Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
A snake fight in Colorado made my life easier

Today’s post comes from Alistair MacKenzie, Discovery Supervisor at Pinery Provincial Park.

Have you ever knocked over a tangle of rope in a fit of frustration?

I used to do it, but then I was lucky enough to be exposed to the sport of rock climbing. In a short time I learned some essential knots that have changed my life.

Now I can tie knots without frustration!

Know your knots

A good knot works effectively, is easy to tie, and most importantly, unties easily.

Through my work and personal life, I have had the pleasure of exploring many of Ontario’s incredible protected areas.

Throughout all of my amazing experiences, using ropes and tying knots has been essential.

I use ropes and knots to:

  • secure my boat in my vehicle
  • hang my food in a way that doesn’t reward animals with food
  • align my canoe up and down small rapids
  • tie clotheslines
  • erect my tarp to protect me from bad weather
  • practice first aid

And many more applications!

If you pick up a book on how to tie knots, you may feel overwhelmed by the complexity and number of knots to choose from.

While that type of resource is incredibly useful, I think a beginner should start with a select group of knots and then improve their skills to include more complicated knots over time.

In fact, I believe that only five knots will be enough in more than 95% of cases.

Before tackling knots, it’s a good idea to briefly talk about rope varieties.

There are many different types of ropes and each one is designed for a specific purpose. I will refer to only three types of rope: braided polypropylene, braided nylon, and kernmantle.

Braided polypropylene rope.

Generally yellow in color, in my opinion this rope has only one purpose: to use it in the water. It is lightweight, floats, rot resistant and economical.

However, if you have ever tried to tie a knot in this rope, you will know that it frequently comes undone due to the memory of the material it is made from. This rope likes to be straight. If you are going to water ski, it is a great choice. Otherwise, move on to the next strings for all other applications.

Braided Nylon Rope

This rope is usually white in color and can vary in the number of threads twisted together.

It is a good type of rope for most knots, as it is easy to wind into loops (coves), locks into effective knots, and is relatively easy to untie. Nylon is superior to polyester materials, as polyester tends to stretch more when wet. This is important for hanging food and securing things to roof racks.

kernmantle rope

Kernmantle is essentially braided nylon with a protective outer sheath. This rope feels wonderful in the hand and is my favorite for most applications.

Some bad news for all lefties; You are at a slight disadvantage since you will have to learn how to tie knots with your right hand, regardless of the type of rope mentioned above.

Most ropes are constructed with a twist that tightens when tied with the right hand and loosens or untwists when tied with the left hand. Some suppliers can provide left-handed strings by special order, but if you head to your local store to pick up some strings, be prepared to tie them right-handed.

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About knots…

Do you need to speed up or slow down videos? Adjust the playback speed in the settings in the bottom bar.

the bowline

The bolina is my favorite knot with countless applications.

If you need a loop on the end of a rope that won’t slip or slide, this knot is for you! The bowline is very easy to untie even after incredible tension. I once pulled a vehicle out of a snow-filled ditch using my climbing rope and a bowline and was then able to untie the knot easily.

If you’ve ever had to leave a piece of rope in a tree because its knot got out of reach, a long loop bobbin will help you with your rope purchasing budget.

Follow the video using this step-by-step description of the knot:

  • Pass the working end of the rope around an anchor from right to left.
  • Thread the working end over the top of the tail of the rope and then fold it up through the window to create a loop that meets the working end of the rope.
  • Next, transfer the loop from the working end to the tail by gently pulling the working end up and then toward you, while at the same time gently pushing down on the loop under your right thumb.
  • Pass the working end under the tail and down through the loop you just created. Tighten the knot away from your body.
  • bowline knottied handle

    To untie a bowline, simply break the knot by bending the tab (the loop on the knot that looks a lot like the classic Rolling Stones logo) away from the core of the knot.

    The alpine butterfly

    This knot is perfect for tying a fixed loop in the middle of a piece of rope.

    It is useful for tensioning clothesline ropes, attaching a tarp, securing luggage racks and many more applications as you can use it as a pulley point to add tension to the line.

    It is very easy to untie by folding the “wings” of the butterfly back.

    Follow the video by following the steps below.

  • Hold the end of a loop of rope and twist it twice to create a loop, a window, and then a fork.
  • Pass the tip of the loop over the window and through the hairpin, then pull it out the window.
  • Tighten the knot by pulling the rope sideways in opposite directions.
  • alpine butterfly knotTied Alpine Butterfly

    The blade bends

    This knot is often useful when setting up tarps at your campsite, especially for two ropes of different diameters.

    While it is an effective knot when under tension, it tends to loosen when not under load. However, when pulled hard, it is very effective if you need to extend a rope a few more meters and all you have is a larger or smaller diameter rope.

    Follow the video, but start with the steps below.

  • Create a loop in the larger diameter rope.
  • Pass the working end of the smaller diameter rope through the loop and wrap it around the back of the loop.
  • Pass the working end under the tail and through the loop opening and pull out to tighten it.
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    leaf curvature knotTied Leaf Folding

    People often remember this knot because it reminds them of a snake coming out of a hole, coiling around the back of a tree and slipping under its own tail and into the forest to hunt.

    The reef knot

    Unlike the clew knot, the reef knot is intended to join two ropes of the same diameter.

    Also known as a square knot, the reef knot is a very effective first aid tool, making the flat knot effective in applying even pressure to a wound when tying a triangular bandage. Remember to put left over right and under, then right over left and under.

    reef knot Tied Reef Knot

    The taught line hitch

    The taught line knot is a useful knot to help tension a line. If you’ve ever slipped that little piece of metal into your tent lines to tighten it after driving in your peg, you’ve used a similar version of this knot.

    I love this knot to take care of the loose ends of a rope that remain after tying a tension knot. It may take you a little longer to master, but keep working and you’ll come out on top!

  • Take the working end of a rope and pass it from right to left around an anchor.
  • Then, wrap the working end around the tail and stick it through the window.
  • Repeat the previous step to make another wrapper that sits next to the first one.
  • Pass the rope over the first loop and make another loop outside the window and pass the end.
  • Tighten the knot and remove it from the anchor to tighten the line. If you look closely, you’ll see that the knot bends the rope when tightened, allowing it to maintain its position on the line.
  • The Colorado Snake Fight

    Watch this video to learn how to wind the rope in a way that allows it to unwind easily.

    Once I learned this skill, I left behind the twisted and uncooperative alternatives and my rope is always ready. The Colorado snake fight usually comes in handy when the skies open up with a deluge of rain just as I arrive to set up camp for the night.

    In fact, Colorado snake fights can be thrown as a life preserver to a waiting person, or to quickly uncoil the rope.

    To tie this coil of rope, watch the winding and unwinding video above. You’ll see that I lean heavily on my knees to help hold the rope while I wind it.

  • Start by making three to four rope loops of the same diameter.
  • Pass a small loop of rope under the initial 3 or 4 loops and loop back through itself.
  • Repeat the previous movement, but pass one loop over the rest and then another under the loops.
  • Grasp and release the knee loops, always working downward, away from the kneecaps.
  • Continue this movement around the loops, one above and one below, until you reach the end of the rope.
  • Finish the coil by passing the end through the last two loops so you can easily find and release it when it’s time to unwind it.
  • Watch the video below to learn how to uncoil the Colorado snake fight:

    Give it a “tie”

    I feel a real sense of satisfaction knowing these select string skills. They allow me to deal with many situations in the Ontario wilderness and help me ensure the safety and comfort of my fellow campers.

    Don’t get stuck in a ball of stress and frustration! Practice these skills and enjoy applying your knotting skills on your next adventure.