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.

Conclusion

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.