Rope Craft: Two Techniques for Making a Rope Ladder in the Field

A few nights ago I was watching a documentary about an expedition into the Caldera de Luba, an isolated and steep-sided valley on Equatorial Guinea. With some descents as steep as 70 to 80 degrees, sections of the journey were more like mountaineering than hiking. To assist in one particularly challenging segment, the crew built a rope ladder. Although, the technique was not explained in detail and was a bit hard to follow, it could be gathered that it was essentially a series of looped knots that secured stout lengths of wooden saplings into a highly serviceable rope ladder. I decided to research the technique (along with another, more minimalistic one) and share the process with you.

Other Types of Rope Ladders

During the course of trying to figure out the knots used in the documentary, I came across no shortage of How-To’s detailing rope ladders using fabricated wooden planks and power tools… not exactly the usual fare of Extopians. I also came across a maritime technique called the Knotted Bathing Ladder that used heavy gauge rope and vertical noose wrappings to create a ladder without wooden slats. It’s very ingenious but requires a significant amount of rope skill and utilizes proportionately large lengths of rope to craft a comparatively short ladder. Furthermore, it seemed unsuitable for the smaller, lighter gauges of rope one might have to employ in survival situations.



The Overhand Knot With Draw Loop Rope Ladder

Finally, I came across the Overhand Knot With Draw Loop. I’m pretty confident this is the method our intrepid explorers employed for their ladders. It’s a looping knot that appears to be easy to remove when it’s no longer needed, doesn’t require cutting your rope and can be performed anywhere along the length of an existing rope (such as in the case of a secured line) as long as slack can be made.

okdl_1bStarting with a single length of rope, they folded it half with the closed end at the top where it could to anchor the affair once completed. They then proceeded to make a series of Overhand Knot With Draw Loop along the length of the rope in parallel. Into these they inserting a thick dowel made from a section of sapling into the matching loops on each side and tightened the draw loop until each was quite secure. Each sapling section was about 18-20’ long and perhaps 2” thick. For additional protection from slippage, I imagine they could have whittled shallow grooves around the circumference where the draw loops were intended to tighten.

All in all, a very nice piece of survival field work.

The Man-Harness Knot Rope Ladder

During the course of research, I also came across another excellent ladder technique. This one uses NO solid rungs, but instead forms a series of sturdy loops in the rope which can be alternately used for foot and hand holds. While it uses more rope than simple square knots for grips, it appears much easier to grasp and rest along an ascent or descent.


For each loop to accommodate the average human foot and hand will require about 2-3’ of rope. Therefore, placing a loop-rung every 2’ or so (a comfortable distance for most people) a Man-Harness rope ladder will require about two to three times the amount of rope as the final length of ladder created (20-30’ for a 10’ rope ladder). Still very efficient and a handy alternative when there is no time or materials for making wooden slats.

Disclaimer: Please exercise all feasible safety measures when dealing with heights. takes no responsibility for the improper use of climbing techniques or imprudent activities in a dangerous situation. If you intend to engage in regular, rigorous climbing, please consider locating a climbing facility for training and practice in your area.

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