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Picture of Knots to Know

This is a quick guide to help you learn the bare essential knots that everyone should know before they go hiking or camping. Nothing extreme, just easy knots that should be used to avoid using bad knots, e.g.

The May knot: it May not hold anything.

The Hatchet knot: your going to need a hatchet to get it out.

This guide is brought to you by a group of students currently studying technical writing.

Equipment needed:

Any available line will work to practice these knots, but the correct line to use for your outdoor needs varies from nylon to manila.

Basic parts of a knot:

We will refer to the load bearing side of the line as the "live" end, and the portion of line that is left over from completing the knot as the "dead" end. The knots illustrated are done with a right hand and left hand perspective for ease of learning. The square knot is an exception to this though, since all operations to make the square knot require a live end in both hands.


Any and all knots whether for securing a load, hoisting tools, rescue operations or even keeping food away from wild animals should all be tied with care. Also, the more curves and bends you put in a knot, the weaker it gets.

Steps 1 through 6: The Bowline

This knot is used for many applications, and can easily be untied, which is one of the bigger reasons to use it.

Steps 7 through 10: The Clove Hitch

This knot works best when securing a line that is holding a load for you. Again, it comes apart easy, and is quick.

Steps 11 through 15: The Square Knot

This knot is great for tying two lines together, if you have only short line sections to work with and need a longer line. Easily comes apart by pushing the knot into itself, or can be left permanently. The two sets of pictures per step can be used for Left hand or right hand interpretation.

Step 16:

Practice, and always use responsibly.

Step 1: The Bowline

Picture of The Bowline
Bowline left hand start.JPG
Poppy Ann3 years ago

Although I know many knots the only three I tend to use are the figure eight, the bowline and the square knot I lived on my sail boat for 10 years and could do anything I needed to by using these three.

One I use to insist anyone on-board knew how to tie was the one handed bowline as that was required if you fell overboard and someone threw you a line to pull you back on board and the reason for needing to tie it one handed was due to you needed to use your other hand to hold onto the line whilst you were tying it.

jstork13 years ago

Thanks for the knots. Knots by Grog is a pretty comprehensive site that covers a lot of knots for many purposes.

DonaL33 years ago

The bowline is left out of many knot information on line.

It is a big part of the BSA training, so A lot of people know about it thanks for showing it. I try to keep up on at least10 knots, but use only about 4 or 5 in everyday life.

tavibitxb3 years ago
nice. I've been looking for a list that compiles these knots
don573 years ago

I know other knots but these 3 (and the figure-8) comprise about 99% of the knots I use

DesM2 don573 years ago

i like the marlin spike hitch: one handed, it's on the bite so you don't need to ends, it's so versatile and can be embellished into several other knots. Use it to Hank a rope, secure a rabid gruffalo, make a tree swing or rope ladder or secure a load on a trailer. It's also handy for stringing balloons for party decorations!

This guy has some more uses if you want a sensible answer...

sandalwood13 years ago


Speaking as a lifelong professional mariner and frequent small boat user, the square (or reef) knot is a VERY POOR choice for joining two lines together. In his definitive tome on knots, Clifford Ashley claimed that "misused reef knots have caused more deaths and injuries than all other knots combined".

To join two lines of the same size, the sheet bend is probably the most common correct approach, and for lines of different size the carrick bend is a good choice.

I fully agree, the square knot has almost no legitimate use besides tying up packages. It's a terrible knot for joining lines. I don't even use it for my shoelaces anymore, because it comes untied too easily (try the surgeon's shoelace knot). I find the Zeppelin Bend easy to remember for joining two ropes of equal girth, it's a strong knot and really easy to untie.

IN my boy scout days, we were told that reef knots were only to be used to join ropes of equal thickness. The sheet bend on the other hand, is used to join ropes of unequal thickness, the thicker rope for the loop and the thinner to run around forming the knot.

"The rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree, then goes back down the hole". ;-)

ha ha ha.. Thats exactly what I was going to say. You must have been a boy scout too.

I have to share this shoe tying knot. I think it's called a "runner's knot" . After the bunny comes out of the hole, goes around the tree, have him go around the tree again, then back in the hole. It gives a locking effect that keeps the lace from unlocking, and it doesn't look like your Mommy tied it.


Was1x3 years ago

OK, you said the first two were easy to undo. A big item for me. But I didn't see that explanation. Can someone add it?

PalletM3 years ago

The fastest bowline is not a standard bowline. It is a tugboat bowline. It is not as strong as a standard bowline because there is an additional bend in the live end.

Syx3 years ago

The "square knot" shown above may also be known as a "reef knot" - at least it was when I was in the Scouts!

CourtenayS1 Syx3 years ago

It is also the one you probably use to tie your shoes.

Syx CourtenayS13 years ago

Isn't that only when you use the "bunny ears" technique?

CourtenayS1 Syx3 years ago

It is also the one you probably use to tie your shoes.

Ditto- also known as the "figure of eight" knot

The figure 8 knot is a completely different knot from the square or reef knot.

chefspenser3 years ago

Good stuff. I'm now going to get my BSA book out and have a refresher course. Thanks.

PalletM3 years ago

A simple way to tie a bowline starts with a simple overhand knot, like the first half of a square knot. Once the dead end is wrapped around the live end, with the live end not pulled tight, pull or snap the dead end. It will put the proper twist and loop in the live end and you can finish the 'around the tree and back into the hole.' There are even easier ways but they require a video. Being able to tie a bowline around one's body with ONE HAND is important to self-rescue.

Jim Weeder3 years ago

Square knot-----right over left, left over right. The Boy Scout handbook and Pioneering merit badge book is also good for knots and hitches

AOGutierrez3 years ago

I have to disagree with some of your terminology. I have never heard the end of a line referred to as the "dead end", working or bitter end are the common terms. What you call the live end is known as the standing part of the line or, in certain circumstances the bight.

A square knot (Reef knot) is a binding knot for gaskets or the string on a parcel, the proper knot for joining two lines regardless of relative size is the Sheet Bend which uses the same form as the Bowline. It can take a strain without capsizing and is easily untied.

As suggested in another comment the bible for knots is The Ashley Book of Knots.

rstichal (author)  AOGutierrez3 years ago

AOGutierrez, Thank you for the advise. It sounds like i better get the Ashley Book of Knots.

Check your local library. Mine has a copy.

PhilipP23 years ago

Great information, thanks for sharing!! For the record, I can tie over 400 varieties of the 'May Knot'! Of course, upon closer inspection by an expert like yourself, you'd see that a large number of those are, in fact, Will Knot's. :)

rstichal (author)  PhilipP23 years ago

Nice! I'll have to use that someday, thanks PhilipP2.

CourtenayS13 years ago

As a sailor and a user of many knots I applaud your choices although a few caveats are needed,

Square knots are only safe to use when joining line of the same diameter and composition. also drawing them tight must be done by putting equal pull on both lines. When a square knot upsets then it becomes a slip knot and is potentially dangerous.

Clove hitches are excellent knots and are especially handy for fastening something that may require frequent adjustment but must carry a constant but even load to avoid working free as tied. To secure a line that may be loaded intermittently, like hitching a horse to a rail a half hitch can help keep the knot secure.

The bible for students of knot tying is Ashley's Book of Knots and has been a prime resource sixty years.

rstichal (author)  CourtenayS13 years ago

Super good advise, Thank you CourtenayS1.

dafoink3 years ago

I would add the half hitch and the taught line hitch. two necessities when tying up tents, flys, close lines, etc.

TJD13 years ago

One of the best ways I learned to tie a bowline years ago was one-handed - since it can be used as a rescue knot to throw down to someone to lift them up.

danny61143 years ago

In the Navy they taught the square knot as, Right over left, left over right.

JennW3 years ago

Thanks--Awesome bowline tutorial! My son, an aspiring Eagle Scout, looks forward to a chance to "tie one like a boss" at his next campout.

JennW3 years ago

Thanks--Awesome bowline tutorial! My son, an aspiring Eagle Scout, looks forward to a chance to "tie one like a boss" at his next campout.

Great survival knowledge