In what’s one of the coolest innovations in the world of climbing ropes for some time, Edelrid’s new Swift Protect has aramid fibers woven into the sheath. What is aramid you ask? Well, it’s a very strong synthetic fiber that’s in the same family as Kevlar. From a functional point of view, aramid fibers have good tensile strength, are lightweight, tough and heat resistant.
That all sounds great right. Why doesn’t everyone use this stuff in their ropes! Well, because aramid doesn’t stretch. That means it can be hard to add to it a dynamic rope without losing the all the dynamic… but obviously not impossible!
Edelrid has been working with the material for some time now and have developed several climbing related products that harness its beneficial traits. This includes the 6mm Aramid Cord Sling and the Rap Line II. Now they’ve taken this expertise and applied it to their 8.9mm Swift climbing rope. Using a special processing method they were able to reinforce the sheath of the rope with aramid to create a rope they’re calling the Swift Protect. The aramid markedly increased the cut resistance of this new rope while still maintaining enough stretch to keep the impact forces within the required standards. Quite an achievement!
Of course we’ve just been talking materials so far, and if you’re like me you want to know how the new Swift Protect performs out on the rock. How does it handle, wear, feel in the belay device and so on. Well we’ve been out testing one of these new Swift Protect ropes for a few of months now and have definitely put it through the paces. It’s been on alpine climbs, a ton of long multi-pitch climbs and even a few good old TR sessions for good measure. Read the detailed review below or scroll to the bottom for a quick summary.
Specs & Features of the Swift Protect Pro Dry:
- Diameter: 8.9mm
- Certification: Single, Half, Twin
- Treatment: UIAA Dry
- Weight: 53g/m
- Length Options*: 30, 40, 50, 60 & 70m
- Color Options: Night green
- Fall Rating: 6 (single)
- Static Elongation: 5.5% (single)
- Dynamic Elongation: 29% (single)
- Impact Force: 9.9 (single)
- Sheath: 36%
- Middle Mark: Ink
* Length options available at the time this article was published, subject to change.
We’re going to start with this particular feature as it’s what really separates the new Swift Protect from the rest of the pack and is the entire reason that Edelrid added some aramid to the sheath. The basic idea is that the high-strength, cut-resistant aramid fibers will protect the rope against sharp edges and prevent a catastrophic failure. A major weakness with current climbing rope designs, especially as they get thinner and thinner. Unfortunately it is also a feature for which ropes are not currently tested.
Back in 2002 the UIAA developed a testing standard for cut resistance. The test basically involved a dynamic fall over a sharp edge. If the rope held the fall it passed. Unfortunately there was a flaw in the test procedure, edges dull over time so not every test was identical. As a result the test was abandoned in 2004 as results were inconsistent across different testing facilities. This has left a known weakness in climbing ropes largely unchecked since. However, advancements in technology have also made it ripe for innovation.
In conjunction with developing a rope that’s more resistant to cutting over a sharp edge Edelrid has been developing a test that can be used to measure their success. The test basically uses a special saw blade to cut a loaded rope while measuring the length of the cutting surface that was required to completely sever it. Not a very real-world type solution but one that is reproducible and so can be used to compare different ropes to one another. One really interesting outcome of testing different ropes on this new apparatus is that the weight on the rope matters much more than the diameter.
Anyway, that was all a lead-up to talking specifically about the new Swift Protect. Utilizing this new test, the Protect with the aramid reinforced sheath performs substantially better than other ropes, regardless of diameter. This should provide a marked improvement in safety should you fall and rake your rope over a sharp edge.
Test Results with Different Ropes using Edelrid’s new Cut Resistance Test with 80Kg Load:
|ROPE||LOAD||Distance to Cut|
|8.9mm Swift Protect||80 Kg||100.6 cm|
|10mm Python||80 Kg||66.3 cm|
|8.9mm Swift Eco||80 Kg||54.0 cm|
|10mm Python||160 Kg||14.0 cm|
|8.9mm Swift Eco||160 Kg||12.3 cm|
As you can see, the Protect performed 86% better than the Eco and 52% better than the Python (at 80 Kg). It’s also quite eye opening to see what a difference doubling the weight to 160 Kg makes! A pretty convincing demonstration. The video from Edelrid showing the test and the results can be found here if you want to watch it yourself.
It really makes you wonder how your rope would perform, doesn’t it! It also has me wondering how used ropes would perform and how much resistance is lost when your cord gets a little worn and fuzzy… I’m really looking forward to more data becoming available if this test is adopted by the UIAA.
For a more personal, and less scientific, take: I sure feel much more at ease when climbing on the Swift Protect in areas with sharp edges and crystals, especially along an arête!
The Swift Protect comes out of the wrapping as stiff as any dynamic rope I’ve ever bought, still not as stiff as a static rope though. After a few uses the Swift Protect relaxes a some for a softer feel that’s still a bit on the stiffer end of the spectrum.
The Protect also has a nice tight feeling weave, not at all mushy, like some ropes see to be. This allows it to run nicely through a belay device, whether it’s a tube style (ATC type) or a Gri-Gri, and makes it a little less prone to tangle. Interestingly, really quick movements when coiling, stacking or other handling can feel hot. I’m not sure if it’s a result of the dry treatment, the material, or something else but it’s a bit of a quirk with the rope.
I want to separate cut-resistance and durability here. Cut-resistance of course refers to the ability of the rope to resist severing when it runs over a sharp edge. Durability refers to how resistant the rope is to wearing out with use.
As with the Rap Line II, the aramid in the sheath of the Swift Protect seemed to get fuzzy much faster than the surrounding nylon. I found this a little concerning at first! But with more and more use this fuzzing of the surface aramid fibers didn’t seem to get any worse. In fact it slowed to the point where the nylon fibers started catching up, at a rate I found to be fairly consistent with other ropes mind you. It just seems to be how the aramid initially reacts to use as the rope gets broken in and the fibres harmonize within the weave.
Edelrid assured me that they’ve done significant research on the subject and found that the fuzzing has no negative impact on the cut-resistance. In-fact, they said a lightly used rope typically performs better! And really, even if it detracts a bit from the cut-resistance, the Swift Protect is still so much more cut-resistant than other ropes that you’re still way ahead!
I know, the dynamic elongation is on the lower end of the spectrum and the impact force is on the higher end. Not all that surprising really, given that aramid doesn’t like to stretch. And I haven’t gone out there and taken a bunch of huge whippers so I can’t comment on the Swift Protects performance in that style of use. However, I don’t really see that as the application for this rope! I look to it more as an alpine climbing, new routing, chossy, sharp rock style climbing rope. Not something you use when you’re going for the send on the local sport test piece that provides clean air for a soft catch.
So, with that in mind, the Swift Protect performs quite well. It’s a skinny cord so it feeds easily and smoothly through a belay device when belaying from below or above, an elbow saver. It also handles and clips quite well when climbing.
On the other end of the spectrum, as a stiffer cord, it’s a little less forgiving of sharp changes in direction which can cause it to pig tail or twist. It’s also not all that light for such a thin rope… well it’s slightly heavier than other sub-9mm ropes anyway. The Swift Protect weighs in at 53g/m where the rest of the pack is between 48 and 52 g/m… so on a 60m rope you’ll pack between 60-300 g more (1-4 cliff bars). But really, at the end of the day, improved safety in the mountains and on the rock is worth a few grams and it’s still way lighter than the thicker 9+ mm ropes out there.
Pros: Improved safety as it’s very cut resistant with good durability & performance.
Cons: Expect to pay about $75 CAD more for the Protect over a regular sub-9mm rope.
Overall: Are you willing to pay a few extra bucks for improved safety and more peace-of-mind when you’re out in the mountains? I definitely am! On a recent climb with a couple of friends I brought the Swift Protect and my friend brought a 9.4mm rope and everyone wanted to climb on the Protect!
Blacksheep Adventure Sports was provided a sample rope for testing but of course this didn’t influence us in any way.