Climbing knots are an essential skill for any climber looking to take to the rock safely. Knots are used for tying into harnesses, rigging anchors, tying into anchors, joining ropes together for rappels, backing up rappels, and rescue situations. There are dozens of climbing knots you may eventually want to learn, but only a handful of essential climbing knots are really needed to venture up almost any single or multi-pitch climb.
Types of Climbing Knots
First, let’s start with a few terms, as not all climbing knots are created equal.
A “Knot” is simply tied in a rope or length of webbing.
A “Bend” is used to join two ropes together. This is most commonly used for longer rappels.
A “Hitch” is a knot that is used to attach a rope to another fixture, like a carabiner or harness belay loop.
A “Friction Hitch” is a type of hitch that attaches one piece of rope or webbing to another, in a way that’s easily adjustable.
Tying Climbing Knots
Next, there are some best practices for tying climbing that you should know:
- Never stop tying climbing knots before finished. This lesson has been ingrained in climbers’ minds since Lynn Hill’s well-known accident from 1989, when she fell over 70 feet after failing to finish her tie-in figure-eight knot. So always tie your climbing knots completely before moving on. Don’t get distracted grabbing snacks, tying shoes, or handing your partner gear.
- Dress your knots properly. Many climbing knots are known to roll or loosen over time. A properly-dressed and tightened knot will minimize this, as well as help you ensure the climbing knot is tied correctly.
- ‘Buddy Check’ any essential climbing knots whenever possible. Obviously at the top of a pitch your partner can’t check your anchor tie-in knots, but be sure to check each other’s harness tie-ins or other essential knots anytime the extra set of eyes is available. It’s easy to overlook a mistake when you’re tired, hungry, cold, and fatigued.
- Practice climbing knots before using them in a real-word situation. This should seem obvious, but you’ll want to be efficient and skilled at tying any knot before you trust your life to it. Be sure you know how to inspect it as well.
What it’s used for: Most commonly used for tying into the harness, constructing belay anchors, joining rappel ropes, and as a tie-in or backup knot at a belay anchor.
The Figure-Eight Knot is probably one of the first climbing knots every climber learns, and is the most commonly used knot for tying into the rope. It’s easy to tie and due to its visual symmetry, easy to inspect. Be especially sure to properly dress this knot, and avoid any overlapping or loose strands. Tighten each strand individually to properly distribute the load within the knot and maximize its secureness.
Pros: Easy to tie, easy to inspect, and extremely secure. The tightening that happens during a fall reduces peak force on the rope, climber, and gear.
Cons: Working a project and hang-dogging on a figure-eight knot all day will cause the knot to tighten, and be very difficult to untie.
Tips: Always leave at least 6 inches of tail. Consider a stopper knot as a backup when tying into the harness. Tighten each strand individually.
How to Tie a Figure-Eight Knot:
What it’s used for: Tying a rope to a carabiner, especially tying in to a belay anchor.
The clove hitch is an extremely simple and strong knot – and probably the author’s personal favorite for its versatility. It’s fast to tie and easily adjusted when not under a load. It’s easy to untie after being weighted (perfect for those hanging belays), and it can be tied one-handed.
Pros: Strong and simple to tie. Easily adjustable. Easy to untie even after applying a load.
Cons: Clove hitches are sometimes able to slip, especially when being put under a repeated load (think shifting around at a belay station). For this reason, a backup is commonly used when relying on the clove hitch – we recommend the Figure-Eight Knot.
Tips: Tie the knot first then adjust after for a perfect fit.
How to Tie A Clove Hitch:
Butterfly Knot (Alpine Butterfly Loop)
What it’s used for: Tying a loop into the middle of the rope, tying in the middle member of a rope team, or isolating a bad section of rope to use the rope for an anchor.
The butterfly knot can sustain a load in either direction and won’t deform, loosen, or untie. The climber is attached to this knot with a locking carabiner through the loop. Also referred to as the Alpine Butterfly Loop, it’s great for securing multiple rope team members on glaciers or low angle terrain.
Pros: Provides a secure loop in the middle of a rope. Easy to tie with gloves on. Easy to untie after applying a load. Allows for the emergency use of a damaged or core-shot rope by isolating the bad section.
Cons: Less versatile and commonly used than the other climbing knots on this list.
Tips: Dress the Butterfly Knot by pulling both strands in opposite directions.
How to Tie A Butterfly Knot:
What it’s used for: Stoppers knots ‘close the system’, preventing the rope from slipping through a belay device. Also used as a backup for tie-in knots.
The stopper knot is tied in the end of a rope to prevent it from passing through a belay device, or another knot. There are actually several types of stopper knots, but the most common is the Ashley Stopper Knot and that’s what we’re referring to here. Other common stopper knots include the Double Overhand, Triple Overhand (Barrel Knot), and Figure Eight.
Pros: Provides a secure stopper at the end of a rope. Well-balanced trefoil-face. The bulkiest stopper knot.
Cons: Easy to get the Ashley Stopper Knot wrong if tightened incorrectly
Tips: Be sure to tighten & dress correctly.
How to Tie A Stopper Knot:
What it’s used for: Belaying without a device, lowering a climber during a rescue situation.
The Munter Hitch is a great option for lowering climbers without a belay device; only a carabiner is needed. It is reversible, meaning it can be pulled from either side of the knot and work as expected. It can also be tied off with a load-releasable knot, making it a preferable method for self-rescue and sometimes direct belays.
Pros: Very easy to tie and simple to inspect. Continuous movement prevents heat build-up as with friction hitches. Excellent to know in case of a dropped or forgotten belay device.
Cons: Can significantly twist the rope into loops. Also risks opening a screw-gate carabiner.
Tips: Be sure to roll the knot in the direction of pull before lowering a climber.
How to Tie A Munter Hitch:
What it’s used for: Fastening a sling or daisy chain to your harness, slinging a tree for a natural anchor, joining two slings together, clipping a sling into a carabiner without opening the gate.
The girth hitch is useful for securing a sling or rope to a fixed object when a rope end is not available. This is the most common method for fastening a sling or daisy chain to the harness. Also useful for slinging natural anchors or joining together slings, the girth hitch does unfortunately weaken the rope or webbing considerably and should be properly tied without bending back over itself to minimize risk of failure.
Pros: Very easy to tie, even one-handed.
Cons: Reduces strength of webbing, up to 50% when set at an incorrect angle. Can fail if clipping into the wrong loop of the knot.
Tips: Be sure not to bend the girth hitch back over itself to minimize loss of strength.
How to Tie A Girth Hitch:
Double Fishermans Knot
What it’s used for: Creating a cordelette or prusik, joining two ends of a rope together, making any permanent loop of rope.
The Double Fisherman’s Knot is simply two fisherman’s knots pulled together. Because it is extremely strong under high loads, it’s an ideal knot for creating cordelettes or joining ropes for a rappel. It can be extremely difficult to untie after repeated heavy loading, so it is often used by climbers only when there is no intention of ever untying the knot. A Flat Overhand (aka Euro Death Knot) is often used in its place when needing to untie later.
Pros: Very reliable, easy to join two ends of a rope together.
Cons: This knot will tighten down and weld itself closed eventually. Cannot be used to tie two pieces of webbing together.
Tips: Use a Triple Fisherman’s Knot when tying Dyneema or Spectra – the material has greater slippage and benefits from the extra wrap.
How to Tie A Double Fishermans Knot:
What it’s used for: Joining two ends of webbing, making slings by tying webbing into loops.
The Water Knot is the best to use when tying knots in webbing. Be sure to tie it neatly and leave tails at least three inches long to be able to inspect for any slippage.
Pros: Easy to tie, useful for tying webbing into loops when an unknown length sling may be needed.
Cons: This knot can slip over time and requires frequent inspection.
Tips: Leave enough tail to inspect for slippage during use.
How to Tie A Water Knot:
Euro Death Knot (Flat Overhand Knot)
What it’s used for: Joining two ropes together for a rappel.
Despite the name, this is one of the more secure climbing knots for joining two ropes, given that it is tied with a long enough tail (12”+). It can be made more secure by tying an extra overhand in one or both strands to prevent the knot from rolling.
Pros: Strong and very easy to tie, snags less frequently than other knots when pulling ropes after rappelling.
Cons: Can tighten after loading, making it difficult to untie.
Tips: Be sure to properly dress this knot and keep strands from overlapping. Leave at least a 12” tail. Tie an extra overhand in one or both strands for added security.
How to Tie A Flat Overhand Knot:
What it’s used for: Backing up a rappel, climbing up ropes, self-rescue applications, escaping the system.
The Prusik may be the best-known friction hitch, creating more friction than the others and working with both cord and webbing. While this is the most classic, it is usually worth learning the “Big Three” friction hitches all together: Prusik, Autoblock, and Kleimheist.
Pros: Easy to tie, versatile and effective for safety backups and rescue situations.
Cons: May jam under load more easily than other friction hitches. Can be difficult to use well, requiring more practice and experience than most basic knots.
Tips: Test any new prusik before use, adjusting the number of wraps based on friction needed. Too much or too little can both cause problems, and different cords behave differently.
How to Tie A Prusik Knot:
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