Knots

Knots used in climbing and mountaineering

For those who already have experience and dexterity with ropes, the multitude of knots used in climbing and mountaineering is well-known. Mountaineering and climbing activities demand a solid understanding and mastery of knots, both to ensure safety and to facilitate rope maneuvers. Some of the knots used in climbing are similar to boating knots.

In this article, we will explore some of the key knots used in mountaineering and climbing, categorized into five groups: knots for anchorages at belay stations, knots for tying into the harness, knots for securing the climber, knots for joining ropes and cords, and ascending knots.

1. Knots for anchorages at belay stations

The foundation for creating a belay station on a rock face is, of course, provided by the existence of anchor points where the rope, kevlar, or dynema ring can be secured. When reaching a belay station, whether natural (hourglasses, rock spikes, or trees) or artificial (rock pegs, bolts, friends, etc.), it is essential to establish a connection between the anchor points and the rope, ensuring the safety of both oneself and the climbing partner. To achieve this, climbers use knots that enable the distribution of the load across various anchor points.

It is widely known that relying on a single anchor point is not advisable. It is undoubtedly preferable to have at least two points that will be connected together. The only exception allowing reasonably safe reliance on a single anchor point is when large cemented metal rings or sturdy trees are encountered on the rock face. Even a chockstone (a stone that’s tightly wedged in a crack) can serve as a reliable anchor point.

When connecting multiple anchor points, one must adhere to this principle: the angle formed between the anchor points and the vertex should be as closed as possible (see here). If this angle exceeds 120 degrees, the force exerted by the load on individual points will surpass the actual hanging load, undoubtedly compromising the stability of the belay station. If the anchor points are widely spaced, it will be necessary to elongate the vertex to close the angle.

Some of the most commonly used knots in mountaineering for anchorages at belay stations are:

Self-Equalization

When connecting the two anchor points with a loop of cord, kevlar, or webbing, make a half twist around a solid feature, as can be observed lookig at the image on the side.

This allows for an even distribution of the load across the two anchor points.

Mountaineering knots: Self-Equalization

Self-Equalization

Mid Self-Equalization

However, if one of the anchor points on the aforementioned connection were to break, the jerk caused by the sliding of the vertex downward could damage the remaining anchor point.

This can be easily avoided by creating two loops near the vertex, as illustrated on the side.

Climbing knots: Mid Self-Equalization
Mid Self-Equalization

Below are the three types of anchoring devices on two fixed points, used in climbing, mountaineering, and mountain rescue. They differ in the amount of webbing or cord required for their construction: the first requires a knot on the vertex, the second two knots, and the third a comprehensive knot with all the branches of the vertex.
Once the knots are tied, the vertex cannot be changed, and for this reason, special attention must be paid to the proper distribution of forces on the anchor points to ensure that the load is evenly distributed across the two points.

Mountaineering knots: Fixed anchor.
Fixed anchor
Fixed anchor.
Fixed anchor
Mountaineering knots: Fixed anchor.
Fixed anchor

2. Knots for tying into the harness

All knots for the harness should be tied as close as possible to the harness itself to prevent the loop from getting caught in the rock and to stay as close as possible to the rock when stopped at a quickdraw; something not achievable if the knot is positioned 40 cm away from the harness!

Figure 8

Used primarily for connecting the climbing rope to the harness, it is also known as the friction hitch guide knot and is an evolution of the Savoy knot. The main advantages of the retraced figure-eight knot are its excellent holding capacity and low “cutting” value.

Figure 8

Double Bowline knot

A variant of the bowline knot useful for connecting the harness to the climbing rope. The main advantage of this knot is that, despite being generally very secure, it can be easily untied, even after being subjected to strong pulls or when the rope is wet.

Knots for tying into the harness: Double Bowline.

3. Knots to secure the climber

Although nowadays the vast majority of climbers use various belay devices (such as Reverso, GiG, etc.) for securing their partners, in the practice of mountaineering, it is crucial to know at least two safety knots. What if, for instance, we accidentally drop our belay evice into the void?
When belaying the climber, both in mountaineering and climbing, it is necessary to use a knot that allows the rope to be blocked in the event of a fall, but also to allow it to slide in a fluid and controlled manner. The most used knot to secure the climber during his progression is certainly the Munter hitch, also known as the Italian hitch, a knot that every climber must know.

Italian Hitch

The Italian hitch, also known as the Munter hitch, is used for mutual belaying (one person belaying the other) of members in the climbing party. The braking hand can withstand a force of up to 2.5 kN.

Block knot for the Italian Hitch

It is crucial to be familiar with this knot as well. These two complementary knots are used to lock and unlock ropes under load. Typically used in conjunction with the Munter hitch when the operator needs to lock the rope under load.

Clove Hitch

It is used to lock the rope onto the carabiner and self-secure to the wall, and it is easily adjustable. It is typically used for self-belay by members of the climbing party but can be employed in various other situations.

Mountaineering knots: Italian hitch.
Italian hitch
Block knot for the Italian hitch.
Block knot for the Italian hitch
Mountaineering knots: Clove hitch
Clove hitch

4. Knots for joining ropes in climbing

When joining two ropes or cords, either to extend their length or create loops, it is essential to use knots that are secure, strong, and compact. The knot should be tied in a way that the two free ends are parallel and have a length of at least 15 cm (approximately 6 inches). Some of the most commonly used knots for joining ropes and cords are:

Simple joining knot

The most basic joining knot, also known as the “water knot,” because it tends to “float” over the rock’s irregularities. It is used to join two ropes for a double-rope descent. Extremely easy to tie, it is the knot with the least likelihood of getting stuck when passing an edge during rope retrieval.

Simple joining knot used in mountaineering

Tape sling knot

Used to close tape loops, it is the only knot that guarantees not to accidentally loosen (and consequently untie). To tie it, a regular knot is made with one of the two ends without tightening it; with the other end, you follow the same path in reverse, essentially “retracing” the knot.

Tape sling knot

Fisherman's knot
Fisherman’s knot
Grapevine knot
Grapevine knot
Kevlar joining knot
Kevlar joining knot

5. Ascending knots used in mountaineering

Ascending knots, also know as self-locking knots, are used to connect two ropes, allowing one to slide over the other while being able to brake or slow down when subjected to a load. These knots are very useful in mountaineering and climbing, for tasks such as ascending a rope, creating a movable belay station, securing a climbing partner, or performing a rescue maneuver. The two most well-known self-locking knots are:

Machard knot

Bidirectional self-locking Knot. When loaded, it prevents the cord from sliding on the rope.

This knot is created by wrapping a cord around the main rope for four or five turns, forming a loop. The cord is then secured with a locking carabiner. The diameter of the cord used for the knot must be smaller than the diameter of the rope on which the Marchand knot will be positioned.

It is an easy knot to unlock, even under tension, and it does not deform the main rope.

It is often used as a self-locking knot for double-rope descents, applied to a Kevlar cord—a material with a very high melting point, making it suitable for friction with an increase in temperature.

Machard

Prusik knot

For this knot as well, the diameter of the cord must be smaller than that of the rope.

The Prusik knot is a bidirectional self-locking knot, similar to the Marchand. Compared to the Marchand, the Prusik performs better in conditions of wet or muddy ropes.

If correctly executed, the Prusik knot has the ability to “slide” along the rope on which it is mounted, as long as it is not subjected to strong tension. When the knot is loaded (such as when a climber or mountaineer hangs from it), its coils tighten and lock the knot in place.

It is a very durable knot but can be challenging to release under heavy loads.

Prusik