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Preferred Knots for Rappelling   

Tagged in: Alpine Climbing, Knots, Rappelling, Skills, Sport Climbing, Trad Climbing
by Rob Hess
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Useful Knots for Rapelling 

As a mountain guide, two questions I’m often asked are: 1) What knot do you use to join two ropes for rappels? and 2) Which knot do you use to tie the end of the ropes for a backup?

Rock Climbing Photo: Preferred rapelling knots by Chris Philpot

Preferred rapelling knots
by Chris Philpot
1. Joining Ropes

The knot I use to tie together two ropes for a rappel—and one we commonly use in guides’ training at the AMGA—is the flat overhand. This knot has been called a number of things (including the Euro death knot) and has at times been unfairly demonized. When used correctly, the flat overhand knot is superior for rigging a rappel. It works well with ropes of different diameter, and no matter what orientation it starts in, when it comes time to pull the ropes, the knot shifts into an advantageous position to avoid snagging or getting stuck.

This knot gets its bad reputation because under certain loads it will roll or capsize. Pull tests showed that the flat overhand rolled multiple times under a heavy load, sucking the tails toward the knot. But the knots in these tests had tails at least a foot long, and before the tails were sucked through the knot, the rope broke at around 2,000 lbs. With this in mind, and since you’re unlikely to generate 2,000 lbs. of force in a rappel situation, the ease of pulling ropes tied with the flat overhand far outweighs any strength concerns. However, when you’re tying ropes together for a long toprope or tying cord for slings, always use a knot less prone to rolling, such as the double fisherman’s or Flemish bend.

As with any knot, the effectiveness of the flat overhand depends on how well it is tied. The key points are:
A. Be sure the knot is well dressed (no crossed strands).
B. Tighten the knot aggressively—pull each strand tight on either side of the knot.
C. Leave 12 to 18 inches of tail on each strand.

2. Knotting the Ends:

It’s always a good idea to knot the ends of rappel ropes to avoid the fatal mistake of slipping off the ends. I like to knot the strands individually, because this allows any would-be kinks to dissipate off the ends of the ropes. My choice of knot is the triple barrel. This knot is very clean, stays tied, and creates a stopping point that will not slip through any device.

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Comments on Preferred Knots for Rappelling Add Comment
By Dylan D
From: Columbia, MO
Oct 31, 2014
Why would you not use a bend to join two lines? either the carrick bend or double sheet bend? thanks
By Nick Crews
From: Colorado Springs
May 29, 2015
Because those knots won't pass over corners and edges so easily. The bends you mentioned don't pass over convexities as well because no matter how they are oriented the know always has a bulge that will stick. At least, that's what I've been told. Anyone else have input?
By coppolillo
Oct 31, 2015
Nick's correct---tie the flat overhand and pull it--you'll see how flat and low-profile it that to a bend and the advantages are pretty apparent.
By Chris Owen
From: Big Bear Lake
Jul 9, 2016
I still use a double-fisherman's knot, I've been using it for 40 years and it's served me well, I have only had a stuck rope once in that time and it wasn't the knot - there's a trick to untying it fairly easily. I'd be interested in getting data for how often a knot prevents a pull. A good trick is to have the first person down try and retrieve the rope, this will reveal any sticking points prior to the actual retrieval and mitigation can be applied, like repositioning the knot, or rerouting the rope, it also encourages communication between the now separated parties.

In 40 years I have never rappelled without knots in the end of the rope - consequences of not knotting the ends outweigh the consequences of a stuck rope, especially if the rappel has been planned prior to and adjusted after the first person down. Good advice on knotting the ends separately - as this also allows the ropes to be tossed separately making a less tangled clean up for the first person down. If I could read no more accident reports about people rapping off the ends of a line, I'd be a very happy man.
By Lee Seng
Oct 9, 2016
looking at how the flat overhand knot 'rolls' as my friend descents made me tie another flat overhand in series to the first one

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