Understanding Dynamic Ropes

Considering the importance of the rope in climbing, it’s surprising how little most climbers understand their construction and ratings.

Below is a brief explanation of what the markings on the packaging of a new rope mean.

It would be easy to write at length on each of these markings and at times it’s been harder to make a concise but sufficient explanation.

understanding dynamic ropes labels

What do all the markings mean?

This particular rope will serve me well for climbing single pitch routes in the Burren during the summer but of less use to me at Dalkey, Glendalough or Scottish Winter. Let’s see why:

The 1 indicates that this is a single rated rope.

Single rope: designed to be used on its own.

Half/double ropes: designed to be used as a pair, with only one rope clipped into each piece of protection.

Twin ropes: designed to be used as a pair, clipping both ropes into the same piece of protection.      


Triple rated ropes are designed to be used as single, twin or half ropes. As such are the ultimate multipurpose tool and are priced accordingly.

If you want to see the advantages of half/double ropes, you can read this blog post I wrote about them

UIAA Falls: 7-8

This does not mean that after experiencing 7-8 standard lead falls, your rope is no good and should be retired. A common misconception.

Modern ropes don’t generally break, they cut or abrade.

The kinds of forces used in testing are extremely severe and not generally the kind of forces the average lead fall can create.

All UIAA certified ropes undergo a similar test process. To pass, it must survive a minimum of 5 simulated falls without breaking. This rope has failed after 7-8 of those test falls.

Delving into those fall factor forces is separate a blog post in itself, so while it’s safe to say that this rope is perfectly strong enough to withstand a lot more than just 7-8 “normal” lead fall scenarios.

Maybe if I have had a couple of big whippers in a row then I’ll take a break from using this rope and allow it to shrink back to normal size.

If I was to have the kind of fall simulated in the test, I’d probably not be going for a second attempt at the climb.

A higher fall rating can however indicate a better quality of rope, with increased durability and lifespan.

Impact Force, 8.4kn.

This is the force transmitted from the rope to the climber under a fall, essentially, the ropes ability to absorb the energy of fall.

The lower the number the more pleasant the fall.

Again, it is tested using high fall factors and doesn’t allow for the forces being absorbed by the climbers and belayers bodies, rope slippage through the belay device etc, which would occur in a real-life fall and would also contribute to a comfortable “soft catch“.

This rating can be a consideration for the trad climber as the lower the IF number, the better the dissipation of the forces created during a fall and the less force transmitted into the placed protection.

A sports climber taking multiple lobs on a project might appreciate the comfort of a rope with a low IF number.

In the case of bottom/top-roping, you ideally want a higher IF number as the forces created during this type of fall are low and we probably want less stretch, to avoid the climber hitting their ankles off a ledge or the ground.  

Elongation in Use, 6.5%

This is the amount of rope stretch created when hanging a static weight from the rope. In testing, they use a static weight of 80kg.

So if an 80kg person was to hang on the full length of this rope, it would stretch to become a 42.6-metre rope or 6.5% of the length of the rope.

The thinner the rope, the more likely it is to stretch further. A rope will stretch more when wet but it will lose its elasticity the more it is used.

proportion of Sheath, 40%

This is how much of the construction of the rope is made up of sheath and how much of it is made up of the inner core (60%).

The core is where the primary strength and elasticity of the rope is, but the sheath determines its ability to withstand abrasion and its durability.

Remember, ropes generally don’t break, they cut, so this is an important rating to take into consideration.

This is why I have one set of ropes of working with (these run over more edges and take more abuse) and a different set for personal climbing (these have less wear and tear but bigger falls).

UIAA water absorption, 46%

Wet ropes stretch more, get heavier/harder to use and can make using ascenders and Gris-Gris difficult, so it can be important that they are water repellent, especially in snow and ice conditions.

This particular rope has a high absorbency and wouldn’t be much good for ice climbing, but will be just fine for use at a short single pitch crag on dry summer days.

As per the UIAA test, a true water repellent rope should have a water absorption rating of 5% or less. Some “Dry” ropes don’t achieve this as they are only dry treated. Like your waterproof jacket, the treatment wears off over time.

Elongation at 1st fall, 31%

This is the percentage of stretch in the rope the first time a dynamic fall or load is applied to it. Like the elongation in use test above, an 80kg weight is used and replicates a severe fall scenario.

While a maximum 31% stretch may seem like a very high and worrying number, it will always be less in reality, where we won’t achieve the forces created in the UIAA test.

However, it might just make you think about not using your brand new ropes on a short lead climb where the crux is at the bottom of the route.

The elongation percentage will reduce over the life of a dynamic rope.

Sheath Slippage, 0%

The less slippage between the core and the sheath of the rope, the more durable it is.

We’ve all seen the ends of a rope in a climbing wall get bunched up and fat from this, or feel a thin spot on a rope where it’s been damaged, so you would think 0% is an ideal score here.

However, ropes with less slippage can be less pliable and soft to handle. Some sheath slippage can even be a good thing if the rope is running over a sharp edge as the load is spread across a greater area.

Any visible damage or alteration to the rope from sheath slippage should be treated with caution and cut from the rope or retire the rope completely.

Other markings

While length, diameter and weight per meter of the rope are self-explanatory markings, they are helpful to let us know what category and preferred use to put a rope into.

So what rope should you buy then?

There’s no point spending a fortune on ropes if your style of climbing doesn’t need all the design features possible for a rope.

A low price doesn’t mean low quality, it could just mean fewer options to use it.

If you climb exclusively indoors you shouldn’t be concerned about ratings like weight or water repellency and should go for a thick robust and competitively priced rope. The Beal Wall master perhaps.

If the majority of your climbing is on smaller single pitch trad routes, then any single rated 50m rope will get you through most days in Ireland and will be super affordable. Something like the Tendon Smart 10mm.

For sport, any single rated rope will do once its sufficiently long enough to let you climb AND lower off the route. If it’s a particularly long route then definitely thinner lighter ropes are better.

But if you intend to or do a lot of multi-pitching in Ireland then get a set of 60m half/double ropes as well as the above 50m rope and mix and match between the two sets. I use DMM Crux 9.1mm ropes and they are class.

If you intend to go to Scotland in the winter, bring doubles and make sure your ropes are proper dry ropes or at least dry treated.

However, if money isn’t an issue and you want simplicity and a great all-round option, get a set of triple rated 60m Beal Joker unicore Golden dry ropes to have the solution to all the above climbing scenarios.

Well all scenarios apart from a 30m+ sports climb that is.

I hope the above post is useful. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this post.

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7 Reasons To Boulder In Doolin

If you’re looking for a climbing challenge, you could do worse than a spot of bouldering in Doolin.

The bouldering area at Lackglass near Doolin is one of my favourite outdoor places in the country, to climb or to just chill out and enjoy the relative solitude.

It’s a relatively short walk in, through a couple of stony Burren fields and along a stone wall all the way to the coast. With the sun on your face and view cross the Atlantic ocean to the Aran Islands and beyond, on a good day, it’s ace.

New Bouldering Routes in Doolin

There are times I’ve walked in during the winter storms, just to see what the full ferocity of the crashing waves can do. I’ve never been there on a day so big that the boulders have been jumbled around but, from a reasonable distance, Id imagine its an awesome sight to behold.

To see boulders weighing in the tens of tonnes moved about, flipped on their head, moved across the slab or even gone completely, it has to be seen to believed.

And that’s both the beauty and the shame of bouldering in Doolin, every couple of years the route-setters come in and leave us with a new bunch of challenges. Were it not for the fact that they strip away or alter old classics, this arrangement would be perfect.

The problems I’ve listed below are in the grades 5-7 range because its what I climb and can recommend. There are some classic harder graded problems, but not lots of them.

Hopefully, this blog will spark an idea to visit Doolin and try some of the quality problems, while they still exist.

Do your best to carpool and always shut the farmer’s gate. An excellent relationship currently exists with the local farmer who thinks what we do is great craic, let’s make sure we never give cause to change that.

Bouldering in Doolin

Up The Alley, 6A

Revealed for the first time after a big storm circa 2014 and first climbed by Cian Kearns this was an immediate classic on the circuit at Doolin.

A reachy and dynamic first move off the ground to good holds, before a delicate traverse right on tiny footholds, maintain body tension moving up and slap to a small sloping edge for a delicate move to get a welcome top out hold.

It’s not a given that you get it every time, which makes it both frustrating and special.

Bigfoot 6A+

One of the original classics of the crag that seems to stay untouched despite being relatively close to the water’s edge.

Overhanging, with an encouraging start on big holds and a pleasing heel hook, it soon turns much tougher with a big move required off two smaller sharper crimps.

The strong can static it, but the rest of us mortals have to suck it up and throw, not quite a full dyno, but certainly very dynamic.

The top out hold is a mega jug though and with the opportunity to flail your legs loose and still stay on, it makes for a really enjoyable finish.

Standard Finger Crack 5+

The Reardon Memorial wall is one of the striking features of the crag. A highball wall where you would definitely need a few pads to be feeling it. Luckily the climbs are all mostly straight up.

Solid climbing at the grade, luckily the harder moves on Standard Finger Crack are all lower down when it’s more pleasant to fall.

The holds get juggier as you ascend and top out, but keep your cool as a fall would be a big one.

Even if highballs aren’t your thing, it’d be a shame to visit and not tick off at least one. Standard Corner, 4 would be safer tick if you want jugs all the way.

The Egg, 5+

Another of the newer revealed classics, it came on the scene a few years back, got blocked off again after a storm and only this year was revealed again when the “sitting stone” blocking it got moved 40 metres across the slab.

For such a short boulder it can cause awful frustration to figure out the beta. A hand slap followed quickly by a foot stab keeps you steady enough to rearrange feet and make another slap to a big hold before an easier top out. It might look straightforward, but it can be tricky.

Bobs Traverse 6B+

Perfect if you want a beta heavy long problem but without the big falls. You don’t even need multiple pads for the base as its so low to the ground at times.

The guide book says to do it in any direction, but for me its always going to be left to right. It took me so long to crack it, but like all great problems, it seems like you’ll never get it, ’til you do.

Good handholds and footholds for the most part, but whatever beta you figure out, it’s about keeping your concentration and body tension for that one thin move at the crux.

At full spread and with blind feet, its about body tension and trusting a small sloping edge to match hands and move again.

Solid Works, 7A

One of the more skin-friendly limestone 7As, where you won’t get shut down working it after a few attempts. As its not tidal, quick-drying and faces the sun, it can be worked all year round, which is a good incentive to stick with it.

Traverse along the lip to the middle of the boulder using a series of heel hooks and open-handed holds before a nice mantle, rockover and easier slabby top out. For me, the process and time invested in this will always be special.

Black Corner, 6C

The exact opposite of Solid Works in that for the most of the winter its wet, smashed by swell and builds up a layer of algae on it. Only after a late spring/summer dry spell and some brushing does it come into good condition.

Even then you have to hope your free time coincides with low tide and dry weather. You would think that would serve to frustrate, but it only adds to the allure of all the climbs on the large Fireworks boulder even more.

An easy sit start on juggy holds sucks me in for “just one more try”, drop knee, reach behind and match hands on the rail, cut loose and chop kick the left foot to kill the swing, left-hand sidepull, steady, right-hand side pull, move left hand up to the small edge and…. off.

I’ve never got beyond that move and it motivates me and grates me all at the one time, but does not topping out stop it from being one of my favourite problems? No chance, this is a must-do

Still to top out routes

Add Broken 6B (update: I topped out on this class problem in april 2021) and Emerland 6C+ to the above to make a list of great climbs I love working but haven’t topped.

Add Gutbusters 6b+ to the list if you like problems where you cant see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The Ramp 6B+ is one of the great problems of the crag. (Topped out March 2021).

And as for all those climbs that were of great quality and fun to climb, but are no longer there.. hopefully, ye make a return visit someday, in whatever orientation Neptune decides.

But bouldering in Doolin isn’t just about nature and climbing for me, it’s about friendship and social sends.

It about the lifelong mates that I’ve made through climbing, many of them I met or climbed with the first time at Doolin.

Here’s a short movie a friend made some years ago during a spell of hot weather, not the best temps for conditions but some really great memories.

The 5 Best VS Climbs In Ireland

If you’re like me, then you’ve been spending most of Lockdown dreaming about getting out and climbing again, especially at my favourite Irish crags.

Sometimes thumbing through guidebooks and making tick-lists are the genesis of all good adventures.

This is a list of 5 climbs that I think every VS climber should aim to lead at some stage.

They vary in style, location and rock type and could make for a useful base for planning a summer climbing trip around Ireland.

The 5 Best VS Climbs In Ireland

The Black Thief, VS 4b, 24m, Fair Head

If you love hand jams, you’ll love The Black Thief, 24m of cruisey jams and gear on demand. Even if you don’t love hand jams yet, then this is the climb to get you started and it’s fitting that it should be a Clare and Calvin route to start off this list.

Prelude-Nightmare, VS 4b, 4b, 4a, 4c, 74m, Glendalough

One of the best climbs on the crag. Solid rock and decent gear placements when needed. It’s always a bit exciting leaving the belay ledge and committing to the airy Nightmare pitch. A must-do!

Giraffe, VS 4c, 40m, Dun Seanna Head

Such a dramatic setting and an aesthetic line, with good holds and lots of gear.

Waves crashing around the belay ledge can add to the drama, but mostly for your belayer as they will you to hurry up.

Girona, VS 4c, 4c, 47m, Fair Head

Another at Fair Head, but then it is the best crag in the world, so hardly surprising. Girona has a bit of everything climbing wise, but for me the final few moves on the upper section of pitch 2 are class. Hard for the grade but with gear on demand, its an absolute classic.

Jug City, VS 4c, 12m, Ailladie

It might seem odd that a 12m route peppered with jugs can be given the same grade as Girona. Its way easier to climb, but as a climbing experience, if VS is your grade, it’s up there with anything Ireland has to offer. For most people, it’s their first abseil in route at Ailladie and with good reason too.

Honourable mentions:

Taoiseach, VS 4c, 4c, Fair Head – The slab section at the start of pitch 2 is awesome

Mahjongg, VS 4c, Dalkey – Fun, thin slab climbing.

Roaring Meg, VS 5a, Fair Head – a long route with some excellent moves on it.R

Kudos VS 4c, 4c Gap Of Dunloe – awesome route and a good multi-pitch adventure high above the valley floor.

Hopefully, this inspires some to get out and climb when we are allowed to do so again.

Let me know if you agree or even strongly disagree with my choices of the best VS climbs in Ireland or if you feel there’s been a glaring omission then I’m happy to hear that too, it might just inspire me to get out somewhere new too.

I hope the above info is useful. If you would like to discuss any aspect further, please get in touch and I’d be happy to chat.