Mountain Project Logo

One of These Knots Can Kill You

Original Post
Northeast Alpine Start · · Conway, New Hampshire · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 126

There seems to be rampant confusion regarding a few of the common methods for joining two ropes to rappel and every year we hear of fatalities in relation.

Compounding the issue is mainstream climbing magazines continue to use misleading terms when discussing the details of these accidents. In this post I ask we work towards standardization in reference to the different options in hopes of reducing loss of life. Please check it out.…

Billcoe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 655

^^^ Worth a read for sure ^^ Well written David, thanks for sharing that.

"I’ve made it this far without calling this bend knot by its more common name. I’ve decided to leave the common name out. It serves no educational purpose and its use should be considered archaic in nature."

Haha!!! Well played sir! However, small note - a beginner could still use the archaic (only name used in the real world) name as a reference when having discourse with his buddies at the cliff. Which be you may also note I did not use right there:-)

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

I guess I'm stupid..i don't get it. I have used what i call a figure 8 literally thousands of ties and no issues.

How about just the double fishermans ?

befozz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 10

great information here, although I don't really think the terminology used is to blame for accidents. Its simply people not being properly informed.I believe the fact this case goes against peoples intuition is really to blame, the bigger knot is worse, the average person looking at the two option of a overhand bend and figure 8 bend would probably pick the figure 8 as the better option. Also as a side not isn't the proper term for the reverse traced figure eight "Flemish bend"?

Optimistic · · New Paltz · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 300

I think there is actually a really cool safety feature built into the archaic only name ever used for that knot: the name is scary and reminds you (should you need to be reminded) of the literally deadly serious nature of tying two ropes together.

Johnny Kipp · · St Albert Alberta · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 100

Good to know. Well written article.

Brandon.Phillips · · Portola, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 55

What this article calls the "reversed traced figure of eight bend" is a flemish bend. The term flemish bend may help eliminate confusion, as "reversed traced figure of eight bend" is really similar to "figure of eight bend."

It is true that the "figure of eight bend" can kill you. There have been two recent deaths from the failure of this knot. Unfortunately, I meet a lot of people who were taught to use it. The figure of eight bend will fail at lower loads than the flat overhand bend.

If you are using two ropes to rap, USE THE FLAT OVERHAND BEND. It capsizes at roughly the same force that a rope breaks with the double fishermans (i'm sure some rope nerds will soon join in to give us specifics). The flat overhand bend is also less likely to get stuck than the double fishermans. And its simple!

I will reiterate that the Flat overhand bend needs a minimum of 12 inches tail (some will say 12-16). The knot has to be clean (not twisted) and well dressed (tightened from all 4 strands).

Though I would choose the term "Flemish Bend," - this is a good article. Whatever you choose to call it, don't rap on the Figure of eight bend. It may seems more secure, but it isn't.


Northeast Alpine Start · · Conway, New Hampshire · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 126

@Billcoe- Thanks. I really think the use of the "common name" steers new climbers to less safe alternatives, and should be abandoned.

@john strand- Yes, you are tying a safe knot. You are not tying the figure of eight bend I show in my article. If you were you would not be reading this right now.

@optimistic- the fact that it is a "scary name" is part of the problem. Using a scary name for a safe practice is self-defeating.

@Brandon- while I like to use correct terms I think including the METHOD of forming the bend in the name of the bend will lead to less confusion. "Reverse traced" would be hard to turn into the deadly figure of eight bend. "Flemish" bend, while accurate, suffers from the same problem using "Flat Eight" suffers from. Beginners do not understand the difference.

karl kvashay · · cedar city, utah · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 180


Bill Kirby · · Baltimore Maryland · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480

Nice article!

I think the biggest thing about teaching a beginner about trying two ropes together is that the flat overhand is safe as along as the tails are long enough. I can't tell you how many times I've tied two flat overhands to make my noob partner feel safe. Even if I only tie one, maybe I worry about a stuck rope, the beginner goes out on their own and still uses a more complex knot to feel safe.

keithconn · · LI, NY · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 35

There was something recently about this in Rock and Ice if I remember correctly. I was of course aware that this should not be used to tie two ropes together but as the geek I am I did a test in the garage and it's crazy to watch different knots roll, come undone, and/or fail. Scary!

Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15

One of the interesting things about names and "correct terms" is that they do seem to change.
Reading the article I was confused at first by the emphasis on using the "correct term" but then never mentions "Flemish Bend." I understand your point though with describing the method of tying in the name. For the point of interest, here is the entry for the Flemish Bend and also the knot we commonly call a "Water Knot" from the Ashley Book of Knots.

"1411. The Flemish Bend, also called Figure-Eight Bend, is often given in knot monographs but is seldom used. It is bulky and bothersome to tie, and not to be preferred to the following knot, which is tied in a similar manner.
1412. This bend is called the Ring Knot in Hutton's Dictionary of 1815. At an earlier date Izaak Walton calls it the Water Knot, and Dr. Holden, in Steamcraft (1919), follows the latter authority. But as there are several other Water Knots the name Ring Knot is perhaps preferable.
It is also known as the Gut Knot.

And is the entry for what Ashley calls the Water Knot:
"1414. Water Knot, also called Waterman's, English, Englishman's, Fisherman's, True-Lover's and Angler's Knot. Hutton (1815) calls it Water Knot. It is very strong and one of the commonest bends employed by anglers, but it is needlessly bulky."
(I mostly hear this knot referred to as the Fisherman's Bend, an overhand tied in both working ends around the other standing end)

So, the knot the article calls "Figure of Eight Bend" is not what the term "Figure-Eight Bend" refers to. Furthermore, it is not even listed in the Ashley Book of Knots (Ashley calls the "Flat Overhand Bend" simply "Overhand Bend", but that knot is listed [Knot 1410] while the "Figure of Eight Bend" is not, I am not sure what reason it would not be listed since Ashley does list several knots for the point of saying they are insecure and also that he did a lot of work with knots so it is unlikely that he never thought of that knot).

So the phrase "correct term" doesn't really mean anything.

EDIT: I would also be curious of people's take on Knot 1425A which may be referred to as Hunter's Bend or the Rigger's Bend as a knot for joining rappel strands. According to the Ashley Book of Knots it was first published in the 1950's in 'Knots for Mountaineering' and was tested by the Royal Aircraft Establishment and found to be "... not as strong as the blood knot, similar to the reverse figure of eight and stronger than the fisherman's bend, sheet bend or reef knot."
It is slightly less "flat" (so a little bulkier on the one side) than the overhand bend, but appears to be more secure.

Northeast Alpine Start · · Conway, New Hampshire · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 126

@Brady Someone mentioned on a FB post earlier about using the correct term, Flemish Bend, and I have added the info to the post. It is my belief that if we add the METHOD (reverse traced) of tying the knot to the common name (not formal name), there will be less mistaken identity of the two twin looking knots.

Clint White aka Faulted Geologist · · Lawrence, KS · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 158
karl kvashay wrote:Voldemort
Heh! Awesomeness.

If you don't have photoshop, download Gimp for free to add the X or skull/crossbones. If I can get to it tonight I can add one and email it to you. Good write up, and thanks for the proper naming of the one we dare knot name.
Ball · · Oakridge, OR · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 70

2¢: for different sized ropes I use either 1) an overhand then back it up by tying the small tail around the big one then the big one around the small one using overhands or 2) an alpine butterfly knot.

Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15
Brady3 wrote:I understand your point though with describing the method of tying in the name.
Yea, I got that. But I thought it was odd that in an article where you are complaining about people not using the "correct terms" for knots you then mislabel two of the three knots in question.
To reiterate from my first reply, the term "Figure-Eight Bend" (which I'm holding to be basically the same as "figure of eight bend") has been an alternate name for the flemmish bend for quite some time, I would not be surprised if it's use as such pre-dates the sport itself. But you then tell people not to call it that way because it is "incorrect." Also you try discourage using "flat figure eight bend" to refer to the third knot (the deadly one) even though, if you are suggesting to have some form of the method of tying the knot in the name, doing so would be consistent with how you use "flat overhand bend" (The two knots are tied in essentially the same way so it would make sense for them to have related names so designate that).

So despite your suggestions, I'm still going to refer to the third knot as a "flat figure-eight bend" because that is more descriptive of that knot. And I'm going to refer to the "reverse traced figure-eight bend" as either the flemmish bend or figure-eight bend because those are the names that have been applied to it for probably that last couple centuries. If someone ends up confused then I can explain which ever knot I'm referring to and educate them on how the names have been used for a rather long time.
DaveBaker · · Durham, NC · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 88

Very good article - thank you for posting it.

It was called out in the comments but I'd like to re emphasize it here. Please annotate photos of bad configuration in the photo itself, as well as the text alongside.

Someone who does a google image search for "rappel knots" should never see a bad knot without the image itself indicating as much.

keithconn · · LI, NY · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 35

David ...

Really good point.

Northeast Alpine Start · · Conway, New Hampshire · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 126

Ok, added visual on image. No skull & bones on my phone app I used, hope this helps

Sirius · · Oakland, CA · Joined Nov 2003 · Points: 600

A solid and worthy article, good contribution.

@Billcoe- Thanks. I really think the use of the "common name" steers new climbers to less safe alternatives, and should be abandoned.

@optimistic- the fact that it is a "scary name" is part of the problem. Using a scary name for a safe practice is self-defeating.

This is dumb, though. The EDK term is in wide use - hence there is value in learning it. Period.

Your position on that one is like that of the prescriptivist vs the descriptivist in the dictionary wars: pretending it doesn't exist because your (dogmatic, subjective) opinion is that it shouldn't exist is silly and limits useful, applicable learning.

That type of closed-circle thinking shouldn't be wrapped into the deal for anyone seeking to educate others. Teach what you think is best, but always teach the the reality on the ground as well.

Rick Blair · · Denver · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 268

Don't ever teach a new climber to join 2 ropes with any kind of figure eight, problem solved.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply to "One of These Knots Can Kill You"
in the Injuries and Accidents

Log In to Reply