Cutting a Rope

Extend the life of your cord by chopping off frayed or worn ends

The first 15 feet on either end of your rope gets by far the most use, wear, and friction. You’re constantly tying into that section, and, more important, the rope absorbs the impact of most falls there, so that part gets a lot of abrasion from carabiners. These parts will get fat, frayed, fuzzy, and after time will generally look different from the rest of the cord. Even after one season with a rope, you can end up with bad ends and a near-new-looking middle portion. Instead of retiring the whole thing, cut off about five meters (about 16 feet) on one end (or both) so you can keep climbing on it.

Although the correct process to cut a rope is very simple, there are two things to keep in mind when you’re done. First, you now have a shorter rope, so if your cord barely touched the ground on certain routes, it definitely won’t now. Make a note of how much you cut off so you know exactly how long your rope is in its current state. Second, the middle mark (or pattern change on a bi-pattern rope) may not be correct any more, especially if you only cut off only one side. Re-mark the new middle point of your rope, so you won’t be racking your brain 600 feet off the deck to remember where the new middle is.

How-to-Cut-a-Climbing-RopeFirst, sit down and inspect the rope. Look for fat or frayed sections, anywhere you can see the core through the sheath, and any spot that feels malleable and squishy to the touch. Measure about a foot from the damaged section, and position that mark so it’s centered in front of you. Pull the rope so it is held tightly under your left foot on the ground (A), running up your left leg, over your lap just above your knees (B), and back down your right leg, secured beneath your right foot (C). This will serve to stretch the rope and keep your hands free, making it easier to cut.

Wrap climber’s tape around the part you’re going to cut (a foot from the damage, reaching into the good section of the rope) about three to four times, slightly overlapping the tape— don’t just wrap in the same place. Wrap the tape as tight as possible.

While keeping the rope tight under your feet and over your knees, use a sharp knife (not scissors, as they will cause the rope to fray) to cut through the middle of the tape, which keeps the strands from unraveling. After you’ve cut all the way through, use a lighter to melt the rope strands inside the taped end—both the sheath and the core. This keeps the rope from fraying in the future.

When to Retire

The recommended lifespan of a rope is difficult to define; it depends on many factors, including length and type of use, as well as shock loading. Some old ropes can hold short sport falls, while a new rope could easily sever over a sharp edge on the first use. Inspect your rope every time it’s coiled or uncoiled, keeping an eye out for bumps, flat or soft spots, and other abnormalities; examine them carefully and retire the rope if there is doubt. Remember, it’s your rope, and it doesn’t have a backup, so err on the side of caution. Below is a general guideline to follow if your rope hasn’t caught any big falls or run over sharp edges

Usage: Retire

  • Never: 10 years max
  • Rarely (twice/year): 7 years
  • Occasionally (once/month): 5 years
  • Regularly (5-7x/month): 3 years
  • Frequently (3-4x/week): 1 year
  • Constantly (almost daily): 1 year


Previous Comments

Cutting is simple. Tape cut point with climbing tape. Pull tight. Cut in the middle of tape with a sharp knife. Get a jet cigarette lighter and heat the end. It will become shiny. Pull off tape. Heat mantle (sheath) at the ends until it catches fire. Wet fingers and roll it in to the rope. Done.

Gazz - 08/05/2014 4:15:47

Another heat cutting/melting tool is an inexpensive wood burning craft knife. Less than $10, it continually generates high heat so works better than knife+stove. I've also started whipping rope & cord ends with waxed whipping twine (marine store) -- the whipping is tight so holds the core an sheath together solidly. The fine #2 diameter is working well, 100m for $8. Examples of whipping on

Ann - 02/02/2014 11:46:24

Like Leej, I use a hot knife. Heat it up on the gas stove until red hot. Cut the rope on an old board. Knife just slides through the rope. Use the knife to melt any loose threads. Works great.

V2 - 05/04/2013 7:46:41

Old school based on 1960's experience on one of the very early MRA certified teams - Alpine Rescue Team - cut and whip the ends the inner core strands of paracord. Whip with half hitches instead of a plain wrap. Melt the end first.

Bill Wedgwood - 05/03/2013 8:17:22

If you run a circuit using a </=60 watt INCANDESCENT light bulb (not CFL) as a resistor, you can then clamp fine steel such as those used in wire brushes (or better yet, nichrome wire) as a cutting element. You need to secure the wiring in place with screw terminals, as it requires tension that alligator clips can't provide. Cuts well through everything but dyneema and aramid, which take a bit more time and pressure, or more heat. It's tidy and the rope ends are much more solid. Tape is still required. A hot knife from the stove top works well enough. Try a putty knife and a firm surface, and slowly cut like a chisel, or ease a regular kitchen steak knife through the rope or cord like, well like a hot knife through butter I guess. Enjoy, don't hurt yourself. Electricity is dangerous.

Leej - 03/09/2013 10:32:05

I've read a lot of warnings about marking a rope. Perhaps it would be a good idea to specify which method is recommended.

Damien - 02/21/2013 11:31:43

So most of this article talks about why and when to cut a rope, with only a brief discussion about the actual cutting technique. Not that doing a snip is hard, but it can be done sloppy. I've had ropes where the core starts to retract into the sheath from the taped end after a cut. Could it have to do with the stretch applied while cutting, or perhaps not flaking the rope after some big falls and allowing all the stretch to wiggle out. Thoughts about really doing a good job cutting rope?

Ryan - 02/20/2013 1:14:59