DIY Lanyards

Lanyards, sometimes referred to as cows tails or lobster claws, come in many forms.  Common uses include connecting to an anchor, assisting in vertical or horizontal progression, and/or holding position where needed.  You can buy adjustable and non-adjustable lanyards or make them yourself.  Those from manufacturers will often have sewn termination points instead of knots and adjustable versions will usually consist of mechanical rope grabs or buckles — they also cost considerably more than DIY options.

A climber uses lanyards as a means for progression while aid climbing during a training.

A climber uses three DIY lanyards while aid climbing.


  • Materials are easy to acquire
  • Knots are much better at absorbing shock then sewn termination points and will reduce the impact on your body in a fall
  • Prusiks are lighter, cheaper, and easier to acquire than mechanical rope grabs
  • Customization!  Length, color, rope diameter, composition, etc.
  • Low budget
Climbers use DIY lanyards to hold themselves in position while rigging a tri-bi-mono-pod during an Earth First! Climbers Guild camp in Oregon.

Climbers use DIY lanyards for work positioning while rigging a tri-bi-mono-pod during an Earth First! Climbers Guild camp in Oregon.


Know your equipment.  Use equipment rated for climbing.  Don’t use rope or gear that you would not otherwise climb on.  Retired gear should not be made into a lanyard!  Know the history and condition of the equipment you’re using — if you have doubts then best not use it.  It’s good practice to label, track, and retire lanyards accordingly.

Dynamic or Static?  It depends.  Dynamic lanyards have the benefit of absorbing impact forces resulting from a fall.  Use them to connect to static systems, move across multiple points, or to protect against a fall.  Static lanyards (made from webbing or static rope) lack the elastic properties found in dynamic lines and do a better job at reducing unwanted movement or bounce.  Use them when you plan to work or move directly on loaded lanyards.  Examples of this would be progressing up a tree, sitting back on your lanyard for positioning, or restraining yourself from an edge.

icon_1636A fall on any static system can result in serious injury or death.  Use proper technique when climbing with static lanyards to avoid shock loading your system.  Use a shock absorber or prusik hitch as a link to your static lanyard to reduce the impact on your body in case of a fall.

How about the diameter?  10.5mm and 11mm diameter lines are the go to if you expect your lanyards to take a beating.  Wrapping your lanyard around trees or beams and/or running it over edges will reduce the life span and integrity of your lanyard.  Thicker lines are a good choice for training programs or extended actions where prolonged wear and tear is likely.  That said, 9.4mm to 10mm lanyards are lighter, less bulky, and easier to work with.  They’re plenty strong but are best reserved for experienced climbers and their condition should be carefully monitored.

Climbers with Greenpeace on the Arctic Sunrise in the Barents Sea. Photo: Igor Podgorny, July 2012

Climbers with Greenpeace on the Arctic Sunrise in the Barents Sea. Photo: Igor Podgorny, July 2012

Know your knots.  The figure eight follow thru, eight on a bite, and barrel knot/scaffold knot, are the three most useful knots for tying your own lanyards.  The figure eight follow thru is the knot of choice for tying a lanyard directly to the master point of your harness (the overhand follow thru is a low profile alternative but is much more difficult to untie once firmly loaded).  The figure eight on a bite is great for when you’re able to clip in directly or want carabiners to rotate freely.  The barrel knot is best in situations where you want to use minimal rope or capture a carabiner in a specific orientation — this helps restrict movement and prevent cross loading.

icon_6770Keep your knots low profile!  The gain (eye of your knot) should be kept short to prevent snagging and conserve rope length.  The tail of your knot should be about a palms width and no longer (it’ll just get in the way).  I often tape my tails so they don’t flap around once I have everything adjusted.

Lanyard lengths cut from dynamic climb line and labeled accordingly with length, diameter, and date of service.

Lanyard lengths cut from dynamic climb line and labeled accordingly with length, diameter, and date of manufacture.

Length.  This is highly dependent on your intended purpose.  Short lanyards are common practice in rope access or rock climbing where you’re often connecting lanyards to devices or anchor points within reach.  Longer lanyards are necessary for climbing trees that require you to wrap large diameter trunks or extend to limbs beyond your reach.  Regardless of what you choose it’s often useful to have at least one lanyard that’s an arms reach — this includes the knots and carabiners.  A 6 to 7 foot (~2m) length of rope is a good place to start.  If you want to tie two lanyards consider doing it with a longer single length of rope — about 12 to 14 feet (3.5-4.5m) or more depending on your needs.  This alternative will leave you with a third point of attachment between the two lanyards (see below).

icon_1635Lanyards extending beyond your reach require specific techniques and should be used with caution.  They are best restricted for use as a flip line, restraint line, or progression in trees.

Two lanyards tied from one 12ft length of dynamic line. The point isolated between the lanyards creates a loop that serves as another point of connection.

Two lanyards tied from one 12ft length of dynamic line. The bridge (bight of rope isolated between the lanyards) serves as another point of connection.

Adjustable lanyards.  There are multiple ways to do this but the simplest and most recognized method uses a prusik loop (6mm works well with lanyard diameters of 9 to 11mm).  Start with a short prusik loop and tie a prusik hitch around your lanyard.  Clip the prusik back to the master point on your harness (you can avoid using a carabiner by retying the prusik loop directly to your harness as seen in the image below).  You can also fasten a quick link/screw link beneath the prusik hitch on your lanyard and back to your harness as pictured — this will tend the prusik and allow you to shorten the lanyard with one hand (this technique was shared to me by a friend who had climbed with Robin Wood, a German environmental organization).

icon_6770Adding a prusik as a point of connection to your lanyard can help reduce impact forces resulting from a fall.   A prusik will slip slightly before locking up if subject to high loads or forces.  This absorbs energy and will reduce stress on your overall system and body.

Adjustable lanyard. Notice the four components: barrel knot restricts carabiner movement, prusik for adjustment, screw link tends prusik, eight follow-thru tied directly to central point on harness.

Adjustable lanyard — notice the four components: barrel knot restricts carabiner movement, prusik captures preferred lanyard length, screw link tends prusik for one handed adjustment, eight follow-thru tied directly to central point on harness.

The addition of a quick link allows for one handed operation when using prusiks.

The addition of a quick link allows for one handed operation when using a prusik to create an adjustable lanyard.


  • Be made of climb rated materials in good condition
  • Be connected to a load bearing point on your harness intended for the job
  • Hold you where you want to be
  • Catch a fall while minimizing impact
  • Be simple and easy to use
It’s important to note that there are many options and nuances for lanyards not covered here.  If you’re unsure of something ASK!
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Input or tips?  Please share. 

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.

Improvised prusik minding pulley

Pulley_improvisedprusikminding-cyIt’s common practice to use a method of progress capture to hold a load.


Prusik minding pulleys are designed with extended side plates to prevent a prusik hitch from entering the sheave (wheel) of the pulley when capturing progress in a haul system.

You can also improvise a prusik minding pulley with a simple pulley and some hardware.  This configuration is best used for banner rigging and should be prepared in advance.


Start by finding the correct size nut and washer.  You’ll want the opening of your nut and washer to be slightly larger than the diameter of the rope.

Thread the rope through the nut, washer, and pulley before finishing with a friction hitch on the load end of the line.  Clip this back to the same carabiner on the pulley.

Warning:  Do not use a nut and washer to capture progress with a live load.  The threads in the nut and imperfections in the washer can damage a rope.

Water knot


The water knot, sometimes referred to as a ring bend, is used to join two pieces of webbing together.  Tying_waterknotGreat for making your own webbing slings or tying off wrapped webbing anchors.

1. Start with a neatly tied overhand.

2. Thread the 2nd end in reverse – make sure to take out any twists!

3. Nest the 2nd end along the path of the overhand.

4. Follow it thru until you’re able to pull the tail from the opposite end of the overhand.

5. Keep the knot loose and adjust as needed to for adequate tail length.

6. Snug up neatly and compact.  The water knot should have no less than 4 inches of tail remaining once tied and pulled snug.  If creating a sling step into it and weight the knot before use.  This will set the knot (leaving closer to 3 inches of tail).

Warning:  Apply weight and secure all water knots prior to use for life support (standing and bouncing on a freshly tied sling is a good way to do this).  Short tails have the potential to slip under tension and a loose water knot is dangerously susceptible to snagging so be sure to keep water knots clear of any edges or snag points – video here.

Knotty word basics

Tying knots and hitches requires the manipulation of rope in a variety of ways. Use these basic terms when describing the process of knot building and avoid getting lost in the language of rope shapes.

rope_partsWorking end: The active end of the rope used to tie the knot.

Bight: Created by grabbing the rope and forming a tight U-turn shape.

Loop: A circle formed in a rope by crossing a bight over itself.

Twist: A loop that is rotated once more.

Standing End: The end of the rope not active in knot tying.  A rope system may have multiple standing sections/ends depending on your focus at any given time.