Few skills are as fundamental to climbing as working with rope. Your life literally depends on your mastery of the subject. This article cover the most common knots, hitches and bends used in climbing.
For starters, you need to understand the distinction between a “knot” and other key terms related to rope management:
The Figure 8 Follow Through Knot allows the simple and reliable Figure 8 loop to be tied to a ring, a carabiner, or your own harness. It is reasonably easy to remember, tie, and check. When completed it forms a Figure 8 Loop.
The Clove Hitch was, originally, included here with the intention of condemning it. It does have two giant faults: it slips and, paradoxically, can also bind. It should be deeply distrusted when used by itself.
The Munter Hitch provides a method for belaying and rappelling without a belay/rappel device. This is an important knot for climbers to know. It works best in large pear shaped carabiners and should only be used with a locking carabiner. When belaying with the Munter Hitch be sure that the strand of rope carrying the load is next to the spine of the carabiner.
The Overhand Knot was described by Ashley as “the simplest of the Single-Strand Stopper Knots.” It can also be used to prevent the end of a piece of rope unraveling.
The principal use of a Prusik Knot is allowing a rope to be climbed – ascending or Prusiking. Two Prusik loops are alternately slid up the static rope: a long Prusik loop reaches the climber's foot – to allow leg power for ascending, and a second short Prusik loop is attached to the harness – to allow sitting. In rescue work, if a climber has to be pulled up, a Prusik loop can hold a pulley block purchase system on a climbing rope.
The Klemheist Knot requires a Prusik Loop which is constructed by joining the two ends of a length of rope using a Double Fisherman's or a Triple Fisherman's.
The Machard Knot requires a Prusik Loop which is constructed by joining the two ends of a length of rope using a Double Fisherman's or a Triple Fisherman's.
The Bowline makes a reasonably secure loop in the end of a piece of rope. It has many uses, e.g., to fasten a mooring line to a ring or a post. Under load, it does not slip or bind. With no load it can be untied easily. Two bowlines can be linked together to join two ropes. Its principal shortcoming is that it cannot be tied, or untied, when there is a load on the standing end. It should therefore be avoided when, for example, a mooring line may have to be released under load.
The Double Fisherman's (Grapevine Bend) is the way to join two ends of a line to form a Prusik Loop and is also an excellent and reliable way of joining two climbing ropes. It can be used for a full rope-length abseil; after which it should still be possible to retrieve the rope.
The Water Knot is essentially tied as an overhand knot. It is sometimes known as a Ring Bend. In climbing it is used to join two pieces of webbing strapping. The Water Knot is also known by various other names including: Tape Knot, Ring Bend, Grass Knot, and Overhand Follow-Through.
The Girth Hitch attaches a sling or a webbing strap loop to your harness or to another sling, strap, or rope. It is also often employed when slings are used to connect anchor points to a static rope in a top-rope set-up.
The Mule Hitch is used to secure the Munter Hitch Knot. Using a bight of the rope, a Slip Knot followed by a Half Hitch is tied around the standing end. This final Half Hitch is essential because the weight of the hanging rope might otherwise easily undo the Slip Knot. When loaded, the Mule knot tends to slide down tight against the Munter Hitch Knot and can be somewhat difficult to undo.
Nevertheless, the Square (Reef) knot has many uses but not where safety is critical, e.g., you can tie a sail cover over a sail; you can tie the string on a gift; and you can tie the laces on your shoes (if they still come with laces). It is also one of the many knots used in macrame. More importantly, the experience of tying a Square Knot teaches the fundamental process of tying a Half Knot or Half Hitch.
The Bowline on a Bight makes a secure loop in the middle of a piece of rope. It does not slip or bind. It is satisfying to start with a plain length of rope and finish with a secure safe loop in its middle. See also the Alpine Butterfly Loop.
The Alpine Butterfly Loop is useful anytime a secure loop is required in the middle of a rope. A good example is when a line of hikers wish to hook on along the length of a shared rope or as a possible option for the first part of a Trucker's Hitch. Also, if a length of rope is damaged, it is a wonderful way to isolate the damaged section so that the rope may still be used.
Despite the mass use of guards that enable self-tightening protection of the other in the connection, it is still necessary to know the guard knot, which allows us to lift a fellow climber using two carabiners. The biggest bad feature of the guard is the difficult yielding under load. Therefore, we use it when we do not have a better gadget available. It is made with two identical carabiners without a nut, which have the door facing in the same direction. It is important to learn to relieve it under load.