Knots vs. Hardware

Learn to Tie Basic Knots

by Robert Eversole


Bowline Knot. Photo courtesy Robert Eversole

The clinic circuit is a hoot! I’ve been teaching trail riding and horse camping at expos from coast to coast. One topic that comes up is gadgets. People either rely on them too much or pooh-pooh the very idea.

I love gadgets, though very few come along with me on my trips. While I’m a big fan of knots, I do find a few hardware devices useful.


Knots and rope-work make for an enjoyable pastime that comes with many practical applications. Unfortunately, as R.M. Abraham said in his 1932 publication Winter Night’s Entertainment, “It is extraordinary how little the average individual knows about the art of making even the simplest of knots.”

I break knots down into two groups: “good” knots are those that are simply tied, hold fast, come apart easily when you’re done with them and “bad” knots are all the rest. If you don’t believe my definition perhaps you’ll appreciate Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s description from the 1908 manual Scouting for Boys: “The right kind of knot to tie is one which you can be certain will hold under any amount of strain, and which you can always undo easily if you wish to. The bad knot is one which slips away when a hard pull comes on it, or which gets jammed so tight that you cannot untie it.”

Many horse riders avoid knots because they perceive them as difficult to learn. A better idea might be to consider knots as easy to learn, but a skill that requires practice.

What Knots Should I Learn?

There are many knots that are excellent for horse riders and campers. I frequently use the following basic workhorse knots.

  • Bowline—A great all-purpose knot that I often use when setting up a highline or any time I need a very secure knot.
  • Prusik knot—Made for use in climbing and rappelling, the prusik is a simple knot with a lot of uses, especially when a sliding adjustment is handy.
  • Trucker’s hitch—Great for tensioning highlines. The 3 to 1 mechanical advantage lets you easily get a highline much tighter than you could by simply pulling on one end.
  • Half hitch – A general-use knot that, when doubled, makes a nice lock down.

Knot Pros

  • Knots don’t add any weight.
  • They’re versatile (a single knot can be used in multiple applications).
  • Knot tying is a skill that, if nurtured, doesn’t easily break, get lost, or fail.

Knot Cons

  • Knots can reduce the strength of a rope up to 50% (depending on the type of knot used).
  • Some knots “bind” when loaded, making them difficult to untie.
  • Some ropes are very slippery and don’t hold knots well.
  • Poorly tied knots can become risks, either to your animal or to yourself.
  • If not used often enough, or without practice, you can forget how and when to use knots to their best advantage.


Hardware solutions can be useful. They can reduce the time required to set up camp, make adjustments quicker, and provide easy mechanical tensioning. I do feel anyone working with horses and mules should have a basic understanding of the knots listed above for when these hardware devices fail and improvisation becomes a necessity. I have a few criteria for hardware:

  • The main function of the device must be obvious.
  • The “no-knot” method should be simple and straightforward without complex wrapping or weaving, defeating the purpose.
  • The device should solve a real issue or challenge, such as improving dexterity, decreasing slippage, improving efficiencies, increasing strength, providing mechanical advantage, minimizing weight, etc.
  • The device should pack well when attached. Sharp points, unnecessary bulk, and weight are potential hazards.

If hardware claims to make things simpler and easier, then it should. Some hardware devices are unfortunately solutions looking for a problem, or present solutions that are overly complex and maybe not necessary in the first place.

Hardware Pros

  • Reduces/eliminates slipping with certain materials
  • Provides quick attachment/detachment
  • Improves adjustability
  • Provides mechanical leverage with reduced friction

Hardware Cons

  • Gadgets can add significant weight to an overall system.
  • Some are overly complex and difficult to use.
  • Hardware can break, get lost, or left behind.
  • Hardware can be expensive.

The best hardware options are those that address specific issues in a simple way. It’s like eating salad with a spoon and then one day someone hands you a fork and everything changes. It wasn’t that the spoon didn’t do the job, it’s that the fork changed the game. The next improvement was combining the fork and the spoon together like this…

July 2017
Photo courtesy Robert Eversole

Visit www.TrailMeister.com for how-to instructions on all the knots listed above, and the largest and most accurate horse trail and horse camp guide in the world.


Originally Published July 2017 Issue

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