How can i build a top rope anchor ?

I started climbing indoors two years ago, and when I transitioned to outdoors I felt unsure at first. This changed after I learned how to build basic anchors and was able to go top roping on my own with my buddy.
I will tell you how to build a simple and tough top rope anchor that works on many climbs.
It will help you to be a safe toprope climber, and you can work on your strengths and technique without the risk of lead climbing. And when you’re ready you can make the move to lead climbing.

Who should read this article

You may be started climbing indoors too, now you’re ready to rock outside. But you are not really sure how to tie into the real rock, anchor building is something you have never done before. And now you are at the route, asking yourself the question most beginners asked them before: How can I build a top rope anchor?
It’s almost embarrassing to ask someone else – but trust me: You are not alone.

Why this anchor

Lots of sport route climbs have two bolts (or chains and rings attached to bolts) at the top, which makes it very simple to climb top rope.
When you learn this anchor, you can climb lots of good routes without worry. And you will become naturally stronger and have even more fun. And it’s a dirt cheap and simple anchor: You only need four locking carabiners and one double-length sling (48 inches or 120cm).

Warning: This technique only applies if you have safe access to the top of a cliff, where bolt anchors are often placed. Anchor yourself to a tree or crack with a long sling or length of rope before approaching the cliff edge to set up a toprope.

Bolted anchor in action
This is how it looks in action

The Gear you need

Like I said: You will need four locking carabiners and one double-length sling (48″ or 120cm). Wider slings (1.7cm to 2.5cm or 3/4″ to 1”) are generally better and don’t get used up so quickly. You can use a pre-sewn one or loose webbing with a tight water knot. If the sling rubs against the edge of the cliff shorten it a bit. If you use the sport-climbing technique, you also need two quickdraws. They are relatively cheap and if you start lead climbing you can reuse them, so go ahead and buy yourself two.

How can I build a top rope anchor – 4 steps

  1. Clip the carabiners in. Through each bolt or ring or chain clip one locking carabiner. After that clip the sling into each of the carabiners. Lock them immediately, otherwise you’ll forget it and that means trouble.
  2. Equalizing sling. Pull on the sling so the loops are even. If you used a water knot make sure to keep this part near one of the carabiners but don’t let them touch. Pull all the loops into the direction where you will be climbing – this makes it nice and even and minimizes tension on the bolts.
  3. Master Point. Now just make a figure 8 knots with all the four strands. Using this knot makes each part of the anchor independent and gives redundancy. That’s a huge plus. Make the knot snug and clean and you’re almost good to go.
  4. Clip the Rope. Clip two locking carabiners through the strands of the figure 8. Make sure to keep gates opposite to each other so they cannot accidently open themselves. Then clip the rope through the carabiners and presto: You are ready to climb.

Some options for the anchor

  • You can also use two 24″(60cm) slings instead of the longer one. When you do this, make sure to clip each on into one bolt. Careful, it might be harder to equalize the anchor now if the bolts are at different heights. If this is the case, double one sling and extend it with a quickdraw or connect another second sling to the first with a girth hitch
  • There is a typical anchor setup used by lead climbers on sports routes, and you can use it for toprope too: Clip a single quickdraw to each bolt and clip the rope through the lower carabiners. Keep the gates opposed on the lower carabiners, best is to use locked carabiners. Make also sure to place the upper carabiners in a way that keeps them safe from being opened by the anchor chain or the rock. This has happened in the past, and that’s why it’s super important to stay redundant and double check
  • You can also set up your toprope on an anchor, many people do this and some even leave slings and gear for permanent anchors on the tree. If you use an existing anchor make sure to check either the tree and the gear for quality and safety. The tree should be at least five inches thick in diameter and alive, well rooted and not over a cliff. Slings and fixed gear must not be cut or torn or old and worn out. So make sure to check for fading and fraying. If the gear looks even a little bit suspicious, don’t use it, and build your own.
  • Also inspect gear and chains as well as bolts, and rings. Fixed gear should always be rust-free, i.e. there can be some spots but no major rust and bolts should not be tightened or bend.
sport climbing anchor with quick draws
Sports climbing anchor with at least two quickdraws. Keep gates opposite to each other to prevent opening.


There you have it, this method of building top tope anchors is safe, quick and easy to learn.
Check out some of my other articles on anchors and climbing shoes.
You now know a solid and battle proven technique, and you can use another technique for sports lead climbing style anchors.


How do i build the perfect climbing rope anchor?

When i got into climbing i was overwhelmed with the vast knowledge needed to stay save. There are tons of nots and rope techniques to lear. And if you ask people out there you will get 12 different answers for the same question.
Let me tell you one thing: There is no “perfect” anchor. Every anchor can be messed up and destroyed when it is abused or built without care.
But there are some good things to keep in mind and proven techniques to build safe anchors.

The anchors i show you are proven, safe and they can save your life if done right. 
And no matter what you do, you will need a climbing rope anchor to fix your rope. It’s literally the first thing you need to build when you want to climb safely.

What is a climbing rope anchor ?

A climbing anchor is a system of individual anchors which are connected together to create one master point where the climber and rope can clip into. They are then securely attached to the rock.
By the way, it doesn’t matter if you’re a top-rope climber or lead the climb – knowing how to build the perfect climbing rope anchor is the first skill you need to learn. It will save your and your buddies live.

You need to keep some things in mind when you build an anchor. Let’s break it down to two steps:

  • 1. Step: Find or create single anchor points to use in the the system.
  • 2. Step: Connect those anchor points together using one of the techniques i’ll show you next

Since there are so many variables that come together it’s impossible to cover all scenarios. But i will tell you how i setup my anchors – there are other techniques out there, but this one is proven, easy to learn and works.
And: After this article you will also understand how anchors work and know the most common way to build the perfect climbing rope anchor.

1. Step: Identify those Points

Before you build the anchor, you will need to find the points for it. What they are is more or less up to the terrain, which gear you have etc.
I’ll introduce you to some typical anchors i use.

Natural anchors

These can be trees and large rocks. They can be awesome anchors which also conserve your gear. But you need to play it safe and check them before you use them as anchors.

  • Trees:
  • Don’t just use a tree. Make sure to check if its alive, has good roots and is solid before you use it. Never use a tree growing out of a cliff – unless you are chased by a bunch of ninjas and running for your live ;-). Also push against it with a foot to test it and use the golden rule: It should be atleast 12 inches thick in diameter (or 30cm for our metric friends). If you use it for your anchor, circle a runner around the base of the tree and clip the ends together with a carabiner. Use a Flat Overhand Bend (like in the picture) or Double Figure 8 Knot as loop.
  • Rocks: You can use horns and chockstones (stones which are tightly wedged in a crack). When checking the integrity of them, don’t forget to make sure they are solid and well attached. Be extra careful if you notice brittle rock or cracks. When building the anchor you can loop a runner over the top of the rock on a horn and clip it to the rope. Or you circle a runner line around the feature and clip the ends together on chockstones – it works like a tree.

Tree anchor with carabiner – Knot: Flat Overhand Bend

Rock anchors: Horn on the left, Chockstone on right

Fixed anchors 

You will most likely find fixed anchors on sport climbing routes. They are placed there and are permantly fixed to the rock. You can use quickdraws, carabiners and runners to attach your gear. Look at these example drawings to get an idea:

Fixed anchors on artificial gear: Bolts connected with chains.

Just because they are artificial doesn’t mean they are save. Metal and concrete rusts and after a while these things will come off too. So make sure to check for signs of weakness like cracks or lots of corrosion. If you’re not sure: Don’t use them. Stay away from bolts or pitons that move in any direction.
Be super cautious if you find old out-dated gear like 1/4 inch bolts or sheet metal hangers like these:

Oldschool 1/4 inch bolt with rusty sheet metal: Stay away.

Don’t need to say anything here i think…STAY AWAY!


2. Step: Connect your anchor points

You found your individual points – now it’s time to connect. You should always have at least two points holding a downward pull and one for upward pulls.
Most important when connect them is to equalize them, so the load is distributed evenly. You got 2 choices when it comes to equalization: Static or self equalizing.

Static Equalization

Static equalization

Static equalization means you equalize the anchor points beforehand. Once you tie the system off, there will be no slack or adjusting it later. This is a great method for climbing where you have one clear direction of pull: Like straight down. If you climb more advanced and might have situations where pull is upward you should use a self equalizing method.

Cordelette Anchor: This is a way to connect two, three or more anchor points to using static equalization. To make a it, use a 18–20 ft. long section of 7 to 8 -millimeter Perlon accessory cord tie it into a big loop with double fishermen’s knot.

Equalizing 3 anchor points with a cordelette:

  • Clip a cordelette into each of the quickdraws attached to the anchor points with carabiners, then pull down top sections between the pieces.
  • Connect the sections with the bottom part of the cordelette by moving them together, then clip a locking carabiner to all three loops
  • Pull on the carabiner to even out tension
  • Move the fisherman’s knot directly below the highest of your anchor points – that will keep it clear of the master point
  • Position the fisherman’s knot, which connects the cordelette ends, so it is below the highest anchor point to keep it clear of the master point knot that you will tie. This is important as you don’t want it to be where the master point it and tangle up.
  • Try to figure where the force will come from and pull the carabiner in that direction
  • Then tie the sections together with a figure eight not or, if you don’t have enough cord an overhand knot (easier to tie but harder to untie after loading)
  • Tug the carabiner firmly to make sure all the anchor points are equally weighted

3 Steps to equalize anchor points with a cordelette

By the way: The figure eight knot is called master point – and it will be around 3-4 inches thick. It’s the main clip-in point for the anchor and it is where you and your buddy clip in.
Cordelettes are great when directions stay the same. If they change though, you can end up with an anchor where one point takes the entire load. That’s never a good thing as you want redundancy.


This term sounds fancy but it’s pretty simple. It means you build an anchor which adjusts itself no matter where the pull comes from. And it distributes the load evenly on the anchor points. It’s good when pull directions can change during your climb.
I’ll show you a simple technique that works good for many situations. Of course there are more techniques, but this one is easy to learn. If you ask me, keeping it simple is king and the easier a technique is – the less potential it has to turn your climb into a disaster because you forget something.

The sliding X 

  • Clip a single sling to the carabiners at each anchor point.
  • Grab the top section of the sling. Now give it a half twis, then clip a locking carabiner into the twist and around the lower section of the sling.

If one anchor point fails, there will be lots of extension. This will shock load the other anchor point, which is not good. To limit this you can tie some additional overhand knots just above the clip-in points: They allow the system to adjust, but will limit extension and shock loading when an anchor fails.

Sliding X. Without the extra Knots

Anchor Theory

Anchor with a cordelette

Anchors are different and there are some points you should keep in mind. There is a tool called SERENE-A, it’s a good mnemonic.
My tip: Until you memorize it, keep a written note with you when you build an anchor and go through SERENE while you build it. It will save your ass!

Solid: Each component of the anchor must be fully solid.

Equalized: Rig an anchor so the load is distributed equally between the individual anchor points.

Redundant: Your points must be reduntant. If one anchor fails, the authors should not fail automatically too. Use always two, better more solid anchor points. Three is a good number. Ensure to keep redundant carabiners and slings too. I cannot stress this enough: Redundancy is the number one rule that will save your life if applied right.

Efficient: Make efficient use of time and gear when you’re building an anchor, and don’t create something overly complicated – see the KISS (Keep it stupid simple) principle.

NExtension: Construct without extensions. This means if an anchor fails, it should not suddenly shock extend other anchors. Important for the X Slide.

Angles: Consider angles created by the sling or slings in your anchor system. A larger angle puts more force on an anchor, so keep angles 60 degree or less.


You learned two basic anchor techniques and how to build them. You know there is no perfect anchor, but you can build safe and good anchors using SERENE-A.
Now, just because an anchor fits SERENE-A doesn’t mean it is perfect. But if you build them to meet this criteria, you have a good guideline to build a safe anchor.
Keep these things in mind, and have fun gearing up and building your first outdoor climbing rope anchors. We will dive into Multidirectional Anchors and Anchor Angles in later posts!

Always remember: Your safety is your responsibility. No article or video can replace proper instruction and experience. Make sure you’re practiced in proper techniques and safety requirements before you climb.