How to Tie the 10 Most Useful Knots

Whether it's a simple overhand or the more complicated sheepshank, here are ten useful knots to know whether you're homesteading, boating, or camping.

| May/June 1979

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Figure Eight Knot


Headin' back to the land (or making any move toward greater self-sufficiency) will, sooner or later, mean a return to the use of ropes. Without simple hitches (single ropes tied to objects) and bends (ropes joined together), loads fall off trucks, an expensive cow or goat escapes, a boat goes adrift, and hoisting hay from wagon to mow becomes a major problem.

Rope Rhetoric

However, before you start to learn down-home knotsmanship, a brief summary of rope vocabulary is in order.

Bitter End: The end of a rope that's being manipulated — also called the "working end."

Standing Part: the segment of the rope that you aren't using at the moment. It can be coiled, stretched, or otherwise left inactive.

Bight: a curve or arc in the rope. This can be a semicircle or a loose loop through which the working end may run.

There are over 4,000 hitches and bends used in special crafts, but — with the following 10 useful knots in your rope repertoire — you'll be able to handle just about any situation that requires you to fasten two objects together, secure one line to another, or tie a rope to a solid object.

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Michael Adler
4/15/2013 4:12:58 AM

ok, I found the diagrams. That helps a lot. I agree with another post about the taughtline. That's not a taughtline, but some other knot that serves a similar function. Also, I think the anchor hitch aught to be included in this list. I like Skip's suggestion of the trucker's hitch too - a very valuable knot.

Michael Adler
4/15/2013 3:54:22 AM

I usually like MoEarth News, but this article was terrible. Most of the article was trying to instruct knot tying with words and not diagrams. In addition, the words are insufficiently specific to correctly tie most knots with them. Thirdly, the selection of knots was terrible. I agree with another poster that the lark's head is more useful than probably five of the knots in that article. The sheet-bend is a terrible and useless knot that comes undone whenever you put tension on it. The carrick bend is confusing to tie, easily screwed up, and if you do it wrong it will fail. The clove hitch is inferior to the constrictor knot. I'm not much a fan of the timber hitch. The tautline description is an interesting variation, on the standard, but since there's no diagram, and the words are not specific enough, I can't tell what it's actually supposed to be like. Of note, however, the Boy Scout manual's method is inferior to the proper way, but I'd need a diagram to show you how. The sheepshank is also pretty useless. It left out many of the variations in the figure 8 knot, such as an 8 on a bight, a stopper knot, a three or two way equalizing 8, a figure 8 follow-through, also known as a flemish bend, which brings up the overhand follow-through, or water knot, which is the main bend for joining two flat ropes. It left out the double-fisherman's knot, which is the most secure way to join two round ropes, though it can become impossible to untie after being weighted. I could go on, but you get the point.

5/21/2007 9:22:19 AM

I think you should have included the Trucker's Hitch right after the Square Knot as it is one of the more useful knots in securing a load or tightening up a tent-line etc. that I know. I used it every two or three days when I lived on my boat to secure tarps against the wind and my dinghy to the deck. The best part of it is that it is not only secure against motion and vibration but that it is easy to tie and untie.

5/13/2007 12:52:43 PM

1 length of rope over a branch, tie a bowline through a harness leaving along tail then tie a BLAKE HITCH over the standing rope. A friction hitch ascender with only one rope!!

5/11/2007 12:41:33 PM

With just a cursory glance I noticed two errors regarding these knots. First the two free ends of the sheet bend should emerge on the same side of the knot. The knot, as it is tied in the photo, is known as a left-handed sheet bend as is not as strong. Second, while the knot described as the taughtline may be perfectly well suited to the use as described, it is not a taughtline as recognized by the majority of knot tying sites on the web. A true taughtlin has only one loop (loop 3 in the photo) above the first two. Lastly, it should be mentioned that a reef (or square) knot should never be used to join two ropes if the rope will be subjected to any significant load. It is a binding knot, not a bend.

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