Learn This: Preferred Knots for Rappelling

As a mountain guide, two questions I’m often asked are: 1) What knot do you use to join two ropes for rappels? and 2) Which knot do you use to tie the end of the ropes for a backup?

1. Joining Ropes

The knot I use to tie together two ropes for a rappel—and one we commonly use in guides’ training at the AMGA—is the flat overhand. This knot has been called a number of things (including the Euro death knot) and has at times been unfairly demonized. When used correctly, the flat overhand knot is superior for rigging a rappel. It works well with ropes of different diameter, and no matter what orientation it starts in, when it comes time to pull the ropes, the knot shifts into an advantageous position to avoid snagging or getting stuck.

This knot gets its bad reputation because under certain loads it will roll or capsize. Pull tests showed that the flat overhand rolled multiple times under a heavy load, sucking the tails toward the knot. But the knots in these tests had tails at least a foot long, and before the tails were sucked through the knot, the rope broke at around 2,000 lbs. With this in mind, and since you’re unlikely to generate 2,000 lbs. of force in a rappel situation, the ease of pulling ropes tied with the flat overhand far outweighs any strength concerns. However, when you’re tying ropes together for a long toprope or tying cord for slings, always use a knot less prone to rolling, such as the double fisherman’s or Flemish bend.

As with any knot, the effectiveness of the flat overhand depends on how well it is tied. The key points are:
1. Be sure the knot is well dressed (no crossed strands).
2. Tighten the knot aggressively—pull each strand tight on either side of the knot.
3. Leave 12 to 18 inches of tail on each strand.

2. Knotting the Ends

It’s always a good idea to knot the ends of rappel ropes to avoid the fatal mistake of slipping off the ends. I like to knot the strands individually, because this allows any would-be kinks to dissipate off the ends of the ropes. My choice of knot is the triple barrel. This knot is very clean, stays tied, and creates a stopping point that will not slip through any device.

Rob Hess, a licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide, is owner and chief guide of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (jhmg.com). He served as technical director for the AMGA for eight years.



Previous Comments

It is OK to use the flat overhand to rappel with an ATC or similar devices using two dynamic ropes with similar diameter. But if you use one dynamic rope and one accessory rope with a smaller diameter, or if you use a grigri or cinch to rappel off a single line, it is crucial to use backup knots to avoid the knot slipping through the anchor, which may lead to catastrophic consequences, as this tragedy has taught us, http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1164065&tn=120

Xing - 09/10/2014 3:17:55

Just for fun in response to cole L. How do you get back down after untying the top flat overhand?

Ch - 09/10/2014 1:56:22

May I ask choices of triple barrel over other knots. Overhand, double over hand, figure of eight (single,double) pro, cons

Micheal aw - 09/10/2014 11:35:02

May ask choices of triple barrel over knots. Overhand, double over hand, figure of eight (single,double) pro, cons

Micheal aw - 09/10/2014 11:33:15

perhaps you are trolling, but you untie the knots at the end of the rope when you pull it...then retie it before you toss it again...

paddy - 09/10/2014 11:06:22

The best is to use an overhand knot(EDK) and then back it up with another overhand. Problem of rolling solved.

Mountaineer - 09/09/2014 8:47:06

Do you know the Reever knot ? "Knots for Climbers" Alpine Journal #40, 1928 Wright and Magowan It's compact, secure, easy to tie and easy to untie. Would seem to be a better knot than the double fishermans...

Steven - 07/12/2013 7:34:28

It does have the triple barrel knot on it

Jeff - 02/27/2013 7:09:58

Is there a reference from an organization as to the recommended following distance one should maintain between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them while driving 60 mph down the highway? Yes, there is; but unless you take a driver's education course taught by a qualified instructor you probably wouldn't know it. Climbing is dangerous; it can get you killed. Don't learn through "trial and error"; seek qualified instruction. Your question is answered in the second paragraph. This knot is used by the AMGA, IFMGA, and UIAGM (although it is not the only knot used for this purpose).

TW - 10/13/2012 9:24:52

Is there a reference from a organization as the recommended knot for this purpose or are we all to learn it by trial and error.

Stuart Berg - 10/13/2012 4:28:13

As stated above, knotting the ends individually allows kinks to dissipate off the ends. When I first began climbing I tied the ends together - turns into a rats nest that ultimately requires you to lock off your rappel and untie the ends to get rid of the kinks putting you in a potentially unsafe position. The idea is good in theory, but doesn't work in the real world.

TW - 10/12/2012 7:35:59

DO NOT use a "flat figure 8". It is very insecure and testing shows it to be prone to slippage WAY beyond the flat overhand - if the EDK exists, the "flat figure 8" would be it.

TW - 10/12/2012 7:31:17

What about tying the two loose ends TOGETHER...if you are tying the other ends at the middle, they will pretty much come together at the end of the rappel, not limiting your rappel length. Now you can't accidently forget to untie the safety knot when you pull the rope for the next rappel, it would make a continuous loop. I've done this for 30 years with no problems, seems better than seperate knot on each strand.

JM - 10/06/2012 4:30:41

You guys are retarded.. The post is perfect, except - do untie knowts before every pull!

cole L - 09/27/2012 6:29:26

You guys are retarded.. The post is perfect, except - do untie knowts before every pull! dont for get it!

cole L - 09/27/2012 6:29:01

@second comment - you untie the knots the before you pull! Then re-tie. Get into this habit - you'd be amazed at how many experienced people have rapped off the ends to their deaths. Read "Accidents in North American Mountaineering'.

T Mac - 09/24/2012 3:45:01

why not a flat figure 8? A little more secure?

Kalen - 09/24/2012 12:29:38

well, I don't think you'll use the Knotting The Ends technique in a multipitch climb/rappel, how would you recover your rope?

Pablo Bujan - 09/22/2012 12:17:13

Hmmm... Shouldn't the ENDS have the triple-barrel knots on illustration? This kind of defeats the advantage of this knot (not getting stuck) :)

BK - 09/21/2012 11:43:13