Why You Should Tie In with the Figure Eight Knot

Why You Should Tie In with the Figure Eight Knot

May 19, 2020 fmg-adminRock Climbing Uncategorized

Do you remember the first time you ever went rock climbing? Everything is new: slipping into a harness, buckling down your helmet, shoving your feet into small climbing shoes, and tying into a rope. When you learned to tie into the rope, your teacher probably told you a story about choking aliens, punching cyclops, or following a race car track to help you tie the “figure eight” knot. Then you likely learned how to retrace the figure eight to create a figure eight “follow-through.” But were you ever taught WHY we typically use the figure eight knot when there is a myriad of other knots that we could use to tie ourselves into a climbing rope? Some are even simpler and easier to learn than the figure eight. So let’s dive into a few advantages of the figure eight knot:

  1. Easily recognizable – If tied and dressed properly, it should be really easy to count five sets of parallel lines. Because of the knot’s natural symmetry, almost every climber will be able to check it even from a distance.
  2. Takes two gestures to fail – If you undo the last “pass through” of the follow through, you would still have a complete knot that won’t come undone (thereby making that last pass through a built-in backup). If you undo another pass through, then the knot would come undone under weight.

Here is a video that very clearly shows how a figure eight functions under weight. In this video, the knot is being pulled until it breaks. During this particular pull test, the knot failed at 6,900lbs. But keep in mind that the overall strength of any knot depends on a lot of factors including the age and condition of the rope, how the knot is being weighted, etc. 

  1. Does not require a backup – You still often see climbers with double fisherman’s knots tied above their figure eight knot. A lot of climbers are first taught about the so-called “back up knot” in the climbing gyms and won’t be allowed to climb without one. This is usually a part of the company’s policy. If a gym requires it, it’s best to just go with it. However, in your personal time you should be aware that it is not necessary and actually makes the knot less safe. This is because it detracts from the number one reason why we use this knot – recognizability. The more we add to the knot, the harder it is to check those 5 sets of parallel lines. 

The figure eight is the knot of choice for most climbers out there because it is easy to recognize and check, it won’t come undone, it’s simple, and easy to learn. While there are many knots out there to choose from such as the bowline family and the brotherhood knot, this one should be your go-to unless you have a good reason to suggest another knot! These other options will work just fine, but they are harder to check and there is little to no margin for error – they must be tied perfectly. 

If you don’t know how to tie the figure eight or want to learn a cool trick to dress it properly every time, check out this blog on the “Start Hard, Finish Easy” method! 

Anna Marie Alewine, AMGA Single Pitch Instructor

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