Highwayman's hitch

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Highwayman's hitch
Highwayman's Hitch.jpg
A Highwayman's hitch tied around a wooden pole
NamesHighwayman's hitch, Highwayman's hitch, draw hitch, Highwayman’s cutaway, Bank Robbers Knot, Getaway hitch or Quick-release knot
Category Hitch
Related Tumble hitch, Mooring Hitch
Releasing Non-jamming
Typical useQuick-release, draw loop hitch
CaveatPotentially unstable, especially when tied around large objects

The Highwayman’s hitch is a quick-release draw hitch used for temporarily securing a load that will need to be released easily and cleanly. [1] The hitch can be untied with a tug of the working end, even when under tension. The highwayman's hitch can be tied in the middle of a rope, and so the working end does not need to be passed around the anchor when tying or releasing. [2]



The hitch was called the highwayman's cutaway in 1947 by Cyrus L. Day. He related that, according to Hal McKail, the knot was attributable to the notorious 18th-century English highwayman Dick Turpin. Day's book, however, suggested it for use as a quick-release mooring hitch for solo sailing. [2]

While the knot is alleged to have actually been used by highwaymen, [3] this claim is rejected by knot expert Geoffrey Budworth, who stated, "there is no evidence to substantiate the reputation of the highwayman's hitch as a quick-getaway-knot for robbers on horseback." [1]


The knot is three bights that each successively lock the previous one:

  1. the first one, in the middle of the rope, wraps around the pole,
  2. the second one (called the toggle bight) is a bight of the standing part locking the first one so the pole is held tight, and
  3. the third one (called the slip-tuck) is a bight of the working part (slack end) locking the second bight.

The locking actions are achieved by reaching through each bight to pull the next one through.

The knot has to be finished by pulling the standing part tight to ensure that it holds.


Until the knot is tightened and properly dressed, the highwayman's hitch has little holding power. The highwayman's hitch is susceptible to capsizing when the pole is substantially larger than the rope diameter. The failure occurs because the second bight sees the force of the standing part, but is held in place by the working part, which has no tension. When capsizing, tension on the standing part pulls the second bight through the first bight. This drags the slip-tuck through, and will release the hitch if the third bight isn't long enough.

Alternatives to the highwayman's hitch have been devised to mitigate collapse when tied around large objects.


One simple improvement is to repeat the second and third bights i.e. one more bight of the standing part and then one more bight of the working part, each successively locking the previous bight; this has the disadvantage of requiring longer rope from both parts.

Another technique is to twist each bight before reaching through it for the next locking byte; the disadvantage here is the difficulty of tightening afterwards.

In his book Outdoor Knots, Clyde Soles presents one of Dan Lehman's revisions to the highwayman's hitch that is simple and effective, naming it the "slip-free hitch". [4] One simply rearranges the trio of bights so that the heavily loaded bight in the standing part will surround, rather than go through, the next-made bight; the finishing slipped-tuck bight will thus go through the 2nd-made bight, and so be less severely loaded. As the frame against which this rope toggle is nipped is entirely parts of the knot (and not depending upon proximity to the hitched object), this revision avoids the capsizing vulnerability of the highwayman's hitch.

The Notable Knot Index recommends the tumble hitch as a more stable hitch. It's a similar hitch, but less prone to capsizing because the main part remains passive and the locking is done by two successive bights of the working part (no end needed) wrapping around both the standing part and the post/pole before locking the previous bight. [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

Knot Method of fastening or securing linear material

A knot is an intentional complication in cordage which may be practical or decorative, or both. Practical knots are classified by function, including hitches, bends, loop knots, and splices: a hitch fastens a rope to another object; a bend fastens two ends of a rope to each another; a loop knot is any knot creating a loop, and splice denotes any multi-strand knot, including bends and loops. A knot may also refer, in the strictest sense, to a stopper or knob at the end of a rope to keep that end from slipping through a grommet or eye. Knots have excited interest since ancient times for their practical uses, as well as their topological intricacy, studied in the area of mathematics known as knot theory.

Millers knot

A miller's knot is a binding knot used to secure the opening of a sack or bag. Historically, large sacks often contained grains; thus the association of these knots with the miller's trade. Several knots are known interchangeably by these three names.

Constrictor knot

The constrictor knot is one of the most effective binding knots. Simple and secure, it is a harsh knot that can be difficult or impossible to untie once tightened. It is made similarly to a clove hitch but with one end passed under the other, forming an overhand knot under a riding turn. The double constrictor knot is an even more robust variation that features two riding turns.

Clove hitch

The clove hitch is a type of knot. Along with the bowline and the sheet bend, it is often considered one of the most important knots. A clove hitch is two successive half-hitches around an object. It is most effectively used as a crossing knot. It can be used as a binding knot, but is not particularly secure in that role. A clove hitch made around the rope's own standing part is known as either two half-hitches or buntline hitch, depending on whether the turns of the clove hitch progress away from or towards the hitched object.

Although the name clove hitch is given by Falconer in his Dictionary of 1769, the knot is much older, having been tied in ratlines at least as early as the first quarter of the sixteenth century. This is shown in early sculpture and paintings. A round turn is taken with the ratline and then a hitch is added below. The forward end is always the first to be made fast.

The difference between two half hitches and the clove hitch is that the former, after a single turn around a spar, is made fast around its own standing part, while the latter is tied directly around the spar.

Truckers hitch

The trucker's hitch is a compound knot commonly used for securing loads on trucks or trailers. This general arrangement, using loops and turns in the rope itself to form a crude block and tackle, has long been used to tension lines and is known by multiple names. Knot author Geoffrey Budworth claims the knot can be traced back to the days when carters and hawkers used horse-drawn conveyances to move their wares from place to place.

Marlinespike hitch

The marlinespike hitch is a temporary knot used to attach a rod to a rope in order to form a handle. This allows more tension than could be produced comfortably by gripping the rope with the hands alone. It is useful when tightening knots and for other purposes in ropework.

Anglers loop

An angler's loop, otherwise known as a perfection loop, is a type of knot which forms a fixed loop. Useful for fine or slippery line, it is one of the few loop knots which holds well in bungee cord. It is quite secure, but it jams badly and is not suitable if the knot will need to be untied.

Timber hitch

The timber hitch is a knot used to attach a single length of rope to a cylindrical object. Secure while tension is maintained, it is easily untied even after heavy loading.

Zeppelin bend

A Zeppelin bend is an end-to-end joining knot formed by two symmetrically interlinked overhand knots. It is stable, secure, and highly resistant to jamming. It is also resistant to the effects of slack shaking and cyclic loading.

Grief knot

A grief knot is a knot which combines the features of a granny knot and a thief knot, producing a result which is not generally useful for working purposes. The word grief does not carry its usual meaning but is a portmanteau of granny and thief.

Overhand knot with draw-loop

A slipped half hitch is a knot in which the weight of the load the rope carries depresses the loop sufficiently to keep it in place until the load item is placed in its location. When no longer required the free end may be pulled and draw the loop through and so release the load.

Cats paw (knot)

The Cat's paw is a knot used for connecting a rope to an object. It is very similar to the cow hitch except there is an additional twist on each side of the bight, making it less prone to slipping.

The cat's-paw is the common hook hitch for slings. It is the same basic form as the bale sling hitch but has additional twists. Brady says "two or three altogether," and Steel, who mentioned the name in 1794, says "three twists." It is the best of all sling hitches and is often recommended for a slippery rope. But no hitch can slip when tied in a slings since it has no ends. All that is needed is a hitch that cannot jam, and this requirement the cat's-paw fills admirably. The knot spills instantly when removed from the hook. It is the hitch always used for heavy lifts.

Buntline hitch

The buntline hitch is a knot used for attaching a rope to an object. It is formed by passing the working end around an object, then making a clove hitch around the rope's standing part and taking care that the turns of the clove hitch progress towards the object rather than away from it. Secure and easily tied, the buntline hitch will jam when subjected to extreme loads. Given the knot's propensity to jam, it is often made in slipped form.

The buntline hitch, when bent to a yard, makes a more secure knot than two half hitches, but is more liable to jam. It differs from two half hitches in that the second half hitch is inside instead of outside the first one.

Halter hitch

The halter hitch is a type of knot used to connect a rope to an object. As the name implies, an animal's lead rope, attached to its halter, may be tied to a post or hitching rail with this knot. The benefit of the halter hitch is that it can be easily released by pulling on one end of the rope, even if it is under tension. Some sources show the knot being finished with the free end running through the slipped loop to prevent it from working loose or being untied by a clever animal, still allowing easy but not instant untying.

Two half-hitches

Two half-hitches is a type of knot, specifically a binding knot or hitch knot. One variety consists of an overhand knot tied around a post, followed by a half-hitch. This knot is less often referred to as a clove hitch over itself, double half-hitch, or full-hitch.

Two half hitches is the commonest of all hitches for mooring in particular and also for general utility. Steel gives the name in 1794. The difference between two half hitches and the clove hitch is that the former, after a single turn around a spar, is made fast around its own standing part, while the latter is tied directly around the spar.

Bight (knot)

In knot tying, a bight is a curved section or slack part between the two ends of a rope, string, or yarn. A knot that can be tied using only the bight of a rope, without access to the ends, is described as in the bight. The term "bight" is also used in a more specific way when describing Turk's head knots, indicating how many repetitions of braiding are made in the circuit of a given knot.

Highpoint hitch

The highpoint hitch is a type of knot used to attach a rope to an object. The main feature of the hitch is that it is very secure, yet if tied as a slipped knot it can be released quickly and easily with one pull, even after heavy loading. The highpoint hitch is a buntline hitch with an extra half turn, making it more secure.

Tumble hitch

The tumble hitch is a "slip-free", quick-release hitch knot used for temporarily securing a rope such that it can be released easily to be completely free of the hitched-to object. The hitch might be able to be untied with a tug of the working end, even when under tension; but the workings depend upon materials and forces; note that in some cases, "under tension" will amount to simply being tied and the line itself giving significant tension by weight. The tumble hitch is tied in the bight.


  1. 1 2 Budworth, Geoffrey (1997), The Complete Book of Knots, London: Octopus, p. 73
  2. 1 2 Day, Cyrus Lawrence (1947), The Art of Knotting and Splicing (1st ed.), New York: Dodd, Mead &Co., pp. 114–115
  3. Meier, Joel F.; Viola, Mitchell A. (1993), Camp Counseling: Leadership and Programming For the Organized Camp, Brown & Benchmark
  4. Soles, Clyde (2004). The outdoor knots book : hikers, campers, climbers, kayakers (1st ed.). Seattle (WA): Mountaineers Books. pp. 143–144. ISBN   9780898869620.
  5. "The Tumble Hitch". Notable Knot Index. Retrieved 2012-02-25.