When you’re climbing, there are plenty of things to worry about. Your stamina, your beta, your breathing…

Don’t let knots be one of those things. Knots are one element that you can easily get right every time. Learn them, and learn them well.

In this guide, we’ll cover six of the most useful knots for climbing. This list is far from exhaustive, but these knots will take you a long way. Practice them before you need them!

What You Need

1. Figure Eight Follow-Through

The figure eight follow-through is the most popular tie-in knot (on this side of the Atlantic) and the first knot most climbers learn. It’s the only knot you need to know to get started on a top rope. You may also see this knot called a “trace eight” or simply a “figure eight.”

This is the knot climbers tie most often, and it’s arguably the most important — it’s the knot that connects you to your belayer!

There are multiple ways to tie the figure eight follow-through. You don’t have to use this one, but make sure that you do it the same way every time.

1. Measure Out Enough Rope

A properly tied figure eight knot shouldn’t have too much or too little “tail” (excess rope) left over at the end. The amount of tail depends on how much rope you measure at the beginning.

Starting from one end of the rope, measure out about 5 feet. Most climbers use their arms or shoulders to judge this, and it doesn’t need to be exact. With a little practice, you’ll be able to pull the right length consistently.

2. Make a Bight

Take the rope in one hand and form a bight (an open loop or U shape). Again, make sure you do this the same way every time — note which way the bight faces and which hand you use.

3. Turn the Bight Into a Figure Eight

Take the end of your rope and pass it over the first strand, behind the bight, back to the front, and up through the loop.

This is the most important step of tying a figure eight. It’s often assigned a mnemonic device, such as: “the rabbit goes around the tree and into the hole.”

When you’ve completed this step, you should see the classic figure-eight shape.

4. Thread the End Through Your Harness

Take the end of your rope and pass it through the tie-in points on your harness. Most climbers thread through the lower tie-in point and then the upper, although you can technically go in either direction (as long as you do it the same every time).

5. Trace Your Eight

Once the end of the rope is threaded through your harness, pull it back through the knot to retrace the figure eight shape.

Start by threading the end up through the side of the eight closest to your harness. Loop it up around the top of the knot, then thread it back down through the eight. Finally, loop it over the bottom of the knot and thread it through the eight again to lie alongside the other strand.

When this step is complete, the two strands of rope should always run parallel to each other. You can easily check this by counting five pairs of parallel strands from the bottom to the top of the knot.

6. Tuck the Tail

When the figure eight-follow through is complete, you’ll have a short tail left over. Always make sure that this tail is at least six inches long so that the knot stays securely tied.

You can leave your tail hanging if you want, but it tends to flop around and get in the way. Many climbers tie the tail to the other strand of rope using an overhand knot or double-barrel knot.

I’m a fan of the Yosemite finish. To make a Yosemite finish, wrap the tail one more time around the rope and thread it down through the lower loop of the figure eight. The end result should look like this:

2. Clove Hitch

The clove hitch is a simple but remarkably useful knot, especially for multipitch climbing. The clove hitch creates a quick and adjustable attachment point anywhere on the length of the rope. It’s often used to clip in to an anchor at the top of a pitch.

Again, there are several ways to tie a clove hitch. If it’s a knot you use frequently, it’s worth learning to tie it one-handed.

Clove hitched in on a multipitch climb.

1. Cross Hands, Grab Rope

With the rope in front of you, cross one arm over the other and grab the rope palm-down with both hands. It doesn’t matter which arm is on top (I go right over left).

2. Uncross Your Hands

While holding on to the rope, uncross your hands to form two loops.

3. Reverse Loops and Clip

Take whichever arm was on top in step 1 and bring its loop in front of the other. Don’t rotate either loop — keep them facing the same direction.

With the loops overlapped, clip both to a carabiner. Pull the strands to tighten the hitch. Properly tied, a clove hitch should not slip when either strand is pulled.

3. Triple Barrel (Stopper) Knot

This knot is most frequently used as a precaution when performing multiple rappels. Tying a triple barrel knot in both ends of the rope prevents any climber from rappelling off the end.

Too many climbers have died this way. Always knot your ends.

1. Drape the Rope Over Your Hand

Leaving a few feet of tail, drape the rope over one hand with the tail away from you. You can use either hand.

2. Wrap Over Your Hand Twice

Reach over the rope on the thumb-side and bring the tail underneath your hand. Wrap it over the top of your hand, then repeat the process again. Wrap away from your thumb toward your fingers, like so:

3. Thread the Tail

Bring the tail underneath your hand a third time. Thread the end up your hand from the fingers toward the base of the palm, passing underneath all the other strands of rope.

4. Cinch

Pull both ends of the rope and tighten the wraps to cinch the knot tight.

4. Flat Overhand Bend (aka European Death Knot)

Don’t let the name scare you. The flat overhand bend, commonly known as the European Death Knot or EDK, is perfectly safe. It is commonly used to tie two ropes together for double-rope rappels.

1. Align Rope Tips

Take one tip of each rope and align the two.

2. Make a Loop

Form a loop with both parallel strands.

3. Thread the Tails

Thread the tails back through the loop to form an overhand knot.

4. Cinch and Dress

Cinch the knot tight. To keep this knot from rolling or slipping, it’s important to make sure that the strands lie tight and parallel at all points.

5. Munter Hitch

You may not need a Munter Hitch very often, but it’s a lifesaver when you do. This hitch can be used to safely belay another climber without a belay device. If you drop your ATC four pitches up a ten-pitch climb, you can keep climbing with a Munter.

This knot is similar to the clove hitch and differs only in the final step. They serve very different functions, so practice both before you need them.

1. Cross Hands, Grab Rope

With the rope in front of you, cross one arm over the other and grab the rope palm-down with both hands. It doesn’t matter which arm is on top (I go right over left).

2. Uncross Your Hands

While holding on to the rope, uncross your hands to form two loops.

3. Clap and Clip

Bring the two loops to face each other and put them together by “clapping” your hands. Note that this step differs from the clove hitch, in which the two loops stayed in the same plane.

Clip the loops to a locking carabiner. To use the Munter hitch to belay, clip this carabiner to your belay loop.

6. Overhand/Figure Eight on a Bight

These two related knots create easy attachment points. The overhand is quicker to tie, but it’s harder to undo after it’s been loaded.

1. Form a Bight

Double up a section of rope into a U shape.

2. Create a Loop with Both Strands

Form both parallel strands into a loop by bringing the end of the U over the top.

3. Pass the End Under (optional)

Skip this step for an overhand on a bight. For a figure eight on a bight, tuck the end of the U back under the rope.

4. Bring the End Up and Through

Take the end of the U and pass it through the loop you just formed.

In the pictures below, the upper half shows an overhand on a bight and the lower half shows a figure eight on a bight.

5. Cinch and Dress

Pull the knot tight. The strands should stay neat and parallel at all points.

3 Tips for Tying Climbing Knots

  1. Always tie the same way. Minimizing variability reduces the odds of making a mistake.
  2. Dress to impress. Don’t get in the habit of tying sloppy knots. Neat knots are easier to assess at a glance, which means you’re more likely to catch a mistake.
  3. Practice. When you’re up on the wall, you don’t want to be worried about whether you tied your knots correctly. Practice beforehand so that you’re dialed in when it’s time to climb.

Other Helpful Climbing Knots

The five knots above are not the only ones you’ll encounter in the climbing world.

A thin cord can be wrapped around the rope in an autoblock or prusik hitch to act as a rappel backup or emergency ascender. Both are worth learning if you plan to climb outside often.

The double fisherman’s knot is another useful way to tie two ropes together. It’s often used to form prusik cords. A girth hitch can be used to sling trees, and a water knot is helpful for joining pieces of webbing.

Some climbers prefer to tie in with a double bowline. This knot isn’t as easy to learn or assess as the figure eight follow-through, so it’s not recommended for beginner or intermediate climbers. Alpine climbers may need to tie into the middle of a rope, in which case the alpine butterfly comes in handy.


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