A knowledge and mastery of certain knots is essential for anyone who spends time in the outdoors. And, sure, when faced with certain tasks that require knot-tying, you might be able to get away with winging it up to a point. But at the end of the day, if you can learn a few key knots, you’ll find yourself bungling around less often—not to mention save yourself some time and be safer.
Aside from a couple essential fishing knots, such as the Clinch Knot and Blood Knot, the five knots below are the ones you’re going to need in the majority of situations when it comes to general outdoor pursuits. It can take some time to get proficient at tying almost any knot, so it’s best to practice and master these five knots before you need to tie one in the wild.
1) How to Tie a Canadian Jam Knot
The Canadian Jam Know is great for survival and backcountry purposes, such as splinting a broken canoe seat or affixing a ridge pole on a bushcraft shelter. The knot can be pulled to be super tight and it doesn’t use up much cordage. It’s also a good knot for fishing line, specifically when you want to tie your line to your reel’s spool.
Step 1: Take a length of cordage and tie a simple overhand knot at the working end and tighten it. A couple inches below the overhand knot, loosely tie a second overhand knot.
Step 2: Run the cordage around a pole (or line around reel spool), then slip the tag end through the loose knot. As you pull the tag end back on itself to tighten, the loose knot will tighten and cinch up on the overhand knot at the end of the cordage. That’s when you should keep pulling even harder. The tighter you pull, the tighter the knot will get.
2) How to Tie a Square Knot
The Square Knot—also referred to as a Reef Knot—is one of the most basic knots, and the first one that many cub scouts are taught. It’s fast and works great for tying two ropes of the same diameter together.
Step 1: Take two lines that are about equal in diameter and stack one on top of the other. Holding one in each hand, cross the red line over the green line, then wrap it under green line once. Next, wrap the green line under the red line.
Step 2: Bring both ends back to the middle. Cross the red line over the green line, wrap it under once, pull tight, and you’ve got yourself a Square Knot.
3) How to Tie a Quick Release Knot
The Quick Release Knot—also known as a Slippery Half-Hitch—is useful when you’re setting up a tarp or lashing down to a toboggan. It’s fast to tie and excellent to use when you want a knot you can untie quickly. The Quick-Release Knot is not a strong or particularly secure knot, however, so you’ll want to use it in low-risk scenarios.
Step 1: Make a loop in the line by crossing the line over itself.
Step 2: Pinch a second loop in the line and feed it through the first loop.
Step 3: Pull tight, and you’re finished. With a firm pull on the tag end, the Quick Release Knot will come undone easily.
4) How to Tie a Trucker’s Hitch
The Trucker’s Hitch is a strong knot that’s used when you need to create leverage to get something really tight. It’s great for rigging canoes and other small boats to the roof of a vehicle or securing guy lines on a tent when the wind starts to blow. A Trucker’s Hitch is actually made up of three other knots. To tie a one, you first need to secure one end of your line to an anchor point, such as a nylon guy loop on the outside of your tent’s fly, or to one side of your roof rack.
Step 1: Make a large, U-shaped bend in the line
Step 2: Tie an overhand knot with the U-shaped section of line to create a loop. Pull tight.
Step 3: Lay the loop over your anchor point, such as a roof rack, and run the long end of the line back through the loop to secure it around your anchor point. Next, you’ll need to tie a Quick Release Knot (see above) a couple of feet from the end of the line.
Step 4: Feed the end of the line under, or around, whatever you want to anchor the rope to (tent peg, sapling, roof rack, etc.), then feed it back through the loop you created with the Quick Release Knot. Now, pull down tightly and hold the tension.
Step 5: While continuing to maintain tension, pinch the line where it runs through the loop so that it doesn’t slip and loosen. With the line pinched, tie a Half Hitch under the loop and tighten it snugly to the bottom of the loop. Once this first Half Hitch is tight, you can let go and follow up with additional Half Hitches for more security.
5) How to Tie a Bowline Knot
The Bowline is one of the most commonly used outdoor knots. It’s great for tying up your food bag before hanging it and, though it’s debatable where this knot’s namesake is derived from, it’s the perfect knot to use when affixing a loop at the end of your, well, bowline. The knot enables you to make a tight, fixed loop that won’t slip but will also come undone quickly, even after being under significant pressure. It’s truly one of the most useful nots out there if not the most useful.
Step 1: Make a loop in your cordage a ways up from the end.
Step 2: Feed the tag end up through the loop from the bottom.
Step 3: Run the tag end behind the main line of the cordage and wrap it around the standing end.
Step 4: Feed the tag end back through the loop from the top and pull tight.