Wild Country Sprint 8.4 review
Reviewed by Jon Griffith
Will Sim on his new route ‘Vanilla and Choco go Climbing’, climbing on a single Sprint 8.4
I thoroughly recommend reading this article before continuing with this review
I have used the Sprint 8.4mm for just coming up to a year now. It’s definitely been through the ‘wars’ accompanying me on anything from Alpine north face climbs to providing me with a half-decent impromptu bivy mat. Ropes, to me, have always been a bit of a pain. Ok granted they are essential to not dying in the mountains and crags, but they weigh alot and take up alot of space- a poor reason you might say but I always find that its the nail in my heavy backpack coffin as if it were. My Alpine pack always feels fine but then whack on the rope and it just tips the balance from right “lets get on with it” to “oh for fucks sake”. I remember when I got my first pair of Beal Icelines though and everything changed from then on. Here was an incredibly lightweight and small rope that didn’t have me swearing at the alpine gods sitting above me laughing at me dying on the approaches. However what the Icelines made up for in weight they lacked in handling as well as tangling ability. In the last 5 years there has been a real surge in rope manufacturing improvements, with every major manufacturer trying to make that ultimate alpine rope that handles well and doesn’t tangle (the weak point of thinner ropes) but yet weighs next to nothing- even going so far as Teflon coating the individual rope strands in order to minimize chafing and improve friction co-efficiency.
So now instead of just Beal providing us with lightweight Alpine ropes we’ve got good choices form Mammut, Millet, Edleweiss, Petzl (soon), and Wild Country (Inifinty ropes). To be honest I have always thought that Mammut and Millet were the best bet when it comes to Alpine ropes. Mammut have an excellent manufacturing history that is probably due to their Swiss efficiency and intolerance for anything that doesn’t work 110%. Millet, though relatively unknown in the UK, make excellent ropes as well. Wild Country on the other hand are relatively new to the rope industry however they have an excellent design team that are by no means rookie and come from experienced rope manufacturers (Mammmut included). However you’ve got to really pull all the stops out to match the efforts of those companies on your first rope run and it was going to be interesting to see how Infinity ropes compared to my tried and tested favorites of the Alpine rope world.
The Sprint 8.4
The Sprint 8.4m is designed for those who don’t want the weight of a 9mm rope but want a better handling ability than those offered by the super skinny 8mm ropes (ie imagine braking off an 8mm rope- its a little hard to say the least unless you have a dedicated ‘thin’ rope belay device). Fair enough, but I’ve got to be honest here and say that I’m a die hard fan of skinny ropes- even happy to climb on one twin at times (not recommended). So to be honest I wasnt sure that the Sprint 8.4 was going to really do it for me. Always happy to keep an open mind though I took it out at the beginning of last winter and since then it has pretty much followed me wherever I have gone.
I reckon that there is no tougher testing ground for ropes than in the Alpine environment. It’s not only the abusive conditions it finds itself in, but also the fact that ropes are put through every conceivable use out here- from freezing weather to awkward raps that just beg for the rope to twist itself around something. Ropes have to perform 100% on all levels or else they just don’t cut it. Without trying to sound too dramatic deficiencies in ropes become really obvious on multipitch alpine routes and can add alot of time to your day- twisting ropes are a particular pain as they affect you not only when you are climbing up but more importantly when you are rapping back down and you can loose a huge amount of time on raps trying to untangle knots in the ropes. So whilst Mammut and Millet have years of experience in this field and essentially manufacture their whole brand towards the ‘high’ mountains, Wild Country don’t. So how would their new half rope fare?
So what do I look out for in a rope? Well its got to be very waterproof bearing in mind its intended use right now is Alpine. Its also got to handle well, not twist, be light and rugged. So not much to ask for really! Every rope has to have something going for it over its competitors and the Infinity ropes made bold claims: their ropes are smoother to handle, more flexible in use, and transmit a lower impact force making a more comfortable fall. They also adhere to a Round Rope Principle which means that the rope shouldn’t deform and flatten in use. Combine this with the lightweight 45gr per meter and you’d be forgiven to think that you were onto a winner even before taking it out.
Gavin Pike taking the Sprint for a test drive on the Carrington-Rousse
Yes its boring, but the stats actually really do mean something and if you haven’t already read my previous article then here is a low down on what they mean:
Falls: Pretty self-explanatory really. However ropes are tested under a fall factor of 1.77- a factor fall of 1.77 is very high and chances are that you will never have such a high factor fall all your life. So do not interpret this rating as the maximum amount of times you can fall on a rope before you have to chuck it. Also remember that taking huge whippers do not necessarily induce large fall factors (it is often the exact opposite) so don’t just think that because you have taken 3 whippers on your rope that you should be starting to think about retiring it. For more information about fall factors you can click here
Obviously, though, you will be looking for a rope that has a high fall rating as, in theory, it will last you longer. Theoretically thicker ropes will have a higher fall rating than thinner ropes, as you would expect.
Impact Force: Basically the lower this figure is the better, not only because it reduces the force on you but also because it will reduce the force on the top runner- ie the lower the number the more force the rope absorbs. The flip side of this is that the rope will invariably have to stretch more to absorb more force. Now whilst this might not sound like a bad thing it can be. Situations can arise where you want the least amount of stretch in the rope- eg falling close to the ground, when top roping, etc. This is a point that is worth thinking about. If you are used to sport routes then you aren’t going to be worried about minimizing the force on your top runner as it’s a bolt, and in addition the more the rope stretches the more you are going to have to climb back up if you fall. On the other hand if you climb alot on badly protected terrain then the extra stretch may not be a worry if it helps keep the top runner from ripping out.
Elongation in use/ Stretch: There are actually two stats here. One is a static test- ie if you simply weight the rope and measure how much percentage stretch there is. The other is a dynamic test which measures the maximum stretch when the rope takes an actual simulated lead fall on it. The maximum amount of dynamic stretch allowed is 40%, and static is 12%. To put this into context if you are seconding on 50m of rope and weight it, if it has an 11% stretch then you will ‘drop’ down 5.5m- now that’s quite a long way down!
Sheath Slippage: Ropes are made up of a core and a protective sheath that covers it. Poorly constructed ropes can end up with the core and the sheath not stretching in sync with each other (ie not acting as a single unit but more like two separate ones, which is essentially what they are). However this leads in ‘lumpy’ areas of the rope as the sheath gets bunched up in certain parts and stretched out in others.
If you actually managed to read all that and take it in then your next rope choice will be a much easier affair as you will know what you want. It should be noted though that I spent forever trying to understand the UIAA testing on ropes and how some ropes (most notably the Beal Ice Line) figures varied so much from its direct competitors. I had to finally come to the conclusion that the IceLine figures just simply didnt add up or make sense. At the end of the day, and this is from speaking to many in the industry, rope testing is a very subjective thing that can be affected by many factors such as humidity in the air etc. Wild Country weren’t happy with the test results on their ropes and the company that actually manufacture them (the well respected US based Sterling Ropes) thought that the figures should have been better. In any case since they are the only things we have to go on there’s not much that we can do about it.
I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the main competitors in the Alpine half ropes world (that can be bough in Europe)
As usual I’m not going to go into the different ropes here as you can see how they compare to each other stats wise for yourselves. But its worth just having a look over as the ropes do vary quite a bit sometimes- whether this is down to odd test results or just different manufacturing processes I am not 100% sure am afraid- there are alot of conflicting views on this!
Enough of the mumbo-jumbo though, the real question as usual is how did it actually work in the real world. I think the thing that really impressed me at the end of this year is how well the rope has survived. It still shows barely any signs of being used at all. The sheath is still in perfect nick and it is still very slick to handle. Most impressively the dry treatment coating has lasted very well too. Traditionally the dry treatment on ropes last up to a year and then it degrades heavily. Only 3 days ago I was at the base of the Grandes Jorasses sleeping on the rope as an impromptu bivy mat and the next morning it was still completely dry and unfrozen (normally I would expect the rope to have absorbed a bit of melt water from my body melting the snow on and around it during the night). I have yet to take any big falls on it so I cant really comment on that, but then who can really? At the end of the day you have to rely on stats for that kind of information.
One of my biggest gripes though when it comes to half ropes is there uncanny ability to tangle and twist like there is no tomorrow. I have not found the Sprint 8.4 to be too bad on this front. However I should probably point out that a mate who has a pair says they twist and tangle alot. These kinds of irregularities though don’t surprise me as I’ve had ropes that I’ve sworn by in the past only to have someone else hate them. I found my IceLines to be much worse at tangling than the Sprints by comparison.
At first I was a bit dubious of taking out an 8.4mm rope, being much more of a 8mm fan but I have actually gotten used to it quite fast. The extra weight I carry on a 60m rope is only 160gr and for the extra confidence and longevity of the rope (I’ve trashed thinner ones in less than a year) it’s a pretty good contender- especially given the relatively young age of the company (Infinity). Personally I will just keep using a mixture of ropes for what I do. I’m a big fan of just using one half rope on alot of climbs that involve moving fast on big faces and unless there is alot of very technical climbing involved the Sprint has and will continue to follow me up these climbs. On the other hand anything that involves the need for two ropes due to the technical nature of the climbing or a rap descent I will use thinner 8m ropes. A bit too anal? Yes probably, but then if you are in the market for a good ‘all round’ half rope and dont like the skinnier ropes then this is ideal for you. At £89.99 for 50m and £104.99 for 60m its pretty reasonably priced sitting right in the middle of the ‘group’.