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What are the Different Types of Rope?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Rope is one of humanity's earliest inventions, and there are nearly as many types as there are fibrous materials on earth. It is made by either braiding or twisting some fibrous material together to increase its strength. The use of rope is thought to extend back substantially before recorded history, with the first recorded use occurring in Egypt sometime around 4000 B.C.

Early ropes were made of materials including grass, leather, hair, and reeds. The Egyptians used it in their early building enterprises, employing long strands of rope to move the enormous stones necessary to build the pyramids. The Chinese began using rope made from hemp sometime around 3000 B.C.

Nylon rope.
Nylon rope.

Most is of a type known as twisted rope, sometimes called laid rope, which consists of a number of strands of yarn twisted together to make them more sturdy. Each of these strands may be made up of anywhere from a small handful to a large number of smaller strands, each of which is in turn comprised of the basic fibers spun together. Most is made of three strands, a style known as plain rope. Occasionally, rope will be made using four strands instead of the usual three, in which case it is called shroud-laid rope. When even more strength is needed, multiple lengths may be twisted together, forming what is called cable-laid rope.

Silk cocoons. Ancients ropes were often made with silk fibers.
Silk cocoons. Ancients ropes were often made with silk fibers.

Modern rope made of synthetics is sometimes of a type known as braided rope. Braided types tend to be much springier than twisted, both because of the synthetic fibers used, and because of the technique used to form it. Some braided rope, however, is intentionally kept very stiff, to ensure little or no stretching during use.

There are three main types of braided rope: a solid braid, a diamond braid with no core, and a diamond braid with a core. Solid braid is extremely strong and cannot be unraveled, even when cut. It is one of the sturdiest types of rope, but cannot be spliced. Diamond braid is the simplest type, in which the ends are woven together tightly. Most diamond braid has a solid core, but some is coreless, in which case it may be spliced together.

Hemp fibers make strong and long-lasting rope.
Hemp fibers make strong and long-lasting rope.

Natural rope materials commonly in use include cotton, linen, silk, hemp, manila, jute, and sisal, most of which are derived from plants. Plant-based types tend to be the most popular of the naturally derived ropes, for their strength and stretchability, as well as occasionally water-repellent qualities. Silk was once very popular for its light weight, but due to its relative weakness as a rope material it is rarely used in the modern world.

Certain types of rope may be spliced.
Certain types of rope may be spliced.

A wide range of synthetic fibers are used to make rope as well. These include nylon and polyester, as well as a number of proprietary materials such as Kevlar® and Spectra®. Synthetic types usually exhibit a number of highly specialized characteristics, depending on their intended use. Some are almost entirely waterproof, while others offer the ability to stretch far beyond the capacity of any natural fiber. In addition, most synthetic fibers are lighter than their natural counterparts, with a few notable exceptions, such as Kevlar®.

Discussion Comments


The diameter of 550 paracord is far too small for it to be used effectively as a rappelling rope


@ Glassaxe- I wouldn't trust my life to paracord. I know that they can have high tensile strength and a high-test load, but paracord is much too elastic for rappelling. You want to use something that has enough tensile strength to hold you if you were to fall. A polyester and nylon rope that meets NFPA standards would be more appropriate for rappelling.


@ Glasshouse- Can you use paracord as a rappelling rope? I am just curious to know if this type of rope is sturdy enough to hold someone while climbing into a pit or down a steep hill.


The best all-purpose rope is paracord. Paracord is a nylon braided rope that is very durable and flexible. Paracord is the same type of rope that was used in the parachute cords of U.S. military paratroopers, but is now used mostly as all-purpose cord.

I keep a 100-foot roll in my truck because it is so versatile. I have used it to tie stuff down, string up a tarp lean-to while camping, string fish I have caught, and tie off hammocks. The cord is tested to 550 lbs, but it can be found with much higher test strengths. It is resistant to mildew and bacteria and it is somewhat elastic.

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    • Nylon rope.
      By: nito
      Nylon rope.
    • Silk cocoons. Ancients ropes were often made with silk fibers.
      By: phiseksit
      Silk cocoons. Ancients ropes were often made with silk fibers.
    • Hemp fibers make strong and long-lasting rope.
      By: simmittorok
      Hemp fibers make strong and long-lasting rope.
    • Certain types of rope may be spliced.
      By: William Richardson
      Certain types of rope may be spliced.