The Ultimate Abseil Knot

08 December 2008

The Ultimate Abseil Knot

Category: Descent

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 2020).

How many times have you had arguments with your mate when it comes to abseil knots? I know of two climbers – one British and one French – who actually came to blows at the top of an ice climb once, neither trusting the others tried and trusted techniques of joining two ropes. The problem is we all know what happens if you get this wrong, and abseiling is terrifying enough (and if you aren’t scared then you should be) without the added worry that your two ropes are going to separate. In some cases mistakes do happen, even by very experienced climbers. For example I know of a team who where retreating off a route in the Lakes in the rain, when the knot joining the ropes inverted and rolled off the ends, sending the abseiler crashing to the deck below. Luckily the climber lived to tell the tale, but not without a great many broken bones. Others have not been so lucky.

The problem is that there are so many conflicting techniques when it comes to rope joining, from the double fishermans, double figure of eight, reef knot back up with double fisheraman’s, and let’s not forget the ‘Euro death knot’. This leads to a great deal of confusion when it comes to what to tie? This articles aims to give a definitive answer to “what’s the best knot”.


Actually if you’re worth your salt and move with the times then you should know the answer; the double overhand. Yes this variation on the good old “Euro death knot” turns out to be by far the best joining knot on the planet. Don’t believe me – well here’s why.

• The double overhand knot is the simplest knot you can tie in two ropes. This means that it can be tied in the dark, wearing mitts, even one handed. This makes it far safer than more complex knots, which require more time, dexterity and more importantly, are more open to pilot error. • The double overhand knot is also easy to untie, again important when you’re keen to get a move on. Simply manipulate and flex the knot and it will loosen up. No more welded double fishermans. • The overhand is very strong, wet, dry or covered in ice, and will not come undone if tied correctly. • A double overhand will not get jammed as easily as any other knot, as it slips more easily over edges (the knot always flips upwards so it won’t catch on edges).

How to tie a double overhand

Simple, just take both rope ends, making they are of equal length. Measure out a length from your chest to your fingertip (at least 3 feet), and tie a neat overhand knot. Next tie a second knot as snug to the first as you possibly can. Some climbers when tying plain overhand knots then tie both ends together with a double fishermans, believing this is increasing security. In fact this only increases the chance that the rope will jam – which of course if not what any climber wants. Once tied you should have a forearms length of tail (6 to 10 inches).


For many climbers the more simple single overhand knot is more then enough, and the double is aimed that climbers who just don’t trust the single version. However the double does have an increased chance of becoming lodged in cracks as it does have a bigger profile, so for descents where this is a possibly I’d switch back to a single overhand (remember thoes long tails!).


Without doubt the most dangerous abseil knot is the figure of eight – tied like an overhand knot with both ropes. This knot is seriously low strength, and has been the cause of at least one death. It’s holding strength is as low as 30 kg, and the worst aspect is that climbers believe that they are tying a superior knot then a plain over hand. This isn’t the case, as a figure of eight rolls more easily, especially if loosely or badly tied. So one more time; DON’T EVER JOIN YOUR ABSEIL ROPES WITH A FIGURE OF EIGHT KNOT – YOU MAY DIE.

Note: This articles is based on testing carried out by Lyon Equipment and Needle Sports.
Further reading: Xmission.
Hello, Andy

First of all, sorry about my poor English.

My name is Miguel and I’m a Portuguese climber. I would like congratulation your website and you. I really admire your climbing skills and it’s a pleaser read some articles in some English magazines. You are a reference for all of us…

I’m writing to you because your recent article about THE ULTIMATE ABSEIL KNOT.

During year I used the Simple Overhand Knot to rappel. But one day I almost saw my climbing partner falling because this simple knot. We were trying to open a new winter route in the East face of Cântaro Magro, one of the huge and challenging winter walls of Serra da Estrela, our highest mountain (in Portugal). We climbed all night in bad snow and weather conditions and in the morning we were tired. We 80 meters below the summit we decide come down and trying this climb another day. We began rappelling. One after one, we were closer to the base. In the last rappel, my partner was the first to down. When he was in the middle of the 60 meters rappel I casually look to the knot. What I saw was the ropes sliding into the knot. Scared I put my hands, and try to stop the ropes sliding. Firmly, I put a Prussik Knot holding the two ropes and my partner arrive safely to the ground.

I don’t know what happen, what was the reason. The Knott was well madding but the 8.5mm ropes were very wet.

For me this was very scared and after this, I and my friends never made this rappel knot again.

Last winter to Spanish Climbers died using this knot.

Maybe a will go try the Double Overhand Knot after reading your article.

Thanks to share your experience with all us.


Miguel Grillo


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Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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