Home > Utility > Can the Kalmyk Unseat the Bowline as King of Knots?

Can the Kalmyk Unseat the Bowline as King of Knots?

Finished kalmyk loopThe bowline is referred to as the “King of the Knots,” and with good reason. It is easy to tie, resists jamming, and retains rope strength decently. Tying the bowline with a bight at the end is a convenient way to make an exploding knot—one that unties with a simple tug on the free end. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of a new knot, which this Russian site calls a “Kalmyk (калмыцкий)”.

(post updated in 2017)

The Kalmyk Loop

The following three images and video (originally from dimview.org but no longer posted) are just about all of the information I could find on this knot on the Internet when I started looking in 2011. I assume it is not (pun intended) have not (pun intended) found it in Ashley’s Book of Knots or else it would be more well known in the west.

From dimview.org

Kalmyk loop, step 2 Kalmyk loop, step 1 Finished kalmyk loop

The author of the other website mentions a book called Скрягин Л. Н. Морские узлы by Lev Skryagin. Google translates the title for me as “Skryagin LN Marine units.” Maybe this is the Russian equivalent to Ashley’s Book of Knots. I found a PDF copy of the Russian book, and I found the knot on page 79 (80 of the PDF):

I studied the pictures and the video and learned three ways to tie the knot. It is a beautiful knot. As an exploding knot it, it beats the bowline with a bight by untying more cleanly. You can see it untying in the video. Here are two pictures I took of the kalmyk, before and after exploding.

The Kalmyk Loop before and after “exploding” by pulling on free end.

I have since found the following YouTube video as well by gdBrian:

Kalmyk Compared to Bowline

The kalmyk and bowline (with a bight) knots have similar features, but I think the kalmyk is more elegant. Here are the two side by side:

The kalmyk (left) and the bowline with a bight (right).

Here are the two knots after they have been exploded. They look similar, but the kalmyk wins. When you pull on the standing end of the kalmyk to pull the loop off its anchor, it pulls free. When you pull the standing end from a bowline, the rope tightens on itself. This has always bothered me about the bowline, but it was the best I had (until now).

The exploded kalmyk (left) and the bowline with a bight (right).

Notice how the kalmyk standing end, when pulled, wants to move down, along, and off the free end. When the bowline standing end is pulled, it wants to pull against and tighten the loop it has formed around the free end, similar to the effective function of a sheep shank.

Kalmyk Compared to Mooring Hitch

I had the idea that the kalmyk might be a mooring hitch. It is not, but they also share similar traits. Look at these two pictures of them side by side:

The kalmyk (left) and the mooring hitch (right).

If you look closely, you can see that the mooring hitch is in fact an adjustable loop—a slip knot. In case you did not know how cool the mooring hitch is, though, look at how the mooring hitch, when exploded, completely separates the standing end from the free end:

The exploded kalmyk (left) and the mooring hitch (right).

Tying the Kalmyk

Since the other website did not have step by step tying instructions, I thought I had better provide some.

Wrap the rope around your anchor object and form a loop “facing inside” with the standing end on the “bottom.”
Insert the free end through the loop from the top to the bottom.
Form a bight with the free end.
Feed the bight back over all the elements of the knot except the standing end. The bight passes under the standing end.
Tighten the knot.

The Kalmyk in Literature

Two comments (below) by Bill Mollenhaue and Hugh, brought the book On the Trail of Genghis Kkan by Tim Cope to my attention. In it the author describes a very popular knot in the part of the world he was visiting. The knot went by other local names including the Kalmyk. The author reports one person as saying,

You know, we say that if you don’t know this knot, then you are not a horesman … In western Hungary, beyond the Danube and the great Eurasian steppe, no one knows this knot. We call it the Cumanian knot.

Update: I contacted the author Tim Cope about this knot, and he checked what we have here. This was his response:

This is definitely the same knot 🙂 its used in mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kalmykia and Hungary…the exact same knot. I learnt how to tie it in Mongolia.

best wishes



This kalmyk loop amazes me, both in its function and in its secrecy. How can this knot not be known in the west? I have two theories:

  1. Is the knot is fatally flawed? Is that why no one talks about it in the west? That might be, and I would like to know if the knot does in fact have a fatal design flaw, but there are plenty of “fatally flawed” knots in Ashley’s Book of Knots that we are all taught anyway (like the square/reef knot). This brings me to my second theory.
  2. The knot is not in Ashley’s Book of Knots; that is why no one talks about it in the west. I have not found it in ABOK. If you have, please let me know, but perhaps this is why the western world never learned of it.
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  1. Lee
    June 26th, 2011 at 22:01 | #1

    It is a very interesting knot. The only flaw that I have seen while using it is that unless it is properly dressed and tightened, the standing end will sometimes collapse on the loop and seize under strain. It then becomes very difficult to pull the loop out. Also, if the loop and end are not long enough, they can pull through when the standing end collapses and the knot will fail.

  2. jdmccubbin
    February 25th, 2012 at 22:23 | #2

    This “knot”, i.e. slipped loop, can be improved by “locking”, with the bitter end passed through the bight of the loop which allows the kalmyk loop, aka eskimo bowline, to “explode”; that secondary loop is in turn tighted when the knot is formed.

  3. February 28th, 2012 at 17:51 | #3

    @jdmccubbin I’m trying to picture this but without the benefit of any rope handy. Could you take a picture of such a knot and post a link here?

  4. Alex
    November 20th, 2012 at 07:13 | #4

    Hi Robert! Here in Russia we have Kossak Knot as well. The same as Kalmyk but without the bight (not quick release variant of Kalmyk). I’m quite sure that Kossak CAN decrown the crowned Bowline. ))

  5. Ada,
    January 31st, 2013 at 12:36 | #5

    This is a great knot and quick to tie. Like the bowline and the Mooring Hitch, it’s based on the sheet bend. Tie it without the slip to see this.

    Thanks for the very clear diagrams.

  6. Bushcrafter
    September 10th, 2013 at 23:20 | #6

    Always appreciate the time folks take to share information like this so, thank you! I’ve been searching for a exploding fixed loop for some time and after finding this, I have used it on several occasions around camp. I’ve always found it to be secure and a breeze to undo. I have tested this knot up to 200lbs with 550 paracord and it held up beautifully. Above this weight with this particular rope though, I don’t know its limits. I’d reiterate as has already been stated here that dressing this knot snugly prior to load bearing is very important to prevent collapsing.

  7. Morten J
    December 6th, 2015 at 10:55 | #7

    This is a slipped version of the Eskimo Bowline.

  8. December 6th, 2015 at 16:27 | #8

    @Morten J
    Eskimo Bowline is new to me. The pictures Google turns up look a bit different, but I’ll have to study it. Thanks!

  9. joe
    December 24th, 2015 at 11:36 | #9

    You will see this loop (unslipped version) make a cameo appearance in the movie Sometimes a Great Notion by Paul Newman using it to tow a bundle of logs down river. It is also called an Eskimo bowline, as was mentioned in an earlier comment. Not sure if it has a name in logging. The difference in performance from a traditional bowline is this is tied when ring loading is present (forces potentially expanding the loop), rather than a straight pull on the rope.
    It’s very cool to see the slipped variation is called a Kalmyk, and yes it does make more sense to use this variation because of the ease of release after pulling the slip free.

  10. December 24th, 2015 at 15:17 | #10

    @joe Thanks for the extra info. I didn’t know it did well on expanding (or that it was called ring loading). I’ve found the Kalmyk is harder to untie than the bowline after a heavy loading, but if I’m not expecting a heavy loading—like with tying down tents and other general bush craft—I love it.

    I’m glad to learn more about it, and now I’ll have to netflix the Newman flick.

  11. bill mollenhauer
    August 10th, 2016 at 11:50 | #11

    I am reading the book “On the Trail of Genghis Khan” by Tim Cope. He traveled for 3 years on horseback from Mongolia to Hungary. On page 437 he mentions a knot he describes as a reverse bowline. On his very first night he was taught this knot by a Mongolian herder. As he traveled across the Eurasian Steppe he found the same knot but with the name of the peoples who lived in the area. A Kazakh knot in Kazakhstan, Kalmyk knot for the Kalmyk people, and in Hungary it was called a Cumanian knot. He used this knot for everything

  12. August 10th, 2016 at 12:08 | #12

    @bill mollenhauer
    I wonder if that’s this knot or maybe the Eskimo Bowline mentioned above. After having used the bowline and now the Kalmyk for years, I have learned NOT to use the Kalmyk if the knot will be under heavy loading. It becomes very hard to untie. Fortunately “heavy loading” is not the majority of my knot tying, so this Kalmyk has been a real blessing.

  13. Hugh
    March 16th, 2017 at 20:47 | #13

    I first heard of this knot in Tim Cope’s book “On the Trail of Kenghis Khan” where he was first shown the knot by a Mongolian herder, who assured Tim that it was a knot “he had to know”.
    Tim used this knot when travelling by horse from Mongolia to Hungary – a three year journey.
    The knot was regonised by herders across the steppe all the way to the Danube, many claiming it as their own knot.
    Tim swears by the knot.

  14. March 17th, 2017 at 06:01 | #14

    Thanks for the additional info. That’s great. I went and got the book… -Rob

  15. BlueCat49
    March 1st, 2018 at 13:34 | #15

    In Polar Star, a sequel to Gorky Park, the detective is on a Russian fishing vessel and experiences VERY icy conditions while at sea. I would think an “exploding” knot would be valuable in an environment (Russia, Eskimo) in which EVERYTHING freezes.

  16. Binhluque
    November 9th, 2018 at 20:52 | #16

    The eskimo bowline is a little different than the Cossack loop (unslipped) or Kalmyk loop (slipped). The eskimo bowline is useful in situations where a bowline would be ring-loaded (the loop pulled open/apart from the inside), which is unstable. Tyng an eskimo bowline results in essentially a sheet bend between the two “legs” of the knot which form the two sides of the loop, which is very secure in ring-loading conditions. However, if you tie that and simply add the slip bight, then when you pull and slip it, the knot comes undone and he loop disappears, or the rope comes off of whatever you looped it around, but the rope has a residual knot still in it – a figure-8 as it happens. So now you have to untie that, before you have plain straight rope again. But when you tie the Kalmyk loop, pulling the slip results in the entire knot coming undone, with no lingering extra knot in the rope after the loop falls free. That’s the big benefit of tying it the Cossack loop/Kalmyk way. The (slight) down side is that if this loop gets ring-loaded, the configuration is that of the left-handed sheet bend, which is a little less secure. It’s honestly still not as bad as a ring-loaded bowline, which is quite insecure – unless it’s tied “cowboy”, ring-loading the regular bowline puts it into the left-handed Lapp bend configuration, which is very unstable.

    • November 9th, 2018 at 23:20 | #17

      Then I need to learn this Eskimo bowline for ring-loading because that does come up. Also I find that my beloved Kalmyk is still hard to untie/explode after it’s been pulled super tight–I guess I still need a perfect exploding knot.

  1. April 15th, 2011 at 15:28 | #1
  2. April 15th, 2011 at 19:48 | #2