Rock Climbing Knots

Knots are central to climbing systems. They join everything – from the cord tied on your cams to the rope tied on your waist – and they help to create belaying and self-rescue systems.

In a sport as complex as rock climbing, you might expect that you would have to master many dozen different specialized knots, yet nearly the opposite is true.

If you learn just a few knots and their variations, you can have a long and successful climbing career. While there are a host of other knots available, many of which serve purposes similar to the ones described here, this book describes only the most fundamental knots and their variations.

A few terms are useful as you learn these knots:

  • live end: the end of the rope being used, the end you are holding in your hand
  • standing end: the part of the rope running toward the far end; if you are tying into the rope, the live end is the end you are tying into and the standing end is the end of the rope that lies in a pile at your feet
  • bight: a pinched bend in the rope; the strands do not cross
  • loop: a bend in which the strands cross
  • tail: the live end of rope left over after tying a knot, and sticking out of the knot
  • on a bight: a knot formed in the middle of a rope
  • hitch: a wrapped connection around something-hitches do not stand on their own like knots; they fall apart if the thing they are hitched to is removed
  • dressing: the act of making a knot neat and tight

The knots that are described here are: figure eight follow-through, figure eight on a bight, double fisherman (half for a backup knot, triple for cordelettes), overhand on a bight, water knot, and mule knot.

The hitches that are described here are: Munter hitch, girth hitch, clove hitch, and Prusik/Klemheist/autoblock clamping hitches.

Figure Eight Follow-Through

This is the knot that creates the essential link between the climbing rope and the climber. It is strong and easy to identify, and it stays tied once it is tightened. It can also be tied around objects such as trees to anchor a rope for a belay anchor and can be used to tie rope ends together. Though very secure, the figure eight follow-through is usually backed up with half of a double fisherman knot.

Figure Eight On A Bight

This is the same knot as the figure eight follow-through but is tied on a bight instead of tracing in reverse back through the knot as in the figure eight follow-through. It forms a very strong and reliable loop and is most often used as the master point in a belay anchor or to form the tether for a climber to clip into a belay anchor with.

Double Fisherman

This is the standard way to connect two ropes together. It consists of two knots tied around the rope that pull in opposition to each other and lock up. Half of this knot is used to hack up a figure eight follow-through, and it is easy to tie on the end of a rope as a stopper knot to protect rappels. Used with three loops, it becomes a triple fisherman, which is the standard way of tying cordelettes, the cord that runs through protection, or anything tied with Spectra or Kevlar cord.

Overhand On A Bight

This is the simplest way of making a strong loop in a rope, a piece of cord, or webbing. When weighted, overhand loops are really hard to get out, so the knot is not recommended for high-load situations.

Water Knot

Also called the ring bend, this is a simple, retracted overhand knot that is tied in the webbing to tie the ends of slings together. It must be tied very tightly, at least 2 inches of the tail should be left, and the knot should be checked regularly because there is a tendency for the tails to creep toward the knot.

Mule Knot

The mule knot is a type of slip knot tied around a rope or cord. It forms a blocking knot that will jam yet can be released easily, even while loaded. It figures prominently in belay escapes and other rescue situations.

Munter Hitch

The Munter hitch is a sliding bitch that allows you to control rope or cord being run through a belay. It is used for belaying and in many rescue situations. It is easy to feed rope in and out of a Munter bitch, and when weighted the hitch “flips” and locks. It can also be used for rappelling, although it tends to twist the rope dramatically in this application and is awkward and complicated to use on double ropes. If you know the Writer hitch, you need never worry again about dropping your belay device. This hitch works best on HMS carabiners.

Girth Hitch

The girth hitch is a fast and secure way to connect many things. It is the easiest way to link slings, secure a sling around a tree, or tie off a piton close to the rock.

The clove hitch is a marvelously useful knot. It can be used in place of a figure eight on a bight to connect a climber to the anchor and is great for putting tension in a system, as when connecting nuts in opposition. The clove hitch is quick and easy to tie and is easily adjustable once tied. It must be tied neatly or it can slip. The clove hitch is not as strong as other knots and should not be used in high-load situations.


These three clamping hitches are grouped together because they perform the same basic function-they are all used to attach a cord or webbing directly to the rope so that it can be loaded and then unloaded and slid along the rope. When weighted, these hitches bite into the rope and lock. When unweighted, they can be loosened and repositioned.

The prusik is a variation on the girth hitch, is very secure, and can be loaded in any direction, but it can be difficult to untie after a heavy load. It is the standard clamping hitch for rescue situations and was used before mechanical ascenders were invented for ascending a rope.

The Klemheist hitch provides slightly less holding power than the prusik, should only be loaded in one direction (holding power is greatly reduced when loaded the other way), and releases easily after being loaded.

The autoblock hitch provides the least holding power of the three clamping hitches but is nonetheless sufficiently strong enough for low-load situations like backing up a rappel.