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Everything you need to know about rope, cordage, and lashings – rope types, terminology, and use.

Monkey's fist knot - Step 4

Rope, cordage, knots, and lashings terminology

To be able to construct shelters, traps and snares, weapons and tools, and other devices; you should have a basic knowledge of ropes and knots and some of the terminology used with them. The terms are as follows:

  • Bight. A simple bend of rope in which the rope does not cross itself.
  • Dressing the knot. The orientation of all knot parts so that they are properly aligned, straightened, or bundled. Neglecting this can result in an additional 50 percent reduction in knot strength. This term is sometimes used for setting the knot which involves tightening all parts of the knot, so they bind on one another and make the knot operational. A loosely tied knot can easily deform under strain and change, becoming a slipknot or worse, untying.
  • Fraps. A means of tightening the lashings by looping the rope perpendicularly around the wraps that hold the spars or sticks together.
  • Lashings. A means of using wraps and fraps to tie two or three spars or sticks together to form solid corners or to construct tripods. Lashings begin and end with clove hitches.
  • Lay. The lay of the rope is the same as the twist of the rope.
  • Loop. A loop is formed by crossing the running end over or under the standing end to form a ring or circle in the rope.
  • Pig tail. That part of the running end that is left after tying the knot. It should be no more than 4 inches long to conserve rope and prevent interference.
  • Running end. The free or working end of a rope. This is the part of the rope you are actually using to tie the knot.
  • Standing end. The static part of rope or rest of the rope besides the running end.
  • Turn. A loop around an object such as a post, rail, or ring with the running end continuing in the opposite direction to the standing end. A round turn continues to circle and exits in the same general direction as the standing end.
  • Whipping. Any method of preventing the end of a rope from untwisting or becoming unwound. It is done by wrapping the end tightly with a small cord, tape, or other means. It should be done on both sides of an anticipated cut in a rope, before cutting the rope in two. This prevents the rope from immediately untwisting.
  • Wraps. Simple wraps of rope around two poles or sticks (square lashing) or three
    poles or sticks (tripod lashing). Wraps begin and end with clove hitches and get tighter with fraps. All together, they form a lashing.

Types of Rope

Rope components strands yarns fibers
  • Hemp: Used to be a very common rope but now it is hardly used at all.  Hemp rope is about 1 1/2 times as strong as the best Manila rope available.  It lasts well, is easy to handle, and does not swell when wet.  New it will be a soft golden color.
  • Manila: Perhaps the best overall rope. It has a good size to strength ratio, does not stretch too much and handles well when tying knots and lashings. While it can withstand frequent wetting and drying it must be stored dry to avoid mildew and rot. Under a load it can stretch as much as 30%.
  • Sisal: Has a poor size to strength ratio, does not handle well and wears out quickly. While it is less expensive than manila, its limited use and durability make it a second choice for pioneering. It stands up well to water but can become slippery when wet.
  • Cotton: Braided or twisted cotton is outclassed in strength and durability by just about all other ropes. It is suitable for clotheslines and hammocks but not for pioneering or camping.  Once wet it becomes hard and weakens.
  • Polypropylene: Has an excellent strength to size ratio, handles well but weakens with long exposure to sunlight.
  • Nylon: The propensity to stretch makes nylon rope difficult to work with when lashing. An excellent size to strength ratio and durability makes it a good rope for general use though. It is smooth, free from rot or mildew, easy to handle wet or dry, and resistant to chemicals.
  • Polyester: Most braided climbing ropes are polyester. It handles well, has an excellent weight to strength ratio and limited stretch factor. It is much more expensive than manila or nylon ropes and has limited use in pioneering.
  • Polyethylene: The least expensive of synthetic fiber ropes. Its stiffness and poor handling qualities make it undesirable for pioneering.
  • Binder Twine: Loosely twisted jute fibers treated with oil. It serves as a lightweight cord for throw-away uses such as lashing small diameter poles or staves for camp gadgets. Binder twine is used to demonstrate rope making and can serve as a reasonably good fire starter.

Taking Care of Rope

  1. Coil rope to store it.  Kinks in rope reduce its strength.
  2. For most ropes, they should be dried before stored.
  3. When using a rope through a block or pulley, make sure the pulley is large enough to avoid undue wear and stress on the rope material.
  4. Periodically twist open a rope’s strands to look for signs of rotting in the core.  Rotting fibers become soft and brittle and may appear to be charred.

Types of Woven or Braided Rope

There are various construction techniques used in ropes.  It is helpful to understand those techniques, particularly if you need to construct your own rope in the wild using plant fibers.

Twelve-Strand Braided Ropes

Twelve 12 strand braided rope

12 strands are braided over and under each other in a maypole fashion to create a hollow, tubular structure.

Plaited Ropes

8 strand plaited rope

Eight strand plaited rope formed by intertwining four pairs of strands in a maypole fashion with two pairs moving clockwise and two pairs moving counterclockwise.

Double Braided Ropes

Double braided rope

Two ropes in one, a braided core is over-braided with a cover braid, hence the terms braid on braid and 2 in 1 braid.

Hollow and Diamond Braids

Ravenox hollow braid rope

A hollow, tubular structure braided in a maypole fashion to produce a plain braid pattern with and without a core.

Solid Braids

Solid braid rope

The strands are intertwined by braiding in a circular pattern to form a solid tubular structure.

Many materials are strong enough for use as cordage and lashing. A number of natural and man-made materials are available in a survival situation. For example, you can make a cotton web belt much more useful by unraveling it. You can then use the string for other purposes (fishing line, thread for sewing, and lashing).

Choosing Cordage in the Wild

Before making cordage, there are a few simple tests you can do to determine your material’s suitability. First, pull on a length of the material to test for strength. Next, twist it between your fingers and roll the fibers together. If it withstands this handling and does not snap apart, tie an overhand knot with the fibers and gently tighten. If the knot does not break, the material is usable.

Choose Lashing Material in the Wild

Internal structure of 10.7mm dynamic kernmantle climbing rope

The best natural material for lashing small objects is sinew. You can make sinew from the tendons of large game, such as deer. Remove the tendons from the game and dry them completely. Smash the dried tendons so that they separate into fibers. Moisten the fibers and twist them into a continuous strand. If you need stronger lashing material, you can braid the strands. When you use sinew for small lashings, you do not need knots as the moistened sinew is sticky and it hardens when dry.

You can shred and braid plant fibers from the inner bark of some trees to make cord. You can use linden, elm, hickory, white oak, mulberry, chestnut, and red and white cedar trees. After you make the cord, test it to be sure it is strong enough for your purpose. You can make these materials stronger by braiding several strands together.

You can use rawhide for larger lashing jobs. Make rawhide from the skins of medium or large game. After skinning the animal, remove any excess fat and any pieces of meat from the skin. Dry the skin completely. You do not need to stretch it as long as there are no folds to trap moisture. You do not have to remove the hair from the skin. Cut the skin while it is dry. Make cuts about 6 millimeters (1/4 inch) wide. Start from the center of the hide and make one continuous circular cut, working clockwise to the hide’s outer edge. Soak the rawhide for 2 to 4 hours or until it is soft. Use it wet, stretching it as much as possible while applying it. It will be strong and durable when it dries.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Internal structure of 10.7mm dynamic kernmantle climbing rope via Wikimedia Commons by David J. Fred with usage type - Creative Commons License. September 27, 2009
Ravenox hollow braid rope via Ravenox with usage type - Product photo (Fair Use)

Featured Image Credit

Monkey's fist knot - Step 4 via


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