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8 Essential Knots You Should Know – Survival Skills

Updated on July 14, 2017
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Know Your Knots

Knot tying is a skill that many have not yet mastered even though it is an invaluable asset that could possibly save a life.

Just by learning some of these essential knots, you will be able to handle most knot tying scenarios with ease; be it securing a simple load or the more extreme life-or-death rescue mission. It is a good habit to practise them regularly so as not to forget them.

The following 8 knots are some of the most useful to know and can be applied in a variety of situations.

1. Overhand Knot (aka Thumb Knot)

This basic knot is one of the primary knots that forms the basis of several others.

Uses: It is used as a stopper to prevent the rope end from fraying when made at the end of the rope. It also has a jamming ability when tied tightly against an object or another knot, such as securing items to a post or tying shoelaces.

Limitations: Can be difficult to loosen after it has been loaded.

How to tie: Form a loop and pass one end of the rope through the loop. Pull on the ends to secure.

Overhand Knot

Overhand knot
Overhand knot

2. Double Overhand Knot

This is an overhand knot where the first turn is repeated to create an even larger more secure stopper knot.

Uses: It is an even more secure stopper knot to use at the end of a rope. It can be tied directly after other knots as a safety measure to increase their security.

Limitations: It is very difficult to untie after being loaded.

How to tie: Form a loop and pass one end of the rope through the loop, repeat by passing the end through the loop a second time. Pull on the ends to secure.

Double Overhand Knot

Double overhand knot
Double overhand knot

3. Reef Knot (aka Square Knot)

This knot joins two ends of a single rope together or two separate pieces of rope of the same thickness together. It also teaches the fundamental process for tying other knots.

Uses: For securing non-critical items in place, such as a load that is not expected to move around too much. Additionally, it is used in securing rope around an object such as tying a string around a single package, and also tying the laces on your shoes. This is a popular knot used by sailors for tying the reefing points on a sail

Limitations: It is inferior compared to others and may loosen during movement. It is, therefore, best not to use this type in securing critical items. It should rather be avoided for joining two separate pieces of rope together because it is not entirely safe and can come apart easily.

How to tie: Take two ends of a rope and cross them right over left. Tuck the right end behind the left and bring the ends back towards each other. Cross the ends, left over right. Tuck the left end behind the right. Pull the ends to secure.

Reef Knot

Reef Knot
Reef Knot

4. Figure 8 Knot (aka Flemish Knot)

Like the overhand knot, this type of stopper also jams secure when loaded, but is much easier to untie. It is sometimes preferred to the overhand, due to it being larger, stronger and more secure. It is the fundamental knot for tying the figure eight on a bight and figure eight follow-through.

Uses: This is a quick and easy stopper used to prevent rope slipping out of sight, and helps in sailing and climbing as a method for stopping ropes from running out of retaining devices. Its uses include rigging, jewellery making, and decorative purposes.

Limitations: Temporary stopper that suits light applications only.

How to tie: Take one end of the rope and pass it under itself to create a loop. Continue over and around the standing part of the rope and complete by passing the end through the loop. Pull both ends to secure. The finished knot resembles a figure 8.

Figure 8 Knot

Figure 8 knot
Figure 8 knot

5. Figure 8 on a Bight (aka Figure 8 Loop or Flemish Loop)

This knot can be made anywhere in a rope by using a bight of rope and therefore doesn’t typically have to be at the end of a rope like some of the other knots. A bight is a slack section of rope that forms a u-shape between two ends. It is a versatile knot that is fail-safe for light to moderate loads. It is quick and easy to tie.

Uses: This knot forms a loop that slips over or clips into an object. It is useful for rescue work, for lowering or hoisting objects, rock-climbing, caving, and even decorative purposes.

Limitations: Can jam and become difficult to untie after loading.

How to tie: Take a bight of rope and pass the bight end under itself to create a loop. Continue over and around the standing part of the rope and complete by passing the end through the loop. Pull both ends to secure.

Figure 8 on a Bight

Figure 8 on a bight
Figure 8 on a bight

6. Figure 8 Follow-Through

This knot is extremely strong and the secure loop is made at the end of the rope. It is advisable to leave enough tail as the knot may slip a bit once loaded. To further secure this knot, follow it by tying a stopper knot.

Uses: This knot is widely used in rock climbing, caving, fire-fighting, and can be used to tie two pieces of rope together. Unlike the Figure 8 on a Bight, the loop is tied directly around an object or through a ring.

Limitations: Can jam badly and become difficult to untie after heavy loading.

How to tie: Tie a loose figure 8 knot leaving a significant amount of extra tail. Loop the tail around the object and then follow the original figure 8 around the entire knot in reverse. Take the end behind the large loop and exit alongside the standing end of rope. Pull on both ends to secure. The end result will look like a figure 8 on a bight.

Figure 8 Follow-Through

Figure 8 follow-through
Figure 8 follow-through

7. Bowline Knot

This knot forms a secure non-slipping loop at the end of a rope that is easy to tie and untie. It is a reliable, strong, and can be tied with one hand. Due to it being easily untied when not under load, it is advisable to always follow with a backup (safety) knot such as an overhand knot.

Uses: Often used in rescue situations, for example, people who have fallen down a cliff or hole. Being able to tie it with one hand is a great advantage in rescue where a person may have an injured arm. It is also used in sailing, for general purposes and tying two pieces of rope together.

Limitations: Has the tendency to work itself loose when not under load.

How to tie: Create a loop with the end of rope. Pass the end through the loop, around the standing part of the rope, and back through the loop. Pull to tighten.

Bowline Knot

Bowline knot
Bowline knot

8. Round Turn and Two Half Hitches

This very secure knot is made by wrapping the end of a rope around a fixed object and using the two half hitches to secure the it in place. The firm grip created by this knot stops the rope from slipping around or along the object it is tied to. It is quick and easy to tie and untie.

Important note: A Half hitch is a simple knot that should never be used on its own. It forms a supporting role in securing other primary knots such as the Round turn and two half hitches.

Uses: Used to secure a rope to a fixed object such as tying a swing to a tree. It is useful when tying a rope that is under tension or times where the rope needs to be pulled tight, for example, building a monkey bridge. It is a great all-round knot and is often used in boating.

Limitations: None

How to tie: Pass the end around the fixed object, then pass it around a second time. Cross the end over the standing part of the rope, and pass through the loop to form the first half hitch. Cross the end over the standing part again, and pass through the loop to form the second half hitch. Pull the on the rope and end to tighten.

Round Turn and Two Half Hitches

Round turn and two half hitches
Round turn and two half hitches

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