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Climbing Knots: What’s the Best Tie-in Knot? The Bowline vs. The Figure 8 Knot

Pro climber Heather Weidner discusses the pros and cons of two tie-in knots.

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From first-timers to elite climbers, we can all always find new ways to push our limits and improve. After climbing for 15 years, veterinarian turned pro climber Heather Weidner, the instructor for Climbing Magazine’s Intro to Sport Climbing course, constantly strives to push her boundaries.

There are two basic tie-in knots climbers should be familiar with: The figure-8 follow-through, or “trace eight,” and the double bowline with a back-up. Heather Weidner, pro climber, explains the pros and cons of both knots to help you decide which is the one for you.

Note: The trace eight knot is recommended for all novice and intermediate climbers. The double bowline should only be considered by advanced climbers with strong technical skills as it is easier to tie incorrectly and more difficult to inspect.

Figure Eight or “Trace Eight”

Eight knot for tying in
The Figure Eight, or Trace Eight, with an overhand back up.

Pros

This knot is the gold standard in climbing, and everyone who’s ever led (or even seconded) a pitch will know how to tie it. It’s easy to teach and it’s easy to safety check. This knot is also more secure than the bowline with new, stiff, or slick ropes and in situations where the knot could rub against the rock (chimney climbing)— it’s much less likely to come undone.

Cons

If you’re pushing your limits and taking falls, then the figure 8 can be a pain in the butt to untie: It can cinch down super-tight after a fall and even become so fused that it’s “impossible” to undo—Weidner says her husband once had to cut the rope because of a fused figure 8. However, there are tricks like tugging on the knot using the two strands on either side of it, or rolling the knot back and forth on a flat rock, that should eventually soften it up.

Also Read: Climbing Knots: The Double Bowline, Advantages, Disadvantages

How To Tie the Figure Eight orTrace Eight

Double Bowline With Backup

Pros

For big falls, this knot, which is easier to undo, solves the fused-figure-8 problem. Tied correctly, the double bowline is a safe, versatile climbing knot and will hold the weight of a fall without fusing. There’s no risk that you’ll need to cut the rope off your harness. For the backup knot, Weidner ties the end in a simple overhand knot below the double bowline. The key is to cinch both the bowline and the backup down tightly.

Double bowline tie-in
The double bowline knot with a backup.

Cons

This knot is not as well known or as universally used as the figure 8—many climbers may not know how to check the bowline. Weidner says it also takes more time and expertise to visually inspect the bowline, even when you know the knot well. Also, its easy-to-untie attribute can quickly become a con with stiff or new ropes, or for certain trad or chimney climbs where the rope may rub against the rock. There have been instances of bowlines coming untied with a new rope—one, in particular, high on a 30-meter 5.12 in Rifle, Colorado.

 READ: When Your Ropes Falls Off – and 5 Ways to Prevent the Nightmare

How To Tie The Double Bowline

steps showing how to tie double bowline
Steps for tying the double bowline.

PREVENT ACCIDENTS BY USING THIS CHECK LIST EVERY TIME YOU TIE IN

  • Always check your knots.
  • Visually inspect your partner’s knot before every pitch. If he or she leaves the ground before you can check, stop the show and ask, “How’s your knot?” Ask that she/he check it and show you.
  • If someone asks you a question or tries to hand you something when you are tying your knot, finish before answering or taking the item. Do nothing else until the knot is complete. Likewise, hold off on conversation if your friend is tying his/her knot.
  • Remember, a knot’s not finished until you tighten it. A stiff new rope is more likely to loosen. Reef on it. Weight it.
  • Tie a stopper knot above your knot. (And …this is not one of the tenets to prevent the problem, but carry a quickdraw. You could be glad.

Read more on knots

Want to test your limits on a rope? Learn to sport climb with pro climber Heather Weidner in Climbing Magazine’s Intro to Sport Climbing online course.

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