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The Seven Need-to-Know Climbing Knots

If you’re going to be a rock climber, you don’t necessarily need to know how to tie your shoes (as long as you wear Velcro slippers), but there are seven essential knots you’ll want to know. There are dozens of knots that might be worth learning as a climber, but for the most part, you can get up and down any climb on Earth with just these basic, essential knots—The Figure-8 Retraced, Girth Hitch, Clove Hitch, Munter Hitch, Double Fisherman’s, Prusik and Euro Death Knot.

Know them, learn them, and practice them until you can tie them in your sleep.

EURO DEATH KNOT

eurodeathknot

What is it: A knot used for joining two climbing ropes together for a rappel. The Offset Water Knot, otherwise known to climbers by the misleading (and inaccurate) name of “Euro Death Knot” (EDK), is the best knot for joining two ropes together for a rappel.

Why it’s cool: Easy to tie. Easy to untie. Less likely to get hung up on rock features during rappels.

Red Flags/Rules: Leave at least 8 to 12 inches of tail.

How to Tie it

FIGURE-8 RETRACED

figure8

What is it: The basic knot for “tying in”—i.e., for tying the rope to your harness.

Why it’s cool: Easy to inspect. Easy (enough) to untie after being loaded in a fall.

Red flags/Rules: Always have at least six inches of tail

How to Tie it

GIRTH HITCH

girth-hitch

What is it: A knot for tying climbing slings to various features including: the belay loop of your harness, bolt hangers at anchors, and “threads” of rock, horns/chicken heads on trad routes.

Why it’s cool: Easy to tie, can be tied with one hand, and is useful in many situations.

Red Flags/Rules: Don’t leave slings girth-hitched to your harness belay loop for extended periods of time.

How to Tie it

CLOVE HITCH

clove-hitch

What is it: A knot for quickly tying a climbing rope to a carabiner. Great for tying yourself in to an anchor. Also the clove hitch is especially handy when equalizing an anchor using the rope.

Why it’s cool: Easy to tie and untie after being weighted. Easy to adjust after being tied. Can be tied with one hand, allowing you to quickly clip to an anchor or bolt.

Red Flags/Rules: At a certain force, clove hitches will begin to slip, which is why they aren’t recommended as the sole knot for tying yourself into an anchor, and they are best paired with another knot such as a Figure-8 on a bite. However, it’s virtually impossible to ever generate a large-enough and consistent-enough force to cause the clove hitch to slip in a dangerous way.

How to Tie it

MUNTER HITCH

munter

What is it: A knot that allows you to belay or rappel on a rope with nothing more than a single locking carabiner.

Why it’s cool: This knot could save you if you drop your standard belay/rappel device.

Red Flags/Rules: Not recommended for anything other than emergency use. The Munter Hitch severely kinks the rope, especially in a rappel.

How to Tie it

PRUSIK

prusik1

What is it: A way to attach a piece of cord to a (thicker) climbing rope. The main use is to back up your rappel device (not covered in article). You can also use a prusik as a way to ascend a rope (if you don’t have a mechanical ascender). There are also a multitude of uses for self-rescue and escaping belays.

Why it’s cool: Easy to tie and untie, and may come in handy more than you’d think. With two prusiks, you can ascend a fixed line, potentially getting yourself out of a pickle.

Red Flags/Rules: Make sure the loops/coils are neat.

How to Tie it

DOUBLE FISHERMAN’S

fishermans

What is it: A knot used for tying two ends of a cord or rope together. Use this knot to create a cordellette (a piece of cord tied into a loop) or to create a prusik.

Why it’s cool: Reliable, safe knot for joining two ends of a rope or cord together.

Red Flags/Rules: This knot will weld itself shut over time, effectively making it impossible to untie. This knot is only to be used for joining two pieces of rope or cord. To join two pieces of tubular webbing, use a water knot (not covered here).

How to Tie it

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4Comments

Here's what the community has to say.

benjamin M.

benjamin M.

So I hate to be picky but it is good to note that many of these "climbing knots" are not actually knots. Such as the clove hitch and munter hitch. The hitches require another object to work where a knot just requires the rope.

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Chris Jenks

Chris Jenks

@Dan, your use of "ie" isn't entirely correct. It should be "e.g." as it follows "many areas" (i.e. not just one).

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Dan

Dan

Your description of the clove hitch isn't accurate. A clove hitch is fine to use as the sole knot to tie yourself to the anchor. I use it for this all the time, even on hanging belays, and never had it slip. In the unlikely event that it does ever slip, it would do so extremely slowly, and if you had enough force to make the knot slip, then that slippage is a good thing! Besides when you're tied into the rope it's a closed system, with the other end tied to your partner.

Also the munter is very useful, not just in emergencies. If you're just belaying yourself or your partner without loading it much, it doesn't twist your rope. Even belaying and lowering people in the gym, it doesn't seem to twist the rope at all. It's often much faster and easier than any alternative, and works great when belaying your second directly off the anchor. Every climber should practice this knot in non-emergency situations, so you are comfortable using it to belay and rappel if you ever need to.

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Dan

Dan

There are three crucial knots missing from this list:

- Water knot: In many areas (ie The Gunks), the fixed rappel stations consist of 1" webbing tied with this knot. You need to know it in order to check it. If you ever need to replace sketchy rap anchors with new webbing, or bail in a spot where there is no anchor, this is the knot you will use (unless you use cord instead, then a figure-8 or double-fisherman's is better)

- Double-Overhand / Strangle stopper knot: This knot is used as a stopper knot at the ends of rappel ropes, and as a necessary backup for some knots like the bowline. In some situations you may also use this to back up other knots, such as the figure-8 follow through or bend, or water knot. Most gyms require this backup as well, and many people tie it wrong.
(Note: It is often incorrectly referred to as a 'fishermans' or 'barrel' knot. Both are incorrect. Let's break this habit and call knots by their correct names.Technically it's a double-overhand when tied on itself as a stopper, and a 'strangle' knot when tied around another line as a backup, but I think it's fine to call it a double-overhand in both situations..)
(Note 2: For a stopper at the end of ropes, the 'Ashley Stopper' is much better, as it's bigger, and doesn't loosen up as this sometimes does. But this works better than a figure-8 as a stopper, and it's good enough for new climbers..)

- Bowline: This knot is extremely useful for setting up top rope anchors, for tying a static rope or cord around a tree. I don't really use it for trad climbing, but if you ever have to tie a cord around a tree or a rock that's too big for a sling, or too far from the anchor to loop a cordelette around, this could be very useful. Everyone should really know this knot, including backing it up with a double-overhand.

Add these 3 knots, and you have an even ten! There are plenty of other useful knots (i.e. klemheist, alpine butterfly), but these really are essential.

PS- I believe the proper name for the EDK is the 'flat overhand bend'. 8" of tail is really cutting it close- I think the best practice is to tie a second EDK right up against the first, and use a minimum of 12" of tail(www.user.xmission.com/~tmoyer/testing/EDK.html). Please consider revising the article with this important safety information.

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