The overall purpose of this article is to educate adventurers in their ability to tie and implement basic knots when backpacking or camping. These six “must-know” knots are essential skills for any serious backpacker’s repertoire and can easily be applied to building outdoor sleep or cook shelters, hanging food for safety purposes, or even constructing a clothes-line to dry out damp or wet clothing after a long trek. Using the right rope and knots will ensure that shelters, bear hangs, or clothes-lines are prepared and constructed in the sturdiest and most efficient way possible. In the case of shelter building, these six knots will be the basis of developing a mid line so that a canvas can be placed over it (i.e., as used in a simple A-frame shelter).
Types of Rope – Advantages & Disadvantages
You can likely imagine the amount of force that is applied to rope when tightened, pulled, and knotted throughout the course of a backpacking or camping trip. Taking good care of your rope will ensure that it is in exceptional shape so that it is ready for use on your next adventure. It is always recommended using each type of rope while practicing basic knots. You will quickly notice that some types of rope do not work as well with specific knots.
- Nylon woven sheath rope: Nylon material, in general, has valuable capabilities especially in retaining strength while under force. This type of rope is predominantly used by most backpackers but runs on the more expensive end of a budget.
- Nylon braid rope: Nylon braid rope has similar attributes to nylon sheath rope but at a cheaper cost. The only downside is that nylon braid rope can become slippery while wet. This may prove difficult to use when setting up shelter in rainy conditions.
- Cotton rope: Although more affordable between the other two types of rope, cotton rope has the tendency to become of a heavy load when wet. It also may be difficult to wrap and pack if temperatures drop below freezing overnight. Keep this is mind. If you are exploring a warmer climate with a low risk of precipitation or of frigid temperatures overnight then this may be the best choice if you are on a budget.
Make sure to fold up your rope in a way that it will not become tangled inside of your backpack. Take an extra used dry sack and fold the rope(s) in half and tie off to ensure they will be ready to go the next time you are ready to set-up camp.
The bowline is a knot generally used to anchor a rope to structures such as a tree or rock. This is an important knot, but not the only knot, used to build the underlying support for a tarp or canvas shelter. This knot is designed to withstand a substantial amount of force and it can be ensured it will stay in tacked as long as it is done correctly.
- Find a tree or standing fixed structure.
- Wrap your rope around the structure so that you have the ‘free end’ in one hand and the ‘standing part’ in the other. Note: The ‘standing part’ of the rope will be any additional length of the rope that you have, likely touching the ground. The ‘free end’ part of the rope will be where the rope normally ends.
- Form a loop in the ‘standing part’ of the rope. Take the ‘free end’ and run it down through the loophole once again.
- Take the ‘free end’ and turn or wrap around the ‘standing part’ of the rope and feed the ‘free end’ through the bottom of the loophole once again. Hold the rope in this position.
- Pull the ‘standing part’ so that the newly formed knot is tight. It should look something like a pretzel.
There is a story to go along with performing this knot specifically. Here it goes.
The happy bunny (the ‘free end’) comes up the hole (loophole) and is excited to be outdoors. The happy bunny decides to run around the nearby apple tree (the ‘standing part’) once. The happy bunny becomes a scared bunny once it sees a fox approaching quickly. It decides to run back down into its hole and shuts the door (tighten the ‘standing part’). The end.
Who knows if this will help you but its fun and has helped others in the past with remember the bowline knot.
The square knot is used to tie two similar sized (in diameter) ropes together to create a longer rope. This knot may be useful if the rope you are using is too short and additional rope is needed. The square knot is the easiest of the six to tie. If you can remember ‘left over right, right over left’ then you are well on your way to never forgetting this reliable knot.
- Take one end of a rope into your left hand and the other end of a different (but similar) rope in the right hand.
- Cross the left rope over the right rope and twist like you are performing the first steps of tying your shoe.
- From here, take the right rope and cross it over the left rope and twist once again.
- Pull the rope and a square knot should occur.
- Remember: ‘left over right, right over left’.
The sheet bend is another strong knot used to tie different ropes together but is predominantly used when you have two different sized (in diameter) ropes. Again, the end result is a much longer rope. The sheet bend is useful if you have a variety of rope lying around and are in need of a longer option.
- Form a loop in one of the ropes with one of your hands (this is preference) and pinch together with your thumb and index finger.
- Take the other end of the different sized rope and feed it through the bottom of the loop and around the rope where you are currently pinching it.
- From here, feed the ‘free end’ of the rope over the loop but underneath the ‘free end’ itself. This should form an ‘X’.
- Pull tight.
Alpine Butterfly (Preacher Knot)
The alpine butterfly, more commonly known as the preacher knot, is a knot used to form a loophole in the middle of your mid line. This will allow you to attach some sort of carabiner. Applying a preacher knot and a carabiner will allow you to tighten your rope to a point that would not be possible if you did not apply the knot. This will ultimately make your supporting frame for your shelter sturdier.
- Take your non-dominant hand and lay it out flat with your palm facing the sky or ceiling.
- Take the rope and wrap it loosely around your open hand three times.
- Take the middle portion of the rope and feed it underneath the first portion closet to the body.
- Keep feeding the rope up and over until you have reached the third portion of the rope and wrap underneath it, as well.
- Pull the rope from underneath, take the rope off of your hand, and tighten.
- This should create a secure loop in your rope.
Guideline (Taut-Line) Hitch
A guideline hitch is one of the last knots you will apply (if building a shelter, of course). Arguably the toughest of the six knots to master, this knot will take practice but will prove beneficial once you succeed. The guideline hitch will allow you adjust the tension of your shelter’s mid line or guylines for staking. Although this knot allows for tension to be modified it still has the ability to hold its position even when drawn into a more tense location
- To avoid confusion with this knot I recommend searching ‘the guideline hitch’ on YouTube. The first video is a great example of how the guideline hitch should be performed. A visualization for this knot will be much more powerful than written words.
The clove hitch is a fantastic knot to have in your repertoire because it will allow you to attach your canvas (even without any available grommets) to additional trees or rocks. This will add extra security to the stability and function of your shelter. This may be useful in shaping your shelter so that water can run-off more smoothly or if the wind is picking up and you need to fasten or secure your shelter even further.
- Make one loop and pinch the end with your index finger and thumb, crossing right over left.
- Create a similar loop on the right side of the original loop you just made. Pinch the end together with your other index finger and thumb. Cross right over left, as well.
- Lay the loop in your left hand over the top of the loop in your right.
- Place the object you would like to tie around inside of the overlying loops.
- Pull tight. An ‘X’ should be formed from the left loop crossing over the right loop.
There you have it. Any backpacker that has these knots tucked somewhere in their skill set will be much more prepared when backpacking outdoors. Make sure to come back to these knots now and then to polish up those skills. Now, go try them out!