Climbers and mountaineers literally put their lives in the hands of their climbing ropes. While these ropes are made to take a beating, they can wear down over time just like any other equipment.
So before you put your climbing rope away after a trip, it’s important to spend a few minutes taking care of it. This is especially key at the end of the season, when your rope may spend months tucked away in a closet or rope bag.
Let’s take a closer look at how to store climbing rope and how you can ensure your rope lasts for years to come.
Flake and Inspect Your Climbing Rope
When you get back from a trip in the mountains, it’s tempting to leave your climbing rope in your bag for a few days. But that’s one of the worst things you can do to your rope.
If the rope is at all wet - as is often the case if you’ve been dragging it through the snow - leaving it in your bag will cause it to grow bacteria and mildew that can wear away at the sheath. Even if the rope is perfectly dry, leaving it tangled in your bag for days on end can cause kinks and twists that are difficult to get out later.
So, the first step in the storage process is to take your rope out of your pack and flake it. Starting with one end of the rope, pull the entire rope through your hands, stopping to untangle any knots you find along the way.
This is also a great time to inspect your rope for damage, something every climber should do regularly. As you flake out the rope, look closely for places where the sheath may be fraying or discolored. A little fuzz around the sheath from abrasion isn’t a major concern, but a mass of fibers along the whole length of the rope is.
Also check whether the rope feels stiff or has soft spots anywhere along its length. If you find these, the rope is nearing the end of its lifespan and should be replaced soon.
Coil Your Climbing Rope
The next step in the storage process is to coil your rope. There are several different ways to do this, but the most common method is the butterfly coil.
Take one end of the rope in your hand, grab the rope with your other hand, and extend your arms with the rope behind your back. In front of you, bring your hands together, grab and extend the rope, and then flip the strand over your shoulder.
Continue this pattern, switching which side is controlling the rope after each strand, until you have around 10 feet of rope left. Lift the coiled rope off your shoulders and wrap the remaining 10 feet of rope around it. Finish with a knot to keep the rope from uncoiling.
Hang Your Rope to Dry
Now your rope is unknotted, untangled, and ready to dry. Hang the rope somewhere warm and dry, preferably inside. (You can leave it on the ground, but the drying process will take longer.) Depending on how much water the nylon sheath soaked up, it could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to dry completely.
The Best Storage Conditions for Your Climbing Rope
Climbing ropes aren’t overly picky when it comes to storage. Once your rope is coiled and fully dried, you can safely stow it inside a rope bag on the ground in the back of your closet.
There are a few things to consider, though. The most important is that you want your rope to stay dry. Avoid putting it in areas of your home that have a lot of moisture or that might get water on the ground after a big rain. If you’re worried about moisture, you can get a specialized storage bag that essentially acts like a rain jacket for your rope.
You also want to keep your rope away from direct sunlight (UV radiation) and heat. If your garage gets hot during the summer and wet in the winter, it’s probably not the best place for your rope. You should also avoid dirt or sand, acid or alkaline compounds like chemical cleaners, and any sharp objects that might be lurking on your closet shelves.
How Long Does a Climbing Rope Last in Storage?
If you store your climbing rope in a cool, dark, dry place, it can last for up to 10 years. Even if you never use your rope, most manufacturers suggest retiring it after that amount of time.
For most climbers, though, storage won’t be the limiting factor in your rope’s lifespan. Factors like how often you use the rope, whether you use it for top roping or lead climbing, and the conditions you use it in will have the biggest impact. Inspect your rope regularly and replace it once it shows serious signs of wear.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.