If you’ve been climbing for any amount of time, you’ve likely noticed that it takes a toll on your climbing rope. Your climbing rope will show the most stress at the ends. It gets taxed by the friction from your carabiners, likely where you’ll spot the first signs of damage.
Particularly if you’re lead climbing, when your climbing rope is always attached to the next carabiner, you’ll find damage happens mot quickly here. That’s why it’s a smart idea to shorten the rope at the ends first before throwing it away outright. The middle of your climbing rope should still be in fairly good condition.
Meanwhile, that first 15 feet of your climbing rope on either end is getting all that wear and tear. Each time you climb, you should always inspect all your gear. Ropes in particular! With wear and tear, they tend to get frayed, fuzzy, and fat. When you cut your climbing rope, you can prevent disaster and still use the rope. For now.
But there are things to know about cutting a rope. Before you lob it off, you should remember that your climbing rope will now be shorter. It helps to take measurements of how much you’re cutting off so you’ll be better prepared for routes. You certainly don’t want to get out there and realize that rope is no longer going to cut it. You’d better re-mark the new middle point for your rope too so you can clearly see it while out on your route.
So, how do you cut a climbing rope? Do you use a saw? Knife? Scissors? What is the best way to ensure that the sheath stays intact and you don’t cause it to fray?
We’ll get into that more below but for starters, taping the area where you want to cut is ideal. Then, you can melt the cut end with a lighter so that those individual rope strands stay connected. Pre-heating a knife before cutting it can also help seal the deal.
If your climbing rope could do with a refresh, read on to find out how to cut a climbing rope!
How to cut your climbing rope the right way
It might be tempting to just hack the damaged part of the rope and away and move on with your life. And while it is a fairly simple process, there is a little more to it than cutting it. You want to cut your climbing rope in the right way so it’s still useful to you. You’re going to need to buy a new climbing rope sooner rather than later, but if the rest of the length is in good condition, there’s no sense wasting it.
Keep reading and you’ll learn just how to cut your climbing rope so it’s good as new!
Mark and tape your climbing rope
For starters, when you’re examining your climbing rope, you need to pinpoint the damaged spot. Of course, this only works if the damage is on one or even both ends. If you climbing rope looks shredded from end to end, don’t even attempt to resuscitate it. Get a new one!
But if it only has a little damage on the ends, you’ll want to make the damaged portion. From that damaged point, you’ll mark the spot where you’ll cut the climbing rope It should be a minimum of 30cm away. Once you’ve made your mark, tape the rope using a width of 2 fingers around the marking on the left and right. Make sure that tape is as tight as possible.
For this climbing tape or finger tape is recommended but you can use any normal insulating tape in a pinch. The tape’s purpose is to keep the coat and the inside of the rope from fraying and pulling apart.
Have you had a heavy fall with your climbing rope recently? If so, you should always inspect it promptly. However, even if there’s no damage, that rope has been overstressed from saving you. For your safety, experts recommend that after a heavy fall as such, you take about 3 to 5 meters off each end of the climbing rope.
Don’t forget to tighten the climbing rope
Have you ever cut any kind of rope before? It’s not as easy as say cutting a thread or ribbon. It has lots of fibers intertwined in there that make up the inner workings of it. Therefore, you should make sure you pull the climbing rope as tightly as you can. This makes it so much easier to cut.
How can you do that on your own? Well, it’s really best if you recruit a friend or family member to do the pulling. If there’s no one that can help, you can tie one end to something to secure it, or you can even stand on it and pull with one hand while you cut with the other. We recommend you have a helper for this though. It ensures you get the tightest pull so you can concentrate on keeping your cut accurate.
Now to cutting the climbing rope
After taping and finding a way to get it pulled tight, you can proceed with cutting the climbing rope. You should use a sharp knife. Seriously, it needs to be as sharp as possible on this earth. It would be wise to use your knife sharpener to make sure the blade is precise.
In addition to this, you should heat up the knife prior to cutting. This allows you to have an easier slice through that rope. Plus, all those little threads and strands will immediately fuse together from the heat. Ideally, your knife isn’t some antique that you treasure, for heating it over a stove or with a hot air gun can sully its good looks.
If you’re reading, keep reading for handy tips to help you cut your climbing rope without fail!
Pay attention to cutting direction and angle
The best angle is between 45-55°. When you cut from the thicker part to the thin end of the tip, it creates the angle you desire and a sharp edge without any splitting.
It’s all about having the right technique
You should never press the rope against resistance when applying heavy pressure. Your cut should be a mixture of pressure and a sideways cutting motion. When you do it right, the cut edge should be smooth and sealed.
The right cutting speed
Speed is everything too. If you go too slowly, it can overflow while going too fast causes split tips. Balance is the key to your success with cutting ropes. Practice on an old segment of rope you don’t need to get a feel for what you’ll be doing to your climbing rope.
Melt the ends of the climbing rope
While it’s best to use a heated knife, it’s no felony if you don’t. Regardless of using a hot or cold one though, you have to melt each end. A regular lighter is useful for this. When you melt the ends together, all the individual threads inside get connected together as well as to the sheath around it to keep it from fraying.
If you really want to seal the deal, squeeze the hot end you just melted together to ensure it’s all connected. For doing this, you need to have wet fingers to keep them from being scalded. After that, you’re all set!
What to keep in mind when done cutting your climbing rope
While it’s a very simple process to cut a climbing rope, you have to remember now about the rope’s length. We mentioned this earlier, but it’s most certainly worth noting now. You need to know how much you cut off to determine the new length of the rope. And don’t forget to mark that middle mark in its new middle. You really don’t want to be trying to analyze how many ways you’ve got when you’re on the edge above the ground.
You should make sure to really check your rope. This is something you should do before and after every climb to see if you notice any wear or damage to your gear. You want to look for fat or frayed areas. If you can see the core through the sheath or you feel anything that’s a bit squishy, it’s a cue that you need to do something about it.
For the best outcome, you’ll want to take a tape measure and go about one foot from the damaged portion. Position it so the mark is centered directly in front of you. Then pull the rope tight, hopefully with a helpful friend but if not, use your left foot firmly on the ground while running it up and along your left leg, over your lap so you have it secured just above your knees. The other side of it should go back down your right leg and be firmly stomped into place under your right foot. If you’re going to attempt this on your own, this position is best for a hands-free way to get the rope pulled tautly and ready for cutting.
When all is in place, wrap the tape around the part you’re about to cut which should be one foot from the damaged area and extending into the good portion of your rope. The tape should be wrapped around several times. Ideally, four times around is perfect, though you don’t want the wrapping on top of each layer. Instead, you want to only slightly overlap it, pulling it as tight as you possibly can.
So, while all this is nice and tight, take your sharp knife (please make sure you’ve sharpened it prior to all this) and cut through the middle part of your tape. Once you’ve made it all the way through, take your trusty lighter and melt those strands in the taped-up end all the way from the core to the sheath and you’re in business!
Helpful tips when it comes to cutting your climbing rope
If you’re new to climbing, you should know that at some point, cutting your climbing rope becomes a necessity. With that in mind, when you’re buying gear, you should always buy a longer climbing rope than you think you need. By doing so, you will have a longer rope from the onset. Even when you have to cut away the damage, it will still be long and you’ll thus lengthen its life, pardon the pun.
This is particularly important when you do lead climbing. That rope is always stressed at the ends.
Most climbing ropes come with a mark in the middle to help you estimate your height when you’re climbing, so please don’t forget that when you’re cutting the rope to a new size. You’ll always need to put a new mark in and know the new length of your cut climbing rope.
One great tip for this is to write the length of the rope on the tape. This way, you’ll always know if you’ve got enough length for your favorite routes.
When to retire your climbing rope
It’s not so easy to determine how long a climbing rope will last because there are many variables that affect how long you can use it. For starters, the original length and how you use it are big players. Shock loading is also important. Old ropes might be capable of holding short sport falls depending on their condition, and just because you buy a new rope doesn’t mean a sharp edge can’t slice it in half the first time you use it.
Every time you coil and uncoil your rope, inspect it for bumps, flat area, mushy spots, or any other unusual signs. If you have any doubts about it holding up on your climb, get a new one. It’s always best to be overly cautious than have an accident.
Assuming your rope hasn’t been used to catch any big falls or been subjected to sharp edges, here’s what you can count on for the life span of it:
- Never had a big fall or sharp edge? 10 years is the max limit of life.
- Rarely? We define that as about twice a year. In that case, you’ll likely be able to use it for up to 7 years.
- Occasionally, meaning once per month, you’ve got roughly 5 years.
- Regularly when you’re climbing 5 to 7 times a month, that rope may last up to 3 years.
- Frequently, if you’re the lucky sport who can climb 3 to 4 times a week and subject your rope to all kinds of exertion, we give it a max of 3 years.
- Constantly, if you’re luckiest of all and get to climb on a daily basis, that rope could last up to a year.
How to increase the life span of your climbing rope
The best thing you can do to keep your rope in tip-top top-rope and lead climbing shape is to take notice of how you climb. One thing that most climbers don’t do is give the rope a break after falling. Say you slip and fall as you’re climbing, you shouldn’t stay in the rope. Instead, you want to hold the wall so the rope hands next to you without you pulling on it.
When you’re lead climbing, all you need to do is hook your harness directly onto one of your anchors. Then you can take a breather and let the rope take a moment to recover.
Don’t forget that carabiners and quickdraws won’t last a lifetime either. Regularly inspect those for sharp edges. If they’re getting sharp spots on them, they can cause damage to your climbing rope. It’s always a good idea to inspect these often to prevent such incidences from happening. When you fall, the high force and the sharp edge combined can strain the rope and lead to a break.
Despite everything, climbing is a relatively safe sport. When it comes to climbing accidents involving a snapped rope, it’s because the equipment wasn’t properly maintained. It’s there for your safety, so be safe and check it every time!
Even if all your gear is in proper working order, you should watch out for rocks. In pre-established climbing routes, this has already been thought out, but if you are the one setting your own anchors, watch out for your climbing rope to be sure it’s not being guided across the edges of sharp rocks.
When to dispose of your climbing rope
Can’t remember how old your rope is or how much it’s been subjected to? Sometimes, it doesn’t even need to be old or have been used very often to be a danger. If any of the following has happened to your rope, ditch it immediately and get a new one:
- It came into contact with chemicals, particularly acids
- The sheath is extremely frayed and worn
- You can see the core
- The sheath is slipping over the rope’s core
- The entire rope is so dirty, it won’t come clean when you wash it
- It’s damaged by too much heat or sun
- It feels stiff or has hard spots
- It has helped you through several hard falls
Especially on that last point, climbing ropes are a bit like springs in that the more they get stretched, the less elasticity they have. So if you’ve taken your share of spills, don’t leave anything to chance. Just buy a new climbing rope to be safe!
If your climbing rope hasn’t endured many falls and is only a bit worn on the ends, you can safely cut it down to size to remove the damaged portions. Ideally, your rope will be long enough for this. The steps above will help you to do it successfully. However, if you see enough damage on the rope that cutting it can’t remedy, it’s time to toss it and get a new one. Safety should always be your top priority when climbing because if your rope fails, you may not get a second chance! Be safe!