We've tested 23 rope bags in the last decade. Armed with this experience, we bought the best 9 options available today and field-tested them side-by-side to see where each excels and falters. A good bag should keep your rope clean and well-flaked throughout the day. We used these options to transport our ropes across the county to scores of crags and hundreds of climbs. We even took them to the gym. Throughout our adventures, we noted how comfortable these bags are to carry and how well they protected our ropes. We also assessed how easy they made packing up our lines between routes. Your rope's your lifeline, make sure you find the right bag to keep it in top shape.
The Best Rope Bags for Climbing
Best Overall Model
The DMM Classic is an outstanding model that works well for all types of climbing and sports some of the best features that we have seen on any models. It has a large removable tarp to keep your cord out of the dirt and a space-efficient closure system. Our testers appreciated the comfortable backpack straps on long approaches. We were able to pack all of the essentials into the main compartment with a 70-meter rope, including a harness, chalk, and one pair of shoes. The Classic also stands out because it comes at a reasonable mid-range price.
We struggled to find many flaws in the Classic for outdoor use but wouldn't recommend it for an indoor climbing-only pack. It is far better suited for cragging and long approaches because of its large tarp and compression straps, which feel excessive for climbing in the gym. If you're looking for an impressively functional crag bag that is easy to use and comfortable to carry, the DMM Classic is tough to beat.
Read review: DMM Classic
Best Bang for the Buck
Metolius Dirt Bag II
The Metolius Dirt Bag II easily earns our Best Buy Award for its solid performance and low cost. It's a fantastic option for climbers who want a functional rope bag and none of the frills. The Dirt Bag II has a huge tarp, durable construction, and enough space for some extra gear. This makes it "dirtbag cheap," as the name implies, and a great bargain for the product you get. It costs about as much as a large pizza in Yosemite and will last much longer.
The spacious zippered opening makes it easy enough to pack and unpack the rope, but it's definitely a smaller volume compared to other packs we tested. The single shoulder strap isn't great for long approaches, and we wouldn't want to carry it for more than 20 minutes or so. Despite being limited in pack space and features, the Dirt Bag II is a solid budget option and we recommend it to anybody who is on the fence about whether or not to get a rope bag.
Read review: Metolius Dirt Bag II
Best for Indoor Climbing
If climbing indoors is a part of your daily routine and you want to pack everything you need for a day at the office, classroom, and gym into one bag, then the Petzl KAB is an excellent option. It has a stylish messenger bag-style design that doesn't look like a rope bag until you open it up. The integrated, trapezoidal tarp is removable and doesn't take up too much space if you have a gym rope that is 60 meters or shorter. The KAB's most unique feature is a padded laptop sleeve, which makes it work as a messenger bag if you take out the rope tarp. This feature greatly expands the bag's functionality if you like to stop at the climbing gym on your commute to or from school or the office. It also has extra compartments that can be used for books or additional climbing gear.
The main disadvantage of the KAB is that it does not function well as a bag for outdoor climbing. The tarp is too small to cover much ground outside, and its carrying strap isn't comfortable for long approaches. If you only climb indoors then this will not be a problem, but for those who plan to transition from gym to crag, the KAB isn't a versatile option. It is also one of the most expensive models that we tested, and unless the additional features for carrying a laptop and items for daily life appeal to you, the Metolius Dirt Bag II is significantly cheaper and equally functional as a rope bag. Yet, in the golden age of gym climbing, this rope bag fills an important niche better than any other.
Read review: Petzl KAB
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel behind this review consists of professional mountain guide Ian Nicholson, avid climber Steven Tata, and outdoor educator Graham Williams. Ian is internationally licensed by IFMGA/UIAGM and has spent over 3,000 days guiding in the European Alps and the Pacific Northwest. He holds an AIARE Level III certification as well as a Level I Avalanche Instructor certification. Ian has guided over 1,000 clients, many of whom he has assisted in selecting gear for backpacking, climbing, and ski trips. Graham is an outdoor educator who works with college students, and is also an avid climber, surfer, backcountry skier, and fitness enthusiast. He also holds a BS in Nutrition, Health and Exercise from the University of Nebraska. Steven has climbed thousands of routes across the country and enjoys everything from big wall nail-ups on El Cap to limestone sport cragging in Catalonia. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts and lives in Yosemite National Park as a Climbing Steward.
Before flaking any ropes or cinching any bags up, we had to decide which ones to test. We purchased the nine most promising rope bags to put through a gamut of field tests. We then used each one heavily, laying them out next to each other to get a relative sense of their size, dragging them across the dirt, stuffing them into packs, and packing them with rope and gear to see which organizational schemes worked best with each bag. What we ended up with is a comprehensive review that will help you get a bag to protect and transport your climbing lifeline.
Related: How We Tested Rope Bags
Analysis and Test Results
If you're climbing outside, you should have a bag or, at the very least, a tarp to put your rope on, as you'll extend the life of your rope by keeping it out of the dirt and grit at the crag. When dirt is ground into your rope, it can shorten its lifespan significantly. Climbing ropes are expensive pieces of equipment and your nonredundant lifeline as a climber. Rope bags can significantly extend the life of your rope if used properly and are relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of a rope. Additionally, they make it easier and quicker to pack and unpack your rope, which can increase your efficiency at the crag. This has the potential to let you squeeze in another pitch or two before the day is over, or give another burn on your project to get you that much closer to sending. The last thing that you want to be stuck doing when you're trying to climb is dealing with messy and tangled ropes or constantly flaking and stacking your cord.
Related: Buying Advice for Rope Bags
Despite a wide range of costs, all of the rope bags that we tested have the same basic components. Even the cheapest ones will protect your rope during travel and keep it off the ground when you are climbing. Most of the more expensive models come with additional features to improve ease of use and carrying comfort, but don't offer much more in terms of rope protection than even the cheapest models. If you only care to keep your rope clean, don't waste cash on the highest-performing models. For example, the Metolius Dirt Bag II is an excellent choice for the budget-minded climber and gets the job done if you want a no-frills model to keep your rope clean and tidy.
Some of the higher-scoring models in our review are twice as expensive but only advantageous for those who need additional features like a removable tarp or padded backpack straps. The Petzl KAB is the most expensive model that we tested, and it offers relatively little protection compared to other models in our review, despite having some of the most extravagant features. It does, however, hold a lot of value for urban gym climbers looking to combine their rope bag and work bag into one. The Editors' Choice Award-winning DMM Classic is in the middle of the pack when it comes to cost but offers a great dollar-for-dollar value.
We tested each bag side-by-side to determine how difficult it is to pack and unpack a rope and some gear. We used a 70-meter x 9.8-millimeter as our main testing rope to ensure that each bag can fit a rope that is relatively long and thick by modern standards. The ideal bag for outdoor use is one that can fit a rope, shoes, harness, quickdraws, chalk, water, and some snacks for a day of climbing. High scorers in the packability metric have a large volume and can be neatly packed for long approaches. The most common use of rope bags is for outdoor single-pitch sport climbing, so we mainly focused on this application in our testing. We also considered gym climbing in our testing and highlight models that stand out for their indoor performance.
Models with large removable tarps are usually the easiest to pack, and our testers preferred these for outdoor cragging. The two main styles of rope bags are "funnel" and "burrito." Funnel-style bags are packed by sliding the rope off of the tarp into the main pack, while burrito-style bags are packed by rolling the rope inside the tarp into the main pack. We tested several bags of each style and found that the main pack design was more significant when it came to assessing packability.
The DMM Classic is the most packable model that we tested. It's unparalleled when it comes to efficiently packing a modest amount of gear. It is the only backpack-style model with multiple compression straps, which eliminate loose space and help to consolidate the load. The Mammut Crag is noticeably larger than the Classic and is better suited for being loaded with lots of gear, thus tying in our packability testing. Several over-the-shoulder burrito-style models tied for packability, including the Metolius Ropemaster HC, Black Diamond Super Chute, and Trango Antidote. These all share a similar design and cinch down well if you're only carrying a rope. The Metolius Speedster and Metolius Dirt Bag II didn't perform as well in packability because they lack compression straps and don't fit a ton of gear. This makes them a bit more cumbersome to load, and they feel a bit awkward to carry when not properly filled.
Carrying comfort is a very significant attribute when it comes to outdoor cragging, especially on long approaches. We evaluated carrying comfort by getting outside and taking each bag on long approaches. We paid attention to how breathable each pack's carrying straps were and took note of any that felt too narrow or cumbersome. Packs with two backpack-style straps scored higher in this metric, and we subjectively evaluated the back padding for comfort and breathability.
The DMM Classic and Mammut Crag led the pack in terms of carrying comfort. Both have nice backpack straps and are great options if your favorite crag is over an hour from the trailhead. The Classic feels more like a hiking backpack, while the Crag feels more like a well-padded school bag. We prefer the DMM for longer approaches because it packs more efficiently, but the Mammut has much more padding and a spacious main compartment. The Metolius Speedster also has backpack straps, but is not as comfortable as the Classic or Crag.
For urban use and indoor climbing, messenger bag-style packs with single carrying straps can be comfortable to carry. The Petzl KAB is indistinguishable from a laptop bag and has a plushly padded strap. This is a unique model for its ability to blend into the city while also having enough space to carry a rope and some gear for gym climbing. Some of the simpler models that we tested only have single straps and are good enough for short approaches or carrying inside of a larger backpack. The Black Diamond Super Chute and Metolius Dirt Bag II are some of our favorite simple bags that have single carrying straps. The Super Chute is more spacious than the Dirt Bag II but is also more expensive.
The main purpose of a rope bag is to protect your rope during travel and to keep it off of the ground while you climb. We scored each bag's rope protection abilities based upon tarp size and shape, and for how durable each bag felt while traveling. Despite being a significant rating metric, most of the models performed well in rope protection testing, and the results were not as differentiating as those of Packability and Carrying Comfort. Using a rope bag is a simple way to prolong the life of your rope and mitigate exposure to potentially hazardous substances or conditions.
Naturally, products with larger tarps have much more to offer in the way of rope protection. Tarps that are more rectangular in shape also tend to lie flatter, which allows more surface area to catch falling cords after pulling the chains, and more space to flake your rope before and after climbing. The highest-scoring models in our rope protection metric all have large tarps and spacious packs that accommodate 70-meter ropes. Bags that scored poorly either have small tarps or flimsy packs. All of the models in our review perform adequately when it comes to keeping your rope safe, but some stand out for having especially large tarps.
The three Metolius models, the Speedster, Dirt Bag II, and Ropemaster HC, all have 52" x 58" rectangular tarps, which are the largest tarps of any bags in our review. Each bag is unique, but the Dirt Bag II stands out because it is one of the most affordable bags available and provides you with the most tarp per dollar. The lowest scoring bag for rope protection is the Black Diamond Full Rope Burrito, which only has a 40" x 40" tarp, which is relatively small but still plenty spacious if you flake your rope neatly. All other models are durable enough to last for many years and have plenty of tarp space to accommodate a wide variety of ropes. The tarp on the Petzl KAB is trapezoidal, and therefore has less usable space than many others. However, this fits its intended use — Gym climbers often utilize a shorter rope (35-40 meters) for indoor climbing. Therefore, less tarp space is required.
Ease of Use
We evaluated Ease of Use by paying attention to design attributes that make bags more user-friendly while climbing, hiking, and in daily use outside of climbing. These include zippered pouches for valuables, removable tarps, additional straps for gear, and organizational pouches within the main pack compartment. Although none of the bags are particularly difficult to use, some of the simpler models left us wishing for more. Bags without removable tarps are less versatile for cragging, and it's usually easier to move the rope between climbs when it is on a tarp that isn't attached to a pack. We also preferred bags with zippered pouches because climbing with keys can be annoying. It's nice to have a place for small items that would otherwise get lost inside a backpack.
The Petzl KAB and DMM Classic are some of the most convenient packs for indoor and outdoor climbing, respectively. The Classic earned the top score in our ease of use testing because it has a spacious removable tarp, convenient zippered pocket, and compression straps that accommodate extra gear on the outside of the pack. The KAB is designed for daily life and indoor climbing, with a padded laptop sleeve and several organizational compartments. It is unique for its ability to function as a messenger bag in addition to being a rope bag.
The Mammut Crag has a large roll-top closure that enables it to function as a somewhat floppy rope bucket. The roll-top closure is easy to use but is not as space-efficient as packs with zippered or pull-cord closures. The Metolius Dirt Bag II didn't stand out for being easy to use and its small opening was a bit cumbersome for packing larger ropes. Burrito-style packs like the Metolius Ropemaster HC and Black Diamond Super Chute are easy to pack but neither have removable tarps or spacious zippered pouches.
After meticulous research and thoughtful selection of our bags, in addition to heavy testing of each model, our review is the most thorough and comprehensive one available. We paid out thousands of feet of rope in our testing and hiked hundreds of approach miles. The best rope bag purchase depends on what you're looking for in a bag and what types of climbing you prefer. Regardless of which model you choose, it's always smart to keep your rope safe in a rope bag. Have fun climbing!
— Ian Nicholson, Graham Williams, and Steven Tata