It’s hard to determine the life of a climbing rope since it is subject to so many influences and variables, including how often it’s used, how it’s stored, what climate it’s used in, and what kind of climbing it’s used for.
The best guidelines are: How does your rope feel and look? And how often do you use your rope?
Less than One-Year Ropes
Ropes wear out fast if you use them all the time. In the summer when we guide at Front Range Climbing Company, we often log 400 client pitches on a rope in a month. Those ropes get trashed fast, and retired right away. They’re not subjected to a lot of falls since they’re usually used for top-roping, but all the lowerings tend to wear the ropes quickly.
If you climb a lot, even just a day a week, you can easily wear a rope out in a year. This is especially true if you do a lot of sport climbing with repeated falls and lots of lower offs, both of which take a lot of the stretch out of a rope, or regular weekend climbs and the occasional long route with rappels off.
Three- to Five-Year Ropes
Your rope will last from three to five years if you climb one to four or five times a month; don’t log much air time, lower-offs, or rappels; usually top-rope with loads on your rope of only body weight; and with climbing sessions of only short periods of time.
Using Old Ropes
You can keep ropes longer than five years, but it’s usually not advisable to use them for climbing. They just age getting stiffer as the nylon degrades over time. If you only use your rope once or twice a year, then you can probably use it for top-roping. But first do visual and manual checks and verify that it’s been stored properly in a cool dry environment and away from household chemicals and auto supplies and oil.