“To be always ready a man must be able to cut a knot, for everything cannot be untied” – Henri Frederic Amiel
So you packed up the family and went to your favorite Christmas tree farm or lot and picked out a beauty of an evergreen specimen. It being a family affair, you forwent the pickup truck and opted for the minivan or SUV with roof racks or perhaps you only have a car and still need to lug it home. Like most guys you may find yourself having hoisted the tree upon the roof with no problem but then begin going through your list of tie-downs and knots: “Let’s see here, I have the shoe string knot down fairly well and there is that loop thing that I can do that seems to be pretty sturdy…” and immediately begin flinging string. All the way home you are hoping for no sudden stops and looking back to see whether the tree has ended up in the street.
Whether it’s a tree or kayaks or anything else the principles are the same. No hauling problem is too big for a man who knows a bit of rope work.
How to Tie a Loop in a Rope
Before we get to the tie-down let's look at a few ways to make a loop in a rope. If you need a refresher on knot terminology check out this previous post.
The Overhand Loop Knot
The first is an Overhand Loop Knot illustrated below. It is an easy and quick way to make a non-slipping loop in a section of rope but will bind on itself so it isn’t good for scenarios when you may reuse the rope. However, for the free plastic twine you will likely be using for your Christmas tree it is the knot of choice.
The Slip Knot
The slip knot is not much different except that it allows you to pull the knot free. You can see a detailed diagram of the Slip Knot here or watch me tie one in the video below.
Steps for Tying Down the Christmas Tree
Step 1 – Position the tree for proper aerodynamics
The tree should be positioned so that the wind sweeps over the tree following the natural bend of the limbs. This typically means the base of the tree is toward the front of the vehicle.
Step 2 – Tie a basic knot to start the process (the standing end of the rope)
From one of the roof racks tie the line and throw the running end over the tree to the other side of the vehicle.
Step 3 – Wrap the line around the base of the tree
Press down on the base of the tree and wrap the line a few times. This is an important step to prevent the tree from sliding under the line and becoming a missile in the event of an emergency stop.
Step 4 – Make a loop in the line near the middle of the tree
Using either the Overhand Loop Knot or the Slip Loop Knot, tie a loop. This will be used like a pulley in the next step. It is important to do this near the middle of the tree since they have a lot of give.
Step 5 – Rig up a Trucker’s Hitch (or a Block and Tackle)
Pass the line under the roof rack and then back up through the loop you just created. Pull down on the line’s running end and watch the pulley system work, tightening the line with little effort.
Note: This same technique is used to raise large game animals off of the floor in the forest for cleaning, keep food and other items out of the reach of bears, or tighten up any line. It is an extremely useful technique to remember.
Secure the line by frapping and two Half Hitches
Frapping is a fancy word for wrapping or lashing lines together. A Half Hitch is an easy and common knot that will be demonstrated below or you can see a detailed illustration here.
Step 6 – Frap the lines
Pass the running end over the outside of the roof rack and immediately back under. Then fold it over the left (or right) of the lines. It will look like there are 3 lines it is passing over.
Continue wrapping the line around the other lines, about 3 times.
Pass the line under the roof rack.
Step 7 – Two Half Hitches
Pass the line back up and over to start the Half Hitch. Pass the line behind the main line, then around an inch or more higher leaving a small eye, then pass a running loop through the eye as illustrated below.
Pull some length out on the running loop and cinch down to complete the first Half Hitch.
Repeat another Half Hitch using the running loop.
Step 8 – Repeat tie-down procedure for the length of the tree
You may be able to use the same length of line for the entire tree but it really isn’t necessary. About 4 lines like the one above is all that is needed. The other lines will simply go over the tree and put pressure to hold it in place. You can optionally run the line through the branches or even wrap it around the trunk of the tree for additional security.
Vehicles Without Roof Racks
The process for cars or other vehicles where a roof rack isn’t available is pretty different. It is actually a bit simpler though getting the line as taunt isn’t as easy. You can stick with your typical knots and loops for rackless cars. There are two gotchas though.
1: Remember to tie the tree down with the doors open rather than going through the window. (For obvious reasons)
2: Use a heavier gauge rope if you can. The thin plastic lines will cut into your weather stripping.
The ability to tie down cargo securely comes in handy so many times in life. Bungees and tie-down straps are great tools but knowing how to fasten a line is still a pretty important skill set. It can keep a costly Christmas tree off the side of the road and may even prevent a serious accident.
– Mike Yarbrough