Thoughts on a rescue knife for Canyoning

So for the first time in 12 years of Canyoning, I had to use my rescue knife for real.

It was when I was guiding in reasonably high flows. The feature is a slippery slidey downclimb at low flow, but at high flow we use a rope to slow people down if (when) they get hit by the water and begin to slide.

The angle and forces aren’t huge and you want the person to go at medium pace so they flush out of the narrow bit, so all it normally takes is to put the rope straight through a biner on the anchor (no italian, no friction device).

Down went the customer, but they stopped right in the wettest bit. Took me a second or two to figure out that the drawstring on my pack had spun itself around the main line and sucked my bag up into the biner. Took another second to draw the Bear Claw and cut it free.

It surprised me how quickly I drew out the knife, all happened in a wink of an eye… Must have been years of practicing drawing my pistol on the firing range when I was in the Air Force.

There’s a few conditions for a rescue knife I think are important;

  • A blunt tip, with one razor sharp serrated edge (take a different knife for lunch and cutting webbing)
  • It has to be available instantly.

Wether or not to use a lanyard divides opinions. Some say they don’t want any chance of loosing their knife if things get ugly. Others say that the chance of having a knife flailing around you in a hydraulic on a lanyard is bad news.

I figure that cuts heal, drowning is usually permanent. The curly lanyard I use is from a cheap kayaking lanyard. But I’ve seen people use curly shoe laces as well. It needs to be long enough to use at full arms reach, but not be a hazard itself (ie a big loop that can catch on things.

There are lots of ways to mount a knife, but it needs to be somewhere that doesn’t interfere with anything in normal use, somewhere quick to access, and secure to not fall out unless you need it to.

I’ve experimented with various positions and my current favourite is on the right hand leg loop, about where the seam of your trousers would be. It lies flat against my leg, so doesn’t get in the way and it is the perfect position for your hand to grab when your hand is by your side (like that pistol ;0).

I drilled an extra hole in the sheath to accommodate yellow security zip tie. The retention system on the Bear Claw is ok, but not super secure. The zip tie has held it in for hundreds of canyons, but didn’t stop me for a moment when I had to use it for real yesterday. Pays to practice ‘drawing’ your rescue knife a few times so you can be sure you can break the zip tie, and to make sure you can draw the knife from various positions without slicing yourself. I think that other mounting positions run the risk of cutting yourself if you draw it in a hurry… (like horizontally under the descender could have you slicing open your quad muscle if you drew the knife with bent knees.)

Also remember that when cord/rope/webbing is under tension, it doesn’t take much force to cut it, and in the heat of the moment, there’s a very real danger of cutting the wrong thing, or cutting more than you intend to…  It was pretty much like using a light saber yesterday, I just touched the cord and instantly it was severed….

Think about your choices, practice, and develop a bit of muscle memory. Chances of ever needing it are slim, but if you do need it, you REALLY need it.


One trip report Log your trip

  1. Matt says:

    Thanks Dan great advice

Submit a trip report

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *