Surviving in Tough Times: How to Tie Knots

Learn to tie ten basic knots useful for survival, hobbies and a number of other frequent tasks.


The simplest knot to tie is probably the overhand knot.

Illustration courtesy Paladin Press

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Would you be prepared to survive in the event of a complete breakdown of modern civilization? In Long-Term Survival in the Coming Dark Age (Paladin Press, 2007), author Jim Ballou introduces you to the essential skills and mind-set you will need to survive a complete, long-term shift in the way the world operates. Learn how to build a fire, recycle and salvage everything, develop survival bartering skills, prepare and store caches, and much more. In the following excerpt, learn to tie ten knots to complete common tasks.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Long-Term Survival in the Coming Dark Age.

Using cord of any kind demands some knowledge about how to tie knots. Certain knots will be used in sewing, others in fishing, and still others in climbing, sailing, camping, horse handling, and numerous other activities.

Knots can be categorized by their function. Stopper knots are used to prevent rope from slipping through an eye. Bends are used to join two ropes together. Hitches are used for securing ropes directly to other objects like posts, hooks, rings, and rails. Loops are useful to hold the line fast when dropping one end of a line over an object. Shortenings are used to make rope shorter without cutting it, and fishing knots are most often used for attaching line to hooks. Learning how to tie at least 10 of the most common knots is a worthy short-term goal, in my view. One’s repertoire of useful knots can be increased over a period of time. The best way to remember how to tie and use certain knots is to practice them over and over again.

How to Tie Knots

Overhand Knot
The simplest knot is probably the overhand knot, which is frequently used as a stopper knot. It is easily constructed by looping the working end over the standing part and then passing the working end, or running end, back under and through the loop.

The bowline is perhaps one of the most important knots a person could ever learn to tie, as it has numerous possible applications. For example, it is a good knot to use for hoisting someone out of a deep hole with a strong rope.

To make the bowline, first loop the working end over the standing part to form a small loop some distance from the rope’s end and, by thinking of the running end as a squirrel, the following steps are easy to remember: The squirrel comes up out of his hole, runs around the pole, and then goes back down into his hole.

Square Knot
The square knot (also called a reef knot) is used to join two ropes of equal diameter. It is easily untied when no longer needed by pulling one of the free ends to capsize it. A properly made square knot has a symmetrical appearance, unlike the inferior granny knot, or the very similar looking thief knot, which has its free ends on opposite sides. To make a square knot, remember: “Right over left, left over right.”

Sheet Bend
The sheet bend is a very secure knot used for joining two ropes and, unlike a lot of other bends, the sheet bend can be used successfully to join two lines of different diameter.

Clove Hitch
The clove hitch is certainly one of the most popular hitches. This is probably due to the fact that it doesn’t jam under strain and is easy to tie and untie. It works best for hitching rope to round posts as a temporary mooring knot.

Prusik Knot
The Prusik knot is an interesting device that has been in use for more than 70 years. It is extremely simple to construct, and it is especially useful for attaching climbers’ footholds of medium-diameter rope to a thicker main rope. The knot can be moved around on the main rope when not under load. This knot is easy to form by making a cow hitch and then passing the loop through the knot a second time.

Figure-Eight Loop
The figure-eight loop has to be one of the easiest loops to tie, and probably one of the strongest. It is bulky and not particularly easy to untie, but it is secure. As its name suggests, it is formed simply by passing the loop through a figure eight and then drawing the knot tight.

Fisherman’s Knot
The fisherman’s knot (sometimes called a water knot) is a very good device for joining two small diameter lines of equal thickness. This knot is comprised of two simple overhand knots, one in each line being joined, which jam together for a fairly secure connection. It works much better with fishing line than with rope.

Improved Clinch Knot
The improved clinch knot is a popular knot for attaching fishhooks to line. It works reasonably well with hooks that have eyes and light monofilament fishing line. When properly formed using thin line, it draws up into a tidy knot.

The sheepshank is a common device used for quickly shortening a section of rope. It will hold together only under tension. The knot grips and holds its shape well when under an equal load at both ends, and is easy to undo when there is slack in the rope. It is also sometimes used to reinforce a weak spot in a rope under tension.

There are certainly numerous other useful knots that might be beneficial to learn and memorize, and I believe that a person could only gain by increasing his repertoire, but quite a lot of common tasks can be accomplished with just the ones described here. One other handy knot that should probably also be included here is the timber hitch, which could be used to attach a bowstring to the nocks of a bow. It’s as simple as they get, but quite strong.

Read more: Learn all about fire building in Surviving in Tough Times: How to Build a Fire.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Long-Term Survival for the Coming Dark Age: Preparing to Live after Society Crumbles by James Ballou and published by Paladin Press, 2007. Buy this book from our store: Long-Term Survival for the Coming Dark Age.