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If I'm out in the wilderness and find myself in need of a rope I don't have with me (forgotten, not enough, another snapped), how can I make one? Are there any natural ropes I could use with minimal extra preparation?

Rope for use in hanging a bear bag, maybe some lashing or other round-the-campsite miscellaneous uses, in the U.S. northeast.

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What sort of rope are we talking about - rope to be used for holding up a bear bag / tarp, rope for climbing, etc.? – berry120 Feb 1 '12 at 17:11
@berry120 certainly not climbing, though perhaps a separate question could be asked about getting down when you drop a rope. I've clarified. – Kevin Feb 1 '12 at 17:27
It helps to know where in the world you are, as species vary. – Jay Bazuzi Feb 1 '12 at 17:48
@jay you're right, I've also added location. – Kevin Feb 1 '12 at 17:50
You should check out Survival Straps so that you don't have to make/improvise a rope. – Joel B Feb 1 '12 at 18:57
up vote 10 down vote accepted

For hanging packs, you can use vines. Find a vine you than can bend almost double (the shape of those ribbon campaign ribbons) without it breaking. You can use those as is, until they dry out. If you need more weight, you can braid them.

If you can't find vines, you can use new green bark off of smaller plants. If you can peel at least 12" of bark, you can braid it. Make sure that you pick a bark that does not easily snap when pulled on. Obviously peeling bark is really harmful to the plants so don't do this for trivial needs.

For small ties, you can braid longer grasses. This will work fairly well for anything that does not need to hold a lot of weight, for example, f you just need to tie something closed. We have used this to tie on bandages in a pinch before. Again, as with vines, if you can't bend it in a small loop without a crack, it will not make good cordage.

There are a lot of braids for rope. I've always used the simple three strand braid shown here.

Braiding multiple strands to make a rope of longer length out of shorter strands is pretty tricky. I wouldn't recommend trying it unless you practice a lot at home first.

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If you didn't bring rope with you on purpose, you may still have shoelaces. You could use them in a bowdrill to make a fire in an emergency (but you better know how to make and use a bowdrill well beforehand).

Two plants that make good cordage here in the Pacific Northwest are Stinging Nettle and Fireweed. You can use it fresh and green, but if you properly dry it out you can get a very strong rope.

Traditional rope is made by laying up. Take 2 strands and hold the ends together. Twist one a 1/2-turn one way around its own axis, and then wrap it a 1/2-turn around the other strand. Do it again with the other strand against the first. With practice you can add a 3rd strand to the mix. This is a very strong setup, as any weakness in 1 strand gets covered by the other 2.

When one strand nears its end, overlap it with a new strand for a few twists.

For a bigger rope, lay 3 smaller ropes up together. Repeat as needed for size & strength.

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