How to cut a climbing rope

How to cut a climbing rope? A climbing rope wears the most on the first three meters or 15 feet of each end. This area is under the most stress due to constantly tying in and absorbing the impact of falling while lead climbing. This section of the rope is also worn out more quickly because of the abrasion of quickdraws (while dogging a route and falling in lead).

Even after just a year of climbing with a new rope, it can get fuzzy, squishy and feel unusually soft to the touch. A better and cheaper option to getting an entirely new rope, is to just cut off the damaged or worn out end(s) of the rope.

Safety first

The most important thing to keep in mind after you’ve cut the rope is that the middle mark is not necessarily in the right anymore. It is best to use a specially designed rope marker to mark the new middle point of the rope.

Also, it would be great to measure the rope after cutting it, so you know exactly how long or short your rope now is. You don’t want to be in a situation where the rope is not long enough when descending off a cliff.

And please don’t cut or burn yourself in the process. That would suck and make you look like a total noob 😉

Cutting a climbing rope is not a difficult task. I’ve done it in two different ways. Choose either one suits you better.

How to cut a climbing rope with a sharp knife

This method is more popular due to the simplicity of it. You do need to have a sharp knife, though.

First, inspect the rope. Keep an eye on parts of the rope that feel fuzzy or squishy to the hand. In some cases, even the sheath of the rope can be torn and you can see the core of the rope. Like I said, regularly the worn part can be the whole length from about 15 feet from the end. Find a spot about a foot or 30cm from the damaged part or where the rope feels smoother to the touch. This is where you will cut the rope.

how to cut a climbing rope
The sheath of this rope has rubbed against something.

Tape the rope with a few, tight as possible, slightly overlapping layers of the same tape you use to tape your fingers with. Tape an area of about 5 cm or 2 inches. While sitting on a chair, place the rope under your feet, coming over your knees, so that the rope is under tension and the area you are going to cut it, is between your knees.

Cut the rope with a sharp knife in the middle of the taped area. Heat the end of the rope gently with a lighter so that the strands melt together. This will keep the strands of the rope from fraying when you take it back to the crag. Possibly repeat with the other end of your rope.

Done! Easy right? Now mark the new middle point of the rope and take note of how much you have cut off.

How to cut a climbing rope with a hot knife

This method requires a blow torch (the same one you use to burn the sugar on a creme brulee) or a portable stove such as a pocket rocket (link). Basically, anything with a hot flame will do. Even your gas stove at home.

Again, inspect the rope where you want to cut it. This time lay the area of the rope on a sheet of scrap wood. Heat the blade of a cheap knife in the flame of the burner until it is scorching hot. Quickly push the knife through the rope. The hot knife melts itself through the rope so there is no need to burn it with a lighter. Now tape the end tightly with finger tape.

And again, mark the new middle point and so on.

Here’s a short video to sum it up:

When to retire a climbing rope?

What if the whole rope feels fuzzy and squishy and there are strands pointing out here and there? Maybe it is just better to buy a new rope.

A totally new, un-used climbing rope should be retired after 10 years from the manufacturing date. A rope that is used once a month should be retired after about 5 years. If you use it twice a week, retire the rope after about 3 years. If climbing more frequently than twice a week, buy a new rope after a year of climbing (falling) with it.

Many manufacturers, like Petzl, state that a new, un-used rope should be retired after 10 years. Check out the serial number from the end of your rope and refer to the manufacturers website for the exact manufacturing date.

damaged climbing rope
This rope is not safe to climb with

Also, retire a rope immediately if you suspect it is damaged or if it is unusually worn. No one can tell you the exact time a climbing rope can be used safely. You have to be the judge of that. A new rope is not that big of an investment in safety.

Which method of cutting a rope do you like better? Leave a comment, I’d appreciate it.

Related articles:

How to choose a climbing rope

How to choose a bouldering crash pad

How to choose a climbing shoe

Climbing shoe review: Five Ten Aleon


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