Licorice/freestyle ropes are typically made of PVC, nylon, or vinyl plastic cord, usually, with 180-degree–attached hollow handles that are often foam-covered. A freestyle rope will have longer handles (8 inches or so as compared with about 5 inches) that can be more easily manipulated when attempting crossovers and other tricks. Licorice offers a good mix of weight plus aerodynamics, and it can be the most durable for use outdoors, all of which makes it a good choice for beginners.
Speed cable ropes are made of steel wire that’s often coated with PVC and handle usually attached at a 90-degree angle, which allows the cable to rotate faster and reduces torque that could otherwise bend, warp, or even snap it. A speed rope may move so fast that it’s harder to control, which is why it’s not recommended for beginners. The plastic coating will make a speed rope more durable than raw wire alone, but cables are not as durable for outdoor surfaces as licorice ropes are.
We initially considered leather, beaded plastic, and woven ropes, but ultimately discarded all of them. Leather is significantly heavier and slower than a wire-speed rope or even licorice, may not be as durable on outside surfaces, and is too difficult or impossible to shorten. Beaded plastic ropes are the most durable for outdoor use but are slow to swing because of their weight. Woven cord ropes are the lightest, but not durable or fast enough to be worth considering.
We selected ropes that received good editorial and customer reviews and represented offerings at a range of prices. We skipped a few from major sporting goods brands (specifically SKLZ, Nike, and Insanity/Beachbody) because their online customer reviews weren’t stellar, and opted not to look at boutique brand CrossRope because we don’t think most people want to spend $70 to start a jump-roping program. Finally, we used Fakespot to weed out the Amazon best sellers that had dubious reviews.
To test the ropes, I jumped each one for a minute on a hardwood floor, counting my bounds (as a rough gauge for speed) and keeping track of how often I got caught up. I followed that with a one-minute skipping test (one foot over at a time) to see how the ropes fared at a slower speed—when slowed down, many of the speed ropes felt like they caught up and sort of loped coming around the top.
When a rope doesn’t pivot freely, it gets twisted upon itself or tangled on the handles. Most licorice ropes have 180-degree intra-handle rotation; some use bearing assistance for smoother rotation. Most cable speed ropes have 90-degree angle attachments that prevent torque on the rope that may damage or even snap it, and hold the rope closer to the body for faster jumps. They rotate from the handle end and may also have bearings.
Speed ropes, including those we tested, were light and thin to cut the air. Heavier-ish ropes, like licorice ones, are slower and therefore easier to control. (Even heavier ones of leather or beads can make the workout harder.) If a rope whips into your ankles it can sting or even leave a mark; not everyone jumps perfectly! The thinner, plastic-covered metal speed ropes are likely to hurt more than the plastic licorice ones (and the stretchier/spongier ones would smart the least).
Our picks’ handles vary from 5.3 inches (the XYLsports, third from left) to 8 inches (EliteSRS Elite Pro Freestyle, fourth from left). For handles, we considered the surface texture in terms of grip comfort and slipperiness when sweaty, the diameter/shape for grasping, and the length. Thicker, spongy foam grips have a nice palm-filling feel that is particularly appealing for beginners who lack nuance and dexterity in their jumping. Plastic handles that have a brushed texture or one with foam or grip-tape elements may be less slick when wet with sweat. Narrow grips allow for more fine-motor control, which is appealing with speed ropes but may feel a little lost in larger hands. Longer grips will suit the broader-shouldered as well as those who want to do tricks such as crossovers.
Most ropes came with a warning that they were not for outdoor pavement use. That said, I took ’em all outside on the sidewalk anyway, because it’s often the only space people have for their workouts. After jumping with each rope 100 times—which for me is less than one minute of jumping—and taking before and after photos and touch assessments to gauge how badly they abraded, the coated cables showed the worst damage and the licorice the least.
Shortening your rope to suit your height may happen only once, but if you start with a longer, “beginner” length, you may want to shorten again as your skills improve. Most had a claimed length of 10 feet, though some were a few inches shorter (unlikely to be a problem unless you are taller than 6-foot-3). Some ropes—the ones with ends that come through the handles—required a bit of math and adjustment to get the right length. The metal cable ropes required tools to shorten them, including screwdrivers and wire-snips. Ropes that had teeny-tiny screws made the process that much harder. And, finally, some ropes aren’t designed to be shortened at all, which was a dealbreaker.