Braided Climbing Rope




Introduction: Braided Climbing Rope

Analog maker dabbling in digital manufacture

Rope climbing is a great exercise and good fun, but you need a pretty thick rope to get sufficient grip and they aren't cheap - a thick manila climbing rope will set you back well over $100. This instructable will show you how to braid an old retired nylon climbing rope into a beautifully textured, funky-looking climbing rope for your backyard.

The rope is extremely strong, being made of eight strands of an 11 mm climbing rope, and is based on a military fast rope - developed by Marlow Ropes for getting soldiers out of a helicopter quickly. I stumbled on a video explaining how to braid such a rope on ITS Tactical - it's fairly simple but you definitely need two people to do it when using anything bigger than paracord. Luckily, my wife is a natural at this sort of thing; she watched about 30 seconds of the video and said "got it. Let's go". 

Step 1: Materials

A real fast rope costs about $1000. A gym climbing rope costs about $100 (depending on length). 30 m of 11 mm climbing rope is a little over $100. I was lucky enough to get given two retired 11 mm ropes from a climbing buddy - these ropes were past it, having arrested too many falls for safety - but braid eight of them together, and even this old rope is strong enough. In addition to plenty of 10-11 mm diameter rope, you'll need a carabiner, a method of securing the carabiner to a wall, some insulation tape, an assistant or two, patience, an Exacto knife and a BBQ lighter.

Step 2: Prepare for Braiding

You need 4 ropes of equal length for the job - having two different colors will help you keep track while you're braiding, but are (k)not necessary. Attach the carabiner to something at waist height (we used a tie-down attached to my workbench). Thread each of the four ropes through the carabiner so that they double back on themselves. You should now have eight equal sized strands dangling from the carabiner. Tape the top of each rope so that the two strands created by halving it are secured together so that you remember to move the two strands in tandem while braiding.

The carabiner makes it really easy to attach it to a tree and you won't waste length on making an eye splice.

Step 3: Braid

The only difference to the ITS video is that you're doing the braiding on a larger scale. It will take a little while to get the hang of it, because the pairs of rope need to be aligned correctly, but once you've started, it falls in place quite nicely. Assign one person to braid and the other to support the rope and untangle the 8 strands behind the braider. I got given two 60 m ropes, which would have given me a fast rope about 10 m long. However, we don't have anywhere to hang a rope that long, so we just made it out of one 60 m length to make a 5 m climbing rope. The video below should give you a sense of how to do the braid - keep reciting "two under, one over" while remembering to wrap the strands carefully so the braid looks nice and neat.

Step 4: Cut and Fuse

When you run out of rope, tape the end up and cut off with a very sharp blade. Melt the ends of the rope together, and you're done. Our "fast rope" is 40 mm (1.5") thick and 5 m long - not much good for getting out of a helicopter with, but good fun for kids in the backyard...

Step 5: Attach to a Tree and Get Climbing

Get a ladder out and loop the climbing rope around a high branch and back through the carabiner. Haul yourself up - use your feet, it helps a lot (loop the rope under one foot and over the other, and pinch the rope between). Use it to make a fast getaway out of your treehouse, firepole style. Swing on it like Tarzan. Have a tug-of-war. The possibilities are endless... have fun!

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    30 Discussions

    To maximize the strength ( and length) you could attach a double length sling to the tree using a girth hitch, surgeons knot, or just loop it over, then clip the caribiner to that. Double length slings cost about 8 dollars on amazon or a rei ( look up rock climbing double length sling). Also, if you used opposite and opposing locking caribiners then it would add protection in the rare instance that one would break. About 10 to 15 dollars for added security. Also available at rei or amazon. Thanks for considering!!

    Very inspirationsl! Do you have any pointers on how to start the braid? Or if you have a name for ge braid I can look it up myself?
    Thank you! ??

    1 reply

    It's a 4 strand round braid. Check out the ITS Tactical link in the intro for more details.

    Great tutorial, I used a load of old para cord and made myself a nice 2metre dog lead. everywhere I go I get comments about what a great lead it is. Super strong (big dog tested!) and never gets tangled. Just got another dog so am going to try a 'Y' shaped lead (2 dogs, 1 handle). I might even get the back splice for the handle right this time!!

    1 reply

    Perfect timing. I literally bought 2 retired 70 ft ropes last night from the indoor gym ($10).

    2 questions:

    If I have the time is a braided eye better?

    What % of the original length will be lost when braiding? I'm using 8 strands like yourself.

    6 replies

    The braided eye is better in the sense you don't need to buy a carabiner and it is stronger (it is the strength of all 8 strands rather than just 4, see Gunny Guy's comment below), but you sacrifice some length and technically it is more challenging to pull off (see the ITS Tactical video for a how-to). We found the final climbing rope to be about 1/12 the length of the original, but it also stretched a little (probably because it is hard to get a really tight braid). So I'd estimate you'd get 6-7 ft out of one rope and 12-14 ft out of two.

    Thanks for the reply. Not sure I understood your last comment about 6-7ft out of one strand and 12-14ft from 2.

    You said you had 2 70 ft lengths; I was just guessing how long your braided rope would be if you used one of them or both of them.

    Gotcha. Just to confirm. You're saying if I take both ropes and fold them in half so they are 35ft each I'll have about 12-14ft of climbing rope after braiding.

    If you use a carabiner, you will have to cut each rope in half and pass each of these through the carabiner to make 8 strands for braiding, each of which will be about 18 ft long. Once you're done braiding, these will shorten to about 12 ft.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that the carabiner is the weak link in the system as the one in the pic looks like a Petzl William HMS witch is rated at 25kN (Around 2.4 tonnes) so would happily hold at least 5 people without any deformation. The weak link would be what it is attached to i.e. a tree.

    3 replies

    The carabiner itself wouldn't be, but the connection between the carabiner and rope is. It's probably worth noting that the rope has the strength of 4 strands, not eight. But that seems plenty strong enough.

    climbing ropes tend to have a guaranteed breaking strength of about 8kn but as the one in the instructions is fairly old I would put it at around 5 or 6 kn times by the 4 strands on the carabiner itself this would be around 20kn as a minimum. Not counting the weakness caused by the turns around the biner.

    I had no idea they were that strong, good tip. Agreed, I wouldn't apply 25 kN to the tree!

    Thanks for a great climbing rope tutorial. I made one last weekend for my daughter to help her with gymnastics. I used a 25KN Carabiner at the top and Gorilla tape at the bottom. 25 Feet when I started braiding, and 1 hr, 45 mins. later I had a 17.5 foot climbing rope. Total was about $35. Thanks again !!!

    Thanks for the great instructable! I just finished my climbing rope for my daughter. It's about half as long as yours. Boy my hands are tired from the braiding but its a good kind of tired. Thanks again for the great idea.