The Basic Knots
Like many boys and girls across the world, my introduction to many of the outdoor skills I know today was through scouting, Cub Scouts to be specific. I never advanced beyond the four levels of the cub-scout to the Boy Scouts, but I did learn a few useful skills along the way. Tying knots was one of those.
I suppose I have always had an affinity for knots, as I remember making up my own on road trips to pass the time. I still find that if a rogue piece of string, line or rope crosses my path, I'm inspired to tie off a few of my favorites before moving on.
In this guide I'll provide some refreshers for those who have forgotten the knots of the scouts, and teach basic knots to folks who never learned. Each one of the knots has its time and place, so note when to use them and for what purpose. Oh, and please forgive (or appreciate!) at the artwork... I drew the diagrams myself.
The overhand knot is the first knot most of us learn. It's the most widely known knot, and has its uses, but they don't stray far from just the basic tying of shoes and quick tie offs where reliability has little consequence.
When you tie this twice you end up with the granny knot, I will not depict that here as it is the lesser of the two ways to tie what we often refer to as a double knot. Many knots have a weak and a strong form; For the overhand knot, the granny is the weak form, and the square knot is the strong form. The easiest way to tie this, as I recently taught my wife, Cheri, is to tie the overhand knot, then tie it again but do it the opposite way so it feels uncomfortable; If right side goes over left, then reverse it and do left over right. In the end it should look like this:
I'll be using two different rope colors to show how two ropes can be connected, but this could easily be the same rope tied to itself. Just imagine a loop that extends from the bottom right (yellow) end, off to the right down under and connects to the bottom left (red) end. Or just watch the video here.
With a very slight increase in complexity, you'll unlock a powerful set of knots that will meet 70 percent of all your knot-tying needs. The Figure 8 is perhaps the singular foundational knot that unlocks climbing, rescue... and overall impressive knot tying chops.
On its own, the Figure 8 is of little use. But mastering the art of the follow through unlocks its true potential. The follow through of the Figure 8 can be used to join to a rope of similar diameter (note the sheet bend is specially designed for dissimilar sized ropes), it can be used to make a loop in the rope for use as a prusik loop, it can form a loop around your harness when rock climbing, and much more. The follow through is performed by taking another line or a free end of the same line and simply retracing your way through the knot. Start at one end, follow the strand through the Figure 8, and pull tight. In the end, it will look like this... when done correctly.
For creating a loop, start with a Figure 8, but leave the loose end long. Take that free loose end and go back into the knot where you exited the first time. (For clarity, the rope in the below diagram changes color so you can track the follow through.)
In the below image, imagine one end of the rope is extremely long, maybe attaching to an anchor high up on a rock face, and that the loop you made goes through your harness.
Additionally, instead of following back in the way you came out, you can also follow back through the start of the knot, creating a nice loop.
Lastly, there is a shortcut for creating a loop at the end of the line, when you have access to a clip like a carabiner.
While on the topic of loops, a staple knot of any outdoorist should be the Bowline knot. This knot is a favorite of mine, used in all types of situations where a quick loop needs to be tied. Like all good knots, it releases as easily as it's tied. Imagine a scene, like in "The Man from Snowy River", where you find yourself stuck on a ledge in a thunderstorm and someone tosses you a rope. This is the knot you'd tie around your waist or as a foot loop to get hauled up. One way to test yourself is to tie it one handed and blindfold; Practice that, and this knot will never leave your memory.
As kids, we learned it from the perspective of a fox, rabbit or squirrel. In this case, I made the end into a fox-head for your pleasure. First you make a hole, then the fox runs up through the hole, around the tree, and back down the hole.
The sheet bend is an often overlooked knot, but given its most common uses, it's more critical than most of knots depicted here. The sheet bend is the only knot I use when tying two ropes together. Its super power is its ability to attach two dissimilar lines, in either material or diameter. Many of the knots depicted above work great when the line is consistent, but they'll fail when two lines of different diameters are used. This is a real safety issue when you are relying on the knot in an emergency. With the sheet bend, the larger rope or line would be the red one.
When extra security is required, perform the final step an additional time (two complete wraps). Note: This image is the same knot but viewed from the opposite side.
The final knot in the series is a clove hitch. The clove hitch is great for tying off to a rail; think bumper to a boat, horse to a rail, tarp to a tree branch. The clove hitch is a simple but effective knot for this simple task.
Stay tuned to this blog and the app, as we are working on making all this content available within the app so you can use it on your next adventure.