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Is a safety knot on your figure-eight a necessity?


Original Post
Aaron O · · Seattle, WA · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 5

Recently, I was climbing some multi-pitch routes with a friend who learned everything he knows about climbing in Europe. He insists that a safety knot is not only excessive, but is a detriment to the integrity of the figure-eight follow-through, especially with knots like the Yosemite finish as they intersect the "perfect form" of the figure-eight.

Though I'm positive that a safety does NOT ruin the integrity of the figure-eight if tied properly, does his claim of it not being a necessity hold any merit? Given that I have experienced first-hand a figure-eight partially untying itself after a few pitches while using a brand new rope, and that most gyms in the country would fail your belay test if you forgot to tie one, I would say no. I feel that when you share a rope with someone on a multi-pitch route, it is important to know that their knot is tied safely and properly; and with redundancy.

I'd like to see an argument to the contrary.

Colin Simon · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 355

Tying some sort of a safety knot can be a safety against human error.

That is, if you don't tie a safety knot, you might make a shorter and shorter tail until one day you get lazy, and tie the knot poorly.

It gives you a "rule" of how much tail to have.

Lynn Hill has that story of failing to properly connect her harness in the Gunks and taking a nasty groundfall. Just don't get into bad habits!

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,476

No, it is not a necessity and I sometimes skip it. A figure 8 is one of the easiest knots to inspect if you have tied it correctly. It does not need a back-up.

matt davies · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2007 · Points: 25

No, it is not a necessity, it is a safety back up. I have never heard of a figure-eight ever coming spontaneously undone, but I know it's happened to bowlines, which is why almost no one uses them for climbing anymore. Additionally, even a if the tail of a figure-eight backs through the last loop, the knot will still hold a fall. As far as a Yosemite finish undermining the strength of a figure-eight, it will never be enough to matter for the forces produced in climbing.
That said, the safety knot is a part of how the sport is taught, and it freaks people out if you don't use one, so why knot?

Walt Barker · · Reno NV · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 425

Why back up one of the best knots in the universe with an inferior one?

+1 on the tail length.

I think this is the value of a back-up. I always snug-down my knot as part of my set-up. Rarely have problems with it untying on it's own.

Buff Johnson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 1,145

One outing two climbers, Rodrigo and Jesus, argued the importance of the safety; the climber, Rodrigo, refused and he started climbing the pitch; then a piece of ice pancaked his ass right there! holy shit that dude will think twice about arguing the safety knot....nobody fucks with the Jesus

1Eric Rhicard · · Tucson · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 8,336

If it is tied properly you don't need the "safety knot". Only reason for it is when you have too long a tail.

Ed Wright · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2006 · Points: 285

A back-up is completely unnecessary--in fact, the last pass through on the figure 8 is redundant and the knot will hold just as strong without it. I rarely leave more than a one inch tail when I use the figure 8.

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 877

As one climbing guide from Europe says about the backup: "That is the stupid American knot".

That being said, I like to pass the tail back through the bottom of the knot (yosemite finish, or extra pass). This includes another strand in the "cinch" part of the knot and makes it easier to untie after a lead fall as well as absorbing a bit of energy during the fall.

I have also seen several new and slick ropes start to untie themselves. YMMV

Keith H. North · · Englewood, CO · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 90

Nope Not needed, I have never used a back up. you wont get stupid and lazy and forget

Joseph Stover · · Batesville, AR · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 690

I usually tie a 'safety' knot if I have enough tail left, but it comes undone alot of the time. I've never thought of it as necessary, but it helps get the rope outa the way if you accidentally left a large tail.

The bowline with yosemite finish is the most aesthetically pleasing.

JPVallone · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2004 · Points: 195

If you want to tie it go ahead, it does nothing but stow a long tail, It makes nothing safe unless you don't know how to tie your eight and check it routinely as a climbing team before leaving the ground. It also is not a back up, it backs nothing up, a properly tied 8 does not fail, the rope will break before the Knot fails.

Tie it if you want, but lets remove the vocabulary from the knot, It is not a safety knot, it is not a Back up Knot.

Call it what you want, but not back up or safety.

Enjoy , if you don't know the knots , tie alot

Derek Doucet · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 64
JPVallone wrote:If you want to tie it go ahead, it does nothing but stow a long tail, It makes nothing safe unless you don't know how to tie your eight and check it routinely as a climbing team before leaving the ground. It also is not a back up, it backs nothing up, a properly tied 8 does not fail, the rope will break before the Knot fails. Tie it if you want, but lets remove the vocabulary from the knot, It is not a safety knot, it is not a Back up Knot. Call it what you want, but not back up or safety. Enjoy , if you don't know the knots , tie alot
Spot on. One of my pet peeves is when folks are taught that they should tie a "safety" knot above their eight. Inevitably, this "safety" knot comes untied in mid top rope, and the poor noob looks down to see the "safety" knot no longer in place! PANIC!!!!

You're much better off simply learning to leave enough tail on your eight in the first place. If you do, the finishing knot adds absolutely nothing to the integrity of the eight. Finally, be obsessive about double checking yourself and your partner before leaving the ground. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes.
Jon C. Sullivan · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 30

As per AMGA, a safety for the figure eight follow through is not needed. However, it also DOES NOT compromise the knot to have some finish on it. As per AMGA, NOLS and Mountain Rescue Association, proper tail length will be twice the length of the knot i.e. 4-6 inches.
Hope that helps.

AWinters · · NH · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 5,135

+1 on the Yosemite finish

mattm · · TX · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 1,395

Short Answer: No, so long as the Figure 8 is correctly tied and tightened.

Lynn Hills "unfinished knot" accident was in FRANCE not the Gunks.

The Bowline is used ALL THE TIME by climbers who KNOW HOW TO TIE IT. The Bowline (I use a double) MUST have a finishing knot included in it for it to be considered safe. I tie a double overhand safety at the bottom of my bowline (not a Yosemite Finish). Keeps everything more compact. Uninformed climbers always seem to freak out about the Bowline. It's an essential knot to know for climbing. I use it primarily on one pitch sport climbs. Climb-Clip-Lower. Working a route and falling a lot makes the ease of UNTYING it helpful.

The Figure 8 Knot, when tied correctly, is a "stable" knot that continues to tighten when loaded. When I was teaching classes I always said the double overhand "safety" wasn't a backup knot to the main [8] one, rather a backup knot to human error. So a 2nd knot isn't necessary. That said, if foregoing a "backup" I would at least take the time to load the 8 under body weight to tighten it down. Newer, stiff or slick ropes will tend to work an 8 loose if not cinched down.

I will typically tie my 8's with a Yosemite finish. If there's more tail, I'll finish with an overhand (or double) on the loop formed on the harness.

Darren Mabe · · Flagstaff, AZ · Joined Dec 2002 · Points: 3,830

+1 on the double bowline

Eric Engberg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 0
Andrew Haag wrote: I was unable to free my knot that was stuck just below my waste.
Your knot was stuck on your poop? I dew knot no y that culd happen.

Some one beat mt to the Lynn Hill = France (not Gunks) correction.

A backup - "safety" - is not needed and adds little value but if it comes untied adds considerable aggravation.
Ryan Williams · · London (sort of) · Joined May 2009 · Points: 1,280
matt davies wrote:No, it is not a necessity, it is a safety back up. I have never heard of a figure-eight ever coming spontaneously undone, but I know it's happened to bowlines, which is why almost no one uses them for climbing anymore. Additionally, even a if the tail of a figure-eight backs through the last loop, the knot will still hold a fall. As far as a Yosemite finish undermining the strength of a figure-eight, it will never be enough to matter for the forces produced in climbing. That said, the safety knot is a part of how the sport is taught, and it freaks people out if you don't use one, so why knot?
This post is riddled with assumptions and mis-information.

First of all, tons of people use bowline knots; probably a quarter to a third of the people I witness are tying in w/ some form of the bowline. You are correct though that a safety knot is essential when using a bowline.

Second, how do you know that a half tied figure eight will still hold a fall? Have you fallen on one? If you have seen tests that back up your claims then you should cite them.

Finally, a safety knot is not "part of how the sport it taught." It is just a requirement at most climbing gyms and climbing gyms seem to be the most common place that people learn to climb these days. If you look at pictures from the last 50 years you'll see a pretty good mix of all sorts of tie in knots, with and without a "safety knot."

To the OP... if you tie a figure eight properly and leave two handfuls of slack then it's not coming untied. I usually use the Yosemite finish on a fig 8 because it keeps one strand of rope coming out of the top of the knot, making it easier to grab the rope and clip. I can see how it "intersects the perfect form" of the fig 8 but it won't prevent the knot from closing down and tightening in a fall.
Ryan Williams · · London (sort of) · Joined May 2009 · Points: 1,280

Finally found a good picture of this form of bowline. I often use this knot because it's just as easy to untie as a regular bowline but has no chance of coming untied even w/o a stopper know (which I use anyway).

Does anyone know what this is called?



DB Cee · · Chattanooga, TN · Joined May 2007 · Points: 135
matt davies wrote:No, it is not a necessity, it is a safety back up. I have never heard of a figure-eight ever coming spontaneously undone, but I know it's happened to bowlines, which is why almost no one uses them for climbing anymore. Additionally, even a if the tail of a figure-eight backs through the last loop, the knot will still hold a fall. As far as a Yosemite finish undermining the strength of a figure-eight, it will never be enough to matter for the forces produced in climbing. That said, the safety knot is a part of how the sport is taught, and it freaks people out if you don't use one, so why knot?
Actually, a ton of people use a bowline...where do you climb?

...and there's nothing "safe" about tying an overhand above your 8. People tie those things a foot above their knot...I've seen quite a few idiots, while leading, clip the draw in between the 8 and the overhand...totally safe, that knot.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

General Climbing
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