When it comes to roughing it, the old saying goes: “Never judge a book by its cover.” And this couldn’t ring more true. The same motto applies to self-made tools out in the field.
In other words, don't underestimate how useful some paracord and a wooden stick can be for wilderness survival.
With these simple items, you can create a toggle, which can help you in several small-task situations while outdoors.
If you don’t know what a toggle is, then you should find out. This versatile tool is essential bushcraft gear. You can use it to hang or pull just about anything when out in nature.
And if you're interested in making your own authentic wilderness survival tools, the toggle is a perfect starter project. All you need is some knot-tying know-how, and you're ready to go.
What's a Toggle?
A toggle is just a stick or a piece of metal with some string. To create a real toggle, you’ll use basic knot-tying skills for outdoor survival.
You can tie the toggle in such a way that it will hold large amounts of weight, which is why these handy wilderness tools are often used for hanging hammocks.
But when you're out in the wilderness, you can use a toggle for smaller tasks like hanging gear or making a suspension system. All you need is a stick and a basic knot to do the trick.
First, you'll need to master a couple of true bushcraft knots: the bowline and lark's head knot. The bowline is a simple knot that forms a fixed loop at the end of a rope, and a lark's head knot is used to attach a string to an object. In this context, that object is the toggle.
Different Ways to Use a Toggle When in the Wilderness
Dave Canterbury and Shawn Kelley of the Pathfinder School explain in these two demonstration videos the many ways you can use a toggle around camp using just a piece of paracord and a small stick.
The primary role of a homemade toggle when out in the natural world is to hang up gear, like backpacks, clothes, or pots and pans, which we'll cover in the first method. In the second method, you'll also see that you can use a toggle as a suspension system for specific tasks.
Method #1: Hang Gear, Pots, and Backpacks With Ease
In this video, Dave Canterbury demonstrates "the woodman's best friend," better known as the toggle. It’s a fitting name. As you’ll notice in the video, all it takes is a stick and a few knots to make life easy when camping.
Building a toggle is an easy way to hang gear, as demonstrated by Dave
Dave primarily uses toggles to hang gear like backpacks and pots and pans, which helps to keep them dry and off the ground, and it makes them easily accessible. He shows how to attach a toggle to a line with three different knots. Once you learn them, you're free to use the best knot for the situation you're in.
Knot #1: The Marlinspike Hitch
The marlinspike hitch is a temporary knot used to attach a rod to a rope so that it can act as a handle. It's an essential knot in bushcraft when you need to tighten knots or use any ropework. It is also a classic sailor's knot, hence the word marlinspike in the name.
Here's how you tie it:
- Start with an overhand loop so that the working part is passing over the standing part.
- Fold the loop over the working part so that the standing part is visible through the loop.
- Use the stick and place it over the near side of the loop, under the standing part, and then over the far side of the loop.
- Tighten both ends so that any excess cord is out of the way and the cord is securely placed around the stick.
Despite its name, you don't need to use a marlinspike to tie the knot. When you want to create a toggle for hanging gear, start by taking the cord and wrapping it around the tree with the tail hanging down. Then, perform the marlinspike hitch knot, and you'll have a secure, hanging toggle for your gear.
Knot #2: The Lark's Head (Or Cow Hitch) Knot
A lark's head knot, also called a cow hitch knot, is used to attach a cord or thread to an object, like a toggle piece. This is one of the simplest yet most important knots that you can learn before going out on the field—so much that it's one of the first knots taught in Boy Scout and Pathfinder school courses.
Here's how you tie one:
- Prepare your toggle to be the holding piece in the center, and fold your cord underneath the toggle so that it's in a loop.
- Pull the ends of the cord through the loop so that it's around the toggle piece.
- Tighten to secure the knot.
The knot allows it to work down if it slips. So, the more tension, the tighter it gets—and the less likely the knot will come off. This is especially helpful when you have to attach a toggle at the end of the line, and it’s extremely easy to undo and remove when you're finished.
Knot #3: The Modified Lark's Head Knot (Permanent)
The modified lark's head knot starts the same way as a regular lark's head. Follow those foundational steps, and once you've cinched the cord so that it's tight around the toggle, you'll do the following:
- Pull on the lark’s head loop and create a figure 8 by turning it over one more time.
- Pull both tails back through the loop.
This will create a clove hitch on the toggle. So, the tighter you pull it, the more permanent the knot will become. And when you put on a lot of weight, it won't slip. This also means it's complicated to remove, so be sure to reserve this one for permanent projects.
Method #2: Remove Boiling Water Bottles from Campfire
In this demonstrational video, Shawn Kelley shows how you can retrieve a boiling water bottle from a campfire using a simple toggle system, which only involves two knots and a small yet sturdy stick.
When you're out in the wilderness, you need access to clean water. There are many ways you can purify water, but boiling water in a stainless steel can is one of the better ones. Because of its extremely hot temperature, the boiled water kills viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and other pathogens by damaging their structural components.
However, removing that piping hot bottle is a bit of a challenge, especially if the flames are extra tall. Using a glove or mitt won't work in situations like these, and that’s where the toggle comes in.
Step #1: Start With a Bowline Knot
You're going to start with a bowline knot and eventually turn it into a lark's head knot in the next step. As you know, a bowline knot is relatively simple and doesn’t require a lot of string to complete, but for this task, you'll want between two and three feet of paracord.
A bowline knot
One of the best ways to remember a bowline knot is the rabbit and tree metaphor. “We have our tree and our hole, and the rabbit’s going to pop its head up through the hole, go around that tree, and back into the same hole again,” explains Shawn.
Step #2: Measure the Bottle and Tie a Lark's Head Knot
Take your stainless steel wide-mouth bottle and look down at the opening. You'll notice that there's a shoulder on each side.
Take the toggle you'll be using and measure it across the width of the mouth. You'll want to make sure that its size is exactly right. Cut it so that it's just a little shorter than the space between the shoulders.
Cut the stick just enough so that it’s slightly shorter than the shoulders
At this point, you'll turn your bowline into a lark's head knot around the toggle. After you've done that, move onto the next step.
Step #3: Place the Toggle Inside
In this step, you'll put your toggle system to the test. Set up a small fire and place your stainless steel bottle full of water in the center until it begins to boil.
Place the toggle inside the bottle…
...and pull to lift out of the flames!
Then, as you hold onto the end of the cord, lower the toggle piece into the water bottle at an angle to get inside, and then pull it straight up so that it gets caught on the inside shoulders.
You'll be able to pull the water bottle out of the fire and place it wherever you'd like without even touching it. Using this handy toggle system is the best way to avoid any accidental hand burning.
A toggle is an essential bushcraft tool that you can easily buy in-store or, even better, make yourself when in the great outdoors. While toggles can help perform various heavy-duty tasks, like hanging hammocks, there’s something to be said for having the skills to make one with your own two hands.
With a self-made toggle, you can perform smaller jobs, like hanging gear and handling things around the campfire.
To make one, you'll only need some paracord and a stick. You'll also need to know how to make a bowline knot, a marlinspike hitch, and a lark's head knot, so you’re prepared for every real-life wilderness scenario.
If you want to learn more tips and tricks for camping and outdoor survival, be sure to check out everything Dave, Shawn, and the rest of the Pathfinder team have to offer at the Self Reliance Outfitters Survival Blog. You can also subscribe to the YouTube channel.