How Do You Break in a Climbing Rope?
A curled-up blue climbing rope.

It’s safe to say we’re all familiar with the fact one needs to break in climbing shoes. However, it’s not the only piece of climbing equipment you’ll need to break-in. If you’re not so sure what we’re talking about, here’s the thing: climbing rope requires a break-in process, too. Or, wait a minute, does it?

Of course, it’s not like we’ll keep the answer secret or somethin’. Since many internet users browse Google to find out what’s the big deal about the climbing rope break-in topic, we’ll try our best to explain the process. If you’re wondering how do folks break in a climbing rope, this article’s made just for you!

Most climbing ropes you’ll find on today’s market are slightly coated with lubricants that come from the production process. That’s why your new climbing rope’s friction’s a bit reduced and the rope seems a bit speedy at first. There’s no need to employ any special break-in method; the lubrication will disappear with use. 

Of course, there’s some additional information we’d like to share with ya! Keep on reading for a more thorough, in-depth type of answer!

Why are climbing ropes so important? (FAQ)

In this paragraph (and a couple of others below it) we’ll try to tackle one of the most asked-about issues concerning rope climbing. Anyway, a climbing rope is a crucial/most-important/necessary part of your protective rope-climbing equipment. There’s no doubt about it; it’s utilized to assist in the prevention of potentially unfortunate or fatal, fall-related mishaps.

Of course, climbing ropes you’ll find on the market have to fit a certain set of requirements. That’s because you need to be sure they won’t break in the midst of your climbing adventure and cause you to fall and hurt yourself badly. Not to mention the other, more critical consequences. Also, climbing ropes need to be lightweight, flexible, and highly resistant when it comes to contact with sharp edges and rocks, regardless of the weather conditions.

Wait, can climbing ropes break?

Okay, this might seem like a digression (and it is one, to an extent), but it’s good we answer this one since most folks are curious about finding the answer to the question in the title of this paragraph. So, do climbing ropes ever break? Rest assured knowing that a broken climbing rope is an extremely rare sight in the world of rock climbing. Also, they very rarely break completely; the climbing rope is just cut, not broken. Of course, there’s no denying the fact that the consequences of a situation in which the rope’s cut are downright unpleasant.

All in all: keep both eyes open for sharp edges which are, as one can assume, the main perpetrators of broken/cut/whatever-you-wanna-call-them climbing ropes. Unless, of course, you’re trying to lift 2.500 kilograms of cargo using your climbing rope, which is something we guess you would never try.

If you’re wondering why climbing ropes are so expensive, feel free to follow this link.

What are climbing ropes made of?

Here’s a fun fact: back in the early, pioneering days of alpinism, climbing ropes were made mostly from natural fibers like hemp or flax. Nowadays, claiming ropes are made in a totally different manner. Modern climbers work with so-called kernmantle climbing ropes that possess a nylon (or some other synthetic material) core and a separate woven sheath over it. One can guess where the overall strength and resistance of the climbing rope comes from; here’s a hint: it ain’t definitely coming from the woven sheath.

Alright, now that we’ve covered the good ol’ FAQ section of this article, it’s time we consider the primary question of this article: how do you break in a climbing rope?

A male climber with his thumbs resting on the climbing rope.

How do you break in a climbing rope?

Now, here we are! Let’s answer once and for all do climbing ropes require a break-in period. Anyway, if you were to check online message boards in search of an answer, you’d most likely end up slightly confused. Some say you should wash ropes before first-time usage, some say they’ve never heard of the practice during the few decades they’ve been into the sport. So, who’s to trust?

One thing’s for sure: climbing ropes do possess a break-in period. New ropes (we’re talking mostly about the ones that come with a polyester sheath) are usually more slippery the first time you try them out. Also, that’s why some climbers note that their first ride with a new rope is quite often – the fastest! 

Why’s this happening? The thing is: the fibers that contemporary climbing ropes are made of are slightly coated with lubricants dating all the way back to the manufacturing process. That’s why rope friction’s highly reduced and your new rope’s something you’d call super speedy. The lubrication we’ve talked about will probably disappear with use. Usually, it’ll take you one descent to break in a new climbing rope (without washing it first, of course).

All in all: even if the slipperiness of your new rope is something that scares you at first, it’ll most likely disappear by the moment you’ve started your second climb using your new rope.

Okay, so now that that’s over – it’s time we take a look at a little guide on how to deal with a similar issue: rope stiffness!

A little guide on how to soften a stiff climbing rope

You might be wondering: what’s causing a climbing rope to be stiff? Here’s a simple answer: humidity and water (combined with cold weather) are the leading causes of rope stiffness. It sounds like a health awareness slogan, but it’s nevertheless the truth. Needless to say, your climbing rope needs to be elastic and flexible in order to serve its main purpose: to protect the climber (you) from the risk of falling.

Now, the climbing ropes of today are, of course, less likely to become stiff than their “ancestors” we’ve mentioned a couple of paragraphs above. However, that doesn’t mean they’re somehow invincible when in contact with cold weather and humidity. So, how does one soften a stiff climbing rope? Here’s a DIY guide.

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need in order to successfully handle this DIY project:

  • Big bucket. 
  • Fresh water (warm). 
  • Fabric softener. 
  • Rope cleaner (if you prefer).
  • Shampoo.

Phase one

Obtain a big bucket that will “host” your climbing rope and pour some warm fresh water inside. Here’s a friendly tip: fill the bucket only to its half capacity, as that will prevent potential splashing; it might be best to do this outside (if possible) since you don’t want to mess up your living quarters. Also, if you don’t have that big of a bucket to put the rope in, just use your bathtub! Let the climbing rope soak for 15-20 minutes in warm water until you begin to notice that dirt has appeared in the bucket (bathtub). 

Phase two

Now pour a couple of drops of shampoo or climbing rope cleaner. Of course, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a skin or hair shampoo. However, you should never use bleach or any kind of strong detergent to wash your climbing rope, as it will most probably only damage it.

Phase three

It’s scrubbing time! Begin carefully scrubbing the climbing rope with both hands; you’ll want to be gentle. Also, pay some special attention to both ends of the rope because they’re the most used for creating kinks between yourself and the carabiners. As we’ve said, be careful and ensure you didn’t miss any spots as you’ll want your rope to become evenly soft and flexible.

Phase four

Now it’s time to introduce the fabric softener; add a few drops (just as you did with the shampoo). Make sure you don’t miss doing this phase since softening your climbing rope’s, of course, your number one priority here. The fabric softener will pour through the braids of the rope making it softer and easier to handle. Leave the rope to rest in this DIY shampoo/fabric softener solution overnight for the best result.

Phase five

Rinse, rinse, rinse! Once you’ve cleaned the rope thoroughly and it has soaked in the fabric softener, it’s time to rinse it! You’ll want to use your garden hose (or bathtub faucet) for this. Make sure you rinse the whole climbing rope thoroughly, there shouldn’t be any hints of shampoo or softener left on your rope. 

Wondering if this will also remove the tree sap from your climbing rope? If that’s so, click right here for your answer.

Phase six

The sixth and final phase is concerned with drying your climbing rope. Make sure you don’t let it dry in the direct sun since UV rays can do some good damage to the yarns or plastic elements of your rope. You’ll want to find a well-ventilated area where it can dry. Also, you could employ a hairdryer (running on the coldest setting) to speed up the process.

If this doesn’t work and you find out something’s wrong with your rope, here’s how you can still put it to good use.

Parting thoughts

That’s all there’s to it, folks! Now you know how do you break in a climbing rope! In other words: now you know there isn’t a special break-in method for this; the slipperiness will wear out with use!

For more tips on rock climbing and everything that’s even slightly related to this phenomenal sport, visit this section of our blog.

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