Know Before You Go

How to Tie the 3 Essential Knots for Rock Climbing

Guides & How-To's By Photo by Chase Pellerin

To outsiders, rock climbing can seem like a sport that is largely unapproachable. It’s full of insider lingo, tons of gear and lots of gym rats in incredible shape. But climbing is also a rapidly growing sport in the US with many beginners heading out to their local climbing spot. That’s a good thing, but it’s important to be informed. When getting into rock climbing for the first time, safety should be your number-one priority. Before climbing outdoors, head to a local gym to learn the basics. Then, we suggest taking an outdoor-climbing-specific course to learn more about setting up anchors, outdoor etiquette and clean climbing practices. While this knot primer won’t make you a knot expert, it’s a great place to start in broadening your rock-climbing knowledge and keeping you safe at the crag. The following three knots each prioritize safety, and are important to keep in your rock-climbing repertoire.

Figure Eight

The most used knot in rock climbing.


The figure-eight knot, also known as the Flemish knot, is the most important knot in rock climbing. It is the knot used to tie your harness to the climbing rope and is your number-one contact point with your safety anchor. It’s a simple knot; it can even be tied with one hand, but make sure you do it right.

With about two and a half feet of rope, take the short end and cross over to create the bottom half of the eight.

Make the top half of the eight by continuing with the loose end of the rope, crossing underneath to create the top half of the eight.

Finish it off. Take the loose end of the rope and thread it downwards through the center of the bottom loop of the eight.

To finish off the knot for top roping or lead climbing, take the tail end of the knot and loop it through the hard points on your harness. Then, retrace the knot with the tail end following the original knot exactly.

Munter Hitch

Will save you in a pinch.


In an emergency situation, a Munter hitch can be used as a belay device in conjunction with a locking carabiner. It was named after Swiss mountaineer Werner Munter, who introduced the knot to climbers and mountaineers. In German it is known as the “Halbmastwurf.”

Start by making a loop in your rope. Take the strand in your right hand and cross it over the strand in your left hand, creating a loop.

Then create an inverse loop next to the first one. Take the strand in your right hand and cross it over the strand in your left again, creating a loop next to the first one.

Fold the the two loops over on each other.

Clip the loops into your carabiner. Make sure when you clip into the carabiner that the load strand is aligned to the back of the carabiner, away from the gate.

Prusik Knot

A backup knot for ascending and descending.


A Prusik knot should be used as a backup to your rappel device. In the event that your rappel device fails, or you’re knocked unconscious, the backup Prusik knot will arrest your fall. It is one of those things where it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Take a Prusik loop and make a girth hitch onto your climbing rope. If you don’t have a Prusik loop, you can make one by connecting two ends of a smaller-diameter rope together using a double fisherman’s knot.

Create another girth hitch on the inside of the first. Wrap the rope around again, making sure that your second girth hitch stays on the inside of the first one.

Create a third girth hitch on the inside of the second. Create another girth hitch, once again making sure that you stay on the inside of the first and second hitches. You can wrap for a fourth time if desired, but three is sufficient.

Learn How to Tie 12 More Knots


Still fastening your shoes with Velcro? Here’s a lesson in tying 12 different knots courtesy of an expert from REI. Read the Story