Knots - What, How, and Where

When tying knots there are a few important aspects to pay attention to:


  • The knot must be "orderly" (left side) - this means that the ropes "going together" should never cross over each other (like they do on the right, side). This is especially important with the "8 knot", "9 knot", Yosemite bowline, and English rescuer. Tie the knot so the ropes are originally aligned in the right way. Don't try to get the ropes in order afterwards. One of the main reasons for this post is to show you how to do this.
  • When you make the knot try to tie it around your hand/fingers so that if you get into a situation where you can't see what you're doing, you'll still be able to make a good and orderly knot.
  • When tying single looped knots try to tie the loop as small as possible (if you need to pull the loop through with a carabiner then you're doing it right.
  • Practice knots on single ropes ( >9mm diameter).

Note: This is a collection that focuses on the knots used in everyday caving practice. It is intended to give a short review of what is important in caving practice. Rope enthusiasts can find a much bigger collection of knots here.


Basic knots


The following three knots are basically the same. The only difference is that with the overhand we twist the rope once, with the "8 knot" twice, and with the "9 knot" three times.


When working with webbing, overhand knots are the only kinds of knots that can be used. This is also the only way of using overhand knots in caving practice. Overhand knot can be used for either tying the two ends of the webbing together (Water knot) or to create a loop. 


Figure 8


The figure 8 knot is the most commonly used knot in caving practice. It can be weighted in every direction (however cross loading takes a lot of its strength away). 


  1. Take the double rope to your hand (like a stick) in a way so that about 3 inches (5cm) is out of your palm (this makes sure that the right loop size is made), the loop should face you (so that the ropes will be aligned in the end).
  2. Flip your hand around and make a cross on your palm.
  3. Grab the ends of the loop and pull them over from under the knot.
  4. Take a lot of time practicing this knot while also paying close attention to tie with as small loop as you can. Practice trying to tie this knot with one hand, behind your back, etc. ... 


This knot can be hard to open therefore bowline type knots started to take up this knots place, however the property of this knot that basically you can use it in every situation safely and that it's about impossible to tie it wrong (unlike bowline knots) keeps this knot to be the most important one in our practice.


Figure 9


The figure 9 is a stronger version of the "figure 8". This knot is preferable to the "figure 8" on 9mm and thinner ropes (it's stronger and easier to untie), however this is only a recommendation and not a rule. 



Take the double rope into your hand so that the loop is facing out this time (so the ropes will be aligned at the end).

Do the same steps as with the “figure 8” except this time instead of pulling the rope out from below, go around the knot and push it through from the top.


This knot inherits all of the properties of the "figure 8". It's easy to tie (impossible to do it wrong), not easy to untie, and it can be loaded in every direction.  Unfortunately it eats up more rope than the "8 knot", is slower to tie, and is not as easy to keep the loop small. 


Other one-looped knots





The bowline knot is an easy one to tie, easy to untie, and a reasonably strong knot. Its disadvantage is that it can't be made if you have the rope end in your hand, and that - unlike the figure 8 and 9 - this can't be loaded in every direction. The free end of the rope MUST be tied down with another knot to the loop.


  1. Start out as if you’re doing an overhand knot, only instead of pulling out the whole rope, pull only a loop through. The side where you're "taking the loop out" will be the weighted end.
  2. Push the other end of the rope through the loop from below.
  3. Pull the “weighted" end of the rope so that the knot “flips out”.
  4. You can check to see if the knot is good by making sure that the weighted end is coming out through the knot's little loop.
  5. Don’t forget to tie the not-weighted end down.


Always be twice as careful than you would otherwise if you use a bowline! Always double check that the loaded rope leaves the knot through the small loop of the knot; if it doesn't do it again. If the loaded end of the rope does not leave the loop through the small loop, the rope can "flip back" and untie itself. There have been accidents before because of improperly made bowline knots. 


Yosemite bowline


This is basically a way to tie the end of the bowline rope down, however the result is much better than that. Unlike the bowline it can be loaded in every direction and it is also a significantly stronger knot. It still keeps the good aspects of the bowline as it is easy to tie and untie.


Make a bowline only this time the not-weighted end must be on the inner side of the loop.

With this end of the rope follow the weighted line out of the knot.


Note: This knot can be done in the middle of the rope (when you don't have the end of the rope), but that's possibly the hardest knot I know of. 




The advantage (and disadvantage) of this knot is that the loop is perpendicular to the main rope direction. Also the ropes cross over each other in the knot in a way that it questions it's strength, however this statement should be tested. This knot also has the advantage that it's easy to untie.

This knot is most widely used in traverses and sometimes we can see it when starting a pit making a double anchor, however in this situation there is usually a better solution available.


  1. Turn the rope two times so it forms two "eyes".
  2. Hold the first crossing (from the loop) and flip the loop down.
  3. Pull the loop through between the first and the second crossing.

Note: This knot is trending towards going out of practice.


Two looped knots


These knots are originally used for double anchors. Their advantage is that you can position the knot -and the main rappel rope below it- between the two anchors and afterwards it won't slide back to the lowest point (like a double webbing anchor).


Double bowline


The easiest double looped knot. Its advantage is that it's easy to adjust and easy to untie. The only reason against this knot is that if something cuts one of the loops the whole knot will fall apart (unlike the English rescuer), therefore while using this knot you MUST make sure that the loops don't touch the walls.


Because of its advantages, people lately have tended to use this knot instead of the "8 knot" by clipping the two loops into one carabiner. It is good practice if we're paying attention to the previously mentioned risk.



  1. Start with an overhand knot.
  2. When you pull the loop through, flip the loop through the knot.


Figure 8 double loop (English rescuer, Rabbit knot)


This is basically a double looped "8 knot". It has all of the advantages of the "8 knot" as it is a strong knot which can be loaded in every direction.


Start with a “8 knot”.


Unlike the double bowline now start to push the rope through the knot so that the loop stays behind (the parts that have been pushed through will be your loops in the end).


Flip the loop (which stayed behind) over the knot.


Rabbit knot with an additional loop



You can spare a carabiner by creating a loop from the not-loaded part of the main rope, for clipping the short cow's tail during rebelays.


If you tie the loop from the loaded end of the rope, it will be "pulled back". The knot will stay safe, but you will lose all the effort you made for tying the additional loop.


Other knots


These are basic knots not fitting into any of the sections above. These are important and widely used knots though.


Clove Hitch


This knot is most commonly used when starting a pit by tying the rope to a tree. Sometimes it's also used in traverses for sparing rope, however it is more like an expedition type of rig because this knot seriously weakens the rope. The unloaded end of the rope MUST be always tied down with a separate knot!


  1. Cross your hands and grab the rope.
  2. Uncross your hands.
  3. Cross it again.


Munter mule


This knot is considered to be a "B-version" when your descender fails. As a descender knot this is a 3D braking device and therefore (most of the time) it can't be used in caves because the rope will curl up below it.


Double fisherman's knot


This knot is used to create loops from ropes.

Never use a simple fisherman!

On dynema strings use triple fisherman knots.












Rope End knot


This is basically a half-double Fisherman's knot. Use this knot at the end of the rope and with other ropes for securing the free end of the rope.


Square knot


This is the classic "belt knot". It is useful but not safe. Use it only where safety and untying is not a problem.


Special knots


These knots are rarely used and are generally only for knot enthusiasts.

One directional figure 8 (Tirolaner bridge knot)




This knot is one of the most complicated ones. Today the only place where it's reasonably used is when fastening a tirolaner bridge (slack line), however due to it's complexity and the amount of rope it "eats up" even for tirolaner bridges other solutions are preferred.



There are two methods out there. The popular one (top on the picture) is as shown basically a weakened “8 knot”. There are much bigger forces on a slack line than during usual rope work therefore you shouldn’t use something that is weaker than an “8 knot”. The one shown below the “don’t do” knot is a “8 knot” with more rope. This is the same knot shown on top. As you can see this is a stronger knot than a “8 knot” (has more rope in it).


And there is another solution for the slack line. This knot is considerably easy to make, however it has nothing to do with the “8 knot”.