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I carry a cheap folding knife with me while climbing, particularly if I know there is a chance of stuck ropes, grubby anchors, or we are in the backcountry. The knife is held shut with a loop of cord, but I've been hoping to find a safer, cleaner solution.

I know Trango makes a couple knives (one attached to a nut tool), and so does Petzl. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Does anyone have personal experience with a particular model? Ideally the knife should be wearable on my harness.

Edit: I'm really looking for a broader answer that references advantages and disadvantages, though the information about the specific knives so far is awesome.

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    What are you looking to cut while climbing? Is this for opening dried food packs while on a porta-ledge, or for cutting rope? I'm not sure I understand. Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 4:23
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    If I wanted to bring a knife it would be an Opinel 7 because it only weighs 36g and is simply a great and simple knife. It locks closed and the inox version has a hole for a small lanyard loop (for the carbon version you can drill one).
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 8:12
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    As mentioned by @erfink, there are only very few accidents where a knife would be useful or required. One famous example is Toni Kurz when he climbed the Eiger north face in 1936. See de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diskussion:Toni_Kurz#/media/… Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 13:03
  • Whenever someone has to cut a rope without a knife, see this video how easy it is: youtube.com/… (starting at 10:50) Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 13:09

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The existing answers to this question are focused on very specific knives that are favored. I will try to give more of a general approach and philosophy.

As with all outdoor equipment and techniques, we first need to identify what problems we are trying to solve and what some of the design tradeoffs & constraints might be.

  • As identified in the question, the main uses for a knife when climbing are cleaning/building rappel anchors and cutting stuck ropes.
  • Contrary to what Hollywood portrays, needing quick access to cut your partners rope is basically a non-existent worry. There are only a handful of instances and freak accidents in mountaineering history where cutting someone free was necessary. Compare this to a sport like whitewater kayaking or sailing wherein becoming entangled in a rope is a life-threatening emergency that can only be remedied with rapid access to a knife.
  • Other possible problems & use cases for a knife when climbing:
    • General outdoors uses (10 essentials), cutting salami/cheese at lunch, ...
    • Getting a long beard / long hair / loose clothing / loose climbing equipment caught in a belay device while on rappel. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure and there are other safer self-rescue options. If you employ a knife in such a situation, be very cognizant of the fact that you're using a knife next to a life-supporting rope.
  • Climbing ropes and other textiles are generally relatively simple to cut, especially if you can (safely) put some tension on them. Even just rubbing a tensioned rope back and forth over a rock edge will get you through a rope in a few minutes of effort, as will sawing a tensioned line with a sacrificial cord. Knowledge, improvisation, and practice are cheap, lightweight, and easy to carry.
  • Once again, climbing equipment is sensitive to being cut (along with you, a spongy meatbag). Having an errant knife cut you or your equipment is likely a larger hazard than not having a knife.

All of the above lead me to the following preferences:

  • Light is right! Especially when a knife will have, at best, sporadic and non-emergency uses. And the largest thing I might need to cut is a 10mm (3/8") rope. Or my lunchtime salami.
  • Any knife should be secured safe: a folding knife that locks closed, a folding knife taped shut, a very secure sheath, etc. Bonus considerations for not being in a pants pocket or dangling on a harness, wherein it would create an emergency were it to come unsecured.
  • If I have a knife, I want a functional, reliable knife: quality steel, at least partially serrated, sturdy, good ergonomics.

Given these parameters, here are my preferred options. You might weigh the above criteria differently and come to a different conclusion that is better for you---good!

  • In well-established areas or when single-pitch climbing, no knife at all. Worst case, I can deal with cutting a rope or anchor material with a rock. Alternatively, I have a knife in the top lid of my pack at the base of the climb.
  • On adventurous multi-pitch climbs or mountaineering, I keep a small folding knife, securely held closed with multiple wraps of climbing tape, inside a zippered pocket of my chalk bag or in the top lid of the pack. In my case, it usually happens to be a Spyderco Ladybug---the smallest, lightest knife with very good steel and surprisingly good ergonomics that I am aware of for a non-exorbitant price.
  • I greatly dislike the climbing specific "knife + thing" multitools, e.g., Trango's knife + nut tool or Grivel's ice v-thread tool + knife (more like loosely secured razor blade). I think they create a new hazard, are horrid to use as a knife, and are overpriced. Similarly, I am wary of any knife sold by a climbing company---their expertise is in designing and manufacturing climbing equipment, not knives. Especially when their "climbing specific knife" is a non-locking (open or closed) folding knife with a carabiner hole, that can come open and stab you while it's clipped to your harness.
  • If you insist on having the knife clipped to your harness, many knives have a lanyard hole---a small loop of cord gives a tidy clip in spot. Just make sure to tape it shut!

As you can see, my personal calculus is that knives aren't all that mandatory in a climbing context (and I say that as someone that almost always has a knife in my pocket in my daily life). The problems that they can solve generally aren't emergencies requiring split-second access and an unsecured knife can introduce a whole host of worse problems. Perhaps your personal calculus is different---perhaps you are worried about the handful of strangulations caused by loose slings / shoulder racks getting snagged during a fall; perhaps you enjoy letting your long hair billow in the wind while on rappel. If so, you might put a high-emphasis on quick, one-handed access. Just be sure to account for what the other dangers are lurking and make examined decisions.

Edit: More options

  • A harness-clipped knife could also be held shut with a heavy-duty rubber band (periodically inspect & replace). A section of a bicycle inner tube also works great.
  • One ultralight option: remove a single-edge razor blade from its packaging, fold a piece of climbing tape over the blade, and then tape it securely to the inside of your helmet (give some thought to the positioning). Weighs virtually nothing, stays out of the way, impossible to forget, but is a bit annoying to use as a knife, you have to take your helmet off to get to it, arts & crafts project to stow after using, marginal risk of cutting your scalp if your helmet takes a hard impact (works better with hardshell "brain bucket" helmets).
  • Bring along a dedicated short (~18") piece of skinny cord (~2mm) with a simple loop knot in each end. When needed, clip a biner to each loop and saw back and forth over a tensioned rope to cut it. Works great for normal climbing textiles, weighs virtually nothing, easily stored, zero chance of accidentally cutting yourself or your gear. Can falter against some textiles (kevlar/aramid), less precise and slightly slower than a proper knife, almost useless for other knife-type tasks. Can be improvised with, e.g., a shoelace or backpack drawstring.
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    +1 This should be the accepted answer, as it is the only one actually debating what a knife would be used for and is not just advertising tacticool gadgets found online.
    – fgysin
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 8:30
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    @fgysin Only OP can change the accepted answer and as OP has not been in since 2012 that is very unlikely.
    – Willeke
    Commented Feb 10, 2023 at 9:24
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Personally, I like the hilted CRKT Special Forces M16-13SFG - it has Veff serrations that cut better than normal serrations & has an extremely tight clip that is made to attach to all kinds of things, from webbing to pockets to even climbing harnesses.

From the description:

All knives in this series are equipped with clip options that allow four-position carry on belts or webbing.

The clip may look short, but it is extremely stiff.

enter image description here

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The Camillus Rescue Heat is nice, if you can find one.

The link above is to a video review on YouTube. It covers things pretty well, but my own summary:

  • Non-stabbing thick blunt tip is useful for prying and more safe
  • The fully serrated blade works much better than the serrated part of a combo edge
  • A recurve helps you cut rope at arms length (though not as well as a full hawkbill)
  • Square, hand-filling grip stays in the hand, without being rough to snag fabric
  • Fast and easy one handed opening (though "assisted opening" is overrated)

Surely there are other knives that fit the task, but I got each of mine for $20 on clearance. Fit and finish could be better, but it's sturdy enough.

enter image description here

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Have you thought about using a dedicated rope/clothing/harness cutter like one of the Benchmade rescue hooks? I carry around the 8 model which is pretty good with insulating gloves but for rock there's the model 5 which is a ring handle and has a hard sheath/necklace method for wear.

enter image description here

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  • I added links and images, but can you also go into more detail about the superiority of a hook over a knife? Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 22:16
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    Can you describe to me a climbing situation in which you need to cut rope? This is not something I have run into. Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 4:22
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    The only common scenario is when you are setting up your own rappel anchors. Generally a team on a long route will carry a few metres of 6 or 7mm cord for this, and you don't want to use all of it at once.
    – AlanL
    Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 8:34

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