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Knots for Climbing

All About Climbing Knots

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Ian Green edges up a route at Sugarite State Park, New Mexico.

Your tie-in knot is essential to climbing safely.

Stewart M. Green

Knots are the most essential link in your chain of climbing safety, a chain which begins with your climbing rope. Your rope is your lifeline. Your knot is your life preserver. They are the basis of your safety when you’re climbing. Learn them. Practice them. Tie them right. Your life depends on them.

Knots Do Many Tasks

Knots allow you to do many climbing safety tasks with your rope.

  • Tie into the end of your rope (Figure-8 Follow-Through finished with Fisherman’s Backup Knot)

  • Anchor yourself to the side of a cliff (Clove Hitch, Figure-Eight-on-a-Bight)

  • Tie two ropes together to rappel down (Double Fisherman’s Knot)

  • Use knots to ascend the rope if you’re in trouble (Prusik Knot)

  • Improvise a safe belay (Münter Hitch)

Learn Your Knots

You need to learn how to correctly tie into the end of your rope and to tie yourself into your anchors to ensure both your safety and that of your climbing partners. If you tie your knots incorrectly, your safety is severely compromised—an undone or incorrectly tied knot can lead to serious injury or death.

Learn how to tie the recommended climbing knots and then practice tying them. You should know how to tie the most important knots—those for tying in and anchoring—with your eyes closed and in every kind of weather. Your life depends on this skill. Practice, practice, practice.

Knot Strength

Not all knots are created equal. Some are stronger than others. Those are the ones we use when we’re climbing. A knot, of course, is only as strong as the rope it’s tied into. Ropes are strongest when they are straight, without bends, kinks, and knots. Knots actually reduce the rope’s overall strength, so it’s important to tie the strongest knots for the most important safety tasks.

Most knots fall within a fairly tight range in terms of strength, generally losing between 20% and 40% of the rope’s total strength. The quality of the tied knot also can affect its strength, although tests do indicate that even a sloppy knot retains most of its holding power.

In 1974 The American Alpine Club released a definitive test of common climbing knots, revealing their strengths relative to an untied climbing rope.

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