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5 Knots Every Hiker and Backpacker Should Know

by Austin Campbell September 15, 2016

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Increase Your Backcountry Skills by Learning These Knots

5 Knots Every Hiker and Backpacker Should Know

The right knot can be a life saver when you run into the unexpected in the backcountry. So if a granny knot is your go-to knot for every situation, it's time to upgrade your knot skills with these knots every hiker and backpacker should know. The 5 knots below are perfect for attaching loads to your pack, tensioning a rainfly, securely connecting two ropes, rescue lines and more. Best of all we've embedded Youtube tutorials from Backpacker Magazine's Knot School Series so learning each knot is as clear as possible.


Taut Line Hitch

The Taut Line Hitch is the perfect knot for securing the guylines for a rainfly or tarp. This knot gets its name because you tie it once and it easily adjusts to add tension to the line to keep things taut.

When to Use: guy lines and clotheslines.



Square Knot

The Square Knot was one of the first knots we learned and one we use frequently while backpacking. A Square Knot is great because it is fairly easy to untie even after being tightened under a load. Although a Square Knot works well for combining two lengths of rope for non-load bearing applications it should never be used for load bearing situations, instead use the Sheet Bend (see next knot). 

When to Use: combining non-load bearing ropes of the same size, tying items to your pack or to secure a bandage.  

Pro-Tip: Remember how to tie a Square Knot with this rhyme, "right over left, left over right, makes a knot both tidy and tight." 



The Sheet Bend Knot

The Sheet Bend Knot is the best way to combine two lengths of rope, especially of different diameters. It is much stronger than the square knot, but keep in mind it does have the tendency to loosen when not under load.

When to Use: To combine ropes of different diameter. Fix a broken shoe string, or guyline. 



Bowline Knot

The Bowline Knot is sometimes called the king of knots. Similar in structure to the Sheet Bend we just learned, the Bowline secures a rope around an anchor like a tree, instead of to another rope. If your hiking partner ever needs to be rescued after a fall the Bowline is the knot to use to anchor your rope. The Bowline Knot is easy to untie even after being tightened under a load but also tends to loosen when not under load, so as with any knot it is always good to check it before trusting your life to it. 

When to Use: Securing a rope around a tree or other anchor for use as a rescue line.



Clove Hitch Knot

The Clove Hitch is a simple knot that is useful for securing rope to tent stakes, branches or round posts. If you've ever watched an old western, you've seen cowboys use Clove Hitches to secure their horses. The Clove Hitch is also used when lashing poles together to create a wilderness survival shelter. 

When to Use: Securing rope to tent stakes, branches or posts. 



Additional Resources for Learning Knots

Pick up one of these books to learn more knots. We like to bring a knot guide on some of our backpacking trips so we can practice knots in camp. 


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Austin Campbell
Austin Campbell


Austin lives in the Pacific Northwest where he enjoys hiking and backpacking in the Olympic and Cascade mountains.

2 Responses

Brent Ransenberg
Brent Ransenberg

October 19, 2016

Your notes about the Bowline are missing a CRITICAL factor!!! You use this knot to create a loop in which to secure the person you are rescuing. REASON It is one of the few knots that creates a loop and DOES NOT Tighten!!! If you used two half hitches or a Taught Line Hitch the loop would tighten around the persons waist and could cause them injury.

Mark Moran
Mark Moran

September 16, 2016

The modern backpacker only needs to know how to tie their shoelaces and make 1 star hotel room bookings online. But even that is a struggle for some of them. lol

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