Climbing Hitches

Climbing Hitches

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Activities Activities: Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Aid Climbing, Big Wall, Scrambling, Canyoneering

Climbing Hitches

Among the many knots that are regularly used in climbing, hitches are among the most common. They are very practical in a variety of setups, but they truly shine in rescue scenarios. Friction hitches like the prusik, klemheist, autoblock and bachman can be used to backup rappels, ascend a fixed rope and to haul a struggling or injured partner. Every climber should know these knots, how to tie them and when they might be useful in relation to the specific types of climbing that they do. This article is intended to provide a list of the most common hitches, their "normal" use, and a few pros/cons of each.

EDIT: I added in the name Machard knot to the autoblock based on this article, The Machard Knot.

Types of Hitches

This is a list of hitches that are commonly used in climbing.

 Hitch NameMaterial Used To Tie ****
Small loop of cord
aka "Rescue loop".
Functions as a friction hitch.
Can be used for ascending, hauling and a
wide variety of rescue techniques.
Good to backup rappel.
Grips very well.
Takes loads in either direction.
Hard to unload once weighted.
Sometimes grips too well.
Small loop of cord
aka "Rescue loop"
or nylon runner.
Functions as a friction hitch.
Can be used for ascending, hauling and a
wide variety of rescue techniques.
Can be made with nylon sling.
Slides easily on the rope.
Doesn't grip as well as the prusik.
Can damage the sling with use.
Works best in one direction only.
Small loop of cord
aka "Rescue loop".
Functions as a friction hitch.
Can be used for ascending, hauling and a
wide variety of rescue techniques.
Good to backup rappel.
Very easy to tie.
Slides easily on the rope.
Easy to release under load.
Lower gripping strength than others.
Can release under load.
Needs to be set carefully.
Small loop of cord
aka "Rescue loop" and a carabiner.
Functions as a friction hitch.
Can be used for ascending, hauling and a
wide variety of rescue techniques.
Slides very easily on the rope.
Carabiner provides "handle".
Good for ascending setup.
Lower gripping strength than others.
Pulling on carabiner can release the hitch.
Can release under load.
Works best in one direction only.
Girth Hitch
Loop of cord.
Sling, runner, cordelette, etc.
Used to connect slings to harness or to
natural features (i.e. trees).
Very easy to connect slings to
harness and natural features.
Greatly reduces slings breaking strength.
Clove Hitch
Climbing rope.
Used to anchor the rope (or cord) to
carabiners while being fully adjustable.
This is an excellent knot to "clip in" to the masterpoint.
Strong and adjustable.
Can cinch so tightly it cannot be untied
if a major load comes onto it.
Climbing rope.
Functions as an alternative to a belay device.
Works well to belay and to rappel.
Also, can be used in rescue setups.
Severely twists the rope.
Climbing rope, 2 oval carabiners.
Used to haul lighter loads and only allows the rope
to travel in one direction.
Easy way to haul with only 2 carabiners.
Can be hard to unweight.

****The material used to tie can vary widely depending on the intended use. The one noted above is in relation to the "Uses" listed in the table.

"Rescue Loops"

"Rescue Loops" are what people commonly carry to use while climbing.

My 2 rescue loops.
My 2 "rescue loops" that are always on my harness.
Double fisherman
Well-tightened and 2-3 inches of tail.

Additional Thoughts

Various diameters of cord are used, 6mm is very standard fare. Although longer loops can be used, I feel that it is better to use shorter loops and extend them with slings if needed. The ones shown are made out of approximately 4 feet of cord that is tied together using double fisherman knots with about 2-3 inches of tail.


This is the beginning of a 3-loop prusik. Make sure to make the knot pass through the loop so it does not become part of the hitch later.
Prusik 2/3
The one on the top has 2 loops completed and needs one to go.
The bottom one is done and has been dressed properly.

Prusik 3/3
A close up of a finished and dressed 3-loop prusik.
Notice that the knot is part of the loop, not the hitch.

Additional Thoughts
The number of loops that go into a prusik is based off of how thick your rope is and how thick your prusik cord is. 3 loops is very standard for both ascending and for backing up rappels. It is very important to have your knot dressed perfectly before weighting as it will jam very easily otherwise.


Klemheist 1/4
Starting a klemheist with a shoulder-length runner. Note that it is laying flat!
Klemheist 2/4
4 loops are wrapped up the rope. The runner is still laying as flat as possible against itself. The loop on the top is shorter than the bottom one.

Klemheist 3/4
Bring the bottom loop up and pass it through the shorter top loop. Pull it down to tighten the knot.

Klemheist 4/4
A finished Klemheist. It is a one directional knot. Pushes up and grips down. The upper loop should be short enough that it does not pull down past the bottom of the hitch.

Additional Thoughts
This works perfectly with a shoulder-length runner, but it is important to use the wider nylon slings instead of the thin dyneema ones. Dyneema will not having the holding power that the nylon ones will. The stitched portion of the runner must not be part of the hitch, make sure it is hanging free in the lower loop. Also, the upper loop should be short enough that it does not pull down past the bottom of the hitch.

Machard aka Autoblock

Autoblock 1/2
This shows the beginning of an autoblock using my "rescue loops". 3-4 wraps are made around the rope while being careful to keep the strands of the cord parallel to each other.
Autoblock 2/2
Finished autoblock. After the wraps are made, simply clip the ends with a carabiner.
Additional Thoughts

Once again, it is important to keep the knot out of the hitch. The autoblock will work with 3-4 loops, but it does not have the same holding power as a prusik. This is an easy knot to tie.


Bachman 1/2
Start a bachman by clipping your loop to an oval carabiner. Then pass the cord over the rope and through the carabiner 4-5 times.

Bachman 2/2
A finished bachman. You would clip to the loop hanging out the bottom of the carabiner. Be careful when weighting it to make sure that it holds a load.
Additional Thoughts

This knot has much less holding power than the other friction hitches. 4 passes through the carabiner is a minimum and make sure it grips before fully weighting it. Tying a backup knot is a good idea with this one. Also, although any straight-spined carabiner will work, ovals will work better.

Girth Hitch

Girth hitch 1/3
Start by wrapping your sling around whatever it is that you'd like to girth hitch.

Girth hitch 2/3
Pass the end with the stitching through the other end's loop.

Girth hitch 3/3
Pull it tight. Make sure that the loop does not twist around whatever you've hitched, as it can reduce the breaking strength of the knot.

Additional Thoughts
The girth hitch is best used to sling objects and to connect slings to your harness (i.e. extending a belay device for rappels). It is not a good idea to use it to connect 2 slings together though, as this can cause them to break under much lower loads. There has been some discussion as to the orientation of the hitch and how it effects its strength, the photo above shows a good way to finish the hitch.

Clove Hitch

Clove Hitch 1/3
Starting a clove hitch by making 2 identical loops in the rope.

Clove Hitch 2/3
Lay the loops over each other. The left loop will lay ontop of the right loop.

Clove Hitch 3/3
Then just clip both loops to a carabiner making sure to have the load-bearing side on the same side of the spine of the carabiner.

Additional Thoughts
There are several different ways to tie a clove hitch and you should know them all. This is the easiest way to show it through photos so I'm chosing to share this one. This is an excellent knot to clip in to the masterpoint but make sure the loaded side is on the same side as the carabiner's spine. Tying a clove hitch and a munter are very similar, so make sure that you've actually tyed the correct knot before leaning back on it 5 pitches up at that hanging belay.


Additional Thoughts

The munter is a slightly confusing knot to tie using still photos, hence why I used the photo above. It starts very similar to a clove hitch and is easy to tie once learned. If you plan on belaying with a munter, know that the lead strand should be on the same side as the spine of the carabiner in case of a fall. Also, this knot will twist the rope severly, especially if used on a long rappel or something similar. For rappels, tying a backup is important as slack feeds through quickly and you may need to go hands-free to untwist the rope.


Garda 1/4
A garda starts with 2 matching carabiners clipped to the masterpoint. The gates should match and open the same way. Ovals work well.

Garda 2/4
Clip the rope you will haul with through both carabiners. The right side will eventually be the side that the load is hauled up on.

Garda 3/4
Pull up a loop from the non-hauling side (left in the photo) and clip it through the far carabiner only.

Garda 4/4
A close-up of the finished knot. Test it before relying on it though. Slack should only pull through in one direction.

Additional Thoughts

This is a cool knot and although it is easy to tie, it must be practiced first. Oval carabiners work a bit better than bent gates but both will grip the rope. Only problem with this is that it can be very difficult to release the hitch when it is fully loaded. Prying a nut tool between the carabiners can release it but may cause you to lose control of the load.

Order of Occurrence

Of these hitches, here is an approximate order from most common to least including the "normal" use(s).

Girth Hitch
Used to tie off features as protection and to extend belay device while rappelling.
Clove Hitch
Used to clip in to the masterpoint at belays and to adjust points while building anchors.
Used to backup rappels and often a hitch of choice for ascending, hauling and crevasse rescue.
Used to backup rappels and sometimes a hitch of choice for ascending, hauling and crevasse rescue.
Used as a backup as an ATC while belaying and rappelling and also used to adjust systems during rescue techniques.
Used as a way to substitute a runner for a piece of cord for hauling, ascending and other rescue techniques.
Used to ascend a fixed rope during rescue techniques and for crevasse rescue.
Used to haul light loads and can be a creative way to ascend a fixed line.

What does it all mean???

Hopefully this shows several options for hitches and gives scenarios where each might be needed. All of these knots are good to use in certain situations, and many of them have their own weaknesses as well. Knowing them all should almost be considered mandatory as well as learning rescue techniques where they will really become useful. As with all knots, they will not function correctly unless they are properly tied and well-dressed. Practice them at home before you try and use them outside so you are confident that you tie them correctly.

There were three pieces of rope wandering in the desert. They were very hot and thirsty. They came upon a bar and one went in. He asked for a drink and the bartender said, 'read the sign buddy we don't serve ropes.' 

'Oh come on just this once', the rope asked again. The bartender said 'nope', so the rope left. The second rope figured he was a bit better looking and maybe the bartender would soften a little and let him have a drink. He went in and asked for a drink, the bartender shook his head and said 'Hey Buddy, it's just like I told  your friend we don't serve ropes here.' Dejected the rope left the bar.

The 3rd rope heard both of their stories, thought for a moment.Then he rolled himself into a knot and fluffed the edges so it was a little frayed. The third rope went into the bar like this and asked for a drink. 

The bartender asked, 'Hey are you a rope?' The 3rd rope looked down at himself and said 'Nope, I am a frayed knot!'

Climb on!


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-8 of 8
Matt Lemke

Matt Lemke - Feb 25, 2013 12:01 am - Voted 10/10

Awesome article

Thank you very much for making this! This will probably help many people. Very well written and organized too.


jacobsmith - Feb 25, 2013 12:11 pm - Voted 10/10


professionally written with good info. i am impressed. however, i would however like to dispute one or two points.
There is some debate over whether the klemheist will grip in both directions, the textbooks seem to say no, but i've found otherwise and i know of at least one guide service that uses it almost exclusively over the prusik because of how ridiculously long you can spent tending a prusik to get it exactly right so that it will actually grip, which i was glad to see you noted as a downside of that knot.
is there really research that says girth hitching lowers the breaking point of a sling? if so could you send me the link, because i was under the impression that girth hitches were one of the only knots that did not lower the breaking point (i girth hitch a lot of stuff, so this is sort of scaring me).

Brian C

Brian C - Feb 25, 2013 12:56 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice

Thanks. Very interesting about the klemheist, thanks for sharing that. I've messed with it alot and have seen how it could hold both ways, but it's always made me nervous trying it since visually it looks like it only goes one way.

With the girth hitch it's strength is reduced when it's used to attach sling to sling. Here's an article by Black Diamond on testing girth hitched slings...

...One of their main conclusions was...
"Joining two slings reduces the ultimate strength—and in some cases by up to and over 50%"

What I mentioned above was that I've seen and heard differing opinions on if the orientation of a girth can effect its strength. I've never seen a final report or article but basically the argument is that a straight orientation like this... stronger than a twisted orientation like this...

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Feb 25, 2013 9:19 pm - Voted 10/10

Excellent Primer

Excellent article. Good selection of hitches and you kept the text short. I would agree learn these all, but go with the one you're most comfortable with for a particular situation. For example, either prusik above rappel device or autoblock below for rappel self-belay/backup. Practice, practice, practice.


mrchad9 - Feb 26, 2013 3:21 am - Voted 10/10

Great writeup!

Articles like this are amongst the finest additions on SP. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and excellent job too.


mtneering - Feb 26, 2013 11:33 pm - Voted 8/10


good read


TimB - Apr 15, 2013 8:41 pm - Voted 10/10

Very good!

An excellent article. Being a 'newish' climber, I have only tied and used the clove, girth, and Munter hitches. I am going to practice tying the other ones you show.

Thanks again.


ericvola - May 11, 2015 4:36 am - Voted 10/10

Machard knot

Thanks to have updated your article adding the name of Machard to the Autoblock hitch. I will send you info on some variants that can be quite useful and so worth knowing, the "French" hitch, the Braided Machard and the single loop Machard also called the Valdotain knot which can be most useful in an emergency as well as the Polish knot.
Note that the Prusik is not used any longer by the French guides and most French climbers (I do not know about other European guides syndicates but my guess is that it must be the same as knots such as the Machard are so much easier to make and do not stiffen as much).
I will add an obvious recommendation with the usage of autoblocking knots particularly when abseiling : use a cord 2 mm smaller than your climbing rope and avoid a diameter below 6 mm, 5 mm is considered as the security limit (due to the Nylon melting limit).
There is also the tricky issue of should the autoblock knot be above or below the abseil device?
It seems that all English and American climbers have chosen the below position while the French ENSA have not decided any either ways. I guess the advantage should go to the Anglo-saxon's view as they were first to invent the abseil devices.The below position which I have been personnally using has a number of significant advantages (the abseiling device used higher gives more braking power, unblocking the autoblock is easier as a shorter cord means less tension, you can use a free hand to unblock yourself or the abseil rope...) so is less tiring and you can abseil faster but both methods have inconvenients and as Augie Medina stated, the solution is to practice, practice to counter them.

Viewing: 1-8 of 8