The figure-eight knot in its follow-through variation is known to all climbers, even those who do not climb on multi-pitch, alpine, or big wall routes. It is the first knot beginners learn to tie and it’s essential both for lead climbing and top roping.
There are many advantages to choosing this knot over others: it’s easy to tie and safety check, it retains a lot of strength, and it (almost) certainly never gets undone- as long as it’s well tied.
In this article, you will find three easy tips to climb safely, extracted from Andy Kirkpatrick's “1001 Consigli per l'arrampicata” (1001 Climbing Tips). Check the book out for more tidbits and safety recommendations!
(DISCLAIMER: This is NOT an article on how to tie the figure-eight knot and it is by no means exhaustive).
“Get into the habit of not talking while people are tying in. When you’re tying what is potentially the most important knot of your life it’s best to give it your undivided attention.”
Those who didn’t finish to follow through and are lucky enough to tell their story, when asked what was the reason for their accident, will almost certainly answer distraction. We can be distracted both by external factors, for example, a friend talking or waving at us, and internal, such as thinking about drinking one last sip of water before attempting the climb, or noticing how much our skin hurts while tying the knot. We start examining our fingers and that tiny injury in the exact spot where we need our best shape to hold on to the nastiest crimp of the pitch- and we forget to finish our knot. The “distraction factor” increases exponentially as we get more tired, hungry, and ready to go back home. That’s when our second and third tips come into play.
“When tying in, treat your partner like a complete idiot, and check they have tied in properly. This is the approach used in skydiving and scuba diving, so why not climbing? Also tell them to treat you as a fool too, although saying so will mean you’re not.”
The so-called partner check or double-check consists of letting your partner take a look at your figure eight and make sure it’s tied in properly. Some people might feel like letting someone else check their knot is unnecessary due to their life-long experience. We recommend cross-checking at all times, as safety should be paramount in climbing.
It’s very easy to check whether a figure eight is well made or not: you need to make sure the rope follows through the loops properly, and then pull the opposite ends of the knot to securely tighten it. It might be a little hard to remove any empty spaces between each loop when using a new or stiffer rope, especially those with a wider diameter. In this case, we would suggest leaving some slack and pulling each loop individually by hand. This way, the knot will be properly fastened and there won’t be any slippage risk.
“When tying a figure-of-eight knot, tie a fisherman’s knot (stopper knot) to finish.”
Tying a fisherman’s knot is not an extra safety measure per se, but it offers an additional opportunity to check whether you’ve tied your figure eight properly and means you’ve left enough tail to avoid slippage.
Anyone could get distracted while tying in. Pro climbers, especially those who experienced accidents on the wall, recommend starting again from the beginning every time you get interrupted.
Disclaimer: The suggestions listed in all climbing articles are not to be considered exhaustive. The intent is uniquely informative, therefore they do not account for professional advice. Please seek help from professional trainers and alpine guides for your first climbing experiences, and make sure to complete a climbing course before climbing outdoors on your own.
Image by Brook Anderson from Unsplash