9 ESSENTIAL CAMPING KNOTS TO MASTER (+ 3 BONUS KNOTS)
I have a friend who has no patience with knots. Trying to teach him a few handy and versatile camping knots is a lost cause. He’s got the perspective, “If you can’t tie a good knot, tie a lot”. Seems like solid advice, except for that time his Christmas tree went flying off the roof of his car.
Or that time his kayak drifted down the river without him. Or when the rainfly he set up over his tent took off and flew its way into the stormy skies promising rain. Or… well, you get the point.
A handful of camping knots is a powerful and useful skill to add to your repertoire. They’re easy to learn and have multiple uses. If everybody should carry a quality camping knife, then I wager that everybody should check out the following 12 best knots for camping and learn a half dozen or so that work well for them.
A handful of good knots can be used at the campsite, but are also useful when loading up your gear, transporting objects, and when hunting down man-eating sharks.
I consider myself lucky because my day job is spent 100% outdoors. Working with my hands and planting trees in gardens and landscapes is pretty damn sweet. But before I can plant those trees, I need to safely transport them to their destination.
The backpacking knots we’ll look at here are something I’m painfully familiar with; I’ve got the rope burns on my palms to prove it. But before looking at specific knots we’ll take a gander at basic of knot terminology.
If we’re getting specific, a knot is supposed to be a “stopper” that prevents a rope from slipping through a bolt eye or similar structure. That’s some outdated nomenclature, though, so most people today call any knot, hitch, or bend a knot.
For our purposes describing camping knots we’re addressing anything with the title “knot” as a knot, while any “hitch” is a bitch, and any “bend” is a bend.
Square, Bowline, Fisherman’s, Water, The Figure 8, Surgeon’s, Nail
Hitches are used to tie rope to another object, typically another piece or rope or a cylindrical object such as a tree or stake. They’re useful for strapping down anything you’re transporting or want to keep under control. When tying down a heavy load, I used a trucker’s hitch for adding more tension to a rope before tying off the knot in the truck’s loading bed.
Half Hitch, Rolling Hitch, Taut Line Hitch, Clove Hitch, Round Tie and Two Half Hitches, Cat’s Paw, Barrel Hitch
Used to tie two different ropes together (like the hitch above). Bends are useful if you’ve got two different sizes of ropes to tie together or are lengthening a cut piece. While preparing for a heavy snowfall that could have toppled and split trees in our nursery, I used a sheet bend to join two pieces of rope instead of cutting a new length.
Figure 8 Bend, Sheet Bend, Flat Overhand Bend, Hunter’s Bend, Beer Bend, Slim Beauty Bend
Before we get into it, a few basic bits of terminology should be reviewed.
A mentally rehearsed catalogue of all known camping knots isn’t necessary. You want to know a handful of the best camping knots that are easy for you to learn and are useful for a variety of purposes. Most importantly they should be easy to remember.
A little bit of practice is always beneficial. Spend one night a week while watching TV or commuting practicing a few hiking knots to keep your skills and memory sharp.
A basic and easy camping knot used as a foundation for many others. It is not very secure on its own and needs to be doubled up to be effective. Nonetheless, it is an integral knot to understand when getting into trickier camping knots. You’ll need one length of rope and an object to tie it around.
Run a loop around an object such as a pole or post. Pass the working end around the standing end and through the loop.
Another basic knot. Useful as an element of many other knots, and by itself it is useful as a stopper to prevent a loop from sliding beyond its intended placement. You probably already know how to tie this one even if you don’t know the name for it. You’ll need a single piece of rope for this camping knot.
Make a loop and run the working end through it. Tighten.
Also known as a Weaver’s Knot, the Sheet Bend is a simple knot and is great for joining two pieces of rope together. I had two odd lengths of paracord while camping once and needed to string a tarp, and a sheet bend was my camping knot of choice. You’ll use two lengths of rope for this one.
Hold two pieces of rope. In your left-hand hand, form a bight. Pass the rope of your right hand through the bight and then behind the left-hand rope bight. Pull the working end through itself to complete.
With a bit of figuring the Figure 8 is easy to tie, but it might take some practice. This is a trustworthy camping knot used as a stopper and is easier to untie than an overhand knot. It also damages the rope less than a simple overhand knot.
Form a loop and run the tail of the rope underneath the standing end. Pass the working end through the loop to create a Figure 8.
This one’ll take some time and work to wrap your head around. The Double Figure 8 is used by climbers as an easily untied knot. The structure of it allows equal weight distribution between two points.
Form a long bight in your rope. Create two double loops and make a Figure 8. Pull the end of the bight through the bottom of the figure 8 and pull into place. Run the original bight beneath, up, and then over the rest of the knot. Pull it tight to secure the two loops. This video is an excellent instructional for a complicated knot to describe!
A knot most of us are familiar with, the square knot is simple and intended to tie two bunches of objects together securely. I’ve used it when bundling firewood and kindling together, or for packing up a tarp. This is a very simple camping knot, especially when remembering the key words “right over left, left over right”. You’ll need one piece of rope, and are tying one end to the end.
Meet the two ends of the rope together. Cross the right end over and around the left end, then cross the left end over and around the right end. Tighten. The key here is that you’re forming a knot that looks like a square.
A nautical knot used by the Boy Scouts of America since 1910, the taut line hitch is a revered movable knot that can be adjusted up or down a length of rope. You’ll be using this camping knot to attach the guy line of your tents to pegs, or for anchoring a boat to shore. This one takes a bit of practice to get right. You’ll need one length of rope, and a pole or similar object to tie around.
Take your rope and do a single turn around the pole. Leave yourself a good bit of slack to finish this one. Run the tail end around the standing end twice. Continue for a third pass, but run the tail end between itself and over the standing end. Pull to tighten. The knot should be able to slide up and down freely.
Use a Round Turn and Two Half Hitches to secure your rope to a pole, often as the basis for lashing objects together. It’s a knot that won’t easily jam even after it’s been beat up, making it easy to untie. It’s an easy one to tie once you’ve mastered the half hitch.
Do two complete turns around an object. Make one half hitch and pull it tight, then make a second half hitch in the same direction and pull it tight too. Most of the stress will be on the two complete turns, while the half hitches keep the rope secure.
Another popular camping knot, the bowline is used to secure a load. It doesn’t slip, but it also cannot be tied or untied when there’s weight on it. Some people will use two bowlines to join lengths of rope. It seems tricky at first, but once you get the basics down it’s a cinch (pun intended). Master the Bowline! You’ll need one length of rope.
Form a small loop with a good bit of slack at the end; the length of the slack determines the size of your loop.
A simple one, the clove hitch is quick to learn but should never be used to securely hold something in place. Use it as a temporary camping knot, something you’re holding in place that won’t put much stress on the rope. I’ve used the clove hitch for tying back tree branches temporarily and when I’m in a rush. You’ll tie one length of rope to a post or pole.
Run the working end over the pole for a complete turn, then cross over the standing end to form a second turn. Run the tail end under itself and tighten.
Useful especially for anglers, the Fisherman’s Knot is used to securely tie objects to the end of a rope, such as a fishing hook. It can also be used to tie two lengths of rope together securely. When tying two ropes together it becomes a knot difficult to untie.
When tying object to rope: Run the working end of your rope or line through the eye of the object. Wrap 4 - 5 loose turns over the standing end. Bring the working end of your rope or line back through the eye of the object, passing it through each of the turns. Tighten and cinch the knot tight.
When tying two lengths of rope: Hold both ends of the rope together. Run the tail end of the right rope over and behind the left rope and tie an overhand knot. Repeat this process for the left rope. Tighten the knots, then pull the standing ends to pull the knots together.
I use this more often than any other camping knot. It’s the most useful hitch you’ll find because it allows a length of rope to be pulled tighter than Hell. The knot is very simple to learn; the only tricky part is learning the placement of where to position the Trucker’s Hitch, but that comes with a bit of practice. You’ll be tying this hitch into place on one length of rope.
You’ll have one end of rope tied to an object like an eye bolt or car bumper. Throw the rope over the load and determine the mid way point of the rope. Here you’ll make a small loop in the rope. Feed the slack of your working end through the loop and tighten it. Run the tail end of your working end through an eye bolt or bumper, feed it into the loop and crank down to add tension to your line. Tie it off with a few half hitches.
Basic knots for camping are well worth the practice it takes to learn them. The best benefit is knowing that the knot you tied is the right one, and there’s minimal possibility that your secured belongings are going to fall out of place.
Outside of the backcountry, camping knots are useful to use throughout daily life. Sometimes it’s as simple as securing a heavy load to your vehicle, and other times it could be using the right camping knot to bundle together a stack of newspapers for recycling.
Learn a few, and you’ll find no shortage of uses for camping knots in your daily life along with your outdoors one.
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Matt was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. For the moment he lives in Philadelphia and is a gardener and freelance writer by trade. Matt's free time is devoted to traipsing through forests, angling in creeks, and hunting for rare plants and mushrooms. He's got a soft spot for reading Steinbeck while in the outdoors and is quickly becoming a die-hard hammock camper. Matt is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.