How to Tie Ropes together for Rappelling

When tying two ropes together, or two ends of a cordelette, I look for a knot that is low volume and easy to tie. I find a double fisherman’s knot welds the rope together, is time consuming to tie, and is very likely to get jammed. So for years I used a Flat overhand to join two ropes, even if the diameter differed. The Flat overhand is easy to tie and untie, and I could use the flat overhand with ropes of varying diameters. Then my friend Mike Gibbs talked to me about knots “rolling.” After the conversation, I switched to the Gibbs Bend, also known as a Barrel Knot.

Need to see it to get the idea? Check out Chicks Guide Dawn Glanc on the very subject

The Gibbs Bend, is another way to tie two ropes together for rappelling, and the benefit is that it won’t roll. What do we mean by this? When a knot “rolls” it literally flips over on itself when under weight and it can keep rolling until the tail of the knot becomes shorter and shorter. If the tail of the knot becomes too short, the knot literally can “roll” off of the tail ends of the rope. Yikes!

Enter the Gibbs Bend. We were introduced to it by the folks at Rigging for Rescue, a training company that specializes in safety systems and testing. They work with rope rescue teams from across the country like the National Park Service’s Search and Rescue Teams and the Special Forces of the US Military.

Rigging For Rescue’s Mike Gibbs explained the Gibbs Bend to me as follows:

“From a kN standpoint if you compare the Gibbs Bend vs Flat Overhand, the kN ratings are similar. Most ties break at around 2/3 of manufacturer’s rated breaking strength (MRBS). Climbing ropes do not come with published MRBS as they are not tested for that value based on the applicable standards. Regardless of the kN, the same knotted tie principle is in play. The derate of the tie is caused by radius bend of the rope.  Since both ties have the same radius bend, their respective strengths will be similar. In both cases, plenty strong.

Personally, I would de-emphasize kN of breaking strength when comparing the two ties. Breaking strength is not the issue. The issue is security and the propensity for one tie to capsize/roll under certain conditions and the other tie to remain secure.  The Flat Overhand Bend gets its infamous moniker, The Euro Death Knot,  from the fact that it can capsize and have the tails sleeve through the tie. When the tie is suspended in free-space with adequate tails, it appears to be a non-issue. Or I am not aware of it being a risk and I think there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of successful rappels with the Flat Overhand Bend supporting that supposition.  

If, however, the tie can bump up against an object – like a rock edge, for example- in just the right place (due to tie positioning and/or rope stretch, etc) then it may capsize and roll. By passing the tails of the flat overhand bend once more around, the capsizing issue is negated. That is a very secure tie, albeit bulkier than a Flat Overhand Bend.

I have been rappelling with the Gibbs Bend for 15+ years and never once jammed the tie while pulling the lines on a retrievable rappel.  I highly recommend the tie and personally refuse to rap off of an Flat Overhand Bend, which all my climbing partners know and accept. “

— Mike Gibbs, Owner of Rigging For Rescue.

Efficiency is something I strive for in my climbing systems. I like to keep things simple and elegant so that I avoid chaos in stressful situations. Clean systems produce easy to use anchors and thoughtful solutions to complex problems. Along with efficiency, I like to use the best tool for the job. The Gibbs Bend fits the bill when it comes to tying two ropes together for rappelling.

To Summarize why the Gibbs Bend is a good choice for tying two ropes together for rappelling because:

  1. Quick and easy to tie, easy to double check.
  2. Lays flat over the rock surface so it is less likely to get snagged when retireving your rappel.
  3. Won’t roll.
  4. Good for using with ropes of varying diameters.

To learn how to tie the Gibbs Bend, watch this video by Chicks Guide and Co-owner Dawn Glanc. I think you will see that passing the tails through a second time takes no effort and is well worth the extra security.

 

 

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