of synthetic fiber rope that is very common in outdoor use. It is rot-proof, it floats in water, and it is incredibly strong and durable, which is why polypropylene rope is often used in boating and other instances that include water. It is also available in a wide range of colors, which can increase visibility in the dark.
On top of that, polypropylene rope is available in a wide variety of diameters ranging from 4 mm to 16 mm with options every 2 mm (8, 10, 12, etc.). Whether you’re looking for a thicker or a thinner rope, you’ll likely find a polypropylene rope that is just right for you.
Polypropylene rope is sometimes used as a climbing rope since it is somewhat elastic and it functions as a dynamic rope. However, it’s nowhere near as strong or durable as nylon, so it’s not the best option if you’re specifically looking for a good dynamic rope.
Cotton rope is made from natural cotton fibers, and it’s mostly used indoors. A cotton rope has all the advantages and disadvantages of traditional cotton, which means that it’s not suitable for use in wet conditions at all. Cotton absorbs moisture, it absorbs UV rays, and it has no flame resistance at all.
Additionally, cotton disintegrates quite quickly, at least when compared to polyester and nylon. Because of that, a cotton rope is primarily used indoors – for decorating Mason jars, as a rope for Venetian blinds, and for making interesting coasters.
The main advantage of cotton rope is that it’s biodegradable, so it’s good for nature. It’s great if you’re focused on being environmentally friendly, but if you are looking for a tough, durable, water-resistant, and UV-resistant rope for outdoor use, you should not even be considering cotton rope.
Manila rope is made from natural fibers and it’s often referred to as hemp rope. However, Manila rope is actually made from the Abaca plant which is grown in the Philippines, hence the name of the rope. Manila rope has quite a few advantages and it is often used in agriculture construction and marine purposes.
Manila rope has the disadvantage of absorbing water, which causes it to shrink. This effect makes it practically impossible to untie some knots, especially if the rope has been exposed to water for a while. On the other hand, this type of rope is also resistant to saltwater damage, which is exactly why it is often used to tie boats and create fishing nets.
This rope is biodegradable but it’s resistant to UV Rays. It will rot over time and it will lose its strength so it’s not a good option if you’re looking for something very durable. But, if you need a rope that’s affordable, natural, and capable of creating some exceptionally sturdy knots, Manila rope is a good option.
Kevlar is a synthetic fiber often used for manufacturing bulletproof vests, combat helmets, ballistic face masks, and other heavy-duty gear. Kevlar fibers are resistant to UV rays, heat, water, fire, scratches, cuts, freezing, and chemicals. They’re not 100% immune to damage and decay, but they’re very close.
If you need a heavy-duty rope that’s almost indestructible, Kevlar rope is the way to go. The main downside of this type of rope is that it’s not very stretchy – but that can also be an upside, depending on what you need from the rope.
Another thing to note is that Kevlar rope is often used instead of a steel rope, and that’s a good representation of just how heavy-duty those fibers are.
What about the downsides? Kevlar rope is expensive, more so than any other type of rope for outdoor use. It also doesn’t float, it doesn’t compress very well, and it tends to fuzz. Plus, there’s the possibility of invisible damage caused by shock load – a Kevlar rope could catastrophically fail even if it looks like there’s nothing wrong with it.
But during tests, that happened only once every 1000 uses, and it was specifically tested in archery bows – that kind of shock load is rarely equated with common outdoor use.
We’ve talked about types of ropes, rope materials, and now it’s time to talk about rope styles. In this section, I will cover the most common styles of rope, namely single braid, double braid, and twisted.
Single braid rope normally consists of an even number of strands. They are usually braided into a circular pattern, and half the strands are braided clockwise motion while the other half are braided anticlockwise. Because of the way the strands interlock, a central void exists. The void can either be large or small and if it’s large, this rope style is often called hollow braid.
A double braid is similar to a single braid, with one key difference – the central void is filled with an inner braid. The inner braid can be made from the same material and it can be made from a different material; uh it usually depends on the strength of the fiber. The fiber of the inner brain must be strong and tough, whereas for the outer braid the focus is abrasion resistance.
A twisted rope is made by twisting fibers into strands and then twisting those strands into rope. This type of construction offers more stretch than braiding rope, and it can be made with many different synthetic materials – polyester, nylon, polypropylene, etc. Twisted rope tends to be cheaper than braided rope, and it’s much easier to splice. The most common version of this type of rope is a three-strand twisted rope.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!