What to look at when buying a canyoning rope

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T2
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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



tom_brennan
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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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