Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


Gear Guy

How to Cut the Cord

Lock Icon

Unlock this article and more benefits with 25% off.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

25% Off Outside+.
$4.99/month $3.75/month*

Get the one subscription to fuel all your adventures.

  • Map your next adventure with our premium GPS apps: Gaia GPS Premium and Trailforks Pro.
  • Read unlimited digital content from 15+ brands, including Outside Magazine, Triathlete, Ski, Trail Runner, and VeloNews.
  • Watch 600+ hours of endurance challenges, cycling and skiing action, and travel documentaries.
  • Learn from the pros with expert-led online courses.
Join Outside+

*Outside memberships are billed annually. Print subscriptions available to U.S. residents only. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

How do I cut a rope on a climb if I don’t have a knife?

——Jer Mattheson, via

Falling with your rope running across a sharp edge is a proven method, but I suspect you are looking for a technique less final. I’m no Simon Yates, but I have learned to cut a rope, and without a knife, no less, usually in miserable stuck-rap-rope situations where you are forced to cut what rope you can salvage, and at miserable emergency retreats where you have to chop up your rope for anchor cord.

Know this: a rope under tension cuts as easily as flatulence on frijole night. To drum this point into me, a rope manufacturer once stretched a rope taut in a special rope-tensioning machine, then touched it with a dull plastic knife. The rope literally exploded into two bits. Eye-opening and sphincter-tightening. You, too, can use the wonders of rope mechanics to easily chop your cord without a knife. Here’s how.

I call my first method the Hack Job. This requires a hammer, which you likely have if you are on a wall or putting up a route. First, pull the section of rope to be cut as tight as possible, and lay the rope against the rock. Hammer the spot you want to cut. It’ll take 10 to 20 chafing blows to cut/beat the rope apart, but this really does the trick. No hammer? A fist-sized rock will suffice.

Alternately—I call this the Alternate Method—if you have a rack of pins, select a knife blade, pull the rope taut, place the blade against the rope and hammer on it. Quick and clean as a Bangkok rub-a-dub.

Last—the Last Method—if you don’t have a hammer or a rock, pull the rope taut and saw it across a rock edge. Messy and slow, but less so than a rescue.

This Gear Guy question appeared in Rock and Ice issue 185 (April 2010).

Got a question? Email:

Feature Image: Cedar Wright, on the first ascent (onsight) of No Bad Weather (5.11+ R/X), El Mochito, Patagonia. Photo: Tim Kemple.

Also Read

Gear Guy: Theory of Slings

Gear Guy: Optimal Temperature for Sticky Rubber?

Gear Guy: Overcoming the Fear of Falling