Knot Tying 101: The Basics

September 8, 2023

Connor Merritt

Connor Merritt

Knot tying is an incredibly useful skill, and one that I’m glad I learned at a young age. My time in the Boy Scouts, combined with my extensive sailing hobby taught me practically everything I need to know about knots. Now, while I might not remember every single knot I ever learned, I remember the most useful ones to get me through a fun day of outdoor recreation, whether it be camping, fishing, or rock climbing.

While most dedicated outdoor recreationists likely already know their knots inside and out, it never hurts to have a refresher course to practice your fundamentals. For anyone just starting out in the wonderful world of outdoor recreation though, learning basic knots is essential.

That’s why I’ve compiled a quick Knot Tying 101 list below detailing what I consider to be four of the most useful knots. That way you can be prepared to tackle the challenge of the great outdoors, without worrying about one of your ropes coming undone.

Knot Tying 101: The Bowline Knot

Known as the “king of knots,” the bowline is a fundamental knot with numerous applications. Its primary advantage is that it forms a secure loop at the end of a rope that won’t slip or jam, regardless of the load. This knot is easy to tie and untie, even after bearing a heavy load.

The bowline knot is perfect for securing a climbing harness, attaching a line to a fixed object, or rescuing someone in need of a lifeline.

I mainly use it for securing items while camping; for example, I use the bowline knot to attach my tent tarp to stakes in the ground, to keep big items packed together, and to keep my cooler secure while out fishing on a boat. While it can be used for safety while climbing rocks or sitting in trees, it’s important to note that, if not utilized properly, it can be very dangerous for use around a person. If you are using a bowline for rescue or safety purposes, make certain that you tie it properly, and have another safety line if possible.

How To tie a Bowline Knot

  1. Form a small loop near the rope’s end, passing the working end (the long end) through from underneath.
  2. Wrap the working end around the standing part (the rest of the rope) and pass it back down through the loop.
  3. Finally, thread the working end up through the loop and pull it tight. The result is a secure loop that will not loosen accidentally.

Knot Tying 101: The Square Knot (Reef Knot)

The square knot is a versatile knot that is ideal for joining two ropes of equal diameter. The square knot is great for camping, boating, and first aid situations, making it an essential knot to know.

This is the first knot they teach in the Boy Scouts, and there’s a reason for that. It is by far the simplest and easiest knot to learn, while being useful in many situations. While this knot is excellent for outdoor recreation, it is also my most-used knot in everyday life. I use this all the time: at home I use it for things like tying a trash bag closed and when I’m out in nature I use it to secure rope coils and securing lightweight items together.

Even though the square knot is versatile, its main drawback is that it can’t handle excessive weight or force. So, if you have something heavy to secure, or will using a knot to pull on something, then the square knot likely isn’t the way to go.

How to Tie a Square Knot

  1. Cross the ends of the two ropes, then pass one end over the other.
  2. Next, pass the same end under the other rope and through the loop created.
  3. Tighten the knot by pulling both ends simultaneously. Ensure the ends emerge on the same side for a secure square knot.

Knot Tying 101: The Clove Hitch

The clove hitch is a simple, yet indispensable knot for securing a rope to a post, pole, or other cylindrical objects. Its beauty lies in its ease of tying and untying, even under tension.

Clove hitches are great for quickly setting up camp when in a forested area. I use the clove hitch all the time to set up wind blocking tarps, hanging trash bags, and even clotheslines (if I’m on a trip where I get wet). While very easy and versatile, this knot should not be used for heavy items or extreme stress.

How to Tie a Clove Hitch

  1. Begin by crossing the rope over the object you wish to secure it to.
  2. Wrap the working end around the object once more, crossing over the initial cross.
  3. Finally, tuck the working end under the last wrap and pull it tight.

Knot Tying 101: The Taut-Line Hitch

When you need a knot that can be easily adjusted while under tension, the taut line hitch is the way to go. This knot is particularly handy for tent guy lines, securing loads on a car roof, or adjusting the tension on a rainfly.

The taut-line hitch is my personal favorite knot, due to how easy it is to take down even when handling great tension. Plus, it’s very easy to adjust, which means you don’t have to be exactly precise when first setting it up. I bought a portable hammock at summer camp that I still use to this day, and the taut-line hitch is how I set it up every time. Basically, most times you need an adjustable knot around a tree, I recommend this knot.

How to Tie a Taut-line Hitch

  1. Wrap the rope around a fixed object, such as a tent stake, and pass it over itself.
  2. Wrap it around again, this time crossing over the previous turn.
  3. Pass the working end through the loop created between the rope and the object.
  4. Finally, create another loop by passing the working end under itself, and then tuck it back down through the second loop.
  5. By sliding the hitch up or down the line, you can easily adjust the tension to your liking.
Put those knot-tying skills to good use and check out these top tents on iSportsmanUSA.


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