Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Figure-Eight Follow-Through

The figure-eight follow-through -- also often referred to as the figure-eight retrace and the rewoven figure-eight -- is one of the hardest working knots in climbing. Most climbers tie this knot multiple times a day.

This short video shows one how to tie the figure-eight follow-through. The climber in this video does a great job of dressing the knot. In other words she doesn't have any weird crosses and the knot looks very clean. What she does a poor job with is her "back-up" knot. If you use one, it should be a single fisherman's knot which is also known as a barrel knot.

This second video shows the proper finish, but names it improperly. They call it a double fisherman's knot in this video, when it is actually a single Fisherman's Knot.

The reality of the so-called "back-up knot" is that it is not necessary. If your knot is dressed and there is at least one fist worth of rope sticking out of the end of the knot, then all will be well.

Many of my students tell me that after they related this information about back-up knots to the manager of their climbing gym, the manager wouldn't relent on his gym's back-up knot policy. This is not something to sweat over. If your gym requires that you tie such a knot, you should just do it. Some gyms have insurance policies that require this unnecessary step, whereas others have created protocol based systems that are hard to change without chopping through a lot of red tape. It is less of a headache if you just follow the gym's rules while you are there.

Some climbers like to finish their figure-eight with a "Yosemite tuck" or "Yosemite finish." This is common technique is accomplished by tucking the end of the rope back into the knot. The upside of this is that it can clean up the knot. The downside is that this technique may seriously weaken the knot if you use the inside of the knot as a belay loop. If you load the loop of the knot it is possible that it will invert, after which you will only have part of the figure-eight remaining. Some people cure this problem by passing the rope around itself before going through the hole, but that makes the knot a little bigger.

A Figure-Eight Follow-Through with a standard
Yosemite Finish.

A Figure-Eight Follow-Through with an
extra wrap. This is better.

After learning about this, many people ask why one might use the inside of the knot as a belay loop. In alpine climbing, a small percentage of climbers still use harnesses without belay loops. In technical terrain it's always better to have a belay loop, so those without one often simply use the inside of their knot. If this is something that you wish to do, it might be better to avoid all types of Yosemite tucks or finishes. Even better, if you're going to be on technical terrain, you should use a harness with a belay loop.

And lastly, this is a nice video that shows an overview of a few different figure-eight knots from the figure-eight family:

--Jason D. Martin


Anonymous said...

You write "... but names it incorrectly ... double fisherman's knot but is a single fisherman's knot" :
WRONG --it's a >>strangle knot<< (which is a particular form of double overhand knot (as is the fisherman's/anchor bend)).

Both the double & single fisherman's "knots" are end-2-end knots (the latter with a single overhands, not strangles, as components).

Anonymous said...

Note that both the 2nd and last videos show fig.8 eyeknots that are NOT perfectly dressed --the turns around the "main line" (not the eye side) go out of symmetric dressing.

Muscle Beach said...

While this article says the Figure 8 follow through with an extra wrap before the follow through is better it does not say why. I'm interested to hear the explanation or rational behind this idea. I'm guessing it just makes the knot harder to roll as there is a bigger knot to roll over. Also to wrap the extra wrap it seems the loaded wouldn't be on the bottom but second from the bottom perhaps making the knot more prone to rolling if another video I've seen on this subject is taken at face value... thanks.

Tim Page said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Page said...

Muscle Beach your comment is slightly mis-leading. If I understand your question it's regarding the tuck which is after the follow through. In the first photo the tail from the followed through strand is folded down and tucked back into the knot. This method creates the situation where the knot can roll. The Figure-eight follow through is not normally prone to rolling.

In the second picture, where you wrap the tail around the rope before tucking it and keep the tail with the strands coming from the bight you avoid creating the instance where the knot can roll. I believe it has to do with the position of the tail more than the size of the knot that keeps it from rolling. In the more dangerous instance, the tuck makes the tail into a ball of sorts that allows the knot to roll over it. That said you can avoid this problem by not using the tuck at all.

Dan said...

Using completely incorrect names for knots is one of my pet peeves- especially when you're 'correcting' such a mistake with something equally incorrect!

As someone else pointed out, the common 'stopper knot' used used after the figure-8 follow-through is not a fisherman of any kind, even though most climbers I know incorrectly call it such. He is right that it's a strangle-knot, basically a double-overhand tied around the standing end of the rope.

I think referring to it as a 'double overhand', while not as precise, would be more or less correct, certainly much better than calling it a fisherman's.

When tied as a stopper knot at the ends of ropes for rappelling (and this is probably the most common knot for that purpose), a double-overhand is correct.


Anonymous said...

I was under the understanding that a barrel knot has the crossing on the outside and a fisherman's knot has it on the inside.

Anonymous said...

Tim, Re the figure-8 yosemite tuck:

I looked at your yosemite tucks and in the first instance (no wrap around the standing end [aka haul/load side]), if the knot rolls it does indeed become a slip knot.

In the second instance where you do a wrap around the standing end, if the knot rolls it becomes the first knot. If it rolls again it becomes a slip knot.

In reality if you roll the knot it's likely it could happen twice!! A better idea is to do 2 half hitches [commonly incorrectly called a fisherman's knot] and then do the tuck. No chance of rolling and the running end is out of the way.

I would love to hear your view on a half-hitch retrace (competition finish) as a tie off. Basically a waterknot on a bight.

Martin Crossley said...

An important observation, taken from P.49 of Life on a Line version 2 (LOAL2) the caving rescue manual: "The Figure-8 is simple at first impression, and tying it is trivial – simply an overhand knot with a half-turn before passing the rope through the twist. The problem is that the Figure-8 can be tied backwards, resulting in a loss of up to 10% of the strength. Surprisingly few people know this, so you can guarantee that at least 50% of the knots you will encounter are incorrect."

The correct way to tie the knot, when used as a harness tie-in, is that the standing part of the rope (the bit that leads away to your anchor and is going to take your weight) should make the lower of the two loops - i.e. the one closest to the climber. The reason for this is that the other loop (the one made by the working, or free, end of the rope) then acts as a cushion between the most heavily loaded loop and the main body of the knot - stopping it biting into the diagonally crossing strands and generally jamming tight. You can easily prove by experimenting that the knot is massively easier to untie after heavy loading when tied this way :)

Anonymous said...

My apologies if this has been beaten to death, but I'm not seeing any comments identifying the traditional or common safety/stopper knot to the (doubled) figure eight follow-through (or rewoven or retrace) as a "half (of a) double (or doubled) fisherman's" knot.

I am surprised that a website with such a lofty title and apparent reputation as American Alpine Institute would risk losing credibility on incorrect knot names, as well as poor editing (an extra "is" in the text, if I remember correctly) and not appearing to care to make a correction over the last three years?

Jason Martin said...

I haven't messed with this article because it has been re-edited and updated. Search "The Figure-Eight Follow-Through, American Alpine Institute Blogger" and you will find the updated version of this article.

Thanks for all of your comments.