Wilderness Survival: How to Make Rope from Plants

What prepper gear has endless potential uses, but is something folks often leave out?


Forget the latest gear and gadgets. A rope is one of the many survival tools you should keep in your survival kit in case you run into emergencies.

With a few feet of rope, you can do first aid, create a firestarter, build a shelter, or rig traps and snares.

But what happens if you’ve suddenly lost your way back after a camping trip in the woods and forgot to pack a single rope for survival? You can make one from the plants around you. It’s a learning process, but it’s not impossible to master.

In the wild, you’ll come across so many species of plants that you can turn into rope. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do just that:

4 Steps to Making Cordage from Plants

Step 1: Find Plant Fibers

All plants have fiber, but you must find the strongest fibers to make the sturdiest rope. Here are some plants with the toughest fibers:

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle is the most abundant plant in the Pacific Northwest. But as its name suggests, this type of plant stings, making it quite hard to handle. However, you can lessen its harsh effects by proper harvesting and drying. Once you have those covered, you’ll have one of the most valuable plants around.

Stinging nettle isn’t only packed with nutrients and excellent for medicinal purposes; it’s also loaded with strong fibers that can be an ideal material for natural cordage. Just remember to use gloves when handling this plant because its pricks can get pretty uncomfortable.


The yucca is a perennial shrub that grows throughout most continental United States on roadsides, open fields, and sandy woods. A yucca is easy to spot with its pointy, sword-like leaves that stretch out in every direction from its base.

Although you may find different types of yucca that show off wide or narrow leaves, its long green spikes still have the same strong fibers that you can turn into sturdy ropes if appropriately processed.


The dogbane plant is found across all of North America. It grows on forest edges and in forest clearings and can also be seen in fields. The thing about dogbane is that it’s poisonous when ingested, so wash your hands thoroughly after handling it.

Aside from its deadly qualities, this plant can be made into the perfect cordage. When harvested after the stems have aged and dried out, the fibers can be detached easily and used for many useful things like rope making.

Western Red Cedar

The Western red cedar is native to the Pacific coast of North America, where it thrives in moist, cool environments like forested swamps and streambanks. This tree can grow as tall as 200 feet. Its outer bark may be relatively thin and scaly, but its inner bark is fibrous, making this tree the perfect source for creating cordage.

Heart-Leaf Milkweed

The heart-leaf milkweed is a species of milkweed native to California, Nevada, and Oregon. It grows in an open or shaded woodland environment like on rocky slopes and a mixed coniferous forest.

Its stem, which you can dry out in the summer or collect in the fall, can be processed into ropes and strings. It was popular among Native Americans then and is still useful for survival today.

Step 2: Harvest Fibers from Plants

Now that you know what plants are the best to make into cordage, it’s time to learn how to extract their fibers. This step is crucial in the rope making process because the way you separate the fibers will determine the strength of your cordage. Here are two effective ways to harvest fibers from plants in the wild:

Water Retting

Water retting is the process of soaking stems and barks in ponds, bogs, and slow streams and rivers. This process softens the tissues surrounding the fiber strands to make separation easier. 

Here’s how you do it:

  • Submerge your bundles of stalks in water and weigh them down with stones or wood.
  • Soak them for 8 to 14 days, depending on water temperature and mineral content.
  • Separate the fiber strands from the stalks and dry your threads before wrapping them into rope.

Keep in mind that water retting only takes about 8 to 14 days, so make sure you soak your stalks only within the specified timeline. Why? Under-retting makes separation difficult, and over-retting weakens the fibers.

Cutting Through the Bark of a Tree

If you’re looking for the strongest and longest plant fiber for rope making, most inner barks of trees have it. The Western red cedar, for example, has long stringy fibers that you can make into several feet of cordage.

For this method, you’re gonna need a sharp knife that can cut into a long section of the outer bark. When you successfully remove the outer bark, you can start peeling off the long fiber strips from the inner bark. If the fibers are a little tricky to peel off, soak them in water first.

Step 3: Buff the Fibers

Once your bundles of fiber are entirely dried out, you can start refining them further through buffing. This removes any residue of woody splinter-like bits in the threads.

Buffing is performed by rubbing the fibers together between your hands until the strands are soft and smooth. With continued buffing, your threads will appear fluffier and paler. At this stage, when you’re satisfied with the results, you can start wrapping your fibers into cordage.

Step 4: Wrap the Fibers into Rope

To ensure your rope is durable and won’t easily break under pressure, you wanna reverse wrap your cordage. With this wrapping technique, your cordage won’t come undone because it’s caught in opposition to friction, meaning you have fibers twisting one way while the other bundle is twisting the other way.

How to Reverse Wrap

As explained in the video, you wanna go two-thirds up your bundle and start twisting both hands away until you form a little loop. This loop is where your cordage starts.

Next, pinch the loop with your left hand, then using your right hand, grip the bundle furthest away from you and use your thumb and pointer finger to twist away. Once you bend away, reach under and grab the bundle closest to you and then turn the whole thing towards you.

Now that you’ve increased your twist on the cord, you’ll want to move your thumb and pointer finger of your left hand to pinch the new end of the rope. From here, you switch hands and repeat the process until you reach the tail of the thread. Lastly, lock it using an overhand knot unless you want to make a longer rope.

How to Splice

You can splice shorter pieces of fiber together to make a longer piece of rope. To weave your cords together, marry the new bundle with the shorter end of the old line. Next, twist the whole thing a couple of times to get it nice and tight, then continue wrapping using the same technique.

Repeat the entire process of the reverse wrap until you pass the short end of the rope. You can keep adding shorter pieces until you get your desired length of cordage. Don’t forget to lock your rope with an overhand knot once you’re finished. 

Final Thoughts

Rope making is a ton of work, from identifying the right plants and harvesting the fibers to buffing and wrapping the threads into cordage.

However, it only takes a few practices or more to master. When you get the hang of transforming natural fibers into cordage, your rope will come out looking firmer and slender. 

What’s even better is that this skill will undoubtedly come in handy for emergencies.

Did you like this article? Check out our other articles for more DIY content.

Posted in  DIY   on  October 1, 2021 by  Pat C.0


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