Knowing Knots, or Not

Check out the Adjustable Guyline Hitch @ Paul Kirtley's site
Check out the Adjustable Guyline Hitch @ Paul Kirtley’s site
When a day hiker transitions to backpacking, there are a few areas that are commonly neglected. Before embarking on an initial overnight trip, most hikers know to try firing up their stove and test the comfort of new footwear or a fully loaded pack – these things are obvious.

There are a couple of other aspects that are more commonly overlooked however. Water Treatment is one, which I’ve written about elsewhere. Another is working with Knots.

Knowing how to use cordage to get something done – set up a tent, tie a ridgeline, bundle gear – is the type of skill that, once learned, will immediately:

  • Save Weight
  • Increase Flexibility
  • …and serve you for years to come

For a knot to be useful in a backpacking application, it has to be:

  • Simple to Remember and Tie
  • Strong
  • Quick Release

For years I’ve had a slowly but constantly evolving YouTube playlist to which I’d refer: to direct people to or use to brush up on my own skills. Generally, this is the type of thing for which visuals shine, but YouTube being what it is… I’ve never found a single video that quickly and concisely shows a useful collection of knots. There are hundreds of videos – everyone seems to have an odd collection of favorites – but most either get into too-difficult knots, or ones that look nice but realistically would never be used in the field.

This post has been many years coming. Perhaps the oldest thing on my TO-DO list has been to record a my own video of favorite, most used knots. It’s the type of video that is best shot in the field, but unfortunately, I’ve never quite gotten around to it – perhaps because I’m often in a hurry or hiking solo.

While trying to figure out how to work the camera for my own recording (or ideally, recruit a camera person), I reviewed and updated my playlist. During that process – low and behold – I’ve got it chopped to two main videos! Very concise, and very worth the time.

Andrew Skurka’s video (first insert, or view on YouTube) is almost perfect – he covers useful guyline-type knots that are extremely simple and versatile.

One knot Andrew didn’t mention was the Adjustable Guyline Hitch – one of the most useful knots I use. Fortunately, it’s covered by Paul Kirtley (second insert, or view on YouTube).

The area in which most backpackers will first use knots is for Guylines – which are for the tie-out point on a tent or other lighter weight shelter. This is a great place to start, as many of these knots can be used directly or adapted to other common backcountry situations such as for use with a ridgeline, a clothesline, a bear bag, etc..

My own list has evolved over the years, but it currently looks like this:

Those cover the basics. Some other concepts worth noting are very simple. Effectively hanking cord can save time, or adding an extremely simple knot (such as the Prusik) to your repertoire can dramatically increase the utility of knots you already know.

This final video (third insert, or view on YouTube) gives a great example of how one knot leads to another. This starts with the MarlinSpike Hitch (big with hammock users) and expands on that concept to make it useful in other applications.