The Complete Buyers Guide to Rope – Uses for Cotton Rope, Synthetic Ropes and More

While we use the word “rope” interchangeably for pretty much any type of cordage or rope in which we need to secure something, the types of rope are very different in how they perform and how they should be used.

Rope has had countless uses since its origins – historians dated a two-ply length of rope fossil back to around 15,000 B.C. Around 3,500 B.C. the Egyptians were the first to document the use of tools in rope making.

Since then, rope has been used for everything from pulling, hunting, fastening, lifting, climbing, recreation, and more.

Choosing the right rope for the job is important. Depending on what you’re doing the wrong rope could fail you at the worst time leading to a costly disaster or injury.

For example, climbing rope is fashioned with a certain amount of elasticity so if a person slips into a free fall the rope will stretch and stop the free fall without causing injury. This is known as dynamic rope. A low-stretch or static rope, like those used in rappelling, rescue operations, or for types of rigging have minimal stretch and would cause injury in a free fall.

With that in mind let’s look at some of the most common uses of cotton rope, nylon, and more, and the most appropriate type of rope to use in those situations.

What type of rope do I need - What’s the rope used for?

Tying Knots

You should use:  Nylon Rope or Manila Rope

You should avoid: Polypropylene Rope

While you can use any type of rope or cordage to tie a knot, some ropes perform better than others both in fashioning and maintaining the knot. A problem you run into with some ropes is that they can either be far too stiff or the rope has too much stretch to hold a secure knot. Other ropes may be unpleasant to handle.

The focus of knot tying is on the flexibility of the rope in order to hold a secure knot, not necessarily on the actual stretch of the rope. This is why nylon rope tends to make the best choice for basic knots. If you’re doing more intricate knots, then Manila would be an ideal choice.

General Outdoor Use

You should use: Polyester Rope or Manila Rope

You shouldn’t use: Kevlar Rope

When using rope outdoors you should keep a few factors in mind. First, the elements.

Because of the potential exposure to water you need a rope that won’t have its performance impacted by moisture. Even small amounts of water can affect a rope. Polyester is a solid choice for outdoor use because it’s not affected by moisture and it’s also resistant to UV rays which can dry and brittle other types of rope.

Just keep in mind that it’s not the ideal use for industrial work. You still want to make sure you have the right rope for the task at hand.

If you’re planning to be outdoors for a hike, or camping, then Manila is a more popular choice. Like polyester it’s also resistant to damage from UV rays, it can be tied easily and is a long-lasting durable rope.

Tie-Downs and Securing Items

You should use: Nylon Rope

You should avoid: Polypropylene Rope

When you’re securing anything with a tie-down you should pay close attention to how the rope material will stretch, especially when you’re dealing with a lot of weight and the potential for the load to shift and move. Nylon is a highly durable, semi-elastic rope that has some give to it but maintains its strength even under large amounts of strain.

Keep in mind that while nylon can handle UV exposure as well as chemical exposure it does lose some of its strength (around 10%) if it gets exposed to water.

Towing

You should use: Plasma Rope

You should avoid: Polypropylene Rope, Manila Rope, Cotton Rope

If you’re towing anything you’re likely to be towing a significantly heavy load. While towing any change in speed is going to dramatically increase the strain on the rope, especially sudden changes in speed that push the tensile strength to its limits. When compared to Manila, sisal, and polypropylene, nylon rope has the highest minimum breaking load.

This is another application in which nylon rope is a good choice because of its overall strength and ability to stretch some under load (up to 30% without losing its ability to shrink back when tension releases.) It also makes for more secure knots than other rope types

Macrame and Decoration

You should use: Cotton Rope

You should avoid: Polypropylene Rope, Sisal Rope

Rope isn’t just used for practical application. Rope has been used for decorative purposes for centuries. Macrame, the art of knotting rope together in patterns to make decorative pieces, is extremely popular. There are different rope varieties that can be used but cotton rope is likely the most best choice.

Because the rope will be handled quite a bit while forming reef knots and hitching you’ll want something comfortable. Cotton rope is generally a solid braid that’s soft and easy on the hands. It’s flexible, so it knots easily, and you don’t have to worry too much about strength or durability since the finished pieces are typically hung or displayed indoors where exposure isn’t an issue.

Cotton rope is also one of the types of rope that can be purchased in different colors. A popular version is super soft triple-strand cotton with multiple colors blended together within a single length.

Outdoor Clothesline

You should use: Polyester Rope

You should avoid: Polypropylene Rope

Anytime you’re working with rope outdoors you want to remember to choose a rope that can withstand prolonged exposure to the sun as well as moisture. Some ropes will absorb a lot of water which effects the integrity of the rope. When combined with UV exposure the rope will continue to expand and contract as it absorbs moisture, dries, and then repeats. Some ropes will weaken, split, and become brittle when exposed in this manner.

For outdoor use specific to the clothesline go with a durable rope that is UV resistant and won’t absorb much water.

Scratching Post/Animal Post

You should use: Cannabis Hemp Rope

You should avoid: Manila and other ropes that will tear and shed

Animal and pet owners often do DIY projects like building cat scratching posts for pets both indoor and outdoor within a structure. Sisal is hands down the best option for any kind of wrap used in this manner. Not only is sisal rope incredibly cheap it’s very durable. It’s attractive to animals who want to get their claws in it, or rub against it, because sisal rope has a very rough texture like tree bark or natural plant fiber. The rope doesn’t really shed fibers when scratched so there’s no mess to clean up.

Need to give your feline companion something to scratch up besides your furniture? Sisal will do just the trick. It's cheap and super durable. It also has a rough texture, like tree bark, making it highly appealing to cats. And unlike fabric or carpet, you don't have to worry about a scratching post made of Sisal leaving a mess in your living room.

Boat and Marine Use

You should use: Polyester Rope

You should avoid: Cotton Rope

Rope goes with boats like mud and ATVs. It’s been a part of boating and water travel since the earliest days of man leaving solid ground. Today, polyester is the ideal choice for everything nautical with your boat including mooring lines, rigging, block and tackles. Polyester rope is durable, UV resistant, water resistant and strong enough for all your maritime needs. It stays sturdy even when wet and will wear well and evenly over time.

Stay way from cotton ropes around water. Cotton is far too absorbent and constant exposure to moisture will cause it to rot quickly.

Cross-Fit and Performance Training

You should use: Polypropylene/Polyester Rope and Manila Rope

You should avoid: Cotton Rope

Cross-fit continues to be a popular workout trend aimed at building full-body strength through intense cardio and strength training. People often work rope into their training, and if that’s part of your routine then you’ll want a durable, thick, twisted braid of polypropylene or polyester. It’ll have significant weight to add to the resistance of your workout and it won’t really stretch since you won’t be applying much force to it other than your body weight.

Given that you’ll be working up a hefty sweat there’s also the benefit of minimal moisture absorption, so these ropes are super easy to clean up when your workout is completed.

Constructing a Hammock

Ravenox Cotton Rope Hammock Made with Twisted Cotton Ropes

You should use: Cotton or Polyester

You should avoid: Polypropylene Rope

While generally we recommend avoiding cotton where there will be exposure to the elements, cotton is one of the best ropes for this kind of activity. It’s soft, stretches, and easy to work with. You don’t want to lay around and have to handle an itchy, stiff hammock when you’re trying to relax.

Polyester is another good choice though it’s a bit stiffer than cotton. It will much longer outdoors than cotton, though, making for a more permanent solution if you want to keep your hammock up for a long time.

Gardening Tie-Ups

You should use: Cotton Rope or Sisal Rope

You should avoid: Polyester Rope

Growing a garden can be therapeutic, but not when your plants lean and fall. Some plants do better and thrive when you tie them up for support. This includes small trees, tomato plants, etc. Sisal is ideal because it’s a natural fiber. It can support the plant through the growing season and as it breaks down it will simply decompose into the soil. It’s also small and flexible enough to tie secure knots.

Conclusion

Pay close attention to what the rope is made from when deciding whether or not it will work for the job or task at hand. Synthetic ropes are durable, strong, and resistant to the elements making them ideal for outdoor. For more casual purposes like decoration or recreation use (tug of war!) more natural ropes like cotton or Manila are ideal for their softer feel.

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