Getting into a new adventure activity can be an exciting and daunting endeavor. There are so many things to learn: what skills you’ll need, what gear to get, where the best spots are, how to manage risks, and how to look steezy. (I admit, that last one may just be me.)
So, where do we start?
When you’re just getting into rock climbing, learning how to tie your rope correctly is an important step to getting off the ground, and returning safely at the end of your route for high fives and victory dances.
The standard knot for securely attaching the rope to your harness is the Figure Eight Follow Through. This knot is standard because it is easy to recognize and check if it is tied correctly, does not require a backup knot, and retains a high level of the rope’s strength (75%-80%).
When I learn a new knot, I try to live by the adage go slow to go fast. This allows me to breakdown and perfect each individual step, and build good safety habits.
Step 1. Start your knot.
Measure out about 3 feet from the end of the rope. This is the approximate length you’ll need to tie your Figure Eight Follow Through knot, and still have enough extra rope to leave a tail at the end of your knot.
I personally do this by holding the end of the rope in one outstretched hand and marking it about the center of my chest. As you practice, you’ll find the best spot on your body to mark this 3’ point.
Step 2: Make an 8
Pinch the 3’ mark with your non-dominant hand and hold it in front of you with the rope draping down. This creates a bight (or bend) in the rope.
The hanging end of the rope is called the working end. Bring the working end across the front of the rope and around the back.
Next, pull it through the front of the bight by your fingers. It’s important to bring the knot up to your fingers so there is enough rope to complete the knot.
Now you have what looks like a number 8.
Step 3: Attach to harness
First, identify the tie-in point(s) on your harness. These are the loops on your harness where your rope will be attached while climbing. It is important to learn about the harness you will be using, and to not confuse your tie-in point(s) with your belay loop, where your belay device is attached.
Next, bring the working end through your tie-in point(s) until the knot is next to your harness. It does not matter if you go bottom up or top down, as long as you are using the appropriate tie-in points for your harness.
Step 4. Follow Through
The knot should be close to your harness. Take the working end and follow the other strand coming out of your harness. Take notice of when to follow under or over the rope as you go.
When you dress the knot you adjust each strand so they sit nice and tight together. Pull all four strands coming out of the knot individually. When completed it will look like a single knot tied with two ropes, side by side. Your tail should be approximately 6”.
Step 5. Double Check
Checking and rechecking your knot, and the knot of your climbing partner is an important step before anyone leaves the ground. When going down my checklist I visually inspect my knot and say out loud what I am checking for:
- I got a Figure 8
- 2, 4, 6, 8 - counting double strands to make sure they both go under and over together
- Through two - checking my tie-in points
- Thumbs up - making a fist above my knot with a thumbs up is approximately 6”
The American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) recommends not using a backup knot with a Figure Eight Follow Through. When the knot is tied correctly with 6” of tail, it is safe and easy to inspect. Adding a backup knot may make it harder for you and your partner to check.
However, some climbing gyms do require that a backup knot is used. In the event that a backup knot is required by a gym or a program you are climbing with, the standard is a Fisherman’s Knot with at least 2” of tail.
If you need to tie a backup Fisherman’s Knot, you may want to use more than 3’ of rope for your Figure Eight Follow Through.
Make an X
Take the tail and wrap it around the back of the rope, and across the front making an X
Under the X
Bring the working end around the back in the same direction as before and pull through under the X. Dress the knot down towards the Figure 8 Follow Through. When completed it will look like two wraps around the rope with at least 2” of tail.
If your tail is not long enough to fully tie the Fisherman’s with a 2” tail than untie both knots and start with a longer strand from the end of the rope.
A great way to practice these knots at home is to get a short section of rope from your local gear shop. I recommend about 10 feet. This allows enough rope to clearly have a 3’ working section and simulate the long end of the rest of the rope. It may be a bit confusing at the start but I encourage you to practice, and then practice some more.
If you are new to climbing or tying knots, please make sure that you have an experienced climber check and double check your knots before you start climbing. This is important for your own safety, and the safety of your climbing partners.
Now go tie-in on the sharp end and crush your proj. (That’s climber talk for go out and complete your goals!)
Power on compadres.
Words, wisdom & illustrations from Field Agent, Xander Basquiat.
Check out more of Xander's work at