Monday, January 11, 2010

The Bowline

The Canadian Guide Mike Barter is getting funnier and more creative with every video he makes. In one of his most recent videos, he covered the bowline and the bowline on a bite. And he did it all dressed like a cowboy...

Perhaps the best line of this video is when he says that a bowline is "strong enough to pull a snowboarder off his sister."

There are a couple of things that I'd like to add to this excellent video.

In addition to what Mike demonstrated, we are now teaching the double-bowline in the curriculum for the AMGA Single Pitch Instructor course. This knot is quite a bit stronger than a single bowline and not as easily untied due to cyclic loading.

Mike repeatedly states that he doesn't want to see people tie-in with a bowline. You may be aware that there is a trend in the sport climbing community wherein people tie in with a double-bowline. There are two big problems with this. The first is that many climbers don't use this technique to tie-in and will not be able to check their partner adequately. And second, if there is a problem in the knot, it is far more likely to fail than a figure-eight follow-through.

There have been a few high-profile accidents with people using a double-bowline for their tie-in. These accidents could have been avoided if the individuals simply used the industry standard figure-eight and checked each other out...

The bowline is a very important knot. And as Mike said in the video, it could even be considered a king of the knots. But when all is said and done, it really should only be used for anchoring to boulders and trees.

--Jason D. Martin


  1. Hi Jason,
    I was wondering what you teach for tying into a rope for glacier travel? I use a figure 8 for the ends and an alpine butterfly for the middle. However, on the ends I usually make a kiwi coil, which uses the bowline to secure the coil to my harness. Is this still considered an appropriate use of the bowline in climbing?


  2. Jim,

    There are lots of right ways to do things. And your system is completely acceptable. The main thing is that your tie-in system is compatible with your crevasse rescue system...


  3. I just re-read your post and would like to add that it's important that your Kiwi coil cannot bind more tightly if someone falls into a hole. You definitely don't want it to strangle you...


  4. I noticed that when you demonstrated the tying in front of the fire place you tied and outside bowline (the tail is on the outside of the loop vs. inside). Whenever I tied it this way I have been told to redo because it is weaker, true or false. Really love the videos and posts..

  5. Springsyeti,

    You're right about the bowline and the tail being on the inside. Traditionally this has been the way that it has been taught.

    Recent research has indicated that with the newer rope weaves that this doesn't matter as much. However, I still teach that it is better to have the tail end on the inside...



Thank you for your comment. An administrator will post your comment after he/she moderates it.