Basic Survival Knots


Knots, knots, knots, I have a love and hate relationship with knots. The knot as a concept has a long history that goes hand in hand with sailors, and as a Marine, our naval history brought us in close contact with knots and the naval culture.

Several times in training we were expected to know this knot or that, and it starts in boot camp and follows you throughout your career. Although I despised having to remember one knot from another, I learned how handy they could be, and how the ability to tie knots was an invaluable skill.

Some basic terminology

The Figure Eight Follow Through

The Figure Eight Bend or Figure Eight Knot is used to secure the end of a rope to an anchor point, and can be used to secure something to a rope or harness. This can be a support for climbing, or to hoist heavy objects in the air.

If I was camping in bear country I would use a figure eight knot to suspend my food above the ground.

Or I could secure a figure eight knot to my belt if I was securing myself to a tree to hunt game. The knot is extremely strong and resistant to any breakage.

Figure Eight Bend knot

Step 1 – You are going to go ahead and form a single figure 8 near the end of the one of your ropes. For a figure eight knot, you need to pass the endpiece over the rope, so it forms a loop, then bring the end under the rope, maintaining the loop. Finally take the end and pull it through the loop. That’s your first figure eight. For this knot, you’ll need a long end remaining, rough 18 to 24 inches.

Step 2 – Next run that long end piece through whatever you are securing (Your belt, backpack strap, etc) to form a bight. A bight is a bend of rope that does not cross itself.  The Bight is U-shaped and the end should be pointing to your figure 8 knot.

Step 3 – Run the end piece through the first loop and begin retracing your figure eight knot. Once the knot is tied you should have a 4-inch pigtail. Tighten the knot as necessary.

Clove hitch

The clove hitch can be an incredibly useful knot for maritime use, and can be handy for docking a boat during a flood, or if you plan to use fishing as a method of feeding yourself. This knot is for anchoring the end of a rope under tension. The Clove hitch is very easy to tie and untie rapidly, but can become undone if the object tied down rotates repeatedly.

Clove Hitch

Step 1 – Take the rope and make a turn around whatever you are tying the rope too. This tied object is the anchor for the knot.

Step 2 – Cross your rope over itself, and then wrap your line around the anchor again.

Step 3  – Take the working end and carefully insert it under the last wrap.

Step 4 – Tighten the knot as much as possible to ensure a sturdy knot.

Square Knot

The square knot is a quick and easy knot and is perfect for beginners to learn some basic knotwork. The square not is not extremely tight, but can be used for a variety of different purposes. A square knot can be used to tie down and secure objects, lash animals to trees, and even bound two ropes together in a sturdy manner. (A square knot is also occasionally known as a reef knot.)

Square Knot

Step 1 – Take two separate lines and cross them one over the other. (Right over left)

Step 2 – Use the lines to form a half knot

Step 3 – Cross the lines over a second time (Left over Right)

Step 4 – Tighten knot

Square knot in steps

Bowline Knot

A bowline knot is quite handy, and can be used for a variety or purposes. A correct bowline knot will form a knot with a secure loop that will not loosen or jam. The know it swift and easy to tie. A line of these knots can be used to secure a group of people when moving in the dark, or to anchor one end of a rope to say build a shelter from a tarp, or to even form a very secure trip line between two trees.

Bowline Knot

Step 1 – The First step is to form a bend in the rope.

Step 2 – Next form a small loop on the opposite side of the end piece

Step 3 – Take the end and pass it through this loop you made, this forms an overhand knot.

Step 4 – After the end passes through the loop, bring it under the rope.

Step 5 – Now you pull the end around the rope, and through the small loop.

Step 6 – Finally tighten the loop down.

Bowline knot alternative view

If you are looking to secure line and knot to a tree you’ll need to form the bend in the first step around the tree, or whatever anchor you choose.


These four knots are very basic and easy to learn. They can fill most niches of knot tying from tie down, to a nautical line to trip wire. These knots are used by U.S. Military in a multitude of functions, from the Navy’s maritime traditions to the rock climbing assault schools taught in both the Army and the Marine Corps.

To test yourself and your skill level, you should test yourself using the military standard. These knots should be tied in under 30 seconds, and done in full gear. This should include the gear you plan on wearing during a SHTF situation to provide a sense of realism and stress.

If you can tie the knot over in 30 seconds, you are well practice. Knot tying is a perishable skill, and practice should be undertaken on occasion. As an added benefit is knot tying can be used as a hobby post SHTF and to allow for a stress-reducing hobby.

Have you got a favorite knot? Let me know which it is and why via the comments below!


About Author

Travis Pike is a veteran Infantry Marine and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. He lives deep in the woods of North Florida, where he can shoot at his leisure. He has been hunting since he was 8 and has always enjoyed the outdoors. Travis is an NRA certified instructor and loves teaching others anything and everything about firearms. He splits time between writing, running a training course, and of course a 9 to 5 job. He is a vocal gun rights activist. When he’s not writing, shooting, or working he is often found sipping craft beer on his porch

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