Rock climbing is an activity that requires participants to move up, down and across a rock formation or artificial rock wall. The goal is to reach the peak or summit by passing through a predefined route.
The sports tests one’s physical capabilities, especially balance, endurance, agility, and strength, as well as mental control.
It is an adrenaline pumping activity that requires extensive training, proper knowledge and specialized equipment.
An example of this specialized equipment would be high-strength ropes. These ropes will become your lifeline. When ropes are involved, there are bound to be knots. Every climber, therefore, whether beginner or seasoned, must know how to make the most essential and basic rock climbing knots.
Essential Knots and How to Make Them
One of the important things to know about rock climbing is that you must never go wrong with your knots. Making the wrong knot or tying one incorrectly can cost you a few broken bones or even your life.
There are many types of knots that are used by climbers. In fact there are so many, one cannot simply remember them all. Luckily, only 8 of these knots are commonly used by experienced climbers.
The trace eight. This knot is also known as the figure eight follow through knot. This is one of the first knots you have to learn. This knot is used to connect yourself or your harness to the main rope during a tie in. It is widely used because it is easy to tie, yet it does not come undone so easily. Also, this knot does not cause a lot of strain on the main line.
To make the trace eight knot:
- Make a loose figure eight.
- Pass the short-end tail of the knot through your harness
- Retrace your figure of eight knot.
- Tighten the knot.
Never forget to tighten the knot because any loose knot can easily come undone. When you tie-in yourself, make sure the knot is finished neatly so it would be easier to check for cinches and mistakes. During a fall, the trace eight knot can cinch up really tight and would become difficult to untie.
In making the trace eight knot during tie-ins, leave about 6-12 inches of loose end or tail. Use the tail to secure the knot further by making a double fisherman’s bend. If you would like to view a detailed video on making this knot, click on this link:
The double fisherman’s bend. Also known as the grapevine knot, it is used to tie together two ends of a rope of equal or unequal sizes. The ends are tied together to form a circle that does not easily come undone. This knot is commonly used for tying off cord threaded through a nut.
Since it is reliable and safe because of its many twists, the double fisherman’s bend is used as a backup to secure the ends of the tie-in knot. This knot can also be used to tie webbing runners.
To make a double fisherman’s bend:
- Overlap the ends of the two ropes you want to join together.
- Wrap one end of the rope around the two ropes, use two full turns.
- Then pass this end through the turns and pull tight.
- Do the same steps for the end of the other rope.
- Tighten the knots by pulling both ends of the joined ropes.
Over time or after supporting a fall, the double fisherman’s bend can wield itself tightly, making it impossible to untie. In cases like this, loosen up the knot by rolling it against a stone to soften it. Then use a knot tool, or your teeth, to pry it apart. If you would like to view a detailed video on making this knot, clink on this link:
The ring bend. This knot is known by several names: water knot, tape knot and double overhand bend. Like the double fisherman’s knot, this is also used to tie together the ends of two ropes. Essentially, this knot is tied as an overhand knot. In climbing, its more common use is to join pieces of straps or ropes for webbing.
To make a ring bend:
- Make a loose overhand knot at the end of one rope.
- Insert the other strap.
- Thread it in the opposite direction but let it follow the path of the first overhand knot.
- Tighten the knot.
The second rope should pass the course of the overhand knot but it should go in the opposite direction. The ring bend has been reported to slip, so proper inspection should be conducted when using this knot. Leaving a long tail will also help for added security. If you would like to view a detailed video on making this knot, clink on this link:
The figure eight loop. This loop is also known as the figure eight directional. The knot is used by climbers to moor themselves to belays.
This knot is actually a single bowline on a bight. It is used as a load-bearing knot during the climb but only when the strain comes from just one direction. The rope is often utilized to reduce the weight strain on an entire line system. To keep you more informed on how to climb a rope, check out our additional tips for reference.
To make the figure eight loop:
- Form a loop on the rope.
- Pass the loop behind the standing end.
- Continue to move around.
- Pass it through the opening beside the tail.
The figure eight loop has a tendency to capsize or come undone when the weight strain is applied on the wrong side of the knot. When this happens, the knot acts as a noose and tightens. If you would like to view a detailed video on making this knot, clink on this link:
The clove hitch. The most important utilization of the clove hitch is in belay systems. This is used for tying a rope in a carabiner. It is relatively easy and fast to make. For the top carabiner you can use in climbing, see our amazing reviews to find out more.
To make a clove hitch:
- Make a loop on the working of the rope.
- Place it over the carabiner.
- Make another loop that resembles the first.
- Place it over the carabiner.
The clove hitch is ideal for fast hitches. However it has a high probability of slipping and binding. The clove hitch is often used with the figure eight loop because it cannot function well alone. To secure this knot, one must make several half-stitches. This will result to the rope binding tightly and becoming difficult to untie. If you would like to view a detailed video on making this knot, clink on this link:
The munter hitch. This knot is widely used by experienced climbers. The munter hitch is a simple sliding hitch that cinches by itself when it is being pulled from the braking side. This knot has enough friction to control a rappel.
To make the munter hitch:
- Pass the rope through a carabiner.
- Make a loop by twisting the rope above it.
- Hook this into the carabiner.
The munter hitch is used as a friction device in belay systems. However, it must only be used during emergency situations like leaving behind your carabiners or when you drop them. Using a munter hitch causes a lot of strain on the rope making it fuzzy and easily worn out. If you would like to view a detailed video on making this knot, clink on this link:
The girth hitch. The primary use of girth hitch is to attach loops of runners to harnesses, bags and other important equipment and to natural features like rocks and trees. In climbing, it is used to attach a string to your harness or to another rope.
Sometimes it is also utilized to hitch together several short runners to form a longer one. It is easy to tie and untie. It is also very convenient because it can be achieved with only one hand.
To make a girth hitch:
- Pass the loop of the strap around the rope which you want to attach it to.
- Holding the other end of the strap, thread it through its loop.
- Tighten by pulling the end of the strap.
Do not leave girth hitches attached to your harness for long periods of time. They also decrease the strength of your string. In cases where the strength of a string is an issue, use a carabiner instead of a girth hitch. If you would like to view a detailed video on making this knot, clink on this link:
The prusik. This knot allows clamping of a cord to a thicker rope when force is applied. The prusik is a very handy hitch knot, especially during emergency situations. Its main function is to attach a smaller piece of cord onto the main rope as a back up to your rappel device.
By using one prusik, a climber can secure his position and correct the problems with his device. When two prusik knots are used, a climber can ascend the line by alternately shifting his weight between the two hitches.
To make a prusik:
- Take a small cord and form it into a loop using a double fisherman’s knot.
- Pass the knot around your main rope and inside your loop 4 times.
- Check that the turns are neatly aligned beside each other.
- Pull the knot to tighten.
Other than ascending, the prusik can also be used during emergencies where a climber needs to be pulled up. Thinner cords are recommended when making a prusik. When none is available, webbing can be an alternative.
Maneuvering can be a little difficult when webbing is used, and additional turns should be made to secure the line. Shoelace is a better alternative when it is present. If you would like to view a detailed video on making this knot, clink on this link:
Common Errors in Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is an activity that stakes your life on a rope. It is not enough to learn how to property make knots. Even savvy rock climbers come across accidents due to mistakes and carelessness. Remember some of the common mistakes climbers commit and try to avoid them as much as possible:
- Too much excitement during tie-ins. Rock climbing is all about excitement and pumping adrenaline, but too much excitement can sometimes lead climbers to forget to check the security and safety of their equipments and the knots in their ropes. Double check your equipments and your knots, especially during belaying. Thread the rope properly into the belay and recheck your partner’s ropes and knots.
- Forgetting to knot the end of the rope. No matter what type of rock climbing you are doing, always tie the end of the rope with a knot. You can tie it to yourself or your bag. Slipping of the rope is common, even amongst experienced climbers. Safety should always be the number one priority.
- Multitasking. Always focus on whatever you are doing during a climb or when you are preparing for one. When making knots and tying yourself in, finish the job first before conversing with someone or before moving on to another task.. Make your knots neat and always finish making them.
- Using the wrong knot. Some knots can be used interchangeably while some knots are designed for specific functions. Remember the most efficient use of your knot and do not experiment with them during your climb.
- Forgetting your gear. Always bring your gear, especially safety equipments like helmets. Some climbers “intentionally” forget their gears, especially helmets. Always use your helmet during a climb, it will protect you from falling rocks or chipped pieces of ice.
Additional Information on Knots
There are factors to consider when tying a knot. Oftentimes, these factors are neglected, thereby resulting in accidents or delays. These factors are strength, security, usage and ease of tying and untying.
Every time a knot is tied, the rope is weakened, that’s why ropes typically break in a knot or beside it. The decrease in strength of a rope can range from 30% to 80% depending on the knot that is tied. Tests have shown that the strongest knot a climber can use during tie-in is the figure eight follow-through or the trace eight knot.
The weakest knot would be the clove hitch. However, climbing ropes are designed with tensile strengths of at least 6000 pounds. Since these ropes are made to be elastic, generating a force of at least 6000 pounds would be very difficult.
Rock climbers use ropes that can withhold a huge amount of tensile strength, thus security becomes their first consideration when tying a knot. Capsizing is a situation where a knot comes undone without human intervention. Some knots loosen up when applied with too much force and some knots simply come undone when subjected to strain for too long.
Using knots based on their specific function is one way to secure your position on the rock or wall. The instructions that come with knots often describe the purpose of the knots to be generic. It would not hurt to check the specific function of a knot before using it; although it can be a substitute for a knot, it would not be able to perform well and it has a greater probability of failing.
Ease of tying and untying become important when a knot is repeatedly being used or in situations where speed is the main focus. Some knots can be tied with the bare hands while other requires additional leverage points.
Leaving a knot too long on a line can break the line or cause the knot to lock up. When knots are cinched tightly, they can be loosened up by rolling them against a stone. If that does not work, soak the knot in water. On the other hand, if a climber wishes to lock in a knot, soaking it in water prior to tying it then drying it afterwards would immensely tighten the knot.
Rock climbing is a fun and fulfilling activity. It is a good way to enjoy the outdoors and to get some much needed exercise. Safety is the priority when it comes to this activity. Rock climbers must not compromise security with the ease of tying or untying a knot.
Complex knots are more difficult to untie thus making them safer. Although ropes are made of materials that have high elasticity, they must be regularly monitored to check for fraying.
Knots are a vital part of rock climbing, so one must keep practicing how to make them until they can be made with one’s eyes closed or in difficult situations. Bear in mind the different functions of the knot or their usage so that they can be used at their full potential, as well as to avoid accidents.
Always tie knots neatly, check for cinches and tangles, take your time and do not rush. Rock climbing is not a fatal activity, with the proper knowledge of knots and their uses, anyone can enjoy the sport.
To find out how to choose the best rope for climbing, check our earlier piece that explains this topic in detail.