Here at SOFREP.com we delve into myriad issues beyond news and information on U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and intelligence agencies. The topics covered range from everyday carry (EDC) to how to survive a mass shooting. We touch on nearly everything in between, as well, from personal security and weapons to everyday tactical thinking. We want you, the readers, to be well-rounded, after all.
One issue that does not get addressed often enough, however, is basic knot tying and rope work. We are not a climbing website, after all, nor are we focused on rope rescue work per se. Nor are ropes and knots a skill set that everyone needs to master, necessarily. It is an important skill set to be proficient at, however. You should have some basic knowledge in the subject area, even if you are not an expert survivalist, special operator, or rope rescue technician. After all, real life ain’t like the movies, where you can loosely tie a fire hose around your waist and jump off the Nakatomi building a la John McClane.
In real life, if you go jumping off a building with a fire hose tied in a loose overhand knot around your waist, then you are likely going to be kissing the concrete at terminal velocity, with the rest of your life remaining to enjoy the ride. In real life, you actually should know how to secure a rope so that it will hold your weight, if the need arises.
Regardless of the fact that you will likely not be performing a “Die Hard”-style leap off a tall building anytime soon, it still behooves you to know how to tie some basic rescue and climbing knots. Perhaps you want to be that person in your survival group who knows ropes and knots. Perhaps you are thinking you want to join a special operations unit. Perhaps you are considering becoming a firefighter. These knots will help you in all of those endeavors. It is also good knowledge to help ensure that you are eaten last if your group of survivalists must resort to cannibalism. You will be proficient in a critical skill, after all, so there is that.
Now, there are a lot of knots that one could master if he or she were looking to become a true knot expert, but there are only a handful that one need learn to be a knowledgeable knot guy or gal. Some of these we teach cub scouts as young as 7, and some are for more advanced applications, such as climbing or high-angle rescue. All are important knots, as they can come in handy on a family campout, or when the end times arrive. You never know.
Also, none of these are all that difficult to tie, with some practice. So dig in!
The Square Knot
This is the first knot that scouts learn, as young boys, and it is as easy to tie as they come. It is used to join two ropes together (for this reason, it also called the “joining knot”), to reef and furl sails (so it is also called the “reef knot”), and for securing a bundle of objects. One of the advantages of this knot is that no matter how tightly it is pulled, it is easy to “break,” or untie. See here for an animated demonstration of how to tie a square knot. I use it when tying my Christmas tree to the top of my vehicle, and sometimes when lacing work boots, as an alternative to a traditional shoe tying knot.
The Clove Hitch
Made up of two half hitches, the clove hitch is used for securing rope to a rounded anchor point. It is a simple all-purpose hitch, though it is a weak binding knot, meaning that it can slip if pulled in the wrong direction or allowed to become loose. The clove hitch is a useful knot for tying off a rope, or for a low-angle anchor, meaning that you are not hanging off a cliff with it, but rather, making your way down a medium slope that might be slippery or present some unsure footing. It can also be quickly tied around a piece of equipment, such as an ax, that you want to lower from or raise to some height. We use it for just that in firefighting, as well as for tying off the length of rope on a long multi-section ladder.
See here for instructions on how to tie it.
The Girth Hitch
Also known as a “Lark’s Foot,” this knot is used to attach a loop of webbing or rope to an object, or to attach a loop of webbing to a rope. It is a simple knot and quick to tie. It is also a favorite of mariners and has various applications in a nautical setting. Here is how it is tied. We use it quite a bit in water rescue applications (in the fire department) and in small boat handling (in the SEAL Teams).
Also called the “Alpine Butterfly,” or “Lineman’s Knot,” this is useful for providing a secure loop in the middle of a rope. The loop can then be loaded in multiple directions. One would use this knot if access to the end of the rope was not available, for example, but you needed to clip a piece of hardware (or a person) to the line.
See here for directions to tie the knot.
The Figure 8
The Figure 8 family of knots is indispensable for navigating the high-angle environment. In rope rescue work, this is referred to as a “life safety” knot as it is easily tied, is very secure, is less likely to come apart, and does not diminish rope strength as much as some other knots.
A simple Figure 8 is used as a stopper knot to prevent someone rappelling off the end of the rope, or to prevent the end from slipping through a pulley, for example. A Figure 8 “on a bight” creates a secure loop in the rope for securing persons or equipment, for example. We use it extensively in water rescue work, and climbers use it frequently as well.
The Water Knot
Also known as a “Ring Bend,” this knot is only used for webbing, not rope, and joins two pieces of webbing together, or the two ends of one piece of webbing together (to make a loop).
This knot is commonly used to create webbing anchors in rock climbing and rope rescue work. These are the short sections of webbing that hold an entire rope system together on a fixed anchor point. The water knot is also used to form a longer piece of webbing from two separate shorter pieces. One could also use it to fashion an improvised rifle sling out of webbing.
For instructions to tie a water knot, see here. We use it quite a bit in water rescue and high-angle rescue work.
And there you have six indispensable knots for your survival needs. Knot tying is similar to pistol shooting, in that it is a perishable skill that will atrophy absent continued practice. Learn these knots, then practice them regularly. You do not need to be the world’s greatest expert at tying knots, but to have the basic knowledge and skills down will make you a more valuable asset to any team.
Image courtesy of DoD