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Basic Survival Knots You Need To Know

Posted by Michael Sullivan on July 21, 2021   •   knots, survival, survival training

Why You Need To Know Basic Survival Knots

Knowing how to tie a knot with cordage properly is something many people don’t think twice about—but in actuality, this skill can be what saves your life in survival situations. 

You can never predict what your time will be like when you’re out in the elements. There might be instances where you need to climb up or scale down a steep cliff. Other times, you might need to perform first aid. 

However, even something as simple as knowing how to secure a tarp can determine the essentials, like getting a good night’s sleep and saving your life in an emergency scenario. 

At the Pathfinder School, there are two main knots that every student of any level should become familiar with: The bowline knot and the double fisherman’s knot.

The Top Two Most Essential Survival Knots

From Corporals Corner and the Pathfinder School, Shawn Kelly sits down to talk about and demonstrate two of the most basic yet versatile survival knots that are easy to learn. 

“There are two simple camp knots that make your life a lot easier out there in the field,” Shawn explains in the demonstration video.

Of course, we’re referring to the famous bowline and double fisherman’s knots. They’re both easy to tie, strong, and dependable. The bowline doesn’t jam and won’t slip under an extra heavy load, while the double fisherman’s knot is one of the sturdiest ever created. 

Let’s take a closer look. 

Knot #1: Bowline Knot

The bowline knot is a time-tested one with a history that dates back to Ancient Egypt. In 1954, archaeologists found similar rigging on Pharaoh Khufu’s solar ship during an excavation. But it wasn’t until 1627 when the bowline knot had its first written mention in explorer John Smith’s recounts, A Sea Grammar.

The knot is traditionally used for rigging and sailing. For example, bowline knots help to hold the edge of a square sail towards the ship’s bow, which was crucial in preventing the sail from being pushed back from the wind. All in all, it’s a solid and reliable knot that doesn’t tighten on itself when used correctly. 

Some other common uses of this knot type include: 

  • Tying a rope, piece of cordage, or line around a tree, anchor, ladder, or any other structure.
  • Boating, sailing, and fishing 
  • Throwing and tying around one’s waist during water, fire, or mountain search and rescue missions
  • Tying a hammock, tree climbing, or connecting a handle line to a kite 

Here’s how to tie the bowline knot. First, lay the cord or rope flat. Then, with your right hand, twist it over so that there’s a small loop and it’s on top of the left side. 

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From there, pull the right end through the loop and then through it again.  

Take both ends of the cord and pull towards your face to tighten. 

When you tighten both ends, ensure that both sides are secure. If your knot looks like this final piece, then you’ll know it’s finished and ready to go. 

 Minute 1:33

 Quick Tip: Avoid loading the knot sideways if you’re using it for carrying heavy loads. Doing so might lead to slippage while rappelling or carrying something significant, which is the last thing you want when you’re in the middle of a life-or-death situation. 

 Knot #2: Double Fisherman’s Knot

Widely considered the best joining knot, the double fisherman’s knot is the second most essential skill that any bushcrafter should perfect. This knot joins two pieces of cord securely, which can be used if a long enough piece isn’t available. 

 Today, the knot serves its purpose best when securing heavy loads, which is why it’s popularly used in climbing and search and rescue missions. For example, using the strength of a double fisherman’s knot, you can successfully pull back someone who has fallen down a steep hill or over the edge of a cliff.

 Some other uses of this durable knot include: 

  • Joining two pieces of fishing lines for fishing 
  • Combining two elements of climbing rope 
  • Backing of different critical knots
  • As Termination knots for arborists
  • Tying webbing 
  • Making paracord bracelets or necklaces 

 Here’s how to tie the double fisherman’s knot. First, take two pieces of cordage with one on top and one on the bottom. Next, take the bottom rope (orange) and loop it around the top (blue).

 Image Source

 After the first loop, make a second loop by bringing the orange cord through both loops. You’ll pull the end through the first “X” and pull it tight.


  For the opposite rope, go down and around to cross over the orange rope and create a second “X.” In other words, you’re doing the first step again but with the second rope instead. 

 Pull tight so that both X knots come together. In the end, you’ll have two identical knots next to each other. You may have to pull and tighten their tag ends a little bit if they’re spaced apart.

 “Go ahead and dress it up a bit,” Shawn says when describing the process. “And when you flip it over and have four barrels and two X’s locked together, that’s it.”

 Minute 3:24

 Quick Tip: Although the double fisherman’s knot is widely accepted as one of the most reliable knots known to man, it can fail if it’s tied incorrectly. If you find yourself in a situation where your life depends on correctly tying this knot, take the time to thoroughly inspect it before putting all of your weight onto it.


The bowline knot and the double fisherman’s knot are both classic rigging knots that you can use in various emergency survival situations. You can also find more knots that will help you out on the field with the knots guide and outdoor knots guide, highlighting other basic techniques for survival and everyday scenarios. 

 Now that you’ve got the idea of knot-tying and where to find the suitable cordage, you can learn more about other critical survival techniques on the Self Reliance Outfitters YouTube channel. There, experts like Shawn Kelly, Dave Canterbury, and many more share hundreds of essential tips and tricks to help transform you into a master survivalist. 

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