There’s an art and science to every aspect of climbing, right down to how we manage our ropes. Anyone who’s been in the game long enough knows that a neatly coiled rope isn’t just satisfying to look at; it’s also crucial for safety, longevity of the gear, and ease of use. Over the years, I’ve encountered climbers—newbies and some surprisingly experienced folks—struggling with a messy pile of rope at the base of a crag or untangling a Gordian knot before they can even get started on a climb. I can tell you, neither scenario is fun, and it’s certainly not efficient.
So, let’s dive into the essential skill of knowing how to coil a climbing rope. Whether you’re prepping for a big wall adventure, winding down after a sport climbing route, or simply storing your rope post-climbing season, knowing how to coil your rope correctly can save you time, hassle, and even potential risks in the long run. Let’s make those tangled days a thing of the past, shall we?
Types of Coil
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that there are multiple ways to coil a rope, each with its own set of advantages, depending on the situation. Each of these coiling methods serves particular needs and scenarios, and in my experience, being proficient in all of them gives you a lot of flexibility. It allows you to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in, whether you’re scrambling up an alpine route or winding down after a day at the local crag. Knowing the right coil for the right situation can make your climbing life smoother, safer, and more enjoyable.
Here are some of the most commonly used coiling methods that you should have in your climbing repertoire:
The Butterfly Coil is effective for reducing kinks and twists in the rope. It’s particularly handy for multi-pitch and alpine routes where you might have to carry the rope for some distance before or after climbing. This method can also be worn around the body, although it’s not as comfortable for long hikes as some other methods. Here’s a quick video to watch.
This is a variation of the classic Butterfly Coil but with a twist—literally. It uses a doubled rope and starts with two ends instead of one end like the regular butterfly. A double butterfly is even better at preventing kinks and is useful for longer ropes. If you find that a standard butterfly coil still leaves your rope prone to tangling, give the double butterfly a try.
Also known as the mountaineer’s coil, this technique allows you to coil the rope and then wear it like a backpack, freeing your hands and distributing the weight evenly across your shoulders. This is particularly beneficial when you have a long approach or need to navigate complex terrain before reaching your climb. Here’s a video for how to make a Backpack Coil.
Step-by-Step Guide to the Butterfly Coil
The butterfly coil is the most common method of coiling rope, so here’s a step by step guide to this method:
Before you coil any rope, it’s crucial to flake it out into a neat pile. This process helps you check for any knots, twists, or imperfections in the rope that could pose safety hazards or disrupt the coiling process. Simply start at one end and feed the rope through your hands, ensuring it lies flat on the ground in a small, loose pile.
Step 1: Find the Starting Point
Depending on the type of butterfly you’re making, you can start at either the mid-point, with both ends, or with a single end. Whichever method you choose, start by locating your starting point.
Step 2: Measure and Begin
Holding the starting point in one hand, measure out approximately an arm’s span worth of rope. Take the length of rope that’s between your hands and sling it over the back of your neck, holding onto each end. Relax your arms so that the rope hangs over your shoulders.
Step 3: Start Looping
Drop the rope and grab the new starting point, extending the rope over your head and behind your neck. Let this new length of rope hang over your shoulders. It should closely match the first loop you created.
Step 4: Create Successive Loops
Continue making loops of the same size, stacking them on top of each other. It’s essential to maintain consistent loop sizes to ensure even weight distribution when you’re carrying the rope. For an average rope, you’ll usually end up with around 10-15 loops. Leave about an arm’s length of rope at the end.
Step 5: Take it Off Your Neck
Carefully take the length of rope off the back of your neck, holding onto it so that it doesn’t come unraveled. Take the same spot where your neck was, and hang that part of the rope over your forearm.
Step 6: Wrap the End Around
Take the loose end and wrap it around the rope. This loop should be a few inches below your forearm. With the first loop, create an X-shape to lock it in place. Wrap it around until there’s only a foot or two or rope left and finish off with the knot of your choice, tightening it as you go so your knot and loops are tight.
Step 7: Finish it Off
Finish with the knot of your choice and store it properly. This could be over your backpack, over your back (backpack coil), or in a rope bag.
Here’s a great video from REI that helps visualize these steps so you can do them correctly!
Tips for Carrying Coiled Climbing Ropes
Carrying a coiled rope might seem straightforward, but there are some best practices that can make the experience more comfortable and efficient. Here are some tips that I’ve found useful over the years:
Distribute the Weight
Whether you’re using a single or double butterfly coil, or even an alpine or backpacking coil, make sure that the weight is evenly distributed. Uneven weight can cause discomfort and imbalances that could affect your hiking or climbing. Adjust the shoulder loops or straps so that the coil sits at the middle of your back.
Secure the Coil
Ensure that the coil is tightly wrapped and the ends are securely knotted. The last thing you want is for your rope to start unraveling while you’re on the move. A secondary knot or a carabiner can add an extra level of security.
Use a Rope Bag When Possible
If you’re not going too far or if you’re carrying all the gear, a rope bag can be a convenient alternative. Rope bags help protect your rope from dirt, which prolongs its lifespan. Plus, they often come with additional pockets for storing essential climbing gear.
Carabiners Can Be Your Friend
If you find that you have an excessively long tail after wrapping the coil, you can clip it to one of the loops using a carabiner. This can help keep everything neat and tidy, reducing the risk of tripping or snagging.
Carrying your rope efficiently is about more than just making your trek from point A to point B easier—good rope management ensures the longevity and integrity of one of your most vital pieces of climbing gear. A well-executed coil, carried properly, minimizes the wear and tear on your rope while making your journey more comfortable. It also sets the stage for a smooth and successful climb, allowing you to focus on what you really love about this sport—the climb itself.
As someone who’s been in this game for quite some time, I can’t emphasize enough how mastering the basics, like coiling your rope, can significantly enhance your overall climbing experience. It’s often the little details that add up, making each climb more enjoyable and, more importantly, safer for you and your climbing partners. So take the time to practice your rope coiling and consider the tips I’ve shared for carrying it. In the grand scheme of climbing skills, it might seem like a small thing, but it’s these foundational skills that contribute to your growth and success as a climber.
How do I coil climbing rope properly?
To coil properly climbing rope, start by doubling the rope in half. Then, create a loop by grabbing both ends of the rope. Wrap the rope around your shoulders, making sure it doesn’t twist. Finally, secure the coil with a square knot or wrap it tightly with a rope strap or bag.
Can I coil climbing rope in different ways?
Yes, there are three different methods of coiling rope. The Butterfly Coil involves creating loops in opposite directions, the Mountaineer’s Coil includes crossing the rope over your body, and the Backpack Coil utilizes wrapping the rope around your waist. Choose the method that suits your needs and preferences.
What are the benefits of coiling climbing rope?
Coiling climbing rope properly offers several benefits. It keeps the rope organized, preventing tangles and knots during storage and transportation. A well-coiled rope also allows for easy handling, deployment, and quick attachment to a backpack or gear bag while climbing.
How do I carry coiled climbing rope?
Once the climbing rope is properly coiled, you can carry it in a rope bag, rope backpack, or by using a rope strap. Make sure the rope is secured tightly and the loose ends are tucked away. This way, you can comfortably carry the rope without it getting tangled or dirtied.