A friend was asking about grappling hooks the other day, apparently they'd seen a mountaineering program where the guy carried a grappling hook. We couldn't quite figure out why, I've never seen anyone use one (outside of a comic book).

  • Are they mountaineering equipment?
  • When (if ever) would you use one?
  • If so how?

7 Answers 7


Grappling hooks are sometimes used in the arborist (tree climbing) world. Rather than being thrown upwards, they are attached to a line in order to retrieve the other end of the line.

Here is a picture of the relevant maneuver.

The hooks on the end are often curved and rotated so that they will not catch on branches (or castle walls, like a movie grapnel), but will instead slip through the tree and entangle a vertical rope.

I'd say google 'grapnel traversal', but the search is polluted by a bunch of video games that use the term.

If you are very interested, here is some academic work on the subject. (Note: it opens a .PDF)

  • Yours, rory's and @Joe's answers all provide good answers but I think this one provides the most detailed usage information
    – user2766
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 9:56
  • There is one addition: In aid climbing (where you climb the rock via a bunch of specialized gear on which you pull or on which you attach slings to step into) there is a piece called the sky hook: andy-kirkpatrick.com/images/made/images/uploads/… Of course, this piece isn't thrown, but rather very delicately placed...
    – Lagerbaer
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 21:28

You wouldn't want to use one to climb. My favourite quote I found on the Internet:

Here's my advice on climbing with grappling hooks: don't climb with grappling hooks. Real climbers never use them, and for good reason. You have no idea what they hook onto, so you are trusting your life with something completely unknown. Those things are just for the movies.

But they can be a good tool for pulling things, grabbing branches, shifting logs etc.

  • 5
    Agreed. Also, if it catches on something, the only way to retrieve it is to climb it...so no chance to change your mind.
    – Anssssss
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:39
  • 4
    This is what I thought. I think it was some stupid "bear gryls" nonsense. So what are they used for?
    – user2766
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:42
  • 5
    pulling things towards you
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:44
  • 4
    I can imagine them being used like in the movies, actually. More specifically for a large-scale assault on a defended wall: either the hook comes loose and you fall off the wall and die, or the hook doesn't come loose, and you reach the top of the wall and die. The reliability of the hook is irrelevant in this scenario, and I can't think of a good alternative. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 17:37
  • 2
    I may be mistaken, but I think they were used in some military application in WWII. That would be reasonable given that the enemy side generally isn't going to wait around while you secure proper climbing pitons to assault their position. And at the point you're trying to sneak up to a machine gun bunker at night, the risk of the grapple slipping isn't your biggest worry. Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 13:24

I'm pretty sure grappling hooks were originally used in naval combat to allow for boarding other ships, but some googling found that some combat engineers use them to clear trip wires. Other than that I think they're mostly just useful for pulling on things you don't mind stabbing.

  • 5
    don't mind stabing...lol
    – user2766
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 8:30

In climbing, there isn't a good use. However, in canyoneering a variant of the grappling hook is occasionally used to escape from potholes. It is called an octopus. You make one by attaching several aid climbing hooks like the BD talon to a potshot (a little cloth bag usually filled with sand). See this book for a picture.

I have personally used them and I can attest to the terror associated with pulling on an unknown hook placement on soft sandstone. Thankfully you are usually over water...

  • 4
    Your link is dead can you fix it? Commented May 10, 2017 at 13:11

Living on the Florida coastline all my life and being an avid fisherman, I can testify that with well sharpened points, they were extremely handy for pulling up LARGE fish onto a pier or bridge. We called them "flying gaffs" and only used them on fish destined for the table. Places like the Skyway bridge and the piers at Ft Desoto often yielded grouper and kingfish far in excess of the # test of our line.


Not exactly your movie-style 3-prong grappling hook, but Fire and Rescue personnel often have hook based systems for use as personal escape devices:

One such product is the Petzl EXO which consists of a hook, rope, and rappel device.

Rather than being thrown and hoping to catch an edge to ascend a building, they are attached to a building (wrapped around something big, jammed tight against a windowsill, etc.) and used to descend out of a building.

Additionally, climbers do actually use something called a grappling hook, but similar to the rescue products, they are not thrown, but are rather carefully placed by hand. Once stuck into a hole/crack/flake on the rock, they can be used to pull the body higher up the wall.


Pulling down dangerous tree limbs. We have had a few elm trees fall victim to Dutch Elm Disease, and one of them has large cracks all over it, and we're afraid large sections of the tree will fall onto people, so we use grappling hooks to pull down the larger, more dangerous branches instead of having to stand under it with a chainsaw.