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What Does UIAA Fall Rating Mean When Comparing Climbing Ropes?

Last updated April 29, 2022| Gear

When searching for and comparing climbing ropes, some of the most common questions we come across are “what UIAA fall rating should I be looking for?”, and “what does this fall factor actually mean?”.

We decided to do some research for you and bundled everything we found in this to-the-point article, covering the UIAA, their rope certification process and climbing terms such as fall rating, impact force and fall factor.

What Does UIAA Fall Rating Mean?

UIAA

The UIAA or International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (original French name: Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme) is the international governing body of climbing and mountaineering and represents climbers and mountaineers around the world on a wide range of issues related to mountain safety, sustainability and competition sport.

The organization was founded in August 1932 in Chamonix, France when 20 mountaineering associations met for an alpine congress.

Currently (August 2021), the organization has a global presence on six continents representing 89 member associations and federations in 66 countries.

uiaa logo - Heart for Outdoor

Fall Rating

The UIAA (more on them below) defines the fall rating as the number of falls the rope held during the certification tests.

Most climbing ropes will have a fall rating around 7-10, however, it’s important to note that the UIAA certification process is extremely tough and will put an incredible amount of force on each rope. (We’ll look at this testing process next)

The guys over at Sterling Climb, for example, called the certification process “absurdly severe and not representative of the real world”.

The test routinely produces forces on the rope well above what we see in practice. In the real world we almost never see forces above 5kN. The impact force we see in the tests typically begin around 9kN on the very first drop and well over 12kN on later drops.

Also, during testing, the ropes are subjected to falls over and over again, without much rest; drops happen every few minutes until the rope fails.

In real life, the chances of one falling hard 10 times in a row, with just a few minutes in between are extremely small. And if this does happen, it might be time to seek some help from a more advanced climber…

Below are a few popular climbing ropes with their fall factor:

Black Diamond 9.9 Mm Climbing Rope 41Z0cTNCvDL. SL500 - Heart for Outdoor Black Diamond$199.95Buy now on Amazon
Singing Rock R44 NFPA Static Rope 41B8v QLPcL. SL500 - Heart for Outdoor Singing Rock$149.90 $159.99Buy now on Amazon
EDELRID Eco Boa 9.8mm Dynamic Climbing Rope 41O FBa31tL. SL500 - Heart for Outdoor EDELRID$119.95Buy now on Amazon

UIAA Fall Rating Test

Now, what exactly does this test look like?

Fall Rating Half ropes have to pass a minimum of 5 controlled leader simulated factor 1.77 falls (more on that later).

The testing setup looks something like this:

What Does UIAA Fall Rating Mean? - UIAA fall rating testing setup

The diagram is a little outdated, as the test has been modified so the rope passes over a 0.75mm metal edge instead of through a carabiner. But it still gives you a good idea how to test is set up.

During the tests, a 55kg weight is dropped from a height of 2.30m above a pre-clipped karabiner. The amount of rope extending to the simulated belayer from the karabiner is only about 30 cm.

The weight is dropped with a 5-minute rest in between tests. This process is repeated until the rope breaks. 3 sample ropes are tested and the weakest one of the three becomes the fall rating.

The UIAA has a minimum fall rating of 5.

Fall Factor and Impact Force

The fall factor in climbing is the ratio of the height a climber falls before the climber’s rope begins to stretch and the rope length available to absorb the energy of the fall.

Fall factor can also be mathematically described as:

What Does UIAA Fall Rating Mean? - Fall factor formula

A fall factor of 1.77 is very high and close to the maximum fall a climber can take (factor 2). It’s extremely unlikely that one will encounter a fall this hard in his/her life.

A fall factor of two is the maximum that is possible in a lead climbing fall, since the length of an arrested fall cannot exceed two times the length of the rope.

It’s important to note that the length of your rope and the height you fall are not the only factors that determine a fall factor.

For example, a fall of 20 feet exerts more force on the climber and climbing equipment if it occurs with 10 feet of rope out (factor 2) than if it occurs 100 feet above the belayer (factor 0.2), in which case the stretch of the rope more effectively cushions the fall.

fall factor examples illustration - Heart for Outdoor

The above illustration gives you a better understanding of this concept. The climbers in both situations will fall the same height, but the climber in situation 1 will be subjected to greater force because of a higher fall factor.

The resulting force that is applied to the end of the rope, the climber, is known as impact force. The peak force produced by a 1.77-factor fall can be no more than 8Kn for a half rope, as you can see on the diagram above.

Basically, the lower this figure is, the better. Not only does it reduce the amount of force on you, but it also reduces the amount of force put on the top runner. Hence, the smaller the number, the more force it absorbs.

This does come with a disadvantage, as the rope will have to stretch more to absorb more force. Although not really an issue, you might think, it can become a risk when falling closer to the ground or when top-roping.

What Does UIAA Fall Rating Mean? - Climbing Ropes

Conclusion

In real life, your climbing rope will be able to last for hundreds of falls in its lifetime.

Although the fall rating will not tell you everything, in theory, the higher the fall rating, the longer your rope will last. Also, thicker ropes will usually have a higher fall rating than thinner ropes.

In the end, it all comes down to common sense. When you take a very hard and long fall (> factor 2), make sure to check your rope. When your rope no longer stretches, when there are soft/flat spots, or when the sheath is blown, retire it.

And remember, when assessing a rope for retirement and replacement, always follow the rope care guidelines that came with it.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

For more information about the UIAA safety standards, you can visit: https://theuiaa.org/safety/safety-standards/

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