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If you tie a figure-8 knot while rock climbing and fall a few times (especially if they're dynamic lead falls), the knots will become so difficult to untie that you sometimes have to use a carabiner to help you untangle it.

Are there any techniques one can use to make this easier?

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  • This question is close to a duplicate. Does it answer your question? outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/1126/…
    – Guran
    Dec 17, 2019 at 9:27
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    This is not a duplicate. There are multiple specific things to do when tying a figure eight follow through that makes it easier to untie after taking a fall. The linked question does not even attempt to address this specific question. Dec 19, 2019 at 19:02
  • I would be more comfortable with not calling it a duplicate if it was about techniques to make a figure-8 easier to untie after a fall, and didn't include options for other knots (which is reasonably well covered at the proposed duplicate) Dec 27, 2019 at 15:51
  • Regardless of whether the question should/not be closed, I think the OP and others interested might benefit from reading about what are called "non-jamming knots" revolvy.com/folder/Non-jamming-knots/889763 There are a good number of those An example I am personally familiar with is the Tarbuck knot en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarbuck_knot
    – dakini
    Dec 28, 2019 at 8:33
  • If you dress it correctly it is easier to untie because it doesn't just tighten at one strand
    – endolith
    Dec 29, 2019 at 3:17

4 Answers 4

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The figure-8 knot is characteristically hard to untie after falls. What many climbers do is, once the knot is done, to come back with the end of the rope inside the last bight - this is a sort of Yosemite finish. It makes the knot easier to untie, since after removing the extra strand, a lot of room is left for the rope to be untied (picture here). Andy Kirkpatrick, in his book "1001 Climbing Tips", says that using a rock or an aid-climbing hammer to smash the knot can make it easier to untie, too.

My personal opinion is: a knot that is so hard to be untied is a bad knot. The figure-8 was OK when climbers very rarely fell, and ropes where made out of hemp and whatnot. Nowadays, with sport climbing and falls becoming so normal, the age of such antique knots has come to an end. The double bowline or, better yet, the end-bound single bowline (EBSB), are easy to tie and inspect and can be untied with minimum effort. I have used the EBSB for the past 3 years both in multipitch and sport climbing (convincing a dozen other climbers to use it in the meantime), and I'm extremely happy with it.

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I notice the answers to this question have not been updated with more recent discussion of this issue inspired by the video "Why Figure 8 knot is NOT hard to untie!". The Figure-8 knot can be hard to untie after a fall if the load line is the upper of the two lines around the bight, but it is easier to untie if the load line is the bottom of the two lines. The problem with load line on top is that it squishes the whole knot after a fall. For just the essentials about the two versions of the knot, start the video at 13m 24s.

For some nice colour coded images of the two versions, check out "A better way to tie the figure-8?"

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    This is the answer. What is shown in the video works just fine. Been doing it for 3 decades with no problem.
    – Mike
    Oct 12, 2022 at 16:49
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    What a great video - I had not paid that much attention to whether the load line was the top or not, and assumed that sometimes finding the knot difficult to untie was just my fingers being tired different amounts on different days
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 14, 2022 at 11:18
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I’ve experimented with this a bit. We tried pulling the knot really tight or leaving it really loose. It turned out that pulling it relatively tight (but not too tight) works best.

It also makes a huge difference how you start untying. Start with wiggling/folding the parallel loops where the end of the rope comes out. Once you get a tiny bit of room you can undo the knot.

It’s still hard and finicky, which is why I’m mostly using the bowline on a bight knot (it’s the alternative common knot aside from the figure eight, here in the German speaking area) now. It’s a bit harder to tie at first but always easy to untie after a fall.

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  • The way I teach the wiggling/untying of a tight figure eight is to fold the working part of the rope down tight behind the parallel loops and then push them one-by-one over the folded part. (It works for regular figure eights, bowlines and carrick bends as well)
    – Dave X
    Jan 30, 2020 at 17:56
  • Experimenting with knots on which your life will depend is not encouraged. Better learn from experts in the field who already done the testing.
    – Willeke
    Oct 11, 2022 at 19:29
  • @Willeke: I don’t think making a figure 8 knot a bit tighter or looser is a safety issue. And one can always back it up with a stopper knot.
    – Michael
    Oct 12, 2022 at 7:02
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This is what a marlin spike is for. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marlinspike

It's not special purpose just for figure 8 knots, but is a general tool for tight knots.

Dates back to the age of sail, when natural cordage would get pulled tight then got wet and would swell.

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  • That is what a marlinspike is for, but climbing ropes are more sensitive things than old hemp ropes and a marlinspike would do damage if used incorrectly. Hence I don't feel this is good advice for the situation.
    – Separatrix
    Jan 9, 2020 at 11:42
  • @Separatrix I assume the marlinspike can cause damage owing to its relatively sharp edges.. instead of a marlin spike, can one use a spare carabiner instead? Perhaps an oval type carabiner where the metal has a round cross section (as opposed to some D types where the cross section is flatter)..
    – dakini
    Jan 10, 2020 at 11:02
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    Every marlin spike I've seen was a smooth cone with a rounded tip. Typically the tip was barely sharp enough to unlay a 3 ply rope for splicing. Jan 10, 2020 at 23:11

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