Cow's Tail - not so easy to find out about

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Real Name: Peter Hedley-Smith
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Cow's Tail - not so easy to find out about

Post by PeterHS » Thu May 12, 2016 4:18 pm

Hi all,

It's me again! I'm wanting to make up a cow's tail for rescue and other uses. It's not so easy as it seems to find how to make one: google 'how to tie a cow's tail?' and you will see some interesting answers and photos .....!

Questions then:

1. What size and length of rope? Static or dynamic?
2. Do I make both tails the same or different lengths? The ones I have seen have one tail from harness to shoulder; the other tail longer
3. What knots are used to tie to attach the carabiners?
4. Is there any special shape of carabiner? Screw gates for sure.

TIA - in advance and in Africa,


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Re: Cow's Tail - not so easy to find out about

Post by BAbycoat » Thu May 12, 2016 7:47 pm

My R0.02:

- Versatility has its costs. Rather have bespoke connections for different activities. There is no "one cowtail to rule them all" (with apologies to Tolkien).
- I prefer a Purcell Prussic for climbing. PAS are another option. Daisy chains are dangerous.
- For rescue, check what your local team uses: there can be some subtle variations between the different regions. Lengths are probably optimized for jumarring. In-situ tie-ins or girth hitching directly to harness reduces means no carabiner - i.e. one less link in the chain of failure. But again, find out what your local team uses.

Old Smelly
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Re: Cow's Tail - not so easy to find out about

Post by Old Smelly » Fri May 13, 2016 9:03 am


I am sure there are numerous S&R personalities who can answer but the basics;

1.Almost always dynamic (that way it can take a decent shockload) - don't skimp on the diameter=10.2 or more - virtually no one can argue about the weight difference.

2. Length - depends on job at hand but generally you want the end knots to be in reach - so I would make them the same length and about 500mm long - you are going to get many opinions on this. this would imply making it from about 2m length of rope or slightly longer - knots gobble up rope.

3. One option is an Alpine Butterfly in the middle, figure eights with stopper knots on both ends. Attach with a Demi rond to your harness.

One opinion - many options...
Really, its not that bad...I think it's my shoes...

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Nic Le Maitre
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Re: Cow's Tail - not so easy to find out about

Post by Nic Le Maitre » Fri May 13, 2016 1:10 pm

In our rescue setting, cow's tails are essential. We prefer to think of them as travel restraints rather than fall arrest devices because if they are needed for fall arrest it is going to be very, very uncomfortable.

Dynamic rather than static rope: actually the choice of knot in your cow's tail plays more of a role in shock absorption than the dynamic vs static rope, dynamic will be slightly better. Get 11mm if you can.

Knots: Use barrel knots on the ends with carabiners, they provide significantly more shock absorption than Fig-8s. They also hold the carabiners better, making cross loading less likely.

Attaching to your harness: A D-shaped maillon parallel to the belay loop is a good way to attach it as this lets you remove it easily.

Length: this depends on you, your height etc. Typically rescue cow's tails have a short side and a long side. While wearing your harness, sit flat on the ground. The short side, carabiner included, should stretch from the maillon to level with your collar bone, and no higher. This is typically used for heli-work and attaching to shunts or prusiks when working on ropes. The long side can be as long as you like. Typically it has an alpine butterfly in it to take up some excess rope. Again when sitting, the long side including carabiner, with the central alpine tied, should not be further than you can reach by stretching slightly. This ensures that you can always reach the carabiner, even while hanging from it.

So finally layout: From short side to long side
Carabiner (autolockers are preferable), barrel knot, short length (15-20cm typical), fig-8 onto maillon, length of rope, alpine butterfly, length of rope, barrel knot, carabiner.
Happy climbing

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Joined: Thu Feb 04, 2016 10:50 am
Real Name: Peter Hedley-Smith
Location: Cape Town

Re: Cow's Tail - not so easy to find out about

Post by PeterHS » Fri May 13, 2016 2:16 pm

Wow! Thanks so much for taking the time to reply - and for the detail - all :). Please don't let me stop more replies too. P

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