Knots and hitches, lions and tigers oh my! Admittedly rock climbing and tying knots go together like… well, rock climbing and tying knots. But learning how to tie a rock climbing knot doesn’t have to be intimidating or confusing. There are really only a few basic knots and hitches that I use regularly as a mountain guide.
One of my philosophies about ropework while rock climbing is that you should make the ropes work for you. Don’t work for them. The primary goal is to enjoy the climbing, not fidget over your widgets at an uncomfortable belay stance.
In this article, I will go over how to tie and use some of the most common knots and hitches for rock climbing.
Before we discuss the specifics on how to tie a rock climbing knot, there is some terminology that we need to go over before we can get started.
First, what is the difference between a knot and a hitch?
A knot can exist alone, but a hitch requires something to be tied around otherwise it completely falls apart.
As a further division, there are regular hitches and friction hitches, which I will talk about individually. I will use the term bight which just describes a “U” shaped bend in the rope used to tie a knot.
There are several different variations of the figure eight family of knots. The most popular is the figure eight follow through, which is used to attach a climbing harness to the end of a rope.
Sometimes the figure eight is simply referred to as the tie-in knot because that is its primary purpose. When you are first beginning to learn how to tie a rock climbing knot, this is likely one of the first knots you will come across.
Approximately 2 feet from the end of a rope, grab a bight of rope and twist it twice. Take the end of the rope and pass it through the loop on the end that you created. The knot should look like the number “8” hence the name.
This is a good double check to ensure that you tied the knot correctly.
This step is pretty simple, but critical. Pass the end of the rope through both tie-in points until the knot is against your harness.
This is the step that confuses people. Retrace the end of the rope back through the knot body, until it comes out on the other side. Try to keep both strands parallel to each other, this will ensure that your knot is well dressed and looks neat when you are finished.
When finished you should be able to count eight parallel strands as a double check on your work. There should be about 4-6 inches of rope left at the end and the loop you created should be about the same size as your belay loop.
The overhand knot is an incredibly versatile knot that I use more than any other. From equalizing a traditional anchor into a master point to attaching myself to the middle of a rope for glacier travel.
When you think of a generic knot, it is most likely the overhand. It is simple, strong and easy to visually verify that it is tied correctly.
Find the spot on the rope that you want to tie the overhand and make a small loop there.
Once you have your loop you can complete the knot by passing a bight through the loop. Tighten it down and you have an overhand on a bight. That’s it.
The clove hitch is very versatile, but its primary application is as our attachment to the mountain via an anchor.
The clove hitch essentially fixes both strands of rope from moving when tied to an object or carabiner. One of its benefits is that it is easily adjustable.
For learning how to tie the clove hitch rock climbing knot, I like to make the analogy of reading a book. Make two loops by turning the page to the left. If you don’t do this step correctly you can end up with a munter hitch or worse.
Put the first loop in front of the second one. This will create the actual hitch and ensure that it works.
With a carabiner, clip both loops and cinch it down. Always make sure to double check that you tied it correctly before trusting your life to it.
Most often used as a rappel backup, but also in emergency situations, the autoblock friction hitch is the simplest in the friction hitch family. It can be tied on a loaded rope and easily bite in both directions while being easy to slide up or down with your hand.
The autoblock is usually used with a small 12-15 inch sewn loop of material and tied onto the climbing rope. Friction hitches are secure, but they need to be neat or dressed correctly in order to function.
Also, we don’t ever want to trust our lives or the lives of our climbing partners to a single friction hitch.
Wrap the friction hitch loop around the rope enough times to make it work. This will depend on the length of your loop, the diameter of the rope and the friction you are trying to achieve.
Once you have enough wraps, clip the other end of the loop back into the carabiner.
Before using a friction hitch, always test it. Pull on the rope and make sure the hitch grabs before starting a rappel or otherwise engaging the friction hitch.
People generally have lots of questions about how to tie a rock climbing knot as well as hitches when they are first getting into rock climbing. If you ask ten different climbers, you’ll likely get ten different answers.
You shouldn’t be scared or intimidated by knots/hitches, but I would recommend seeking qualified instruction from a certified guide. Here is another article on what to look for in a guide/mentor.
The ones in this article are the most essential rock climbing knots. When you are first getting in climbing and learning how to tie rock climbing knots, I recommend focusing on those essentials first.
However, In addition to the figure eight and overhand knots is the bowline.
The bowline is used for a variety of things from extending a rappel to anchor construction. In addition to the clove hitch would be the girth hitch and munter hitch.
The munter is actually unique in that it is the only hitch that can serve as a form of belay. In addition to the autoblock is the prussik and klemheist. All three friction hitches serve the same purpose but grab the rope to varying degrees.
A knot stands alone while a hitch requires something else like a carabiner or host rope in order to exist. A bend is used to tie two separate ropes together.
The best way to learn how to tie a rock climbing knot is to practice in your spare time. You can absolutely practice tying knots on your own. I would suggest getting a short piece (10’ to 12’) of 7 mm accessory cord to practice your new knots and hitches with.
Like many skills tying knots and hitches is perishable, so unless you’ll practice you’ll get rusty.
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