Knot tying is an essential skill to have not only for getting outdoors, but also for general life. How many times have you defaulted to tying a double knot because you didn’t know what else to do? I know I’ve strapped a few sheets of plywood to the roof of my car with only a double knot and hopes and prayers keeping it from flipping off down I-70.
If I had known a few knot tying techniques beforehand I could have securely cinched everything down and known with much more certainty that everything was going to hold. To keep my Home Depot purchases intact, as well as my tent on future camping trips, I decided it would be beneficial to learn some proper knots to add to my mental toolbox.
As I started to look into different ways to tie knots, I learned there’s a lot more to it. To begin with, I just assumed that the phrase ‘tying a knot’ was all encompassing when it comes to what you can do with string and rope, but alas I was wrong. I’ve seen some reference guides refer to everything as ‘rope management’, but for the sake of simplicity and to expunge any snobbery from this, let’s stick to just calling all of this ‘knot tying.’
One of the first things to know when it comes to knots is that there are more than just knots; There are also hitches. Each of these require a manipulation of the rope, and may result in similar outcomes, but they’ll act in different ways.
A knot is a tied piece of rope that can hold its shape on its own. Most often knots are used to join two pieces of rope together, prevent the movement of the rope (by creating a stop) or to create a loop for the sake of hanging something or securing a line.
One important note about knots is that they reduce the strength of the rope. Most common knots leave the rope with 60-80% of its original tensile strength. That being said, many ropes are rated for thousands of pounds, so even with this weakening they are still more than capable of holding up to the stresses put on them. Just be aware of this and be mindful of the types of ropes you use in certain situations.
A hitch is an adjustable knot that is used when you need to bind a rope to another object. That object could be another rope, a carabiner, or a post. This is why the term hitching post exists. It’s a post that something can be tethered, or hitched, to.
Another term that comes up often is bight. A bight is any section of rope that is bent into a U-shape. A piece of rope pulled taught in a straight line has no bight, but if you create a semi-circle section in the rope, that section is the bight. If you tie a knot in the bight, you can create a usable loop.
Start Tying Knots
To get started with tying knots, I signed up for a class on AIM Adventure University. This site has many classes on all aspects of the outdoors, covering a wide range of topics like skiing steeps, outdoor photography, plant identification, and navigation.
The class I took, Essential Outdoor Knots, is broken up into a few sections and covers rope fundamentals, an introduction to knots, must know knots and hitches, as well as a few extras. In total, they cover 12 knots and hitches.
Through May 15, 2020 this class is free (normally $30) with the code BEWELL. Sign up before then and you’ll get access to the class through June 7th.
Here are a few useful knots and hitches I learned. The screen grabs are from the actual class so you can see how they walk you through the knots. The link below each knot will take you to Animated Knots, a site that shows step by step how to tie each of these knots, or another source.
A Few Essential Outdoor Knots
Learn how to tie the bowline knot
Overhand on a Bight Knot
Learn how to tie an overhand on a bight knot
How to tie a girth hitch
This one took me a lot of attempts! Learn how to tie a truckers hitch
Resources for Learning Knot Tying
Besides signing up for the class, there are plenty of resources out there to help you learn how to tie knots.
- REI’s Climbing Knots Guide
- Head over to YouTube for plenty of video tutorials