Stopper Knots

A stopper knot is any knot tied at the end of a rappel rope that prevents a climber from rappelling off the end of the rope.  Many accidents and fatalities are a result of insufficient stopper knots or none at all.


  • A stopper knot must be larger than the passage/clearance of the rappel device being used

  • A stopper knot is dependent on the diameter of line being used (thinner diameter lines require larger stopper knots)

  • Stopper knots must be placed on BOTH lines if rappelling off running lines

  • Always check the ends of your rope(s) for adequate stopper knots

In July of 2009 I had a stopper knot slip thru my hand while wrestling with a banner on Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota.  Things were hectic and I was exhausted and dehydrated.  It happened fast and before I knew it I was 300ft in the air and hanging out between good ol’ Teddy and Abe with a double overhand stopper knot jammed into my rappel device (I was using the Petzl STOP).

Moral of the story?  Tie a knot at the end of your rope!  But remember – NOT ALL STOPPER KNOTS ARE CREATED EQUAL!

NEVER use a single overhand knot as a stopper knot! They can slip thru rappel devices.

NEVER use a single overhand knot as a stopper knot! They can slip thru rappel devices.

Stopper knots come in all shapes and sizes.  Choosing which is best can prevent a lot of hassle and even save your life.  Use this list of six with the rules above to help you choose the best stopper knot for any given situation.




  • Simple
  • Fast
  • Uses minimal rope


  • Slim profile (rope diameter and rappel device must be carefully considered!)




  • Simple variation to double overhand
  • Larger profile than double overhand


  • More likely to get jammed or stuck on edges or in cracks/crevices




  • Variation to triple overhand
  • Larger profile than triple overhand


  • Requires more rope than the other overhand variations
  • More likely to get jammed or stuck on edges or in cracks/crevices
  • More cumbersome to tie than the other overhand variations

CAPUCHIN (double overhand on a bight)



  • Simple
  • Wide profile (ball shape)
  • Good choice for thinner diameter ropes or rappel devices with greater clearance
  • Knot of choice for figure 8 descender or when descending with a mule hitch (carabiner dependent!)


  • Requires a fair amount of rope
  • More likely to get jammed or stuck on edges or in cracks/crevices
  • Open loop is a point for snagging




  • Simple
  • Fast
  • Large profile
  • Good choice for thinner diameter ropes or rappel devices with greater clearance


  • Requires a fair amount of rope
  • More likely to get jammed or stuck on edges or in cracks/crevices
  • Open loop is a point for snagging




  • Fast and easy variation to the figure eight on a bight
  • Large profile


  • More likely to get jammed or stuck on edges or in cracks/crevices
  • Open loop and connector is a point for snagging
  • Requires more gear
  • Hard gear has the potential to damage surroundings or injure bystanders

Prusik hitch


The prusik hitch is the friction hitch that every rope guerrilla should know.  It’s tied with a loop of accessory cord and serves as a “soft” rope grab, gripping when under tension but able to slide when the load is released.  It grabs in either direction and makes a great point of connection when working on a horizontal safety or restraint line.

Use the prusik hitch in a variety of applications; hauling, rescue, banner rigging, ascent/descent – the list goes on.  The prusik hitch (developed in 1931) remains a tried and true alternative to the mechanical rope grabs to which it gave origin.  It’s simplicity, many functions, low weight, and low cost make it irreplaceable.

One method for using a prusik hitch as an autoblock or backup to a rappel.

One method for using a prusik hitch as an autoblock or backup for a rappel.


  • Simple
  • Easy to tie
  • Multi-directional
  • Multi-purpose

Learn to tie the prusik hitch here.

Setting rope protection with a running line

So you’ve made a successful throw and are ready to get a rope up. This is a good time to pause and save yourself from unwanted surprises. Trace the path of the line and all surfaces that it’ll be contacting. Spot anything?

Rope and edge protection may not always be necessary but should always be considered. It can help protect trees from damage due to chafing and defend your line from hard angled beams common in industrial settings. Generally speaking – if you can’t inspect the load bearing surface your rope will be going over then best to use some protection. There can be imperfect or degraded edges on an otherwise smooth beam so don’t get sloppy – I came very close to learning this the hard way so trust me on this.

There are a few ways of fixing rope protection with a running line. The following, sometimes referred to as the “thread-and-haul” technique, is both simple and useful in a variety of applications.


Step 1:  Start by fixing the throw line to the rope with a series of clove hitches or half hitches (if using a hose type rope protector thread the rope thru BEFORE tying on the throw line!).  Make sure the rope is long enough to extend up and over the anchor and back to the ground.  Slowly begin to raise the climb line – the rope should be stacked into a bag or flaked neatly on the ground to avoid tangles.  Hint: Use a rope sleeve that opens and closes, rather then one that needs to be threaded, and you’ll avoid getting caught with your pants down.


Step 2:  Keep raising the climb line until the working end (the end attached to the throw line) extends over the anchor point you want to protect.  Now tie a slip knot into the rope that’s being raised and place the rope protection above the slip knot (a velcro rope sleeve works well for this).  The slip knot will prevent the rope protection from sliding down and guide it up to the anchor as you raise the climb line.


Step 3:  Continue to raise the climb line.  The rope protection will eventually reach the anchor.  A quick flick of the wrist can help get it over rough or uneven surfaces.  Once in position – with both rope ends on the ground – provide some tension and release the slip knot with a quick tug.  You should now have the rope pro in place and two lines on the ground.

Getting this right and becoming efficient is a matter of practice.  Not having enough line, getting tangled, tying the slip knot in the wrong direction, having the rope protection get caught up, and gauging distances can be tricky.  Don’t sweat it – it happens to everyone.  All it really takes is some time and a good laugh.

Still wondering how a line got up there in the first place?  Find out how with some helpful info on throw line basics from Sherrill Tree.

Rope and Edge Protection

edge_damaged-ropeThe potential risk for damage from abrasion or cutting must be evaluated and eliminated anytime softgear makes contact with something.  This is particularly true anytime softgear runs over an edge or rubs on itself since the components of softgear, nylon and polyester, are not very resistant to abrasion or heat.  Remember – rope and webbing are extremely strong when pulled under load but can cut quickly when subjected to lateral abrasion while under tension.

Always make sure to protect your rope and other softgear from sharp or abrasive edges.  Evaluate all points of potential contact and assess whether or not some kind of protective barrier or space must be made.  Building anchors high or directing ropes away from edges can eliminate the chance of abrasive damage all together.


A heavy duty canvas rope pad and commercial edge roller both include attachment points for tie-off cord.

A heavy canvas tarp folded over itself or rubber car/floor mat work well as edge protection.  Commercial rollers, gutters, and other forms of edge protection are also available.  Tie these back or secure in some fashion to keep in place and prevent from falling.  Avoid using synthetic materials in cases where friction from moving lines can generate enough heat to melt both the rope and intended protection.


A rope sleeve cut and sewn from a reused banner.  A velcro closure helps secure the sleeve around a climb line and a grommet is used for a prusik tie back point.

Rope sleeves are another common and useful form of rope protection that can be secured directly to the rope and held in place with the use of a tie back or prusik.  Buy these or save some money by making your own. Canvas and old banners can be cut and sewn together for great rope protection.  Rope sleeves like these are easy to carry and great for protecting against edges while on rappel (sometimes referred to as over-the-side hot spots) since they are simple to move and secure with a prusik.

A canvas tarp covers the vertical beam and protects the rope from edges at the anchor.  The climber carefully rappels with a rope sleeve to protect against the edge of the lip below.

Here a canvas tarp is used to cover a vertical beam and protect against sharp edges at the anchor. A rope sleeve is also used and carefully positioned by a climber prior to navigating the lip below.

The rope sleeve protects the climb line from the edge on the lip above and is easily adjusted and secured in position using a prusik.

The rope sleeve protects the climb line from the edge on the lip above and is easily adjusted and secured in position with a prusik.

Note:  Don’t just protect your rope – protect what you climb on.  Use edge and rope protection to reduce damage to anchor points or areas subjected to tensioned lines.  Be smart and place where necessary to prevent damage to property when working in industrial or urban areas.  Use canvas wraps to prevent girdling trees and damage to the natural environment.

The ABC… Safety Check

Rope work and safety checks are not mutually exclusive – if you disagree then I suggest you find a different way of interacting with the world.

It’s hard to find a “standard” safety checklist that’s perfect so take the time to adopt and modify one to your specific needs.  This is crucial in avoiding ‘checklist fatigue’ – where points are read off or stated as if already checked and not properly accounted for.  There’s no room for such negligence in climbing so be sure to create a checklist or system that works for you.

Below is an exhaustive rendition of the ABC Safety Check referenced and used by many climbers.  Share these with others and modify them as needed.  Your check list may shrink as you grow and gain experience but don’t let this lead to mistakes or missteps!

Artist: Cy WagonerANCHOR

  • What is the rope attached to?
  • Assess the knots and their condition.
  • Are the carabiners locked and oriented correctly?
  • What is the condition of the climb line?
  • Rope and edge protection where needed.
  • Anchor angles less than 90 degrees.
  • Equalized, redundant, no extension, strong.



  • simple_harnessHarness belt above hips and tightened.
  • Check condition.
  • Double backed.
  • Loose straps tucked back.
  • Leg loops fastened and snug.
  • Helmet strap fastened.



  • connectors_cyCheck all connections inline (carabiner to lanyard to you).
  • All carabiners locked and oriented correctly.
  • Screw links/delta locked and oriented correctly.
  • Are your lanyard knots dressed and weighted?
  • What is the condition of your lanyard line?



  • Check all devices you will be using.
  • Which lines are your devices attached to?  Are they correct?
  • How many points of protection do you have?
  • Check proper function of devices (moves up, moves down, holds you when locked).


Artist: Cy WagonerEND OF ROPE

  • Rope on the ground or long enough to reach your destination.
  • Clear of tangles (properly stacked if using a bag).
  • Stopper knot at the end of rope or fixed to bag.



  • Where’s your buddy?
  • How will you communicate?  Verbal, radio, hand signals, etc.
  • Check in with your buddy.  Talk through plan or concerns as needed.
  • How do you feel?  Headspace, fatigue, hydration, etc.


Artist: Cy WagonerGEAR

  • What’s the plan?
  • What will you be doing?
  • Do you have all the gear you need to make it happen?
  • Is your gear organized and racked?
  • Nothing hanging below your knee.



  • Is your helmet in safe working order?
  • Buckle closed and helmet secure.
  • Hair tucked and out of the way.


Artwork by Cy Wagoner