When you're lead climbing, the most common way for the rope to hang naturally, if you don't do anything special, is usually between your legs. Is this OK on rock? On ice? Why or why not?

On rock, the impression I get is that it's fine, as long as you don't back-step the rope. I have heard people in the gym tell people not to do it, but I suspect they're either wrong or oversimplifying. Flipping through some rock climbing videos on youtube, I pretty quickly came across examples of extremely skilled sport climbers with the rope in this position, e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P5akoQ_eNI#t=380 .

On ice, are you supposed to keep the rope over one thigh because it makes it less likely that you'll damage it with your crampons or get your crampon points tangled in it? I've had a small amount of instruction and experience ice climbing, but I don't do it often enough to remember much of the technique from one time to the next.

  • 2
    I think this will vary if you using double or single rope techniques also.
    – user2766
    Jul 13, 2015 at 9:40

2 Answers 2


I think that rope management at your harness (in both rock and ice climbing) is an extension of managing your rope while you're clipping into your pro. You carry different lengths of draws and slings so you can keep your rope as straight as possible to reduce drag and avoid popping out all your pro when you weight the rope.

If you're climbing left of your last piece of pro, it makes sense to hang your rope over your right foot, if climbing right of your last piece, then hang your rope over your left foot, if climbing directly overtop of your last piece of pro, then it may make sense to let the rope hang between your legs. If your rope is in your way, move it, just make sure wherever you hang your rope, that it doesn't get behind either of your legs and put you in a position that might flip you if you fall.

Reading through Will Gadd's book on ice climbing, he doesn't seem to make any mention of where you should let your rope hang, but looking at the pictures he seems to favour between the legs. Personally that's where I feel most comfortable keeping it, because if you have it off to the side while kicking your next step with that foot, the rope tends to fall off your leg to in between your feet anyways while you draw your leg back to kick. I tend to shift my weight away from where I'm kicking anyways, so the rope naturally swings over to my other foot and away from where I'm making my next step.

enter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description hereImages from Will Gadd's book, "Ice and Mixed Climbing: Modern Technique"

As long as the rope isn't in your way, and it isn't in a position where it can tie you up if you take a fall, then it's fine to let it hang where it may.

  • You don't want to catch the rope with a crampon too, that'd be bad...
    – user2766
    Jul 13, 2015 at 9:41

The biggest problem with a rope between you legs is what happens in a fall and the way the rope can cause all sorts of nasty outcomes when its between your legs and you don;t get a clean offload. In the gym you expect to fall, its something that happens regularly in gym climbing. Despite many falls being well controlled and expected, a rope between your legs significantly increases the risk of a bad fall.

On rock, you do not expect to fall - a minimum you do not climb with the same tolerance to falls as indoors, especially if on sketchy natural pro. On ice, a fall is normally considered a major screw up. As such, what happens if the rope is between your legs is almost irrelevant - there are so many other things to go badly wrong the rope flipping you upside down and out of control does not significantly increase the risk of a bad outcome (especially on ice).

As far as cramponing the rope - if you do not pay attention where it is, you will crampon the rope sooner or later no matter where it is. In my experience the rope though my legs is no more likely to get in the way. If backing off, it pays to flick the rope from between you legs, but otherwise its not normally an issue.

It comes down to risk acceptance and avoidance. Often you will change rope position - thinking ahead of time helps you choose a time and place that its easy(ish), sometimes its more dangerous to try and move the rope position than climbing on.

  • 3
    Would you mind elaborating on the first paragraph, for example give some examples? As long as the rope isn't behind a leg, I haven't ever encountered a problem with the rope in front of me but between the legs. The only thing I could imagine would be that you fall very close to the wall on a steep to vertical wall and a foot slips between the rope and the rock while falling. (Though I've never heard of that occuring...)
    – anderas
    Jul 13, 2015 at 9:09
  • May be its much less common than I thought, and maybe happens when the ropes off to the side as well. I saw a fall years ago where the climber fell and his leg slide under the rope so it was coming up between his legs as the weight came on, apart from the obvious pain point, it flipped him awkwardly with a heavy strike to the helmet. Since then I am (probably unreasonably) paranoid of a fall with the rope between my legs.
    – user5330
    Jul 13, 2015 at 20:48
  • Good point that there are way more important things to care for when you are ice climbing than the position of rope in case of fall. It just shouldn't happen at all.
    – Wills
    Jul 15, 2015 at 5:20
  • The question is not about gym TR. The risk in lead climing (trad/sport/ice) is having the rope behind your leg, which will flip you. They pyshics are different on TR than lead and where the rope hangs is completely relevant even just to prevent a fall from tangling. Do you even climb, brah? climbing.com/skills/how-to-fall climbing.com/news/50-ways-to-flail
    – Shanerk
    Jan 4, 2017 at 15:36
  • Shane - please be aware of our Be Nice rule... Worth a read of our tour and How to Answer pages too.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jan 4, 2017 at 21:26

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