One of the most important items you need in your bug out bag is cordage. When faced with a disaster scenario, you may need to secure loads, rig shelters, fashion weapons, hoist, suspend, etc.
There are many different categories of knots, each used for a specific purpose. And while there are hundreds (if not thousands) of ways to tie knots, knowing just the most common in each category will most likely serve your needs.
Before you study knot tying, it is helpful to know a few terms to make sense of the instructions. Keep in mind that knots have been used for thousands of years, so there are alternate terms for just about everything. The words listed below are relatively common, but by no means exhaustive or exclusive.
- Running or Working End. This is the rope end used to tie the knot.
- Standing End. The rest of the rope, not used for the knot.
- Overhand Loop. A loop formed with the running end on top of the standing end
- Underhand Loop. A loop formed with the running end underneath the standing end
- Bight. A U-shaped bend in the rope, either at the end or in the middle (the parts do not cross)
- Take a Turn. To wrap the rope around an object so that the running end continues in the same direction
- Round Turn. To wrap the rope around an object so that the running end comes back along the standing part
Categories of Knots
There are over a dozen different categories of knots, but we are only going to focus on about half of them, to prevent getting too technical.
Bends join the ends of two different lines. They are used when a single piece of cordage is too short.
- Sheet Bend. The sheet bend (or weaver’s knot) is #1 in the definitive Ashley Book of Knots. It is used to join the ends of two ropes of different diameter or material. It is a secure knot but can loosen without a load on it. It will also loosen if tied “left-handed,” where the ends of the respective lines are on opposite sides of the line. If the rope you are using is too short to reach your objective, attaching another rope to it with a sheet bend will give you a very strong join.
Binding knots are used on objects to keep them from moving or slipping.
- Reef (Square) Knot. A very common knot, the reef knot is most often used to secure packages. It is also a good knot for bandages because it lies flat.
Hitch knots attach a line to a post or ring.
- Clove Hitch. The clove hitch is considered to be another very important knot. It is very handy in that it can be adjusted after tying by feeding in the line from either direction. It is also more effective on oddly-shaped or rectangular posts than other hitches. The clove hitch is often used as the start of a binding procedure. It can be tied at the end of a line or in the middle.
- Tautline The taut-line hitch is an adjustable loop knot. It is excellent to use on tent guy lines and for securing loads. The line is passed around an anchor object (tree, tent stake, etc.) and the hitch tied back onto the line. The hitch can be moved up and down the line (changing the size of the loop) to adjust tension without retying the knot. There are many ways of tying a taut line. This is one of the most common.
Lashings are used to securely bind two or more items together, most often some arrangement of poles. There are five basic types of lashings—square, diagonal, shear, round, and tripod—each with many sub-types.
In the following picture, a square lashing is being used to bind a cross-spar to the trunk of a tree. There are too many variations in lashings to try and illustrate any particular one. Just know that if you need to build a secure scaffold, ladder, or tripod, you’ll need a lashing.
Loop knots create loops in a line.
- Bowline. Along with the sheet bend and clove hitch, the bowline is considered a crucial knot to know. It creates a very secure loop at the end of a line and can be easily released after being subjected to a load. Rescuers favor the bowline because a person can sit on the knot within the loop and be hauled to safety.
- Overhand Loop. This is a very simple knot that creates a loop at the end or in the middle of a line. It’s useful for creating hand and footholds, or anchor points for clips or other lines.
- Alpine Butterfly Knot. The Alpine butterfly knot is similar to the overhand loop in that it creates a loop in the middle of a line. It is handy if the working end of the rope is unavailable. Tying a rope between two trees and putting a lot of butterflies or overhand loops along its length is a great way to hang gear or support a ridgepole.
Slip knots are used for tying down loads and in climbing and knitting. They are knots which can slide along the length of the rope, and can be untied by pulling on the working end of the knot. Hangman’s noose is a slip knot with many windings along its length.
Stopper knots keep a line from passing through a hole.
- Figure Eight. The figure eight is heavily used in rock climbing and sailing to prevent lines from running out of safety devices.
Whippings are used to prevent the ends of ropes from fraying. They are particularly useful if you are using rope made from natural fibers since nylon cordage can be melted to prevent it from separating.
As we mentioned in our post yesterday, paracord is a popular choice to be woven into bracelets, belts, and other decorative pieces. There are many knots used as decoration, but they can also be functional.
- Monkey’s Fist Knot. The monkey’s fist is a rounded knob at the end of a line. While you will most often see a monkey’s fist used to decorate a keychain or the like, if you tie it larger, you can make a bolas weapon, which can entangle an animal.
The bolas is spun around your head and released toward the animal. When it hits, the ends wrap around the animal’s legs (or wings, for flying animals), bringing it down.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The sarcastic saying “if you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot” won’t cut it in a survival situation. Loads and shelters need to be secure to prevent damage or loss, so it’s worthwhile to learn correct knotwork.
There are many books (printed and electronic) and apps that can show you how to tie any knot you may need, either with step-by-step illustrations, animations, or videos. Practice the basic knots until you can tie them without thinking about it.
Knots are most often associated with sailing, and that means water. Tomorrow, we’ll have too much water as we discuss floods. Hope to see you then!