Survival Survival Skills

How to Tie a Square Knot

This simple connection will come in handy for a wide variety of outdoor activities
Joe Cermele Avatar
square knot
A square knot is easy to tie quickly. Joe Cermele

The square knot was historically known as the Hercules knot. While the name suggests strength, I think it’s fair to say associating it with Hercules is a bit misleading. The square knot is useful for outdoor tasks too numerous to count. It’s also one of the easiest rope knots you can tie. Make no mistake, it’s pretty darn strong when tied correctly, but the square knot also has limitations that you must consider before using it in the field. Here’s our guide on how to tie a square knot and what you need to know about it. 

Understanding the Square Knot

Also called the reef knot, the square knot is designed to quickly join two lengths of rope together, and when I say quickly, I mean in seconds. What’s critical to understand, however, is that for it to function properly it must be joining two ropes of equal or very similar diameter. If you were to attempt, say, using it to join a length of paracord with a length of anchor line, it will likely fail. 

The finished square knot relies on the friction and pressure created between the two pieces of rope to hold, and if you tie it correctly, it will hold very well. Still, it’s considered a “light duty” knot. In other words, it should not be your go-to knot in a life-saving situation or if you’re going to be putting it under a very heavy load. It’s great, though, for what I call “low stakes” jobs.

As an example, I’ve used the square knot to quickly extend ropes to help me drag my raft up a bank more easily, caveat being that if the knot happened to slip, nothing dire would have happened. It would be fine for pulling your gun or bow up to your treestand, but you’d never want to use it to connect yourself to that tree. So, let’s break down the square knot’s simple steps, because it’s a connection every outdoorsman should have in their repertoire.

How to Tie a Square Knot, Step By Step

1. Start by holding the ends of each rope in either hand. Cross the tag end of the rope in your right hand over your left. Make sure you leave a foot or so of tag end for each rope extending beyond the point where they cross. Remember that step one is “right over left.”

square knot
Step 1 for tying the square knot. Joe Cermele

2. Make one twist with the tag ends just as you would when tying a simple overhand knot. 

square knot
Step 2 for tying the square knot. Joe Cermele

3. Now you’re going to repeat step 1 in reverse. Remember “left over right.” Cross the left tag end over the top of the right tag end.

square knot
Step 3 for tying the square knot. Joe Cermele

4. Twist the left tag end over the right tag end. 

square knot
Step 4 for tying the square knot. Joe Cermele

5. To cinch the knot, grab the tag end and running line of each rope in opposite hands. Pull them sharply in opposite directions to snug the knot down. 

Read Next: How to Tie a Bowline Knot

The Perfect Square

If you’ve tied the square knot correctly, it will look like two perfectly joined loops of rope. The tag end and running line of each rope should be exiting through the loop formed by the opposite rope. If any of your tag ends are exiting from a different point—say, between one of the loops—you did something wrong and the knot won’t have the same structural integrity. 

A proper square knot will only cinch tighter under strain; just remember that since it’s only that pressure keeping the knot tight, it could slip if overloaded. The beauty of a square knot is that even after it’s been under pressure, by grabbing each tag end and running line in opposite hands and pushing the knot together, it will come undone with no effort at all.