Knots to Know

posted Jul 4, 2013, 2:25 AM by Abdul Rashid Abdullah   [ updated Jul 6, 2014, 10:14 AM ]

By Karen Berger
Photographs by John R. Fulton Jr.
From the October 2007 issue of Scouting magazine

Knots and Boy Scouts go together like campfires and cobbler. Here’s how to tie three of the knots required to reach First Class, plus four more that can be very useful.

Knots. It all begins with rope — different sizes, lengths, widths, and strengths, depending on its use.

Ropes used for climbing can bear more than two tons of weight. Thinner, lightweight cords are used for lashings and tying off tent stakes.

Although they are still used in horse packing and sailing, natural-fiber ropes are mostly a thing of the past. Most ropes for outdoor recreation are made of nylon for durability and elasticity.

To prolong the life of your rope, protect it from dirt, sunlight, chemicals, and abrasion. When you store
a rope, coil it following its natural lay. Don’t wrap it around your arm and through your outstretched hand like an extension cord. Keep it in a bag for storage.

Fortified Square Knot

The basic square knot, or “joining” knot, is the first knot many boys learn on the night they join a Scout troop.

1) “Right over left and under, left over right and under, then pull.”

2) The fortified square knot strengthens the basic knot by adding an overhand knot to each end, which makes it less likely to slip.

Taut-line Hitch

This is the knot campers use to adjust tension in a tent’s guyline. It works best with cord that is at least ¼-inch thick.

1) Wrap the rope around a secure object such as a tent stake. Bring the leading end under the standing rope and wrap the end around the standing part two times.

2) Finish by bringing the leading rope above the two loops and finish with a half hitch; pull tight.

Grapevine Knot (also known as the Double Fisherman’s Knot)

This useful knot ties two ropes of equal diameter securely together. It’s secure enough to be used in rappelling—but can be difficult to untie.

1) Place two lengths of rope parallel to each other. With the leading end of the lower rope, tie two overhand knots around the upper rope; pull the knot tight. With the leading end of the upper rope, tie an overhand knot around the lower rope.

2) Pull the knot tight.

Clove Hitch

This easy knot can be used to tie a horse to a post. It’s also the knot used to start and finish most lashings. The knot is tied with two loops of rope stacked on top of one another so that they interlock and hold firm. This is one of the quickest knots to learn.

1) Wrap the rope around a post and cross it.

2) Wrap the leading end of the rope around the post again and tuck it under itself below the cross.

3) Pull tight.


This loop knot is popular among climbers and sailors. It’s a secure knot that will not slip or loosen. In a rescue, a bowline can be tied around a person’s waist so he can be hoisted to safety.

The bowline is often taught using the story of the rabbit and the hunter.

1) Form the rabbit’s hole by making a loop in the rope. Take the leading line (the rabbit) up through the hole.

2) The “rabbit” sees a hunter, runs around the tree (the standing line of the rope)

3) It goes back into the hole. Pull both ends of the rope to finish the knot.

Prusik Knot

This knot is used by climbers to ascend a rope and by rescuers to raise and lower people and equipment. The climbing rope should be thicker than the accessory cord (usually 5 to 7 millimeters).

1) Tie a grapevine knot to make a secure loop.

2) Use a girth hitch (also known as the cow, lanyard, lark’s foot, lark’s head, and strap hitch) to

3) secure the cord with the grapevine knot around another rope.

Chain Sennit

To shorten a long line of rope, such as a painter attached to the bow of a canoe, use the deceptively simple chain sennit. When you need the full length of line, a quick tug frees the entire rope without any kinks or knots.

1) Make an overhand slip knot.

2) Pull the loose end through to make another slip knot.

3) Repeat as many times as necessary and pull tight.



Tips for sharpening your favorite blade

posted May 5, 2013, 7:02 AM by Abdul Rashid Abdullah

By Cliff Jacobson

AT SUMMER CAMP, your Scouts are doing a pioneering project. They’re proud of their smooth, tight lashings. A boy tries to cut a length of cord, sawing at it without success. Smiling, you hand him your knife and say, “Try this!” In a flash, the cord is cut. The boy looks at you with wondering eyes and says, “How’d ya get it so sharp?”Ground Rules: Safety Guidelines for Knife Sharpening

It’s easy to sharpen a knife. All you need is a whetstone and practice. The method described here works with any nonserrated blade.

First, Some Rules

  • Electric and mechanical sharpeners produce an acceptable working edge but not a wickedly sharp one. Instead, use a whetstone.
  • Don’t use a grindstone on a knife; it will destroy the edge and the temper.
  • If you have a dull knife, begin sharpening with a coarse-grit, natural (carborundum, aluminum oxide, Washita), or diamond stone. Change to a medium-grit stone when the nicks are gone and the edge is smooth. If you keep your knife reasonably sharp, all you’ll need is a medium-grit stone.
  • Maintain a thin film of cutting oil, kerosene, or WD-40 (my preference) on natural stones—or water on diamond stones—to float away steel particles that clog the pores of the stone and reduce its cutting efficiency. Do not use automotive or gun oils. After every few dozen strokes, dry the stone and blade and apply new oil. You’ll go through a lot of oil this way, but you won’t dull the edge by grinding metal particles into it. Frequent cleaning is essential if you want a super-sharp edge.
  • Sharpening will go easier if you dip the cold blade into boiling water for a few seconds before beginning to sharpen it.

Sharpening Procedure

Keep the back of the blade raised about 15 degrees and cut into the stone (see the chalkboard sketch at left). If you have an official Boy Scout or Swiss Army knife, you can approximate the correct angle if you rest the back edge of the blade on two stacked pennies. Another trick is to set the blade flat on the stone and adjust a bright light directly overhead. Slowly raise the back of the blade until you can just see a shadow.

You can even buy special tools that clamp to a knife blade and maintain the recommended sharpening angle. These tools work well on the body of the blade but not on a sharply curved tip. Learn to hold the right angle by hand (it just takes practice), and you’ll never need a clamp.

Take about six strokes on one side of the stone, then turn the blade over and repeat the process. Keep the stone lubricated with honing fluid. If you want a razor’s edge, switch to a fine-grit stone (natural or diamond).

To finish, dry the blade and strop it on a leather belt. Strop the edge away from the leather, not toward it as when using a sharpening stone. Strop your knife between uses and it will stay sharp for some time.

Note: A sharpening (butcher’s) steel is simply a coarse version of a leather strop. It will not take the place of a whetstone.

Check Sharpness

There are many ways to check blade sharpness. Here are a few:

  • Preferred method: Shine a bright light on the sharpened edge. A dull edge will reflect light.
  • A razor-sharp knife will cleanly slice paper.
  • Drag the edge lightly across your thumbnail. The blade should scrape the nail cleanly, without chattering.

Quick Cuts

Use the right knife for the job at hand. For instance, if you’re backpacking, a sharp pocketknife will save space and weight compared with a sheath knife.

Rumor has it fixed-blade knives are prohibited in Scouting. False! But be safe when using them—just as you’d act with any knife.

Check local regulations on when and where you can carry a knife. State policies differ. And, remember, knives aren’t allowed on school premises or commercial airplanes.

Be sure a Boy Scout earns his Totin’ Chip (read more at or in the Boy Scout Handbook) before he carries or uses any wood tool, including knives. The Cub Scout version is called the Whittling Chip (it is Achievement 19 in the Cub Scout Bear Handbook), which promotes responsible pocketknife use.

Cliff Jacobson, a Distinguished Eagle Scout, is the author of more than a dozen top-selling outdoors books.

Winter Camping

posted Mar 30, 2013, 7:25 AM by Abdul Rashid Abdullah

By Brian J. Murrey, originally posted to MacScouter, US Scouting Service Project

This is what I pass out to my Scouts about a month before our winter camporee. That gives us a couple of meetings or more to discuss cold weather survival skills, and a chance to inform parents of the dangers of cold weather camping when one is not fully prepared.

Brian J. Murrey - Assistant Scoutmaster and Outdoors Activities Planner Troop 120 -- -- Crossroads of America Council

Computer re-typed and reformatted by Chuck Bramlet, ASM Troop 323, Thunderbird District, Grand Canyon Council, Phoenix, Az.


Most of this information can be found in the Boy Scout Handbook. If you are going to be doing a lot of outdoor activities, this book is an invaluable source of know-how and advice.

"One has to lie deep in the snow to learn how warm and protective it is. A den in the snow confines the body heat like a blanket or overcoat. It is a snug place, no matter how hard the wind may howl. One who holes up in the snow understands better the mysteries of the woods in the winter. He knows why the severe weather grouse squirm their way under soft snow and be quiet. He understands why deer bury themselves in drifts, lying a half day or more with just their heads sticking out. He learns something of the comfort of the bear in hibernation."

William O. Douglas, 1950


Myth #1: Leather hiking boots will keep your feet warm. -- FALSE
- The snug fit of most leather hiking boots can limit the circulation of blood in the foot. Especially with thick socks on. Overboots cut generously enough to hold your foot and shoe are much more effective. The cloth stitching in leather boots can also wick moisture into the shoe. Nothing is worse that wet feet in cold winter.
Myth #2: Waterproof clothing is ideal for cold weather camping. -- FALSE
- To keep warm, in the cold, your clothing must allow body moisture to escape. Moisture that is trapped too close to the body can wick heat away through evaporation. It is better to layer your clothing on in cold weather. Wool, Gor Tex, and polypropylene garments work nice in the cold. Always wear insulated underwear.
Myth #3: Winter camping does not require much preparation. -- FALSE
- Arctic conditions exist when the wind is blowing and the temperature drops below 20 degrees F. There are only seven states in the U.S. that do not experience arctic weather. Indiana is not one of them.. It is very important to prepare and even over prepare. I've never heard anyone complain about being too warm or having too many dry clothes on a winter campout.
Myth #4: Mental attitude has little to do with winter camping. -- FALSE
- A positive mental attitude is the most important ingredient in the success of cold weather camping trips. The demands of winter will drain your energy and you'll have to rely on yourself to keep your spirits high.
Myth #5: In cold weather, tasks can be done just as quickly as in warm weather. -- FALSE
- Every effort in cold weather takes longer to complete. Be sure to bring some winter patience with you when you camp in the cold.


There are three ways to lose body heat. Keeping them in mind will help you be much more aware of what you are or could be doing to keep your body warm.

RADIATION - The emission of body, especially from the skin areas exposed to the elements. A good set of gloves, hat, and scarf can help best in keeping bare skin to a minimum.

CONDUCTION - The absorption of cold by the body when sitting or laying on cold ground, or handling cold objects such as metal cooking utensils and metal canteens. This is why a decent sleeping pad is required for cold weather camping. The same goes for wearing gloves. A camp stool is a must on a winter camping trip. Try not to sit on the ground.

CONVECTION - The loss of body heat due to wind blowing across unprotected body parts. This situation can also be reduced by keeping bare skin covered with hats, scarves, and gloves. It is important to keep exposure to a minimum, ESPECIALLY in a windy situation. Convection heat loss can reduce body heat the fastest. Wet clothing will accelerate this process, making staying dry even more important.


Tent Placement.
Whenever possible, place your tent in a location that will catch the sunrise in the morning. This will aid in melting off any ice and evaporating any frost or dew that may have formed during the night. This will also warm your tent as you awaken in the morning.Cold air sinks. Try to place your campsite on slightly higher ground than the rest of your surroundings. Try to choose a protected site if it is snowing or the wind is blowing.
Water Consumption In Cold Weather.
Dehydration can seriously impair the body's ability to produce heat. Drink fluids as often as possible during the day and keep a water bottle or canteen with you at night.
Cooking In Cold Weather.
Cooking in cold weather will take about twice as long as normal. Always use a lid on any pots that you are cooking in. This will help to hold in the heat and decrease the overall heating time. Make sure you start hot cleaning water before you start cooking. The pots and utensils must still be cleaned. Try to keep your menu to good one-pot meals. Things like stews, chili, and hot beans stick to your ribs, lessen the cleaning time, and provide good sources of energy and fuel for your internal furnace. A good high-calorie snack before bedtime will also keep you warm all night. Stay away from an overabundance of sugar, cheese is a good high-calorie bedtime snack.
Sleeping Tip #1.
Do not sleep with your mouth and nose in your sleeping bag. The moisture of your breath will condense in the bag, and cause it to become wet and ineffective as an insulator.
Buddy System.
Buddies can help each other pack for a trek, look after one another in the woods, and watch for symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia, and exhaustion.
Make a checklist of everything you need before you start to pack. Then check each item off as you pack it. This way you will not forget anything.

Keeping Warm

Keeping warm is the most important part of cold weather camping. Use the C-O-L-D method to assure staying warm.

- C - Clean
Since insulation is only effective when heat is trapped by dead air spaces, keep your insulating layers clean and fluffy. Dirt, grime, and perspiration can mat down those air spaces and reduce the warmth of a garment.
- O - Overheating
Avoid overheating by adjusting the layers of your clothing to meet the outside temperature and the exertions of your activities. Excessive sweating can dampen your garments and cause chilling later on.
- L - Loose Layers
A steady flow of warm blood is essential to keep all parts of your body heated. Wear several loosely fitting layers of clothing and footgear that will allow maximum insulation without impeding your circulation.
- D - Dry
Damp clothing and skin can cause your body to cool quickly, possibly leading to frostbite and hypothermia. Keep dry by avoiding cotton clothes that absorb moisture. Always brush away snow that is on your clothes before you enter a heated area. Keep the clothing around your neck loosened so that body heat and moisture can escape instead of soaking several layers of clothing.


- Footwear.
As with other clothing, the layer system is also the answer for foot- wear. Start with a pair of silk, nylon, or thin wool socks next to your skin. Then layer on several pairs of heavier wool socks. When and if your feet become damp, change into another pair of dry socks at the first opportunity. Rubber overboots will protect the feet from water and will allow more comfortable shoes to be worn within.
- Mittens and Gloves.
Mittens allow your fingers to be in direct contact with each other. They will keep your hands warmer than regular gloves that cover each finger. Select mittens that are filled with foam insulation, or pull on wool gloves and cover them with a nylon overmitt. Long cuffs will keep wind and snow from getting in.
- Headgear.
The stocking hat is the warmest thing you can cover your head with in cold weather. Get one that is large enough to pull down over your ears. Also ski masks are great in the winter and can help in keeping your neck and face warm as well. Noses and ears can be very easily frostbitten, so a scarf can be an invaluable item to have.
- Parka and/or Overcoat.
Your coat or parka is the most important piece of your winter clothing. It needs to be large enough to fit over extra clothing without cutting off blood flow, and allowing ventilation to keep moisture away from your body. A large permanently attached hood will prevent heat loss around your head and neck.
- Sleepwear.
Never should you sleep in the same clothes that you have worn all day. They are damp and will cause you to chill. This could cause frostbite and hypothermia. It is advised that you bring a thick pair of sweats and thermal underwear to sleep in. Keep the thermals and sweats for sleeping in only. Do not wear them during the day, this will keep them the driest. Also be sure to have a couple of layers of wool or heavy thick cotton socks on as well. Always sleep with a stocking hat on your head. Your sleeping bag needs to be a winter rated bag. Typically rated down to 15 degrees and stuffed with 5 pounds of Holofil, Fiberfil, or other polyester ticking. It is also a very good idea to have some kind of sleeping mat to use in the winter. The mat can be a $90 Thermal Rest from Galyans (Scouts get a %10 discount by showing Scout ID card) or a piece of high density rubber foam at least one inch thick. In cold weather camping you never want to sleep on an air mattress or off the ground in a cot. The air under you will cool you off in no time and this would create a threatening situation. If you don't have a sleeping mat, bring a spare wool or natural fiber blanket to use as a ground pad under your sleeping bag. The sleeping mat is worth it's weight in gold.

Have fun!

Every year, tens of thousands of boys will go winter camping. Although the threat of danger is always present in a winter camp, planning and knowledge can overcome this. It is very important that the Scouts come prepared. If a Scout feels that at this time winter camping is not for him, then he should not go. There is always next year and the year after and so on. If a Scout comes to camp and I do not feel that he is prepared, I will have to ask him to stay behind. Make sure you are ready, and most of all, SAFE.

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