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Posted by Evan Hafer on

When a Rope Does Make Sense...

By Chad Wade

Just about every survivalist magazine out there has a guy on the cover grimacing and escaping some SHTF scenario. And, that guy always has two things:  a gun and a rope. But the guy doesn’t have just any rope. He has a big-ass climbing rope.

We get a lot of laughs from the “big rope” thing down at ReadyMan, because we’re not quite sure why a dude bugging out needs a climbing rope. Is he planning on rappelling his family into his BugOut Location?

All criticism aside, knowing rope work is a key man-skill. Not only are knots a badge of honor among competent men, but using climbing gear should be part of Dude 101.

As a Navy SEAL, I got assigned “Lead Climber” for operations involving climbing and rappelling and so the Navy sent me to Lead Climber school. 

Here are some basics to get you started with rope work.

The Swiss Seat or Emergency Rappelling Harness 

Whether you’re re-roofing your house, repairing a rafter in the barn or doing search and rescue off a cliff, knowing how to use a rope properly is just a baseline man skill.  An old time climber once told me,  “there are bold climbers and there are old climbers but there are no bold old climbers.” Ropes and safety make sense, the Swiss Seat is a staple every ReadyMan should have in his tool kit. 

With this seat and a simple hip belay from a buddy you can reduce risk during an emergency decent down a cliff or when hanging Christmas lights.

Any time we start going vertical either ascending or descending we need to be thinking about how to mitigate risk and increase chances of task success. This probably includes roping up.

All you need for a Swiss seat is a length of rope or tubular nylon and a carabineer.  

Make sure you have enough rope left over to properly back up the square knot tied to secure the seat.

Step by Step

  • Find the center of the rope
  • Hold the bight of the center against your left hip if right handed or right hip if left handed. (This is so when you are rappelling the knot is opposite your brake hand.) 
  • Wrap the rope around your waist
  • Make one overhand knot and a consecutive second wrap, it doesn’t matter which side.
  • Allow the running ends to hang down
  • Pull the running ends through your legs and around your backside
  • Feed each side up and behind the waist wrap creating a half hitch to hold in place
  • Tie a square knot to secure the seat
  • Backup the square knot with an overhand knot on each working end
  • Attach a locking carabineer through the initial wrapped portion of the Swiss Seat as well as the wrap with the square knot
  • Ensure the gate is facing you to avoid it rubbing on the rope, and “screw down so you don’t screw up!”

Another thing we need to be aware of when tackling a vertical challenge is the condition and type of rope we are using. Is it made of natural fibers like, hemp, cotton,  or tree bark?  Or is it made of synthetic material like: nylon, polypropylene, or polyester? Synthetic ropes will generally be stronger but are slippery and heat up at friction and compression points much quicker.

Is the rope dynamic -- able to absorb shock under load (also called the rope’s “compressive strength”) or is the rope static, meaning no stretch during a spike in pressure (also called “tensile strength?”

When conducting any vertical task with a rope there is a persistent danger of unknown damage or severely worn spots in the rope. Any 90 degree angle or edge with a rough surface will tear through rope surprisingly fast. If you face a sharp ledge the rope has to go over, you can place a pad or buffer between the rope and surface. But you need to be aware of all friction points. Always inspect your ropes before you do any kind of vertical climbing. WITHOUT EXCEPTION. 

(When shooting the Swiss Seat video, I checked my rope at the last second only to find that the railing I was rappelling over had almost severed my rope.)

The bonus of learning this simple seat is the knot tying practice. Every ReadyMan should know these knots:

The Square knot makes any two ends one 

Figure 8 for securing anything going to be pulled or hung.

Bowline for securing in wet conditions

Overhand (cant tie knots tie lots)

Half hitch and Clove hitch are best for preventing the rope from slipping


If you absolutely have nothing available except for a single length of rope or webbing, you can tie a bowline-on-a-coil around the climber's waist.  Just a single bowline knot around the waist is better than no safety harness. 

Making anchor points to create leverage from is a technical matter but requires very little to carry or make. These “nuts” are a commercial style used to suspend and anchor off of.


Basic Climbing Gear

If you can take a moment to fit out a basic gear kit, then things get easier and safer. There’s a ton you can do with a basic climbing load-out.

Here’s what I’d recommend:

Climbing Rope.   You probably want one static rope and one dynamic rope. The static rope is used for rappelling and rescue work. The dynamic rope is for belaying so that there’s some softness to your arrest if you fall.

Harness.  A safe harness beats the heck out of the Swiss Seat that I demo in the video. 

Climbing Shoes.   These help a lot to give grip when climbing rock.

Helmet.   A must for climbing. Getting knocked out cold on a rock face is bad.

Carabiners.  You’ll need a variety of locking and non-locking carabiners. Make sure they’re rated for climbing and they’re not of the keychain-variety.

Belay Device.  This allows someone to provide a safety line while you’re climbing. If you fall, they can arrest your fall before you hit ground.

Figure Eight. This piece is used to rappel.  

Cams and Stoppers.  It’s best to anchor your belay to something solid, like a huge tree or a big boulder. But, sometimes you have to place anchors. Also, when you’re climbing, you’ll place anchors so that your belay has something close to your level to arrest your fall. When you’re talking about anchors and belays, you really need someone to instruct you properly before you put your life in your own hands.

REI has the best article around about starting out climbing:

There it is. You now know enough to do some basic rope work. The smartest thing you could do now is to go climb with an experienced climber or to take a class at a climbing gym.

Remember, take your time, double-check your knots and buckles and test everything. Whenever humanly possible, use a belayer.

At least now, when they put you on the cover of a survival magazine and they make you pose with a big-ass climbing rope, you’ll actually know what it’s for.

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