When confronted with the need to tie something off, most people resort to simply tying as many half-assed knots as they can in the vague hope that the sheer frictional complexity will stymie the natural forces of entropy.
This approach can work, as long as you’re ok with sacrificing your dignity and the effectiveness of said knots — but it’s much better to learn how to tie some of the most useful of the roughly 4,000 knots known to humankind.
Here are 11 knots every adult should know how to tie.
The bowline knot creates a non-moving loop at the end of a length of rope, which makes it ideal to secure something to an anchor of some sort. It can also be used to secure a rope around an object (or a person). It’s a super easy knot, too — create a loop, push one end of the rope through the loop, wrap it around the other end of the rope and push it back through the loop. Tighten, and you’ve got an unmoving loop that won’t slip.
A hitch is a knot that connects a length of rope to another rope or attaches it to an object. (Many knots are combinations of hitches.) A taut line hitch creates an adjustable knot that can be lengthened or shortened as needed. One is commonly used to attach a tent to stakes, for example, because you can attach the loop and then tighten as needed.
First, pass the rope around the object you’re attaching to. Pass the end of the rope around the length of the rope, forming a loop. Push the end through the loop, then repeat, forming two loops around the main part of the rope. Then, pass the end of the rope over the top of the loop you’ve created, and loop it around the main length one more time. Pull the end through the new, smaller loop you’ve just created and tighten; now you can move the knot up and down as needed.
A square knot is one of the first knots most people learn because it’s simple and has a fundamental use: It joins two lengths of rope together. If you have two short pieces of rope that are about the same size and texture, you can use a square knot to create one piece of longer rope, which is incredibly useful. It’s not the strongest knot, so you can’t really use it for applications requiring something secure, but in a pinch, it can be a lifesaver.
First, cross the lengths of rope (right over left). Then loop them up around each other. Cross the ends again (left over right) and pull them tight, leaving you with the classic square knot shape. Tighten, and you’re ready to go.
A square knot joins two similar ropes, but if you have two short ropes of different diameters or made from different materials, a sheet bend is a better choice for joining them together (it also works with similar ropes, so you can skip the square knot if you want, though the sheet bend is a little more complex).
Start with the rope that’s either thicker or more slippery (a nylon cord, for example) and bend it into a fishhook shape. Cross the top of the loop with the other piece of rope, then twist it around the back of the first rope. Pull it under the other side of the fishhook, then over the top, under itself, then over the other side of the fishhook. Tighten and go about your business.
Two half hitches
Used to tie a rope to any sort of cylindrical object (like a tree, or metal ring), this is a useful knot because it’s easy to make and pretty strong. It’s basically a loop-de-loop: Wrap the line around your anchor, pull the end through the loop created, then loop the end around one more time and pull through — that sucker’s not going anywhere. It’s very useful for anchoring things to the ground or any sort of object, like a tree.
The trucker’s hitch is a marvel of knot magic because of the mechanical advantage it confers on you — basically, it amplifies the force you apply to tightening the rope, typically by a factor of 2-to-1 or even 3-to-1. What that means is this pulley-like knot will lock something down much more tightly than you would be able to manage with a different technique — and yet the trucker’s hitch unties super easy, unlike the mass of tangled knots most people tie off in desperation.
The trucker’s hitch is a little more complex, but well worth learning if you ever drive stuff home from Home Depot, my friends: Pull your rope through your anchor, then create a loop up near the top of the load. Twist this loop three times, fold the loop down and pull the loose end through. Pull the loose end through the loop, tighten as much as you can, then secure it by tying two half hitches to form a stop.
The barrel hitch is a great knot to know because it forms a quick and easy bucket of sorts, and can be used to lift things. So, for example, if you’re working on your roof and you need to lift a bucket that lacks a handle, you can tie off a barrel hitch.
First, lay the rope on the ground and place your container on top of it. Tie a simple overhand knot across the top, then loosen the knot and wrap it around the circumference of the container at the rim. Tie off the ends of the rope using a square knot, and you can haul up whatever your lifting pretty easily.
The sheepshank has one important and often overlooked purpose: It makes your rope shorter without cutting it.
Start by folding your rope into a backward “S” shape, like two loops going in different directions. Create a loop on the upper free end, push the folded end through it, and tighten slightly. Repeat this on bottom end. Tighten (making sure the top loops created don’t pull back through) and you have a secure knot that has just made your rope a few inches shorter.
The clove hitch is a super easy knot — you can quickly learn to tie it one-handed, which is why it’s a knot every climber in the world knows how to tie. But it’s most useful as a lashing, binding things together — if you were on a deserted island, you might use the clove hitch to create a raft out of a bunch of sticks. In your dry, safe house, you’ll probably use it to bundle things or secure a rope to something that it passes over, like a fence post.
All you have to do is wrap your rope around an anchor twice, then pull the end through the gap between the loops.
If you need to secure two sticks or poles together in a cross configuration, a square lash is your huckleberry.
First, use a clove hitch (well, any hitch will do) to secure your rope to the vertical pole. Twist the short end of your rope around the longer end and twist it around until you have no more left. Taking the twisted ends, wrap the rope over the horizontal, under the vertical, over the other side of the horizontal, and under the vertical. Repeat a few times, layering outward, then start wrapping your rope around the wrappings. Finish it off with a few hitches to hold everything tight.
The Prusik hitch was invented by mountaineer Karl Prusik back in 1931, and it’s kind of a genius knot. It attaches a rope perpendicularly to another rope and can slide up and down the length of the first rope easily, but becomes a tighter and stronger when weight is applied. It’s also useful for creating a loop or handle on a length of rope when there is no free end to work with.
Tying a Prusik hitch starts by tying a short length of rope into a loop and tying it off. Then wrap the loop around the second rope and push the knotted end through the other side, then go around the other rope again and pull the knotted end through the new loop you’ve created. Pull tight, and you have an adjustable connection that moves easily but won’t budge when pulled on.