How to Tie Climbing Knots, Hitches and Bends

 a rock climber tying a knot into their harness
 

Few skills are as fundamental to climbing as working with rope. Your life literally depends on your mastery of the subject. This article and accompanying videos cover the most common knots, hitches and bends used in climbing.

For starters, you need to understand the distinction between a “knot” and other key terms related to rope management:

Knot – a knot is tied in a rope or piece of webbing.

Hitch – a hitch connects a rope to another object like a carabiner or even another rope.

Bend – a bend is a knot that joins two ropes together.

Bight – a bight is a section of rope between the ends.

Standing end – the standing end or part of the rope is the side that’s not being used during knot tying.

Working end – the working end or part of the rope is the side that is being used during knot tying. 

 

Climbing Knots

Several basic knots are useful for securing the rope to a harness or to a natural anchor:

 

Figure 8 Knot (Rewoven Figure 8 Knot/Figure 8 Follow Through Knot)

Figure 8 Knot (Rewoven Figure 8 Knot/Figure 8 Follow Through Knot)

The Figure 8 Knot is the most common knot for tying the rope into your harness.

  • Grab the end of the rope in one hand; extend your arm and measure out a length from your fist to your opposite shoulder.
  • Pinch a bight from where you’ve measured at your shoulder and twist it one full rotation so that the standing part of the rope crosses over the working side, then twist it again so that it comes around to its original position.
  • Then pass the working end of the rope through the loop from front to back. The result should look like a figure 8.
  • To form the follow through, pass the end of the rope through both tie-in points on your harness, and pull the knot in close to you.
  • Now feed the rope back through the knot, tracing the original knot as you go. You want the working end to run completely parallel to the standing part of the original knot.
  • Once you’ve worked the end all the way through, dress the knot by making sure the strands are neat and run parallel.
  • Tighten the knot by pulling each strand tight individually. Make sure you have at least six inches of tail. You can check the knot by counting five sets of parallel lines.

 

Video: How to Tie a Figure 8 Knot

 
 

Bowline Knot

Bowline Knot

The Bowline Knot is a useful knot for tying the rope to a tree or other natural anchor. It's unlikely to slip when loaded, but it might shake loose when it's unloaded, so be sure to back it up with a stopper knot.

  • Start by wrapping the rope around the object you're connecting to the rope.
  • Form a small loop in the standing side of the rope by crossing the rope over itself. The side leading to the working end of the rope needs to be on the top of the loop.
  • Now feed the working end up through the loop so that it runs parallel to the standing side.
  • Then bring the working end behind the standing side, around it, and back down through the loop.
  • Dress the knot by pulling on the two strands that come through the loop and the standing side at the same time.
  • Pull all strands tight individually.

 

Video: How to Tie a Bowline Knot

 

Double Bowline Knot

Double Bowline Knot

The Double Bowline Knot is an alternative knot for tying into a harness. It’s easier to untie than a Figure 8 after taking multiple falls. But because of this, it has to be backed up with a double overhand knot.

  • Feed the rope through the tie-in points on your harness.
  • Grab the standing end and drape it over your palm between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Now grab the rope between your hand and your harness and wrap it twice around your thumb.
  • Slide the loops from your thumb, and rotate them so that the rope leading to the working end is on top.
  • Feed the working end up through the loops so that it runs parallel to the standing side.
  • Then, bring the working end behind the standing side, around it, and back down through the loops.
  • Dress the knot by pulling on the two strands that come through the loops and the standing side at the same time.
  • Pull all four strands tight individually.
  • Finish by tying a double overhand knot against the double bowline.

 

Video: How to Tie a Double Bowline Knot

 

Climbing Knots on a Bight

These knots let you form a loop in a rope. They are “on a bight” because they’re tied in the middle of the rope and not on the end.

 

Figure 8 Knot on a Bight

Figure 8 Knot on a Bight

The Figure 8 Knot on a Bight is a convenient knot to use any time you need to form a loop in the middle of a rope, especially if the knot needs to take a heavy load.

  • Find a bight in the rope, pinch it into a loop and hold it in one hand.
  • With your other hand, pinch the two strands about a foot from the bight.
  • Cross the bight over the standing strands to form a loop.
  • Then bring the bight under the rope, back over and through the loop.
  • Dress the knot by making sure the strands run parallel, and pull each strand tight individually.

 

Video: How to Tie a Figure 8 Knot on a Bight

 

Overhand Knot on a Bight (Overhand Loop)

Overhand Knot on a Bight (Overhand Loop)

The Overhand Knot on a Bight is great when you want to form a loop in the middle of the rope, especially if it’s going to take a lighter load.

  • Find a bight in the rope, pinch it into a loop and hold it in one hand.
  • With your other hand, pinch the two strands about a foot from the bight.
  • Cross the bight over the standing strands to form a loop.
  • Then, bring the bight under the rope, and through the loop.
  • Dress the knot by making sure the strands run parallel, and pull each strand tight individually.

 

Video: How to Tie an Overhand Knot on a Bight

 

Butterfly Knot

Butterfly Knot

The Butterfly Knot forms a loop in the middle of a rope and is especially useful for the middle member of a rope team because it won’t deform after a pull in either direction.

  • Grab the section of rope where you want to tie the knot and loop it over your open palm three times, starting close to your thumb.
  • Move the strand closest to your thumb over the other two loops.
  • Grab the loop that’s now closest to your thumb and pull out a little extra slack.
  • Then, move it over the other two loops, and then pass it under.
  • Take the rope off your hand, and pull it tight.
  • Dress the knot by pulling the two standing strands to the side.

 

Video: How to Tie a Butterfly Knot

 

Overhand Knots for Climbing

These knots are a variation on the simple overhand knot. They allow you to create a secure stopper knot in the rope.

 

Barrel Knot (Triple Overhand Knot)

Barrel Knot (Triple Overhand Knot)

The Barrel Knot is the knot of choice for closing the system while belaying or rappelling; it does the critical job of ensuring that the end of the rope can’t accidentally feed through the belay device.

  • Find the end of the rope and pull out about an arm’s length.
  • Drape the rope over the middle of your palm with the working side on the back of your hand.
  • Wrap the working end over your hand and the standing side of the rope to form an X over your palm.
  • Wrap the working end over again so that there are two parallel strands crossing the first.
  • Feed the end under all three loops starting near your thumb.
  • Carefully slide the rope off your hand, keeping the strands in position as you tighten the knot.
  • Dress the knot by making sure the stands are parallel and tighten the knot by pulling on both sides of the rope.
  • Make sure you have at least 18 inches of tail.

 

Video: How to Tie a Barrel Knot

 

Stopper Knot (Double Overhand Knot)

Stopper Knot (Double Overhand Knot)

A Stopper Knot (technically a Double Overhand) is useful as a backup knot for other knots. It’s also one half of a Double Fisherman’s Knot.

When you’re using the double overhand as a backup knot, make sure to tie it as close as you can to the knot you’re backing up to keep the rope from slipping.

  • Hold the rope in one fist with your thumb resting on the rope. Make sure you have about 18 inches of tail.
  • Wrap the working end over your thumb, bring it under, and fully wrap it over again to form an X.
  • Then, slide your thumb out and feed the rope through the X you just formed.
  • Dress the knot by pulling it tight.

 

Video: How to Tie a Stopper Knot

 

Bends for Climbing

Bends offer options for connecting two ropes, or creating a loop out of cord or webbing.

While the examples below are technically bends, it's very common to hear people call some of them knots so that's what we've done here.

 

Double Fisherman’s Knot (Grapevine Knot)

Double Fisherman’s Knot (Grapevine Knot)

The Double Fisherman’s is a very secure way to join two ropes or form a cord into a loop. It’s very difficult to untie after it gets weighted, so it makes a good choice for Prusik loops. The Double Fisherman's is essentially two double overhand knots pulled together. You can make a Triple Fisherman’s by using triple overhand knots.

  • Bring the two ends of the rope together so that they overlap.
  • Hold the end of one rope in your fist with your thumb over the rope.
  • Then, wrap the working end of the other rope over your thumb and the first rope, bring it under, and fully wrap it over again to form an X.
  • Carefully slide your thumb out and feed the rope through the X you just formed.
  • Pull the knot tight. You should see an X on one side and two parallel strands on the other side with the other rope inside the knot.
  • Now pull the other rope through so you have enough slack to work with, and repeat the process. The rope that you pull through will be your new working end.
  • Form an X over your thumb, and push the end of the rope through the X. You’ll end up with two knots with two strands of rope between them.
  • Dress the knots by pulling them tight. Then pull the outer ropes to bring the knots together.
  • The finished Double Fisherman's should have two Xs on one side and four parallel strands on the other. Make sure that both ropes have plenty of tail (About 18 inches of tail is appropriate when tying two ropes together for rappelling. At least three inches of tail is required when making loops with accessory cord).

 

Video: How to Tie a Double Fisherman's Knot

 

European Death Knot (Overhand Bend)

European Death Knot (Overhand Bend)

Commonly known as the European Death Knot, or EDK for short, the Overhand Bend is a simple, effective way to join two rappel ropes. The major benefit is that the knot flattens out when loaded, so it’s less likely to get stuck on the wall as you pull the ropes down. When setting up to rappel, make sure you don't accidentally tie a Flat Figure 8 Knot (sometimes called an Offset Figure 8 Knot). The Flat Figure 8 is not a suitable way to connect two ropes for rappelling.

  • Bring the ends of both ropes together and tie a simple overhand knot with both strands. Make sure the ropes run completely parallel throughout the knot.
  • Dress and tighten the knot by pulling all four strands tight individually. Make sure to leave at least 18 inches of tail, and tie a stopper knot in one of the tails.

Despite the name, the European Death Knot is very secure when properly tied. The name is said to have been coined by American climbers who declared the knot unsafe after witnessing Europeans using it. However, proper use has proven otherwise and the knot is commonly utilized.

 

Video: How to Tie a European Death Knot

 

Figure 8 Bend (Flemish Bend)

Figure 8 Bend (Flemish Bend)

This is an easy way to connect two ropes or to form a cord into a loop. It’s essentially a figure 8 Follow Through Knot tied with two ropes. Be careful not to tie a Flat Figure 8 Knot (sometimes called an Offset Figure 8). The Flat Figure 8 is not a suitable way to connect two ropes for rappelling.

  • To form the figure 8 knot, measure out about an arm’s length of rope.
  • Pinch a bight from where you’ve measured at your shoulder and twist it one full rotation so that the standing part of the rope crosses over the working side; then twist it again until it comes around again to its original position.
  • Then pass the working end of the rope through the loop from front to back. This is the figure 8 knot.
  • Now feed the other rope back through the knot, tracing the original knot as you go. You want the working end to run completely parallel to the standing part of the original knot.
  • Once you’ve worked the end all the way through, dress the knot by making sure the strands are neat and run parallel.
  • Tighten the knot by pulling each strand tight individually. Make sure you have plenty of tail (About 18 inches of tail is appropriate when tying two ropes together for rappelling. At least three inches of tail is required when making loops with accessory cord.) You can check the knot by counting five sets of parallel lines.

 

Video: How to Tie a Figure 8 Bend

 

Water Knot (Ring Bend)

Water Knot (Ring Bend)

The Water Knot is the go-to for joining two pieces of tubular webbing. The water knot can work itself loose over time, so check and retighten it often.

  • Start by tying a very loose overhand knot in one end of the webbing. Make sure there’s plenty of tail.
  • Take the other end of the webbing and trace it through the knot. The key is to keep both strands of webbing completely parallel throughout the knot.
  • Once you’ve fed the webbing all the way through, make sure each side has at least three inches of tail, and dress the knot by pulling all strands tight individually.

 

Video: How to Tie a Water Knot

 

Climbing Hitches

Incredibly versatile, hitches are easy to tie, they do their job well and, when you remove them from the object, they immediately unravel: There’s no knot left to untie.

 

Girth Hitch

Girth Hitch

The Girth Hitch is an easy way to connect a loop of webbing or cord to a fixed point like a tree, or your harness’s tie-in points. Here we show the hitch around a carabiner, but the process is the same on any object.

  • Circle one end of the loop around the object.
  • Then feed the other end of the loop through the first loop, and pull it snug. 

 

Video: How to Tie a Girth Hitch

 

Clove Hitch

Clove Hitch

The Clove Hitch allows you to secure a rope in place on a carabiner. It’s easy to untie after taking a heavy load, and quickly unravels when you unclip it from the carabiner. Many climbers use it to connect directly to an anchor. You can tie a clove hitch with two hands or with one.

  • Hold the rope in both hands, and form a loop by crossing the rope over itself.
  • Then form a second loop in the same way.
  • Now move the second loop behind the first, and clip both loops with a carabiner. Dress the hitch by pulling both strands tight.

 

If you’re at the anchor, you can also tie the clove while you hold onto the anchor carabiner with one hand.

  • Grab the rope in your fist with your finger pointing down the rope.
  • Bring your hand up so that your finger points up and toward you.
  • Then clip the rope into the carabiner.
  • Now grab the rope below the carabiner and do the same thing again. Grab it with your finger pointing down, bring it up so that your finger points up and toward you, and clip it into the carabiner.
  • Dress the hitch by pulling both strands tight.

 

Video: How to Tie a Clove Hitch

 

Munter Hitch

Munter Hitch

The Munter Hitch can be used to belay or rappel if you lose your belay device. Seek out instruction on belaying and rappelling with the Munter hitch before attempting it by yourself.

  • Hold the rope in both hands, and form a loop by crossing the rope over itself.
  • Then form a second loop in the same way.
  • Now fold the two loops toward each other like you’re closing a book and clip a locking carabiner through both loops.

 

Video: How to Tie a Munter Hitch

 

Friction Hitches for Climbing

Friction hitches let you temporarily attach a cord to a rope. They grip the rope when weighted, and slide freely when you remove the load. If you’re looking for a super strong bite into the rope, use a thinner cord. Also, the more times you wrap the cord around the rope, the tighter the grip. But more wraps or a thinner cord also make the hitch more difficult to move when un-weighted.

The examples below are technically all hitches, but most climbers call them knots, so that's what we've done here.

 

Prusik Knot (Prusik Hitch)

Prusik Knot (Prusik Hitch)

The Prusik Knot (technically it's a hitch) is the most common friction hitch. It’s great for ascending, and it’s a staple for crevasse rescue systems because it will grip the rope from either direction of pull. The Prusik is essentially multiple girth hitches.

  • Place your loop behind the rope.
  • Now feed the side with the connecting knot through the other side.
  • Then wrap it around the rope loosely, and feed it through again. Do this at least three times. Make sure that the knot is slightly to the side, out of the way.
  • Pull the hitch tight, and make sure it grips the rope.
  • Dress it by making sure all the loops are parallel and the joining knot is offset so it’s not in the bend of the loop.

 

Video: How to Tie a Prusik Knot

 
 

Autoblock Knot

Autoblock Knot

The Autoblock is a quick, easy-to-tie friction hitch that can grip in either direction. It’s most commonly used to back up rappels.

  • Place your loop behind the two ropes so that you have a large loop on one side and a small loop on the other. The joining knot should be on the small loop, close to the ropes, and slightly offset so it’s not in the bend of the loop.
  • Wrap the large loop around the ropes as many times as you need until you’re left with two small loops.
  • Then clip both loops into a carabiner.
  • Dress the hitch by making sure the loops run parallel and it grips the rope.
  • Make sure that the joining knot is offset so it’s not in the bend of the loop.

 

Video: How to Tie an Autoblock Knot

 
 

Klemheist Knot

Klemheist Knot

The Klemheist is a simple friction hitch that is unique in that it can be tied both with cord and nylon webbing. It’s designed to grip the rope only for a downward pull so pay attention to how you tie it.

  • Place your cord behind the rope, and keep your joining knot offset so it’s not in the bend of the loop.
  • Wrap the end of the loop around the rope at least three times, moving up with each wrap.
  • Once you have enough wraps, pass the lower end of the loop through the upper loop, and pull it back down.
  • Dress the hitch by making sure the strands are snug and they run parallel.
  • Make sure that the joining knot is offset so it’s not in the bend of the loop.

 

Video: How to Tie a Klemheist Knot

 
 

Safety is your responsibility. No article or video can replace proper instruction and experience. Make sure you practice proper techniques and safety guidelines before you climb.

 

Learn more about Essential Rock Climbing Techniques

How to Belay

Communication for Climbing

Climbing Techniques and Moves

Climbing Holds: How to Use Them

How to Rappel

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Contributing Experts

Jay Parks
Jay Parks

REI Outdoor School Senior Instructor Jay Parks (Arizona region) has AMGA SPI (American Mountain Guides Association Single Pitch Instructor) certification, along with more than a decade of climbing experience.