Knot of the Week: Tying a Barrel Knot for Single Line Rappelling - ITS Tactical

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Knot of the Week: Tying a Barrel Knot for Single Line Rappelling

By Bryan Black

Urban Rappel Equipment

In one of our more recent articles on setting up an urban rappel, we went over two methods for tying off a static rope for single-line rappelling. Today, we’d like to go over the Barrel Knot and how it’s tied.

The other knot we mentioned in that urban rappelling article is a Bowline, which we’ve gone over before on our Knot of the Week series. The Barrel Knot is preferable to the Bowline, for the simple reason of it being a friction knot (or slip knot), meaning that as it’s loaded, it will self-tighten around the stationary object it’s tied off to. An important note here is that while tying this for rappelling purposes, you should always use a large diameter tree or object that you’ve deemed sturdy enough to rappel from. Small trees have no place in a proper rappelling setup.

Tying a Bowline for single-line rappelling is acceptable as well, but with a Bowline being a fixed loop, it will move around much more than a Barrel Knot and again is why the latter is preferred.

How To Tie a Barrel Knot » Bends

(Strength: 4/Secure: 5/Stability: 3/Difficulty: 3)

Please refer to our Knot of the Week introduction post for a description of what these ratings mean.

The Barrel Knot is somewhat similar to the Double Fisherman’s Bend and shares much in common with a hangman’s noose, although that uses a different tying method. The Barrel Knot is also great for tying off a rescue line to a stationary object before throwing it or lowering it down to the someone being rescued.


  • Single-Line Rappelling
  • Affixing a Stationary Rescue Line

Tying Instructions:

  1. Start by wrapping the line around your stationary object with the working end off to your left (this instruction set can be accomplished from starting the other direction as well.)
  2. Pass the working end up and over the standing part of your line, where your extended thumb rests.
  3. Wrap over your thumb, up and around the standing line with four passes. Ensure your thumb stays in one place.
  4. With the excess working end, feed it into the void created as you remove your thumb.
  5. Grasp the barrel knot in your left hand and pull the working end with your right as you tighten the knot against the object you’re tying off to.
  6. Once secure, tie a safety knot with the remaining length of your working end. Ensure this is close to the start of the barrel knot as well.
  7. The safety knot can be an overhand knot, but a Fisherman’s Knot is preferred and is what’s shown in the photo.
  8. For more on a Fisherman’s Knot, refer to our KOTW article on the Double Fisherman’s Knot. A single Fisherman’s is just one side tied.

View the gallery below and follow along with the steps above!

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  • SARTechEMT

    Using a “tightening knot” such as this goes against nearly every reputable anchoring system used by any credible agency and organization.

    By exceeding the 90 degree angle (which only puts 70% of the load on each side of the anchor) you effectively put 100% (or more) of the loads force on each side of the anchor.  This is both unsafe and unethical for any professional climber or technician.

    Why not teach the tensionless hitch instead?  It’s nearly idiot proof, stress proof and retains nearly 100% of the anchor’s strength.

    • SARTechEMT  Thanks for the comment, I think you’re confusing the purpose here though. It’s not being used as part of an anchor system, it’s being used in a single-line rappel. If i’m not understanding you correctly though, please clarify. Thanks!

    • drew_denike

      SARTechEMT  I agree with you. From my training and experience as a climbing instructor, I can say that neither of the knots recommended in this article represents a safe option for rigging a rappel, especially with only one anchor. The bowline, like a square knot, has the potential to self-loosen (like your shoelaces), especially over several tension-relax cycles. As you mentioned, a sliding knot like the barrel will slide down and create a dangerously large angle at the anchor. your best option is to use a figure-8 follow-through (AKA rethreaded). I also don’t recommend single anchors whenever possible.

    • Nico321

      SARTechEMT  The reason you would not use a tensionless hitch in this case would be that you are trying to conserve rope. If the length of the rope was not a problem then the user would just do a double rope rappel. Personally I would use a figure 8 retrace or a bowline as an anchor in this place as to keep the angle of the rope to the tree under 90 degrees.

  • Nico321

    The single fisherman’s knot is actually a bend in which an overhand knot is tied around the opposite strand of the rope. Your safety knot in this case would actually be referred to as a double overhand knot.

  • India_Actual

    I tied it using your method, then I tied it as sort of an “on bight” fisherman’s knot (quadruple in this case), and it appears exactly the same. Does that sound right to you? So, rather than combining two ropes with the fisherman’s, you’re just doubling back and tying it to itself. I just want to make sure I’m understanding it.

    I get what you’re saying about conserving rope by not using the tensionless hitch. I wonder if you could tie a prusik knot (not a pre-formed loop, but a knot using the running end) instead of the barrel knot, then adjust it to establish more reasonable angles.

  • robdog1971

    Why not use a Figure 8 on a bite? Same amount of rope used, and less stress on the rope. Also I would never trust just one tree as anchor, unless it was huge and weight alone was enough to use as anchor. I have seen way to many trees pull out of the soil just being used as a hand hold to pull up on.

    • Nico321

      robdog1971  A figure 8 on a bight would not be possible to tie around the tree. That is why I suggested the figure 8 retrace. I would trust any tree bigger than about 3 inches in diameter. As long as the knot is tied close to the base there should not be a problem in uprooting the tree.

    • robdog1971

      Nico321 You are right I mis spoke, Figure 8 retrace is what I meant. In my experience the trees that are in range of a cliff have been to shallow in top soil covering the rock underneath to use just one as a anchor. I guess  it comes down to a judgment call at the end of the day.

  • ScottMcKay

    Why not a running bowline? I’ve done tree work(climbing) all my life. The running bowline is probably my second most-often used knot.

  • SARTechEMT

    Wow… lets overcomplicate the most simple and basic method here.
    Look… keep it simple.  Use a figure-eight retrace or a bowline.  Back up your anchor if in doubt and you *should* be good.

    Of course completing a comprehensive rigging and rescue course from a reputable instructor (not anyone on the ITS staff obviously) is a no-brainer.  Unless you wish to provide me with more job security as a certified rescue technician of course.

    • India_Actual

      SARTechEMT  I’m on a search & rescue team, and am planning on going for my SARtech III certification. However, if getting it means I have to be a pompous douchebag like you, maybe I’ll reconsider that decision.

    • SARTechEMT

      India_Actual SARTechEMT  Actually, IA, I’d seriously consider NOT going ahead with the SARTECH certification.  It’d probably be a waste of your money and time as you most likely wouldn’t work in the field long enough to be a viable addition to any team with your obvious immaturity.

    • India_Actual

      SARTechEMT Great, we’re in agreement then. Thanks for your wisdom.

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