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Gear Review - Sterling 9.5mm Ion Rope
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By Josh Janes
May 1, 2008

Introduction



Recently I’ve been climbing on a new skinny cord from Sterling Rope – the 9.5mm Ion, and now that I’ve put it through a few months of hard use, I thought I’d write a review. The Ion is one of three ropes in Sterling’s “Fusion” series. This new line of ropes represents Sterling’s foray into the light and thin single rope market. Sterling’s hope has been to produce ropes that are competitive with the other ultralight cords out there while still retaining the highest degree of quality and durability that have made their Marathon series so popular.

Basic Stats



The Fusion series also includes the slightly thicker Nitro, at 9.8 mm, and the ultra-skinny Nano, which checks in at 9.2 mm. Although the Ion is the mid-range rope at 9.5 mm, if you’re used to a 10.2 or even a 9.8, this rope feels thin. Personally, I like this diameter and feel confident climbing and falling on it. The rest of the relevant stats are as follows:

Rope Name: Ion
Diameter: 9.5 mm
UIAA Falls: 5
Impact Force: 8.4 kN
Dynamic Elongation: 30.8 %
Weight: 60 g/m
Retail (60 meter, dry-treated): $210 USD.

There are a few things to consider when taking in all these stats: Most people tend to look at the UIAA falls as the bottom line for how safe a rope is, however, the much more telling statistic is the impact force. This makes sense when one considers that climbing accidents due to rope failure almost never occur in the real world (except when they are severed by rock fall or are loaded over a very sharp edge), but accidents due to protection failing are much more common. For the sport climber, durability might be the biggest concern, but for a trad climber who is falling on gear, impact force should be a priority.

The Ion is dry-treated and is a CE and UIAA certified single rope. It also comes in three great colors – Earth (green), Wind (blue), and Fire (red). The unique weave of the sheath actually makes these basic colors quite unusual and striking. Unfortunately bi-pattern Fusion ropes aren’t available, and the middle is not factory marked. The Ion will be offered in 60, 70, and 100 meter lengths.

Sterling Rope's Ion in Earth, Wind, and Fire
Sterling Rope's Ion in Earth, Wind, and Fire

The Sterling Ion 9.5mm Rope in Earth, Water, and Fire

The Ion is comparable to other major manufacturer’s skinny ropes, such as the Petzl Fuse and BlueWater Dominator, but I chose the Ion for Sterling’s excellent reputation for high quality and durability, as evidenced by their stringent quality control and their no-hassle warranty. Finally, they are the only US rope company that offers to recycle old ropes (no matter what the brand!) and this is an important selling point for me as well.

Finally, just to drive home the point of quality, I got a chance to look at Sterling’s independent UIAA certification lab report on the Ion. Although several trials were performed, when listing the stats on the rope, Sterling chose to round their numbers in the conservative direction. In other words, the Ion held at least 5 falls in the trials and the elongation was at most 30.8%. I think this speaks to Sterling Rope’s trustworthiness as a company.

Performance Notes From The Field



I’ve used the Ion for several months now on everything from long, hard trad routes to desert cragging to hangdogging on granite sport climbs. The rope has a great, solid feel to it and the sheath is super smooth and handles well. A little extra care needs to be taken since this is a skinny rope, but all the belay devices I’ve tried (standard ATC’s, Grigri’s, and the Cinch) worked just fine. It doesn’t have that slippery, waxy feeling that some new ropes have. In terms of catch, in all honesty the skill of one’s belayer has a lot more to do with how the rope feels, and I found nothing to be remarkable about the Ion on this count. Durability is perhaps a more important consideration in a rope review. The Ion does indeed seem to be in excellent shape considering how much climbing I’ve done with it. In fact, the rope shows very little, if any, fuzzing of the sheath and still feels like the same, skinny cord it was when I first used it.

Bottom Line



The Ion is my first Sterling rope and it won’t be my last. The obvious improvement I can see on would be to offer a bi-pattern option (personally I wish bi-pattern ropes were the industry standard) or at least to have the middle factory-marked. The Ion is a lightweight, high performance cord from a trustworthy and respected company. Time will tell if it truly is more durable than the other skinny ropes out there, but after several months of regular use it seems to be doing just fine.

www.sterlingrope.com


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By saxfiend
Administrator
From Decatur, GA
May 2, 2008
Relaxing at the P1 belay of Fruit Loops at Rumbling Bald.

Josh Janes wrote:
There are a few things to consider when taking in all these stats: Most people tend to look at the UIAA falls as the bottom line for how safe a rope is, however, the much more telling statistic is the impact force. This makes sense when one considers that climbing accidents due to rope failure almost never occur in the real world (except when they are severed by rock fall or are loaded over a very sharp edge), but accidents due to protection failing are much more common. For the sport climber, durability might be the biggest concern, but for a trad climber who is falling on gear, impact force should be a priority.

I agree wholeheartedly with this. Low impact force is one reason I like my double ropes.

In the time you've been climbing on this rope, have you taken any lead falls on gear? If so, could you tell a difference in the softness of the catch compared with other ropes you've used?

JL


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By caughtinside
From Oakland CA
May 2, 2008

Thank you for the good review.

Rope reviews are always a little funny for me. I have been climbing for 7 years now, owned 6 ropes and climbed on dozens of others, and can honestly say I still don't really know what to look for when buying a new rope.

Lots of climbers have a favorite brand, but often don't back it up with any kind of informed opinion.

The specs are helpful. Low impact force and grams per meter are the most important in my opinion. I think it is interesting the move away from UIAA falls. When I started climbing, all ropes seemed to have 8-10 minimum. These new skinny cords often check in around 5-6, and no one seems concerned. Probably isn't a big deal unless you're really dogging on a line?

The one thing everyone would like to know about a new rope is how it will hold up, which is where this review is nice. It's the one thing the specs don't tell you. Although, heavier ropes tend to do better (big surprise) and a really tight sheath weave seems (IMO) to hold up longer.

Thanks again for the review, however, I think I will probably stick to my tried n' true rope purchase analysis of price, weight and impact force.


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By Pat McGinn
Sep 29, 2009
Me on the belay of last unicorn pitch two.

They now offer bi-pattern ropes. In my opinion sterling makes the best ropes. I have a 9.8 that I've beaten the hell out of and it still works great. I've used mammut, petzl, beal and a few others, but sterling is my favorite.


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