Top 3 Knots for Emergency Survival

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Top 3 Knots for Emergency Survival

Knowing how to tie a variety of knots is essential in camping, sailing, construction, rock climbing, and most importantly – for emergency survival. That’s why this skill has been taught to Scouts since the program began. 

But if you search “how to tie a knot,” you’ll wind up with thousands of different types. The Ashley Book of Knots, which was published in 1944 and considered the definitive resource on the subject, describes more than 3,800 knots.

While it is certainly a lofty goal to try to master all knot types, it is more important to learn the knots that will prove most useful should you get stranded in the wilderness.

So, we’ve narrowed it down from 3,800 knots to the top 3 knots for emergency survival. 

Should you find yourself in an emergency situation, knowing the following 3 knots will greatly up your chances of surviving.

The Bowline Knot

The bowline knot is one of the most popular knots worldwide because it’s easy to tie and use. 

There is historical evidence that suggests bowline knots were used for rigging on ships in Ancient Egypt and were written about in John Smith’s journals. 

Plus, the bowline knot makes its appearance in pop culture. It’s the knot that Chief Brody ties right before the shark suddenly appears in the 1975 cult classic Jaws. Bowline knots are also the type of knots shown in the movie Hacksaw Ridge to lower injured men down from a cliff.

How to Tie a Bowline Knot

instructions for tying a bowline knot

Here are instructions for a bowline knot from The Manual.

  1. Make a loop in your rope with the working end over the top of your standing end. This loop is often referred to in bowline tying practice as the rabbit's hole.
  2. Pass the working end of the rope up through the loop – the rabbit comes up out of the hole.
  3. Lead the rope around the back of the standing line – the rabbit goes around the tree.
  4. Feed the working end back through the hole – the rabbit goes back into its hole.
  5. Dress the knot by pulling on the two strands of rope that go through the loop, and the standing line, individually. Then pull all three individually to tighten your bowline.

Uses of the Bowline Knot

Bowline knots are useful every day and in emergency situations, such as anchoring a rope around something like a tree or person. For example, you can use a bowline knot to make an anchor so you can lower yourself or someone else out of a dangerous situation, like a fire or a cliff.

It can be used to help rescue someone from the water.

A bowline knot can also be turned into a carrying handle to make it easier to carry supplies.

It is a quick and easy way to attach a line to a tree for a clothesline or build a shelter.

It can be used for tying a hammock. 

If you are looking for a secure rope to use for practicing bowline knots and to have as part of your survival stash, check out our multi-function paracord. This 100-ft paracord includes three specialty strands, including waterproof fire starter line, fishing line, and versatile cotton line. 

The Square Knot

The square knot is an easy knot to learn. It works best when it is laid flat to tie, so it is most useful in situations where protruding knots aren’t the best choice. 

The square knot is also a basic knot, so once you know how to make one, you can use its technique to build even more knots.

Scout troops often begin their knot learning journey with the square knot for this reason.

How to Tie a Square Knot

instructions for tying a square knot

The go-to way to teach the square knot is by emphasizing “right over left, left over right.”

Here’s how to turn right over left, left over right into a square knot.

  1. Begin with two lengths of rope roughly the same diameter and strength.
  2. Cross one rope (the right side) over the other rope (the left side).
  3. Take the right side rope under to form an overhand knot.
  4. At this point, the ropes have switched places.
  5. Take the left rope over the right rope.
  6. Send it under to form a second overhand knot.
  7. Tighten the knots, and you will have a square knot.

Uses of the Square Knot

Square knots are especially useful for first aid emergencies, such as tying bandages or tying down a tourniquet. If you have a multi-tool with scissors and know how to tie a square knot – you can easily rip and tie bandages. 

In addition, you use a square knot to loosely secure a package or a clothesline or to attach an item to a bag. 

It can also be used to lift food into the trees to keep the food out of reach of predators.

The key is to avoid using square knots for heavy loads as these knots cannot handle the high strain.

The Clove Hitch Knot

One of the most useful knots for emergency survival is the clove hitch, which is meant for temporary use.

Like the square knot, the clove hitch knot also works to form other knots. It is a very popular survival knot because it is easy to tie (you can even do it with one hand) and it can be tied in multiple ways (such as at the end or the middle of the rope).

How to Tie a Clove Hitch Knot

instructions for tying a clove hitch knot

  1. To create a clove hitch on a tree, make a loop of rope around the tree. 
  2. Then make another loop and pass the free end of the rope under the second loop before tightening. 
  3. To tie this one over a post or stake, just create a loop in the free end of the rope and slide it over the post. 
  4. Then make another loop the same as the first. 
  5. Put the second loop over the post (just above the first loop) and tighten the hitch.

Uses of the Clove Hitch Knot

There are many uses for the clove hitch knot, such as securing an emergency shelter.

The clove hitch works well for attaching a rope to a carabiner. With a rope, a clove hitch knot, and a carabiner, you can accomplish a lot in the wild. 

You can also use a clove hitch to secure a rope to something in the environment (i.e., a tree or post). 

Like other knots, the clove hitch can be used to hang food in trees to protect from bears or other animals.

If you need to adjust guy lines, such as setting up an outdoor hammock, a clover hitch will work well.

Clove hitch knots are also widely used in climbing, such as tying into anchored locking carabiners or securing slings to anchors. They can also be used to construct rope ladders.


While there are thousands more knots for emergency survival, these 3 will greatly up your chances of surviving in the wilderness, on the water, or in a variety of disaster situations. Don’t wait to learn these invaluable skills – start practicing now. 


  • Mike77

    I like the clove hitch, but prefer the bow line. It’s more secure in my opinion.

    Thank you for reaching others about these vital knots. The bunny ears knot has little place beyond childhood.

  • Bob

    Do the bowline wrong and you’ll cinch yourself to death with a slipknot.
    Better to go with a figure 8 on a bite, if you really want to survive.

  • Jen c

    I’m SO aware of my weaknesses in the area of knots. Thanks for making us clear and simple. This is a gradient I can handle.

  • Stephane

    Double bowline if your harness is missing.
    Prussic if your ascender is missing or broken.
    Using webbing instead of rope and making figure 8 knots to untie easily.
    Old military training!!!

  • Bob

    Yes… Boy Scout Knots

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