Choosing The Perfect Ranch Rope

How to Choose a Ranch Rope

Finding a ranch rope online can be a difficult task. In the past, you could walk into a tack shop, touch, feel, and swing a rope before you decide to spend your hard-earned money on the tool you’ll use every day for months. In this series of articles, I will cover all my recommendations for each situation you might find yourself in, from the branding trap to doctoring outside, dry conditions to wet muddy conditions, or what rope to start with if you’re a beginner. Additionally, we will cover the different lays (stiffness), diameters (sizes), and lengths. What is the difference between the characteristics and when we use what.

When it comes to choosing a ranch rope, there are some terms that will be useful in your search. We will start with the lay of the rope. The lay is a term used to describe how stiff the rope is going to be. You will often hear someone say “this rope has body”; the more body a rope has, the stiffer it is. On the flip side to that, you will also hear “this rope has a lot of life”; life is used to describe a rope that is less stiff and has more of a limp feel to it. The lay of a rope is described with these letters: H (hard), M (medium), MS (medium soft), S (soft), XS (extra soft), XXS (double extra soft), XXXS (triple extra soft). This system of lay types is generally used to describe nylon ropes. We at 3:10 usually don’t offer anything stiffer than an S; we find the stiffer ropes are best used in the team roping pen and when we are doctoring outside, there isn’t much of a need for something as stiff as an H, M, and MS. We often get asked the question “what is the lay on a poly?” or “what is the lay on a cotton?” The lay system doesn’t really apply to either of these ropes. Polys by nature are going to be softer than any other rope. There is some difference between the different brands of poly, but for the most part, these ropes are going to have a ton of life. The same idea applies to the waxed cotton ranch ropes; these ropes have the best balance between body and life but are still usually going to have much more life than your typical nylon ranch rope. We will discuss this in detail a little later; now that we understand our different types of lays and the terms used to describe the feeling of the rope, let's talk about diameters.

Just like the lays, the diameters for each type of rope are going to vary in description. Nylons and Waxed Cottons are described in a fraction system, 5/16, ⅜ scant, ⅜ full, and so on. The polys are described with a millimeter system, 8.0mm, 9.0mm, 9.5mm, and so on. Understanding the system in which we label and describe these ropes is very important in your choice. Each job on the ranch has its unique needs, and having a rope that is too small or too big could greatly affect your ability to do the job. Let’s start with the nylons and cottons. At 3:10, we carry a 5/16 all the way to a ⅜ full; the 5/16 is going to be the smallest diameter nylon that we carry. These nylons are by nature much lighter than all the other ropes. The next size up is going to be a ⅜ scant. This size is in between the 5/16 and the ⅜ full. Next is a ⅜ full; this rope is a beast and will be our biggest rope offered in the nylons. The waxed cotton diameter system is just like the nylons; the difference is the waxed cotton is not available in the ⅜ scant option. Another difference between the two is that a 5/16 waxed cotton is much heavier than a 5/16 nylon. This gives the cotton a huge advantage. You can have all the benefits of a smaller diameter with almost none of the downsides. This brings us to the polys; our smallest diameter offered in the polys is 7.0mm. This is used to make kids ropes or goat ropes. Our first and smallest diameter we would recommend for roping live cattle is 8.75mm. From that size, the ropes will go up to 9.0mm, 9.5mm, 10.0mm, 10.5mm, and 10.75mm. We have carried all the way up to an 11.0mm, but that is an absolute beast of a poly. Generally speaking, these ropes will have a balance between body and life with the smaller diameters having a bit more life and the larger diameters have a flick more body. Having the right diameter rope for the job is key to being as efficient as possible.

The next characteristic we need to talk about is the length of your rope. This is very much so personal preference, but there are some situations where it is better to have a shorter or longer rope. We offer our ropes in 30’, 40’, 50’, and 60’ with some custom options available. We have sold ropes up to 90’ long and as short as 25’ long. If you are tying off hard and fast, usually a shorter rope is going to be the best option. Anyone using a slick horn is typically going to be using a 50’ or 60’ rope, and the hands dallying on rubber get along great with a 30’ or 40’. The length of your rope is really up to you. I personally like to throw long shots, so I stick with the longer lengths.

Now that we are familiar with all the different rope options, let's go into detail on the three main types of ranch ropes we sell at We will discuss the differences between the number of strands, the different types of cores, and the different characteristics of the materials used to make each rope, how each rope wears over time, and what specifics to know about each type. As I mentioned above, our three types of ropes are going to be Nylons, Waxed Cottons, and Poly Ranch Ropes.

Nylon Ranch Ropes

Nylons have been the go-to choice for team ropers and cowhands alike. These ropes are made to be on the stiffer side and offer unparalleled body compared to the other ropes. Generally speaking, the nylons are going to be the lightest of the three, yet they will be extremely forgiving when it comes to heeling. Nylons are offered in 3 strand, 4 strand, 5 strand, and 6 strand options. The higher number of strands gives the rope a smoother feel to the touch; one common misconception is that the more strands you have, the stronger the rope will be. This is not the case; pound for pound, your three-strand is always going to be stronger than the other construction options, but this three-strand will have a rougher feel than the other options. Most nylon ropes do not have a core, leaving these ropes light in weight. At 3:10, our chaos series nylons have a braided core, adding weight and strength to these lighter ropes. Our 4 strand and 5 strand options are twisted around this braided core, allowing these strands to tighten around it when under pressure. One unique characteristic of the nylons is how they wear over time; in the heavy-use areas, these nylons will “fuzz up.” This typically happens around the loop and where you take your dallys up the rope. You can use a torch to gently burn the fuzz away, giving your rope a longer life. Each rope wears differently, and it is important to know when it is time for a new rope. You can use the torch method 3 or 4 times knowing that each time it will make your rope just a little weaker in those areas. If you are a person that likes a forgiving rope with plenty of body, the nylon is probably the rope for you. If you’re still unsure, check out these related articles with more information on what we love using our nylons for.

Waxed Cotton Ranch Ropes

The Waxed Cotton has become the go-to rope for almost every cowhand today. These ropes last the longest out of the three, have an amazing balance between body and life, and come in a 5/16 or 3/8 diameter. The Waxed Cotton is a favorite because it gives you the best characteristics of the nylon and the poly. These ropes will have enough body to be forgiving on the heel end and enough weight to throw long shots in the wind. The biggest downside to the cotton is going to be the break-in period. Any rope with weight and body is going to require some breaking in. Here is a video on how we get our cottons feeling good before we go to work.

After the initial break-in, these ropes just need some heavy use; I can say with confidence that the waxed cotton will quickly become your favorite rope. When a cotton is used heavily they start to glass over, the strands become almost hardened with the wax and it gives these ropes a very crisp feel. This is unique to the cottons, most ropes start to feel like they are wearing out, not the cotton. The cotton feels better with every calf and lasts a lot longer than most other types of ropes. The cottons are also very fast around the horn; with the glass over, these ropes feed and handle at high speeds. This makes the cotton NOT an ideal rope for a beginner. We would suggest a nylon or a poly for someone starting out. If you have been roping a while and you're looking for a new rope, the cotton is the way to go. Here is a list of situations where the waxed cotton ranch rope will shine!


Poly Ranch Ropes

The poly rope has been the champion in the calf roping pen for years; the life of the poly combined with the weight make it a great weapon for fast and long shots. Every poly at is lead-weighted; this gives these ropes unmatched weight compared to the cotton and nylon ropes. This extra weight gives you a huge advantage when you're roping in the wind. Another benefit to having a heavy rope with life is the breakover action when the rope hits the target. When a poly hits a small calf, the life of the rope allows the rope to figure eight not allowing the calf to slip through your loop. The downside to the poly is the life of the rope makes it very difficult to heel with. With practice, you can be extremely proficient heeling with a poly, but it will not be as forgiving as the nylon or cotton. If you dally on a slick horn these ropes will melt together over time, the strands will slowly become one solid stand. If you dally on rubber this will not be an issue for your poly. The heat from sliding around the horn is what breaks down the strands. If you primarily rope in wet muddy conditions, the poly is going to be your best option. These ropes perform great in a wet environment; if the weather turns cold, these ropes will have much more life, and in the warmer weather, they will have a stiffer feel. This is due to the lead core; lead expands and contracts depending on the weather. So in colder climates, you can expect your poly to have a ton of life, and when it warms up, you can expect it to have a bit more body. If you prefer the head end, like to throw long shots, and spend most of your time roping smaller calves, the poly is the rope for you! Check out these related articles to find the perfect ranch rope for your job at hand.

Our goal at 3:10 is to help you find your next favorite ranch rope. If you are just starting out read this article on choosing a rope for a beginner, the options can be a bit overwhelming, keeping in mind ropes are just tools for a job and the best rope for you will depend on the job you have at hand. Finding the right rope can take time, and we are always willing to help you in any way we can. We want to express our deepest gratitude for your business, and we look forward to helping you become the best hand you can be!


Dalton Darnell