European Death Knot: How to Tie Offset Overhand Bend


The offset overhand bend. The flat overhand bend. The thumb knot. 

Whatever one might decide to call it, it is the same infamous climbing knot commonly known in climbing circles as the European death knot (EDK). Despite its grim nomenclature, EDK is an effective and safe rappel knot. 

In this article, we will focus on showing you how to tie the knot. We will also take a deeper look at its uses, pros, and cons. 

How is the European Death Knot Used?  

Simply put, the EDK is an overhand knot usually tied using 2 lengths of cordage. Climbers often use it as a method to connect 2 climbing ropes for use in rappelling. In non-climbing situations, the knot is used by mechanical balers to bind straw and hay. 

What is in the Name? 

Most of the uneasiness often attached to the EDK comes from its name. Although the origin of the name appears to have been lost over time, there is a high probability that the name was bestowed by American climbers when the offset overhand bend was introduced to them by Europeans. 

As noted earlier, the knot is also referred to as the flat overhand bend. However, according to expert rock climbers, the term “flat” is misleading and nebulous, whereas “offset” has a more specific meaning – that the 2 standing ends will converge initially and then follow a parallel path through the knot’s core. 

EDK is a bend. It is just a name given to a method of joining 2 ropes together and it is not likely to cause death when used. 

How to Tie the European Death Knot

If you are thinking of using the offset overhand bend the next time you put on your climbing shorts and grab your climbing backpack, you should follow the instructions below to learn how to tie the knot: 

  1. Ensure that you are using enough climbing rope for the long tail ends. Use both ends to make a loop. 
  2. Pass the 2 ends through the loop. 
  3. Tighten and dress your knot. At this point, you should have the EDK knot – its underside will be unlikely to catch on obstructions. 

Note: You can tie a backup in the form of a second overhand above your first knot. This will help increase the profile of the knot. It will also maintain the asymmetry and make your knot harder to capsize. 

Pros of Using the European Death Knot 

The EDK knot is both asymmetrical and low-profile. This means that it features lower chances of snagging over edges or in cracks. Also, it tends to turn inward to present its flat side to the rock edge. This reduces the chances of the ropes being stuck. 

Additionally, the EDK is extremely easy to tie, inspect, and untie under normal loads. When being used in multiple rappels, the knot features a significant time-saving factor. 

Cons of Using the EDK 

The offset overhand bend features 1 main method of failure for both bends – that is, “rolling” or “capsizing” of the knot. Theory suggests that under load, the knot can roll on itself, until it eventually rolls right off the end of the tail, separating your 2 strands. 

It is worth noting that there have been cases of the EDK failing. However, these failures only occur when the EDK is tied improperly. Beginning climbers tie the EDK improperly by: 

  • Not leaving enough tail
  • They tie a knot known as the “flat figure eight” instead. 

For the EDK to be effective, you should leave at least 12 inches (30 cm) of the tail. More tail is generally better – if you leave more tail, it will not hurt. The reason for this seemingly excessive tail is what we have already talked about – capsizing.

In most cases, when climbers look at the EDK for the first time, they usually think that it looks too unreliable or too simple for climbing. They, therefore, decide to change the knot into the flat figure-eight knot. While this could seem like a logical move, it is never a good move. The flat figure-eight knot is more likely to capsize and untie itself. 

The EDK is a bonafide knot for tying 2 rappelling ropes together. However, it has to be tied properly each time and used in the appropriate situations only. The knot gets a bad reputation because of the unfortunate name. 

Globo Surf Overview 

While the European death knot features a lot of controversies, most of which arise from its name, the knot does do its job. The key to ensuring that you are 100% safe when using the offset overhand bend is to tie it correctly and to leave a long enough tail. 

Mistaking the EDK for the flat figure-eight is one of the main reasons the EDK is associated with accidents. To avoid these accidents, you should work with an experienced climber to get the knot right before using it in a climbing scenario.  

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!