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Useful Knots
Aside from a knife, one of the most valuable items you can have in a wilderness (or any type of) survival situation is cordage.

While making cordage is not difficult to learn, it is extremely time-consuming to actually do. Especially if you have to make cordage that is quality enough to stand up to real-world use. However, skipping past the subject of making cordage, I’d like to address the use of knots once you have cordage, whether self-made or (more likely) factory-made.

Free End and Standing End of a rope, ready to tie a knot
quick release knots
There are literally hundreds of different knots, but you can probably boil them all down to about a dozen knots that will get you through 99% of the situations you need knots for. While the old adage is probably true, “If you don’t know knots, tie lots,” you will find it much easier to just learn a few basic knots and practice them enough to remember. This really helps out when you need to tie a knot – even just around the house or yard – and don’t have to waste time trying to get something right that isn’t going to hold or isn’t really going to work right. There’s not enough room to run through a dozen knots, but I’ll show you a few that are my favorites, and that I use at least once or twice a week in day-to-day tasks.

First, a small amount of terminology… When working with rope, you will often hear a few different terms:

1) Standing end (of the rope) – This is the end that is stationary, if you are just using one end of the rope (which you usually are).

2) Free end – This is the end of the rope that you are moving around to tie the knot with.

3) Bight – This is a curve in the rope. Usually at the end.

4) Loop – This is the rope crossing over itself and forming a loop.

Start the knot by making a loop in the standing end. Note the specific way the loop sits in regards to free and standing end parts of the loop.
quick release knot
Loop the free end over the standing end, below the loop you made previously.

survival knots
Form a bight with the free end and pass it through the loop, going away from you.

survival knots
Almost done…

survival knots
Great anchor knot with a quick release.

anchor knots
Shown in the pictures above, one of my favorite knots is one that is really hard to find in any books. It is a knot you can use to firmly anchor a rope on one end, yet leave a “quick release” which is extremely handy to untie the knot in literally a few seconds. This knot will work with thin rope or thick rope. I use it for everything from clotheslines, to securing the starting end of a rope used to secure pickup loads, to even a line that you might have to trust your life on (and I have). No matter how much tension you put on the line, the quick release comes out pretty easily.

1) Loop the rope around its anchor. For this demonstration, the standing end of the rope is on the left, and the free end is on the right.

2) Make a loop with the standing end. The direction of the loop is critical. That is, the standing end of the loop MUST be on the back side of the loop, not the front side.

3) Loop the free end around the standing end, below the loop you made and make a bight out of it.

4) Place the bight through the loop from the front, and dress the knot up.

A second knot I will show is one that is a better way to have a loop in the center of a line. A lot of people just tie an overhand loop in a line. This is fine for the moment, but once you put a lot of load on that knot, you are probably never going to get it back out.

Knots put a considerable amount of wear and tear on a rope, and should never be left in unless it’s absolutely necessary. An overhand loop knot in the middle of a rope is less than desireable for that reason.

Instead, here’s a knot that is very easy to tie, and will be very easy to pull apart once you are finished, no matter how much load you place on the rope:

Start by wrapping the rope loosely around one hand, so that you have 3 loops in your palm. You are going to pull these loops out a few inches over each other. It doesn’t matter which direction you start in, but only that you alternate. Check out the pics and you’ll see what I mean. The pattern is:

1) Pull middle loop out and over the right, so that what was on the right is now the new middle loop as you look at it in you hand

2) Pull (new) middle loop out and over the left, making the left one the new one now

3) Pull (new new) middle loop back over the right again

4) Pull (new new new) middle loop straight out and dress the knot up. You should be left with a loop in the middle of the rope that you can pull the rope from either side (or pull on the loop from either direction) and it won’t close or tighten up.

3 loops in the palm of your hand first, then pull middle over right

loop knot
Now pull the new middle over left…

looping survival knot
Now pull the new new middle over right again…

looping survival knot
Finally, pull the last middle out carefully and dress up the knot

looping survival knot
Finished knot for the center of the rope. Enough ropes are crossing here to distribute the knot much more easily for untying after heavy loads

looping survival knot

Next entry (sooner than these last few months have been, I promise), I’ll show a couple more and then link them all together in a handy concept for using a single rope that needs tension on it.