How-To: Tips for Opening and Closing Barb Wire Gates

Wyatt Houston

Author: TJ Paulsen |  Published: January 30, 2023 |  Category: How-To

Hikers will run into more gates than you might expect across the high desert. TJ Paulsen completed the entire 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail on bike and foot over the 2021-22 seasons and shared these helpful tips to help you understand how to safely manage the sometimes unruly wire fence gates you will encounter along the route.


I grew up in rural Eastern Oregon and learned at an early age a few tips about barb wire gates. As I hiked and biked the Oregon Desert Trail, I was reminded how challenging some gates could be and I thought sharing these tips with other trekkers of the ODT might help make the trip a little less frustrating and possibly save them from getting held up by a gate that is difficult to open or close.

Since we are discussing gates, let me first provide a reminder about the rule for gates. Always leave the gate the same way as you found it. Don’t leave it open, or assume that it should be closed if found open. Not following this rule could put animals in danger by not allowing them access to drinking water or allowing animals to forage in areas that could harm them, or the plants and soils there.

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John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

Restoration is hard slow work. It takes hold, or it doesn’t, in fits and starts. The immensity of the need can be discouraging, but we must carry on. I am so thankful ONDA carries on.

Opening and Closing Barb Wire Gates

Barb wire gates are held closed by two loops of wire, sometimes it’s smooth wire, but could also be barbed. The top and bottom loops will be stapled to the anchor post but free moving on the gate post. The gate will usually be located between two H-braces.

Fence wire gate components

Most of the time you can simply push the gate post toward the anchor post with one hand and lift the top loop off the post with the other hand to open the gate. Sometimes, however, the strands of wire on the gate are too tight and you will not be able to push hard enough to lift the loop off the post to open it.

wire gate loops

If you’re lucky, a tight gate will have a cheater. A cheater is a small post or handle, typically made of wood, but could be a metal pipe or other solid length of material that is attached with wire to the anchor post. The cheater can be found hanging freely from the anchor post or placed across the gate, held in place with one of the strands of wire.

Use a cheater as a lever to push the gate post toward the anchor post and more easily lift off the top loop and open the gate. Do this by placing the short end of the cheater across the gate post and, while holding it parallel to the ground, push the long end toward, and possibly through, the gate. This lever motion pushes the gate post and creates slack in the loop so you can more easily lift it off the post. A cheater should never be used alone to keep the gate closed. Always use the top loop to keep the gate closed.

If the gate is tight and you don’t have a cheater, get better leverage by reaching around the gate post and putting your hand on the backside of the anchor post. Then put your shoulder against the gate post and use it push, and your hand to pull, the gate post toward the anchor post. Lift the top loop off with your free hand.

To reclose the gate, make sure the bottom of the gate post is in the bottom loop then do the reverse of what you did to open it and put the top loop over the post to hold it closed.

Closing the gate

Beware: I find that a tight barb wire gate is always harder to close than it is to open; it’s just physics. To avoid leaving a gate open that you are unable to close, you’ll need to improvise. Sometimes you can find some extra wire near the gate that you can use to hold it in place. Otherwise, be sure to pack a length of nylon cord with your gear so you can use it to hold the gate at least somewhat closed.

Barb wire gates aren’t complicated, just tight sometimes. Hopefully, these tips will keep you from getting held up by them and get you moving on the trail again without problems.