When you think about outdoor survival skills, you don’t necessarily picture ropes and knots.

One would much rather think about knowing how to get a fire started, build a shelter, find clean, drinkable water and the safe plants and animals to eat, or navigate using the sun or stars.

You would be surprised to know that, when caught unprepared in an outdoor survival situation, tying a knot really does make the difference between life and death.

If you’re building a shelter, for example, you will need to secure it somehow so that it doesn't crash on it, you need rope and knots to lower yourself and your equipment down cliffs, or even to stop a bleeding wound.

There are many different types of knots out there, perfect for each of these situations and, as survival experts put it, it would be a good idea if everybody learned even just a few of them.

Accidents can happen at any moment’s notice and people are prone to them. Snow storms can leave you and your family stranded on the side of the freeway, you might get lost during a hiking trip, or get attacked by a wild animal.

This is why rope knots are always a good thing to learn in order to be prepared for anything that may happen. Here is everything you need to know about how to the tie the most useful knots for outdoor survival.

Rope Use in Outdoor Survival: The Basics

Getting lost in the outdoors is a truly terrifying experience. Most of the times it happens without you even knowing what’s going on, like when you’re biking or hiking and you simply end up in a completely strange part of the forest, mountain, or any other natural surroundings. You usually don’t have any extra food, water or clothes, everything is unfamiliar and feels dangerous. The first things you need to do is to make an assessment of what exactly it is you need in order to survive, and to try to find or to make some rope, in case you don’t have any.

What is a Rope Good for: Applications and Tips

When going camping, fishing, biking, or on whatever else adventure you fancy, make sure to always bring the proper equipment as well as extra supplies, because you never know what can happen. Most survival experts say that, as far as your rope needs go, bringing a length of parachute cord is the best option. It’s lightweight and very strong, it lengthens when wet and shrinks back when it dries out. Here are the best applications for a length of rope in an outdoor survivor situation.

  • You can use rope to hoist up your food from a tree branch, to make sure it doesn’t attract any wildlife. It’s not only that they will eat your food, but they might attack you as well
  • Rope is necessary for building an emergency shelter. The primary materials for constructing such a shelter are wood, tree branches, stones, and moss but you will need rope to fasten them all together so that you don’t risk the shelter crashing
  • Rope is also used for making splints for broken bones. This is a very often occurrence in survival situations, especially those that follow an accident. In order to make a splint, you will need some pieces of hardwood and rope to keep the afflicted body part in place and pieces of bone from entering the marrow.
  • Rope is also good if you are trying to repair your tent, which is an extremely important piece of survival equipment.
  • Climbing is also done with the help of some rope. You may attempt some superficial climbing without it, but if you’re trying to get out of a ditch or a ravine, rope is your best ally.
  • You can use rope if you’re attempting to fish or if you’re trying to set a trap for some small game, such as a rabbit.

As far as using rope in a survival situation goes, there are some great tips and tricks you can learn if you do a little research before heading out, just to be on the safe side.

  • Make your own rope – the first thing you need to know about rope and the outdoor survival is that you can make your own rope. You can find certain trees that are good source material for roping, such as elm, walnut, cherry, maple, oak, ash, cedar, or aspen which, because they are strong and flexible. You need the inner bark of these trees, which is dried and raw. Strip off sections and braid them. You can also make rope out of evening primrose, hemp, fireweed, velvet leaf and dogbane stalks, yucca, cattail and bulrush leaves and juniper, yucca, cedar, pine, and sage rootlets. Sweet grass, cordgrass, and greenbrier are also good. DIY rope can also be made of long strands of hair, from horses or moose, if you find enough.
  • Always remember to secure the ends of your rope. No matter what type you have, it will fray at its ends if you don’t tie or sear them. If you plan on carrying rope with you, make sure it has sheaths at both ends. If you are making your own rope, you can tie a knot at each end or sear it in fire.
  • Never drag your rope on the ground if you don’t have any reason to do so. The strands will catch dirt particles which will, over time, weaken and break the rope.
  • Except for special situations, rope should never be kept wet. Should it get wet, you need to let it dry out in large coils always off the ground. Never expose your rope to sources of heat or to direct sunlight.
  • You shouldn’t leave your rope tied up or stretched if there is no need for that. This unnecessary strain will weaken it over time.
  • If your rope is made of nylon, you should never allow it to rub against other nylon ropes because, when it comes to this material, the friction produces a large quantity of heat that will melt it.

How to Make a Knot at the End of a Rope

Knots made at the end of ropes are also called ‘stopper knots’ and their main purpose is to keep the rope from fraying, unravelling, slipping back through a whole or from slipping through a different knot. Learning how to tie a stopper knot is quite important and here are the two best ways of doing it.

  • The Ashley Stopper Knot – it was invented by Clifford Ashely in 1910. Most aficionados prefer it because it’s very well-balanced and it has much more resistance at being pulled through an opening than other knots. In order to make it, you need to form a little loop at the end of the rope, by running the tag end over the standing line. Tie an overhand knot over it and pull the tag end through the noose or the loop end. Make sure to pull it all the way through and slide your knot down tightly. Then pull both ends.
  • The double overhand stopper knot – it’s a rather bulky knot and a good back-up in case you can’t pull off the Ashley knot. In order to make it, you have to tie an overhand knot at the end of your rope, but without tightening the knot down. Then pass the end of the rope through the loop you’ve just created with the overhand knot. In order to finish, tighten the knot while you also slide it into place at the end of your rope. Remember to leave some loose rope at the end.

How to Join Two Ropes

Regarding the ways in which two ropes can be tied together via a knot, there is quite the debate going on. Many climbers or outdoor survival experts admit this is quite a touchy subject, but most options seem to revolve around the following three ways.

  • The rethreaded figure eight – this one is used on a very large scale, combined with rope stoppers. It has proven to be very easy to untie, which gives it a clear advantage over other rope knots. The only con with this particular way of tying two ropes together is that the profile is slightly bulky and this means it could get stuck when you pull down on the rope.
  • The Double fisherman's – Unlike the rethreaded figure eight knot, this one has a much slimmer profile as it basically consists of two stopper knots brought together.
  • The Overhand Knot – This is the fastest and easiest way of bringing two ropes together. You might want to learn this particular one because it’s very useful in survival situations, which are all about speed when it comes to safety. Apart from that, most users have reported it to be the least likely knot to get stuck when you pull on your rope.

How to Make a Loop in a Rope

The best way of making a permanent loop at the end of any rope is by making an eye splice. You need a braided rope for this, one which you have to tie at one end and then split apart the strands of the remaining loose part into three different ones, if possible. Take one strand and tuck it into the body of the rope, then the other two into the following loops. You will then have to bring them back over the loose ends and braid them again.

Another way of doing it is by taking the middle strand and inserting it into the body of the rope, through its middle.

Then, the left strand goes over it. Turn the rope over and you should see the two strands coming out. Tuck in the remaining strand over the two. The result should be that all the three strands come out of the same place on the rope. Continue tucking over and under all the strands, three times. You can do more braiding and tucking, if you so desire, but it is normally considered that three times are safe enough.

Top 5 Most Useful Rope Knots (and How To)

When dealing with rope, especially in an outdoor survival situation, there is a real wealth of knots you can make. However, there are some top knots, which are more useful than others when it comes to maximizing your surviving chances.

  • The square knot – is a very basic knot, which you will be using in many situations, as it’s mostly employed to tie two pieces of rope together, by tying two overhand knots with the loose ends of those ropes.
  • The clove hitch – is used when you want to climb on something or build a shelter around a log, pole, stick, or tree branch and it’s usually done in the middle of the rope.
  • The bowline knot – this one actually combines the square and clove knots as far as efficiency goes, because it doesn’t slip, even if you haven’t tightened it all the way through.
  • The tautline hitch – very useful for securing tents and for tying things to the ground so that they don’t shift place, no matter what. It’s very adjustable, but this means you also have to keep an eye on it, because it will come loose.
  • The sheet bend knot – this one is mostly a sailor’s knot, but it has been adopted by campers and survival experts as well, because of its versatility and strength. It’s a bit more advanced than the others and it’s typically used to make a net out of fine lines.

List of Bends - Knots for Tying Two Ropes Together

When trying to tie two loose ropes together, you need to use special knots, depending on your purposes, so knowing what types of bends there are is important when it comes to survival.

  • Ashley’s Bend
  • The Albright Special;
  • The Blood Knot – used especially with nylon rope;
  • The Butterfly Bend;
  • The Carrick Bend;
  • Hunter's bend;
  • Flemish bend;
  • True lover's knot;
  • Surgeon's knot;
  • Zeppelin bend.

List Of Loop Knots

As far as loop knots go, the variety can be overwhelming, so try choosing the ones which are easier and faster for you to learn, as these qualities will be valuable in a survival situation.

  • Farmer's loop;
  • Jury mast knot;
  • Karash double loop;
  • Trident loop;
  • Yosemite bowline;
  • Shoelace knot;
  • Friendship knot loop;
  • Fiador knot
  • Bimini twist;
  • Diamond knot.

List of Hitches (for Tying a Rope to an Object)

Hitches are used to tie a certain object with a rope, for the purpose of moving it around or safeguarding it at a height and it’s definitely a skill you need to acquire.

  • Barrel hitch;
  • Becket hitch;
  • Cat's paw;
  • Clove hitch;
  • Siberian hitch;
  • Palomar knot;
  • Icicle hitch;
  • Half hitch;
  • Cow hitch;
  • Anchor bend.

The Ultimate List of the Rope Knots You'll Use the Most

Out of all these types of knots and the multitude of models and designs, there are a few which you will be using most when in the outdoors.

  • The Bowline;
  • The Threaded figure eight;
  • The Yosemite bowline;
  • The double overhand knot;
  • The three-turn tautline.

Useful Examples and DIY Ideas of Rope Knots

Many people have complained that tying knots is not an easy job, and that is completely understandable, especially when confronted with a stressful situation like the one being left stranded on your own in a wild and inhospitable environment. So, here are the best knots along with their adjacent ideas of how to do them yourself.

  • The Bowline Hitch – this particular knot is useful when you’re trying to save someone. If you throw them a bow line, they will have a safe loop to hold on to or even put their arms through, waiting to be pulled back to safety. There is a funny mnemonic technique which you can use to remember this knot – the rabbit comes out of its hole, goes around the tree, and then jumps back into its hole.
  • Two Half Hitches – this one is a very good idea when you need to tie a rope to something else, like a hammock or a tarp. Pass the rope behind whatever fixed object you’re trying to tie it to, like a tree or a branch, over the body and then through it. Loop it and pull it as tight as possible.
  • The Figure Eight – is a traditional square or overhand knot that it’s actually so tight when out under pressure that most people have reported to having to cut the rope afterwards rather than trying to untie this knot. This is why it’s mostly used in climbing.

Knowing how to tie a few basic rope knots is crucial in a survival situation.

Which is why, if you are an outdoorsy kind of person and thinking about taking some classes about surviving in the wild, which include starting a fire, building a shelter, finding food and water, and handling wild animals, don’t forget about roping. It might be the essential element that keeps you alive to tell the tale.

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