You’re always tying something down when you travel, especially off road. You might be storing cargo on the roof of your vehicle and/or materials inside. Securing supplies onto a trailer. Putting up a lean-to or staking down a tent. You can sometimes use a ratchet strap or rubber strap. Other times require the use of rope. That’s why it’s helpful to know how to tie certain knots.
Former Boy Scouts remember having to learn five types of knots. The square knot and double half hitch are very useful. Brush up on those if you need to. For off-road purposes, it’s helpful to learn several others as well.
I’ve been fascinated with tying knots since I was introduced to the Ashley Book of Knots as a kid. (Link to The Ashley Book of Knots). Over the years I’ve mastered a number of different types of knots, but this column will concentrate on a few that are most suited to off-road activity.
Along with the square knot and double half hitch, it’s good to know the Trucker’s knot and the rolling hitch (sometimes called the taut line hitch). I won’t describe how to make these, because you can see for yourself on the Animated Knots by Grog Web site. Check out all the amazing videos by clicking on a knot.
The Trucker’s knot is useful any time you need to cinch up the rope. A good example is when you’re securing supplies to the roof of your vehicle. You want to get that rope as taut as possible; the Trucker’s knot allows you to do that. As long as you have two points to tie down your materials, this knot works really well.
A rolling hitch knot comes in handy when you’re staking down a tent. The rope in essence becomes a guy line. After securing on both ends (the stake and the tent grommet), you tie a knot in the middle of the rope. To take up the slack, simply move the knot downward. For you Scouters, who learned the taut line as a boy, the rolling hitch is only slightly different but significantly more secure.
How much and what type of rope to buy
You don’t need much rope for most applications. My pieces tend to be 6’ or 8’ long. You can do a lot with those lengths. Several standard 25’ packages will be enough. Your needs won’t change much from one trip to the next, so once you’ve cut a few segments, you’ll find yourself using them repeatedly. I usually carry 6 to 8 8ft ropes in a zip lock bag.
I tend to buy white nylon rope. It’s thin (usually 1/8” or 5/16”) and slippery, but is very strong so it holds up well. A lot of people like parachute cord. Stay away from clothesline. It’s made mostly of natural fiber, and just doesn’t hold up well over time. It also isn’t as strong as nylon.
The most important factor, of course, is strength. Make sure you buy the proper rope for your need. If you’re just tying stuff to your roof or doing things around camp, a thin line is sufficient. Buy thicker rope for rescues and other tasks that involve a lot of stress. Climbing rope works well for that.
Respect your rope
Make sure your load is secure, that it’s tied down. Tug on it from every direction. If there’s too much play in the load, tighten your ropes. Anything on the roof of your vehicle will undergo tremendous forces both on-road and off-road. This is a good area to use extra rope.
The Grog site mentioned above has some additional safety information on its home page. I’ll recap the major points here.
Always wear gloves when working with rope. Thin rope, especially nylon, cuts into skin easily, and rope burns are possible under the right conditions.
A knot weakens the rope by upwards of 50%. This is why you never tie a knot into ropes and straps used for recovery or any other use that puts the rope under severe stress.
Inspect your rope before each use. Replace any that is cut, worn, or damaged from heat or chemicals. Rope is really inexpensive. The few bucks you spend before your trip can save a lot of grief later on.
Rope is one of those multi-purpose items that you don’t fully appreciate until you need it. Learning – or brushing up on – some basic knots can help you take full advantage of this very useful component of off-road adventures.