If you’re out climbing and need to rappel, either from the top of the route you just climbed or to bail off before a thunderstorm moves in, then you often need to tie two ropes together to get down. Double-rope rappels get you down faster and farther, especially if you are using two 200-foot (60-meter) ropes, so you can get out of danger from lightning and also so you leave less gear for rappel anchors at each stance or ledge if there are no fixed anchors.
Rappelling is Dangerous
Rappelling is one of the most dangerous aspects of climbing. More accidents occur rappelling than any other climbing activity except lead climbing. When you’re rappelling off a cliff, you’re relying solely on your equipment—on your rope, on your rappel device, on your harness, and on the anchors that your rope is threaded through. Besides having perfect bombproof anchors, you need to tie your ropes together with a strong knot that will support your weight while rappelling and won’t come untied.
4 Best Knots for Rappel Ropes
The following four best knots are the best ones for tying your rappel ropes together:
Double Figure-8 Fisherman’s Knot This knot, the usual way to tie rappel ropes together, is the strongest of the bunch and, if properly tied, will not come undone. It’s also easy to visually check to make sure it is properly tied. It’s usually not difficult to untie after being weighted. This is the best knot to tie ropes of unequal diameters, that is a thin rope and thick rope, together. The knot’s biggest disadvantage is its bulk, so the chances that it might jam in a crack while you’re pulling the rappel ropes are increased.
Square Fisherman’s Knot A lot of climbers like this knot because it’s easy to tie and the easiest of these four knots to untie. It’s basically just a square knot backed up with double fisherman’s knots on either side. If you use this knot, always use the backup knots or risk it coming untied. A square knot alone is never a good knot for rappelling or any other climbing purpose.
Double Overhand Knot This knot, sometimes called the “European Death Knot,” has gained popularity and is often used to tie ropes together. It is the fastest and easiest of these four knots to tie and has the least bulk, which makes it less likely to snag and stick your rope. Do not use this knot with ropes of varying diameters, since at least one fatal accident has occurred from it coming untied. Alternatively you can tie a double figure-8 knot instead of the overhand knot, although testing at Black Diamond’s lab in Salt Lake City indicates that the double overhand is stronger than the double figure-8.
- Double Fisherman’s Knot This is the traditional knot to tie two ropes together but has generally fallen out of favor for the above knots. It can be difficult to check visually and is often difficult to untie after being weighted, particularly if the ropes are wet. This knot is best used for tying thin pieces of accessory cord like Spectra together for anchors or slinging nuts like Hexentrics.
Know the Knots Before Using Them
These four knots are all strong and safe, but they must, of course, be tied correctly. Learn to tie these knots on the ground or at home and know them backwards and forwards before you attempt to tie them on a climb at the rappel anchors—your life depends on the knot being properly tied. All these knots, except the double overhand knot, are backed up with fisherman’s knots for safety on either side.
Use a Stopper Knot
Also when you’re rappelling, always tie a stopper knot, which is a double fisherman’s knot, overhand knot, or figure-8 knot, at the ends of both ropes so that you or your partner won’t rappel off the loose ends of the rope.
Pick One Knot and Use It
It’s best to pick one knot that you like and just use it every time you tie rappel ropes together. If you use one knot for rappelling, you become intimately familiar with that knot—you know how to tie it; you know how to untie it; you know how much of a tail to leave at each end to tie the fisherman’s backup knots. I have always used the Double Figure-8 Fisherman’s Knot because it feels like the safest knot to me. I like to feel totally secure when I’m rappelling, particularly if it’s a scary rappel off a slender desert spire or down a big wall. Experiment at a small crag and decide which rappel knot is right for you.