One Simple Trick to Keep Your Shoelaces Tied on Your Next Hike

How long have you been tying your own shoelaces?  I’m willing to bet that it’s been for almost as long as you can remember.  Me too.  Besides a scary few hours in my second grade classroom when I legitimately forgot how to wrangle those darn noodles, I’ve been tying a bow at the base of my ankles for essentially my whole life.

If this is a shoelace emergency, skip to step 5 below to learn the secret to a superior shoelace knot.

Let’s do some math

How many knots is that?  Let’s estimate: 2 knots per day (a wildly conservative estimate) multiplied by roughly 27 years of tying shoes, minus 8 years (2 years of wearing slip-ons in high school, 2 years of cumulative Croc time, and 4 years of flip-flop living in San Diego).  That math shakes out to an almost certainly inaccurate 13,870 knots.  Right or wrong, that is a big number, and even if it is wrong, I think that the right number is also a big number.

Who cares about shoelaces?

Why does this matter?  Well, let me tell you that it almost certainly doesn’t matter.  We tie our shoes a lot, that’s all I’m trying to say.

The Kendall Katwalk on the PCT in Washington would be a bad place to trip over a shoelace.

What does matter is that many of us tie our shoes more than we have to.  When shoelaces work themselves loose, at best, retying them is a mild inconvenience.  At worst, they become dangerous tripping hazards.  When hiking or backpacking, the annoyance and/or danger of loose shoelaces is inflated by uneven, and potentially consequential terrain like cliffs, streams, pits of poison oak, and skull-cracking rocks.

Shoelaces are hard: A lifetime of learning

For most of my life, I tied my shoes all wrong.  Passed down in my family through generations, the technique I was taught resulted in the weak and unreliable ‘granny knot’.  It has the look and feel of the standard ‘bunny rabbit knot’, but it sits twisted on the shoe and works itself untied with regularity.  Shoelace expert, Ian Fieggen, estimates that up to 50% of shoelace users unknowingly default to this inferior knot. (If you are unsure of whether or not you tie a granny knot, try Ian’s knot analyzer for an accurate diagnosis)

The lowly granny knot. See how the bow sits vertically. It’s a sure sign of a weak and unreliable knot.

Because of my poor training, I suffered from chronically untied shoes for years before discovering the ‘double knot’, which kept my shoes tied tightly, but made untying them a hated chore.  Still, I thought that I was on the cutting edge, using the best available technology of the times.  This was the ‘90s after all.  We had Gameboy Color, Dippin’ Dots, and Razor scooters.  Humanity had peaked.

Sometime in college I learned the truth — there was a better way.  Flabbergasted and emboldened, I eagerly adopted the minor tweak in technique needed to transform my weak granny into a strong bunny.  An unrecognized source of discontent within me dissolved overnight.  Aside from anomalous encounters with football cleats while playing ultimate frisbee, my shoelaces remained securely knotted all day.  When I needed to air out my tootsies, all it took was a single tug on the loose end and I was free.  I was finally living the dream.  I lived in a world with the Nintendo Wii, cronuts, and Taylor Swift after all.  Then, in 2015, I hiked the PCT…

The classic bunny rabbit knot. Good for just about everything except for hiking.

A knot worthy of the PCT

What I discovered between Mexico and Canada was that for people who walk far — hikers, backpackers, thru-hikers — even the bunny rabbit isn’t enough.  Plants pry, shrubbery scratches, rocks rub.  My mighty bunny rabbit couldn’t keep my shoes tied between breaks.

After lamenting about this issue during a phone conversation with my brother, he mentioned a solution, which I promptly forgot (a phone conversation is no time to describe different knots).  However, when my good friend joined me to hike the section north of Crater Lake, he brought with him the most ultralight piece of gear available: wisdom.  The same wisdom my brother tried to impart 1,000 miles earlier.

Like the transition from granny to bunny, this knot tweak was a minor reworking rather than a total teardown.  And it worked.  An extra wrap was all it took to make my shoelace knot thru-hike proof, all while preserving the easy, pull-to-untie release of the classic bunny rabbit knot.

This surgeon’s shoelace knot is ready to go the distance.

I have since hiked many thousands of miles, and this knot, which I have discovered is named the ‘surgeon’s shoelace knot’, has never failed me in dry conditions.  Only when my shoelaces are totally soaked has the reduced friction occasionally caused them to work loose.  It has been a game changer, and I humbly present it here.

How To Tie The Surgeon’s Shoelace Knot

Steps 1-4 describe my method for tying the standard bunny rabbit knot.  There are many ways to do this, so use whichever works for you.

1.  Start by twisting the laces into a starter knot by wrapping the right-side lace (A, orange) over and around the left (B, red).

2.  Create a loop with the lace that is now on the left side (A).

3.  Wrap the other lace (B) behind the loop.

4.  Push lace B through the center hole, creating another loop that mirrors the loop made with lace A.  Do not tighten!  (Pull loops A and B tight to complete the bunny rabbit knot)

5.  Before tightening, wrap loop B over and through the center hole one more time.

6.  Pull on both loops to tighten your awesome, bombproof surgeon’s shoelace knot.  Nice work!

These shoelaces are ready to hike. Photo cred: SpiceRack

7.  Hike for days.

Putting a bow on it

A surgeon’s shoelace knot holds my foot secure and ready to run. Knot confidence is essential in wolf country.

There are probably other knots that will reliably hold shoes tight.  However, this variation on the classic, and widely practiced, bunny rabbit knot is both reliable and easy to implement with little professional training.  So if loose shoelaces have plagued you for your entire life or just while you hike, rejoice.  Next time you head out to the trail, give the surgeon’s shoelace knot a try.  All it takes is an extra wrap.

Alternative solutions

Speed laces:  Popular with trail runners, these aftermarket elastic laces require no knots whatsoever.
Gaiters:  Increasingly common on trails worldwide, even the lightest gaiter covers the shoelace knot, protecting it from yanks and pulls.  A secure knot is still recommended.
Velcro:  Velcro footwear does exist, but it is mostly contained within the sandal category.
Crocs:  If you’ve completely given up (read: I wear Crocs).
Barefoot:  Who said that we need shoes anyway?

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Comments 5

  • Uh Clem : Aug 6th

    Whoever taught you your first knot must be an idiot, a real idiot. That is why your (old, bad) bunny knot looks so screwed up. Because it is screwed up. And you may be right-handed. Your insertion of loop B through the loop made by the other lace is backwards and wrong. Instead, bring loop A through in the direction of toe-to-heel. Smart left-handed people have been using this strong, superior, better-looking knot for centuries, I’ll bet.

    Reply
  • Jane : Aug 11th

    Great tips Owen
    Thanks for all your fun reads.
    You are a talented writer.
    The Trek is lucky to have you.
    Keep up the wonderful articles

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Aug 11th

      Thanks for the kind words, Jane. I’m glad you liked the article. Hopefully I can keep the good stuff coming!

      Reply
  • Charlotte S. Graham-Clark : Aug 14th

    THANK YOU OWEN! At last, at last–I can go down the trails of the Grand Canyon in Year 22 secure in the knowledge that I will NOT have to keep tying and tying my damn round laces which inevitably come open, even with THREE knots, at some point every. single. day. I’ve been using your method for the last week: one knot, and it stays tied. Like the credit card ads: “priceless.” When I lay down my 2500th GC mile in October, I’ll be thanking YOU. (Too.)

    Charlotte

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Aug 14th

      Wow, awesome to hear that this article has had real, positive impact. Thanks for sharing, Charlotte! Have fun this October. 2500 is an eye-popping number, especially in such rugged country. Congratulations on your milestone!

      Reply

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