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Top Knots for Camping

Experience isn’t just down to the number of nights that you might spend on a campsite. It is also down to learning skills that help you meet the numerous challenges that you’ll eventually encounter when living outdoors.

And these skills are normally great fun to hone so that they become second nature, falling naturally to hand when you need them. Ropework is one such skill and John Traynor starts you off with some easy, but useful, knots to master.

Most people know two knots – the basic thumb knot and the bow used for shoe laces and gift wrapping. Many will even know the left-over-right-and-under, right-over-left-and-under of the reef knot. But there is a wealth of knots that will help and entertain a camper. Ropework has its own language and this gets quite involved as you start to categorise knots and delve further into subjects like splicing, lashing and whipping. 

But here we’re only going to mention two terms as we look at four useful knots and these refer to the rope. The standing end is the part of the rope at rest and working end is the end of the rope that is on the move. Have short length of rope, cord or string in hand and tie it as you follow the instructions. Something fairly thick and colourful will help a beginner and a second length with a smaller diameter will help you learn useful ways to connect two different sizes. There are even knots for tape so you might eventually want a length of that to play with. Keep the rope handy and practice whenever you can – while you’re watching television is a good time. Your aim is to tie the knot without thought or look so the process is fast and natural. You may need this skill to quickly deal with a problem in the dark!

An experienced camper will learn skills like knot work and whipping to make camp life easier and to help deal with emergencies, like broken poles or quickly adding and adjusting additional guylines.

1. Two different diameter cords are used here for illustration purposes but this is used to join ropes, cord and string of similar thickness or to create a loop. Place the two ropes side by side tying a simple overhand know in the working end of one around the other.

2. Repeat this with the other rope so each is now connected to the other by a simple overhand knot. Tighten each knot by pulling on the working end of each rope.

3. Pull the other end (standing end) of the ropes to draw the knots together to form and tighten the completed Fisherman's Knot.

1. Master this creating a friction know that provides an easy way to adjust the tension in a tent or tarp guyline. Form a large loop and take the working end through the loop and around the standing rope three times. 

2. To complete the third turn bring the working end over the completed turns and around the standing rope.

3. Tuck the working end over and beneath itself before tightening. Make sure the turns sit neatly next to each other. As shown in our pictures, two turns can be used for speed but three will grip better if large laods are expected.


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1. The Clove Hitch is really handy for quickly securing a tarp or washing line. Hold the rope and form two loops - overhand and underhand - as shown. 

2. Adjust the loops to make them the same size and place the right loop over the left. 

3. Place both loops over a post, peg or stake, or inser a pole, and pull to tighten. 

1. This is a reliable little cracker with many uses for securing loads to tying that guyline to a ring or pole. Slip the working end around the object (pole, ring etc) twice. Run the working end over the standing rope and under itself on the second turn.

2. The first action is the Round Turn with a Half Hitch. To help lock the rope you repeat another turn of the working end around the standing end before running under itself.

3. Tighten to create a secure knot. 

Be prepared…

Ropework is strangely addictive and can provide hours of fun for all the family. Children love ropework and the possibilities that the skill opens up in terms of play, like building dens. And adults will find a myriad of uses for those knots around the home, from securing the old carpet when you take it down the tip to attaching the roses to the trellis. Complicated knots are a real art form, too… As you become more proficient you may want master such skills as splicing (the interweaving of individual strands of rope to create loops or mend/attach ropes) lashing (construction using ropes) and whipping (reinforcing or tidying something with coiled cord). As our main picture shows, the latter is particularly useful when mending tent poles and a temporary repair made this way can be surprisingly strong and resilient.

As your skills develop your repair kit will suddenly aquire useful lengths of twine, cord, rope and whipping twine. Unusual tools may make an appearance, including marline spikes, thimbles, fids and more. You may even find a use for shackles and other sailing/ climbing hardware. There is plenty of online material to help you develop your skills but there is also a wealth of good books, including the Collins Need to know? 

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