May 9, 2022

7 Ways To Set Up a Top Rope Anchor

by Kevin

Setting up a top-roping anchor is the most effortless way to begin plenty of outdoor climbing activities without the need to lead terrain from the bottom.

It’s among the essential skills you’ll have to learn when you take an interest in climbing. It’s an excellent skill; once you learn to set up a top rope anchor, you’ll be one step closer to having a safe and good time outdoors. 

But, how do you set up a top-rope anchor? You’ll require several standard rappelling gears, knowledge of setting up a safe anchor, a climbing gym or route with bolted anchors, and simple access to the peak. 

There are multiple ways to establish a top-rope anchor, but we will only review the seven common ones. While you might be excited to start, ensure you secure yourself safely to two bolts and a bombproof anchor at the peak of the terrain. 

That said, before we get into all these methods, let’s briefly review what you’ll need to set up a top-rope anchor.


Table of Contents

An Overview of Ropes, Webbing, Cords, and Quickdraws

There are various reasons why ropes are better liked than webbings. 

First, ropes are stronger than webbings. When setting up top rope anchors close to rocky areas, where the rope may get in contact with rocks, ropes are an excellent choice.

Besides, they feature a shielding sheath; thus, they’re less likely to be cut or spoiled compared to the webbing

Secondly, it’s much easier to make knots with climbing rope than with webbing. Typically, if you make knots with webbing, they tend to be more difficult to adjust. Moreover, the webbing strands can become messy. 

That said, webbings are lighter compared to ropes. 

7 Ways To Set Up Top Rope Anchor
7 Ways To Set Up a Top Rope Anchor

Different Types of Ropes 

There are different rope types for setting up top rope anchors listed below.

  • Static ropes 
  • Cordelette
  • Accessory cord 

Static ropes

Static ropes, also called rappelling rope types, neither elongate nor stretch under pressure. Since static ropes won’t absorb the impact in case of a fall, they’re not ideal for climbing. That said, you should go for dynamic rope for climbing. 

All the same, using a static line is handy in establishing top rope anchors. Usually, anchors are set up with static rope and static lines of 8 to 10 mm. 

Related Article: How to Anchor a Roppe for Rappelling

Cordelette 

A rope strand with which you can make a loop is known as cordelette

Accessory cord

Usually, an accessory cord is a static rope with less than 8 mm diameter. Anchors are set up using accessory cords of diameter 7 to 8 mm, and they provide an excellent ratio of strength to weight. 

Different Types of Webbing 

It’s easy to make a webbing; twirl fabric onto round tubes or strips. 

There are two webbing types to choose from; flat and tubular webbing. You can find flat webbings on backpack straps, while tubular webbings are only utilized for climbing. 

A top rope anchor is typically set up using 2.5 cm wide tubular webbing. 

Sling/runner 

You can DIY slings and runners by tying or sewing together several tubular webbings. Also, they come in different lengths, as listed below.

  • Short runners with 12 inches in length. 
  • Double-length runners with 48 inches in length. 
  • Single-length runners with 24 inches in length. 
  • Long runners are 72 to 96 inches long. 

Quickdraw 

A quickdraw is created when you connect two carabiners to a seamed webbing’s ends. Like runners, quickdraws come in various lengths.

  • 24 inches
  • 6.5 to 7 inches 
  • 4 to 5 inches 

Related Article: How to Choose Climbing Quickdraws?

Materials of Ropes, Cords, and Webbings

Nylon ropes are the most recommended compared to their polyethylene counterparts.

While polyethylene ropes are more robust and come in handy when you have thin anchor ropes, they present several downsides that make them inferior to nylon ropes. 

For instance, they stretch less than nylon and don’t equally disburse the weight between the anchors as adequately as nylon ropes.

Besides, establishing an anchor with numerous knots with polyethylene rope won’t be as good as nylon in terms of longevity. 

Again, they generate less friction than nylon ropes, and you’ll require doubling up the knots you make on polyethylene rope. Lastly, they are more expensive than nylon.

Ways To Set Up Top Rope Anchor
A climber is preparing to rappel down after they have set a top rope anchor.

Setting up Anchors According to the SERENA Principle 

The SERENA principle is among the most convenient ways to set up a top-rope anchor. Besides, you can use the acronym SERENA to ensure your anchor system is set adequately.

  • Solid: it should be established using solid components 
  • Equalized: all the anchor points need to have equal load 
  • Redundant: the top rope anchor is supposed to feature redundant constituents. You should have at least two reliable anchor points, though three would be better. 
  • Effective: the mechanism should be simple but effective. This way, using it will save effort and reduce room for mistakes. 
  • No extension: there isn’t supposed to be a sudden load increase on the other anchor points in case an anchor point flops 
  • Anchor angle: the angle created by the webbings or ropes shouldn’t be over 90 degrees. It would be best to have angles below 60 degrees. The larger the angle, the more the weight on every point. 

How to Equalize Anchors 

According to the SERENA principle, you should equalize all climbing anchor points, and there are two ways to achieve this: self-equalization and static equalization. 

Static equalization

This happens when the anchor is established before you equalize it. It won’t extend in the event one anchor point flops, therefore zero chances of abruptly loading.

All the same, if the direction of the load varies from the initial direction, the system won’t adapt. Hence, if the climber falls in a different direction, one point is shock-loaded. 

Self-equalization

A self-equalizing anchor can adapt to shifts in the load direction. The anchor points are not likely to be shock-loaded regardless of the fall’s direction.

Nonetheless, this also translates to the length of the anchors increasing when one anchor point flops. Therefore, one of the anchor points will be shock-loaded. 

On the other hand, utter equalization is seldom attained practically. There are multiple factors impacting how anchors work, including the anchor configurations, locations, the climber’s route, etc. 

When setting up the top rope anchor, it is vital to remember the SERENA principle. It would also be best to understand how anchors work in different scenes. 

Let’s Delve into the Seven Ways to Set up a Top Rope Anchor with Sling, Static Rope, Webbing, Quickdraw

The seven ways to set up a top rope anchor are listed below.

Method 1. Runner/Slings

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Required Equipment 

Note: This is just a guide for a specific circumstance, but you might require a different sling length depending on your anchor system’s position. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Set Up Top-Rope Anchors with Slings/Runners 

Runner/slings are a static equalization anchor system. 

  • Connect one carabiner to every anchor point. 
  • Clip one sling to each carabiner on every anchor point. Lock the carabiners. 
  • Link the two slings at the underside using a locking carabiner. You can achieve redundancy by connecting another lockable carabiner on the opposite sides. 
  • You should connect the climbing rope to the locking carabiner at the bottom and lock the carabiner. 

Advantages of using Slings/Runners

  • User friendly. 

Disadvantages of using Slings/Runners

  • This topping rope anchor technique is perfect for an ideal situation, though it rarely attains equalization.

Method 2. Quickdraws 

You can use quickdraws for a setup similar to the sling, especially for short and swift climbs. 

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Required Equipment 

  • Both ends of a pair of 7-inch quickdraws
  • Locking carabiners 

Note: This is just a guide for a specific circumstance, but you might require a different length depending on your anchor system’s position. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Set Up Top-Rope Anchors with Quickdraws 

  • Every anchor point is supposed to be connected to a quickdraw. Ensure both carabiners are positioned opposite. Lock the carabiners at the top. 
  • You will link the rope to the pair of carabiners at the bottom on the quickdraw and lock them.  

Advantages of using Quickdraws

  • Easy to establish. 

Disadvantages of using Quickdraws

  • This technique rarely attains equalization, though it’s functional for ideal situations. 

Method 3. Cordelette 

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Required Equipment 

  • An 18-feet accessory cord of 7 mm thickness. 
  • Five lockable carabiners. 

Note: This is just a guide for a specific circumstance, but you might require a different rope length depending on your anchor system’s position. 

Besides, you can utilize 8mm to 10mm thick static rope. Because this is an extended length, tubular webbing would not be ideal. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Set up a Top Rope Anchors with the Help of a Cordelette

  • As with the previous methods, the cordelette static anchor is for equalization. 
  • You will use three anchor points to set it up adequately. Redundancy will be sufficient if one anchor point fails. 
  • Connect a locking carabiner to all anchor points 
  • With a Double Fisherman’s knot, make a loop using the accessory cord. 
  • Fasten this loop on all the carabiners on the anchor points, and secure the carabiners 
  • Haul the climbing rope between the anchor points within the two sectors. Take the bottom and top strands and hold them together. 
  • Double-check to ensure the knot isn’t lying on the carabiner. 
  • Next, create an overhand knot using all the rope strands. 
  • Place a lockable carabiner in the gap created by the overhand knot. Using the carabiner, tighten this knot, and to attain redundancy, you should fasten an additional locking carabiner on the opposite sides. 
  • Fasten the locking carabiners to your rope, and lock them. 
  • You can also establish a figure 8 knot, as it is much easier to undo. However, this knot will utilize more rope. 

Related Article: How to Rappel with Figure 8 Belay Device?

Advantages of using a Cordelette

  • You can easily attain static equalization compared to utilizing slings and quickdraws. You won’t need to modify the lengths of the quickdraws and runners.

Disadvantages of Using a Cordelette

  • This technique only achieves equalization under ideal circumstances.

The Cordelette Technique with Two Anchor Points 

With three anchor points, you offered redundancy to the system. However, you can achieve the same setup with a pair of bombproof anchors. 

Method 4. Webolette 

The WEBOLETTE is an easy-to-use equalizing anchor sling that loads multiple anchor points without risk of extension and shock loading, remaining pro. If one piece breaks, the others are already tensioned and supporting the load.

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Required Equipment 

  • 18-feet nylon accessory cord of 7 mm diameter. 
  • Five lockable carabiners. 

Note: This is just a guide for a specific circumstance, but you might require a different rope length depending on your anchor system’s position. 

Like the cordelette technique, you can set up this top rope anchor with an 8 to 10 mm static rope, though you shouldn’t go for tubular webbing. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Set up a Top Rope Anchors with the Help of a Webolette

The instructions here are for three anchor points. 

Typically, a webolette features three anchor points; hence, the system will provide redundancy if one point flops. 

  • Connect a locking carabiner to all anchor points. 
  • Both accessory cord ends should be tied using a bight and figure 8 knot. These two knots should sport extended tails. 
  • Fasten a single loop to the carabiner on the left anchor point. Connect another loop to the carabiner on the right anchor point, and lock both carabiners. 
  • The center part of the rope is supposed to be connected to the carabiner at the center anchor point and then secure the carabiner. 
  • The strands suspended from the anchor points should form a W shape. Haul both bottom strands to align the length. 
  • Tie all the ropes in an overhand knot, lock, and tighten it using a carabiner. You can attain redundancy by fastening another lockable carabiner on the opposite sides. 
  • Clip the locking carabiners to the climbing rope and lock it.
  • You can make a figure 8 knot, as it is much easier to undo, though it calls for more rope. 

Advantages of using Webolette

  • This technique will consume less rope compared to cordelette. The reduced rope can come in handy when your anchor points are not close. 
  • It’s way easy to equalize than with the runner technique. 

Disadvantages of using Webolette

  • Unless under ideal circumstances, this technique doesn’t attain equalization

Method 5. Sliding X

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Required Equipment 

  • 6.5 feet of nylon accessory cord of 7 mm diameter.
  • Four lockable carabiners. 

Note: This is just a guide for a specific circumstance, but you might require a different rope length depending on your anchor system’s position. 

You can execute this technique with an 8 to 10 mm static rope. Plus, you can utilize one tubular webbing in the event that the anchor isn’t touching any rock surface. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Set up a Top Rope Anchors with the Help of a Sliding X

This is a self-equalizing anchor with two anchor points. 

  • It features a pair of overhand knots. If one anchor point flops, the other hinders the system from extending significantly. You will seldom use sliding X limiter knots. 
  • Connect the lockable carabiner to all anchor points.
  • You can use the Double Fisherman’s knot to make a loop using the accessory rope.
  • Connect one loop end to one anchor point, and lock the carabiner 
  • Make an overhand knot with the rope almost halfway from the carabiner. 
  • Make another overhand knot about one-third the length of the previous knot. 
  • Clip the other rope end to the second point of anchorage, and lock the carabiner.
  • The two knots have to be almost the same height, and there should be 10 inches of climbing rope between them. Switching the knots` positions is effortless when dealing with overhand knots. 
  • Ensure the Double Fisherman’s knot isn’t lying on any of the lockable carabiners. 
  • Between the overhand knots, weave one of the strands of rope. 
  • Connect a lockable carabiner via both rope strands; you can attain redundancy by connecting an additional locking carabiner on the opposite sides. 
  • Feed your climbing rope via the lockable carabiner, and lock it. 

Advantages of using Sliding X

  • You can move in various directions when climbing since the anchor re-equalizes automatically. 

Disadvantages of using Sliding X

  • If one of the anchor points flops, the pair of overhand knots are the limiters that hinder the anchor system from extending too much. While there is a slight extension on the accessory cord between the pair of overhand knots, there will be a marginal shock load on the rest of the system. 

Method 6. Quad 

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Required Equipment 

  • Four lockable carabiners. 
  • Nylon rope of 6 meters in length and 7 mm in diameter. 

Note: This is just a guide for a specific circumstance, but you might require a different rope length depending on your anchor system’s position. 

You can execute this technique with an 8 to 10 mm static rope. Plus, you can utilize one tubular webbing in the event that the anchor isn’t touching any rock surface. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Set up Top-Rope with the Quad 

This is a self-equalizing system, and you require two anchor points. 

  • Connect a locking carabiner to both anchor points. 
  • With a Double Fisherman’s knot, establish a loop in the rope. 
  • Take two strands of rope and double them to create four strands. 
  • Insert the loop in the locking carabiner on one side, and lock it. 
  • Make an overhand knot approximately one-third of the rope’s length from the carabiner in the accessory cord. 
  • Then, make another overhand knot roughly one-third of the rope’s length from the previous one.
  • Position the overhand knots at a similar height, and ensure a 10-inch distance between them. 
  • Ensure the Double Fisherman’s knot isn’t lying on any of the carabiners. 
  • You can connect three rope strands using a locking carabiner, though it should be connected via all four rope strands. This is because the carabiner will let go if one anchor point flops. 
  • You can achieve redundancy by fastening an additional lockable carabiner on the opposite & opposite sides. 

Advantages of using Quad

  • This system self-equalizes even though the climber is moving in various directions. 

Disadvantages of using Quad

  • This technique calls for more rope compared to Sliding X. 
  • Both overhand knots are limiters that hinder the anchor from extending significantly in case the anchor point flops. There is a slight stretch between them, and the remaining anchor point will get some shock load. 

Method 7. Equalette 

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Required Equipment 

  • Nylon rope is 3 meters long and 7 mm thick. 
  • Five lockable carabiners. 

Note: This is just a guide for a specific circumstance, but you might require a different rope length depending on your anchor system’s position.

You can execute this technique with an 8 to 10 mm thick static rope. However, don’t use tubular webbing when creating the length’s garment. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Set Up Top-Rope Anchors with the Help of An Equalette 

This is a self-equalization anchor, and it requires three anchor points.

  • Clip a locking carabiner to all anchor points. 
  • Create a loop in the rope using a Double Fisherman’s Knot. 
  • Place a Clove Hitch on the rope and connect it to the carabiner in the middle anchor point. Lock the carabiner. 
  • Make another Clove Hitch after the first one, and leave some space. Fasten the second Clove Hitch and lock the carabiner on a different anchor point. 
  • You should take the rope from the two anchor points and make an overhand knot one-third of the length from the locked carabiners. 
  • From this knot, leave roughly 10 inches and make another overhand knot. 
  • Clip the other rope end to the carabiner on the last anchor, and lock the carabiner. 
  • Between both overhand knots, weave one of the strands of rope. 
  • Clip the locking carabiner to your rope and lock it

Advantages of using Equalette

  • This self-equalizing anchor system will equalize when you move in various directions. 
  • It calls for less rope compared to the cordelette technique. The rope shortening could come in handy when there is a long distance between the anchor points. 

Disadvantages of using Equalette

  • In the event that one of the anchors points flops, both overhand knots will be the limiters to hinder the system from overstretching. However, there is some stretching between both overhand knots; thus, the anchor system will have a small shock load. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Top Rope Anchors Setup

How do you set up a top-rope anchor on a tree?

To set up a top-rope anchor on a tree, besides the must-have climbing gear, you will need the following equipment for anchor set up.

  • Personal Anchor System connected to two tie points on the harness. 
  • Cordelette 25 inches long and 7 to 10mm thick accessory cord tied into a Double Fisherman’s knot
  • Four lockable carabiners.

Next, follow the instructions on this video and read how to rappel from a tree.

What gear do you require for a top-rope anchor?

The gear you’ll require for top-roping anchor includes:

  • Rack for establishing anchor points. 
  • Carabiner for connecting to the anchor points. 
  • Slings and static rope to establish the top rope anchor with the anchor points. 
  • Dynamic climbing rope

Related Article: What is a Bi-Pattern Climbing Rope?

How long should a static rope be for a top rope anchor?

Typically, anchors are established using static lines of 8 to 10 mm and static ropes of 100 to 120 feet.

Safety Tips for Top Rope Anchors

Before anything, ensure you remember these tips every time you set up a top rope anchor. Mishaps can happen and could lead to injuries. So, here is a list of our best safety tips for anchor setup.

Be prepared before you begin setting up

It would be best to organize yourself before you begin setting up. Look at the features of the route, and strategically establish where you’ll effectively set up the anchor. For instance, are there any features you can use like trees? 

Remember that the tree is supposed to be at least 4 inches thick; the thicker, the better. Also, check whether it is strong enough to hold you until you’re done.

Check for cracks or marks from climbing ropes. Avoid using the tree as an anchor if the cracks are too deep. 

Gear up

Gear up before climbing. Position your harness and the cams required on your harness equipment loop. Add a 2-feet sling and tie them over your neck. Some top rope roads might need to use an additional rope. 

Set up a secure and redundant anchor system with boulders, trees, gear, and bolts

After assessing the route and the features, set up your top-rope anchor using secondary and primary anchors.

Next, equalize the anchor points from the primary point, where the accessory rope is linked to the system, to disburse weight equally if the climber falls. 

Besides, all anchor systems need to be bombproof, equalized and backed up. 

Double-check the anchor system for safety

Using the SECURE principle, evaluate the security of your anchor system and make adjustments where necessary.

Like SERENA, SECURE is an acronym that comes in handy in assisting you in evaluating the security and strength of your anchor system. 

SECURE stands for Strong, Extended, Centered, Unbroken, Run, Edge. Hence, if your anchor system meets all these aspects, it is secure and ready to start using. 

Lastly, connect your climbing rope and rappel down 

After checking your anchor for safety, it’s now time to fasten your climbing rope and begin rappelling down yourself.

Remember; always double-check the bolts before connecting yourself to the anchor system. You have to be adequately trained in lowering, belaying, anchors, and rappelling before you attempt to set up a top-rope anchor. 

Furthermore, this is an informative guide on setting up a top-rope anchor, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice.

This write-up aims to give you information on specific situations, but at some point, depending on your needs, abilities, and objectives, you might have to make a few tweaks. 

Again, ensure you learn from an expert who has a lot of experience setting up top rope anchors. Lastly, consult your physician before taking part in this strenuous and possibly hazardous activity. 

Lastly, read our two fundamental articles on rappelling courses and the best rappelling and climbing books to educate yourself further.

The rankings on rappellingequipment.com are curated to save you time by aggregating the best reviewed products from the most reputable companies. We may receive a commission if you buy something using a link on this page.

About the author 

Kevin

Kevin loves bouldering. Mainly because he can practice it alone without considering other people. Although he rediscovered this hobby in the last three years, the boulders turned out to be his most visited landmarks.

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