Rope can be divided into two general categories: natural fiber rope and synthetic (manmade) fiber rope. Natural ropes include cotton rope and manila rope. They are generally softer, absorbent, and good for uses where rope is handled directly- climbing, flag poles, obstacle courses, pet products, tents, hammocks, awnings, etc. Natural ropes are also very visually attractive so they’re a good choice for landscaping, handrails, etc.
Synthetic ropes include nylon, polyester and polypropylene rope which are stronger, more durable and more resistant to abrasion, acids, mildew and rot than a natural fiber rope. They are generally more cost-effective since they have a longer useful life than natural ropes. Synthetic ropes are lightweight yet strong so they’re great for towing and rigging, safety lines, nets, and snow and water uses.
There are also two basic types of rope construction: braided and twisted. Braided rope is more durable and stronger than an equivalent size of a twisted laid rope. It also doesn’t stretch as much as a twisted rope and its thicker design makes it more difficult to splice. A twisted rope is recognizable by its spiral shape. It is easy to splice, but has some inherent torque, which can create a tendency to rotate and kink when under load.
We have more information about the different types of ropes for each category below. We've also listed tensile strengths for each rope where applicable, but it’s important to remember tensile strength is not the same as the working load limit. Tensile strength is the average strength of new rope when tested under controlled lab conditions. Generally, a working load limit can be anywhere from 5-20% of the tensile strength depending on the age and condition of the rope.
If you have questions about which rope would work best for your needs, call our product specialists at 800-404-7068. They’ll be glad to answer any questions you have, and can also help place an order for you.
Synthetic rope and cordage is stronger and more durable than natural fiber rope, and does not absorb a high amount of water. It can be stored wet or dry since it’s resistant to rot, mildew and most chemicals. However, synthetic rope can weaken with prolonged exposure to UV rays or heat, so it should be stored out of direct sunlight when possible. Synthetic ropes include:
Polypropylene is generally the least expensive of synthetic ropes on the market. Lightweight, strong and economical, polypropylene rope is a great choice for jobs, hobbies and recreational use around water as it floats on the surface and won’t sink. In fact, it’s often called “ski rope” or “pool rope.” This buoyancy also gives it good dielectric properties, which means it won’t conduct an electric current if it touches a live electrical wire, so it’s a great choice to use if you’re working around utility wire, trimming trees, etc. Because it does not absorb water, it has excellent resistance to mildew, rot, petroleum products, marine organisms, acids and alkalis. Polypropylene rope is a cost-efficient choice for many applications, but it is a stiffer rope so it can be uncomfortable for jobs that require constant handling. It’s also not as strong as polyester or nylon ropes and can also deteriorate more quickly than polyester or nylon. Polypropylene ropes are also susceptible to gradual elongation when under load. Best for: Water & Snow Ski Rope, Pool Rope, Construction Barrier Rope, Electricity Utility Rope.
Nylon rope is an extremely strong and durable rope due to its ability to stretch- it can absorb shock loads that might break other types of rope. This makes it extremely versatile and useful in applications ranging from rodeo rope to safety line rope. With a smooth surface that won’t twist or unravel, nylon rope generally wears very well in tough conditions and has a high resistance to abrasion. Unlike polypropylene, nylon cord rope does absorb some water and when wet, it has approximately 10-15% less strength, yet the effect is so little is it still widely used for water applications such as anchor and mooring lines. It does regain the lost strength when it dries. Even though it absorbs water, it’s resistant to mold, mildew and rot, as well as most alkalis, petroleum products and marine growth. It is resistant to weak acids, but can be degraded by strong, concentrated acids. Best for: mooring lines, sling rope, net rope, tie down rope, tow rope, safety lines.
Polyester rope has many of the same properties of nylon rope such as excellent resistance to abrasion, but it is not as stretchy as nylon. This lack of elasticity makes it ideal for variety of uses where a stretchy rope would be dangerous. One of most valuable properties of polyester is that it’s unaffected by water, so it retains its strength even when wet. This also makes it extremely resistant to mold, mildew, rot and organic solvents. Although polyester is not quite as strong as nylon, it does offer superior resistance to heat and is great for outdoor use because it also has superior resistance to UV rays, so it won’t yellow or weaken with extended exposure to sunlight. Best for: Antenna Guidelines, Tug Rope, Barge Tow Rope, Rigging Rope, Tree Rope, Safety Rope.
Natural fiber ropes are softer to the touch than synthetic ropes, but because they absorb water they are more prone to mildew and rot and general decomposition, especially if stored away when they’re wet. However, natural fibers are less affected by sunlight than synthetic fibers. Natural fibers are also not as slippery as synthetic rope can be. Natural ropes include:
Cotton rope can be made of either 100% cotton yarn, or a cotton/polyester blend such as in a cotton diamond braid. Like its namesake fabric, cotton is softer to the touch than many other ropes, so it’s great for uses that require handling. Cotton rope offers very good resistance to surface abrasions, but like all natural fibers, it is susceptible to deterioration from the elements and it can dramatically lose its strength over time. It is also prone to mold, rot and mildew, especially if it damp for long periods of time. However, it’s not as susceptible to UV damage, so it’s sometimes a better choice than synthetic if it will be used in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Best for: tents, hammocks, halters, harnesses, awnings, pet toys.
Manila rope gets its name from its place of origin: the Philippines. Manufactured from the abaca plant that’s native to the country, manila rope is a good general-purpose rope for uses that require durability, strength and cost efficiency. Manila rope is also sometimes referred to as jute rope or hemp rope as it’s made of all-natural hemp fibers. It is a very absorbent rope, but with very little stretch, so it’s commonly used for activities where direct handling of rope is required such as for climbing, obstacle courses, tug of war games, landscaping uses, and block and tackle applications. Manila rope is a very visually appealing rope and offers excellent UV resistance so it’s a popular choice for decorative landscape uses. It also has a superior ability for holding knots. Because it’s a completely natural fiber, manila rope is biodegradable so it’s environmentally friendly, however because it does absorb water, it should be completely dry before storing, or it can rot or develop mildew. Manila is often described as a heavy rope or thick rope; it will shrink approximately 10-15% when it becomes wet. Best for: Tug-O-War rope, landscaping rope, rope ladders, rope railings, obstacle course rope.