Whole bunch of knot-sense


Common image via GIS

Confession time. Until I started climbing, my knowledge of knots was terrible.

I could do a passable square knot and an overhand knot (the generic knot most of us know)…….and could tie my laces.

My brief career in Boy Scouts left me with vague memories of a bowline and a taut-line hitch.  But I could not reproduce them if I tried.

I muddled along, set up my shelters and/or tied down gear with some less-than-stellar knot tying.

So, when I started climbing, knowing how to tie certain knots was not just useful, but mandatory. If I quite literally did not want to fall to my death, I had to make damn sure the knots were tied correctly.

After a tutelage by some friends in a garage one night (I supplied the beer), I mastered the figure-eight, the clove hitch, a slip knot and a passable Prusik knot.   Since I am typing this article, their insistence on knowing the knots was probably a good thing.

PCO of Mark T.  someone thanks you, too.

The climbing lead me to re-discovering the knots our Assistant Scout Master Mr. Johnson taught us but had forgotten.

As I was reading the classic The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher,  I noticed his section on knots. It was short, to the point and not a lot of info. Just the basics.

And I think that is the crux of what was written 30+ years ago. For non-technical pursuits, trying to memorize the knots can seem to be intimidating. Pages upon web pages and YouTube videos of all the different knots. (What the hell’s a Celtic button knot???) 

But knowing a few basic knots can be enough to set up a shelter, tie down some gear and perform quick field repair with cordage.

These knots are not for technical pursuits such as climbing. I’ll leave that to the more qualified others.  These are just some simple knots for hiking, camping and backpacking that also happen to have some crossover use in “real life”.

There are plenty of web pages and videos describing how to perform the knots, so you will not see my banged up hands tying the knots for you. Why re-invent the wheel???

So, here are some knots I find useful.  I am sure there are better and/or more efficient ones. But these work well in keeping it simple while being functional.


I will not be describing the Gordian knot…  ( From Dictionary.com )

  • Overhand knot:  The basic knot everyone knows. Use it for a stop knot at the end of the rope in conjunction with another knot.
  • Square knot: Another basic knot.  Useful for tying off bags or similar bundles quickly.
  • Bowline:  Superior to the two knots above. Good for securing one end of a rope to something that is permanent (such as a grommet). A very good knot to know. This is the knot with the famous “the bunny goes out of the whole and around the tree…”  mnemonic.
  • Girth hitchGood for adding a quick and dirty zipper pull to gear among other uses such as hanging up something from a line.
  • Slip knot: A good basic knot that comes undone quickly. Useful for setting up a shelter or when tying down something in conjunction with a trucker’s hitch (see below)
  • Figure Eight: For climbing, it is tied as following-through knot. For camping/backpacking uses, it is often tied “on a bight”. A very strong knot. Good for attaching a ‘biner to the bight or using the knot as the pulley in a trucker’s hitch when securing heavier loads.
  • Clove Hitch: I use this knot only for climbing personally. I know some hammock campers like it for attaching the hammock to the ‘biners to be anchored in securely…which is what I use it for essentially while climbing.
  • Trucker’s Hitch: Another useful hitch.  A little more involved than the Taut Line hitch, but very good for really ratcheting down tension or securing loads. Essentially two knots in one. Has a pulley system. Commonly tied with a figure eight on a bight or with a slip knot.  Not quite as easily adjustable as the Tautline Hitch or a Midshipan’s Hitch, but it is better for tension and, again, heavier loads.

So there you go. Some good basic knots for all kinds of purposes. There are more and perhaps better knots. For my hiking, backpacking and camping needs, I find these knots work well however.

Still need some help remember knots? This little video may help… 🙂

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9 years ago

And If all else fails, put some rocks on top of it to hold it down…

9 years ago

Trad climbing and raft guiding lent me some pretty wicked knot skills. I can rig 20 bowling balls to the back of a bear, no problems. One time deep in the wilds of Appalachia (a 4 mi walk to a 2 mi hitch) the shoulder strap of my pack ripped out when it fell off a picnic table. Ended up hiking 2 weeks with this fix that took five badass minutes. http://i.imgur.com/mCl71oy.jpg

9 years ago

Andrew Skurka’s McCarthy hitch is a handy way to secure a tarp or tent tieout if you’ve got enough cord. The Slippery Sheet Bend is a good way to attach cords for long tieouts. The trucker’s hitch is usually tied as a slippery hitch. Some knots are for convenience, others are for security.

Another Kevin
8 years ago

I agree with you almost 100%. I’d add the Prusik to the list – and you already have it in the text. There’s nothing quite like it for adjusting a ridge line, and there’s always the possibility that someday, somewhere, you might need to tie into a static line. (I’ve been on a trip where those of us who had crampons rigged a static line for the ones who had just microspikes, and the microspikers Prusik’ed up the line one at a time.) I might replace the clove hitch with a constrictor knot. It’s more secure and doesn’t jam quite… Read more »