Survival Knots
Photo by Will Oey

Clifford W. Ashley was an artist, author, and sailor, born in New Bedford, Mass., in 1881. He spent six weeks aboard a whaling ship in order to do research for an article about whaling for Harper’s Monthly magazine in 1904. He later published a series of instructional articles “The Sailor and

His Knots.” This proved to be the prelude to his later opus, a magnificent tome that made him famous in 1944: The Ashley Book of Knots. In it, Ashley warns: “A knot is either exactly right or it is hopelessly wrong. Make only one change and either an entirely different knot is made or no

knot at all may result.” The book contains over 3,800 knots categorized by type, including knot usage and the instructions for tying them. Nearly 75 years later, it remains the most comprehensive book on knots in print, and contains these survival knots.

Survival Knots

Unless you’re a professional sailor or have the ambitions of Clifford W. Ashley to collect and categorize every possible knot in the world (as well

as invent a few of his own), you won’t have a justifiable need to learn to tie 99 percent of the 3,800 knots known. However, having a good handle on a reliable core of knots, knowing their capabilities, limits, applications, and instructions will serve you well in any survival situation.

Square Knot

A very popular knot, the square not can be used to tie packages and bandages, to join together paracord, and to connect shorter ropes into one.

Survival knots, Square KnotTo tie the square knot, hold one rope end in one hand and the other rope end in your other hand. Twist the left hand rope over and under the right hand rope and pull it tight. Then twist the right hand rope over and under the left hand rope and pull it tight. The ends of the rope should both be on the same side of the knot if you tied it correctly. If they are on opposite sides of the knot you have tied a Granny Knot which will come undone.


A bowline creates a loop at the end of the rope that won’t shrink, slip, or expand. It is good for mountain climbers, for securing an animal snare, or for hauling up a load.

Survival knots, BowlineTo tie the bowline holding the standing part of the rope in your left hand, with your right hand make an overhand loop in the standing part so that the rope still points towards you. Then take the running end around your waist and then up through the loop. Pass the running end that you just pushed through the loop around behind the standing part of the rope and back down through the loop. Hold onto the three ends that point towards you and pull up on the standing part to tighten the knot.

Clove Hitch

The clove hitch can be used to secure a line to a tree or post quickly (but it can slip over time), but it can also be used in shelter building.

Survival knots, Clove HitchTo tie the clove hitch throw the rope end around the pole and lay it over its own standing part. Bring the rope end once more around the pole. Finish by carrying the end under the rope itself, then tighten the hitch as much as possible.

Figure-8 Knot

This is not only a stopper knot used to prevent fraying or to prevent the end passing through a hole but it is a prerequisite knot to learn in order to tie some more difficult knots.

Survival knots, Figure 8 KnotTo tie the figure eight knot hold the standing end in one hand and pass the running end over the standing end to make a loop, then pass the running end behind and under the standing end. Finish it off by passing the running end down through the loop you just formed. If you tied it correctly the know should look like the number eight.

Sheet Bend

This knot is useful for joining together to lengths of rope with different thicknesses or diameters.

Survival knots, Sheet BendTo tie the sheet bend, make a bight on one of the ropes (on the heavier one if they are of different thicknesses) and pass the end of the second rope through and around the bight, then tuck the running end of the second rope under the part of the rope that was passed through the bight.”

Two Half Hitches

Two half hitches, similar to a taut line, can secure a line to a pole or a tree (i.e. hitching post).

Survival Knots, Two Half HitchesTo tie two half hitches, pass one end of the rope around the post. Bring the rope end over and under its own standing part and through the loop you have formed this way. Do the same once more in front of this first half hitch. Again bring rope end over and under the standing part and through the loop formed.

Blood Knot

The blood knot is used to secure two fishing lines together, and is frequently used in fly fishing, both in casting and adding a fly to the line.

Survival knots, Blood knotTo tie a blood knot, overlap the ends of the lines to be joined. Twist one around the other exactly five times, and then bring the ends back between the two lines. Repeat the twisting process again on the other line (but in the opposite direction). Slowly pull the lines in opposite directions; the twists will gather together and the knot will close.

Clenched Knot

The clinched knot, similar to the blood knot, can be used to secure hooks, lures, and swivels in fishing line, as is the most popular fishing knot.

Survival knots, Improved ClinchedTo tie a clinched knot, thread the line through the eye of the hook (or lure, etc.), and wrap it around itself at least five times. Bring the end of the line through the first loop, then behind the eye, and then through the large loop again. Pull on the end to tighten the coils against the eye. Trim off excess.

Palomar Knot

Another fishing line, the Palomar knot is used to secure a hook (or lure, etc.) to a fishing line or to fasten a fly to a line leader.

Survival knots, Palomar KnotTo tie a Palomar knot, lay six inches of the line against itself and pass the loop through the eye of the hook. Tie a loose overhand knot with the hook hanging from the bottom. Pass the hook through the original loop, and slide the loop over the eye of the hook. Pull down on both ends of the line and cut the excess.

Taut Line Hitch

The taut line is indispensable if you are anchoring tent lines to stakes, as it grips relentlessly when taut.

Survival knots, Taut Line HitchTo tie a taut line, wrap the rope around a post or a tree (either vertical or horizontal) several feet from the free end. Coil the free end twice around the standing line, each coil closer to the post. Then make one coil around the standing line on the outside of the two coils. Tighten the knot and adjust it as needed.

Anchor Knot

Like the name suggests, it secures a line to an anchor but it can also tightly secure a line to a post or tree.

Survival knots, Fisherman's Anchor KnotTo tie an anchor knot, wrap the rope twice around the anchor (or post, etc.). Pass the end behind the standing line and through the first turns on the anchor. Pull it tight, then tie a half hitch around the standing line and pull tight. Optional: tie down the free end

Sailor’s Knot

This knot joins two ropes together but is easier to untie than a square knot.

Survival knots, Carrick Bend (aka Sailor's Knot)To tie a sailor’s knot, make a loop with the larger sized rope (if one is larger than the other) and lay the loop on top of the second rope. Pass the end of the second rope over one side of the larger rope, under the other, over the loop, under itself, and over the other side of the loop. Pull all four ends tight and tie down the loose ends if needed.


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