The list of items you should have on hand in emergency and survival situations is extensive. Food, first aid, water, and many other essentials fill the checklist quickly.
One important and useful item rarely makes the top 10 or even 20 on a list, but it should be considered essential. This critical item is rope. While not as glamorous as a water filtration straw or satellite radio, it is nonetheless an important item to have in tough times. Rope can serve multiple roles, from just allowing you to hang up clothes to lashing a raft together. Few items in any emergency kit are as utilitarian as rope.
In casual scenarios, the rope knots you use can be inconsequential. Knots ranging from what appears to be an exploding bird’s nest to pretty bows are common. In dangerous situations though, an effective knot can mean success or failure and possibly even life or death.
Knot tying has a reputation for being vast and complicated. For the sake of general skills development though, we do not need to know 400 different styles and methods. To get you started in your knot-tying career, let’s look at four of the basic types of survival knots.
Survival Knots: Figure Eight on a Bight
Step 1: Take a bight (folded over section of rope), and make a loop.
Step 2: Take a full wrap around the standing part.
Step 3: Slip the bight through the loop and tighten.
Step 4: Pull tight.
Survival Knots: Bowline Knot
Step 1: Take one end of your rope and pass it behind a tree or rock (or simply bend it to create a loop)
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: Create a small circle at the standing end of the rope by pinching the rope and folding it down about three inches.
Step 4: Run the working end of the rope through the loop from back to front.
Step 5: Pull the knot tight.
Survival Knots: Square Knot
Step 1: Tie two overhand knots.
Step 2: First, right over left and twist.
Step 3: Then left over right and twist.
Step 4: Make sure both parts of the rope exit the knot together!
Survival Knots: Clove Hitch
Step 1: Wrap the free end of a rope around a post.
Step 2: Crossover itself and around the post again.
Step 3: Slip the working end under the last wrap.
Step 4: Pull tight.
What’s Considered a “Good” Rope?
So what exactly are we looking for in rope? As a part of an emergency kit, we must make this choice carefully. Everything in our kit must strike a balance between weight, size, usefulness, and cost. While 300 feet of professional climbing rope would be great to have, it just isn’t feasible for most people.
There are many options in the rope world so let’s do a small primer on what is what:
First up is twisted rope. Twisted rope is also referred to as laid rope. It has a spiral design and is generally three strands twisted together. The most common version of this is made from yellow nylon and is standard on boats and other utility vehicles. While light and inexpensive, it can be difficult to knot.
The second is braided rope. Braided ropes are made by weaving fiber strands. The hollow braided rope version is easily flattened out while the double braided rope is firmer. These ropes are much easier on the hands and have a bit of stretch to them. They are abrasion resistant and hold knots very well.
Our third option is climbing rope. Climbing ropes have what is called a kernmantle design. This means that there is an inner core of material surrounded by a jacket. The jacket provides great abrasion resistance while the inner core of separate strands provides strength. This design is a good balance between flexibility and strength.
Parachute Cord aka Paracord
The last one we will look at is parachute cord. This is also known as paracord or 550 cord. Like climbing rope, it is made using a kernmantle design. This cord was originally used in the suspension lines of U.S. parachutes during World War II. Soon after soldiers discovered the multi-tasking power of this cord. As the popularity of paracord grew, knock-offs were soon being manufactured.
For the best performance, you should seek out real parachute cord. This has a military designation of 550 cord and requires a braided nylon sheath inside of which resides seven to nine interwoven strands of separate cord. Together, it has a minimum breaking strength of 550 pounds.
While climbing rope and other styles have their strengths, it is hard to compete with paracord. This cord is a great utilitarian addition to any emergency load-out kit. It can be braided together to create a more substantial rope and can be cut open exposing smaller nylon lines that can be used for thread. 550 cord was even used by the second Space Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Paracord is light, easy to manage, and inexpensive. Even beyond disaster situations, this versatile cord should become a household and trunk item for everyone.
How to Make Your Own Rope
In the event you are caught completely off guard or cannot access your emergency load out, there are still options. Natural rope has been a part of society for thousands of years. Utilizing natural fibers, you can quickly fashion a useable rope to serve any purpose.
One of the best materials to use is the yucca plant. To access the fibers from the leaves the outside material will need to be scrapped off. A common method to make this easier is to beat the leaves a bit with a stone. This will break down the softer parts of the plant. Once the soft material is beat-free, clean the remaining fiber off. This makes them easier to work with.
The basics of twisting cordage are straightforward. It consists of two sets of twists going in opposite directions. The individual sections are twisted in one direction, and two sections are twisted together in an opposite direction. This helps the cordage hold itself together and keep it from unraveling. Adding more stands to increase overall length is easy.
As you near the end of a “twist” simply lay in the next set of materials. It will enjoy a stronger bond if it is slightly wet. This technique can be performed with a variety of natural materials. While not as strong or easy to use, it is surprisingly useful and rewarding to make.
Now that you have your rope of choice, practice making the four basic survival knots demonstrated above – you never know when they’ll come in handy.