How to tie 10 essential Scouting knots

Sheet-BendKNOT-TYING HAS LONG BEEN a part of the Scouting program — for good reasons. It promotes discipline and focus, and it teaches useful skills that can be used immediately. Most people can tie just one knot (the “overhand”); many Scouts know more than a dozen.

Here’s how to teach these knots to your Scouts or Venturers.


SHEET BEND AND DOUBLE SHEET BEND
Need to tie two ropes together? This is the knot for you. The sheet bend won’t slip when ropes of dissimilar material and size are entwined.

When tying the knot, be sure that the working ends are on the same side; otherwise, the knot might be unreliable. If you tie a thick and thin rope together, use the thick rope to form the “stationary loop” and the thin rope as the “working line.”

For greater security, especially with plastic rope, use the “double sheet bend” by taking an extra coil around the standing loop. The double sheet bend can be used when you’ve tied two ropes together and the knot absolutely must not fail.


BOWLINE
This knot is popular among mountaineers, climbers, sailors and others. Use the bowline when you need a non-slip loop at the end of a line. The knot won’t slip, regardless of the load applied.

Begin by forming a loop or “rabbit hole.” The “rabbit” (working end) of the rope goes up through the hole, around the tree, then back down the hole. The knot will slip as it tightens, so allow a long working end.


TRUCKER’S HITCH
The trucker’s hitch is a powerful pulley with a locking knot. Use this when you need a locking pulley with a 2-to-1 mechanical advantage, such as hanging a bear bag, tying a canoe on a car or guying out a tarp. Unlike the taut-line hitch, this knot won’t slip when used with slippery line.

Form the overhand loop. Then pull the loop through. Make the loop exactly as shown; it won’t work if you do it backward. Run the working end of the rope through the loop and then pull hard to form the pulley.

Secure the pulley to a stationary object (like a pole or branch) with a quick-release half-hitch or, for extra security, two or more standard half-hitches.


TWO HALF-HITCHES
Use two half hitches to tie a rope to a tree, ring or dock.

If you need more security, take a second turn around the tree, or just add more half-hitches.


TAUT-LINE HITCH
To create an adjustable loop that stays in place, use the taut-line hitch. This is the knot to use for staking out the guy lines of your tent.


PRUSIK HITCH
A prusik hitch can slide up or down a stationary rope, but it will hold fast when weight is applied. It’s used in a number of self-rescue situations. Mountaineers use the prusik for footholds to help them climb a vertical rope. Campers use it for rigging rain flies or rescuing rock-pinned canoes in a river.

First, use a sheet bend or double fisherman’s knot (instructions below) to make a loop from a length of parachute cord or rope.

Then, wrap the loop around the main line three times. The prusik hitch will slide easily along the rope, but it will jam when a load (horizontal or vertical) is applied.


DOUBLE FISHERMAN’S KNOT
Use this knot to tie together the ends of one rope, forming a loop. The loop of rope can be used for many purposes, including the prusik hitch, shown above.


CLOVE HITCH
The clove hitch is a versatile knot that is often used in Scouting activities, including servings as the start or finish to many lashings.


SQUARE KNOT
The square knot can be used to join two ropes together. Generally, it works best with two ropes of the same diameter, and should not be used to hold a heavy load.


TIMBER HITCH
The timber hitch is often used to drag a log across the ground or to start a diagonal lashing.

57 Comments

  1. I know that the standard rule is “square knot for equal diameter ropes” and “sheet bend for different sized ropes”, but I advise Scouts to use the sheet bend, the double sheet bend or other special “bend” knots for joining ropes, and to forget the square knot after the Scout rank. Sailors called the square knot he “reef knot” and used it in one place only, taking in reefs on a sail. They used the knot because by pulling on one loose end, they could “spill” the knot and untie it easily.

    • The reef knot is used for first aid because it comes undone as explained with the sail, so a Scout should always remember how to tie one.

      • I think maybe you are referring to a surgeons knot, which is of a square knot format but with a extra twist or overlap on both sides, whereas a square knot has but one overlap. Its easy to undo and or to cut with a stitch scissor.

      • The Reef Knot is used in first aid in the construction of an arm sling because the knot lays flat and is more comfortable.

      • I believe the square knot was also used to tie up sacks of food (flour, etc.) The thief’s knot is a variant of the square knot used to find if a bag had been tampered with.

    • A Reef Knot is simply a reconfigured square knot. Whereas in the square knot both free tails come out on the same side, in a reef knot the tails come out on opposite sides. It does not hold as well as a true square knot does. The story I was told is that old sailors would tie their sea bag in place with a reef knot of my description and then the unknowing would re-tie it back with a true square knot and then the old sailor would know his bag had been tampered with. So there are 3 ways to tie a square knot, 1. the correct way with both free tails on the same side, 2 As a granny knot, 3 As a reef knot with the free tails on opposite sides….
      .

      • The knot you’re referring to is the “Thief’s Knot” since a thief would probably retie it as a square knot. Why this would help in anyway is a mystery since the stuff would still be gone and you still wouldn’t know who took it. The “Reef Knot” is the same as the Square Knot. If you want a definitive source check “Ashley’s Book on Knots,” the knot enthusiast’s bible.

      • No, what you are referring to is called a thief’s knot. The reef knot is the same as the square knot.

      • The reef knot is another name for the square knot, where both rope ends are on top of the knot, the variation that the sailors used to identify if theft had occured is called a thiefs knot where the loose ends are located on opposite sides of the knot, the other variation is indeed the granny knot.

      • That is the description of a thief’s knot. It was used to secure a seaman’s bag interchangeably with the square knot so the seaman could see if anyone had been in his bag. It is tied in the same way as a sheet bend but instead of crossing over the loop, the bitter end goes through the loop.

    • Yes, the square knot is extremely important to learn as a first aid knot, as well as for other uses. It is one of the few knots that can be tied tightly around something, as in around a body with a wound, or around a sleeping bag being tied onto a backpack, etc. It can be untied without removing any load by “spilling”, which involves simply jerking one of the loose ends toward the opposite side of the knot, and sliding the result, which is almost 2 half hitches (a larks head, really), and slides easily. Scouts should always know and practice the square knot for the first aid purposes alone. That said, the hunter’s bend is a MUCH stronger knot, and holds better in slippery rope. It looks complicated, but it is merely 2 mirror image overhand knots tied into each other. I always use the hunter’s bend when I want a really strong knot tying 2 pieces of rope together.

      • According to animatedknots.com, the Hunter’s Bend should be avoided as it consistently jams tight under load and so would need to be cut to release it.

        If untying the knot easily with fingers and fingernails is desired then other knots would seem to be more appropriate (e.g., Carrick Bend).

        http://www.animatedknots.com/hunters/

      • I’ve used the Hunter’s Bend a lot, including in some uses where the knot was put under considerable load. As long as you can remove the load to untie it, it is actually very easy to untie, assuming you pull it tight correctly. You just put a thumb into the “back” (referring to the side that always seems to be in the back when a picture of the knot is taken or drawn) and pull the little “ears” (for lack of a better term) toward the back. The “ears” can then be held along with the standing ends, and pushed back toward the middle together. This loosens the knot nicely.

      • Following the story all the way to where the person tested it, he intentionally used thin and stretchy cord. The thing that makes a knot lock up is when the stretch is significant and stays in the knot when releasing load. If you are getting THAT much stretch in a rope you are tying together, you are using too thin and/or too stretchy rope for your use. I’ve never had problems untying the Hunter’s Bend.

    • Ashley’s Books of Knots specifically calls out the “Square” knot as having caused more deaths from joining two ropes together than any other two bends combined. I teach the proper used of a Reef Knot to my Scouts and show them how easily it can be spilled. I back that up by teaching them a Carrick Bend for tying ropes together of equal size. But I work with Older Scouts and Venturing Scouts.

    • Reef knot or square knot is only used to tie around a bundle. Tieing a sail to a yard arm, a sling over the shoulder or behind the elbow, or tieing shoes. It is a knot not a bend. Aside for ceremonies it should not be used to join the ends of ropes together. The only bend the scouts have is the sheet bend, and it works “ok”(not really).
      Carrick bend, zepplin bend, fishermans knot, and hunters bend all work better.

      Know more, be prepared.

      • Other Scouting uses for a square knot: finishing off a Mark II Square Lashing, a West Country Round Lashing, West Country Whipping, and s Sailmakers Whipping. It’s a BINDING knot!

    • I agree. I teach my scouts the reef knot so it can be signed off in their book, then I tell them to forget it and use the sheet bend.

      • I will not argue your logic. Keeping that simple KNOT in each Scout’s inventory needs emphasized and reinforced as one of the Instant knots in emergencys, rescue work, chores, securing items to ???. Add the Square, Clove, Two & ½ Hitch and and anything is done quickly and securely. The fancier knots can be deployed to maximize the unique nature of their design and straights.

  2. I’m glad to see the sheepskank absent from the list. The knot can fail far too easily, and place lives and/or the load in danger.

    I wish BSA would really embrace the Alpine Butterfly (a fellow Scouter taught this to me years ago) as it’s not too hard to tie, can be tied with both ends fixed, can be untied after load was placed on it, and produced a strong mid-line loop useful for hauling, climbing, suspending, or shortening/bypassing a section in the line (the original intent of the sheepshank).

    • The sheepshank is fine, but almost all instructions I’ve seen show the worst way to tie it, which is both unnecessarily difficult and unreliable, as you mentioned. I recall seeing one book with a different method a long time ago. You just make three loops, oriented the same way, and pull the middle loop through the outer two in such a way that it pins the loops against themselves. Pull tight. Same knot, way more reliable, way easier.

      • That’s a ‘Trumpet Knot.’ The rope crosses between the two loops. There’s no crossing in a sheepshank.

  3. As a Scoutmaster of 12 years or so, the Troop Committee Members administering the boards of review need to know that the pictures of the knots shown in the Scout Handbook, are tied right handed. Left handed boys may tie them differently, but they are still correct, just backwards to the pictures in the book.

      • “I see you earned pioneering merit badge since your last BOR. Do you remember the knots required for this badge? Would you be able to show us the bowline?” As a former scoutmaster; I have no issues with this. But rest assured, it’s not the basis of the BOR.

      • “I see you earned pioneering merit badge since your last BOR. Do you remember the knots required for this badge? Would you be able to show us the bowline?”

        You may not have a problem with it as a Scoutmaster, but you probably should. This makes it a test/retest which BSA explicitly says is not to be done at all in a BOR (or even by the SM when the blue card is signed off and turned in for that matter).

        Instead, perhaps change the last question to “Which knot did you have the most difficulty with and how did you deal with it or what lesson did you learn from it?” are more appropriate and you’ll learn more about the Scout’s experience which is a big part of the purpose of the BOR.

    • You’ll notice in the print version of this story, we show several of the knots tied left-handed. Hope that helps!

  4. I wish that someone who knows how to teach tying knots would take the pictures. Showing the knot with all the ends of the rope out of the picture makes it really hard to understand what is happening. Good knots don’t have foot long tails everywhere. The 2 half hitch and taut-line hitch are shown upside down here so that it is hard to see the proper wraps. One of the editions of the handbook showed the taut-line hitch from the bottom side and for 10 years scouts tied it wrong.

    • I hear what you’re saying, Chris, and agree that knots typically don’t have super long tails. But for teaching purposes, we hope the videos accurately show how to tie each knot. We will consider your feedback for future knot-tying videos. Thank you!

  5. Here is a video of “Deuce” doing 14 BSA knots in less than 60 seconds – it includes 7 of the above knots + 7 more that are closely related the others. On a good day, I have done these 14 in about 35 seconds

  6. In the BSA’s new Troop Program Resources website, there are full-length How-To Videos for each of the basic Scouting knots and also for knots commonly used in Pioneering. The videos not only detail how to tie the knots, but also feature the ways they’re used. http://programresources.org

  7. The Bowline, As I recall it: “The rabbit (or bunny ( Cub Scouts)) comes out of his hole, hops around the tree, SEES THE LITTLE RED FOX and dives back into his hole.”

  8. The video of the double sheet bend is wrong. You can’t get to step 8 from step 7. The final picture, step 8, is wrong.

    • Hi, Tom. We see what you mean. We’ve uploaded a revised video to correct this. Thank you for your comment.

  9. As a Scout, Scout Leader, and having the honor of being asked th fill the role of Scoutmaster (regrettable only for a year) for a Troop in Zimbabwe. Being able to tie the basic Knots (16 in my Scouting youth) suggested by the BSA worked good to great things through 24years in the USN-Seabees and throughout my 45+ years in construction. OK so I’m old but I can still tie (if I remember the names) all those knots and many more. Teach through fun and in all Outdoor activities you will never regret doing so.

  10. The taut line hitch is a poor knot to use, and there are variations that are much better. For all you knot enthusiasts, I would suggest the Grog Knots app, as it shows very god demonstrations on a plethora of knots and also describes when and how to fully utilize them. For full effectiveness, they recommend tying the midshipman hitch rather than the taut line; the variation is in the second turn of the hitch, it forms a rolling hitch which locks the first hitch in place.

  11. Teaching knots to little folks with unused fingers (manipulation is much lacking in kid’s play these days). Thumbs and finger tapping of computer games has robbed our children of dextrosity. Dexterity. Aw, you know…
    1) Make up 5 foot lengths of rope. 3/8″ sash cord is sufficient. Paint/dye one end a different color so you now have “Imported, fresh picked, bi-colored, double ended rope”. This makes the manipulations stand out. Over, under….
    2) Note for your students that they should NEVER (!) buy single ended rope. It will only create trouble and problems. When you go into the store, INSIST on double ended rope! (Huh?? Make’m think a little.)
    3) Use the proper terms, and teach these first: Standing part, running end, bight, bend, loops (over and under loop). Look these up, if you must. Use them in your instruction.
    4) If you must, don’t be afraid to stand behind your student and place his hands where they should be. It is HARD for a modern kid to turn your demonstration around/over and make it from HIS direction. I have been known to lay down on the table and show the knot right side up, from the kids view, rather than upside down from my view.
    5) When the Scout shows me his effort and asks “is this right?” I will sometimes ask him “what’s your name, Scout?” (if I didn’t know). “Joseph!” “Oh, then that’s a Joseph Knot! Here’s how to do the figure eight….” Make sure the Scout is encouraged in his desire to Do It Right. Tight and Neat.
    6) DO NOT pass on if they have not mastered the skill. I have had argument with CSDC folks who were of the opinion that just because it was DEMONSTRATED, that meant the Cub knew the knot. Teach eight knots in an hour? Never. Maybe LEARN four. Maybe.
    7) If possible, give the Scout the bi-colored double ended rope (“imported from Peru”) to keep. So you have to buy 200 5foot pieces. Good for the Scout.
    8) No ropes around the neck , Never. Make that a point of honor for the Scout.
    See you on the trail.

    • I spent a long time with my local troop (7 years scout + 30 years leader, Plus 20 years with the local ambulance corps), and I agree 100% with the last sentiment… NEVER tie ropes around the neck; it is much too dangerous, especially around easily excitable youth!!!

    • Yes, Brian, it’s hard to understand because the text directs one thing, and the illustration another. Though inadvertent, the illustration attempts to depict the traditional way one forms what’s been referred to as the “American Whipping.” Unfortunately, the illustrator failed to present an accurate drawing. (This will be corrected in future editions.) The text describes what’s seen as a simplified and less effective approach.

      The so called “American Whipping” forms the “whips” by wrapping the inside of a loop around the rope and then pulling both ends until they form a half knot under the wraps, which has always been a tad tricky to teach, but when tied tightly and correctly, will do the trick. Here’s a video of the American Whipping from the BSA’s Troop Program Resources website, which I trust you’ll appreciate: http://www.programresources.org/basic-whipping/

      By the way, the new edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet, which is forthcoming, clearly presents the whipping used in the pioneering area at the national jamboree, referred to as the West Country Whipping. It’s much easier to understand and tie, and stays put better under hard use. From Troop Program Resources: http://www.programresources.org/whipping-further-information/#WestCountry

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