Rock Climbing Knots

Standard safety warning:

I do not know what kind of climbing you are doing, or what kind of trouble you might get yourself in. You, and you alone, are responsible for your own safety. Blah, blah, blah.

This is the minimal set of knots that I think I need to know to go rock climbing. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all the climbing knots in the world, there are already plenty of those out there. I have not found such lists useful.

My theory is it is more important to know a small set of knots extremely well than to memorize a whole galaxy of knots. When climbing, you might find yourself having to tie a knot while extremely tired and distracted. In that situation, the only thing that matters is that you know one knot for the job, and you have practiced enough to tie it without thinking. To that end, I have found these are the knots I need to know. I have practiced them: one-handed, with my right and left hand, in the dark, and without looking. And I will practice them some more.

Knot Shortcuts

Figure 8 Follow Through

Uses: attaching the rope to your harness (or other closed loops)

This is the knot used to tie the rope into the harness.

I should note that people used to tie into their harness with a bowline, but hat has fallen out of favor, due to safety concerns. 1 2 It is important that you learn to tie this knot neatly, so that your climbing partner can quickly and easily tell if you are safe and ready to climb.

Figure 8 knot-tying video



Uses: back-up knot, and stopper knot

This knot is so basic you probably grew up being able to tie it, and you just called it “a knot”.

This knot has two major uses. First, a lot of people use it as a back-up for their harness tie-in. This has the added adavantage of ensuring the free piece of the rope does not hit you in the eye. Second, it is smart to tie this at the end of your rope before rappelling, so you do not rappel off your rope. (Which happens.)

Overhand knot-tying video


Double Fisherman

Uses: joining two ends of rope, creating a loop

Most generally, the double fisherman is used to connect two ends of cord or rope. Most commonly, people use this knot to create a loop of cord for anchor building.

Double Fisherman knot-tying video

Clove Hitch

Uses: attaching yourself to the anchor, building anchors, attaching things to the center of the rope

When leading a climb, you can use the clove hitch to quickly tie into an anchor. Or you can use it to help equalize an anchor. Definitely learn to tie the clove hitch with one hand.

Clove Hitch knot-tying video

Girth Hitch

Uses: attaching a loop to things, building anchors

When you get lucky, you can use a tree as part of your anchor. Trees make bomber anchors, and they are faster than building one from gear. Just toss some webbing around the trunk, and finish off with a girth hitch. Done. On rare occassion, people also use this knot to connect a sling to their rope.

Girth Hitch knot-tying video


Uses: friction knot to attach a cord to a rope, auto-blocking rappel and belay, ascending rope

You will need to know how to tie a Prusik if you ever want to rappel from a climb. Rappelling is the absolute most basic self-rescue technique for rock climbers, and often the only way down from a multi-pitch climb. One Prusik can serve as an auto-block while rappelling, two can help you ascend rope in a pinch.

Prusik Hitch knot-tying video

Munter Hitch

Uses: belaying without a belay device

If you drop your belay device, you can use the munter hitch to belay your partner. This is an extremely valuable skill to have in your toolbox. Learn to tie it with one hand.

Munter Hitch knot-tying video


  • The Super Munter - also used for belaying, but provides more friction so you can belay more weight and slower

Alpine Butterfly Loop

Uses: isolating bad sections of rope, attaching yourself to the anchor

The Alpine Butterfly loop is a great way to create a little loop in your rope. And the loop will not come undone if you pull on the rope in either direction. If your rope gets worn or has a core break, you can use this knot to isolate the offending section of rope. This also takes less rope than a figure-8-on-a-bight.

Butterfly knot-tying video

Munter-Mule Overhand

Uses: Escaping the belay, passing a knot on rappel, self-rescue

The munter-mule is a favorite knot to escape a belay. That is, if you are belaying and the climber is stopped for a long time or you need to do something, how do you let go of the rope without dropping your partner? Tie a munter mule into the rope and then clip a biner into the loop. Bam. Now your hands are free to do whatever.

The real benefit of the munter-mule is that it allows for a smooth transition back to belaying. Just undo the loop and you have your normal munter hitch.

As an added bonus, you can use the munter-mule to pass a knot on rappel. For instance, if your rope has a core break, and you protect that with a butterfly knot, you can still rappel.

Munter Mule Hitch knot-tying video

Bonus Knots

  • Rope Backpack - If you’ve got a long hike to or from a climb, it’s super handy to know how to tie a rope backpack.
  • Monkey’s Fist - Great fun. If your friends look bored, toss them a Monkey’s Fist. To be honest, you won’t use it much while climbing. But it is helpful if you ever need to throw a rope up: to a climber, or over a tree branch.
  • One-Handed Figure 8 - Look like a cowboy when you tie in. This is only for style points.


Am I missing your favorite knot? Or have I forgotten to mention something important about one of the knots above? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Published: November 03 2016