Sterling touts their Helix 9.5mm as a "skinny workhorse," and we wholeheartedly agree. It is one of the top scorers in our comparative review, performing on par with the Editors' Choice winner. There is almost nothing to not love about his rope — it handles well and is quite soft, it does a great job of repelling dirt and has a very durable sheath. At 9.5mm it is a fair bit easier to manipulate through a GriGri and weighs less than your standard 9.8mm workhorse. We climbed with this rope every day for months, letting everyone we climbed with take burns on it as well, and it still looks practically new. While it doesn't come cheap, if you are in the market for a long-lasting rope but don't want the fattest rope at the crag, then check out the Evolution Helix.
Sterling Helix Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
When we tested this rope Sterling was calling this rope the Evolution Helix. Now it is simply referred to as the Helix. The ropes are identical in performance characteristics, except for the minor name change.
We tested this rope for around three months at Smith Rock and in Red Rocks and must say that it still seems like it has barely been broken in. After over 200 pitches, it still feels newer than some ropes that we have only climbed 30 pitches on. Its smooth, treated finish does an amazing job of repelling dirt, not to mention water. It comes in a ton of lengths options (40m — 80m), a couple of patterns (standard w/ middle marked or BiColor), and dry treatments (either not treated or DryXP), so no matter what specifications you are looking for, you can find it with the Helix. To us, this rope perfectly embodies the newer generation of ropes that tend toward thinner and lighter while still offering incredible durability, and we firmly believe that 9.5mm is the new 9.8. Sterling calls this rope their skinny workhorse, and in our testing and experience, it perfectly matches that description, holding up to abuse just as well as thicker cords made by Sterling. If you want durability, a great handle, and less weight, then we highly recommend this rope to you.
It's hard for us to think of how we would describe a rope with a nicer handle than this one. It starts out slippery, and actually stayed that way for months of heavy sport climbing use, exhibiting the amazing durability of its DryXP coating. The cord is supple and soft, but not quite as squishy as your typical Petzl rope. It stays perfectly circular and is very easy to bend and manipulate for tying knots or shoving into a belay device. We have never encountered an issue with it sticking in an active assisted device like the GriGri, and feel that it pulls really smoothly through when you need to pay out armloads of slack. After over 200 pitches of use, the rope is a little dirtier, but not much so, and has not changed its general character one iota. It remains slippery and smooth to the touch, and it's just as soft as when we bought it.
Assessing the quality of a rope's catch is one of the hardest testing tasks we have been presented with, in large part because there are so many factors that go into a hard or soft catch besides only the rope. The Helix's 8.9kN impact force rating is slightly higher than a couple of the other 9.5mm ropes we tested. However, its 7.2% static elongation figure is a bit less, and we would have to say that comparing it head-to-head during top-rope burns, the Helix seemed to sag a little less from rope stretch than others. This would lend one to believe that it doesn't give the absolute softest catch possible, but our experience says there is nothing to complain about. After repeated 20 ft whippers at a high crux, we didn't feel like the rope was begging for an end change, although we changed it up anyway in the name of preservation. Regardless, we can think of ropes that we did not receive as friendly a catch from.
The Helix weighs 59 g/m, which is 1 g/m more than a couple of the other very similar ropes we compared it to. Since all of these ropes were 9.5mm it's not a big surprise that they weigh very close to the same. If you multiply out the math, you will find that a 60m rope will weigh you about 7.8 lbs, which isn't too bad for a workhorse rope. In fact, the combination of low weight and great durability is why we think this rope is one of the best.
After over 200 pitches of climbing, we have to say that with the exception of a bit of metal dust and some dirt, this rope looks almost the same as when we pulled it out of the bag. The sheath shows virtually no sign of fraying, and the DryXP coating on the outside of the sheath remains largely intact. This rope certainly does not absorb dirt very quickly, which helps it retain a long life span. Without a doubt, it is one of the more durable ropes you can buy, especially among 9.5 offerings.
We didn't give it our highest score for this metric, however, simply because it doesn't have all of the features as the competition. For instance, the sheath follows a 2x2 weave pattern, which is not quite as tight and durable as the 1x1 pattern found on the Maxim Pinnacle. It is also doesn't have Unicore technology, a feature that bonds the sheath fibers to the core so that the sheath will not slip if you happen to sustain a coreshot.
A 60m DryXP version of this rope will run you roughly average for a single color, or expect to add on about $20 if you want the bi-color dual weave. This incorporates a different thread pattern on each end of the rope making it super easy to identify the middle. While this isn't the most expensive rope in this review, it sure costs a lot more than some of our Best Buy candidates. However, since it is so durable and likely to last a long time, we think the extra money is probably worth it.
The Sterling Helix is a mid-sized workhorse rope that hits the perfect sweet spot between lightweight and great durability. We think it is one of the best ropes we have used for almost any type of climbing.
— Andy Wellman
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