Is a Wet Rope Dangerous?

The simple answer is yes, a wet rope should cause you more concern than a dry rope. There are a couple of reasons why you want to keep your rope as dry as possible while climbing. The performance of some materials (like the nylon that ropes are made from) change when they become wet. Read on…

Sterling RopeReason 1:

Some wet ropes can see a loss of 10-20% of their strength. Fortunately, the loss is temporary and the strength is recovered when the material dries.

Reason 2:

In drop tests on dynamic rope that had been soaked in water for different periods of time, the impact loads increased by up to 22% above those for dry ropes (typically by between 8 % and 12 %).  An example of an event that can cause this to happen is a lead fall. Remember ropes are designed to elongate in order to absorb and dissipate an impact l0ad. Since a wet rope can actually shrink a rope by 10%, that means there is less rope in the system to absorb the impact, thus creating a higher impact load.

Reason 3:

Your belay device doesn’t function as well. Wet and icy ropes makes them more slippery, or even worse, they ropes get frozen stiff and will no longer pass through your belay device. All belay devices create friction to help brake and arrest a fall. As you’re wrestling to pull the rope through your device on a frozen section, unwanted slack could build up in system. If all of the sudden the climber falls with that extra slack out, it’s equivalent to taking a fall on a static rope…can you say ouch?!

So what can you do to keep your wet rope dry?

1. Use a rope bag or tarp. This will help keep the rope clean from snow, dirt, debris and in a quick rainstorm. Fold it up like a burrito and keep it covered as much as possible, stuff it in your pack, cover it with your jacket…whatever you need to do.
2. Buy a dry treated rope.
If you plan on ice or alpine climbing or live in a chronically wet environment (ahem…as all of you East Coasters know all too well), buy a rope with a dry treatment. What is this technology I speak of? Well, a dry treated rope has a coating applied to it that helps it repel water from it’s surface, but won’t prevent it from absorbing water all together.
Sterling Rope has has several dry treatments which include: DryCore, DeltaDry and DryXP. All of these waterproof treatments are applied to not just the core fibers but also to the exterior sheath fibers. This makes for an uber water resistant rope which keeps water absorption to a minimum.

What’s the best way to dry a wet rope?

1. Choose a place that is: cool, airy and shady
The ideal place is indoors, out of direct sunlight and away from any heat source. Why? The sun’s UV rays cause damage to the fibers of the rope, as does any type of heat source.
2. Expose the rope surface
Uncoil your rope and lay it out so you expose as much of the surface area of the sheath as possible.
3. Create airflow
Turn on a fan, open a window, create airflow to help speed the drying time.

Want to learn more about climbing equipment testing and standards?

Rest and climb assured that when all is said and done, your rope recovers almost completely when dried under normal conditions. If your inner engineer wants to geek out on a bunch of numbers here are a couple of resources:
  • The UIAA sets the worldwide standard by which all things climbing are tested to uphold. If you want to learn more about how the UIAA determines how waterproof your rope is, the process by which it is tested and lots of other fun facts to know and tell, check out the UIAA’s awesome website. They recently announced a new testing standard, methods and procedures for dry treated ropes.