I once tied a bear bag with a haphazard bundle of knots, and despite being seemingly impossible to untie, it came loose when lowering the bear bag and nearly smoked my friend standing under it. What are some good knots to learn for most stuff encountered while camping / backpacking?
Tying knots is actually a bit of an art. Depending on what you need it for, there are knots that slide, create loops, tighten under load, and do tons of other things. Here are some backcountry essentials:
Bowline Knot: Use this when you need a knot that absolutely, positively will not slip (unless loaded wrong). When I was in camp, we'd use these when making climbing harnesses out of webbing, since they were so safe. [link]
Double Overhand Knot: Use this when you need to make a section of rope chunky so it doesn't slide or is easier to grab onto: [link]
Noose (or Hangman's Knot): Use this when you need to make a loop of rope that slides easily to tighten around or pull things. [link]
Double Fisherman's Knot: Use this when you need to attach two ropes together, as it holds very well when force is applied in the direction of the rope. Essentially just a double overhand knot on two ropes tied around each other. [link]
Slip Knot: Use this when you need a knot, but you'll be undoing it frequently. It is easy to undo, even if it's been under heavy load. [link]
Once you've mastered these, you should start understanding the dynamics of how knots can make ropes do all sorts of cool things. It's important that you practice these and know them well. You don't want to make a mistake and then trust a heavy load or your safety to a knot that might slip.
Be careful, and good luck!
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The most important knots you'll ever need to know are the taut-line hitch and the bowline. For instance, on your bear bag, you would tie a bowline through a handle or other loop the bag, and then the taut-line on the other side.
The best thing about a bowline is that no matter how much force you've put on it, you can crack it easily to take it apart.
Here is an article from Scoutin magazine
Knots and Boy Scouts go together like campfires and cobbler. Here’s how to tie three of the knots required to reach First Class, plus four more that can be very useful.
Knots. It all begins with rope — different sizes, lengths, widths, and strengths, depending on its use.
Ropes used for climbing can bear more than two tons of weight. Thinner, lightweight cords are used for lashings and tying off tent stakes.
Although they are still used in horse packing and sailing, natural-fiber ropes are mostly a thing of the past. Most ropes for outdoor recreation are made of nylon for durability and elasticity.
To prolong the life of your rope, protect it from dirt, sunlight, chemicals, and abrasion. When you store a rope, coil it following its natural lay. Don’t wrap it around your arm and through your outstretched hand like an extension cord. Keep it in a bag for storage.
Fortified Square Knot
The basic square knot, or “joining” knot, is the first knot many boys learn on the night they join a Scout troop.
This is the knot campers use to adjust tension in a tent’s guyline. It works best with cord that is at least ¼-inch thick.
(also known as the Double Fisherman’s Knot)
This useful knot ties two ropes of equal diameter securely together. It’s secure enough to be used in rappelling—but can be difficult to untie.
This easy knot can be used to tie a horse to a post. It’s also the knot used to start and finish most lashings. The knot is tied with two loops of rope stacked on top of one another so that they interlock and hold firm. This is one of the quickest knots to learn.
This loop knot is popular among climbers and sailors. It’s a secure knot that will not slip or loosen. In a rescue, a bowline can be tied around a person’s waist so he can be hoisted to safety.
The bowline is often taught using the story of the rabbit and the hunter.
This knot is used by climbers to ascend a rope and by rescuers to raise and lower people and equipment. The climbing rope should be thicker than the accessory cord (usually 5 to 7 millimeters).
To shorten a long line of rope, such as a painter attached to the bow of a canoe, use the deceptively simple chain sennit. When you need the full length of line, a quick tug frees the entire rope without any kinks or knots.
The figure of 8 knot can be used instead of the bowline. It has a somewhat higher breaking strength. It is also very easy to untie even after being loaded.
You might want to consider the alpine butterfly, it can be used whenever you need a standing loop on a rope. It is also considered climbing safe.
There are three knots that I find cover most of my needs:
The trucker's hitch can be cinched very tight and it's easy to add or remove tension. It's useful for tying down loads (on boats or roof racks), applying variable tension (e.g., for tarps or hammocks), and winching. It can be undone with a quick pull.
The bowline is perfect for anchoring the end of a rope to a fixed object. It doesn't tighten when pressure is applied, and it's easy to undo. It's a good one for hammocks, tarps, tow lines, and tying up boats.
The square knot is for tying the ends of two shorter ropes to one another to make a longer rope.
All of these knots are great for camping, fishing, hiking and general all around usage but the absolute best knot in the world is "The knot that you remember how to tie!"
So, with that in mind, I keep a small shank of rope sitting around and when I'm sitting by the fire I like to practice a few knots which is both fun and useful in helping me remember how to tie them. There are also quite a few free apps around that show how to tie different knots. Knot Wars is a free app from North American Fishing Club which includes video animations with audio instruction.