Top Five Survival Knots

Top Five Survival KnotsKnowing how to tie secure knots can be a critical skill in many pastimes and occupations. For firefighter, sailors, climbers and campers, survival can depend on a properly tied knot. They must be able to tie and release knots quickly and tightly using knot forms that will secure heavy objects or withstand the force of different kinds of pull and impact on the rope. There are a number of basic survival knots that anyone can master and that are a good preparation for any wilderness or outdoors experience.

Knot-tying is an important skill for anybody, and I frequently see people get embarrassed and befuddled when it comes to securing a simple load or performing rudimentary but useful tasks. Here are five knots that I think everybody should know (in no particular order), and if you master these very basic knots, you’ll be able to handle about 95% of all knot tying requirements you’d ever encounter.

This is a fun thing to learn and master during idle time spent in a car, watching a TV, or waiting for a particularly slow-moving horde of zombies to regroup in winter. I’d encourage you to tie each of these at least several hundred times over a span of several days to months. This way, it’s not possible to forget them.

In this article we are going to go over the top five survival knots that I believe are necessary to know and can easily save your life!

1. Figure Eight Knot

The figure-eight knot is a type of knot. It is very important in both sailing and rock climbing as a method of stopping ropes from running out of retaining devices. Unlike the overhand knot, which will bind iron-hard under strain, often requiring the rope to be cut, the figure of eight can be easily untied after even the greatest strain.

There is really two main Figure Eight knots. One is for tying two ropes together, the Figure Eight Follow Through, and the other is the Figure Eight on a Bight, which preserves 85% strength of the rope. The Figure Eight has replaced the square knot in climbing and rigging.

Figure Eight Follow Through

Figure Eight Follow Through

Figure Eight Follow Through

Step 1:
Form a single figure eight in the end of the rope and feed the tail through your harness. Some harnesses require that you feed the rope through certain straps. When tying in, I like to feed rope through the same harness straps that the belay loop occupies (not pictured), others prefer to use the belay loop (as pictured). Still others prefer to tie into a steel locking carabiner, or two aluminium locking carabiners, gates reversed, which have been clipped into the appropriate harness straps. There are pros & cons. Consult your harness manual for the recommended tie in point.

Steps 2 & 3: Rethread the figure eight, following the same path as the first. Pull the knot tight (though some climbers prefer to leave it a little loose to absorb force from a fall). Make sure you have enough tail, as the knot will slip a bit when loaded. Check the knot by counting “two”, “two” & “two”, for the three visible doubled strands. Ensure they each are lying flat and not crossing over themselves.

Step 4: An optional step. If you find yourself with too much tail, or are paranoid about the figure eight slipping, tie a stopper knot with the remaining tail.

It is recommended that you check your partner’s tie in knot, and get them to check yours before climbing.

Figure Eight On A Bight

This knot is formed from a “bight” of rope. It’s very handy to just grab a bight of the rope anywhere along it and tie it off in this manner. Useful for belay set ups, or rescue work, or to backup ascending a rope, and all sorts of applications. Again, I’d be very surprised if any climber did not already know this knot. Never-the-less, follow these steps to tie a figure eight on a bight:

Figure Eight On A Bight

Figure Eight On A Bight

Steps 1,2 & 3
Grab a bite of rope and form the classic figure eight.

Step 4: Pull tight and clip in. Fast, simple and secure.


2. Bowline Knot

One of the most useful knots you can know. The bowline forms a secure loop that will not jam and is easy to tie and untie.

Bowline Knot

Bowline Knot

Take one end of your rope and pass it behind a tree or rock (or simply bend it to create a loop)

Step 1: On one side of the loop you will now have a short end (the “working” end) and a longer piece (the “standing” end). The working end usually needs to be about a foot long, but can be longer if you want a larger loop.

Step 2: Create a small circle in the standing end of the rope by pinching the rope and folding it down about three inches.

Step 3: Run the working end of the rope through the loop from back to front.

Step 4: Run the working end of the rope around the standing end.

Step 5 and 6: Run the working end through the loop, from front to back and pull the knot tight.


3. Square Knot

Quick and easy to tie; it is a good knot for securing non-critical items. Not to be trusted to join two ropes together. Also known as the Reef Knot, this knot was used for centuries by sailors for reefing sails and tying things aboard ship. It is important that this knot should not be used as a bend (for tying two ropes together). It is unsafe and can come apart. Be sure to form the square knot and avoid tying a granny knot, by making sure that both parts of the rope, the standing line and the free end, exit the knot together.

Square Knot

Square Knot

Step 1:
Tie two over hand knots. First, right over left and twist. Then left over right and twist.

Step 2: Make sure both parts of the rope exit the knot together!


4. Clove Hitch

A simple all-purpose hitch. Easy to tie and untie. A useful and easy to tie knot, the Clove Hitch is a good binding knot. However, as a hitch it should be used with caution because it can slip or come undone if the object it is tied to rotates or if constant pressure is not maintained on the line.

This is used for a variety of reasons, but often to hang something from a pipe or stanchion.

Added bonus: try the slip clove hitch so that you can break the knot just by pulling on it.

Clove Hitch

Clove Hitch


Step 1: Wrap the free end of a rope around a post.

Step 2: Crossover itself and around the post again.

Step 3: Slip working end under last wrap.

Step 4: Pull tight.


5. Trucker’s Hitch

Use the Trucker’s Hitch to cinch down a load. This combination of knots allows a line to be pulled very tight. Probably the most useful hitch there is, the Trucker’s Hitch allows a line to be pulled tight as a guitar string and secured. It is used by truckers to secure heavy loads in place and works equally well tying canoes and other objects to the tops of cars. Once the line is pull to the desired tension using the pulley effect of the loop in the middle of the line, the knot is secured with a couple half hitches around one or both lines.

This hitch is very useful in securing loads of all sizes — from a small pile of firewood to a truckload of used furniture. It works by creating back pressure on the knot so that you can pull most of the slack through before half-hitching the bitter end of the line.

Trucker's Hitch

Trucker's Hitch


Step 1: Tie one end of rope to fixed object such as car bumper. About mid way on the rope tie a slippery half hitch to form a loop in the middle of the line. Be sure the loop part is formed with the slack part of the rope or it will tighten down on itself under pressure.

Step 2: Make a wrap around another fixed point opposite the tie-in point and feed free end through the loop.

Step 3: Using the loop as a pulley, pull down with the free end as tight as you can and secure the knot with two half hitches around one or both lines.


There are numerous knot learning websites if you are looking to add more knot knowledge to your arsenal. The ones I really like are Animated Knots, Net Knots, Pro Knot and Real Knots.

Don’t let knots scare you.  You don’t have to be a Boy Scout to be an expert with knots. Learning knots is fun for all ages, especially for kids.  Start them young on learning (playing) with knots and you will instill a wealth of survival knowledge that many overlook.

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