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Knots to Know for the Outdoors

by Shawn O'Neal
Isaac Quesada-Unsplash

A friend once described a knot as an “organized cordage entanglement,” a clever way of describing a universal and ancient skill. There are few outdoor situations that don’t eventually call for some knot-tying. From setting up tents in the backcountry to securing rafts for a riverbank picnic, the proper knots can make the experience both safer and more enjoyable. Learning a few important knots will help make your outings more “organized” and less “entangled.” 


There are few things more frustrating than trying to untie a jammed knot from a rope you need to use. Fumbling with a knot that has become locked in to a cold, wet line has made many outdoors-people reach for a knife. The bowline, used to create a fixed loop at the end of a rope, doesn’t jam when loaded. Being easy to untie and providing a study loop make it a good choice for hoisting game for field dressing. Including a family of related knots, the bowline is extremely versatile, with uses from boating to climbing. 

Clove Hitch Knots

A hitch is a knot tied around something. Think of horses secured to a “hitching post.” The clove hitch provides a quick and easy way to start lashing a tripod together for your cooking fire. It isn’t the strongest knot, so don’t use it to tie your bass boat to the pier and leave it unattended.  A clove hitch can be tied in multiple ways, depending on the situation. Notably, it can be created in the middle of a rope without access to the end. For extra holding power, learn how to adapt the clove hitch to the much stronger constrictor knot. 

Sheet Bend Knots

Whether it’s fixing a broken boot lace or hanging the camp hammock, at some point you’re going to want a longer line. In knot-tying terminology, joining two pieces of rope together is known as a bend. The sheet bend is a great choice for the task, especially when the two ropes are of different thicknesses. An easy variation, the double sheet bend, significantly increases the holding power of this knot. 

Midshipman’s Hitch

The taut line hitch is a quintessential scouting knot. The midshipman’s hitch is stronger, as easy to tie, and provides the same function. Used to create an adjustable loop, these knots are handy for guylines on tents and tarps. They can be easily adjusted to tension shelters against the effects of wind and rain. Adding more wraps to the construction of the hitch increases its holding power in small or slippery lines.  

Trucker’s Hitch

A lost or broken ratchet strap is of no concern once the trucker’s hitch is in your arsenal of knots. Really a system of knots, this hitch is used to create mechanical advantage and provide substantial tension on the rope. This knot is essential for securing loads on trucks and trailers. In addition, when tied between two trees, it is a favorite for creating a stable ridge-line for a tarp shelter. While not as quickly adjustable as the midshipman’s hitch, it is much more secure.  

These knots provide a great start in approaching this critical outdoor skill. Used correctly, they cover a wide variety of useful applications. Grab some rope and practice, knowing the next time you venture outside you’ll have the expertise you need and the right knot for the job. 

[H/T Animatedknots.com]