When you buy something through one of the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Cutting a climbing rope is a useful skill for rope maintenance. When your rope becomes frayed or damaged, cutting a few meters off the end can extend its lifespan. Here’s what you need to know to cut climbing rope easily and safely.
What You Need
1. Inspect Your Rope
Regular inspection should be a part of your gear routine. Check your rope periodically for flat spots, squishy sections, and flaws in the sheath. Rope near the ends, which suffers the most falls and takes, is generally the quickest to wear.
If your rope is in good shape, you’re done. There’s no need to cut your rope if it’s undamaged.
2. Identify the Cutting Point
If your rope is damaged or worn, choose a cutting point about a foot from the damage.
3. Wrap with Tape
Wrap the cutting point tightly with tape. Finger tape and climbing tape work well, but you can also use electrical tape or athletic tape. Overlap each wrap slightly so that the rope is fully covered.
4. Cut Carefully
Pull the rope taut. If you’re cutting off more than a few feet, you can run the rope over your lap and hold each side down with a foot. If you’re cutting near an end, you’ll need to get more creative.
With a sharp knife or good climbing knife, cut through the rope. Focus on sawing back and forth more than pressing down.
5. Seal with Heat
With the tape still in place, hold a flame to the new end of your rope. The tape holds the sheath in place, and the heat seals the core strands so they won’t fray.
A lighter is the best tool for this job, but a gas stove works well as an alternative.
6. Allow to Cool
Let the tip cool down. Some climbers prefer to shape the tip while it’s hot to avoid a flare, but it’s an uncomfortable process. If you taped well, your cut should turn out fine.
7. Remove Tape (Optional)
When the rope is cool, remove the tape and inspect the cut. You can re-apply flame if necessary. You’re done! Discard or repurpose the damaged rope, and climb on.
Feel free to leave the tape in place if you prefer, although it may degrade over time. If you have multiple ropes, you can write the revised length of your rope on the tape to make sure you don’t forget.
4 Tips for Climbing Rope Care
- Take Notes. Keep a record of how much length you cut off of your rope. Reducing your rope length may change the routes that you can safely attempt, and it’s important to know exactly how much rope you have to work with.
- Mind the Middle. Trimming the rope will change the midpoint, which may no longer align with the middle marker (or the pattern shift, if it’s a bi-pattern). Plan accordingly and mark the new midpoint if necessary.
- Buy a Quality Rope. Ropes with durable cores and sheaths are less likely to suffer damage from abrasion or heavy use. For an all-around rope, we like the Mammut 9.5 Crag Classic. Check out our list of the best climbing ropes for more.
- Store Your Rope Safely. Store your rope away from heat and out of direct sunlight.
You Don’t Have to DIY
When it comes to cutting a rope, you aren’t limited to your garage. Most climbing gyms and hardware stores have hot knives and will cut a rope for free. Once you identify the point where you’d like to cut your rope, a clean cut is as simple as asking a favor.
Using a Hot Knife
If you’ll be cutting rope frequently, you can buy your own hot knife. A hot knife seals the cut as it goes, which makes the process quick and easy. Even affordable models should have no trouble cutting a climbing rope.
You can also create your own hot knife at home. It doesn’t need to be sharp — if it’s hot enough, even a butter knife will cut right through. In practice, I find this method more of a hassle than the one described above, and the results are similar. Needless to say, a hot knife is a serious burn hazard, so proceed with care.
Notes on Rope Length
If you plan to use your rope heavily, it’s wise to buy some extra length. A 70m rope can have a useful second life as a 60m when the ends need to be trimmed.
If you’re buying a rope for the gym, see if you can find a friend who also wants one. Buy a 70m rope and cut it in half — you’ll both save some money, and a 35m rope is plenty for most gym walls.