Before you spend a lot of money on any type of rope, it’s a good idea to explore a little and figure out the style of rope work you want to pursue and the preferences you might have. Which means, it’s best to try out lots of different kinds of rope when possible … usually by finding people who will let you check out the ropes they use!
While you’re figuring out the kind of rope that’s best for you to invest in, you can also buy some cheap rope just to start learning. Most hardware stores have a decent variety for not much money. Try to get something flexible and not too thick … 4-6mm (about 1/4″) and between 25 – 30 feet in length. We actually recommend cotton clothesline for your first purchase: it’s cheap and easy to work with. (Note that you can often buy 50 ft. pieces that you can cut in half and get two ropes from!) You can start learning some basic knots and cuffs with that until you’re ready to make the harder decisions.
When you are ready to buy, “The Rope List” is a very comprehensive list of vendors that is updated regularly.
Just because everyone at your local rope group is using “rope type x” doesn’t mean you need to use it. You should carefully weigh the pros and cons of the various options, try to actually handle and tie with some examples, consult with your tying partners, and make informed decisions. Some specific things to consider:
In the bondage world, rope falls into two main categories: synthetic or natural fiber. The types of rope you’ll likely see most often are hemp and jute (natural fiber) or nylon (synthetic), though there’s a wide range of others.
Natural-fiber rope in general tends to be weaker and less durable than synthetic rope, but usually offers better grip, easier handling, and less chance for rope burn. In addition, natural-fiber tends to have a lot of variation in its construction, so its strength and durability can vary widely depending on the source and manufacturer. If you advance beyond Rope 101 and eventually decide you want to practice suspension, you will need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of using natural-fiber rope for that purpose given its weaker nature.
* All ratings are approximate, given in pounds of force at 6mm. Natural fiber ropes are typically not rated for load/breaking strength, so use at your own risk. Carefully inspect and test natural-fiber ropes and use only with informed consent of all parties.
Synthetic rope’s biggest advantage is its strength and durability. Synthetic rope also tends to be easier to clean and care for. However, it also tends to be more difficult to work with because it doesn’t usually hold frictions as well, can be slippery or stiff, and more easily causes rope burn.
* All ratings are approximate, given in pounds of force at 6mm.
For a more detailed comparison of different bondage ropes, we recommend the chart on Crash-Restraint’s site: “Rope Material Selection“
As with everything else in this section, we have to speak in generalities, particularly when it comes to natural fiber rope, because there can be so much variation depending on the manufacturer.
In general, you’ll find two types of rope: twisted or braided. Natural fiber bondage rope is typically twisted while synthetic may be twisted or braided.
Twisted rope is usually made of three strands, and each strand is created by spinning together the yarns of the fiber making the rope. Single-ply rope is created by using single yarns, twisted together, to form each strand. Double-ply rope is created by first twisting together two single yarns and then twisting those “doubled-yarns” together to form the strands.
Single-ply rope tends to be more flexible and easier to work with and tends to make more compact frictions, but it’s more susceptible to wear. Double-ply rope is a little stiffer and bulkier, but also a little more durable.
Braided rope not specifically made for bondage tends to have a solid core of some type (either the same or different fiber). This core adds bulk and makes the rope less pliable. Many people remove this core before using the rope for bondage, which makes the rope easier to work with but can also weaken the rope to varying amounts.
Rope ends can be finished with a number of different knots or other options, including:
Typical bondage rope is between 5mm and 8mm in diameter, with 6mm being the most common. However, it’s worth noting that the diameter of natural fiber rope is usually more of an approximation.
While thinner ropes are more flexible, make more compact knots, and hold knots better, those knots are harder to untie and the rope bites into the skin more painfully, not to mention the weaker nature of thinner ropes. In contrast, thicker ropes are stronger and can be more comfortable, but the knots they form are bulkier and may come undone easier.
Most rope made for bondage is sold in 7 or 8 meter lengths (23 to 26 feet). However, you can also order or make custom-length rope depending on your needs. One typical recommendation for rope length is “four arm-pulls” … in other words, if you measure your arm from armpit to fingertip, then multiply that distance by 4, that’s a good “ideal” rope length for the rope top. Another way to find an ideal length is to consider the size of the person or people being tied and the amount of rope required for the types of ties they’re used to. However, this isn’t always practical if you’re not making or cutting your own rope, as it often requires special orders (which can cost more).
Many rope tops prefer using ropes of the same length and simply joining additional ropes as needed. Shorter ropes mean joining more frequently, and longer ropes mean more rope to pull through for every move. However, shorter ropes can be handy for finishing a tie that only needs a little more rope to complete, and longer ropes can be useful for specific purposes or larger bodies.
Typical Number of Ropes:
One other thing to consider before paying much for rope is the style of rope you want to pursue. We considered these styles in an earlier lesson, but below are some quick notes on how three of these styles relate to rope selection. However, please note that there are no “rules” for which ropes “must” be used with any particular style … just common uses and preferences.