A knot that's not only good for Germans
09 December 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
The Munter hitch often gets a bad press because it tends to twist modern ropes (this isn’t so bad if you use HMS krabs), yet is one of the most important belaying techniques to learn as it requires nothing more than a karabiner to work, yet still provides up to 2.5kN of holding power (most belay plates hold only 2kN). Even if you never drop your belay device, the Munter is still crucial for self-rescue, and one of the few belay techniques that work in full winter conditions. Yet like the body belay, this simple-looking technique will not work if carried out incorrectly, some easily done as the locking technique is the reverse of all other belay devices.
The Munter is easily tied, with the knot being tested by simply pulling on either strand of the rope which will cause the hitch to reverse itself yet still work. When tying a Munter it’s best to use an HMS karabiner, as this allows the hitch to run more smoothly than on a D shaped krab. On either type of krab, you should aim to have the loading side of the hitch on the spine side of the karabiner for maximum strength. If using double ropes just form them into a single double-strand, with the exception being when belaying two seconds when you should place each hitch on its own screwgate.
To lock off a Munter you need to bring your hand forward so that both strands are parallel – not back towards your hip as in traditional breaking (many climbers don’t do this as it goes against years of natural reaction and is why it’s a good idea to practice this beforehand).
When bringing up seconds with a Munter it’s advisable to use a direct belay, as this makes taking in and locking off of the rope much easier than having it attached to your belay loop. If you’re swinging leads then the ability for the knot to invert means your second can just climb on once they reach you with no modification necessary of the belay. The problem is that a direct belay isn’t a good idea for leader belaying, especially with a Munter (any force will lift the belay and make it difficult to lock off the hitch). For this reason, I’d always revert back to the belay loop method when belaying the leader. In a big leader fall, you may well experience slippage and it’s a good idea to wear gloves if you have them. If you’re using very skinny ropes then it may be advisable to double up the karabiners so as to increase the friction – especially if you’re abseiling on a Munter (best avoided).