Are Falls Held or Breaking Strength More Important In a Rope?

Falls held and breaking strength are both important, and ideally a rope will do well in both areas, but there is a lot more to selecting a rope than simply weighing those two factors.

By Rock and Ice | January 15th, 2013

MARRIAGE MADE AT ROPE FACTORY

Which is more important, the number of UIAA/CE falls a rope can hold, or how many kiloNewtons it can hold? —climbboy via rockandice.com

Choosing between those two is like choosing between good looks and personality. They each have benefits, but ideally you get both.

While falls held and tensile strength are important and sound sexy, they are just two of the many bits of data you should factor into your rope-choosing decision. Consider that ropes don’t break; they wear out and can also be cut (for a cold dose of reality, read the Accident Report on page 22). The number of falls held and breaking strength don’t necessarily make a rope more durable or tougher, or even mean that it will hold more real-life falls, which are never close to the CE drop test, a savage ordeal that if you were somehow able to replicate in the field, you’d see Jesus.

Consider that unless your rope sustains a core shot you’ll climb on it until it reaches a fuzzy cattail-like state that has you rightly questioning its reliability, and you’ll retire it then. The number of falls the rope has held … well, who can even remember?

The more important number on a rope hang tag is “maximum-impact force.” This is  the maximum number of kiloNewtons a rope transmits onto the top piece of pro in a fall.The more important number on a rope hang tag is “maximum-impact force.” This is  the maximum number of kiloNewtons a rope transmits onto the top piece of pro in a fall. Lower numbers are, of course, preferred to higher numbers, especially if you like to climb above teeny nuts.

Ropes can achieve a low maximum-impact force a number of ways, but often it’s by stretching. The more a rope stretches, the lower its impact force. This is a double-edged sword. Low-impact force is nice, but if the rope stretches so much you hit a ledge, it’s not so nice. For that reason, also pay attention to “Dynamic Elongation,” which tells you, in a percent, how much a rope will stretch. The perfect playmate is a rope with a low dynamic elongation and a low maximum-impact force. Don’t waste my time!

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