Get a 200' Imlay Canyon Fire.
A group of yarns, plies, fibers or strands that are twisted or braided together into a larger and stronger form. (Definition from Wikipedia). All canyoneering ropes are kernmantle rope.
A rope that has both a core and a sheath. All canyoneering ropes are kernmantle ropes. Kern means core and mantle means sheath in German.
The inner part of a kernmantle rope. It provides the tensile strength and is protected by the sheath.
The outer part of a kernmantle rope. It protects the core.
Kernmantle rope that does not stretch a lot when loaded. Great for rappelling. All canyoneering ropes are static. The other kind of kernmantle rope is dynamic rope.
Kernmantle rope that is designed to stretch when loaded. Bad for rappelling. The only time a dynamic rope is applicable in canyoneering is for a safety tether to help with fall factor. Canyoneers use Static Rope.
The amount a rope stretches when loaded with a specified amount of force. Static rope minimizes elongation.
Refers to rope that has a small diameter. Most of the time it refers to rope with a diameter of 8mm but I've also heard it used on any rope that's less than 9mm.
Misnomer for skinny rope. Fast implies that with the same friction setting on a rappel device, there will be less friction overall.
Misnomer for a fat rope. Slow implies that with the same friction setting on a rappel device, there will be more friction overall.
Your first rope should be a 200'er. That length will get you into almost all the canyons. People say as you descend canyons you will core shot your rope so you can cut it and get smaller lengths eventually.
For those of us who don't core shot all our ropes we can buy shorter fixed lengths or spool ends for much cheaper.
The length of your second rope and beyond should be easier for you to decide. My second and third ropes were another 200' and a 120'.
My first rope was a 200'. As birthdays and Christmases occurred, I now have these lengths: 330', 300', 3x200', 150', 120', 90', 75', 65'.
I have found that the closer the rope is to about 100', the more likely I will use it. I use my the short ropes all the time.
Length is important but is largely independent from the type of rope a canyoneer will use. The attributes you should care about are cost, durability, weight, and stretch. Let's talk about why each one matters.
Unless you're one of the 1% or own your own rope company, cost will probably matter. As a general rule, cost is determined by the rope material. And rope material (which I cover in a bit) determines weight and durability. So the more expensive it is, the lighter and/or more durable it will be.
I like to define durability as how bad can someone treat the rope before it is irreparably broken. The more durable it is the less you have to baby it and the more you can concentrate on other aspects of canyoneering, such as enjoying yourself.
Heavier ropes means more work which often means a slower and more miserable ascents. Weight also means how heavy the rope is when wet, sandy, or muddy, which is almost never measured.
In my opinion this is the least important of the important attributes. How much does the rope stretch when you rappel on it? Less stretch is better. This is absolutely not the same as elongation, which is one of the attributes I describe below.
When you rappel on a stretchy rope here's what happens. The farther down you rappel the stretchier it gets. You'll realize that when you apply enough friction to stop the rope from going through your descender you will continue to go down a few more feet before the rope stretches enough to stop you. Kind of annoying but if you are careful it won't be a problem. Then you release the brake a little so you can start descending again. You'll start to go down again but at the same time the rope will unstretch and zip through your hand. This is a very scary sensation because you won't be in complete control. So you'll tightly grab the rope again and hope to stop. But you won't. The rope will now need to stretch out again before stopping you so you'll descend another 10 feet before stopping - hopefully you won't slip or anything. And this will continue until you make it to the bottom of the rappel. Super-duper annoying.
This is a list of all the rope attributes I collect and how they affect each of the main four attributes defined above.
The diameter of a rope affects weight and durability. All other things equal, the narrower a rope the lighter it is. However, it also means the rope is easier to cut and has less material that protects the core. Pretty straight forward. Skinny ropes often use more durable materials to make up for the lack of material.
As a side note, narrower ropes also require more friction on the rappel device. This is not an important factor for choosing a rope so I won't cover it here but I will cover this more in detail whenever I write an article on rappel devices.
Sheath material affects cost, durability, and weight. The materials used for the sheath are Nylon, Polyester, Technora, or a blend of Polyester and Technora. Nylon is inexpensive but weak, heavy, and holds a lot of water. Technora is expensive but durable and light. Polyester requires a bit of an explanation.
Some Polyester ropes have the sheath woven really tightly and densely. This provides some really good advantages and a couple of drawbacks when compared to Polyester ropes that aren't woven tightly.
The advantages of a tightly woven Polyester sheath rope are that it makes the rope more hydrophobic and more durable (and I think more static but I'm not 100% sure on that). The disadvantages are that it is heavier and that over time the rope becomes very wiry.
The advantages of a loosely woven Polyester sheath rope is that it's "supple" as you expect a rope to be. The disadvantage is that it is extremely weak and will probably have to be retired around the same time as the densely woven rope starts to get wiry. When I hear someone describe a Polyester rope "supple" it's a red flag for me.
One more disadvantage that's worth mentioning: toggles were designed to be used with wiry ropes. I have heard of instances where supple ropes bind too tight so that the toggles cannot be released which results in a stuck rope.
Unfortunately there's no way to tell by looking at a product page which type of Polyester weave it is. I do know for a fact that all Imlay ropes and the BlueWater Canyonator are densely woven. I know the On Rope Canyoneering C.S.T. and Sterling Canyon Prime ropes are "supple".
Just like diameter, sheath material also affects how much friction should be used when rappelling. Technora is generally more slippery than Nylon and Polyester so more friction should be used.
Core material affects cost, weight, and stretch. The materials used for the core are Nylon, Polypropylene, Polyester, and Dyneema/Spectra. Nylon is inexpensive but uniquely terrible in every other attribute - heavy, stretchy, and loves to hold onto water like a sponge. Polypropylene is better since it's hydrophobic but it's still unacceptably stretchy. Polyester is inexpensive, heavy, static, and hydrophobic. Dyneema is expensive, light, static, and hydrophobic.
A slightly deceptive measurement. This is the weight of the rope when new. It doesn't account for how much water a rope holds when wet or how much dirt it will carry inside its fibers for eternity. However, aside from these problems it is actually one of the most useful pieces of information.
Elongation should affect how much stretch a rope has. However, from a practical standpoint I consider this information worthless. Elongation is better thought of as a snapshot that only says, "This rope, when new, clean, and dry, weighted this much, will stretch this amount". So how do we parse this information? Let's take a look at two of my favorite ropes and compare their elongation.
I guess the information I'm trying to convey here is that, from a practical standpoint, these numbers don't provide any value to any of the 4 important rope attributes. The more reliable way to determine a rope's stretch is to look at its core material. Nylon and Polypropylene are stretchy and Polyester and Dyneema are not.
Tensile strength does not contribute to cost, durability, weight, or stretch. When one thinks of tensile strength they typically assume it means ultimate breaking strength. However, some manufacturers only publish average breaking strength.
This number is extremely important to manufacturers because they must make their rope strong enough for canyoneering. For us canyoneers, though, it doesn't really matter because if a rope is manufactured as a canyoneering rope, this implies that the rope is sufficiently strong for all canyoneering activities.
I couldn't imagine going canyoneering and refusing to use a canyoneering rope out of fear that it would not be strong enough to hold me.
Sheath percentage affects durability. Sheath percentage is what percentage of the material that makes up the rope is part of the sheath, rather than the core. Typical kernmantle rope is about 50%. Few manufacturers provide this information and it is more of a marketing gimmick than anything.
The short answer is look for anything that looks or feels different than normal. Here's a list that came with a BlueWater rope I once got.
Ideally after each person rappels you should inspect the rope. That's basically impossible, though, so maybe give it a quick inspection as you stuff it back into the bag and then a deeper inspection after each trip? I typically do a detailed inspection after I get home. I pull each rope out of its bag to let it dry. I then inspect it closely as I stuff it back into its bag for storage.
I have an inspection log for that has the following information:
I currently don't track anything about this so it is for your entertainment only