As Seen In: USA Today, Discovery Channel, US News & World Report

Preparation, Inspection and Maintenance, and Terminology

The service life of a rope depends on the frequency of use, applications (rappelling, climbing, rope installations), speed of descent, surface abrasion, terrain, climate, and quality of maintenance. Any rope may fail under extreme conditions (shock load, sharp edges, misuse).


The mountaineer must select the proper rope for the task to be accomplished according to type, diameter, length, and tensile strength. It is important to prepare all ropes before departing on a mission. Avoid rope preparation in the field.

a. Packaging. New rope comes from the manufacturer in different configurations—boxed on a spool in various lengths, or coiled and bound in some manner. Precut ropes are usually packaged in a protective cover such as plastic or burlap . Do not remove the protective cover until the rope is ready for use.

b. Securing the Ends of the Rope: If still on a spool, the rope must be cut to the desired length. All ropes will fray at the ends unless they are bound or seared. Both static and dynamic rope ends are secured in the same manner. The ends must be heated to the melting point so as to attach the inner core strands to the outer sheath. By fusing the two together, the sheath cannot slide backward or forward. Ensure that this is only done to the ends of the rope. If the rope is exposed to extreme temperatures, the sheath could be weakened, along with the inner core, reducing overall tensile strength. The ends may also be dipped in enamel or lacquer for further protection.

Care and Maintenance

The rope is a climber’s lifeline. It must be cared for and used properly. These general guidelines should be used when handling ropes.

a. Do not step on or drag ropes on the ground unnecessarily. Small particles of dirt will be ground between the inner strands and will slowly cut them.

b. While in use, do not allow the rope to come into contact with sharp edges. Nylon rope is easily cut, particularly when under tension. If the rope must be used over a sharp edge, pad the edge for protection.

c. Always keep the rope as dry as possible. Should the rope become wet, hang it in large loops off the ground and allow it to dry. Never dry a rope with high heat or in direct sunlight.

d. Never leave a rope knotted or tightly stretched for longer than necessary. Over time it will reduce the strength and life of the rope.

e. Never allow one rope to continuously rub over or against another. Allowing rope-on-rope contact with nylon rope is extremely dangerous because the heat produced by the friction will cause the nylon to melt.

f. Inspect the rope before each use for frayed or cut spots, mildew or rot, or defects in construction (new rope).

g. The ends of the rope should be whipped or melted to prevent unraveling.

h. Do not splice ropes for use in mountaineering.

i. Do not mark ropes with paints or allow them to come in contact with oils or petroleum products. Some of these will weaken or deteriorate nylon.

j. Never use a mountaineering rope for any purpose except mountaineering.

k. Each rope should have a corresponding rope log (DA Form 5752-R, Rope History and Usage), which is also a safety record. It should annotate use, terrain, weather, application, number of falls, dates, and so on, and should be annotated each time the rope is used (Figure 4-1). DA Form 5752-R is authorized for local reproduction on 8 1/2- by 11-inch paper.

Figure 4-1. Example of completed DA Form 5752-R.

Figure 4-1. Example of completed DA Form 5752-R.

l. Never subject the rope to high heat or flame. This will significantly weaken it.

m. All ropes should be washed periodically to remove dirt and grit, and rinsed thoroughly. Commercial rope washers are made from short pieces of modified pipe that connect to any faucet. Pinholes within the pipe force water to circulate around and scrub the rope as you slowly feed it through the washer. Another method is to machine wash, on a gentle cycle, in cold water with a nylon safe soap, never bleach or harsh cleansers. Ensure that only front loading washing machine are used to wash ropes.

n. Ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) tends to deteriorate nylon over long periods of time. This becomes important if rope installations are left in place over a number of months.

o. When not in use, ropes should be loosely coiled and hung on wooden pegs rather than nails or other metal objects. Storage areas should be relatively cool with low humidity levels to prevent mildew or rotting. Rope may also be loosely stacked and placed in a rope bag and stored on a shelf. Avoid storage in direct sunlight, as the ultraviolet radiation will deteriorate the nylon over long periods


Ropes should be inspected before and after each use, especially when working around loose rock or sharp edges.

a. Although the core of the kernmantle rope cannot be seen, it is possible to damage the core without damaging the sheath. Check a kernmantle rope by carefully inspecting the sheath before and after use while the rope is being coiled. When coiling, be aware of how the rope feels as it runs through the hands. Immediately note and tie off any lumps or depressions felt.

b. Damage to the core of a kernmantle rope usually consists of filaments or yarn breakage that results in a slight retraction. If enough strands rupture, a localized reduction in the diameter of the rope results in a depression that can be felt or even seen.

c. Check any other suspected areas further by putting them under tension (the weight of one person standing on a Prusik tensioning system is about maximum). This procedure will emphasize the lump or depression by separating the broken strands and enlarging the dip. If a noticeable difference in diameter is obvious, retire the rope immediately.

d. Many dynamic kernmantle ropes are quite soft. They may retain an indention occasionally after an impact or under normal use without any trauma to the core. When damage is suspected, patiently inspect the sheath for abnormalities. Damage to the sheath does not always mean damage to the core. Inspect carefully.


When using ropes, understanding basic terminology is important. The terms explained in this section are the most commonly used in military mountaineering. (Figure 4-2 illustrates some of these terms.)

a. Bight. A bight of rope is a simple bend of rope in which the rope does not cross itself.

b. Loop. A loop is a bend of a rope in which the rope does cross itself.

c. Half Hitch. A half hitch is a loop that runs around an object in such a manner as to lock or secure itself.

d. Turn. A turn wraps around an object, providing 360-degree contact.

e. Round Turn. A round turn wraps around an object one and one-half times. A round turn is used to distribute the load over a small diameter anchor (3 inches or less). It may also be used around larger diameter anchors to reduce the tension on the knot, or provide added friction.

f. Running End. A running end is the loose or working end of the rope.

g. Standing Part. The standing part is the static, stationary, or nonworking end of the rope.

h. Lay. The lay is the direction of twist used in construction of the rope.

i. Pigtail. The pigtail (tail) is the portion of the running end of the rope between the safety knot and the end of the rope.

j. Dress. Dress is the proper arrangement of all the knot parts, removing unnecessary kinks, twists, and slack so that all rope parts of the knot make contact.

Figure 4-2. Examples of roping terminology.

Figure 4-2. Examples of roping terminology.

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