I love knots. I practice knots just for fun. Sitting around a campfire or conversation circle, some folks will whittle. Others will knit. I tie knots. Which is why I’m surprised that I love Nite Ize Figure 9s as much as I do. I guess I have to admit that, in the situations they’re designed for, Figure 9s can not only replace knots, they’re vastly simpler. Here’s how to use them.
Why the Nite Ize Figure 9?
Most people can tie two knots: a bow for their shoelaces, and a square-knot-ish thing that they use everywhere else. Except that therein lies a funny little irony: that shoelace bow is actually a square-knot too. So let’s try that statement again. Most people can only tie one knot: a square-knot-ish thing that they use everywhere.
Besides being a terribly over-rated knot, the square knot can’t handle one of the most common uses for a piece of rope: a taut line (taut = tight). This might show up as a guy-line for a tent, a line to secure a tarp between two trees, a clothesline, tying down a load, etc. The challenge in these scenarios lies in trying to keep that line as tight as possible while you secure the end. Most folks, not knowing what knot to use, tug at the rope then quickly wrap and tuck the end a few times and hope it holds.
The knot-tying world addresses this with one of my favorite knots of all — the taut-line hitch, which not only holds great tension on a line, but also lets you re-tension the line simply by sliding the knot back and forth. Brilliant. Or the trucker’s hitch, which is great for securing loads.
But the innovative folks at Nite Ize, recognizing how often people need to secure a taut line, and recognizing that only a tiny fraction of even the adventurous people of the world know how to tie knots these days, produced another option for us: the Figure 9.
What is a Nite Ize Figure 9 Rope Tightener?
The Nite Ize Figure 9 helps you tighten and secure a line without having to tie any knots. It’s a handy little device that looks like a mal-formed anchor. Used properly, this device holds the rope securely while you stretch it tight, then grips the rope with one quick wrap. We’ll go through all of that step-by-step shortly. For now, just know that the Nite Ize Figure 9 makes securing a taut line so easy that even a little kid can do it. One-handed. Loosening and re-tensioning the line is just as easy.
The Figure 9 comes in a few different varieties, depending on the application and the amount of weight you’ll have on the line. The one that I use and love for backpacking is a package of four plastic Mini Figure 9s. This package includes reflective tent lines, giving away its intended use. These little plastic Nite Ize Figure 9s weigh next to nothing and can hold plenty of tension to keep tarps and tent lines nice and tight.
The Figure 9 also comes in a small metal version which can handle about 50 lbs of load weight, a large metal version in black or silver which can handle 150 lbs, and a handy carabiner version in two sizes (50 lb and 150 lb, respectively).
Using a Standard Nite Ize Figure 9 Rope Tightener
The Nite Ize Figure 9 is not a one-trick pony. In fact, it’s a surprisingly versatile little fellow, once you get used to it. But despite its versatility, it only has two basic attachment methods to figure out. To know which one to use, ask yourself one simple question: How many loose ends does my rope have?
The Rope Has One Loose End
The first method assumes that one end of the rope is anchored down. For example, it’s attached to a tarp tie-out, tied to a tree, or tied to a load. Our first step is to insert the Nite Ize Figure 9 onto the line. To do this, we:
- Pinch a loop of line
- Insert the line through the Figure 9’s top loop
- Pull it all the way around the hooks
- Tighten it up
IMPORTANT: Make sure that the hook end of the Figure 9 is points toward the loose end of the rope!
Tighten and Secure the Rope
Now wrap the loose end of the rope around the other object (tent stake, the other tree, eye bolt, etc.), pull it back to the Figure 9, then …
- Wrap it over the smooth hook on the Figure 9
- Pull the rope tight
- Wrap it under the bottom of the Figure 9 then up over the jagged hook
- Pull it tight
The only tricky part to remember is that, when you wrap the rope over the hooks, go the same direction for both wraps. In other words, if you wrap from front-to-back the first time, wrap front-to-back again the second time. This happens automatically if you wrap the rope under the bottom of the Figure 9 when going from the smooth hook to the jagged hook.
The Rope Has Two Loose Ends
If the rope has two loose ends, like if you’re tightening a bundle or tying a sleeping bag to your pack, you’ll have to tie one end of the rope to the Figure 9:
- Feed the rope end through the loop from the back and cross it over to the inside of the Figure 9
- Wrap it under and pull it down the back side of the Figure 9
- Bring it back up the front side and tuck the rope under itself where it crosses horizontally
- Pull the top line to tighten it
It doesn’t seem like a very secure knot, but it will hold just fine. If you’re worried about it coming loose, put a stopper knot in the end. Now go ahead and wrap the rope around whatever you’re trying to secure, then tighten the rope and lock it just like we did in Tighten and Secure the Rope above.
Using a Nite Ize Figure 9 Carabiner
The carabiner version of the Figure 9 assumes that one end of your rope is secured to something (tree, pole, truck bed tie-down), and that the carabiner can clip to something secure where you want to attach the other end of the rope. The classic example is tying down a load in a truck bed. Your rope is attached to a tie-down on one side of the bed, and the Figure 9 is clipped into a tie-down on the other side of the bed.
From there, just toss the rope over your load, then follow the steps above to Tighten and Secure the Rope.
If you don’t have a place to clip the Figure 9 carabiner, you can hook it to the rope instead. In this configuration, your rope is tied in one big loop that you can cinch down:
- Tie a fixed loop in one end of the rope (an overhand knot on a bight is simple and strong)
- Clip the loop into the carabiner
- Wrap the rope around your load
- Secure the other end of the rope to the Figure 9
Ok, now that we have the basics down, let’s look at a few examples …
Example A: Using a Figure 9 Rope Tightener for Tent Lines
Loop your Nite Ize Figure 9 onto the tent line midway between the tent and the stake, making sure that the hooks are on the stake end of the line. Wrap the tent line around the stake, then bring it back up to the Figure 9, pull it tight, and secure it:
Example B: Using a Figure 9 Rope Tightener to Secure a Bear Bag
You have a couple of options with a bear bag. First, hoist your bag. Now wrap the bear bag rope around a tree trunk or branch, clip a Figure 9 carabiner over the taut line, then secure the loose end of the rope to the Figure 9:
Alternatively, loop a standard Figure 9 onto the taut rope a few feet away from the anchor point, wrap the loose end of the bear bag rope around the tree or branch you’re using as an anchor, then secure it to the Figure 9:
Example C: Using a Figure 9 to Tighten a Clothesline or Tarp Ridge Line
When it comes to clotheslines or tarp ridge lines, I like to put a permanent loop in one end of the rope. This saves me from having to tie the rope around the first tree. Just wrap the rope around once, then feed it through the loop:
If you have a standard Nite Ize Figure 9, you’ll attach it to the main rope near the other anchor point. Wrap the rope around your anchor point (tree, branch, pole, etc.), then bring it back to the Figure 9, pull it tight, and secure it:
If you have a Nite Ize Figure 9 Carabiner, you’ll clip the carabiner over the rope, wrap the rope around the tree, bring it back to the Figure 9, pull the rope tight, and secure it:
Example D: Using a Figure 9 Carabiner to Secure a Load
Tie your rope to a tie-down on one side of the bed. Clip your Nite Ize Figure 9 Carabiner to a tie-down on the other side; toss the rope over the load, bring it to the Figure 9, pull the rope tight, and secure:
You can also put the Figure 9 Carabiner on the same tie-down you originate from, loop your rope through all the the tie-downs, and bring it back to the starting point. Then secure it to the Figure 9. This lets you use one length of rope and one Figure 9 Carabiner for the whole load:
Example E: Using a Nite Ize Figure 9 Carabiner Like a pulley
Secure your rope above the load. Clip the Figure 9 Carabiner in the same location. You can often clip the carabiner right to the rope itself. Loop the rope through your load (for example, if your load is a bucket, loop it through the handle), then up over the smooth hook of the Figure 9. Now you can raise the load with a 2:1 advantage, just like with a pulley. To secure the load, wrap the rope through the second hook on the Figure 9.
WARNING: Stay within the load limits of the Figure 9! For the large Figure 9 Carabiner, that’s 150 lbs.
When I first picked up the Nite Ize Figure 9 Rope Tightener at my local outdoors store, it seemed like a gimmick — just another cheap, money-grabbing doo-dad. That is, until I let myself try one out. It was a windy evening up in the High Uinta Wilderness, rain just on the other side of the ridge from us. Not only did I have to get my tarp up quickly, the wind battled every step of the process. Under those conditions, I got the ridge line wrapped around a tree trunk, and seconds later, it was tight and secure. The guy lines went out just as fast, one hand holding the tarp from flapping around, the other securing the lines to the Figure 9s. I was impressed. And the next morning when the lines came loose without having to untie a single knot? Well, let’s throw in a terrible pun and say … I was hooked.