Pioneering Program Curriculum I: Knot-Tying Terms and Open-Ended Half Hitches

This is the first post in a series that will eventually comprise an activity-based, unit pioneering program curriculum.

I. There are numerous terms pertaining to knots and working with rope, but the four presented here, along with some simple “moves” requiring a minimum amount of dexterity, will be useful when learning and applying some of the basics that follow.


  • Through hands on experience, Scouts will become familiar with and demonstrate the following knot-tying terminology: running end, standing part, overhand loop, underhand loop.   
  • Using the materials provided, Scouts will also demonstrate they can tie Half Hitches over an open-ended pole.


  • Suspended horizontal hitching post or similar setup, to accommodate the entire class
  • Enough vertical hitching posts (or uprights with a 15-foot attached length of 3/16 or 1/4-inch nylon cord) so there is at least one for every two Scouts
  • 6-foot x 1-1/2-inch diameter spar set up as a crossbar with a 6-foot length of 1/2 inch nylon or polyester cord, attached in the middle, to serve as a large visual aid
Horizontal Hitching Post Lashed Between Two 6' Uprights
Horizontal Hitching Rack Lashed Between Two 6′ Uprights


  1. With each Scout standing in front of a dangling cord, using the 1/2-inch cord as an illustration, the instructor explains where the running end, and standing part are. Scouts are given an opportunity to point to the corresponding part on their respective cords.
  2. The instructor explains what an overhand loop is, illustrating the “right-hand-twist.” Scouts review the maneuver and form the loop with their respective cords.
  3. The instructor explains what an underhand loop is and illustrates the “left-hand-grab.” Scouts review the maneuver and form the loop with their respective cords.
  4. The instructor calls out each of the above terms in mixed orders and Scouts, race to point to the correct part of the cord, or form the loops in response.
The Right-Hand-Twist to Form a Right Overhand Loop and the Left-Hand-Grab to Form a Right Underhand Loop
The Right-Hand-Twist to Form a Right Overhand Loop and the Left-Hand-Grab to Form a Right Underhand Loop
A Hitching Post with a Series of Half Hitches
Half Hitches
Vertical Hitching Post
Vertical Hitching Post


  1. With Scouts gathering around a vertical hitching post, the instructor demonstrates how, by making an underhand loop, a half hitch can be placed around an open-ended pole. He then demonstrates that many half hitches can be placed around the pole, one on top of the other.
  2. Pairs of Scouts, each at a vertical hitching post, try to lay half hitches over the top of the pole. Scouts coach one another and further instruction is provided as needed.
  3. Races are conducted to see how many half hitches can be laid over a pole in 20 seconds.

VIEW VIDEO: Hitching Race


Making a Rope Ladder

Rope Ladder Attached to a Tree
Rope Ladder Attached to a Tree

The kind of rope ladder referred to here is constructed using two lengths of rope and short spars (3′ x 2″ are ideal) to serve as ladder rungs. To easily and effectively attach the rungs to the ropes, a Marlin Spike Hitch, also known as a lever hitch can be used. As John Thurman explains in Pioneering Principals, “The vital thing to remember is that the knotted part of the hitch must be under each ladder rung so that when a weight is put on the rung the knot will work in support. The ladder used the other way round can result in the rungs slipping as the weight goes on to them.”

Simple Slip Knot
Simple Slip Knot

The method applied here is very similar to tying the old fashioned Slip Knot where you make an overhand loop, reach through underneath, grab the standing part of the rope and pull it through.

In the process of making a rope ladder, after pulling the standing part through, stick the ladder rung inside the new loop you just formed. Tying the Marlin Spike Hitch in this manner assures you will have the part of the hitch with the knot under the ladder rung.

Depending on the diameter of the short spars, to space the ladder rungs about a foot apart, make the next overhand loop about 15 inches away from the previous rung.

Make an overhand loop. Reach through UNDERNEATH and grab the standing part. Pull the standing part through the overhand loop.
Preparing the Marlin Spike Hitch
Insert the rung in the loop made out of the standing part. Adjust the rung and tighten the hitch.
Inserting the Ladder Rung

It’s easy to adjust the position of the rungs by loosening the Marlin Spike Hitches and moving them with the short spars up and down on each side until the desired distance between the rungs is achieved and they are nicely horizontal and perpendicular to the ropes. Then, give the rope on either side of the rungs a good pull to tighten the hitch back up.

When tying on the rungs, start at the top of the ladder. For a shorter ladder, you can attach the ropes to their anchor point and tie on the rungs vertically. For a long ladder that needs to be prepared before attaching it to the top anchor points, construct the ladder on the ground.

When the ladder is completed and attached at the top, don’t forget to tie it off at the bottom, which will measurably increase stability and the ease of climbing. This can be done by driving in a pioneering stake in line with each rope at a 45° angle. Pull the ropes taut and tie them to their respective stakes with a roundturn with two half hitches or a rolling hitch.

Knot-Tying Terminology

The following text is by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:

Before you begin learning new knots, you need to know some of the basic terms used in knot tying. You should become familiar with these terms and use them as you learn how to tie the various knots.

Running end and standing part. These are two of the most common terms used in knot tying. The running end is the end of the rope that is used to tie the knot. This end is sometimes referred to as the working end. The rest of the rope is the standing part.

Standing Part and Running End
Standing Part and Running End

Overhand loop. An overhand loop is formed when a loop is made so that the running end of the rope is on top of the standing part. It can be formed anywhere along the standing part of the rope in the same fashion.

Underhand loop. And underhand loop is formed when the running end of the rope is placed under the standing part of the rope.

Link to: Larger Image
Overhand and Underhand Loops

Bight. A bight is formed by doubling back a length of the rope against itself to form a U.

This can be done with the running end (as shown on the left), or anywhere along the standing part (as shown in the middle). Bights can vary from a few inches to a few feet in length. A bight doesn’t have to have a sharp bend. It can be “open” (as shown on the right). In this case, the running end of the rope is alongside the standing part of the rope, but is not crossed over (which would form and overhand or underhand loop).

Link to: Larger View
A Bight
Take a turn. The term take a turn means to wrap a rope around a spar or stake so it continues off in the same direction. The friction this creates will give you a grip on the stake or spar that will help you hold the strain on the line. It also gives better control in taking up or letting out a line.
Roundturn. To make a roundturn, wrap the rope completely around a spar and bring the running end back along the standing part of the rope. A roundturn gives you even more grip in holding the strain on a line, and is the basis for tying several knots, as when making a Roundturn with Two Half Hitches.
"Take a Turn and Roundturn
“Take a Turn and Roundturn

What follows is a glossary of knot-tying terms, much of which has been excerpted from Wikipedia’s List of Knot Terminology:

Bend – A bend is a knot used to join two lengths of rope.

Bight – A bight has two meanings in knotting. It can mean either any central part of a rope (between the standing end and the working end) or an arc in a rope that is at least as wide as a semicircle. In either case, a bight is a length of rope that does not cross itself. Knots that can be tied without use of the working end are called knots on the bight.

Binding Knot – Binding knots are knots that either constrict a single object or hold two objects snugly together. Whippings, seizings and lashings serve a similar purpose to binding knots, but contain too many wraps to be properly called a knot. In binding knots, the ends of rope are either joined together or tucked under the turns of the knot.

Capsizing – A knot that has capsized has deformed into a different structure. Although capsizing is sometimes the result of incorrect tying or misuse, it can also be done purposefully in certain cases to strengthen the knot

Decorative Knot – A decorative knot is any aesthetically pleasing knot. Although it is not necessarily the case, most decorative knots also have practical applications or were derived from other well-known knots. Decorative knotting is one of the oldest and most widely distributed folk art.

Dressing – Knot dressing is the process of arranging a knot in such a way as to improve its performance. Crossing or uncrossing the rope in a specific way, depending on the knot, can increase the knot’s strength as well as reduce its jamming potential.

Elbow – An elbow refers to any two nearby crossings of a rope. An elbow is created when an additional twist is made in a loop. An example is when tying a Butterfly Knot.

Flake – A flake refers to any number of turns in a coiled rope. Likewise, to flake a rope means to coil it.

Frap – Fraps are a set of loops coiled perpendicularly around the wraps of a lashing as a means of tightening.

Friction Hitch – A friction hitch is a knot that attaches one rope to another in a way that allows the knot’s position to easily be adjusted. Sometimes friction hitches are called slide-and-grip knots. They are often used in climbing applications. Good examples of a friction hitch are the Rolling Hitch and Prusik.

Hitch – A hitch is a knot that attaches a rope to some object, often a ring, rail, spar, or post.

Jamming – A jamming knot is any knot that becomes very difficult to untie after use. Knots that are resistant to jamming are called non-jamming knots.

Lashing – A lashing is an arrangement of rope used to secure two or more items together in a rigid manner.

Loop – A loop is one of the fundamental structures used to tie knots. It is a full circle formed by passing the working end of a rope over itself.

Loop Knot – A loop knot is the type of knot that forms a fixed loop. It is created either when the end of a rope is fastened to its own standing part or when a loop in the bight of a rope is knotted. Unlike a hitch, a loop knot creates a fixed loop in a rope that maintains its structure regardless of whether or not it is fastened to an object. In other words, a loop knot can be removed from an object without losing its shape.

Noose – A noose can refer to any sliding loop in which the loop tightens when pulled.Open Loop – An open loop is a curve in a rope that resembles a semicircle in which the legs are not touching or crossed. The legs of an open loop are brought together narrower than they are in a bight.Seizing – A seizing is a knot that binds two pieces of rope together side by side, normally in order to create a loop. The structure of seizings is similar to that of lashings.

Setting – Setting a knot is the process of tightening it. Improper setting can cause certain knots to underperform.

Slipped Knot – A slipped knot is any knot that unties when an end is pulled. Thus, tying the slipped form of a knot makes it easier to untie, especially when the knot is prone to jamming.

SpliceSplicing rope is a method of joining two ropes done by untwisting and then re-weaving the rope’s strands.

Standing End – The standing end (or standing part) of a rope is the part not active in knot tying.  It is the part opposite of the working end.

Stopper Knot – A stopper knot is the type of knot tied to prevent a rope slipping through a grommet or as a temporary whipping.

Whipping – A whipping is a binding knot tied around the end of a rope to prevent the rope from unraveling.

Working End – The working end (or working part) of a rope is the part active in knot tying.  It is the part opposite of the standing end. (Working End is another name for Running End.)