A dry rope is a stronger and safer rope than a wet rope. It’s a fact. The merits of climbing with a dry rope are many and the pitfalls few. And now the prime pitfall, the additional cost of a dry-treated rope, is a non-barrier to entry thanks to Sterling’s continued innovation of dry rope technology, and the launch of the new XEROS technology.
This article isn’t a sales pitch or a tech review of rope testing. It’s a summation of my personal experience with dry vs non-dry ropes over the past three decades taking clients on trips of a lifetime on rock, ice and snow, training and examining aspiring guides for the AMGA and logging a mass of experience with my own expeditions and vertical pursuits around the world. I’ve dragged ropes over hundreds of miles of glaciated terrain, up hundreds of thousands of feet of vertical rock and frozen waterfalls. I’ve coiled and handled thousands of ropes with different diameters and sheath constructions and over all this time, formulated hard and fast opinions about what qualifies as a great rope. Rope choice is certainly personal but I bet if you query most all-around climbers and ski mountaineers the #1 quality we look for is a dry rope.
Why is a dry rope a stronger and superior rope? It’s a non-issue if your rope never gets wet. But even humidity can absorb into rope fibers reducing strength. Wet ropes suffer loss of dynamic qualities that absorb impact. They essentially become static and cable-like which increases impact forces all the way down the chain from the rope, anchor, protection, climber and belayer. If you’ve never rappelled on a wet rope, it’s astonishing how much they stretch. Falling on a wet rope could be catastrophic and will damage the fibers by over-stretching them, leaving it significantly weakened for future use. Worse yet, a wet rope in the alpine or on ice can freeze quickly and become unmanageable and even impossible to get a rappel or belay device onto or pull. The added weight of carrying a wet rope when you’re off technical terrain can increases the risk of injury, as well.
Dry rope technology has traditionally entailed a treatment added to the core, the sheath or both. The end game has resulted in increased durability, reduced friction and rope drag through carabiners and over rock, better handling, less fuzzing and of course, reduced water absorption.
In 2014, the UIAA developed a Water Repellant standard that is the new benchmark in choosing a dry rope. This relatively new standard took over 10 years of testing and development for the UIAA to give it their stamp of approval. The prime reason for the new Dry standard is to ensure that water absorption in ropes does not lead to safety issues. To achieve the standard, rope samples are subject over their entire length to light abrasion, equivalent to a few days use, then soaked for 15 minutes following the standard’s protocol. The amount of water absorbed cannot be in excess of 5% of the rope’s weight. For context, non-dry treated ropes undergoing this test absorb as much as 50% of their weight. Some dry treated ropes which have undergone the test showed as much as 20 – 40% absorption of their weight. Buyer beware: not all dry ropes are created equal.
Before I broke my leg in three places in December, I had the opportunity to test the first generation of Sterling’s new XEROS, and I’ve had my hands on every test version since. Hands on and hands down there is no comparison with other dry-treated ropes, even Sterlings’ previous DryXP. Every now and then, few and far between, new innovation changes the game. Sterling’s XEROS is one of these game-changing innovations. And best of all, the biggest downside of buying a dry rope – the increased cost – is no longer a factor.
A dry rope is a stronger and safer rope than a non-dry rope. It’s no longer the question of “Why dry?” Now the question is “Why not?”