Wanna Get Knotty? Survival Knot Series: The Bowline

Survival Knot Series: The Bowline

The incessant reference to all of these “fiscal cliffs” in the past several weeks makes me think about a very important survival knot that everyone should know. If I could only teach one survival rescue knot, it would be the bowline.

The bowline is designed to create a very secure non-slipping loop at the end of a rope. This loop can be tied around your waist in the event you need to be hoisted up from the bottom of a “physical” cliff. I wish I knew a knot that could save us from the fiscal kind.  You’re on your own with that one.

Besides rescue, the bowline knot has many other practical survival functions. Two bowlines can be used to tie two ropes together. It can be used to create a loop in the end of a rope for a snare noose. It can also be used to tie off a boat or canoe when at shore. It is a great survival knot to learn. In addition, the bowline is one of the few knots I know that can be tied using only one hand. It’s not hard to imagine that one arm might be injured if you’ve fallen to the bottom of a cliff. Or, you might be holding onto the cliff with one hand. Being able to tie a one-handed survival rescue knot then becomes a matter of life and death.

To tie the bowline, you need only remember the following pneumonic: “The rabbit runs out of his hole, around the tree and back into his hole.”

Below is a step-by-step tutorial showing how to tie the bowline using this pneumonic.

Start by running the rescue line around your waist.

STEP 1: Create “the rabbit hole” and “the tree” by making a loop in the long end of the rope. Notice the right and wrong way to make the loop.


STEP 2: Now take “the rabbit” and make him come out of “his hole” …


STEP 3: Around “the tree”


STEP 4: And back in “his hole”


STEP 5: Pull to tighten.


Now, once you’ve mastered this knot using both hands, it’s time to try it one handed.  Good luck!

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,


Yes, that’s a Tampon in my mouth : The Swiss Army Survival Tampon : 7 Survival Uses

Do me a favor for the next 5 minutes.  Try to forget everything you know about a TAMPON.  I know, it’s hard.  But pretend that this is the first time you have ever seen or heard of the item below and it is a new survival product on the market: the Tactical Adventure Medical Preparedness Outdoors Necessity (T.A.M.P.O.N.)

All kidding aside, a TAMPON really does have a ton of uses to a survivor.  One could even argue to include a couple in your survival kit.  Ultimately, I’ll let you be the judge.

Before I get into the details of this post, a brief history of the tampon might surprise you.


The tampon is actually regulated in the US by the Food & Drug Administration as a Class II Medical Device.  The word ‘tampon’ is a derivative of the French word tampion which means “a piece of cloth to stop a hole”.  My research indicates that tampons were used as early as the 19th century as battle dressings to plug bullet holes.  It wasn’t until later that they were used as a feminine product.  There are even accounts of tampons being used as wound plugs in modern warfare.   A friend of mine told me that it’s not uncommon for Army Medics to carry tampons in their med kits.  Tampons are sterile and come very well packaged in their own water proof container.  This only adds to their survival utility.

I’ve high-lighted a few survival uses below:

TAMPON Survival Use # 1: Medical Bandage

Not only are these little tactical bandages packaged in a waterproof sleeve, but they are designed to be ultra absorbent – making them the perfect first aid bandage.  They can be taped or tied over a wound as an improvised dressing.  And, as I’ve already mentioned, they can be used to plug a bullet hole until more detailed medical attention can be administered.  Accounts of this use date back to World War I.  Many items in modern society were first developed as a facet of military research – tampons being a prime example.  The internet being another.  The list goes on and on.


TAMPON Survival Use # 2: Crude Water Filter

Another excellent tampon survival use is as a Crude Water Filter.  While it will not filter out biological, chemical or heavy metal threats, it can certainly be used to filter out sediments and floating particulates.  This would be considered a 1st Phase Filter and can drastically increase the life and efficacy of your main water filter.  You can also use a filter like this before boiling to filter out larger particulates.  In this example, I’ve pushed a tampon into the neck of an empty water bottle.  I poked a small hole in the cap and then poured in dirty water to filter through the tampon and into the container below.

The water dripped out nearly crystal clear.


TAMPON Survival Use # 3: Fire Tinder

Nearly everyone knows that cotton makes an excellent fire tinder.  When the dry cotton fibers of a tampon are pulled apart and hit with a spark or flame it will burst into a nice steady fire.  If you’ve done the right amount of fire prep-work you can easily split 1 tampon into 3 or 4 fire starting tinder bundles.  Add in some chap-stick or petroleum jelly and you’ve got an even better fire starting tinder.


TAMPON Survival Use # 4: Crude Survival Straw Filter

Yes, I have a tampon in my mouth – don’t laugh.  As a last ditch water filter, you can make an improvised Survival Straw from the plastic housing and cotton from a tampon.  As you can see in the photos below, just tear off a bit of the cotton and stuff it into the plastic housing.  I find it better to leave a little bit sticking out to make the housing pieces wedge tightly together.

Again, this filter will not PURIFY your water by removing biological, chemical or heavy metal threats but it will filter out sediments and particulates.  This would be a last ditch effort if no methods of water purification were available.


TAMPON Survival use # 5: Wick for Improvised Candle

In the photo above I used the string on a tampon as a wick in an improvised candle which I made from rendered animal fat and a fresh water mussel shell I found down by the creek at Willow Haven.  After the string soaked up some of the fat, this candle burned solid for 20 minutes while I took the photos and still had plenty of wick left.  Pine sap would have also worked as a fuel.


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TAMPON Survival Use # 6: Cordage

The string attached to a tampon is a cotton twisted cord typically made up of several 4-6″ pieces of twine.  Though it’s not much, it is usable cordage.  This amount of cordage could easily be used to make a Paiute Deadfall Trap.


I’m sure there are also numerous other uses for small amounts of quality cordage.  For example, I also use this cordage in the next Survival Use below…


TAMPON Survival Use # 7: Blow Dart Fletching

The Blow Gun certainly has it’s place in survival history.  From Native Americans to tribes in New Guinea, the Blow Gun and primitive darts have put food on the table for 1000s of years.  They are silent and deadly hunting tools – especially for small game.  Oftentimes, especially here in the US, natural cotton was used as Blow Dart Fletching.  Thus, the cotton from a Tampon is a perfect candidate to make cotton fletched blow darts.  I used the string on the tampon to lash it into place on this bamboo skewer.

Watch out BIRDS & LIZARDS – you may get shot by a tampon fletched blow dart!  For a great article about how to make natural cotton fletched blow darts check out this page: http://sensiblesurvival.org/2011/05/14/make-a-cotton-fletched-blow-dart/



So what did you decide?  In the kit or not in the kit?  The only part of the tampon that I didn’t mention was the wrapper/packaging.  What uses can you think of for it?  Or, are there more uses that I didn’t mention….?  Below are a couple shots of the wrapper.


If nothing else, this post is another lesson in the importance of looking at every day products through the eyes of a survivalist.  Creativity and innovation are critical.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,



PS –  Was talking to another friend of mine yesterday, Bill Szabo, who happens to be a medic in the National Guard.  He also confirmed that it’s common practice to include tampons in military field medic bags and confirmed that he has 2 in his medic kit for emergency use.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome 12 more colors to the 550 Paracord Line-up!

We all know what a cool and multi-functional item 550 Paracord is the a survivor – here’s a running list if you are wondering: http://willowhavenoutdoor.com/general-survival/i-need-your-help-550-uses-for-550-paracord/

I’ve had many requests for other Paracord colors.  So, I partnered with Atwood Rope Company to bring you 12 more Paracord Colors – ALL MADE IN THE USA.  From High Visibility Orange to Blue Candy Snake, there is a color in this line-up for everyone.

The new colors are available in our on-line store as well as in our survival shop if you are attending a Survival Clinic this summer or fall.  We have a wooden military ammo box full of paracord that you can dig through.  Here is the on-line link if you want to see them: NEW PARACORD COLORS


That’s it for now…



Cedar: Quick and Easy Survival Cordage (And a Tree Bark Education)

In our modern society we’ve pretty much eliminated the need for rope.  I rarely use rope or string for normal every day applications.  When I was a kid I remember using rope to tie down items in the pick-up truck – now we use bungee cords and ratcheting straps – neither of which require knot tying skills.  It’s no wonder why people don’t know how to tie more than their shoelaces anymore.  You hand someone a piece of rope and they look at you like you just gave them a puzzle to figure out.  I also remember when we’d go to a local corner grocery store to buy meat and the butcher would tie the paper with twine.  Now they just tack it down with the price sticker.

While the need for rope in modern society slowly diminishes with the advent of fancy substitutes, it’s importance will never change in a primitive survival situation with limited resources.  All of a sudden, rope (often referred to as ‘cordage’ among survivalists) becomes one of the most important survival assets.  In a survival scenario, cordage is GOLDEN.  It’s uses are endless:

  • fishing line
  • snare lines
  • shelter building
  • bow drill sets
  • carrying gear and supplies
  • safety lines/harness/climbing
  • and the list goes on and on…

Many people are faced with a survival scenario when they least expect it.  This is why I am a big proponent of Every Day Carry (EDC) items such as 550 paracord.  Unless you are carrying a supply of cordage with you, the only option is to scavenge it from found resources – either man-made or natural.  This can be clothing, trash, gear, vehicle parts, etc..  Nature also provides many plants, vines, trees and roots that make excellent survival cordage.  I cover several of these in great detail during our SurviVacation Clinics here at WHO.  This post, however, is about one of my all time favorites – the CEDAR TREE.

First, though, a TREE BARK EDUCATION.

I hate when I read survival writings and the author will say something like ” Cedar bark makes great cordage – just peel some off and make a snare.”  Statements like this does no one any good.  What part of the bark?  What does it looks like?  How do I get to it?

It is important to know that tree bark is actually a pretty complex system of layers.  The dead protective ‘Outer Bark’ layer is not the stuff you are looking for.  It is the ‘Inner Bark’ layer just below the outer bark.  This is also often referred to as the Phloem or the Bast.  In many trees it is a very strong and stringy-like layer of fibers that can be peeled away and used as cordage.  Below is a diagram I made that will help you visualize where the BAST LAYER is on a tree.  It is depicted in RED.  It’s easy to miss if you aren’t careful and getting it is often oversimplified and vague.


Ok – back to the CEDAR TREE…

In some areas of the country like the Pacific Northwest cedars rule the forest and tower like mega-giants across the landscape.  In Indiana, though, I don’t see them that often and when I do, they are typically pretty small – 6-10 inches in diameter.  I’m not well versed on the different cedar varieties but I do know that all cedar bark I’ve ever encountered has similar properties.  This is better described in the photo series below.

To get to the bast layer that can be used as cordage I normally cut a line through the outer bark about 1/8-1/4″ deep.  In this case, I used my Bahco Laplander Saw (which I LOVE and use OFTEN).  Then, I pry my knife in at the cut and pry the outer bark layer out enough so that I can grab it with my finger.  Then, I just pull up.

The brown layer is the OUTER BARK.  The PEACHY-TAN LAYER is the Cambium Layer.  The lightest whitish later is the INNER BARK BAST LAYER.  This is what you are looking for.  With the cedar tree you can easily get your knife in between the Cambium and the Inner Bark and just peel.  It will come off in long strips.

Some of the larger strips can be split to make smaller strips.  These small strips are very strong and very flexible.  If you find a dying or dead cedar tree or downed branch and the bark pulls away easily, these fibers will pull away with the outer bark and can be separated easier.  They can be used AS IS for ‘field expedient’ cordage or they can be reverse wrapped or braided together to make cordage that will blow your mind.  On several occasions I’ve used cedar bast fibers to lash a quick tripod to hang a cook pot at camp.

It’s important to note that you should not cut all the way around any tree – this will most certainly kill it.  I normally max my take at about 1/5 of the way around.  The wound made will eventually heal and the tree will be just fine.  I’ve gathered a nice batch in the photo below.  I still have to clean up some of the strips but it’s not difficult to peel away the inner bast layer.  Soaking the cedar in water for a few days really helps too but is not necessary.

Ideally, the fibers should be dry before you make rope.  If you make the rope with wet fibers, the fibers will shrink as they dry and the rope will loosen.  However, I’ve made cordage many times with wet fibers because I didn’t have the time or patience to dry them.  Below is a length of line I made by reverse wrapping cedar bast fiber strips.  I teach how to Reverse Wrap a variety of natural fibers into usable cordage in our SurviVacation Clinics here at WHO.

And here is that same cedar cordage holding up a 7 pound ammo can with ease.



The reverse wrap is an incredibly useful and simple survival skill.  There are tons of great videos on YouTube if you aren’t already familiar with the process.  Maybe I’ll do a post on it sometime here too.  You can use this process to make cordage from pretty much any group of long thin flexible strips of material.  As an extreme illustration, check out the length of cordage I made from strips of toilet paper in the photos below.  The cord has been double reverse wrapped to make it stronger.



As with pretty much every survival skill, it’s hard to describe all the details in writing or even by talking.  It’s really about hands-on experimentation.  None of it is rocket science but all of it requires tips and tricks that only come from experience and practice.  And, there is no black and white way of doing any of it.

So since we are on the topic of cordage, I will leave you today with this question.  Do you need to brush up on your knot tying skills?  If so, start with the Bowline Knot.  This knot is 1st in my TOP 10 list of SURVIVAL KNOTS YOU MUST KNOW.  And, that post is coming soon…

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Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,


I need your help: 550 Uses for 550 Paracord

I’ve decided to compile a list of 550 uses for 550 Paracord over the next few months for a blog post here at Willow Haven Outdoor.  I already have a pretty big list BUT I need your help to make it to 550!  Comment to this post with any SURVIVAL RELATED ideas/uses you have for PARACORD – get creative!


 Did you know…

that true Military Spec 550 Parachute Cord has a tensile strength of 550 lbs?  It is comprised of 7 inner nylon strands encased in a woven nylon outer shell.  The nylon outer shell has a tensile strength of approximately 250 lbs. and each inner strand has a tensile strength of appromately 35 lbs.  Each of the 7 inner stands can even be unwound into 2 smaller strands if absolutely necessary.

The survival applications of 550 Paracord dates back to WWII when soldiers in the field realized how incredibly useful it was for all kinds of tasks.  Ever since, it has become the cordage of choice for many survivalists.

Join me in creating a list of 550 uses for 550 paracord!

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,