I have been going through recommended day pack gear lists several respected backcountry writers and field experienced trainers have published.  In each case, parachute cord and shelter material are listed.  Their recommendations exceeds the ten essentials and certainly supports a trek into a local forest or wilderness.

I’d like to narrow the   (tarps, lean-to and 4 mil plastic trash bag.)

Quality parachute cord (para cord) is durable, strong and very light.  A day pack should hold between 50’’ to 150’; it is a personal choice.

Para cord has many uses but the principle reason for carrying it is to hold up the shelter material (a poly tarp or heavy 4mil garbage bag.)   Para cord is strong (breaking strength of about 500 pounds), light and affordable.  My only caution is that there are some “knock off” versions that do not offer the strength of the true material.

It is the knots applied to the para cord that assist in holding the tarp erect and taut.

There are literally hundreds of knots to choose from and I am sure that many SeattleBackpackerMagazine readers have their favorites that are time tested.

But for the purpose of this post I am going to list five knots and provide a few resources for further review and reference.

A great knot to start with is the Timber Hitch.   Wikipedia claims that the timber hitch was first mentioned in a nautical source around 1620.

Timber hitch

“The timber hitch is used to attach a single length of rope a cylindrical object. Secure while tension is maintained, it is easily untied even after heavy loading.” – Wikipedia

The timber hitch is a friction hitch. The many wraps of rope or para cord around a post or tree hold firmly under tension. It’s simple and easy to use and can be an anchor point of a shelter’s ridge line. Best of all, after being placed under tension it won’t become next to impossible to untie; we have all been there.

For complete instructions watch the video at animated knots: timber

The Half Hitch is one of the simplest of knots.  It is used to tie a line to a pole, post or tree.  It has the ability to slide and mostly commonly is moved tight to the object.  It is a knot for tethering.  It is simple but not as strong as the bowline nor able to pull tension on a line as the taut-line hitch.  Performance is improved by winding the line around a post twice and making the knot with two half hitches.  This is an excellent knot to teach to young hikers.

Half hitch

For complete instruction watch the video: half hitch


The Bowline is a true hold in place knot that has many applications.  This is not a slip knot.  It is a fixed loop knot at the end of a line.  It is easy to tie and like the timber hitch simple to untie when not under load.  The only caution reported is that it may work itself loose when not under tension.  That said, this knot is strong and quite versatile.


For complete instruction watch the video: bowline


The Taut-Line Hitch is a sliding loop knot.  This knot is frequently used to tie the guy lines of a tarp or tent to a peg or post.  It is a slip knot that allows the user to move the knot to add or remove tension.   Tension is applied by moving the hitch away from the anchor point.  The taut-line hitch is a variation of the rolling hitch.

Taut Line Hitch

For complete instruction watch the video: taut-line hitch


The Trucker’s Hitch is used to create tension between two objects or it can be used as a “tie down.”  For example, the truckers hitch might be just the right knot when pulling tension on the line that will support a tarp for an emergency shelter.  This knot can be easily adjusted to either increase or decrease tension on the line.  I will use this knot paired with a half hitch to apply force on the line and keep the line in place.  There are several variations this knot.

Trucker’s hitch

For complete instruction watch the video: trucker’s hitch

An excellent resource for knot tying is the online web site animatedknots.com. This site offers downloadable apps for the smart phone and categorizes knots by topic (such as scouting, boating and fishing.) The instructions are concise and easy to understand.

The Boy Scout Handbook is another source for good information about tying knots.

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