The Perfect Backpack Coil

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Click the image for video on how to make the perfect backpack coil.

There are times when carrying a full pack to the base of a route is cumbersome and inefficient; plus, you might have a packless, walk-off descent to think about. You need a convenient way to carry the rope, and the backpack coil is the ideal method. This system prevents your cord from catching on branches, coming uncoiled, and tripping you up. The key is starting your coil from the middle, keeping the coils short, and adding more wraps at the end. The small tricks I’ve learned over a few decades of guiding will help keep your cord kink-free and offer another opportunity to check it for damage that will enhance comfort and safety.

One: Start at the middle of the rope. Using the marker, flake the two sides from the midpoint outward, or match the two ends in one hand and flake each strand together until you come to the middle. Finding the halfway point will give you an extra scan for damage, and starting from the middle makes for a better rope over time, clearing the cord of twists and kinks. Coiling from the ends, which is what many people do, keeps all the kinks in the rope. Although this method takes a bit more time, the peace of mind from knowing my rope is undamaged and kink-free is worth the extra few minutes of work.

Two: The bight in the middle of the rope will be the first coil, so pull it about 2.5 to three feet away from the hand you’ll be coiling in—or your neck if you’re using the over-the-neck method, which is great for small hands or a 70-meter rope. Keep making coils on each side of your hand or neck. Keep the coils small (2.5 to three feet) so they will reach no lower than your waist. (Long coils catch on branches, flakes, and could cause rock fall if you’re butt-scooting down the terrain.)

Three: When you have 15 feet of rope left (better to go long rather than short), start wrapping tightly from the bottom of the coils towards the top. About a dozen wraps will hold the coils tight and avoid the aforementioned problems. Leave five feet of tail after the wraps; these will become the backpack straps.

Four: Poke a bight of rope through the top gap in the coils; run the tails over the top outside of the coils and through this bight, and then pull tight. If you don’t have at least five feet of tail to create the backpack straps, undo a few wraps and repeat this step.

Five: With one strand of tail in each hand, lift the rope high and put it on your back. Keep it high while tying it in place because it will settle lower once you start moving. Wrap the tails over the shoulders, under the armpits— don’t cross them in front over your chest, which is uncomfortable and won’t stay in place—and over the rope on your back. At this point, swap the tails between your hands, so the end that was in your left hand is now in your right hand, and vice versa. Now bring the tails to just in front of your belly button.

Six: Tie the tails together with a square knot. Go right tail over left, left tail over right. Finish with a barrel knot or an overhand on each tail of the square knot. Don’t use a granny knot or a thief knot, as either will come loose right at a critical moment in the downclimb.


When using a tube-style belay device in guide mode, and your follower leapfrogs for the lead, what is the recommended setup for belaying from that point on?

The belay device will be attached to the anchor with a locking carabiner in auto-blocking mode, and it needs to be reattached to the belayer’s belay loop in regular belay mode. Ideally, you can unlock the belay device’s biner that is through the rope and clip it onto your belay loop—without unclipping it from the device or rope. Then unclip the second locker that attaches the device to the anchor, remove it from the device, and stow it on the harness; now the new leader is on belay. But it probably won’t be that easy. The anchor might be too high, or you might have a kink in your belay loop. In that case, have the follower clip in temporarily to the anchor while you remove the device and set it up cleanly; it only takes a few seconds. This is particularly useful in a tight or hanging belay situation.

After moving from rainy New Zealand to sunny California in 1980, AMGA/IFMGA guide SP Parker never looked back. He owns and guides for the Bishop-based Sierra Mountain Center (