As someone who’s been rock climbing for over a decade, I can tell you firsthand that having a handful of knots in your repertoire can literally save your butt. But fear not; you don’t need to start scaling cliffs for knots to become a useful part of your life. Overland travelers and anyone else venturing off the grid will benefit from learning the following five basic knots, all of which are versatile and relatively easy to tie.
**DISCLAIMER** Using and relying on knots comes with inherent risks. It is your responsibility to learn how to tie and understand the limitations of any knots that you rely on, especially when their use can affect your personal safety. When in doubt, consult an expert.
USES: Anchoring a rope to a fixed object (i.e., a tree, recovery point, or fixed anchor). The bowline has also historically been used for tying a safety rope to oneself or climbing harness to prevent a fall.
The bowline has been around for quite some time, and as you might have imagined, it’s original documented use was in the sailing world where it would secure the edges of square sails against the wind, toward the bow of a ship. Captain John Smith mentioned the knot’s robust holding power all the way back in 1691 in A Sea Grammar. There are also rumors that the knot was discovered in the rigging of ancient Egyptian ships during a 1954 archeological excavation.
The bowline has stuck around and is still widely used today. It’s a strong knot that doesn’t slip (especially with a backup knot), and one of it’s most respected qualities is that it doesn’t cinch down when weight is applied to it; that means it’s easy to untie after being loaded all day. The bowline can be easily tied through fixed anchors like eye bolts or D-rings as well as around objects such as rocks and trees.
Water Knot a.k.a. Ring Bend
USES: Connecting two ropes end-to-end or creating a loop with a single piece of rope or webbing.
A bend is a special type of knot that connects the ends of two pieces of webbing or ropes. Known by multiple names, the water knot has its roots in climbing where it was (and still is) used to tie tubular webbing into a continuous loop or sling before sewn slings were available.
The water knot is most effective for connecting two pieces of tubular webbing (think recovery straps), but it will work with rope as well (consider backup knots). This bend can be used to tie two separate ropes together or to make a loop with a single piece of rope. It is crucial when tying this knot to use two ropes of a similar diameter.
USES: Anchoring a rope to a fixed point with easy, on-the-fly adjustment of length/tension.
The clove hitch requires being tied around an object to hold its shape. It’s an excellent hitch to use in situations where you may need to adjust the length of your rope or cord on the fly without completely untying the hitch. The clove hitch can be tied around a fixed object like a tree or through a fixed point like an eye bolt or a carabiner.
USES: This is a friction hitch and not a true knot. It is helpful for lowering a heavy load from a fixed point and has been used historically for rappelling prior to the invention of modern belay devices.
The munter hitch is versatile and unique. It is not a knot in the sense that it won’t secure a rope, but what this hitch will do is give you a mechanical advantage for lowering a load. I’ve used the munter as a safe way to lower a 250-pound piece of steel off of a 16-foot tower by myself. The munter is most often applied in rock climbing, but it has many other practical applications.
USES: Tensioning and securing a tent guyline, securing cargo, creating a tight ridgeline for a tarp shelter or sunshade.
The trucker’s hitch gets its name from the people who often use it: truckers (and overlanders too) have historically implemented this knot as a way to secure cargo.
This is the most complex of the five knots in this article, but with practice, it will feel natural. It is a compound knot, meaning that it is made of multiple knots. Like the clove hitch, the trucker’s hitch must be tied to a fixed object to hold its shape. It is unique in that it creates a 2:1 mechanical advantage, making it an excellent choice for tying down gear in the bed of a truck or tensioning a tent guyline around a stake.