8 Essential Rock Climbing Knots

8 essential climbing knots 

The proficiency to correctly tie climbing knots is a fundamental skill that every climber, irrespective of their experience or skill level, must not only acquire but master. The vast array of knots available for climbing, with entire volumes dedicated to their exploration, might seem overwhelming. However, there's no need to tie yourself in knots with anxiety. When I embarked on climbing, climbers primarily relied on four essential knots—the Double Bowline, Ring Bend, Prusik, and Clove Hitch—and these served me well for over a decade. Naturally, climbing and its knots have evolved since those early days to better align with the sport's demands.

Numerous books, including my favorite, The Ashley Book of Knots, boasting nearly 4,000 knots, delve into this intricate subject. Yet, starting with just eight basics can set you on the right path: Munter Hitch, Clover Hitch, Trace Figure Eight, Over Hand Knot, Girth Hitch, Prusik Knot, Klemheist Knot, and Bowline on a Bight. I've never found myself in a situation where I needed more than these eight, although I am acquainted with a few extra "just in case." For gym or indoor climbers, it's reassuring to know that mastering just one knot, the Trace Figure Eight, often suffices, as it's the knot most climbing gyms mandate for securing the rope to your harness.


Trace Figure Eight Knot

The primary knot to master, and the one you'll employ each time you rope up, is the tie-in knot—the link between you and the end of the rope. While climbers utilize various knots for this purpose, the Trace-Eight stands out as the easiest to learn and the least prone to self-untangling. Admittedly, it may tighten considerably after a robust fall, posing a challenge for untying. Nevertheless, view this as a modest trade-off for enhanced security. Dedicate time to practice this knot until you can effortlessly tie it, whether in rain or shine and even in the dark.

Tying the Trace-Eight is a straightforward process. Begin by fashioning a figure-eight knot in the standing section of the rope, approximately 24 to 30 inches from the end. Subsequently, weave the end of the rope backward through the knot, ensuring a 12-inch tail remains. Secure the tail with either half of a Double Fisherman’s knot or an overhand knot. Pull it tight!

For gym climbing, mastering just one knot, the Trace-Eight, suffices. This knot serves for tying into the rope, whether you're leading or top-roping. Many gyms mandate the use of the Trace-Eight, often requiring climbers to pass a proficiency test to ensure correct tying.

how to tie a figure eight knot


  • Perfect for connecting to your harness


Munter Hitch

Lose your belay/rappel device? Fear not if you know how to tie a Munter Hitch.

This hitch serves for both belaying and rappelling. Pull back on one side, and the Munter Hitch cinches onto itself, providing enough friction to secure a fall or regulate a rappel. Tie it on a large locking carabiner for swiveling, essential when paying out or reeling in slack.

While the Munter Hitch is handy, reserve it for emergencies. It tends to twist the rope into snarls.

how to tie a munter hitchUses

  • Functions as an emergency belay or a makeshift single-rope rappel "device."


Clove Hitch

The clove hitch holds significant importance as a safety knot, especially when utilized as a personal anchor. It is attached securely at the center point of the anchor using a reliable locking carabiner. One of its notable features is its user-friendly nature – adjusting the length of the clove hitch is a breeze. A simple pull on the center ridge and a gentle nudge in the desired direction allow for quick and precise adjustments, eliminating the need for any inconvenient untying or the removal of your anchor.

A crucial caveat to bear in mind is that the clove hitch should never be employed to anchor the end of a rope. The risk lies in the potential for the clove hitch to slip, allowing the tail to pull through the knot and ultimately causing it to come undone. For anchoring the end of a rope, it is advisable to opt for the more secure figure-eight loop. This ensures a higher level of stability and minimizes the risk of accidental untying, providing a safer alternative in such situations.

how to tie a clove hitchUses

  • Connect securely to an anchor for stability and safety.
  • Tie off items needing length adjustment for flexibility in your setup.


The Overhand Knot 

The overhand knot, renowned for its versatility as a joining knot, excels in connecting two rope ends. Its practicality comes to the forefront in scenarios involving light loads, such as rappelling and "prusiking", or when knots need to be applied from a climbing position, like at a tunnel or a knot loop. While it may exhibit a slightly lower overall security, especially with long ends, its adaptability remains entirely sufficient for these levels of strain. This knot stands as a steadfast and utilitarian solution, underscoring its effectiveness in diverse climbing situations where reliable connections are of paramount importance.

The overhand knot, though not the preferred option for critical applications due to its inclination to jam and challenges in untying after substantial loads, retains its significance as a fundamental knot. Widely utilized in various outdoor activities, camping, and everyday applications, it offers simplicity and versatility.

Its role as a basic stopper knot, in joining two rope ends, and as the foundation for more complex knots makes it a staple in practical knot-tying scenarios. While its limitations are acknowledged, its ease of use and ubiquity ensure its continued relevance in a range of situations where a reliable and straightforward knot is required.

how to tie overhand knotUses

  • The overhand knot often connects two rope ends but can jam and be difficult to untie after heavy loads.
  • The overhand knot at the rope's end stops slippage through holes or hardware.
  • The overhand knot serves as a marker in the rope, indicating a specific point or the end.

Girth Hitch

The girth hitch is a fast and straightforward knot for connecting slings, useful for various applications like fastening slings to trees or attaching a personal anchor sling to a harness and carabiner. However, caution is essential, especially when under strain and scraping against a rock face, as in setting top-rope anchors over rock edges. Joining knots like the girth hitch can be vulnerable in such situations, leading to quick damage of the sling material.

how to make girth hitchUses

  • The hitch securely joins items to extend their length when a carabiner is not available.
  • Use the hitch to tie off fixed pitons that haven't been fully driven in.


Prusik Knot

The Prusik Knot, technically categorized as a hitch, is widely acclaimed as the most common friction hitch. Its versatility makes it invaluable for ascending tasks and an essential component of crevasse rescue systems, where it exhibits the unique ability to grip the rope from either direction of pull. Essentially formed by multiple girth hitches, the process involves placing the loop behind the rope, threading the side with the connecting knot through the other side, and wrapping it loosely around the rope, repeating this at least three times. Crucially, the knot should be slightly to the side, away from the main load-bearing line.

Tightening the hitch is paramount to ensure a secure grip on the rope. To refine the knot, it's essential to dress it properly by aligning all the loops in a parallel fashion and positioning the connecting knot slightly offset to avoid interference with the bend of the loop. This meticulous approach enhances the Prusik Knot's reliability and effectiveness, making it an indispensable tool in various climbing and rescue scenarios.

how to tie a prusik knotUses

  • Ascend a rope using the technique known as "prussiking."
  • This method proves valuable for tasks like crevasse extraction and other emergencies


Klemheist Knot

The Klemheist knot presents itself as a distinctive alternative to the prusik, showcasing optimal holding capabilities in one direction while exhibiting diminished efficiency when subjected to force in the opposite direction. Notably, this knot offers specialized suitability for sling material, making it an advantageous choice, especially for narrow slings, where it excels in providing optimal grip and security. Its unique characteristics make the Klemheist knot a valuable tool in various climbing and outdoor scenarios, offering a reliable and effective solution for specific applications where its directional holding properties are particularly advantageous.

how to tie a Klemheist KnotUses

  • friction hitch for ascending or descending a rope.


Bowline on a Bight

Establishing a central anchor point is crucial for climbers to secure both their personal anchor and their partner's belay. The bowline on a bight proves to be an effective choice for this purpose. This knot utilizes a double bight, distributing minimal strain on the belt material while ensuring exceptional strength and resistance to tightening under strain. Typically prepared before the climb using a 120cm sling, the bowline on a bight offers convenience as the climber can keep it at hand during the ascent, equipped with two locking carabiners for quick and secure attachment of essential gear. This strategic setup enhances safety and efficiency in climbing scenarios.

how to tie a bowline on a bightUses

  • secure and reliable central anchor point
  • minimizes strain on the belt material while maintaining considerable strength
  • remains resistant to tightening when subjected to strain, enhancing its stability in dynamic climbing situations


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