Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coiling a Rope

Coiling a rope is both a skill and an art. First, it's a skill because no matter how you coil the rope, you should be proficient and it should be easy to uncoil the rope for use. Second, it's an art, because each of us have our own little tricks that we throw into coiling that make a given coil our own.

Mike Barter, the prolific climbing instructional video-maker, has a handful of different rope coiling techniques posted on his youtube channel. The one thing that he neglects to say though, is that before you start in any rope coiling endeavor, you should flake the rope. This first video of an individual doing a butterfly coil in his hand is a great example of someone who skipped the flaking part of the process.

Butterfly coils -- or lap coils, if that's what you prefer -- can be bulky and difficult to deal with when they are in your hand, particularly if you have small hands. In the next video, we will have the opportunity to see the same type of system done over the neck.

Mike calls coiling over the neck the Brit Style, or something like that. I might refer to this instead as simply a butterfly coil over the neck... And I have to say that this is also the way that most American guides coil their ropes. It's very fast and it's very easy once you've put in a bit of practice. The biggest downside is when you have a heavy and wet rope from glacier travel. When that happens it's never fun to coil over your neck...

In each of the preceding videos, it would be easy to convert the ropes, the way that the climbers coiled them, into backpacks. You must simply wrap the two ends of the rope over your shoulders, wrap them around your waist -- capturing the rope behind you -- and then tie them together in front of you. Generally a square knot tends to be the easiest and quickest knot to tie in that position that won't come undone.

Some climbers elect to butterfly a rope as a single strand. This style, sometimes referred to as a French coil, is nice for quick use of the rope. Many will do this when they are sport climbing because if you're good, the rope doesn't necessarily need to be flaked.

In the third video, Mike demonstrates the mountaineers coil. This particular style can be very nice for traveling with a rope. But where it is not nice is in uncoiling it. If you coil or store your rope in this particular fashion, it's very important to remember to uncoil the rope one strand at a time, otherwise things will get very messy.

Unless you always put your rope into a rope bag, coiling is a very important part of climbing. As I say on this blog a lot, practice makes perfect!

--Jason D. Martin


  1. Hi, thanks for this! I have question (or two) that I hope someone can answer. Before doing the butterfly/lap coil, is it okay to just flake the rope into a regular pile? Once it's in a regular pile, can you pull the ends from the top and bottom of the pile? (in order to either flake it doubled and get to the middle, or coil straight from there?) Or do you need to flake the rope into a special kind of pile, or two piles somehow so that you're not pulling from the bottom of a pile?

    Also, when uncoiling, similarly, do you uncoil into two piles? Or do yo make kind of a long pile so that the top isn't totally on top of the bottom of the pile?

    Any tips would be appreciated. I didn't find any details like this in Freedom of the Hills :)

  2. Yes, it's definitely okay to flake the rope into a regular pile and then you can pull from the top and the bottom of the pile...

    You never need to flake the rope into two piles.

    Thanks for the question!

    Jason Martin

  3. If using a rope bag, one that includes a tarp, do you need to coil your rope before storage in the bag or is flaking it onto the tarp, tying off the ends and rolling it up into the bag sufficient? Is there a benefit to storing a coil vs flaked rope in a bag? Thanks for a reply

  4. You can certainly just flake it into the bag or tarp.

    There's no explicit benefit from storing it coiled.



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