August 21, 2023
Admit it: You’ve only gotten this far in your outdoor career thanks to good looks, kind mentors and pure dumb luck. When it comes to knots, your aptitude is sadly lacking. Hiding behind a tree as you struggle to anchor a tarp? Piling endless granny knots on an innocent tent stake? Let’s stop the insanity. The following four essential knots will ensure your boat doesn’t drift off, your tent stays put in a gale and your gear doesn’t bounce out of your pickup bed. Learn them and you’ll be the cool uncle instead of the sap relegated to camp dish-washing duty.
You broke the cardinal rule and cut a perfectly good rope into two pieces. In fact, the bed of your truck is full of bits and pieces of thick, thin, old and new ropes of all colors. Now, you need to join two of them, of different diameters, to string a meat pole. Bend the thicker or more slippery rope into a “J” shape, giving yourself plenty of tag end to work with. Pass the other rope through the “J” from behind, wrap it around the entire fishhook once, then tuck the smaller line between itself and the other rope. Voila! One functional rope from your two previous mistakes.
This variation on two half hitches (you do know how to tie two half hitches, right?) is sometimes called “three half hitches,” and is the knot that prevents your tent from careening across the lake. In wet or changing weather, it’s indispensable because the rope can be adjusted to the conditions that affect rope length—you can make it “taut” over and over again. Got a leaning tent pole? Cinch it up with this knot. Hanging a bear bag from a limb? The taut line hitch allows you to raise the line out of reach of snooping bruins when the bough bends under the weight of all that stuff in your sack. Start by making a turn around a post or tree. Wrap the tag end around the standing line twice, working back toward the post. Make another wrap on the outside of the first two and pull the tag between the first two wraps and the third. You can now slide that knot up and down the line to adjust tautness.
Sure, you can skulk into Harbor Freight and buy ratchet straps, but a real outdoorsman uses rope and this knot to secure any load in a truck bed or on a roof rack. Infinitely adjustable with a tug and a cinch, it not only holds stuff, it looks more manly than those neon-colored party favors from the hardware store. Anchor one end with two half hitches, then lob your rope over the load. About an arm’s length up the rope, tie an overhand knot with a loop in it. Run the tag end of the rope through your anchor point then up through the loop. Give a tug and tie two half hitches to the loop.
OK, so you broke your ratchet strap. Serves you right. Here’s the knot that will re-join those broken ends of the webbing so you can limp your way to the dump, cap brim low and sunglasses ensuring your anonymity. Your makeshift repair should hold without sliding until you can buy a real rope for next time. Basically, you tie a very loose overhand knot at one end of one piece. With the end of the other piece, “follow” that knot. Snake the end through the loop, essentially tracing the route of your original overhand knot, but backward. Leave plenty of tag end on each side because eventually the webbing will slip and loosen (yet another reason to use rope).