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Eight Common Outdoor Knots

Things to know other than how to tie them

By Kit Cunningham

Clove hitch - quick, easy, and reliable. This is a super handy knot and I personally use this knot frequently when I need to quickly tie something up and periodically adjust it (I used it recently to tie up a tarp, since you can adjust it easily and it will temporarily hold). There are two ways to tie this knot, at any point in the rope using two loops and using the end of the rope in a follow-through method. Things to know about this knot - it can slip especially if there is not constant, steady tension. The clove hitch is also one of the weakest of common knots and will break at 60-65% of the rope's full strength (1). Therefore, if you are using it to attach yourself to an anchor, make sure you are just weighting it and there is no risk of falling on it, since falling creates much more additional force. If the tension line is under a lot of weight, the clove hitch can also frustratingly bind. Therefore, this hitch is best used in situations where it will not undergo an inordinate amount of tension and the tension applied is constant. In other words, don't use this knot if there is a risk of taking a fall on it or if you are doing something that will extremely tension the rope, otherwise it will generally get the job done.

Figure 8 Knot - foundation for many other knots and key in climbing. The figure 8 knot on a single line can be used as a stopper knot and is also the first knot taught in climbing as it is how you tie in (it becomes a figure 8 follow through). Upsides of this knot, it is a strong, stable knot that can be used in a multitude of settings. The figure 8 follow through is the one of strongest tie-in knot, generally breaking at 75-80 percent of the ropes full strength (1). It also unties relatively easily after being loaded.

Figure 1. Comparing the residual strength between a figure 8 on a bight and a bowline knot. The range of breaking strength overlaps between the two knots (41.8-70.7% for a bowline and 64.8-86.3%) so there are some scenarios where the bowline may be stronger, however, in most cases, the figure 8 on a bight proves stronger.

Bowline - easy to tie around something and easy untie. Handy, diverse knot. I use this knot sometimes when I just need to put a loop through something (such as tying to the bow of a boat if will undergo steady tension) and I don't have a lot of line. This knot is easy to untie after being loaded, however it can still slip so it should be used with a backup knot. This knot is not meant to tie on a taut line, it will always leave a little bit of slack after its tied.

Double Overhand - good go-to stopper knot. I love this knot and I use it frequently. It can be used on a single strand as a stopper knot, which is better than a figure 8 knot which can sometimes slip, and it can be added to the tail of many knots such as a figure 8 follow through, acts as a stopper and cleans up the tail. This knot is also used to make a double fishermans knot, which is also mentioned below.

European Death Knot aka The Flat Overhand - my go-to rappelling knot. I had my doubts about this knot when I first started climbing due to its name and feeble appearance, however my opinion has changed 180 degrees. This knot is great for repelling for a couple of reasons, first - since it is small, has the same entry points for both ropes, it has a lower chance of getting jammed in rocks when you are pulling the rope, as opposed to the double fishermans. Second, it is to easy tie and untie even after being weight loaded. However, be warned, it can roll or slip if there isn't enough tail, the ropes are vastly differing sizes, or if the ropes get wet.

Double Fisherman’s Bend - this is my go-to bend for joining two pieces of rope together and is also used when tying Prusiks. I like it because it's reliable and sometimes, you might want a knot that stiffens to immovability as more force is applied to it. It is easy to tie incorrectly, but once you know what you are looking for, you can spot an incorrectly tied double fisherman’s quickly. A correct double fisherman’s has two matching Xs on the same side of the knot.

Figure 2. Example of a double fishermans knot. Both Xs are facing the same side of the knot. However - the tails SHOULD BE LONGER.

Alpine Butterfly Knot - great knot if you get a partial tear in rope and a need-to-know knot for glacier travel. If your rope has a partial tear while you are climbing, you can use an alpine butterfly to separate the weak tear from the rest of the rope. Major benefits of this knot is that it is multidirectional and it will untie more easily that a figure 8 on a bight after being weighted, which is important if you end up falling on it or catching a fall on a rope team, and it doesn't take up as much rope.

Munter Hitch - quick belayer's knot. I think this knot is important because it's easy, quick, and at least I have had points in my climbing career when I have almost accidentally dropped my ATC. This is also the starting point for the Munter-mule-overhand combination which is key in a lot of self/partner climbing rescue scenarios. To brake, pull both of the strands parallel to each other. The main disadvantage to this knot Is that it does twist your rope overtime.

Final Thoughts

Every knot tied in a rope decreases the rope's overall strength. This is because, once a knot is tied, there is uneven force applied around the knot, such as there is more force on the outside of a bend as opposed to the inside of the bend (2). Therefore, it is safer and more efficient to tie one useful knot than to tie a bunch of semi-specific knots, especially in a climbing setting. In addition to this, make sure all of your knots are cleanly tied. While this may seem unimportant, a messy knot is not as strong or safe as a clean one.

All of the photos for these knots came from I would encourage checking the website out since it is full of knots, information on when to use them, as well as step-by-step demonstration on how to tie them.

Knot jargon

Tail - End of the rope

Clean - Tied neatly and correctly, a knot that isn't clean will not be as strong or safe as the clean version.

Stopper - Used to create a thick point/knot in the otherwise uniform rope. Stopper knots are commonly used at the end of rappel lines so that ate ATC/rappel device hits the stopper knot before it accidentally slides off the end.


Work Cited

1- Achey, J. September 14, 2010. 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Knots. Retrieved at

2 - Evans, T. 2016. A Review of Knot Strength Testing. Retrieved from wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Evans_Truebe.A-Review-of-Knot-Strength-Testing_2016.pdf

3 - Richards, D. 2004. Knot Break Strength vs. Rope Break Strength. Retrieved at - Senin. November 7, 2011. Simpul/ Knots. Retrieved at http://justsandandsand.

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