Outdoors and Wilderness Survival

Survival Knots You Should Know How to Tie

loop knot

Everyone uses knots all the time and a lot can depend on your ability to make them. Thinking that lots of hitches are a substitute for real knowledge is a common mistake and the old adage ‘if you can’t tie a knot, just tie a lot’ is likely to get you into trouble.

This list contains all the knots you are likely to need, along with some variations and a few bad, common knots included as warnings. It is a much longer list than others you may have read, and this is intentional.

There is no substitute for real knowledge and it is far better to know and not need a knot than to need it and not know it. Anybody reading this will know the value of having the right tool for the job and knowledge weighs nothing, so learn all of the knots you can!

Terminology

Knots have their own language. There are so many knots, of such different kinds that it would very confusing to simply have ‘knots’ made in ‘rope’. There are different words for each type and part of a knot, for how they are made, and what they are made in.

The following is a general glossary to help you better understand the instructions given for the linked knots. Obvious terms like ‘binding knot’ (a knot for binding things together!) have been excluded for brevity.

Line is what knots are tied in.

  • Rope is technically a raw material made by twisting or braiding Strands (bundles of fibres) together. As soon as it is cut, or tied, or given a use or purpose it becomes line (in most situations it probably becomes a line, with a specific name to differentiate from others, like ridgeline, or halyard or guyline).
  • Laid rope or line is made by twisting the strands of materials together.
  • Braided rope or line is made by braiding or weaving the strands together.

The Working End is the end of the line which is being used to tie the knot. It is normally the end you would hold and move about in tying.

  • Similarly, the Working Part is that part of the line being moved. It refers generally to the length of line between the working end and the knot.

The Standing End is the other end, which is not actively moved in the tying process.

  • The Standing Part is the part near the standing end, the part around which the working end is passed to make the knot.

A Bight is either:

  • The part of the line between the ends, the middle section.
  • A deliberately curved section of the line.

A Loop is either:

  • (in tying) where the line crosses itself (the point where it actually crosses is called the Crossing Part, but the result is a ‘loop’ of line).
  • A type of knot which forms a stable, continuous circuit of line.

A Turn is where the line is wrapped once around something like a post or pole.

A Round Turn is two turns, or two full wraps around a post or pole.

The Tail is the end of the line which comes out the knot at the end, once it has been tied.

An Anchor is a strong, secure point which the line can be secured to.

A Hitch is a knot for securing the line to an anchor point.

A Bend is a knot for joining two lines together, usually at the ends.

If a knot Jams it becomes impossible to untie with fingers and nails.

A knot is Slipped if it is tied in such a way that pulling on the working end opens it up / unties it.

Splicing is securely connecting parts of lines by interweaving their strands, or pulling the braided lines through themselves.

anatomy of a knot

Knots Weaken Rope

Rope is made to be strong when pulled in one direction: along its length. When you make a knot and apply force, within the knot the line will be stressed across the rope’s materials, as it curves. This massively reduces the strength of a line at the knot, sometimes by up to 80%.

For a good allegory, think about how difficult it is to pull a pencil in two pieces by pulling on the ends in the direction of the grain of the wood, (the direction of its strength) compared with how easy it is to snap it in half across the grain.

Remember this if ever relying on a line for anything. If it’s important, get your hands on a line with a rated manufactured breaking strain, and for safety’s sake make sure the rating is many times above the strain you expect the line to actually need to handle.

Note on Splicing

Splicing weakens lines far less than knotting, and so could be considered to be a stronger way of achieving the same thing (splices can be made to join lines, and form loops in lines).

Wherever possible and practical, it is better to splice permanently than to tie a knot, though splicing is a vast topic, beyond this article to deal with. You can learn more about it from the further resources at the end.

Survival Knots You May Want to Know

End Loop Knots

These are knots for making a loop or loops in the end of a line, for securing a line to something where the line will not always be under load (like a bag to be hoisted, but which will sometimes be on the ground with the line slack). You will probably end up using these most often, so learn them well.

  • • Bowline (‘standard’ way) A good, easy to tie end loop
  • Bowline (tied one handed with the anchor some way in front of you) a different method for tying a standard bowline very fast in specific circumstances
  • Bowline (tied one handed with the anchor nearer to you than the knot, or behind you) a different method for tying a standard bowline very fast in specific circumstances
  • Lightning Bowline a way of tying the bowline but making the loop last
  • Kalmyk Loop (‘standard’ way) a quick-to-tie quick release loop
  • Kalmyk Loop (tied free in hand with the anchor nearer to you than the knot, or behind you) a kalmyk loop without tying around something
  • Zeppelin Loop – loop variant of the wonderful Zeppelin bend
  • Double Knotted Bowline, an extra secure bowline
  • Water Bowline, an extra secure bowline
  • HFP ‘Slippery 8’ elegant and simple adjustable size loop knot
  • Karash Double Loop (and the harness which can be made with it) search-and-rescue double loop knot for making harnesses

Mid Loop Knots

Mid loops are knots which produce a loop in the middle of the rope. a s such, they can all be tied on the bight without using the ends. They are mostly useful as connection point, between ropes and other ropes or hardware like shackles and carabiners.

Of course, all mid loops can be used as end loops, by tying the knot very close to the end of the line, but what distinguishes them is that they do not need the ends for tying, so can be easily tied right in the middle of a line.

  • Butterfly Loop (and its variants with two or more loops) very strong versatile mid loop with ends exiting opposite each other
  • Figure of Eight on a Bight (or rethreaded) very mid loop with ends exiting next to each other, parallel
  • Directional Figure of Eight mid loop which lays along the line of the rope it is tied in (good for making the Trucker’s Hotch and Versatackle)
  • Angler’s Loop (also called the Mid-line Bowline and Perfection Loop) very quick to tie loop, lays at 30°-45° to the line it is tied in
  • Bowline on the Bight – bowline variant which can be tied without ends and makes two loops on top of each other
  • Spanish Bowline bowline variant which can be tied without ends and makes two loops opposite each other
  • Triple Bowline – bowline variant with three loops
  • Double Dragon (and its variants with two or more loops) very strong mid loop which can easily be made extra secure.

Hitch Knots

A hitch is a knot for securing a line to an object. All knots which are considered hitches will draw up close around the object (or can if adjusted correctly), which distinguishes them from ‘loops’, which form loops of fixed size which do (or should!) not change under tension.

However, all loop knots can make a loop which is snug around an object, so most loops can be used as hitches if necessary, especially when the knot is unlikely to move away from where it was tied.

For example, a bowline in place of a hitch would be fine if tying onto a secure ring, because it would be impossible for the bowline to slip out of the ring (presuming it was tied correctly), so it wouldn’t matter if it didn’t draw up tight, so long as it was secure.

bad choice for an end loop knot

An end loop (a bowline) is not a great choice here, as it might slip off.

On the other hand, a loop would be no good for tying securely onto a slippery pole, because it could easily slide off the end (especially if it was not very tight), so a hitch which tightens up snug around the pole would be better.

clove hitch knot

A (Clove) hitch will perform much better.

On the other hand again, when securing a line to non-round object, especially if it will not slip out (like the clew of a sail, a key ring, or the lanyard hole in the end of a knife) then a loop is often better because it will stay strong even though it does bind evenly around the surface it is tied on (as a hitch would on a smooth, round surface).

loop knot

In general, then: hitches are good for round poles, rings, and situations where it is absolutely necessary the line draw up tight. Loops are for irregular shapes and closed tying points.

  • Death’ Gripper Hitch. Very strong slide-and-grip hitch, though quite complex to tie
  • Clove Hitch – good simple for tying to circular-cross section objects
  • Icicle Hitch – simpler slide-and-grip hitch, strong enough for most situations
  • Barrel Hitch simple knot – for hoisting a barrel or bucket upright
  • Four Legged Barrel Sling – more sophisticated way to hoist a barrel. More stable and secure, but more complex to make.
  • Boom Hitch – very secure variant of the Clove Hitch, good for more permanent applications
  • Round Turn and Two Half Hitches – very quick, strong hitch which can be tied and untied under load
  • Timber Hitch – easy hitch for hauling circular cross-section objects
  • Pile Hitch – quick hitch for tying line to a post (great for use with very long lines because it doesn’t require the ends)
  • Tumble Hitch – secure, quick-release hitch
  • Falconer’s Knot quick release hitch qhich can be tied with one hand (if the other hand is busy, e.g. holding a falcon, which needs to be tethered to a perch)
  • Tugboat Hitch – quick hitch with a similar concept to the pile hitch. Very strong and doesn’t need the ends.
  • Prusik Knot – slide and grip attachment point or stopper on a line or similar object. Many applications in climbing, caving and diving.
  • Farrimond Hitch – adjustable hitch for making tight tent and tarp lines

Binding Knots

Often confused with hitches, binding knots are knots used to secure a bundle or loose objects or fabric together. When pulled tight, they exert force down into the centre of the bundle, holding it tight.

‘Friction’ binding knots hold the bundle with the friction between the turns of the line around the bundle, whereas ‘knotted end’ knots have the two ends tied together.

Generally, the first type is easier to tighten, but requires many turns so is better for smaller bundle (because many turns around a small object is still not much line) whereas the second is better for bigger loads (because passing a line multiple times around a large load needs a lot more line).

  • Constrictor Knot. Very strong (though difficult to untie) binding knot for convex objects
  • Boa Knot – extra secure variant of the constrictor knot with more turns
  • Reef Knot. Binding knot with the ends tied together, good for when multiple turns around an object are impractical
  • Chain Stitch Lashing – quick binding without ends for long, thin bundles

Bends

In general, it is better if possible to just use a longer line than two together. All knots weaken the line they are tied in to some extent, and will make it ‘lumpier’ and more unwieldy if passing through pulleys or small holes like the guides in a fishing rod.

That said, sometimes it is necessary to join two lines for length or because two lines with different characteristics are needed (most commonly in fishing, where several different lines are joined in succession).

One way to classify different bends is how they join the lines. Some bends are essentially a hitch of one line onto another, or a bight or loop of another. These include the Nail Knot and Albright Knot and to some extent the Sheet bend and Becket Hitch.

These are the knots to use for joining very different lines: generally the thicker line is the one being hitched to (so you will manipulate it far less in the tying process) and the thinner or more slippery line is the one with which most of the knot is actually tied.

The rest of the bends (except the Bowline Bend, which is a special case) are ‘proper’ knots, where the two lines interact more. These are often stronger, but only for lines of similar diameters. They are not recommended for lines of different diameters.

  • Fisherman’s Bend very secure bend, though prone to jamming
  • Zeppelin Bend very strong, secure bend, impossible to jam. Probably the best bend ever!
  • Sheet Bend quick, easy bend
    • Strap Bend (AKA Midspan Sheet Bend) good way to connect the middles of different lines, without need of the ends
  • Water Knot bend for flat tapes
  • Bowline Bend two interlinked bowlines, good for very different sizes of line
  • Adjustable Grip Bend bend which takes up an adjustable length of line
  • Nail Knot bend for hitching a very thin line to a thicker line (popular for making fishing tackle setups)
  • Albright Knot bend of a very thin line to a thicker line. More secure than the nail knot

Stoppers

Stopper knots are large lumpy knots, normally made at the end of a line, to stop the end passing through something (a block, pulley, hole etc.) which the line travels through.

They can also be made around the standing part of a line after another knot, to stop the working end being pulled backwards and the knot opening (this is very common practice among climbers and search and rescue personnel).

Placement

Common practice is to ‘clap on’ (as C. Ashley would say) a stopper at the very end of a line leaving only enough of a tail to make sure it doesn’t come out:

stopper knot

This will achieve what the knot is meant for: it stops the end of the line being pulled through wherever the line goes.

However, in situations where this is actually useful (a sailor controlling a runaway sail where the line has jumped out of their hands, or a rigger securing a load from falling too far) the next thing the person in question wants to do is generally to pull the line back in (i.e. to pull the stopper knot away from the block, hole etc.).

It is very difficult to get enough purchase to do this if the tail is only an inch long!

So when using a stopper knot in a situation like above, it is often a good idea to tie it a good way (perhaps as much as several feet) back from the end, to have some line with which to pull if the stopper knot ever actually becomes important.

pulling the stopper knot

Pictures in this guide all have short tails to make it easier to see the structure of the knot.

Lashings

Lashings are used to secure two objects (normally long thin things like poles) together as rigidly as possible. They are useful for building, and for securing large objects for transport or safety semi-permanently. For security the most important thing is to get the lashing and frapping turns tight.

  • Square Lashing – used to secure two poles at right angles
  • Transom Knot – quick way to secure poles at right angles, good as a temporary fix until a better lashing can be made
  • Round Lashing – used to secure poles parallel to each other
  • Shear Lashing – used to secure two poles at an acute
  • Tripod Lashing – used to make a secure tripod from three poles

Miscellaneous

These are the knots, compound knots and rope-structures which are so useful that they IhadI to be included, but which don’t really fit anywhere else. This section includes a few things which are not strictly knots, but are combinations or systems made of line and knotting principles, so fit best into the knotter’s toolkit.

  • Flip Flop Winch – clever way to improvise a winch to drag heavy loads
  • Poldo Tackle – a simple mechanical advantage system for, good for compression straps or raising and lowering short distances
  • Trucker’s Hitch – a mechanical advantage knot for cinching a line tight, good for lashing down large loads or making tent and tarp lines
  • Quick Trucker’s Hitch – a quick way to make the Trucker’s Hitch without using the ends
  • Versatackle – self-locking cinching system with high mechanical advantage

Further Resources

There is a lot more to learn about handling lines! This article is a good start, but it does not even touch on splicing, decorative knotting, complex rigging, whipping or knot theory.

  • Animated Knots is an excellent website of animations of how to tie most practical knots, and has some great technical articles.
  • The Professional Association of Climbing Instructors have a page of very in depth knot-study.
  • The International Guild of Knot Tyers describes itself as ‘an association of people with interests in knots and knotting techniques of all kinds.’ They maintain a site with great information and have chapters around the world.
    • The IGKT Forum is a great resource for serious knot tyers. There is a wealth of past discussion information (the ‘Best of Breed’ thread is especially worth reading) and a very knowledgeable community, many of whom were drawn to the forum because of practical applications in real life. There are successful climbers, mountaineers, sailors and search and rescue personnel with serious personal experience behind them.
  • The Notable Knots Index (maintained by Roo, an active member of the IGKT) includes information on some lesser known knots and ideas, and good secondary FAQs of related information.
  • Dave Root has an excellent site about the knots which are likely to be of most use to the average person, and useful variations on them.
  • Our other site, Survival Sullivan, has buried in its archives some step by step knots that I showcase.
  • Johnny Debt’s Youtube Channel is a great learning resource for practical knots.
  • The Ashley Book of Knots (available as a free PDF) has been for many years the knot tyer’s bible. It contains almost everything one could possibly wish to know and a lot more, and is an invaluable resource.
  • RopeLab is a site and community established to ‘build a greater understanding of the physics of roped systems’. Essentially it’s an in depth information and research hub about rope, knots and rope-hardware as a mechanical tool, great if you want to expand on the rigging and mechanical advantage aspects of ropework.
  • If you are interested in getting into decorative knotting (like old Nautical Fancywork), then Vince’s site, Frayed Knot Arts, is a great collection of resources, tutorials and inspiration.
survival knots Pinterest image

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About Nick O'Low

Nick O'Low first went camping at six, lit his first fire by seven, and learnt to throw knives at eleven. He made his first knife from a kit he was given for his thirteenth birthday, and by fourteen was making solo overnight trips, and learning to read the stars. Despite an extensive experience of the more practical aspects of bushcraft, his current interest lie in the philosophical and theoretical aspects of navigation, harmony with one's environment and learning to truly live, wherever you might find yourself.
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3 thoughts on “Survival Knots You Should Know How to Tie

  1. This question pertains more to fishing but is about knots. I have lost most of the feeling in my left hand and fine control of the fingers. Tying on hooks is very frustrating, I eventually get it tied but the condition is slowly getting worse. How do people with tie knots with only the use of one hand?

    1. Daddio7,

      How do people with tie knots with only the use of one hand?

      You might take a page from the medical folks who tie complex knots with tiny ropes (sutures) with the help of Forceps.
      Just a thought.

  2. As is my habit, I have to point out the one flaw I found where ”Hitche Knots” should read ”Hitch Knots”
    I otherwise really like the article, that is informative and hits all of the knots I know.
    In my college days and for the next 25 years or so I was a rock climber and spelunker, running trip sat least 1 or 2 weekends every month, and in these situation there are some knots that are very useful and are often tied without thinking.
    My go to site for bringing new folks into learning knots was also listed here: animatedknots.com and for practice I would suggest everyone purchase a small length of 550 paracord in two contrasting colors like black or blue AND orange or red, to more easily see how the knots when tied together are constructed.

    You list two types of rope:

    Laid rope or line is made by twisting the strands of materials together.
    Braided rope or line is made by braiding or weaving the strands together.

    You missed an important one used for both climbing and spelunking.
    Kernmantle rope is rope constructed with an interior core of parallel strands, protected by a woven exterior sheath designed to provide strength, durability, and flexibility. The core strands provide the tensile strength of the rope, while the sheath protects the core from abrasion during use.
    For climbing we often used dynamic 11 mm Kernmantle ropes, with the dynamic part being that it will stretch slightly to cushion a fall.
    For spelunking we would use 9 mm or 11 mm static Kernmantle rope that has no perceivable stretch,
    550 & 850 paracord is also a Kernmantle type of rope.

    Lashings are used to secure two objects (normally long thin things like poles) together as rigidly as possible. They are useful for building, and for securing large objects for transport or safety semi-permanently. For security the most important thing is to get the lashing and frapping turnstight.

    Having constructed semaphore towers, shelters, monkey bridges and other structures including tables and chairs, using lashing and frapping, I know the importance of frapping for making the structure tight and strong.
    It was however not given much coverage other than a simple mention.
    When two poles are lashed together, the point where they meet forms a pivoting hinge that can easily twist under stress and the frapping tightens that connection to eliminate the twisting.
    The definition of frapping is:
    The turns surrounding a lashing at right angles that exerts a tightening effect on the lashing when twisted and pulled tight.

    These turns are known as Frapping Turns. Pulling them as tight as possible makes the Lashing more secure.
    You can see the frapping turns clearly in steps 6-8 of the following:
    https://www.netknots.com/rope_knots/shear-lashing

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