AMC Outdoors > Learn How

Tie a Bowline Knot

June 17, 2009

Whether you’re dangling your body hundreds of feet over rocky terrain or securing a boat that will return you to civilization, you need a knot you can trust. The same qualities that have drawn sailors to the bowline knot also make it useful during outdoor excursions. It’s simple to tie, won’t slip or come undone under stress, and is easy to undo no matter how hard you’ve worked it.

The knot is a necessity for AMC member Manny Balderas, an instructor with the Boston Chapter’s spring rock climbing program. “Every knot has its strength and weaknesses, but the bowline is super quick, so I use it all the time,” says Balderas. “It’s the only loop knot that I use, though I know probably 20 others.”

TYING A BOWLINE KNOT

To tie bowline, you’ll follow a simple process: Take one end of your rope and pass it behind a tree or rock (or simply bend it to create a loop) 1. On one side of the loop you will now have a short end (the “working” end) and a longer piece (the “standing” end). The working end usually needs to be about a foot long, but can be longer if you want a larger loop. 2. Create a small circle in the standing end of the rope by pinching the rope and folding it down about three inches. 3. Run the working end of the rope through the loop from back to front. 4. Run the working end of the rope around the standing end. 5 and 6. Run the working end through the loop, from front to back and pull the knot tight.

Climbers and sailors use an old saying to describe the action: “The bunny comes out of the hole, runs around the tree, and goes back in the hole.”

And as Barderas notes, the knot is as versatile as it is easy to create.

CLIMBER’S LIFELINE

If you are scaling a cliff or lowering someone down, you may need to create an anchor.
Climbers tie bowline knots around trees or boulders to create secure anchor points. Choose one that won’t move, such as a heavy boulder or tree that is thicker than your wrist. Use the bowline to create a loop around the object. When a person’s life depends on the knot, you should always back it up with a safety knot, like a double fisherman’s, and use multiple anchor points.

HANGING A BEAR BAG

When setting up camp, a bowline can help you elevate your food beyond the reach of hungry animals. Even after a full night under stress, the bowline will untie easily.

ANCHORS IN PORT

While the days of square-rigged ships may have passed, the bowline is still essential for boaters. After docking, use the knot to secure your boat. Create a loop around a dock cleat, mooring loop, or natural anchor. You can adjust the size of the loop to make sure the knot is easy to reach from your boat and above water—making your departure easier.

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AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.