There is little in climbing as important as rock climbing knots. They are, after all, what keeps you tied to the rope, which ensures you stay alive if you fall, and gives you the confidence to venture off into the vertical.
But there are so many different types of knots – how are you supposed to know which ones are the most useful, and in what type of situation? Which knot is best for sport climbing, traditional climbing, building a belay of traditional gear, or simply for tethering yourself into a safety point? Here at The Adventure Junkies, we try to take the complicated, and make it easy for you to understand. This article will look at essential rock climbing knots, their strengths and weaknesses, and when to use which knot.
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ROCK CLIMBING KNOTS
The tying-in knot is the most important knot you will use, as it is the knot that threads the leg and waist loops of your harness and connects you to the climbing rope.
It is the climber’s responsibility to tie the knots correctly, ensure they are well-dressed, with no strands crossing each other, and that each knot, where appropriate, is backed up, or has a sufficient tail. Always test the knot by pulling on the rope in the appropriate direction and seeing if it locks off, and always double-check your knots, and those of your partner.
The figure-8 is the go-to knot for many climbers. It is safe, strong, and easy to tell if it has been tied correctly. It is important to back up the knot with at least six inches of tail, or an overhand stopper knot.
The only drawback is that it can become stubbornly tight if you take a bunch of falls on it, making it very difficult to untie.
VIDEO: HOW TO TIE A FIGURE-8 KNOT
This knot’s strength is also its weakness: it is easily loosened. For this reason, many climbers use a double bowline instead of a figure-8, especially when sport climbing, when you might be taking many large falls while projecting a route. It is almost always easy to untie afterwards, and is only slightly weaker than the figure-8 knot.
VIDEO: HOW TO TIE A DOUBLE BOWLINE
TYING TWO ROPES TOGETHER
Climbers commonly tie ropes together to rappel twice the distance they can with a single rope. Indeed, many multi-pitch climbs are equipped only for double rope-rappels.
This is the strongest knot you can use to tie two ropes or pieces of cord together. It also is very difficult to untie after it has been weighted, which makes it a popular choice for tying two ends of cord together to make a prusik, which is a useful loop of cord featured lower in this article.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/revetina01
The European Death Knot, or flat overhand, has a demonized name that is undeserved. It is quicker to tie and untie than a double fishermans, is less likely to get snagged in a crack while pulling it, and is very safe if dressed correctly, with at least a foot of tail on each rope. It can also be effective to tie together ropes of different diameter.
It has been known to roll under heavy loads, which can suck the rope-tails through the knot, but testing has shown that with a foot of tail, the rope will break before the knot rolls (under a weight of about 2000 pounds – far greater than any force generated by a simple rappel).
Make sure the knot is well dressed, with no crossing of the strands, is aggressively tightened, and has sufficient tail on each strand. It can also be backed up by tying a second EDK right next to the first, though many climbers consider this unnecessary, because a single EDK is more than strong enough, and a second EDK will make the rope more likely to get caught on something when trying to pull it down.
A hitch is a knot used to attach a rope to a fixed object.
A girth hitch is a super easy way to attach a sling to a harness or carabiner. It is commonly used to attach a PAS (Personal Anchor System) to your harness, which can then be used to clip yourself safely into a set of climbing anchors. It can also be used to sling trees for anchors, or horns of rock while traditional climbing.
Keep an eye on your girth-hitched sling, though. If it has been used for a long time, it can wear and will need to be replaced.
This another super easy way to attach a rope to a fixed point, and is also commonly used to anchor yourself into a safety point, simply by pulling out a length of climbing rope from your harness, and clove-hitching it to a locking carabiner on the master point of an anchor. It is also popular when you are using your climbing rope to build a traditional gear anchor system at the top of a pitch, because you can simply tie a clove hitch into two of the gear placements, and then equalize all the points with an overhand knot with a bight.
It has the advantage of being easy to untie, even after being weighted, and being easy to lengthen or shorten. You can also tie it with one hand.
Clove hitches can slip under a massive amount of force, but it is very safe for the kinds of forces it is commonly used for, such as holding body weight.
Dropped your belay or rappel device? The munter hitch has saved this situation many times. It is a hitch that only allows the rope to pass in one direction, as long as you’re holding the rope on the other side of the hitch, as you would with your brake hand while belaying. You can also tie this knot with one hand.
The munter is bi-directional, meaning it can allow either end of the rope to pass through, simply using your brake hand on the other side of the rope. If you switch directions, the munter will first flip through the carabiner before the brake will be effective.
By attaching a munter hitch to the anchor via a locking carabiner, you can safely belay a climber seconding the pitch. You can also attach the carabiner to your harness and belay a lead climber from the ground.
If you need to rappel, you can also clip a locking carabiner to your harness and pass both strands of the rope through the carabiner in a double-stranded munter, and use this to rappel down.
Using a munter hitch, however, should only be reserved for emergencies, as it is hard on the rope and often leaves it twisted and kinked.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/sergeyoch
The butterfly is commonly used in the middle of a rope, as it maintains its shape regardless of which direction it is being pulled in. It is favored in situations where multiple climbers are all tied into the same rope, meaning that there is a climber at each end of the rope, and all other climbers are tied in to the middle of the rope with alpine butterflies, such as while crossing a crevasse-filled glacier.
A prusik is a piece of cord that climbers use to wrap around the rope and then attach to their harnesses with a carabiner. When weighted, the prusik bites into the rope and stops the climber from moving up or down the rope. There are a few ways to tie a prusik, but this is the simplest way.
It is commonly used as a back-up safety device while rappelling. After setting up the prusik and attaching it to your harness, you should keep the prusik fairly lose on the rope as you descend (you can have the prusik slightly tight, which will create some friction and slow your descent, too). If you lose control or something unforeseen happens, such as rockfall, that causes you to let go of the rope, the prusik will automatically come tight on the rope and catch you. It is also useful if the rope becomes caught in a crack and you need both hands to free it.
You will need to loosen the prusik’s grip on the rope, usually by pulling up and sitting higher on the rope on your belay/rappel device, before you can continue descending.
It is easy and quick to tie and untie, and also has many other more advanced uses, including building pulley systems for a rope rescue, or using two prusiks to ascend a rope, which can get you out of a tight spot.