Knot tying is a skill that requires practice, patience and astute knowledge. Depending on the circumstance, a certain knot can be the difference between a secure boat, a taut tent, a safe climb — and the opposite. With this in mind, we recruited J. J. Jameson, Senior Instructor for the REI Outdoor School Tri-State, to walk us through making 12 different knots and when to use each. Whether you’re a climber, sailor, survival guide or just an ordinary Joe, knowing how to properly secure or fasten a rope to an object will undoubtedly come in handy.

Bowline Knot

Boating Basics

Tie in any situation to make a secure loop at the end of a rope. “If I’d like to tie a climbing knot that would be very secure around something, and very easy to untie afterward, I’d use a bowline,” Jameson says. For boaters, this is the ideal knot to fasten your mooring line to a dock’s ring or a post.

If you want to take a piece of rope and tie it around something, in a very strong closed loop, you can tie a bowline knot. Make a small overhand loop in the middle of the rope, slide the end through the loop, around the stationary part, and then back again through the loop. Tighten by pulling away from the loop. To finish it off, Jameson suggests tying a simple overhand knot.

Water Knot

Climbing Classic

This is a water knot to make a closed loop, which climbers can clip into. It’s used to join two pieces of webbing strapping. As a precaution against slipping, tie water knots with long tails and stopper knots.

Also known as the ring bend knot, this knot uses a piece of webbing to make a closed loop. “It’s an overhand knot that is retraced through from the opposite direction,” says Jameson. And since it makes a closed loop, you can clip into a water knot, making it a good climbing knot.

Girth Hitch

Simple, But Effective

Can be used in everyday situations (as well as climbing) to attach a loop, sling, strap, or rope to an object.

“If you have a continuous loop of webbing and want to attach it to a carabiner,” says Jameson, “you can use a girth hitch.” It’s a simple knot where one takes a loop, passes it through (or around) an object, passes the other end through the loop, and then pulls it tight.

Clove Hitch

Great for Camping

The clove hitch is useful for camping, to tie a rope around an object or to seal the top of a bag tightly. Jameson would also use this when climbing, to tie into a carabiner at a belay stance.

A clove hitch is easy to tie, and more adjustable than a girth hitch. Its name comes from the world “cleave”, meaning to split, because when tied, both sides of the knot look like mirrored images of each other. What’s nice about a clove hitch is it can be adjusted without being undone.

Basket Hitch

Not Really a Knot

This closed loop can be used when climbing to lift (or hold) loads.

“A basket hitch is a very simple way to loop (rope or webbing) into or around a carabiner,” says Jameson. It’s a knot that really doesn’t require tying, and is able to spread weight between four ropes.

Square Knot

For Laces, Not Life Lines

Square knots are practical for everyday situations (tying a ribbon around a gift, tying laces), but they should not be relied upon during critical situations.

If you’re using one rope, a square knot can be used to tie both ends together and form a closed loop. It can also link two ropes together. “It’s not super strong — I wouldn’t use it for climbing — but it’s very simple,” says Jameson. Most people use the first half of a square knot when they tie their shoes.

Half Hitch

Simple and Strong

Can be used when climbing or in everyday situations to secure a rope to an object.

A half hitch utilizes the first steps of tying a square knot. It’s a simple knot that’s used to tie a piece of cord around an object. Tie this knot twice over itself to make a double half hitch, which is a stronger knot.

Double Fisherman’s Knot

Most Reliable

The double fisherman’s knot is the strongest way to join two ropes together, making it great for climbing.

A more secure way to make a closed loop out of a cord, the double fisherman’s knot is also known as the grapevine knot. “It’s very strong,” says Jameson — “strong enough to be used while climbing.” And like its name implies, this involves tying two fisherman’s knots together.

Flemish Bend

Another Climbing Stalwart

“It’s very strong, suitable for climbing, and can be used the same way a double fisherman’s can be used,” says Jameson.

Like a square knot, a Flemish bend is used to create a closed loop out of a piece of cord or tie two ropes together. It’s a figure-eight knot, which is then retraced from the opposite direction.

Granny Knot

A Last Resort

It’s adequate at tying two ropes together, or finishing off a loop when there’s not much at stake. Truth be told, you should be using a Flemish bend or square knot instead.

A granny knot looks similar to a square knot, except both ropes comes out the opposite sides. When pulled, this knot tightens upon itself. It’s a simple and relatively weak knot, used to make a straightforward loop out of piece of rope.

Alpine Butterfly

Great in a Pinch

A great mid-climb knot, an alpine butterfly can also be used any time you want to create a secure loop in the middle of a rope.

Here’s a knot that you can tie in the middle of a long rope, in the middle of a climb, that provides another loop for a climber to clip into. It’s strong enough to support a heavy load, yet also reasonably easy to undo.

Trucker’s Hitch

Perfect for Rooftop Tie-Downs

The trucker’s hitch is great for carrying heavy or bulky loads, like a mattress or a Christmas tree.

One very useful knot if you want to tie something to the roof of your car would be the Trucker’s Hitch. “It’s very strong,” says Jameson. “You can carry lumber on the roof of your car with that. I mean, I can bend the rack by pulling on this thing. It creates a pulley system. It’s wicked strong.” The nice thing about this knot is, even though it’s extremely strong and complicated compared to other knots, it’s easily untied. “You untie your finishing knot, and after pulling the rope out through, the knot just pops free even if it’s been really tight.”

About Our Expert: J. J. Jameson


J. J. Jameson is a Senior Instructor for the REI Outdoor School Tri-State. He has been an outdoor educator since 1982. He teaches rock and ice climbing, winter mountaineering, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, backpacking, camping, navigation, paddling and cycling.