Knots for Climbers

Main Picture: Tied in with a Figure Eight and well belayed with Clove Hitches: time to enjoy the evening view down Ennerdale. (Photo: Sarah Bailey)

These notes are intended to assist those who are gaining a footing in the strange world of climbing. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way.

Ultimately climbing is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead!

Climbers need to know remarkably few knots to climb in safety. However those few knots they need to know so well that they can tie them correctly in pitch blackness - which they may well have to do at some point in their climbing career!

There are of course many knots and variations that climbers could use, but here we consider the main knots that it is essential for every climber to know:

Knot Type Main Usage
Italian Hitch Belaying and abseiling when you have dropped your belay plate
Prusik Loop An essential piece of kit for safe-guarding abseils and ascending fixed ropes
Double Fisherman's Knot Joining abseil ropes, joining cord abseil and prusik loops, joining nut slings
Double Overhand Knot Joining abseil ropes. This knot is on our Abseil Knots page
Tape Knot Joining tape abseil slings
Clove Hitch Setting up multiple belay points
Figure of Eight Knot on the Bight Clipping a rope into something
Figure of Eight Knot Threaded Tying in to a harness
Stopper Knot Finishing off a Figure of Eight or a Bowline to make it safer
Bowline Tying in to a harness. Tying a rope off round a tree or similar
Alpine Butterfly Tying on in the middle of a rope
Abalakov Thread For winter/alpine climbers. This knot is on our Abalakov Thread page

Italian Hitch

Much used by continentals for belaying and abseiling, this simple knot is a handy one to know if you accidentally drop your belay plate. With the krab clipped into your belay loop the friction of rope against rope is enough to slow you on descents and to hold falls. It is difficult to use with double ropes, and puts twists in the rope and causes wear, so it is not recommended instead of a proper belay device.

Prusik Loop

A cord knot that clamps onto a thicker rope under load. Actually two variations on the original Prusik Knot as designed by Dr Prusik. These variations (The French Prusik/Autoblock and the Kleimheist) are less prone to jamming than the original Prusik. What we shall loosely term Prusik knots have numerous uses - here are a few :

Use a single Prusik in conjunction with a belay plate/abseil device when abseiling so that if something goes wrong the knot will jam and stop you hitting the deck. The krab can either be clipped to a leg loop with the knot below the device, or to the belay loop with the knot above the device. We recommend former because it is easier to release under load, but make sure that a) the Prusik loop is short enough and b) extend the belay device away from the harness with a short sling so that there is no chance of the Prusik loop being drawn into the device.

Use two Prusik loops to ascend a fixed rope. One is clipped directly into your harness belay loop, and the second (positioned below the first for ease of use, although it is possible to have them the other way) is clipped to a long (120cm) sling. Hang from your waist on the rope and wrap the sling once round your foot. Now slide the foot sling as high as you can up the rope. Pull yourself upright so that you are standing in the sling and the weight is no longer on your harness. Now slide the the harness knot up as high as you can. Repeat ad nauseum! Anyone climbing multipitch routes should carry a set of Prusik loops and know how to use them as it may be the only way you can regain contact with the rock if you fall over an overhang. They are also essential in the alps for getting yourself (or others) out of a crevasse.

As an autobloc device (emergency brake) when lowering or hauling heavy loads.

For setting up a safe Z-Pulley System for hauling a stuck or unconscious climber (beyond the scope of this web page).

Make a loop of cord using a Double Fisherman's Knot - for use on 9mm ropes we suggest 1.25m of 5mm cord per loop (however many people advocate 6mm or even 7mm cord).

Wind the loop four times round the rope making sure that the Double Fisherman's is kept clear.

For an French Prusik/Autoblock, clip a karabiner into both ends. This version is best when you don't want the knot to jam at all except when heavily loaded - eg when abseiling. It is not a good knot for prusiking as if grabbed it will release and slide.

For a Kleimheist, put one loop through the other and then clip the Karabiner into the first loop. This version is best when you want the knot to jam a bit even when it is not loaded - eg when ascending a fixed rope. This is a good knot for prusiking up a fixed rope as it is less prone to slip. It is not a good knot to use to protect abseils as it may not grab the rope at all. It is a good knot to use if you need to prusik with a tape sling.

WARNING: Both Prusik loops and ropes are much less grippy when new and shiny - you will need to adjust for this in the type of knot you use and the number of turns you take round the rope.

Double Fisherman's

A simple knot used to tie two ends of a length of rope together to either make a loop to thread a nut on, or to join two ropes together for an abseil and it is of particular use when setting up abseil slings (there is however a better knot for joining abseil ropes and that is the Double Overhand Knot). It is also the knot used to make any permanent loop of rope or cord (eg Prussik Loops). In these illustrations we have used two different coloured ropes to make it clearer.

Make a loop in one end.

Make a second loop, behind the first, but above the main rope.

Take the end of the rope round behind the main rope and then back through the centre of the double loop, but don't tighten it..

Push the other end of the rope (or end of the second rope) through the centre of the double loop.

Make a similar double loop in the second rope by winding it around the first rope....

...until you have both parts of the knot symmetrical and with a good tail left showing.

Pull the knot tight. If it is to be a permanent fastening, then put a lot of weight on it to tighten it really well.
A Triple Fisherman's Knot is tied the same way except that each half of the knot is made with three loops. It is mainly used for tying Dyneema cord which is much more prone to slippage.

Tape Knot

A simple knot used to tie two ends of a length of nylon tape together to make a loop or sling, and it is of particular use when setting up abseils.

In these illustrations we have used two different coloured tapes to make it clearer - normally of course you would be tying opposite ends of the same piece of tape. It should not be used for tying Dyneema tape which is much more slippery. Dyneema tape should be professionally sewn.

Tie a loose overhand knot in one end, making sure it is laid neatly - ie not twisted.

Follow the knot you have made with the other end of the tape but in the opposite direction.

The result should look like this. Make sure it is neatly laid and with a good tail....

...then tighten the knot really tight by applying lots of weight to it.
Top Tip: Don't sew or use sticky tape to secure the ends as the knot can work loose and then work its way along and off one of the ends! Leave the ends free.

Clove Hitch

A very simple, quick to tie knot that is the ideal knot to use when setting up belays as it can be tied anywhere in a rope, without needing to find an end, adjusted on the bight (ie without taking it off the karabiner), and uses up very little rope. It also comes undone easily no matter how much force has been applied to it.

Make a double loop in the rope by winding it round your fingers twice.

Flip the two loops open so that they resemble a butterfly.

Continue turning the loops until they meet again.

Slip the loops onto a karabiner. A pull on either end of the rope will tighten the knot without slippage.

Figure of Eight - on the Bight

A basic figure of eight climbers knot has several uses, including setting up belays, securing abseil ropes, and tying into a harness. There are two ways of tying it depending on usage. The first is tied on the bight (a bight is a loop in the rope).

This is mainly used when you need to clip a rope into something (eg an abseil point). Take a bight (ie a folded over bit) of rope.

Make a loop in the bight.

Take the bight round the ends of the rope.

Push the end of the bight through the loop.

With the bight through the loop, make sure that the knot is laid neatly.

Then tighten the knot well, leaving plenty of tail to tie a Stopper Knot with.

Figure of Eight - Threaded

A basic figure of eight climbers knot has several uses, including setting up belays, securing abseil ropes, and tying into a harness. There are two ways of tying it depending on usage. The second is threaded.

This is mainly used for tying into a harness.
Make a loop in the rope.

Thread the end round the rope and back through the loop ....

... to make a figure 8 shape, making sure you have plenty of rope end spare.

Thread the end of the rope through the tie in point(s) on your harness.

Follow the rope coming to your harness back round through the knot....

... until you have gone all the way around the figure 8.

Then tighten the knot up well making sure it is laid neatly.

Stopper Knot

Whatever Figure 8 Knot or Bowline you tie you should always finish it off with a Stopper Knot, which is basically half a Double Fisherman's.

Wind the tail of the rope round the rope twice to form two loops, making sure that the second loop is between the first loop and the knot....

... and insert the tail through the two loops you have just created, making sure it enters at a point past where the rope leaves the knot.

Make sure the result looks neat and symmetrical....

...then tighten it up making sure it is snug against the main knot.


For many years the knot of choice for tying onto a harness, but recently rather superseded by the Figure of Eight which is a bit more foolproof. However it has some advantages over a Figure of Eight, foremost of which is that it is much easier to undo, especially when a load has been applied to the rope. Unlike the Figure of Eight, it is very easy to adjust without undoing it, and it is the easiest knot to use if you want to tie off a rope around a tree or boulder.

Make a loop in the rope and take the tail round the object you want to tie off. Lay the knot in such away that the loop is on top of the main rope.

Thread the tail so that it comes out of the loop from below.

Take the tail round the main rope and back down through the loop.

Here's a close up.
A good way of remembering the bowline is to think of the end of the rope as the "Rabbit", the loop as the "Hole", and the main part of the rope as the "Tree". The rabbit comes out of the hole, goes round the tree, and then goes back down the hole again.

When you have tied it, tighten it all up and make sure it is laid neatly.

A bowline should always be finished off with a Stopper Knot for safety. Make sure it is all really tight or it can convert into a slip knot!

Alpine Butterfly

Coming soon!

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