Being keen on knowing how to tie rappelling knots, hitches, and bends is essential to having a great time on the mountainside or in the canyon. All of these techniques will be used to attach you and practically every piece of your equipment together. Being properly trained to tie the knots, hitches, or bends needed will allow you to work together with the rest of your equipment in achieving the common objective, descending safely down while enjoying the experience of a lifetime.
In this tutorial I will address 4 rappelling knots, 4 hitches, and 3 bends. These are basic techniques but critical to one’s success. This is no different than knowing how to dribble a basketball, you can’t reach the other side of the court, make a basket, and win the game without understanding the basics. Take the time to understand the basics of knots, hitches, and bends so you can reach your personal destination and conquer your rock!
The following rappelling knots are some of the most widely used and they will be absolutely critical to your safety. These knots will primarily be used to tie your harness to your anchor so you need to have a firm understanding of how to do it. The knots you use really are your first line of defense to protect you or someone else from potential harm. Talk about big responsibilities right? Take time to learn and practice tying each knot type. As you become confident and comfortable with tying these knots you will have taken a significant step forward towards using the right techniques for rappelling. If you know the techniques to use inside and out you can expect a fantastic day rappelling down a sheer cliff wall, over a waterfall, or down a cave.
- Overhand Loop – The simplest knot that can be tied to form a loop. This knot forms a fixed loop in a rope. The overhand loop is used to attach clips, hooks, and other rope. However, this knot can jam tight when the rope has been pulled and the knot often has to be cut off when this happens. This knot should never be used as an alternative to the bowline.
- Fold the main line to create a bight.
- Fold the bight over the two tails to create loop.
- Pass the bight under the tails and up through the loop. Pull tight.
- Bowline – This rappelling knot is typically used to tie a rope around objects such as a rock or tree. The advantages of this knot are once you learn how to tie this knot, it is easy to tie and also untie, even after it has been under pressure. While it is not an easy knot to learn how to tie, with some practice, it is possible to tie this knot with one hand. This knot can be used to secure your rope to just about anything. A bowline knot requires a back up. When the bowline is weighted and unweighted, the knot will losen. Use a half-double fisherman’s knot as a back up.
- Create a small loop in the rope. Leave a tail long enough to create the bowline knot that you will need.
- Pass the tail through the small loop, to create an overhand knot.
- Continue to pull the tail under the main line, and pass the tail back through the small loop to finish the knot.
- Figure Eight Loop – This is a standard climber’s knot and is universally used to tie off the end of a rope, the bight, or middle, of a rope.
- Create a small loop in the rope with the tail of the rope on top.
- Wrap the tail under the rope.
- Pass the tail through the small loop. Pull tight.
- Figure Eight Follow-Through – This is one of the strongest knots climbers can use. This is a standard climbers knot and is universally used to tie the rope to the harness, a ring, or a carabiner. The Figure Eight Follow-Through is also known as the Flemish Bend. It is imperative that you learn how tie this knot correctly and practice, practice, practice! This is the knot that will keep you from hitting the ground.
- Create a lose figure 8 loop with a long tail, about an arms length.
- To tie yourself into the knot, take the tail end of the rope and pass it through your leg loops and waist belt of your harness, coming from the bottom up.
- Pull the figure 8 loop close to your harness, about 3 inches
- Pass the tail through the figure 8 again to create a parallel knot.
- Tighten the knot by pulling the rope on opposite sides of the knot, one piece of rope on each side at a time. Make sure the ropes are snug up against one another and fun perfectly parallel when tightened.
A hitch is defined as a knot tied around another object like a rope or carabiner. The following are types of hitches to become familiar with in rappelling. You will be using these on day one of your first rappel and will continue to use them in future trips.
- Stopper Knot – This rappelling knot is highly recommended to rappel and is a simple way to protect oneself from potential danger. It is a knot placed at the end of the rope to STOP one from rappelling off the end of the rope if they do not have enough length to complete the descent. A stopper knot can also be used to prevent the end of the rope from slipping through a knot, a block, or belay. The stopper knot can pass through a figure eight descender device. If you are using that device, you will need to use a larger knot as your safety knot. You can also use an overhand loop as a stopper knot.
- Fold the rope to create a bite, and wrap the tail of the rope around the rope twice to create two loops around the rope.
- Pass the tail through the loops and the up through the middle of the bite.
- Slowly tighten the knot evenly.
- Klemheist Knot – This is a friction knot and can be used to ascend a rope. The cord will tightly grip the rope when pressure is applied and moved easily when the pressure is released. It is quick and simple to tie and can be used with a sling if a cord is not available. This knot uses a cord and a rope. The difference between this knot and the Prusik knot (below) is this knot will still slide when weighted.
- Place the cord behind the rope with the knot in the cord placed at the bottom, to form a +.
- Wrap the top of the cord around the rope 3 times, neatly and evenly.
- Pass the lower loop of the cord through the upper loop.
- Dress the hitch so the loops are snug on the rope and are parallel with no over laps.
- Autoblock – Much like the name, this rappelling knot is meant as a backup to your brake hand. This knot slides over the rope during a safe, controlled rappel. In case the rappeler loses control and there is a sudden drop, the autoblock will clinch around the rope and stop the fall. You will need a short, thin cord or a nylon sling. This knot wrapped around the rappelling rope with a cord. Also known as the Machard knot. This should always be combine with other safety equipment.
- Wrap the cord 5 times around the rope. Use up most up the cord as more wraps will create more friction.
- Clip both ends of the cord into a carabiner. The carabiner should be on the leg harness loop, on the side of your brake hand.
- Prusik Knot – Commonly used for ascending a rope. Think cave rappelling, you get in a cave but now you need to get back out of it. Tests show that the Prusik knot can carry the most weight. This is a good choice when the knot will hold more than just body weight.
- Tie a double fishermans knot to join two cords (see fisherman’s knot below).
- Tie a second double fishermans knot with the other tail. The cords should now make one big circle.
- Pull the double fishermans knots together to create a barrel knot.
- Take the loop of the cord and place it under the rope.
- Wrap the cord around the rope three times. Be sure the wraps stay on the inside of the cord, with the doube fisherman’s at the bottom.
A bend is defined as two separate ropes or cords joined together by their ends. The following are types of bends to become familiar with in rappelling. There are some precautions to take when tying bends. First, it is not recommended to tie two ropes together that have drastically different diameters (for example, 4 millimeters is way too much). Bends are also not recommended for stiff ropes. They should be well tightened and used with discretion.
- Double Fisherman’s Knot – Also known as the grapevine knot. This rappelling knot is commonly used to join nylon cords into a loop to make a cordelette (cordelette is a large sling that uses accessory cord and is created using the Double or Triple Fisherman’s Knot). The Double Fisherman’s knot can also be used to securely join two ropes together in a double-rope rappel. This knot has been tested as the best joining knot and is commonly used as a backup knot after you have tided yourself to your harness using a Figure 8 follow through knot.
- Wrap the tail end of the knot around the rope, coming back over itself.
- Wrap the tail end around again, to create an X.
- Pass the tail end through the loops and push up on the knot to tighten.
- Triple Fisherman’s Knot – This rappelling knot has similar functionality to the Double Fisherman’s knot but has been tested to be slightly stronger.
- Place two ropes parallel.
- Wrap the bottom rope around the top rope, passing the tail under the ropes, three times.
- Pass the tail of the rope back up through the loops.
- Repeat with the tail of the second rope.
- Dress the knots by carefully pulling both ends of the ropes.
- Pull the knots together by pulling on the long ends of the rope.
- Figure Eight Bend – This rappelling knot is commonly used to tie two separate ropes together because of its superior strength and ease to untie after use.
- Create a loose figure 8 knot in one of the ropes.
- Pass the second rope through the tail of the first figure 8 knot to create a parallel knot in reverse.
- Dress the knot so that each outermost loop is snug around the adjoining turn.
Once again, now that you know the steps to tie rappelling knots it is your job to practice, practice, practice. The more you prepare the easier it will be to remember how to tie the knots. Eventually you will get to the point where all of these knots will be second nature to you. Failure of any of these knots could result in serious injury or death. Do not take this step lightly. Learn from a trained professional how to correctly tie the knot and always double check your work.
After you have received instruction from a trained professional you need to continue to practice what was learned. There is the old adage that practice makes perfect which is true and so important here. It’s like riding a bike, someone with experience can provide guidance but to truly learn how to do it you just need to pedal. This is no different with tying rappelling knots. The best way to become efficient is to trust in yourself and immediately implement what was taught.
When you are confident in your abilities, have practiced sufficiently, and received additional instruction from a professional than you will be ready to take a huge step towards rappelling safely while having the time of your life.
Webbing – The Water Knot
Webbing is flat material, unlike rope which is round so the same knots are not going to work for webbing. Most often with webbing, we will use overland loop knots, often called water knots with webbing. All webbing knots must be dressed and tightened carefully as they tend to untie if you are careless with the tightening. The water knot is used two tie two ends of webbing together, also known as an overhand bend.
- Tie and overhand knot in one end of the webbing and turn the webbing over.
- Take the other end of the webbing and follow the knot back through in the opposite direction. Make sure you have followed the knot back through completely.
- Dress the knot, being sure that both pieces of webbing lay flat and parallel against each other. Make sure that there is at least three inches of webbing on the tails. Pull tight.