An introduction to tying yourself into a climbing harness

So you’re learning how to climb. Time to learn the basics! To tie yourself into a climbing harness, you’ll need to know how to create a figure-eight follow-through knot, followed by a fisherman’s backup knot.

They don’t just look pretty; they’re your lifelines should your grip slip, keeping your harness attached to the belay rope.

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While nothing beats hands-on practice, visual learners might benefit from brushing up with this photo tutorial. Just make sure to practice tying these knots with the help of an expert before you try them on your own and in the field.

Make sure you’re holding the correct end of the rope

All photos by Brandon Scherzberg.
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
One end will be hanging from a belay device and one will be coming down from a top rope or the top of a climbing wall. Use this end.

Measure out about an arm’s length of rope

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
Pinch the rope here (you’ll need this excess rope to tie your figure-eight knot and your backup knot).

Measure out about 8 inches of rope and pull up the excess rope to match it

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
Twist the rope to create one loop.

Turn from the top of the loop to create one more twist

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
Two twists: no more, no less.

Take the loose end of the rope and send it through the back of the loop

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
Pull the end through and back toward you until you start to see what looks like a figure eight.

Pull the tail of the rope to check you’ve made the correct knot

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
But don’t make it tight just yet. Leave some slack through the knot.

Take the tail end of the rope and thread it through the bottom and top loops

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
Make sure you’ve gone through both loops! Send the tail end back up toward your figure-eight knot.

Trace the knot you’ve already made

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
Follow it exactly; make sure each turn of the rope now has a matching partner. The tail end should eventually be heading back toward the end of the rope going up the climbing wall.

Pull the knot and double check yourself in “twos”

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
Two pieces of rope for each twist of the knot; two pieces of rope heading back toward the wall.

For extra safety, make a fisherman’s backup knot

Photo: Brandon Scherzberg
Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
This also helps to keep the excess rope out of the way while you’re climbing. Make a small loop around the center rope and follow through, making what looks like a little pretzel. Pull tight.

Other versions of this backup knot include the Yosemite tuck (just tucking the excess rope back into the figure-eight knot), but I’d advise against it, especially for a beginner. Tuck it wrong and you’re weakening a very important knot.

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That’s it! You’ll use these knots almost every time you’re climbing with a belay partner, and it’ll become second nature quickly. You’ll also need to know how to do these knots to pass a belay test at a climbing gym.

Again, it’s important to have someone watch you do these knots your first time to ensure proper technique.