How to care for your climbing rope

Looking after your lifeline is worth it from a safety and longevity point of view - this is how to do it properly
July 31, 2023

If you enjoy climbing rocks that are more than four moves long – and your name is not Alex Honnold – then you will presumably own a rope (or have befriended someone who does). This is literally your lifeline, whether you’re a weekend warrior at the sport crag or one of those crazies who enjoy swinging ice axes in Patagonia, so looking after your rope is a no-brainer. Here’s how.


Before we jump in, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to the technical stuff. Your rope comprises two parts:

  • The core: this is the inside bit. It’s made from braided nylon, and gives the rope its strength and stretch.
  • The mantel: also called the sheath, this is the outside part of the rope. It’s made from tightly-woven, abrasion resistant nylon and provides protection for the core.  


To keep things simple I’ve broken this down into four easy categories:

1. Before you go climbing

Regularly inspect your rope for any signs of damage or excessive wear. Yup – that means taking it out of the rope bag and spending five minutes giving it a proper once over.

  • Visual inspection: look for any cuts, obvious worn spots or other signs of damage in the mantel. Any areas of concern should be followed up with a physical inspection (see below). However, if you can see the white of the core pushing through the coloured sheath then that’s an instant red flag – your rope should go straight in the bin (or, if the damage is near one of the ends, you can cut this bit off and climb on a shorter rope – just remember that it may be too short for some crags).
  • Physical inspection: run the rope through your hands and feel for any dead spots i.e. bits that feel soft or squishy. These don’t just occur when the rope has been crushed or cut. Repeatedly falling on the same spot – i.e. when working a route – can also form dead spots. Either way, it’s time for the bin. Another simple way to check for internal damage is to make a small bend in the rope at the area of concern. If the core is healthy it will make a loop. A damaged section will kink.

2. En route to the crag

It goes without saying (though I’m just going to go ahead and say it anyway) that you shouldn’t stow your rope in a car boot that’s also carrying items like a chainsaw or battery acid. Sharp things, spikey things and acidic (or alkaline) substances are a no-no. Ropes also don’t like excessive heat and UV rays, so avoid leaving them on the backseat in midsummer for hours on end.

3. At the crag

Most rope damage occurs at the crag, both on the rock and on the ground. Stick to the following and your rope should give you years of happy service:

  • Keep it out of the dirt: dumping your rope in the sand at the base of the crag doesn’t just make it dirty. Grit and other abrasive particles work their way into the mantel and increase wear and tear on the rope. Many rope bags come with a built-in tarp for you to lay your rope on. If not, get yourself a groundsheet.
  • Don’t stand on the rope: standing on a rope is just poor climbing etiquette, like using your knees on a mantelshelf or pooping near the boulders. But if that doesn’t concern you, consider that it also accelerates wear and tear, especially if there is soil and grit in the mantel.
  • Be observant: look out for any damage that may occur while climbing, for example the rope running over a sharp edge when someone falls. Any areas of concern should be inspected as per the above. And if you need convincing that sharp edges are bad for ropes, see:

4. After climbing

Here are some tips for storing your rope when you get home:

  • Make sure it’s dry: Years ago I lived in England, and was shocked when a friend phoned me up one day and said: “It’s not raining too hard – let’s go climbing.” Fortunately the weather in SA is a tad better, so you’re unlikely to voluntarily go climbing in the rain. But if your rope does get wet then be sure to let it dry first before packing it away to avoid the build-up of swamp monsters and mould.  
  • Avoid chainsaws and battery acid: you already know the drill.
  • Stay out of the sun:
  • Bottom line: store your rope as you would your Monkeypox medication i.e. in a cool, dark, dry place away from children and pets.


Short answer: Yes.

Slightly longer answer: Yes, but….

All the experts agree that it’s ok to wash your rope. But there is a huge spread of opinions regarding the best way to do this, from throwing it into your washing machine, to washing by hand in warm water only.

Personally I prefer to wash by hand using Nikwax Tech Wash. Nikwax?! Isn’t that for cleaning technical outdoor clothing like Gore-Tex jackets? Indeed. But Tech Wash is also perfect for using on ropes because it’s so gentle and doesn’t leave a residue like detergent. Nikwax also makes a specific rope wash.

In terms of frequency, I don’t recommend washing a rope often. Every 18 months or so should be fine, unless you’ve been grovelling up some vertical bog in Scotland.


  • Add half a bottle (150 ml) of Nikwax Tech Wash to a bath of warm (not hot!) water.
  • Mix it up nicely.
  • Throw in your rope and leave it to soak for several hours, shaking it around periodically. It can help to daisy chain the rope first to avoid tangles.
  • Admire the deep brown colour of the water.
  • Pull the plug and rinse the rope several times with clean water.
  • Rinse some more!
  • Dry the rope by draping it over a washing line or garden furniture or flaking it out over a tarp. Do not leave your rope in the sun!
  • Depending on the temperature, it can take several days for the rope to dry completely. Once again, never pack a wet rope away.

And if you prefer learning by watching, check out Vertigo Gear's step-by step video!