Last winter, the UIAA — finally! — introduced a water-resistance standard for dry ropes. Previously, manufacturers did all their own testing, and had their own definition of what constitutes a ‘dry’ rope. Now, any rope labelled as a ‘dry’ rope must absorb, at most, 5% of its weight in water. The new standard makes it easier for us, the end-users, to pick any ‘dry’ rope and know that it will perform like any other ‘dry’ rope.
With this new standard in place, manufacturers had to rework their rope line-ups. Mammut makes some of my favourite ropes, so naturally I wanted to see how well the new ‘dry’ coating works. The company claims that while their earlier dry-labelled ropes came close to this new standard, they nevertheless had to rework the treatment a bit to decrease water absorption, and they’ve managed to get it well below the 5% minimum. Because the dry-treatments are expensive, Mammut also chose to offer a ‘Classic’ line of ropes without any treatment, as well as a mid-level ‘Protect’ finish, in which only the sheath is treated (both the core and the sheath are treated in the ‘Dry’ ropes). There’s way more tech to this than that, but Mammut do a great job of breaking down the differences here: http://www.mammut.ch/store/US/en_US/know-how/ropes/types
To test out how well the new coatings work, we headed to Louise Falls on a cold day last winter and proceeded to climb in the wettest parts (sections of Louise always seem to be wet, no matter how cold it is.) The ropes we had were a near-new previous-generation 9.2mm Revelation in superDry, and two ropes from the new line-up, a 9.8mm Eternity in DRY and a 9.5mm Infinity in PROTECT.
Does the new DRY coating work? In a word: yes. And how! The DRY rope retained all it’s handling characteristics and didn’t even get iced up. The sheath is so slippery you could practically see water beading off it. I should also mention that the 9.8 handles like a much thinner cord (thanks to its dry coating, I think) and I’ve had several partners comment that it feels more like a mid-9 in hand and through a belay device. Still weighs as much as a 9.8 though!
The ‘old’ superDRY coating held it’s own, but it was clearly surpassed by the new DRY rope. You could tell it’s a dry rope, but it picked up ice particles where the DRY rope did not and it doesn’t feel as slippery and smooth-handling as the new cord. Still, if you’ve got an older superDRY there’s no pressing need to upgrade, unless you really, really enjoy wet ice climbing.
Finally, the mid-level PROTECT rope. It froze, simple as that. You could easily tell it didn’t have the water-repellent properties of the other two ropes: it got noticeably stiffer, froze up quicker and more easily. That said, a run through a belay device cleared the ice coating and restored some suppleness, but still it was nowhere near the performance of the other two ropes.
Verdict? For winter use the DRY coating is a no-brainer, it keeps your rope performing like it should. I am very impressed.
For summer rock use, I don’t know if the DRY coating is needed. Yes, treated ropes take in less dust and grit, but I think the sheath-only treatment on Mammut’s PROTECT ropes is probably enough. I’m just not sure if the extra cost (about $50 to go from PROTECT to DRY, depending on the rope) is worthwhile in a dry environment. Buy a rope tarp instead!
As we received these towards the end of the season, they haven’t had much use yet. They’re going to see a lot of action soon, though, so there’ll be a long-term performance report coming later this year.
Mammut DRY rope: The finish for ice and snow use. Well worth the extra cost.
Mammut PROTECT rope: Probably the best choice for rock use; not ideal for the cold and wet.
Thanks to Mammut for providing us with the DRY and PROTECT ropes so we could do a direct comparison!