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As a new climber it won’t be long before you are the bewildered recipient of a book professing to contain all the knots ever conceived. Knots for climbers and mountaineers, knots for climbers who sail to the crags, knots for climbers who fish for their supper. Said publication will undoubtably contain hundreds of knots which solve problems and scenarios that you hadn’t even envisaged. 

However, you can rest easy, you only need to know five of them.

What follows isn’t an instructional how to guide (see our collection of 60 second videos). This is a brief summary of the merits and some more common possible uses of each. Within the climbers toolkit there will be many other uses and contexts not discussed here.  For further advice and tuition, check out our range of climbing courses where all of these knots and tricks  are introduced and practiced.

Figure of eight

Probably the most important and safety critical knot that we have. After our shoe laces this is likely the first knot we were taught and almost certainly the first climbing knot that we learnt. Most of us use this every time we climb for attaching to the rope and thus the safety system. But beyond attaching it to our harness, it has multiple other uses. As you start to explore the construction of anchors and rigging, a figure of eight tied on a bight of rope gives a quick loop for clipping into. One thing is certain with this knot, take your time to tie it correctly and then check it again! This one may well save your life.

Clove Hitch

If this article was the “top two climbing knots” this would be the second and final one. Strictly speaking this isn’t a knot but a hitch and it requires a second structure for it to work. Assuming you are not a sailor then this usually means a climbers carabiner. Most often used in the construction of anchors at the top of a climb, it gains its usefulness by the simple and efficient way of adjusting the knot to introduce or remove slack in your equalised anchor. Need to move further away from the anchor on a multi pitch belay, not a problem, this is the Knot (hitch) for you.


A knot with a strong sailing heritage, but what a waste of a rope. For climbers this knot previously had the limelight over the figure of eight when it came to tying into the rope (scarily- not always with a harness). However, for the modern climber, the time will undoubtedly come when an over sized anchor needs a sling that just doesn’t exist or is still in your bag at the bottom of the route. The end of your climbing rope is perfect for this. Of course you could tie a rethreaded figure of eight to create a giant loop, but guessing where the initial number 8 needs to be is a dark art. The bowline needs no prior set up before walking a kilometre around that gargantuan hunk of gritstone. Don’t forget the stopper knot.

Overhand Knot

AKA ‘The Granny Knot’. A blind one handed chimpanzee will eventually manage this one if given a rope and enough time. Climbing knots should be more complicated and sexy surely? Nope. This simple gem is great for using a rope to link two anchors and transfer loads (instead of the more beautiful alpine butterfly,) Shorten slings and create quick loops in the rope. It’s relative ease at being undone after a large load makes it a good option for tying two ropes together for an abseil. The overhand knot does it all. In fact, for those that are looking to undertake their Mountain Leader Qualification this is the only knot you need to know.


There are a number of variations on this theme but in short these are short loops of rope which when wrapped around a rope will grip it and resist movement. Most usually used by climbers when a lazy second has failed to reclaim you favourite number 4 cam and you are forced to abseil down the crag to retrieve it. The Prussik will move down the rope with you and lock off when you need to go hands free to get the kit. Also useful for ascending ropes after impromptu swan dives into crevasses.

The Author

This article has been written by Pure Outdoor Staff Member Oli 


A great day out on a Beginner Climbing Course last year

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