Tasty Tools and Sweet Tricks – By Marcel Rodriguez

Every so often I encounter a tip, trick or tool that makes me wonder how I got along prior to learning of its existence. 

I first heard of the voodoo a few years ago when some of my teammates attended a session put on by a couple of members of the Cache County (Utah) Search and Rescue team. In the session, they introduced a quick tensioning system they referred to as the “Voodoo Hitch”. They went on to demonstrate one of the simplest, fastest, and most useful tensioning systems I had seen. As you will soon see, the Voodoo is easy to construct, but hard to explain (thus the name). We spent the better part of the next year playing with it, testing it, and finding new places to incorporate it. When I finally got a chance to work with the crew that had originally presented it to us, I was a full convert.

While probably no big news to Rich Carlson and his merry band of canyoneers, who regularly use the voodoo, I have found very limited knowledge of the technique in the technical rescue arena. When I have shared it during classes, it always results in a “Wait, what?….Ohhhhhh” moment.

The voodoo (also known as the transport hitch) can be constructed several ways depending on available gear, knot preference and application. The basic components are (refer to the diagram below): 

  • A rope tied off to an anchor point (using any knot or connection method you choose) [Point A]
  • A redirect point (directional knot on a bight (directional figure 8, in-line bowline, or alpine butterfly), or a carabiner attached to the rope with a directional knot or clove hitch. [Point B]
  • An anchor point (bollard, ring or carabiner) [Point C].
  • A carabiner [Point D] attached to the rope with any loop knot, or with a clove hitch.

To construct the voodoo, tie off your rope to the first anchor point [A] and attach carabiner [B] to the line. Pull a bight of rope through the carabiner. Put the working end of the rope through or around anchor [C] and attach the carabiner [D] to the rope. It should be attached close to carabiner [B] to give you plenty of room to tension. Clip the carabiner [D] through the bight of rope at the redirect point.

Pull carabiner [D] back towards anchor [C]. Wait, what?….Ohhhhhh!

voodoo tensioning hitch

Play with it a bit and you can see the power and utility of the voodoo. When you pull carabiner [D] towards anchor [C], the system tensions and stays tensioned. When you pull it towards anchor [A], it quickly and easily slacks the system. How does it do that? Voodoo!

I have taken to referring to the voodoo as a closed-loop equilibrium system. There may be a better term or explanation, but I am sticking with that for now. Once equal tension is achieved between the two sides of the system, it maintains that tension until the tension is released. When in tension, the system is extremely stable. Despite the inherent stability of the voodoo when tensioned, it is easy to back up the system by bringing a tail of the rope from point [D] back through the anchor at [C] and securing with a standard mule.

People often believe that the system is held by the friction of the rope passing through the redirect and the anchor [C]. To test this theory, you can place pulleys at points [B] and [C]. The system still holds tension. Voodoo!

As described above, the voodoo can be constructed with several variations. Some choose to omit the carabiner at point [B] and just pull the bight of rope through the loop of the directional knot (similar to a trucker’s hitch). This works well, as long as you watch the friction created during tensioning. Most uses do not require long pulls, so friction is generally not a major concern.

Our primary uses of the voodoo are as tensioned back ties, as variable redirects, and as tensioned supports for tripods/bipods/monopods. One of my personal favorites is to use a single rope with 3 or 4 voodoos to create fully variable support legs for monopods with a minimum of equipment.

Set it up, play with it, try to figure it out and share it with your friends.