Handy Knots: The Bowline

September 2, 2011

Knots, Video

Consider this: you are stranded at the bottom of a ravine and someone tosses a rope to you  from above. You need to tie a knot to help you get out. The knot must be easy to tie, must make a loop that you can slide around your waist, and it must not slip.

Remember, your life may depend on this knot. If it slips or comes untied, you could fall back down the ravine, badly injuring yourself.

What knot would you tie? Would you have the confidence to tie the knot?

The King Of The Knots

The Bowline is considered one of the most important and useful knots to many people, including me. It’s easy to tie, easy to untie, and forms a strong, reliable fixed loop at the working end of the rope.

Like many knots, the bowline has it origin in maritime sailing. However, its usefulness transcends the water. It can be used most anywhere a fixed loop is required, such as tying a rope to the trailer hitch of a truck, tying a food pack into a tree to keep it away from bears, or as in the opening scenario tying a rope around your waist when climbing.

There are many variations on the bowline knot that make subtle improvements on its strength and reliability. However, I’ve found the standard knot, when tied properly, to be more than sufficient.

Tying A Bowline

There are at least a couple of ways to tie a bowline: the common way and the one handed around the waist bowline. I’ll demonstrate the common way since it’s more useful.

Step 1: Make a small loop in the working end of the rope. Make sure that the working end loops back over itself.

Step 2: Pass the working end around pole or other item that you may be tying to. If you are making a loop without tying to anything, leave enough rope for your purpose.

Step 3: Bring the working end up from the bottom of the loop formed in step 1.

Step 4: Bring the working end around the standing end.

Step 5: Slide the working end back down through the hole created in step 1.

Step 6: Hold the working end along with the part of the rope that was brought through the loop in step 3. Pull the standing end of the rope to tighten the knot.

A Mnemonic

Many people remember the steps for tying a bowline using a mnemonic. First you create a hole (the loop in step 1). Then a rabbit comes out of the hole (step 3), around the tree (step 4), and back down the hole (step 5). Tighten as described in step 6 and you’re done.


The bowline has become one of my favorite, all purpose knots. I use it regularly when working with rope or cordage. In coming posts I’ll share some others that I’ve found useful.

In the meantime, what are some of your favorite knots?

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10 Comments on “Handy Knots: The Bowline”

  1. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    Great vid. Is that you in there?

    I’ve been thinking about doing an advanced video of how to climb a tree/cliff/whatever with just a couple of pieces of rope and a bunch of different knots. It’s hard work, but a great technique for climbing. Might be easier with carabiners and whatnot, but they’re not totally necessary. Knots would include: reverse figure of eight, bowline, double fishermans knot, tying a swiss seat, and much more. What do you think?


    • Joe Says:

      Thanks Jarhead! Yep, that’s yours truly in the video.

      I’d love to see your climbing video! Sounds like a great one, and could be very useful at some point.



      • Jarhead Survivor Says:

        I’ll start thinking about putting that video together.

        Hmm, is that a southern accent or a mid-western twang? I can’t decide if you live in Western Maine or Southern Maine.



        • Joe Says:

          Good I hope you do put it together. I’d like to see it.

          I remember learning the Swiss Seat but I’m not sure I could tie it again without a refresher. It’s not something I use that often.

          More like Southern Maine. 😉



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