Climbers in general are, unlike dynamic ropes, not main users of static ropes. The predominant use of static ropes is industrial use, such as, in a work environment of tall buildings, towers (oil-rigging etc) and for ships and tree-climbing. Within sports, apart from marine sports like sailing, it is heavily used in caving and canyoning (I am sure I have missed other major sports).
After all, to climb something ground-up, which is arguably what climbing is all about, climbers vitally need dynamic ropes to absorb a shock in potential falls. Even though there are some uses for static ropes in climbing, its extra weight and bulk are a killer, and therefore to carry a static rope during weigh-critical climbing is almost unthinkable. Consequently, the use of static ropes in climbing is limited for the cases when either they do not have to carry one during a climb (like an abseil approach in sea-cliff climbing) or there is enough extra human power (like siege-tactic expedition climbs).
For that reason, the knowledge about static ropes by climbers, as well as stocks of them in climbing shops, tends to be limited, whereas a large number and variety of static ropes are available in the market, which can be confusing. Here is my attempt to summarise what is the feature to look for, and what sort of models are available as of 2016 in the market.
Use of static ropes in climbing
What are those static ropes for from climbers' point of view? A few example uses include
- Abseil approach, including
- approach to the start of a climb; common in sea-cliff climbing
- rescue attempt to reach a victim
- to clean or check out a route
- to get to a position for photo-shooting
- Set up a fixed line to ascend by jugging up, including
- an expedition climb in siege-tactic
- in a big wall climb for a second (n.b., the use may be debatable)
- In rigging an anchor(s), especially when
- the anchor can be set up prior to the main activity (eg., bottom-roping), and
- the same anchor is used repeatedly (eg., abseiling approach in sea-cliff climbing), or
- an anchor is located far away.
It is usually possible to substitute a static rope with a dynamic rope in those situations in climbing. However, to ascend or descend a stretchy dynamic rope is a pain at best. Moreover, it can be dangerous, particularly if it is used multiple times in the same configuation like all-day group activity, as a stretched rope rubs on rock edges repeatedly, which may sever the rope at worst or damage it at least.
I have seen a case that my friend ended up retiring his rope, as it was badly damaged on a rock edge after a use as an ab rope for group activity only for a day. Use of a dynamic rope should have mitigated the damage greatly (Admittedly a rope protector should have been used at the right place in that occasion, which is more important than what rope is used).
The European Norm standard for static ropes is EN1891 and two types (A and B; the latter is slightly less strict), as summarised in Appendix. Obviously you should make sure the rope you will get is certified with it.
Static ropes, or often called low-stretch ropes, should not stretch under a load in the ideal world. However, in reality, of course they do. Even a steel cable does for a tiny amount, let alone woven ropes. Perhaps for that reason, static ropes are often called semi-static ropes.
The amount of stretch is called elongation, and expressed as the ratio of the stretch when an extra 100 kgf is applied. It is usually between 2-4%. Smaller it is, better it is. For a rope of 100m in length, this range of elongation is translated into 2-4m, and so is significant.
Any gear has to match in characteristics with other gear to be used with.
Most climbing gear to handle ropes, such as descenders, ascenders, and belay devices are designed to accept ropes with a diameter up to 11mm. Some devices have an even lower upper-limit, such as, Edelrid Micro Jul, which accepts the rope diameter of 6.9-8.5mm.
Whereas pretty much all the dynamic climbing ropes have a diameter of 11mm or smaller, some static ropes in the market go beyond 11mm, like 12mm, which is desirable in some situations in industry, where sturdy (and heavy and bulky) gear is used. For climbing use, they are almost useless. Be warned.
Even 11mm ropes can be very fiddly with some climbing devices; It is not a surprise, considering 11mm is the upper limit on the catalogue for those devices and static ropes are usually far stiffer than dynamic ropes. For climbing use, the diameter of 10.5mm or thinner would be more desirable.
Other than that, fatter ropes are usually more durable with drawbacks of more bulk and weight. Having said that, climbing is usually not abseil-rope intensive activity, and so use of abseil ropes is in general limited. In that sense, durability may not be of your primary concern.
It depends on your use, obviously. If you go and use it in a massive wall abroad, you might want to get a super-long one, like 500m?! On the other hand, if you want to use it for a help for rigging only, then 20m will do the job in most cases.
If the intended use is, or includes, an abseil approach to climbing routes (most likely sea-cliff climbing) in the UK, 50m would do in majority of cases. However, there are exceptional routes and venues that do require over 50m abseils. Notably, many routes in the fantastic sea-cliffs in Pabbay and Mingulay in Outer Hebrides require over 50m abseil, up to 100m, and so do the routes in Fairhead in Northern Ireland. Or, the famous Supercharger (and adjascent routes) in Neist in Isle of Skye is the same.
On the other hand, I don't know any route in the UK that requires over 100m abseil to approach (possibly in St. Kilda?), nor a climber who owns a static rope with over 100m in length.
Practically, commercially (easily) available static ropes are in a drum of either 200m or 100m, or in shorter length (though it seems to be possible to order even a longer length if you talk to manufacturers directly).
In short, if you want the maximum versatility for use in climbing in the UK, get 100m. If not, arbitrary shorter length, depending on your intended use.
Ropes must be supple enough to make a (figure-of-eight) knot, called knotability. Static ropes are usually far stiffer than dynamic ropes. In industrial use, this can be of less concern, as the devices they use with are different. However, it is vitally important in any climbing situation.
In manufacturers' catalogue they usually mention about the knotability of each model.
Some ropes come with a pre-sewn knot in the end(s) of a rope. You don't want that usually for climbing use.
Use when wet
Ropes shrink when wet. In climbing situations ropes can get wet, be it in rain, by a contact with wet mud or snow, or (sea) water below. In that sense, (static) ropes with less shrinkage when wet are desirable for climbing use.
I remember the full 100m abseil in to the very exposed belay ledge of Prophecy of Drowning (and The Priest) in remote Pabbay. If we retreated because it had started raining, made multiple abseils to the original belay ledge to jug up the static rope to get out of hell, and only found the end of the abseil rope hanging meters above the ledge because it had shrunk in rain, we would be in serious trouble...
In reality, such a situation is probably extreme, and I guess most static ropes in the market are fine. But you have been warned!
You can find all sorts of static ropes in the market, because different situations, particularly in industry, demand different tolerances, such as, to a higher temperature or chemical contact. No rope is 100% safe with those, but some models are more tolerant than others. That can be confusing for climbers.
Personally, if a manufacturer advertises such an extra tolerance, I drop those ropes off my choice, because use in climbing does not demand the extra tolerance, unless you use it in extremely hot or cold places.
The two bog-standard colours for static ropes are white(-based) and black, whereas it is rare dynamic ropes have those colours, except for the ones for military use. Although other colours may be available in some models, my recommendation is to stick to either of those 2 colours to avoid a potential confusion. It is partly for a safety reason so some one else may mistakenly use it when dynamic ropes must be used, but partly for your own benefit — imagine the situation you grab a rope from home in haste, drive for hours to get to a crag, only realising the rope you have brought is a static rope...
Note Edelrid differentiates the colour pattern so users can tell the diameter or the rope immediately, if they know how. (I mention it not because I consider that is a hugely beneficial feature, but for the sake of reference.)
Actual models in the market
The table below gives a summary of the available models of static ropes in the market as in May 2016.
Any parameter can change within the same model, depending on its diameter. As a rule of thumb, thinner it is, more stretchy (aka larger elongation) it has, and less durable it is, such as the number of UIAA falls it can cope with.
For many models I have chosen the single representative diameter of 11mm, rather than listing all the available diameters in each model. The figure of 11mm is chosen not because it is the most desirable diameter for climbing (as mentioned above), but because most models have at least the diameter of 11mm, and therefore a fairer comparison is achieved with 11mm ropes.
|Particularly good handling and excellent knotability. Outstanding durability and minimum shrinkage when wet
|Data sheet by Alteria (in Japanese)
|Safety Super II
|Maximum abrasion resistance, minimum shrinkage and low elongation
|Kernmantel construction provides excellent value for money
|Worksafe Low Stretch Rope
|For any application where the sheath and the core may suffer damage
Note: Taken from the Edelrid catalogue 2016 (in Japanese).