Perhaps my favorite hitch for quick tasks, the highwayman’s hitch is a quick-release knot that is as fun to release as it is to tie.
Not only that, but tying the hitch is remarkably easy for how complex the finished knot looks. It takes just three bights to create the sturdy finished product.
The highwayman’s hitch is also incredibly useful due to the fact that it doesn’t need to be tied at the working end of your rope like many knots and hitches. You can tie it anywhere in the length of rope – even smackdab in the middle if you want.
Now, it’s important to make it abundantly clear right away – this hitch knot is strong and reliable, but it should never be used to secure a vital load. For example, it should never be used to secure a person while climbing.
Despite this minor drawback, the ease of tying still makes the highwayman’s hitch an excellent choice for tethering animals or securing a boat to a dock, as just quick two examples.
How to Tie a Highwayman’s Hitch
Here’s exactly how to tie the highwayman’s hitch.
Create a bight in the rope and pass it behind the supporting piece.
Pass another bight of rope over the supporting piece and up through the initial bight.
Create yet another bight with the working end of the rope and pass this through the second bight that you formed.
Pull gently on the top loop and the standing part of the rope until the knot is secure.
Tips on Tying the Highwayman’s Hitch
The highwayman’s hitch is a simple and straightforward knot that anyone can learn to tie.
No special knowledge is needed to tie it, although it’s important to remember that this is a three-bight knot, so don’t stop after forming the first two.
Personally, I find this hitch easier to tie (or, rather, more intuitive) near the working end of a length of rope. However, it can be tied anywhere in the rope, even near the middle.
Best Uses for the Highwayman’s Hitch
Never use the highwayman’s hitch to secure a vital load.
This knot should never be used for climbing or otherwise supporting a human body.
As a quick-release knot, it’s all too easy to get the ends tangled, pull on the working end, release the knot, and trigger a dangerous fall.
This is also why I’d never use it to secure a watercraft in a survival situation. You absolutely need a knot you can trust when it comes to securing your vessel when SHTF.
Despite these drawbacks, the highwayman’s hitch is an awesome way to briefly secure light to medium loads that aren’t in any danger of falling or drifting away.
I regularly use it to secure farm animals for a minute or two. You can also use it to secure a kayak or canoe for a minute or two while entering.
It’s the perfect hitch for those situations where you need to secure an object for just a few minutes before quickly releasing it.
I love that the highwayman’s hitch is so clean and always releases without jamming.
Once again, this knot isn’t the best for survival since it’s far from the most reliable, but it’s still a highly beneficial knot to learn to tie for camping and around-the-house use.
Pros and Cons of the Highwayman’s Hitch
Let’s take a brief look at the overall pros and cons of the highwayman’s hitch.
Highwayman’s Hitch Advantages
Here are the main benefits of the highwayman’s hitch:
- Easy to Tie – This hitch knot is easy to tie by forming just three quick bights.
- Quick Release – Giving the working end a tug immediately releases this hitch without jamming.
- Under Tension – The hitch even quickly releases when under tension.
Highwayman’s Hitch Disadvantages
Here is the main drawback of the highwayman’s hitch:
- Not Secure – As a quick-release knot, this hitch knot is knot secure enough to hold very heavy or vital loads. Never use it to for climbing as it can easily come untied. Never use it to secure a watercraft or an animal for more than a minute or two (under supervision).
History of the Highwayman’s Hitch
Legend has it the highwayman’s hitch was created by none other than Dick Turpin, the legendary 18th century highwayman (a robber who steals from travelers).
The knot was first attributed to the notorious bandit by Hal McKail in one of his popular books about knots and splices. In the book, the author suggests the knot as a quick-release mooring hitch for sailing.
The knot is also sometimes referred to as the highwayman’s cutaway, especially when talking about its early history.
Despite its name, there is no record that this hitch was ever used by highwayman, at least during their bank robberies, stage coach robberies, and other criminal exploits.
Variations of the Highwayman’s Hitch
There aren’t many variations of the highwayman’s hitch, although there are several useful alternatives.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the mooring hitch when it comes to securing a boat to a dock for more than just a minute or two. It’s a very secure, trustworthy hitch for mooring a vessel for long periods of time.
The tumble hitch is another alternative to the highwayman’s hitch that improves on the original knot’s strength. Although it can still quickly be released, it’s much more secure than the former.
The jam-proof nature of the tumble hitch makes it excellent for lowering heavy objects, such as loading provisions into a canoe or dinghy.
Learn to Tie Other Survival Knots!
The highwayman’s hitch is an important knot to learn for anyone interested in wilderness survival.
Yet, it’s far from the only knot you should have in your repertoire. Take a look at our survival knots guide to find the perfect survival knot (with step-by-step directions) for just about every task imaginable.