When a person first begins to express a desire to “tie knots” – it seems like all the local “alchemists” of knot tying come out of the woodwork. They all seem to know the dozens upon dozens of intricate knots and their uses . . . until you actually ask for a demonstration. Then it seems that the actual number that they know dwindles to a handful or so that they use regularly. I find that there are a number of knots I use virtually every time I camp. I’d like to share them with you, take away some of their mystery and show you how I use them. But first, knots are used with rope – let’s spend a bit of time on the different types of rope, those types that you may find useful and how you prepare and maintain them.
A number of materials have been used to make “cordage” that is then woven into rope. In times past these materials have been natural fibers, but the vast majority of today’s rope is made of a synthetic material – typically nylon or some type of polypropylene.
Manila Rope: Still manufactured today, manila rope uses natural fibers in its construction. It has typically found use in salt water areas since it’s
particularly resistant to salt water. And, it can come in diameters from as small as a half-inch to as big as three inches or more in diameter providing a wide range of strengths.. They also have a tendency to weigh significantly more than most of the ropes of a similar diameter that are made with synthetic components.
Poly Rope: This rope is made of synthetic fibers drawn from polypropylene and then woven together. As with all rope – you need to make sure they fit the purpose that you intend on using them for. A poly rope resists damage due to exposure to water, yet
sunlight over time weakens them. They stretch significantly before breaking so if you are using one as a tow-rope, make sure what its max tensile strength is. They are a good general-purpose rope but I find them a bit bulky and “unmanageable” when you go to store them again.
Nylon Cord: Again a nylon cord/rope is composed of fibers drawn from nylon and woven into a cord (small diameter) or rope (larger diameter). I find I use this material
the vast majority of time while camping to secure tarps, tie up canoes or added security for my tent during extreme wind. I typically purchase a 50-foot length of 1/8-inch or ¼-inch rope and cut it into 10-foot lengths since they meet most of my needs. I fuse the ends (more on that in a bit) and store them in a “rope bag” along with stakes for securing one end to the ground. Obviously these sections would do little to tow a trailer or lower a hiker down a canyon wall – but then, that is NOT their purpose. Around the campsite you will find dozen of uses for this type of rope.
Para-Cord: This particular type of cordage has gained tremendous popularity. It is typically seen as one of the risers attached to a single contact point on a parachute.
Today, it is an entity unto itself. To meet MIL-Spec 550 it will contain 7 inner core 100% nylon strands enclosed by a nylon wrap. It is 1/8” to 5/32” in diameter and has a minimum breaking strength of 550 pounds. It’s quick drying and will not mildew. Probably the most common place it is seen today is in Para-Cord survival bracelets that are worn “just in case” the wearer has need of a handy length of rope.
Climbing Rope: Climbing ropes are specifically designed to allow people a level of protection as they climb rock faces. They are composed of nylon
strands contained within a protective sheath. They usually have two ratings – dynamic and static. The dynamic rating indicates the total impact force they will take – rated in “kN”, kiloNewtons. Smaller diameter ropes – say 8mm or so – will sustain a total impact force in the neighborhood of 6 kN or 1350 pounds. Larger diameter ropes – 11 mm will go up to 9kN or 2000 pounds. The rope will be rated for a maximum number of “falls” after which the rope should be replaced.
A second rating of a climbing rope is a static rating, the maximum amount of weight a rope can hold – no falling impact included. Small ropes – 9mm or so will hold around 4700 pounds where large diameter ropes – will hold around 7650 pounds.
If you are using a climbing rope to support yourself – pay attention, get a properly rated rope for you weight and activity. It is not the time or place to “go cheap”.
Preparing Rope: This applies typically when you cut a length of rope – say my 10-foot lengths of nylon rope – for use around the campsite. Nylon and poly ropes will quickly fray if you simply cut a length and leave the ends “unprepared”. To properly prepare any poly or nylon rope – you simply “fuse” the cut end. This is done by holding the end
in an open flame until it melts and “fuses” the nylon ends together. The amount of time this takes depends on the diameter of the rope. The open flame from a candle – if you are preparing a number of lengths – or a pocket lighter will do the job.
A second method – typically used on natural fiber rope like Manila rope is called “whipping”.
Whipping Rope: This is done by rapping the exposed in of the rope in small cord in such a way that it secures itself when you are finished. A typical “whipping” process looks like this:
1 - A length of cord is laid along the end. 2 – a loop is formed and the wrapping is begun – outward towards the end of the rope. 3 – the finished end of the wrap is drawn through the loop and 4-the loop is tightened by pulling on the starting end, drawing the finishing end down, into the wrap. The process is finished by cutting both the starting and finishing ends that remain flush with the bottom and top of the wrap.
Once you have selected the type of rope you want/need – there are a couple of very basic knots that I find useful and use frequently. I’m sure everyone has a favorite – feel free to add any that I miss in the comments.
Loop Knot: This is just a simple knot that can be inserted virtually anywhere in a length of rope. I will use them to slip over something, to provide a place that I can run
another length or rope to connect to or to give me the ability to create a larger loop to secure something to – as a canoe. It’s quick, easy and easily untied as well.
Half Hitch: Probably the single most useful knot to learn. I will use this knot to tie to loops, to secure tarps, to tie off canoes – quick, simple, again – easily untied.
Fisherman’s knot: As I said earlier, I will typically carry my rope in 10-foot lengths. When I need a longer rope, this is the knot I use to join two lengths together. I provides you a lot of flexibility in how long of a rope you can create.
Tautline Hitch: This is a favorite when you want to adjust the tension of a length of rope. It’s typically used on tents and tarps.
Bow-Line: A bow-line is a bit more complicated, but is incredibly useful. Its single most useful characteristic is that once tied, it will not tighten further. That’s why it also goes by another name – the “Rescue Knot”.
If you have an injured hiker that has fallen over a cliff and is within reach of your climbing rope, you can lower a rope with this knot on it, have him/her slip their arms and head through it and then pull them up to safety. While they are being lifted, the diameter of the loop will not change insuring you do not hurt them further.
Are there other knots?? On yeah – dozens. But, as a place to start, this handful of knots will allow you to put up tarps, secure tents, secure canoes or boats and rescue a fellow hiker. I suggest you start here – then learn new knots as you find uses for them.