The importance of knowing your knots

Whether you are new to tree climbing or an experienced climbing arborist knowing how to tie and use a selection of knots is an essential skill, and one that could save your life.

With so many knot tying videos, books and demos available, it is a skill that is easy to access simple training on, and one that you can continually improve on.

Whilst there are some amazing knot gurus out there, unfortunately there are also a fair few climbers we see on refresher training where their basic knot tying skills seem to have faded, with unsafe knots being used, and with them often needing to rely on others to tie their systems for them.

Although spending your evenings mucking around with rope and knots may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is a need and requirement as an arborist or tree surgeon to keep basic skills up to date. The Industry Code of Practice for Arboriculture Tree Work at Height (second edition) states, “that a proficient operator, eg climbing arborist, is a skilled, knowledgeable and experienced operator, able to perform specific tasks who can (amongst other things) correctly configure equipment and work safely on their own initiative”.

The Arb Association Technical Guide TG1 section Knots and Splices 14.11.2 states “where knots are used the climber must ensure they are tied, dressed and set correctly”.

As well as being essential for keeping you in the tree having a range of knots available to you can give you many more options when accessing and moving around the tree.

Some of the key knots for arborists are likely to be –


Commonly used as a terminal loop for life support connections. If a standard bowline is used it should always incorporate a stopper knot to prevent slippage during loading / unloading cycles as experienced during ascent. Open loop knots like this have a potential to result in karabiner rotation so should always be used with rubber grommets / bands to prevent this.


Often used for self tending systems. Individual wraps can be added to increase friction where required.


A basic system, however still in common usage in the arb world. As with open looped knots, rubber grommets / bands should be used to prevent karabiner rotation.

Fisherman’s Stopper Knot

A good, solid reliable stopper knot that won’t come undone during use. If being used on rope ends during large tree climbs a useful tip is to tie this a metre or two up the tail allowing a spare end to be foot-locked up if rope length has been underestimated.

Fisherman’s Terminal Loop

A constrictor knot which tightens up on the karabiner helping to prevent karabiner rotation. Often used instead of a bowline being used with a prussic system. One of the knots we most often see miss-tied, if the standing end needs to be pulled to constrict the knot on the karabiner it has been tied correctly, if the tail is pulled to constrict the knot on the karabiner it is tied incorrectly and could result in the tail pulling through, which could result in a fall from height. Short tails should be avoided. Tails should be around 5 times the diameter of the cord/rope being used to prevent it creeping through the knot.

Alpine Butterfly

A useful midline knot that has many uses in SRT and rescue. Can be used to isolate a damaged section of rope. Easily untied when loaded hard.

Bowline on the bight

Has uses for 3 person belay rescues and pole top rescues. Another useful midline loop that can be untied easily when loaded hard.

Blake’s Hitch

An important knot to know to tie an emergency friction hitch should a prussic be dropped or a mechanical device develop a fault whilst in the tree. Commonly used as part of the 3 knot system, also used with split tails.

Below are some of our instructional knot videos which we’ll be adding to over the coming months.


Fisherman’s Stopper Knot

Fisherman’s Terminal Loop


Reference –

Arb Association Technical Guide 1 – Tree Climbing and Aerial Rescue

Arb Association Industry Code of Practice for Arboriculture Tree Work at Height

Visit our Instagram page to view further instructional knot videos –

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