I have the John Long book on climbing anchors and also a couple of others that describe the subject more briefly (Pesterfield, Traditional Lead Climbing, and Freedom of the Hills). When it comes to constructing a redundant anchor, they all seem to describe a process in which you place several nuts and/or cams and then use a cordelette to connect them together and equalize them. However, I came across this online:

I love to hear experienced climbers say they don't use cordelettes. I've been at it 40 yrs., including 9 yrs guiding, and 200+ fa's, and have never seen the reason to add such a time consuming, bulky item to a rack.

Can anyone expand on this? Is the idea to use the climbing rope rather than a cordelette? What would be the steps in the process of building an anchor this way? Pros and cons? I assume you can't use this to build a rappel anchor unless you intend to leave the rope behind...? I can't see, e.g., how you would bail off of a multipitch route this way.

  • Possibly useful: youtube.com/watch?v=smk3cKvfi-8 He's at the top of a climb, walks around a tree or boulder, ties a figure eight, and clips in.
    – user2169
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 15:47
  • Cordrlette has disadvantages, many climbers are switching to using an equalette which addresses the criticisms of static and self equalized systems without adding too much complexity or time to the anchor setup.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 19:07

4 Answers 4


Cordelettes are an American obsession. In the UK and Europe most people climb multipitch on double ropes. In this case, and if one is swapping leads, then an anchor with up to four pieces with the rope is trivially easy. Clove hitch to first piece, little loop of slack, clove hitch to second piece, tie rope back to locker krab on harness. Repeat with second rope for pieces 3 & 4. Job done.

Clearly less applicable if one is climbing on a single rope or is a guide doing all the leading. But I haven't noticed European alpine guides using cordelettes either; will have to have a closer look at what they do next time I'm on an alpine trade route.


A cordelette gives you the most versatility and is definitely the way to go in most situations, especially if you are relatively new to climbing.

A disclaimer before I elaborate any further:

Reading a book on anchor-building is not enough to be able to construct a safe belay anchor. Read the book and then have an experienced climber teach you in the field. Or take a class!

There are a couple of scenarios where not using a cordelette can be just as safe and results in substantial time-savings. Be aware that the later techniques discussed require more experience.

  • The best way to save some time by forgoing the cordelette is at fixed anchors with two horizontally placed bolts. Clip two shoulder-length runners to the bolts (lockers preferred) and tie an overhand knot. You have a master-point and a shelf, just like with a cordelette.
    The disadvantages are: if the bolts are not at the same level, or if the anticipated direction of pull is not straight down, you can't equalize your anchor, which would not have been a problem with a cordelette. Alternatively, use a Sliding-X with stopper-knots, which is not as quick, but can be equalized.

  • If you are building anchors with two non-fixed pieces, you can use the Sliding-X with a sling* (possibly double length.) Since you should tie stopper knots, this is not necessarily faster if you are new to anchor building. With this technique there is more room for error and you won't have a shelf to work with. Not to mention that it is not advisable to build anchors with just two pieces of gear.

  • Another option is the alpine anchor. With this technique you clip the full-strength loops of your cams together, effectively equalizing them. This technique is definitely not recommended for beginners.

  • When you talk of a cordelette, I assume you mean a piece of accessory cord tied into a big loop with a double fisherman's. On big walls where I want my belays to be as neat as possible and spending an extra couple of minutes setting up each belay might mean spending an extra night on the wall, I often don't tie my cordelette into a loop. Instead I tie figure-eight knots on either side. This setup enables me to quickly equalize three or more pieces of gear by clipping the figure-eight knots to the outermost pieces, clipping the middle pieces and proceeding just like with a regular cordelette by creating two loops on either side of the center pieces and tying these with an overhand. You sacrifice a little strength and durability for less bulk and and speed. A big disadvantage is not having a shelf. If you build an anchor like this and you think you have a shelf you are wrong!!!

  • You can build an anchor with just your climbing rope and a knot that yields two loops (like the double figure-eight.) I consider this a last-resort-measure, since it severely limits my options when it comes to retreating or rescuing a fellow climber. Where your rope is a substantial part of the anchor, you will have to build a new anchor if you have to rappel or are in need of the full length of the rope. You also limit your maximum pitch length severely, which can be an issue when belays are sparse and you have a standard length rope. Make sure you are very comfortable tying and adjusting the loop sizes of your double-loop-knot of choice before you leave your cordelette on the ground!

To sum up: If you are not an elite climber and/or build your anchors with more than two pieces of gear, bring a cordelette! Any weight savings from leaving the cordelette behind are offset by extra time spent fiddling with slings, moving pieces, and tying stopper-knots. Familiarize yourself with the situations and techniques above, and save some time by leaving the cordelette on your harness every once in a while.

* A note on using spectra/dyneema slings instead of a nylon cordelette: Especially on marginal rock the stretch of nylon will provide some additional safety. This doesn't mean I don't use spectra.

  • 2
    What is a shelve?
    – user2169
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 3:27
  • A climbing anchor has two areas to which a climber can clip him/herself. In most scenarios the auto-blocking belay device is clipped to the master-point, and the belayer is clipped to the shelve. Clipping to the shelve means taking one strand coming from each piece of protection. For the shelve to be a safe connection point, something has to be clipped to the master-point! Ask someone to show you in person to do this safely. When the second reaches the belay, he/she then clips to the master-point.
    – DudeOnRock
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 5:32
  • Great answer! To add a tiny bit: in any self-rescue situation, using the rope for an anchor adds a lot of steps to the rescue (I think you hinted at this).
    – Felix
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 23:49
  • Good point about how using the rope as part of the anchor severely limits options when something goes wrong. On the other hand, it occurs to me that the technique I've learned for escaping the belay requires the use of a cordelette for a prusik -- so unless I have a second cordelette, it seems like I have serious problems regardless of whether I build the anchor using the rope or using a cordelette.
    – user2169
    Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 20:09
  • 1
    @BenCrowell - Here's a video of someone clipping into the shelf of their cordelette.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 19:16

Clove hitches on solid protection, clipped together to form master point. This video effectively describes the setup of an equalized anchor using just the rope, on three pieces of solid protection. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQukLqiToJE

  • 1
    Welcome to Outdoors.SX! Very interesting anchor, I hadn't seen that one before.
    – Felix
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 1:34
  • Cool technique! I don't see any negatives, except maybe that the master point ends up being a little messy.
    – user2169
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 4:15
  • 1
    @BenCrowell I think this works well if you know you're always swapping leads. If, at the belay station, you decide the same person should lead again, that person would need to remove their rope anchor, which is tied on their side of the rope. And the person who just followed would have to recreate the anchor on their side of the rope. Having an anchor separate from the climbing rope offers a little more flexibility as to who leads next.
    – shimizu
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 16:12

Many climbers are moving away from using cordelettes, including Will Gadd and John Long. Instead a double length sling is clipped to two pieces making a magic x with a third piece and a second sling adding complete redundancy. This set up equalizes much better than a cordelette in most situations and you don't have to carry around a bunch of bulky 7mm. Also, tying and untying of knots takes time, especially if they have been weighted.

  • 1
    This is fine and good for bolted routes, but how is this setup srene using gear? What do you do to prevent extension?
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 19:06

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