The Mule Overhand Knot > How To Tie-Off a Belay Device

'How To Tie-Off a Belay Device' is part of the e-book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb free e-book ebook

When belaying with a standard belay device, you obviously can't let go of the rope. But sometimes it's really useful to have both hands free.

Times when you may need to be hands-free include:
- Switching gear on a multi-pitch
- Sorting out a rope tangle
- Passing a knot when abseiling
- Escaping the belay in an emergency situation

Rock climbers swapping gear at belay anchor

In situations where the rope isn't weighted, a simple overhand knot backed up to your belay loop will work. However, if the rope becomes weighted when using this method (e.g; if the leader falls), it will be almost impossible to release the tie-off.

Overhand knot tied to tie-off a belay device

If there is any chance of this happening, you should instead use the mule-overhand method (described below).

This allows you to tie-off your belay device while the leader is weighting the rope, and also release the tie-off when it's weighted.

Mule Overhand knot


Step 1
Pass a loop of the slack rope through your screwgate carabiner with one hand while keeping hold of the rope with your brake hand.

This can be difficult when heavily weighted – you’ll need to pinch the rope tight.

Climbers tie-off belay device

Step 2
Pass a loop from the opposite side through the first loop so that a mule knot is formed around the spine of the carabiner.

Do not tie this knot around the gate of the carabiner.

Climber ties a knot to lock off ATC belay device

Step 3
Make sure the second loop is around 60cm long.

Pull it tight.

Climber ties a mule-overhand to lock off ATC belay device

Step 4
Tie an overhand knot around the tensioned rope as shown.

Release locked ATC belay device

Step 5
A carabiner completes the hands-free mule-overhand knot.

Release locked ATC belay device

Step 6 – Releasing Under Load
To release the tie-off with the rope loaded, first untie the overhand knot. Then holding the slack rope securely with both hands, simply pull down to release the mule knot.

You should be ready to expect a few centimetres of rope to slip through. Keep a firm grip so you do not lose control of the belay device.

You can now belay or lower the climber as normal.

Release locked ATC belay device


Top Tips
* If belaying with two ropes (such as half ropes), simply treat them as one rope and follow the same steps. Make sure to communicate with your partner so they know not to continue climbing while tied-off.

* We strongly recommend that you practise this technique in a safe environment before doing it in a real situation

Overhand knot tied to lock ATC belay device with two ropes

Related Articles