Whether you’re a first-time learner or just need a little refresh, these three basic knots and the knowledge to tie them are good skills to keep in your back pocket.
I recently asked my girlfriend to list her top three favorite knots. She responded: “Pretzel knots, garlic knots and um…apricot twists?!” After finding something to satisfy her appetite, I sat down to think about tying knots.
If my girlfriend’s response tells us anything, it’s that knot craft is a bit of a dying art in our modern world. I would probably still be uneducated in the art of knots if I had never been an Outward Bound Instructor. In the backcountry, I needed to be able to quickly anchor a canoe to a tree or tighten down a tarp seconds before a torrential downpour. When I returned to the front country, I found my basic knot proficiency to be beneficial to my life, as well as to my friends and family.
Even if you think you’ll never need to know how to tie a knot in your life, it can still be handy to have a passing knowledge of a few of the most useful ones. Here are three different knots to get you started!
Bowline – The All-Purpose Knot for the Outdoors
After asking many outdoor professionals for their opinion on the most useful knots, the bowline (pronounced “bo-lin”) showed up time and time again. Whether you’re boating, climbing, camping, sailing or needing to tie something with one hand–there’s a lot to love about “The King of Knots.”
The bowline is perfect for creating a fixed loop at the end of a rope. This can be used to fasten a line around an object, like a pole or a tree, or can be the start of a more complex system of knots, such as creating a drying line with the addition of a trucker’s hitch. It is relatively simple to tie, provides ample strength and is easy to untie even after bearing a heavy load. Many common uses include:
- Anchoring a boat to a stationary object
- Holding up a tarp or hammock
- Attaching the guy lines of a tent or tarp
Tying a bowline is a simple matter once you wrap your head around the basic architecture.
Figure-Eight Follow-Through Knot – Basic Climbing 101
If you’ve ever climbed, or plan on climbing, then you’ll most likely use a figure-eight follow-through knot. As something of an industry standard in the climbing world, it’s easy to tie, doesn’t slip, is stronger than a bowline and is easy to visually inspect for safety before climbing. It is often one of the first knots that beginner climbers learn to tie.
The figure-eight follow-through begins as a simple figure-eight knot. As the name implies, this knot resembles the shape of the number eight. A figure-eight knot can also be used as a stopper knot in the standing end of your belay line, the rope securing you while you climb.
A Note on Redundancy
Redundancy is any component of a system not strictly necessary or functional, but that adds an extra layer of protection and backup in case any one component fails. A stopper knot is an example of redundancy. In this case, if the belayer were to lose control of the belay line, the stopper knot would prohibit the entire line from coming loose from their climbing gear.
To continue tying a figure-eight follow-through from a basic figure-eight knot, you will, you guessed it, follow it back through! The working end will loop around your belay loop on your harness and then be passed back in the opposite direction through the figure-eight knot.
Once you have tied your figure-eight follow-through, have your belayer check to make sure that you have tied it correctly as part of your climbing safety check before proceeding to the climbing wall.
The Trucker’s Hitch – For Keeping Things Sturdy and Secure
What’s the difference between a knot and a hitch?
- A knot joins two ropes together or a rope to itself. It will hold shape regardless of it being fixed to something else. If you tie a bowline around a carabiner, but then remove the carabiner, the bowline will stay tied and maintain its shape because it is a knot.
- A hitch is used to fix a rope to another object, such as a pole or another rope, and relies on that object to hold it together. If you tie a clove hitch around a carabiner, but then remove the carabiner, the clove hitch will undo itself because it is a hitch.
The Number One Hitch to Know
The trucker’s hitch is arguably the most useful hitch because it provides a mechanical advantage that allows you to cinch a line very tightly. This makes the trucker’s hitch invaluable for all sorts of camping activities like these examples below.
- Your setting out on an adventure and your gear doesn’t fit inside the car. Maybe you have a kayak or extra luggage that you need to secure to your roof? The trucker’s hitch allows you to securely stow your extra gear there.
- A rainstorm is coming your way. Use a trucker’s hitch to set up a taut ridgeline that will provide sturdy support so that your tarp doesn’t sag under the weight of the rain.
- Didn’t get that tarp up in time? A line between two trees, one end secured with a bowline and the other with a trucker’s hitch, makes an excellent drying line for wet clothes.
A trucker’s hitch can be more complicated to tie than the bowline or the figure-eight follow-through, but what it lacks in ease, it more than makes up for in usefulness. The trucker’s hitch forms a crude block and tackle (two pulleys) that provides a mechanical advantage and doubles your pulling strength.
Beware though! After learning this knot, your friends may call you whenever they need help moving so that you can secure their stuff for them!
The only way to get better at knots is to try your hand at them. Some people find that they have a mind for knots–they can figure them out and understand how they work in their minds’ eyes. Others can try and reason with a knot forever, but in the end, have to rely sheerly on muscle memory gained through tireless repetition. Whatever your method, your life will be enhanced with a basic understanding of a few knots. Start with these.
About the Author
Christian Vogelgesang has been instructing for the North Carolina Outward Bound School for over two years. His favorite part about the job is watching a crew rise to meet a challenge. When he isn’t instructing, he can be found playing music or playing pranks.
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