“To tie a knot seems a simple thing, and yet there are right and wrong ways of doing it………..Very often it happens that lives depend on a knot being properly tied.”

-  Robert Baden- Powell, “Scouting for Boys”, 1908.

Knowing how to tie some basic knots is an integral part of your backcountry skill set.  Equally important is being able to recognize which knot is appropriate for which task. There are literally hundreds of different knots out there from which to choose. Indeed, I have a “knot geek” buddy by the name of Jim, who can literally rattle on for hours about the seemingly endless variations and nuances of knot tying.

The truth is that for backpacking purposes, you only need to know a handful (sorry, Jim). Forget about the rest. They’ll only make your head swim or else put you to sleep (sorry again, Jim………you really should fire up that espresso maker when you have guests over).

My advice is to focus on learning a core group of easy to tie, practical knots, such as the six listed below. Begin practicing at home and subsequently apply what you have learnt to different situations out in the field. Repetition is key.

All images below are from Wikimedia Commons. For detailed step-by-step diagrams, click on the name of the knot in which you are interested. The links will take you to and, both of which are excellent sources for anything and everything to do with knots.


  • Reef (square) Knot: Used to tie two rope ends of the same diameter together. Useful for first aid, as it lies flat against the injured area.

File:Square knot.svg


  • Sheet Bend: Used for joining two ropes of different diameter together.


File:Schotstek rechts.jpg


  • Bowline: A fixed loop knot that is handy for lowering packs, hanging food or in an emergency, lowering a companion.


File:Palstek innen.jpg





  • Two Half Hitches: Ideal for securing a rope or guyline directly against an object (eg. log, tree, post, rock).



  • Taut Line Hitch: An adjustable knot, useful for guying out a tarp or tent. Can be adjusted without releasing the rope/cord’s tension.