I am an old curmudgeon, one that used to climb with two ropes—not just for alpine mountain hopping, but for long multi-pitch routes. Now I am shopping for a rope, as my son and daughter want to start climbing. What is the difference between a double rope and a twin rope? What was I using, and what is the appropriate use of each? Speak to me!
—Eric, Salt Lake City, Utah
I have claimed to possess the power of prescience, but I can’t imagine what rope you used to climb on. I do smell hemp,
so perhaps that’s a hint, but I’m in Colorado, so who knows?
There are three types of ropes: single, double and twin.
Your son and daughter will want a single rope. Leading and belaying on a single rope simplifies ropework, and is the standard cord for rock climbing.
Double ropes are two ropes that you clip to pro alternately. Double ropes are less likely to get chopped by rockfall or cut across an edge. On meandering
routes, double ropes also reduce rope drag, although the smart application of runners can often achieve the same result.
In the mountains, having two ropes lets you do long rappels, and this is the real reason most people would ever use them. Leading with double ropes is
confounding and you have to be mindful to keep them separated. Belaying with them is also problematic since the belayer has to keep the different colors
sorted out, and it’s practically impossible to reel in slack on one cord without taking the brake hand off the other. Actually, let me upgrade that
Twin ropes are also used in pairs, but both ropes get clipped to every piece of pro—a single strand of a twin may not hold
a fall. For leading, twin ropes are lighter than double ropes and heavier than a single rope. Their advantages are they offer more cut-protection
than a single, are as easy to lead with as a single (although still pesky for the belayer), and at the end of the day you have two ropes for the rappels.
Confusingly, due to advances in technology and marketing, some double and twin ropes are interchangeable, some single ropes are also rated as double
ropes or twins, some doubles are certified as singles, and some ropes are rated for all three applications. If all this is too much, you don’t have
to make up your mind, just get a rope that can do everything and be happy. Next!
This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 219 (July 2013).