The summer night was fresh and boisterous with the frogs leading its symphony. Maybe I should have paid more attention but I was learning about knots. I was not learning how to tie a noose and a monkey fist knot but I was learning to snell a hook.
Having just dipped below the horizon the sun still gave the clouds a little glow on the underside and painted the distant horizon with a darkening shade of purple.
It was a great night for anchoring beneath the Ben Harrison bridge. Most people concern themselves with the beautiful construction fo the bridge but my thoughts were on the pillars that plunged deep into the James River and acted as cover for giant blue catfish.
Summer nights fishing and boating are a good time and you always have a chance to explore a number of different knots from the dock to the first cast of your rig.
While fishing is rarely done for survival anymore, its roots go way back as a means of feeding our species. Knots are a huge part of fishing and boating but also survival.
Knots in Survival
Even if you have only spent a few nights out camping you have likely used a knot, or wished you know the knot to use, to set something up at camp. To me, knots allow you to make things much more comfortable. They give you options you didn’t know you had.
There are a few knots that I simply couldn’t live without in the typical outing. These are effective and can be used in a number of ways.
The Common Slip Knot
One of the most simple knots to tie, the common slip knot can be used for all sorts of things. One of my favorite uses for the common slip knot is to raise the center of my tarp shelter.
If you have a simple tarp shelter set up and you need more headroom, grab an acorn or hickory nut off the forest floor. Place the nut on the inside center of your tarp shelter and grab it from the outside so that it is covered by the tarp.
You should have a handful of acorn that is at the center of your tarp but is on the underside of the tarp. SO there should be tarp between your hand and the nut.
Tighten a simple slip knot around the nut and tarp so that the nut is stuck in the tarp and gives your cordage something to hold onto at the center. Now you can raise the center of your tarp shelter using that cordage. Tie it off where you see fit.
The Truckers Hitch
A much more complex knot, the truckers hitch has some great benefits when it comes to building shelter. This hitch allows you to loosen or tighten the cord that it is tied into without untying it.
This is ideal for setting up ridgelines and hanging hammocks. You can really customize how that hammock hangs with one of these.
The Blood Knot
The worst nightmare of most survivors is to run out of something they need. That can happen with cordage. Maybe you have a couple of lengths of cordage that would be long enough together but are not long enough on their own.
I learned to tie a blood knot from fly fishing. This is a very effective way to join two pieces of cordage in a way that you can be very confident that they will not come apart. In essence, turning two short pieces of Bankline into one long piece that gets the job done.
These are all great knots to add to your arsenal. They will work well with the noose and the monkey fist that we will teach you how to tie in this article.
The Best Cordage for Survival
Carrying cordage is essential in survival. You will need some form of cordage to make things like snares, traps, shelters and even to make repairs.
There are three main categories when cordage is concerned in a survival situation or in preparedness planning. These are paracord, bankline, and natural cordage.
The first type of survival cordage that I came in contact with was paracord. I had fished all my life so I was familiar with knots and lines but never gave cordage much thought.
“Swap out your boot laces for paracord!” Yea, I did it.
I even add those little ferro nubs to my shoelaces. Truth on that is, those things are really hard to strike! They are about an inch long and hard to hold.
In the worst-case scenario though, you would have sparks.
Paracord is very strong and is named that way because of its use as parachute cord. The little secret to paracord is that it also has some innards to strengthen it. There are five smaller pieces of cordage within every strand of paracord.
I have used these internals and the paracord itself. It’s all plenty strong for what you will need in a survival scenario. In all honesty, I have never seen paracord break unless it was left outside and affected by the weather.
It is powerful cordage and it can be used for almost anything. You can build a shelter or you can make a net from the guts, if you are skilled and patient.
My experience with Bankline is pretty minimal. It is a smaller cordage in diameter but still very effective.
Since it is smaller in diameter you can carry much more and that goes a long way! The Bankline can be used for almost everything that your paracord can be used for.
It’s a propylene twine that is very similar to something like a tennis court’s net. The stuff is surprisingly strong and capable.
Vines, barks and dry grasses can all be used to make cordage if you know what you are doing. Making cordage from natural fibers can be effective but most of them take a lot of work and processing.
All that said, if you have nothing, you will thank the Gods for your processed red cedar barks.
I would encourage you to have plenty of the above cordage stored at home and in bags so you don’t find yourself struggling to make natural cordage.
Natural Fibers as Cordage
Let me preface this with the fact that making cordage from natural fibers is an art. It takes practice and time. There is no quick and easy substitute for things like paracord and Bankline.
Some common and effective plants for making natural cordage are:
- Cedar Bark
The process should always start with some bit of drying unless your materials have already dried out. They don’t have to be completely dry but moisture will make the processing a struggle.
Using something like a wild raspberry can be a great choice and even better before they start sprouting leaves or producing fruit.
To process the raspberry stalk and removed the thorns, you are going to pound this stem on a flat rock. You can use the but endo of your knife the back of a hatchet or just another rock.
Pound just hard enough to fray the stem. You do not want to mash it so hard that it cuts or breaks the fibrous parts of the plant. I really like raspberry canes because they can get really long, same with blackberry.
Once you have a collection of fibers, lay them together and start to roll and twist them between your fingers. Once the pile gets twisted enough it will form a natural loop.
Allow the strands to naturally twist together and you can then help them along as the cord gets longer. You might even need to incorporate new lengths of cordage. to make your cord longer.
This is why I prefer longer materials to start with. Tie your cordage off at the end opposite of the first loop and you have your first natural length of cordage.
How to Tie a Monkey Fist
The monkey first or monkey paw is an interesting knot. It was used by climbers as an anchor and used by sailors for combat. The dense ball or cordage that comprises the knot can be tied around a marble, ball bearing or even a golf ball.
You wouldn’t want to be hit by something like that.
It’s a complex knot that requires wrapping and turning and tightening those wraps. We will break it down step by step but do take your time if you want to produce this monkey fist otherwise it will just be a ball of frustration.
Start by tying a simple knot at the end of your cordage
Begin by wrapping your open hand with 3 and a half lengths of cordage.
Turn the bundle and wrap under the first three wraps so the cord is now going in the direction of your fingertips. Wrap three times in this direction.
Carefully remove the knot from your hand at this time. Always be sure that your wraps are laying side by side. This is the toughest part as the process goes on.
Now you are going to bring the end of your line up through the open space between your two wraps. You want to turn the ball so that your short knotted end is facing your.
Run your longer end up through the space between but instead of going straight up one side cross over a set of wraps and bring the end out diagonally
You will then wrap three more times So that you have three wraps on three different sides of the knot. Take your time with this part.
Net you are going to tuck your small knotted end into the middle of the fist. You would add your marble or anything else to the center at this point.
Starting from the tail of your smaller knot you are going to push and tighten the entire knot. This part is a little taxing but it is how the monkey fist comes to life and hardens.
Once everything has been tightened you have your monkey fist!
Here is a great video if you learn better that way:
Knot tying in survival and in outdoor adventure can be very important. If you like our guide on how to tie a noose and a monkey fist than you should continue down the path. Learn more knots and more important “tie” them to important survival applications.
If you struggled with things like the monkey fist, I would encourage you to get a nice thick piece of rope and start learning knots with much larger rope. This can make a world of difference.
Thicker rope holds it’s shape better while you tie and it is also much easier to handle. You can make a mammoth monkey fist with thick rope and its kinda cool, too!
We used thick rope to teach shoelace tying in our house. If it can help 5-year-old fingers get more dexterous and effective than it will work for you.
If you feel pretty proficient with knots then spend some time bashing up natural materials and making cordage from nature. Tie up a monkey fist from some natural cordage. That is something I have never done but seems like it would be a real challenge.