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How to Tie a Bowline Knot

The classic climber's waist loop knot for ultralight, and the strongest single-line knot you can tie in cord.
Text and photos by Steve Howe
Need a primer on knot tying terminology? Click here.
  • Bring the free-end around your waist in belt fashion.
  • Lay your free-end hand atop the standing cordage, palm down.
  • Holding the standing cord, rotate your wrist and thumb forward, away from your body. This ensures that you fold the loop in the proper direction.
  • Take the free end and run it upwards through the loop ...
  • ... around the standing end, and back down through the loop in exact reverse. "The rabbit climbs out of its hole, around the tree, and back down into the hole."
  • Look closely at the sample knot and how the loop is made. When tied incorrectly, the bowline turns into a slip knot.
  • Bowlines are strong, but not that secure, for critical uses they should be backtied with a half hitch or other secure knot.
  • For climbing use, snug up the waist loop until it's belt tight around the narrowest part of your body, and backtie it.
Bring the free-end around your waist in belt fashion.
Image 1 of 8

Bring the free-end around your waist in belt fashion.


Page 1 | 2

"For climbing use, snug up the waist loop until it's belt tight around the narrowest part of your body, and backtie it."

No. For climbing use, wear a harness. Then tie into the tie-in loops. And use a Yosemite bowline (or other appropriate knot), not just a bowline. If you don't have a harness, don't just wrap it around your waist like that. At the very least make a diaper harness, and tie into that.
— BackCountryLawyer

It should be noted that this guide shows you how to tie a "Left Handed" (cowboy) bowline; a bowline with the working end ending on the outside of the loop. It should also be noted that while you should always visual check knots, bowlines should always be physically checked by pushing on the knot in the direction of the loop. If tied incorrectly, the loop will collapse.
— Chris B.

The rabbit comes out of the hole, hop ove the snake, around the tree then back in the hole
— steve

The Bowline is definitely NOT the "strongest single line knot you can tie in a cord. Check this data from the cordage institute:
In addition, a bowline is much more likely than a figure 8 to loosen and slip as it is weighted and unweighted.
There is a reason that the figure 8 is the most widely accepted tie-in knot for climbing.
— Mark L

Wow, as usual for Backpacker comment boards, the comments are rather vicious. While it's interesting to hear knot wonks weigh in, one of these comments is incorrect, and two are just nit-picky. #4 is wrong: The Figure eight is a more secure knot, not a stronger knot, and is commonly used for tying into climbing harnesses, but rarely as a waist loop. As to #1; Waist loops are commonly used for ultralight needs like scrambling on non-vertical pitches found along much longer hiking routes. As to #2: It's true that bowlines should be checked to make sure they weren't tied as slipknots (which is what happens when the beginning loop is not folded correctly) - that point is addressed in frame 6. And #3 is valid, but kind of irrelevant: Many climbers and sailors tie bowlines in what this writer calls a 'cowboy' style, because having the rope end outside of the waist or grommet loop is more practical and equally strong. As to comment #3, steve's mnemonic does make sense.
— Jack M

Thank you, Jack. Well said.
— Don

This "rabbit through the hole" method is common, but it's hard to remember the way to make the loop, and can be slow to thread the end. The way old sailors would tie it was easier and faster. They'd start like making a thumb knot and straighten the free end, thus forming the loop with the free end already threaded through it.
— CJ

A good set of drawings would be better than the pictures, or as an alternative so that a set could be printed out.
— Jerry G.

The rabbit pops out of the hole, runs around the BACK of the tree, then hops back into the hole; you get either the standard or cowboy bowline this way, depending on how much fermented carrot juice the rabbit's been drinking...
— evilmechzilla

Wow Backpacker those are some serious claims, "strongest single line knot". Every knot strength test data I've seen suggests that the double figure eight maintains strength around 80% while the bowline maintains around 70%. How about backing up your claim with some data?
— PF


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