Jun 23, 2011
Okay survival and enjoyment; these knots are highly useful, fun, and have myriad applications.
I’m more interested in astronautics, but it’s still interesting to know some great, useful knots. You never know when understanding how to tie and when they will be resourceful (which is quite frequently), so here’s my favourite (and what I consider to be the most useful) knots in no particular order.
- Sheet Bend. Unbeknownst to some, the sheetbend is similar to the bowline in its structure, but serves a very different purpose; the sheet bend is fantastically useful for joining two ends of rope. A note on the Square (Reef) Knot. The Square Knot, while remarkably similar to the sheet bend in structure, is notably dangerous and unreliable.
There have probably been more lives lost as a result of using a square knot as a bend (to tie two ropes together) than from the failure of any other half dozen knots combined.” (ABOK page 258). Never use it for critical loads.
You can see in the oldschool diagram of knotes the Square Knot is captioned with “useful for first aid”…useful for murderous first aid. The Sheet bend (this original bullet-point) can optionally be used with a quick-release (called a Slippery Sheetbend). It secures extremely well under load or tension but occasionally can become undone when not under load.
- Bowline. A simple, but extremely durable knot that will not slip nor bind under load or tension that creates a solid loop.
- Rolling Hitch. The best, most secure hitch by far, in my humble opinion. I’m not a knot expert but this is a great-looking and great-functioning secure hitch. The comparison between the Rolling Hitch and Clove Hitch is analogous to the Sheet Bend and the Square Knot. Both sets (rolling and clove compared to the sheet and square) are similar in structure but the latter in each set (clove hitch and square knot, respectively) are decidedly unreliably, faulty, but strangely frequently (dangerously) used and well-regarded.
The Clove Hitch (ABOK # 1245, p 224) was, originally, included here with the intention of condemning it. It does have two giant faults: it slips and, paradoxically, can also bind. It should be deeply distrusted when used by itself.
Basically, instead of the Square Knot, use the Sheet bend, and in stead of the Clove hitch, despite its repute, use the Rolling Hitch. When the load is parallel to the main rope, the hitch is very solid and quite smooth- (possibly elegant?) looking.
- Quick Release Knots. Here, Good ol’ British Bushman Ray Mears shows a variety of (un- or improperly named, but decidedly helpful and well demonstrated) quick-release knots.
- Most useful are the Highwayman’s Hitch (Presented by indubitably an old wise weathered quality knot expert. I lol’d when he said you can put it on a “dinghy or a “harse”. Jolly good. Great vid though.) (a Quick Release Knot). and
- The Siberian (or Evenk) Hitch (which Ray demonstrates in the vid as well) is extremely flashy, fast, secure and quick release. These are nifty for all kinds of things, but originally and most frequently (and obviously) used to temporarily tie a line to something with a quick-release. Finally, this video has no sound but is another great demo of the Evenk/Siberian and another quick-release useful for tarps (Here’s another how-to for the Evenk/Siberian). I think if you know the Evenk/Siberian and/or the other tarp quick-release you’re set for tarp related quick-releases and then the highwayman’s hitch is applicable for any other kind of quick release knot scenario. I was going to say “at least one, optimally two, possibly three, but not any more than that of the quick-release category is ideal,” but really, the Siberiean/Evenk hitch is fast, effective and reliable and really that’s all one would need for quick-release knots and/or hitches.
- Monkey’s Fist. A knot with which I have very little experience but it looks interesting. It’s actually used to hold some kind of object at the end of a rope. This is easily one of the most exotic (but its usefulness is questioanble) knots that exists. Emniel added these details: “A monkey’s fist is useful for throwing a rope accurately over a distance, perhaps to cast a line to someone in need of rescue, or to hoist something over a high beam or tree branch. In certain situations, it could be handy for one’s survival.” Whenever I needed to launch something over a tree-branch or something similar I just tied rope to an object! The Monkey’s Fist seems a bit elaborate for that purpose, but if one is frequently throwing ropes accurately (an odd occurrence), the Monkey’s Fist is excellent for that (possibly odd) usage/application.
- The Prussik Knot. Is complex, but has tremendous application in a climbing and/or search and rescue scenario; you can use the prussik to incrementally hoist yourself up a line like with a moving rope-step
- Sailor’s Whipping. Finally a knot to “make ends meet” (yuk yuk, couldn’t resist). This knot is to avoid frayed ends of rope and makes your rope and knots much more tidy. No threading nor needle (often used in whipping knots) required.
The List in Conclusion
The one’s I use the most are Quick-Releasesh, Rolling Hitch, Bowline, and Sheetbend, but in conclusion, the top seven (not in any particular order, and in addition to the knots you should already know like the Granny and the Overhand) are:
- Sheet Bend. Excellent loop for joining two lengths of rope (even rope of difference sizes).
- Bowline. Best, most reliable, loop knot that does not bend nor bind under tension/load.
- Siberian/Evenk Hitch. Fastest and most effective quick-release. Especially useful for tarps (tarpology?)
- Rolling Hitch. Best way to secure a rope to pole, mast, or bar. Keep the load-bearing end parallel to the main rope.
- Prussick. Enables you to climb rope with a step-ladder for rockclimbing and/or search-and-rescue.
- Sailor’s Whipping. Prevents your rope from fraying.
- Monkey’s Fist (technically this isn’t essential for survival, but it’s great to have an elaborate and beautiful knot in your concise, highly versatile, and resourceful arsenal)!
Why This List is Massively Useful.
Do you want to learn 26 bends? That’s not even hitches or “knots”, that’s just bends. Unless you’re teaching a knot-tying class or commandeering sailing rigging on a three-masted massive 4-masted barque or one of the world’s largest wooden ships (mind you all those gigantic ships only sailed a few times and/or had severe structural problems), you only need those seven knots. So instead of putting time into heaps of redundant often very identical or faulty or not as useful knots, these are the select few chosen for resourcefulness, utility, speed, and reliability. Those magical seven are the whittled down version of the, as said before, most concise, highly versatile, and resourceful knots. Sure, you could use a figure-eight (okay, fine, 8. Figure Eight.) as a stopper knot to tidy things up, but really those are the most core essential knots one would ever need. Good to know and understand.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that if you study these knots a bit, you realize how perplexingly similar they are, rendering most of them (not the one’s listed here), unnecessary. For example, this list of over 20 (just) bend knots (not hitches, not knots, just bends) could be replaced with one or two solid bends and that’s all you’d need to know. One understands that many of the knots are combinations of other knots and knowing more than a dozen or so is impractical and unnecessary. But a good solid dozen or so of a wide-variety (quick-releases, bends, hitches, knots, and the like) make for great utility.
Learning More and the Resourcefulness of Rope
By the way, for more knot learning, I highly highly recommend checking out animatedknots.com; they’re extremely professional, helpful, and they have a small learning-knots app (which has been inspiring for me to work on my own app as well)!
Additionally, this site (layhands) functions as a great portal page with many top-notch links to other knot-learning pages.
I first got into basic to advanced knots during a sea semester program in 2004. I loved practicing the knots over and over (like the bowline for example) and have found incredible uses for them even away-from-sea (from hanging my hammock to securing things around the house to all kinds of awesome little tricks). Learning how to tie a dozen or so core/useful knots (don’t bother with the obscure knots) is an extremely useful productivity skill to have. When you know how to tie and apply a dozen or so knots, a good bundle of rope suddenly becomes this amazing tool for securing, hanging, organizing, holding, fixing, supporting, and increasing accessibility of things! My most recent “knot trick” has definitely been two sheet bends on two small sprigs of rope to secure my hammock (that I got in Merida, Mexico) between any two appropriately spaced branches!