OPP - Credit for Adventure

OPP - Climbing, Rescue and Campcraft Knots



Knot Selection and Care

by Michael Strong - illustrations by Ryan Ojerio

Climbers and rescue personnel have a large selection of knots to chose from.  While it may be tempting to learn as many knots as possible, it’s usually better to learn the handful of knots essential to a specific situation, and learn them well enough to tie efficiently in demanding conditions.  Practice tying knots behind the back with gloves or mittens on, or even in the shower with the lights off! 

When it comes to knot selection, ask “What kind of knot is needed?”  There are three kinds to chose from:  bends, loops and hitches.


Bends join two ends of a rope together.  Examples include the Ring (overhand) and Flemish (figure-of-eight) bends.

ring bend

flemish bend


Loops can be tied two different ways.  The method used depends on the circumstance.  When tying into the end of the rope, for example, there’s no choice but to tie the loop with a follow-through (below).  Likewise, a loop tied in the middle of a rope must be tied on a bight.  Whichever of these two kinds of knots you tie, the finished product looks the same, as shown below



Hitches are adjustable knots.  Rope can be fed back and forth through a hitch while it remains tied. Examples include the clove hitch Müenter hitch, taut line hitch, and trucker's hitch.

Performance Qualities

Once you know what kind of knot is needed, selection can be narrowed to one or two knots that will do the job.  The choice of one knot over another is best based on a blend of the following performance qualities.

Strength  is usually the first quality that comes to mind when deciding on which knot to use.  While it is important, strength should not be the sole determinant for

selecting a knot.  Knots used by climbers rarely break, largely because the materials used in the construction of ropes, webbing and accessory cord are more than strong enough to meet the demands normally placed upon them.

Knot security is critical.  The ability of a knot to stay tied is probably more important than knot strength.  Does this mean that the most secure knot is the most appropriate one?  Not at all.  If this were the case, more climbers would use the overhand follow through as a tie-in knot.  It’s certainly strong enough, and it’s easier to tie than the figure-of-eight follow through.  The overhand knot, however, is extremely difficult to untie once firmly loaded. 

Ease of tying is also important. There’s no point in choosing a complicated knot when a less complex one will work just as well.  Ease of untying after loading is especially important with gloves or mittens on, or if the rope is wet and icy.

Ease of visual inspection is a performance quality that should not be overlooked.  It’s important to be able to glance at the tie-in or clip-in knots of rope team members, or the knots of a rescue system and quickly recognize whether these knots are tied correctly.

One way to evaluate whether the right kind of knot has been selected for the job is to examine the knot when its loaded.  Look to see if the knot is stressed along its long axis.  If it isn’t (e.g. the stress is sideways), the knot may be split apart under load, compromising its strength and security. 

A knot stressed along its long axis - correct application

A knot stressed sideways - incorrect application

Knot Management

A knot must be dressed, or tied in its most secure orientation.  With most knots tied with accessory cord, this means making sure that strands running side by side through a knot do not cross.  Knots with crossed strands may not snug together, can jam badly and risk coming loose over time. 

The manner in which knots are dressed may be quite different, so know how to efficiently dress each knot.  For example, the butterfly knot is dressed by loosely tying the knot and then pulling the rope strands on either side of the knot apart.  No other manipulation is necessary.

To dress a butterfly knot - pull sideways

To dress a figure-of-eight on a bight, loosely tie the knot and then work out any twists or crosses.  Think of the rope strands as freeway lanes.  Just like the lanes of a freeway, the cords should remain side by side, never cross at any point along their path.  When the crosses have been worked out, tighten the knot.

A loosely tied figure-eight on a bight

Tightening a figure-of-eight bend

Once a knot has been loaded, it can be difficult to loosen, especially if the rope is wet or icy.  It’s best to break the strands that run perpendicularly to the long axis of the knot away from the knot’s center.  Make sure to work both sides of the knot.

Bends, loops and hitches are dressed and tightened differently, so know the specific ways to efficiently tie, dress, tighten and loosen each knot .  Keep in mind that working with tubular webbing is much different than tying knots with rope or accessory cord.