When you don’t know what you are doing, buying the right rope can be a confusing activity. There are a lot of options and figuring out what is right for you can be frustrating, to say nothing of expensive.
This guide seeks to help you make an informed decision when selecting your first ropes.
Buying rope involves three main choices: fiber, diameter, and length.
The fiber of your rope presents you with your most important decision. Fiber determines the properties of the rope, its look, strength, texture, handling, and even smell are all relative to the fiber. This can have a profound impact on how you tie and the kind of scenes you have.
A gathering of riggers of different styles will likely bring into the room four different types of rope: hemp, jute, nylon, and MFP (multi-fiber polypropylene). These are the four most popular fibers in rope bondage.
What stands out about hemp is its softness. That is not to be mistaken for dowiness. Well treated hemp rope will glide across the skin with a firm gentleness. It feels solid, dependable, and masculine.
Hemp ropes also have a great earthy smell.
This makes hemp ropes a common favorite among many bottoms who prefer sensual rope play and likewise with many tops.
Hemp fibers have a great deal of bend in them, more so than other ropes. This means that hemp ropes will fold themselves around the contours of the skin or surface, while still letting it breathe, and stay in place with only a minimum amount of tension. This makes it easy to tie complicated patterns over the body, involving only tensioning. The flow of the scene remains uninterrupted by pauses to tie complex knots to keep everything in place. In this category, hemp ropes dominate the field.
Hemp knots are very secure.
The ropes are washable and may be put through the dryer. After drying, the ropes need to be stretched firmly to regain their lengths. That said, hemp ropes will weaken with every wash.
The softness of hemp also carries a downside. Under tension the ropes will flatten against each other. This has no practical consequence when doing bondage, but it means that elaborate knot-work will clump rather than keep its shape. In systems such as Shibari bondage, which does not rely on knot-work, this is completely irrelevant.
Hemp fibers lean toward the heavier side. This is a sign of density, which speaks to the strength of the rope (more on that later), but it can also make the transition a little unflattering for someone used to rigging with lighter ropes.
In person, hemp looks fantastic, but it can look grainy and dully in photographs unless lighted properly.
Because it is a natural fiber rope, which must be grown, processed, and conditioned, hemp ropes are more expensive than synthetic fibers.
As the other natural fiber rope, jute serves as hemp’s counterpart. The two contrast each other on almost every particular.
High quality jute rope starts out very firm. This makes it a favorite rope among many sadists and masochists who want a little more edge to their play.
The firmness of the ropes also means that decorative knots hold their shape marvelously in jute rope. In general, jute rope is a photography whore. The natural sheen of the ropes really plays to the camera.
Jute fiber weighs next to nothing. This adds a lot to the process of rigging. Movements become more fluid and elegant. The weight also applies to those who want to do outdoor bondage. A jute kit weighs one down far less than a kit of another fiber on a long hike.
Its tight weave also makes my jute ropes very durable, although one should be weary of other suppliers. Traditional jute is loosely woven which results in a very short lifespan for the ropes. When buying jute, it’s important to ask about the weave.
Jute ropes have enough grip to stay in place, but not as well as hemp. Careful tensioning is very important when rigging with jute ropes.
Jute also requires more handling when going through the wash. Jute ropes must be stretch dried under tension to prevent shrinkage.
Nylon is a synthetic, oil based product. This makes nylon cheap as grass to produce. For this reason, nylon rope costs half of what jute and hemp does.
Nylon fiber shines brilliantly too. This makes it by far the brightest possible choice.
Like all plastics, this rope has great durability. It takes to water without a hitch and feels cool against the skin on hot summer nights.
These ropes do not flatten at all. They maintain their shape perfectly. This makes them ideal for decorative knots. Unfortunately, they do not have as much grab as natural fiber ropes, so tension based Shibari bondage systems are a lot harder to implement, as nylon ropes tend to slip and slide all over the place unless expertly handled.
Many bottoms also report feeling disconnected from nylon ropes, as compared to hemp and jute.
In terms of weight, nylon is close to being on par with hemp.
Nylon ropes are very strong.
We calculate the safe working load of a rope by first looking at its breaking strength. The breaking strength of a rope turns out to be exactly what you might think: it is the average weight under which that rope broke in testing. This is approximately 300 lbs. for one strand of 6mm jute, 400 lbs. for one strand of 6mm hemp, 1100 lbs. for 6mm MFP, and 1200 lbs. for one strand of 6mm nylon.
So far so good; however, to rely upon that number is to invite disaster. For one thing, it is only an approximation. No one can tell you the breaking strength of a particular rope without actually breaking it first. It also does not account for the effects of wear, conditioning, momentum, and any number of other factors which can cause the strength of the rope to deteriorate.
Instead, we calculate the safe working load by dividing the breaking strength by 10.
This makes the safe working load of 6mm jute 30 lbs, 40 lbs for hemp, 110 lbs for mfp, and 120 lbs for nylon.
That can sound pessimistic for those contemplating going into suspension using natural fiber rope, but consider that we typically have our rope doubled over when doing bondage. This doubles the safe working load. We also run it back and forth from the hard point once or twice as a typical rule and distribute the load between several points along the body.
Except for some fairly edgy suspensions, the math tends to work out.
Still, you should always keep this in mind when hoisting someone into the air.
The choice of diameter typically involves a selection between 4mm and 8mm.
Three factors influence one’s choice of diameter: maneuverability, handling, and safety/comfort.
Thicker 7mm and 8mm rope often gets chosen because of its superior strength. Because the safe load for natural fiber rope is so much smaller than synthetic fiber, this is not a nebulous consideration. An 8mm piece of hemp rope has a breaking strength of approximately 800 lbs and a safe load of 80 lbs. Definitely an improvement over the 6mm.
People who prefer thicker rope also observe that the extra thickness serves to distribute the pressure over a wider area, leading to more sustainable bondage.
While all that is true, the thicker a rope gets, the stiffer it becomes. This becomes a handicap in complicated patterns where sharp turns with the rope look spectacular. It also serves as a drawback when doing hand or face bondage, where precision is more important than the area covered.
Thicker rope also weighs more. That makes it more difficult to handle.
Still, 8mm hemp might be a great option for suspension lines, especially by beginners with limited budgets.
At the other end of the spectrum is thin rope, such as 4mm. This rope possesses great flexibility, but is very weak. Its thin surface can also bite into the skin when put under tension.
Most riggers today prefer 6mm rope. It features the best compromise between strength, surface coverage, weight, and flexibility.
Some jute lovers who are heavily into performance bondage, prefer 5mm jute over the 6mm for the superior handling experience afforded by the lightness of the 5mm rope.
The length of your rope depends largely on who you are, what you do, and to whom you do it.
The Japanese believe that length is all about the rigger. They measure the optimum length of the rope by taking the length of one’s full arm span with the arms outstretched and multiplying it by four. With the rope doubled over, this makes it easy to draw the rope through any knot in two smooth hand motions. Usually, this measures to lengths between 7 and 8 meters, between 23 and 27 ft., with 12.5 ft. ropes used when the full length isn’t required.
This system works well when used on sleek Japanese bodies. When bondage began to get popular in the West, many found that on bigger North American bodies their ropes were coming up short consistently within a foot or two of finishing their ties. To compensate for this, many North American riggers started to employ 30 ft. ropes, with 15 ft spares.
Some North American riggers also still use 50 ft length for body harnesses that separate the ends during the rigging process.