Tuesday, April 10, 2012

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. Is the bowline on a bite not good to tie in as a 2nd on a multi occupant line? That is, if I were tied in on a glacier crossing what else would I use to tie in the middle of the rope?



  2. I believe that some editions of Freedom of the Hills indicate that you should tie in with a bowline on a bite. However, most people today are clipping into the middle of a glacier travel rope with a eight on a bite or with a butterfly. Generally this is done with two locking carabiners.

    The reason that people are doing this is because it is much easier to escape the system in the event of a crevasse fall. It is easier to manipulate rope in a rescue scenario.

    On steep terrain, some climbers may want to tie in hard with no carabiners. In such a setting, a bowline on a bite would be fine.


  3. The double bowline and bowline on a bight (rethreaded bowline) are superior tie-in knots - much easier to untie, and they won't leave a partial knot in the rope after getting the know off the harness, which can lead to hazardous situations. Instead of trying to make everyone conform to an imaginary "industry standard", you should teach those knots to all your students and the "can't check them" problem would disappear... Just my two cents, in response to yours...

  4. We don't teach the knot for tie-ins, but instead teach it for use in static lines for toproping...


  5. The double bowline is indeed easier to untie. However, no matter how familiar you are with a bowline, there are more factors that are in play when double checking it, than are in play when double checking a figure-8 knot.

    In addition, industry standards in the guiding world are by no means imaginary. In personal climbing there are far less "standards," and you are welcome to use what you desire when tying into the rope. However when it comes to guiding and instructing, this knot has widely been accepted as the best knot to tie in with in the majority of situations, and as such we teach it this way.

    Thanks for your input.

  6. To Unknown...I've always used a butterfly knot..

  7. So, I actually witnessed two young climbers (everybody is young relative to me) tying in with a double bowline at RRG this weekend. When asked by other climbers what knot they were using, they replied "it's a rethreaded bowline and it comes loose alot easier than a figure 8 and it NEVER could come untied because it's tied doubled through my belay loop. "comes loose easier" should be the first sign of a problem..I disagree with other comments--we change things over the years for a reason. The bowline rethreaded or not is not the standard anymore for the exact reasons described in the video. Just like a water knot and a double fisherman's, they eventually can come loose and does come loose. I've never had a huge issue not being able to untie a figure 8. I'd rather struggle 2 seconds to untie the knot then have a knot fail.

  8. Both commonly regurgitated "problems" with the bowline are over-hyped and nonsensical, and just an attempt of people to create a black and white world of right and wrong. In no way is checking a rethreaded bowline, e.g., any harder than checking a figure 8 knot. And the "young climbers" were just not using precise language - using "comes loose easier" for "easier to untie". The paranoid can even add a backup knot (similar to the one on Fig 8) to the "rethreaded bowline", even though for that knot alone the whole rethread can come undone and you will still have a knot (simple bowline) that will be strong enough as a tie in. Another hint that the insistence on Fig. 8 has no practical basis is that the German Alpine Club has recommended the rethreaded bowline for tying in when sport climbing...

  9. The guy in the video can't tie a proper bowline. He should probably learn how to do it correctly before pontificating about its usefulness. That said, a figure 8 is far easier to tie and check. I use both regularly for various situations (I'm also a sailor).

  10. Yeah, the first knot this guy ties is a cowboy bowline -- not a regular bowline. I have a lot of respect for this dude, because he's basically been guiding since I was a twinkle in my pappy's eye, but that's a cowboy bowline.

    Also, I wonder how many people that talk crap on this knot for a tie-in actually have used it to tie in and fallen on it.

    As for the "yer gonna die" stuff. Professional tree service workers and steel workers use this knot to tie in every day. I'm pretty sure it works.


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