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When camping, I often need to tension a rope between two points, and it starts by tying the rope to the first point, which can be a tree. In this situation, I can use a bowline or a Siberian hitch or a clove hitch for example, which are respectively a loop knot, a slip knot, and a hitch knot. Is there a reason to choose one over the others?

First, I'm not sure of my English; I'm not talking about specific knots, but three categories of knots that are listed on Wikipedia:

Secondly, I'm talking about a common situation in camping, when you need to attach a rope to an object, like around a tree, before tightening it to a second point. It can be setting a tarp, or a tent, or a line between two trees, or anything. Those situations requires to stretch a rope between two points (an eyelet, a handle, a pole, a peg, a tree...), and it starts by hanging the rope on one point, and then stretching it on the other point.

For the first part, when you need to attach the rope with a loop around an object, for example a tree, is there a reason why the loop should better be fixed, or running, or tight?

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  • Have you not (no pun intended) read Scouting for Boys, in either today's format or the original version? Sep 25, 2023 at 19:33
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    As an aside, tensioned paracord around trees moving in the wind really beats up the bark. Using some webbing around the trunk is much nicer to the tree.
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 26, 2023 at 12:32
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    It certainly looks as though your Question isn't pertinent. For more than 100 years, millions of Boy Scouts and their sistren Girl Guides have used Scouting for Boys to Answer exactly what you Asked. D'you not think you might be better off with a tutor, rather than a bunch of internet strangers? Sep 26, 2023 at 20:14
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    Clove hitch is somewhat of a specialist. Wikipedia says, "It is most effectively used to secure a middle section of rope to an object it crosses over." A clove hitch is not at all secure if the "post" can roll or if the direction of pull can change. And also, it most secure when the "post" is not much thicker than the line itself. If you want to hitch the end of a line to a post, a round turn and two half hitches probably is a much better choice. (Extra credit if you can see the clove hitch in the two half hitches.) Sep 26, 2023 at 22:15
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    @wjandrea yes indeed i mean the figure eight loop, and with the follow through method in most cases, you are right
    – hugogogo
    Sep 26, 2023 at 22:27

4 Answers 4

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The general points to consider are how well you want the knot to stay in place (i.e. resist sliding on the anchor point) and whether you want it to be adjustable (e.g. movable higher or lower on a tree trunk).

  • Loops are easily adjustable but slide in many conditions (e.g. on smooth bark)

  • Running hitches can hold tighter and are adjustable when loosened

  • Other hitches can hold even tighter but aren't adjustable

    However, they're also generally simpler, like the timber hitch and clove hitch *

Although, I believe with most of these, you can add a round-turn and get more staying power. For loops, it makes them more like running hitches in that they hold tighter but need to be loosened to be adjusted.

My go-to for setting up hammocks and large tarps is the round-turn-two-half-hitches, which is what I learned in Scouts (Canada). I don't know if it's ideal, but it's worked well enough for me.

* as well as the marlinespike hitch, which is tied on the bight but requires access to the end of the anchor point, i.e. would work for a peg but not a grommet or tree

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    thank you, it answers my question ! I want to add that since loops slide, they can fall down if tied to a tree, when they are not under tension. And they can get damaged by friction, or damage the tree as pointed out by @JonCuster in a comment. And now that i think about it that way, some running loops, like the running bowline, will tend to slide in one direction but not the other, I suppose
    – hugogogo
    Sep 26, 2023 at 22:59
  • @hugogogo You know, I've never used a running bowline. I imagine it could slide pretty easily. And now that I think about it, the other ones could also slide at least a bit, so I rephrased that part.
    – wjandrea
    Sep 26, 2023 at 23:22
  • Interesting - between two half hitches and tautline hitch (both I learned from BSA) I tend to prefer the latter because I find it tends to be more secure. I hadn’t heard about adding round turns, but I have experimented with adding extra half hitches for strength. I haven’t tried the two half hitches with a round turn, however, I’ll have to try it out Sep 27, 2023 at 4:26
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    @fyrepenguin The half hitches in the round-turn-two-half-hitches go around the rope, not the anchor point, so two half-hitches on their own don't compare. And a tautline is more of a finisher than a starter in my experience.
    – wjandrea
    Sep 27, 2023 at 6:04
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In general, I’d suggest a setup where only one end is mobile. That way, you’re only worried about maintaining tension on one knot and not two. If you only have one free end, then a non-tensioning or non-adjustable knot is likely out of the question.

My personal preference is to use a bowline for a fixed anchor on one end, because it’s a knot that I can practically tie in my sleep. I could probably tie a bowline as fast as I could tie a clove hitch, so I wouldn’t say you’d prefer it in a situation that speed is important, but it is going to be more difficult to undo. Having a fixed loop can be annoying in some cases, however since the point it rejoins is some distance away from the anchor, which can make things more difficult if you’re low on space.

I’d default to a taut-line hitch for the adjustable end, because it’s effective enough and also one that I’m experienced with. One neat trick is that you can add additional half hitches to increase the friction, allowing it to reliably hold a decent amount of tension.


On a more philosophical note:

There’s definitely arguments to be made regarding which type of knot or hitch is optimal in a situation, but I also think there’s something to be said for which ones you can tie reliably. If there’s three knots that would all be effective, one of which is technically superior, but you’re not confident in tying it correctly, I would tend to prefer the “good enough” option that you won’t have issues with.

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  • thx for this instructive answer :) I agree with your philosophical note, and this is why i'm asking this in the first place, I try to choose the set of knot that i will learn and practice :) And you are right for the information about how a fixed loop can sometimes be annoying because of the distance from the anchor, I hadn't thought about that aspect
    – hugogogo
    Sep 26, 2023 at 23:07
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Use-case is the likely answer. You use different ones depending on what you intend to do.

A quick knot, such as a clove hitch might be used if you are needing something fast (quick shelter from oncoming storm perhaps), that doesn't need to hold for a long time. Clove hitches and the like were often used to tie up horses at a hitching post, quick, easy to undo, holds well enough.

A running knot, such as a running bowline can be used to snug up the rope to the object and create a more secure hold, or to create tension on the rope for hanging something from it. You might also use this if you only have one free end on the rope, but still need to tie it off under tension. An example of this is to tie down luggage on a trailer or roof-rack, where you already have one end attached and you want to tie the loose end tightly.

Figure-8 are used as reliable knots that will hold no-matter-what. Note that Bowlines are slightly less reliable, so less commonly used in life-critical situations, such as climbing. If you want to tie something on, and the knot to not come undone under regular use, use one of these. This could be the first end in the luggage example above, using the running knot at the loose end. Bowlines are commonly used to attach a sheet to a boom in sailing.

In the case of you camping - you would want to use reliable knots to ensure that the objects stay put for the duration of your camp and can cope with changes in wind-direction and/or other weather conditions. In general, I would use two running loops with one end pre-tied with the knot before I left so that I can easily and quickly attach the rope to my first anchor point. The pre-tied knot allows you to create a running loop/noose with the loose end and then use whatever knot you find suitable once you have established the distance necessary to your second anchor point.

For tensioning onto the second anchor, I would use something like the trucker's hitch as you can tie this quickly on a bight without a loose end as you establish how much slack/tension you need. Fixed knots don't work so well here as they take more time to tie and untie if you get it wrong on distance/tension.

A fixed loop can also be useful if you are tying in to an already positioned object, such as a webbing belt or karabiner attached to an established camping spot with posts etc already in place. In this case you would tie the fixed loop at the time.

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In the case of trees, i.e. in settings where the diameter of the "post" is significantly larger than the diameter of the rope, I prefer the timber hitch. The advantages are that it doesn't need so much rope (just a single turn plus some constant extra length), and doesn't make a mess (I always get something wrong when tying a clove hitch at such length -- the friction of a rope around a tree is not to be underestimated!).

The timber hitch also seems to be sufficiently safe if done with enough turns (around itself, not the tree) in a static rope -- I have learned to use it in a course on setting up ziplines. This course also taught the principle the other answers mentioned: keep one end of the line fixed with a knot like the timber hitch, and use the other end for tensioning and extra rope. The latter can be tiedby a simple trucker's hitch, taut line hitch or similar, or a pulley system with Tiblocs and Grigris in the case of a zipline.

I don't really use any knots on slip, so I can't really comment on that. The only exception is my go-to crossover between a trucker's hitch and taut line hitch, which I often tie in the bight, but not for so much for quick release as to avoid having to pull through all the extra line.

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    This is how I was taught. A timber hitch on one end, and a tautline hitch on the other. As long as it remains under tension, the timber hitch holds remarkably well (at least on a large-diameter irregular surface like a tree; on a smooth, narrow metal pole, another option would likely be better). Sep 25, 2023 at 20:10
  • it's interesting to take into account the difference in thickness between the post and the rope to not mess with the crossed round turn of the clove hitch
    – hugogogo
    Sep 27, 2023 at 7:23
  • I was at a talk were river rescue rope procedures were explained and this rescue service would normally just wrap around the post/tree many times rather than use knots for a static line. (Not ziplines.) Enough wraps and the line can go nowhere but very easy to undo in an emergency. Wraps on one end, truckers hitch or mechanical and extra rope solutions on the other end.
    – Willeke
    Oct 11, 2023 at 8:18

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