What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

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What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by T2 » 07 Nov 2018, 13:30

I've had a couple email discussions with people recently discussing the best canyoning ropes available and what to look for in a rope. I figure it is worth sharing some thoughts on the canyoning-specific ropes currently on the market and the points to consider when making a purchase. I'd love to hear what others think.

When considering what rope to buy, it's important to consider the different demands that canyons place on gear compared to other pursuits involving abseiling. For instance, rock climbing ropes need to provide greater elasticity to absorb the forces involved in falls. Caving ropes are will be ascended on much more. Etc, etc.

For canyoning, the best ropes have very low elongation. This is because the more stretch in the rope, the more it can rub on edges as the rope is loaded and unloaded. This will cause the sheath to suffer more abrasion, shortening its life. Your rope must also be able to handle water well (some materials used in ropes not only absorb a lot of water, adding to weight, but also suffer significant strength reduction when wet). Some fibres are also more prone to degradation due to moisture. Canyoners generally walk much further with our gear than climbers or cavers, so reducing weight and bulk is a really important consideration. For that reason, my preference is for ropes between 8 and 9mm diametre.

Traditionally, the most common fibres used in abseiling ropes were: polyester, polyamide (Nylon), and polypropylene.

In recent years, some truly exceptional fibres have become available that have a range of features including higher strength and better abrasion resistance (and unfortunately, a higher price). They are also still hard to find in Australia. Some of these fibres include: ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene (Dyneema / Spectra), aramid (Technora), para-aramid (Kevlar / Twaron), liquid crystal polymer (Vectran), and polybenzobisoxazole (PBO / Zylon).

Nylon is traditionally used as the core in climbing ropes. This is because of its natural stretch (it actually elongates more when wet).

Many canyoning specific ropes have instead used polyester, which is not only much lower stretch than nylon, but also has exceptional UV resistance and is better and handling exposure to water.

Polypropylene has also been used as a core material to create floating ropes. It is not as strong or durable as nylon and polyester.

If you look at top-of-the-line canyoning ropes, you will find most use at least a blend of the more advanced fibres I've listed above.

Dyneema and Spectra are both extremely strong and hard wearing, but are not great at handling heat. For that reason they are used as a core material. Woven Dyneema has the same strength as steel cable, so it allows ropes to be produced at thinner diametres. It is also completely static, bringing rope elongation down to under 1 per cent in many cases. Finally, it doesn't absorb water, or degrade / lose strength due to moisture.

Technora not only has exceptional cut resistance, but it can also handle much more abrasion. This can almost double the life-span of a canyoning rope. Unlike Dyneema, it can handle quite high working temperatures. All this combines to create an amazing sheath material.

Less common in canyoning ropes, but likely to appear in future -- particular as the core for high-end ropes -- are Kevlar, Twaron, Vectran and PBO / Zylon.

Of the lower end traditional fibres, my experience is that polypropylene ropes do not last very long. So while they might make your initial purchase cheaper, you'll end up spending more in the long run.

I also avoid nylon fibres because of the elongation issue. You can never get a truly static rope if it has a nylon core.

Polyester ropes provide the best "bang for buck". They are tough, hard wearing, and will handle exposure to grit, water, and UV. It's for that reason that the polyester sheath / polyester core combination form the basis of several popular canyoning-specific ropes. So if you're looking for the best ropes on a tight budget, the ones to consider are:
Imlay "Canyon Fire" and "Canyonero": http://www.imlaycanyongear.com/ropes.php
Bluewater "Canyonator": https://www.bluewaterropes.com/product/9mm-canyonator/
Sterling "HTP": https://sterlingrope.com/store/climb/ro ... htp-canyon
Sterling "Canyon Prime": https://sterlingrope.com/store/climb/ro ... anyonprime

Many manufacturers have started using Technora for the sheath (or at least combining it with polyester). This greatly increases the cut and wear resistance of a rope. You'll pay more, but it will be a very long time before your rope gets core shot. Some of these ropes include:
Bluewater "Canyon DS": https://www.bluewaterropes.com/product/9-2mm-canyon-ds/
Sterling "C-IV": https://sterlingrope.com/store/climb/ro ... ropes/c-iv
Attwood "Rhapsody": https://atwoodgear.com/collections/rope ... s/rhapsody

Another common combination retains the polyester sheath, but uses a Dyneema core to provide additional strength. This combination creates a thinner rope where the sheath makes up a greater proportion of the rope, providing a longer lasting rope:
Bluewater "Canyon Pro": https://www.bluewaterropes.com/product/8mm-canyon-pro/
Atwood "Grand": https://atwoodgear.com/collections/rope ... grand-rope

Finally, there are the top-of-the-line ropes that are using these high-end fibres in both the core and sheath. They include:
Bluewater "Canyon Extreme": https://www.bluewaterropes.com/product/ ... n-extreme/
Bluewater "Canyon Pro DS": https://www.bluewaterropes.com/product/8mm-canyon-rope/
Sterling "Canyon Lux": https://sterlingrope.com/store/climb/ro ... /canyonlux

Personally, I advise people to avoid ropes with a polypropylene core. They just don't seem to last long enough when you consider how much money a canyoning rope costs. Likewise, my personal preference is to avoid nylon. It is a great fibre for many uses, but the fact is that these ropes not only have more stretch, but generally a shorter life span compared to polyester (which outperforms on abrasion, water, or UV resistance).

So if I'm buying a new canyoning rope and I'm on a budget, I'm spending that money on a polyester core and sheath combination. That provides the best bang for buck and should last quite a few years.

If I'm splurging, then it's the more advanced fibres that will get me. I absolutely love Dyneema. It is so strong and hardwearing, while retaining amazing flexibility. Combined with a Technora sheath, you'll have a rope that despite being only 8mm will last longer than traditional 10mm ropes, while making the walks in and out of canyons so much more enjoyable.

The best rope I've used, which I then bought as a gift for a friend, was the 8mm Bluewater Canyon Extreme. It is incredible, although quite fast, so best to keep away from beginners (unless you teach them how to add friction while on descent!). At the moment it doesn't seem anyone stocks it in Australia, so you'll need to buy it from the US.

Of the other options, have a think about your individual needs. If you intend to do remote, exploratory, multi-day trips, then ropes in the 8 to 8.5mm range will really pay off with their reduced weight and bulk. If you're only going to do day trips, then a sheath-heavy 9 to 9.5mm rope may be a better choice. If you canyon in an area with particular sharp rock edges, then consider a Technora sheath.

Overall, rope technology has come a long way in the last decade. There really is no reason any recreational canyoner should be still buying 10mm ropes. Despite being heavier and bulkier, in most cases they're not as tough as the thinner alternatives now available. So while a thicker rope might feel good psychologically, you will often be safer descending on an advanced 8mm rope.

If you want a really good comparison of the main canyoning ropes currently on the market, what they are made from, their strength and stretch, etc, there's a really useful guide on the Ropewiki site: http://ropewiki.com/Rope_comparison



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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by tom_brennan » 23 Nov 2018, 09:04

Good summary Tim.
  • I agree with your comments about polypropylene core ropes. They might be good in some parts of the world where the canyons are all wet, and the flotation is an advantage, but they don't really make much sense for most Australian canyons
  • If you're not canyoning that often, polyester is probably your best choice these days. I don't find that I'm wearing ropes out much, so the premium for advanced fibres doesn't seem worth it. But if you're canyoning more often, it may be worth it.

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by T2 » 23 Nov 2018, 12:02

Thanks Tom.

If people are keen to have their rope float, another option is to use a rope bag with floatation in it. That not only stops your extra rope from sinking in the pool, it also keeps it tidy and prevents tangles. I'd much rather use a harder-wearing rope with a rope bag than a poor quality rope just because it floats.

And I totally agree with your assessment. I think for more than 90 per cent of Australian canyoners, polyester ropes are the best bet. There's only a small number of people doing enough trips, or long / remote stuff, to justify the more advanced ropes.

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by Skinner » 01 Jan 2019, 20:59

Have you had any reviews of the imlay ropes that you are selling?

I have always liked the blue water ropes. I currently have 2 x 30m blue water II ropes. They have a polyamide core and polyester sheath. They are hard wearing and nice to work with. I have not tried the canyon specific blue water ropes. Can we get them here?

In our group we also have 2 x 55m edelrid static (maybe the super static bit an older version) and 2x 60m bluewater. The edelrid have been hardwearing having done a lot of work, but unfortunately one had to be cut, so I am looking for another. The edelrid although hard wearing are not as nice as the Bluewater in my opinion.
I have not had any issue with stretch in these ropes. Does the polyester core make much of a difference? Is there any disadvantage over a nylon core?

As for size, I would have a very hot backside on an 8mm rope. Do you use your srt an on 8mm rope? That would be quick. Not sure I would go that thin.

For the dyneema core ropes, how do they deal with the lower melting point of dyneema?

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by T2 » 02 Jan 2019, 18:28

Mark,

I haven't seen much in the way of detailed reviews of the Imlay ropes in Australian conditions. Craig did an initial review when he bought his Imlay ropes in 2016 (https://sleepwhenwearedead.wordpress.co ... pressions/). Given how much use they have had in the last couple years, perhaps it's time for him to publish an updated review.

They are the dominant canyoneering rope in the US. I used them extensively on two trips there. Utah canyons are more abrasive than those in the Blue Mountains, so their ability to stand up to sustained abuse in those conditions was really encouraging. I'd suggest looking at some of the reviews by American canyoneers who have been using these ropes for quite a few years now (check out http://canyoncollective.com/).

Regarding Bluewater ropes, the top of the line canyoning ones currently aren't available in Australia. I've tried chasing the distributor, but they don't seem interested. But the good news is that I've found a way that we should be able to bring them in directly in from the US. Combing a bulk discount and the substantial shipping savings compared to bringing in individual ropes, this should pretty much halve the price you'd currently pay. I'll be posting details of the bulk order in the next couple weeks, but if you email me I'll make sure I send you the details directly (t2 [at] fatcanyoners.org).

Re the Edelrid ropes, I've used them a lot over the years as they are primarily what the Sydney Uni Bushwalkers have bought. Over time I've become increasingly unimpressed with the durability of these ropes. They are at best semi-static, with most having 4 to 5 per cent elongation. That leads to a lot of edge wear. They also have the general issues I outlined above that come with Nylon cores. They also do ropes with a "dry" treatment to try to resolve the inherent issues with using Nylon, but I'd rather a rope that used a superior fibre rather than one that relies on an addition treatment that will wear off over time. Overall, Nylon is a great fibre for climbing ropes because the natural stretch absorbs falls. We don't want that in canyons. It also absorbs more water, and holds it longer, so you end up with a heavier rope on the walk out.

Re 8mm ropes, I had similar concerns before using them. The Bluewater ropes are particularly fast. You do want to ensure you use a descender that allows friction to be varied once on rope. That said, once you get use to it, they are amazing ropes. I did a 100m free-hanging abseil on a single 8mm Bluewater Canyon Extreme and it was amazing.

Dyneema ropes are protected by the sheath. Polyester sheaths provide more than enough protection, but the Technora ones are even better. Technora is a fibre that is used in protective firefighting apparel. They even use pure Technora ropes in emergency escape systems that allow a trapped firefighter to abseil directly through flames. The heat of your descender won't provide any danger to the Dyneema core.

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by Flynny » 06 Jan 2019, 11:19

T2 wrote:
02 Jan 2019, 18:28
Craig did an initial review when he bought his Imlay ropes in 2016 (https://sleepwhenwearedead.wordpress.co ... pressions/). Given how much use they have had in the last couple years, perhaps it's time for him to publish an updated review.
Thanks for the nudge. Long term review now up
https://sleepwhenwearedead.wordpress.co ... rm-review/

:D

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by Skinner » 08 Jan 2019, 00:04

Thanks for the review Flynny. Very helpful.

I think I will have to try them out as I need to get a new 60m rope.

I was particularly aware of wear on my ropes as I was watching some beginners go down the long abseil in hole in the wall with the rope repeatedly rubbing along the edge. No damage, just uncomfortable watching.

T2, how long will the sale price last on the imlay ropes? Will the price of the Bluewater bulk order be a fair bit more than that price?

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by T2 » 09 Jan 2019, 13:27

Skinner wrote:
08 Jan 2019, 00:04
T2, how long will the sale price last on the imlay ropes?
Good question. I'll have them available for that sale price until at least the end of this month.
Skinner wrote:
08 Jan 2019, 00:04
Will the price of the Bluewater bulk order be a fair bit more than that price?
Mark, I've just posted details of the bulk order here: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=249

If we get a small number of people involved, they should come in at just under $7 per metre. If it turns into a decent sized order, that should bring it down from there. So still much more expensive than the Imlay ropes, but about 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than shipping individual lengths from the US.

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by Skinner » 09 Jan 2019, 14:38

Thanks for that Tim. The ropes sound excellent. For me though they are a bit too expensive. If I was living in the mountains and canyoning most weekends it might be worth it.
The vt Prusik’s Look interesting though. Having them releasable when they are above the device would be good. I don’t usually have my self belay above in case it locks. I like the ability to release under load without having to stand up in a foot loop. Makes changing from ascending to descending easier too.

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by Skinner » 10 Jan 2019, 22:36

Tim,
Are there any issues with tying ropes of different materials together? Say a polyester rope with a nylon rope. I imagine there may be some rope creep with the different elongation. Will there be any issues with knots?

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Re: What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

Post by T2 » 11 Jan 2019, 12:03

Skinner wrote:
10 Jan 2019, 22:36
Are there any issues with tying ropes of different materials together? Say a polyester rope with a nylon rope. I imagine there may be some rope creep with the different elongation. Will there be any issues with knots?
With the loads involved in canyoning I don't believe there is any issue with different materials. Some fibres have much lower friction, such as Dyneema, which can allow knots to slip. But of the fibres that make up the sheath material of canyoning ropes (Nylon, Polyester, and in high-end ropes Technora) this is not an issue.

If abseiling on double ropes, the biggest issue you would notice is that one of the ropes may stretch more than the other (if one is Nylon and the other Polyester). I've had the experience of a stretchier rope bunching below the descender slightly then surging through in bursts. I've never seen this difference have any issue at the knot though.

A bigger potential issue would be when joining ropes of vastly different diametres, as knots often don't cinch down as nicely. But a modern canyoner is unlikely to have more than 1 - 2mm of difference in diametres, which shouldn't be noticeable. Just stick to the usual advice of having at least 30cm tails on your overhand knots.

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