Refreshing the Center Mark on a Climbing Rope

I often get asked how I mark the middle of my climbing ropes when the factory marks start to fade.  As I’m sure you know many manufacturers warn against using any dyes or markers on their product leaving people in a difficult position when the center mark disappears.  Of course one way to deal with this issue to purchase ropes with a mid-rope pattern change.  I’m personally a big fan of this option as it’s simple and bulletproof but not all ropes have the option.  And on that note you probably wouldn’t be wondering how to mark a rope if you had one that changed in the middle to let’s move on.

Duodess rope
Mammut rope with the pattern change in the middle. It can seem subtle at times but it never fades.

First I’ll cover my ass a bit.  I’m not in any way advocating that you ignore the manufacturers’ recommendations for your particular rope nor am I an expert on the impact different chemical colorants have on specific climbing ropes!  I’m simply discussing how I currently deal with the issue of faded mid-arks and why I feel comfortable doing so.  It’s worth being familiar with what the manufacturer has to say about your particular rope.  Remember, climbing rope design and manufacturing is always evolving.  It’s entirely possible that a manufacturer may change the materials or treatments they use at any time which may have results that are currently unforeseen.

Now, what do I do?  Well I simply use a permanent marker (Ex. Sanford Sharpie) as they are quick drying and relatively waterproof.  When applied to the rope they only dye the fibers on the surface and don’t get anywhere near the core.  I stay away from anything that could penetrate into the fibers and weave of the rope and then dry (Ex. paint markers).  Please note that there is much more to this, especially from a chemical standpoint, but that’s beyond my pay grade.

rope marking
A freshly marked rope and pen used to mark it. After repeated wet glacier trips the original marking was basically gone.

Why do I think a Sharpie permanent marker is ok?  Well for a few reasons:

  • In a Technical Bulletin put out by Capitol Safety a few years ago they discuss marking fall protection products with fast drying permanent markers such as Sharpie’s.  However, the document was more focused on materials made from polyester, not nylon.  Well onto the next reason then.
  • Our friends as BD did some testing on ropes marked with a Sharpie (click here for their write-up) and found that they failed at a knot that was tied in the rope for the test and not where the rope was marked.  This goes to show that knots weaken the rope more than a Sharpie does.  We don’t hesitate to tie a knot in a rope though!
  • Last, it hasn’t been my experience that the center of a rope is a location that typically sees large forces.  Normally, if a climber falls where the center of the rope is involved there must be a lot of rope in the system reducing the fall factor… unless they are taking a MASSIVE whipper!!  I would also think that other factors such as the knot, sharp edges on the rock and so on would have a bigger influence on the integrity of the rope that the center mark.

So, with all that in mind I use a Sharpie to mark my ropes.  But it’s up to you how to mark yours.   I hope you found this article informative.