As a guide, I’m often asked what I carry on my harness. In addition to standard climbing hardware, plus prussic cords, a Tibloc, and a Micro-Traxion for glacier travel, I carry a knife. Once my clients see the knife, they often reference Joe Simpson’s classic mountaineering epic, Touching the Void. Unlike the moment of decision in the book when Simon cuts the rope to free himself while letting Simpson fall into a crevasse, I carry a knife for other reasons: these include to cut tat, add cordage to existing anchors, and cut the free ends from a stuck rope.
The Trango Piranha folding knife, only 2.3 inches long while closed, is made of 440-C stainless steel and is the smallest made-for-climbing knife on the market. It has a built-in locking mechanism to keep it open and it also has a clip-in loop at the top for a standard non-locking carabiner. When folded, the blade is exposed but lays flush against the handle – creating a snag-free system.
I have used the knife to remove old webbing from many routes around the country including Recompense (5.9) in New Hampshire and a descent gully near Solar Slab in Red Rocks, NV. Just recently, I rappelled with two clients down Hallett Chimney (AI5, M5) in Rocky Mountain National Park, and replaced three anchors with my own cordallettes, cutting them in appropriate lengths with my Piranha Knife. With just a few slices, I was able to cut through 5mm tech and 7mm nylon cords easily. Cutting through 1-inch tubular webbing took a few more cuts because the blade is only one-inch long.
The CRKT Niad, another lightweight and low profile harness knife, is slightly longer (2.5″ closed) and twice the price at $39.99, but slightly lighter (0.6oz/17g) than the Piranha (2.3″ closed, 0.7oz/20g). Other knives on the market in this lightweight/low-profile category are not made specifically for climbing. These “key chain” knives, the ones you can get out of the big plastic jar on the counter at a gas station such as the Maxam Falcon IV and the ones by Barotech Pro, weigh as little as 0.3oz/8g, are 2.5″ closed, and cost only $4-6, but they don’t have carabiner-specific clip-in points, and the handles are plastic. In the past I used these but stopped after I noticed the knife began falling open randomly. Another drawback to the cheap-o knives is that they’re usually not sharp enough to saw through cord.
The Petzl Spatha (43g/1.5oz, 3.75″ closed) and the Trango Barracuda (48g/1.7oz, 3.75″ closed), other common knives seen on climbers’ harnesses, are in a different category. With longer handles and blades, they handle better, but are heavier and bulkier. Because of the length of these knives, they are better able to slice through a stick of salami or vegetables. I tend to carry a multi-tool for overnights anyway, so I don’t need a big, bulky knife because my multi-tool serves this purpose. The Piranha does what it’s supposed to do when I need it to, which is to cut things free. And it has a built-in bottle opener.
Mike Lewis, M.A. is an AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide living in Estes Park, CO. Mike has been guiding and instructing for 23 years throughout the U.S. and internationally. Learn more about Mike at LunchboxJackson.com.
Pros: Lightweight; low profile; sharp
Cons: Falls off carabiner; too small for general use