The proper way to tie your shoes!

The old saying goes that: "All I need to know I learned in kindergarten". Well, I certainly wish that somebody had told me about the proper way to tie my shoes back then! There is recent experimental evidence (but don't bother looking into any scientific journals for it) which suggests there is in fact a right and a wrong way to tie your shoes. The difference is subtle; the effect is not. Tie your shoes the right way and they will rarely come undone. Tie them the wrong way, and you will be frequently tripping over your shoelaces.

The difference rests entirely within the difference between a square knot and a granny knot. Any boy scout or rock climber can probably tell you the difference between the two knots but some people (such as myself) wouldn't have a clue. Thankfully my rock-climbing friend was able to show me the difference, and based on that I created the picture below. The key is to notice which string overlaps which at the various points.

image highlighting difference between square knot and granny knotd

My rock-climber friend also was quick to point out that the square knot is inherently less likely to come undone (which is a rather important point when your life depends upon tying the correct knot). A second friend provided valuable experimental evidence, confirming the importance of the correct knot. In his experiment one shoe was tied using a granny knot while his other shoe was tied using a square knot of approximately equal tightness. In a 12 day observational peiod he noted that he had to re-tie the granny knot 14 times while the square knot never once came undone! Furthermore, a survey of 13 random people showed the surprising results that only 3 used the strong square knot while 10 used the inferior granny knot!

So how can you tell which way your shoe is tied? Simply yank on the loops of your shoe laces until the loops come undone and you are left with a knot. Compare the structure of the knot to the diagrams above and you will instantly discover whether you really learned all you need to know in kindergarten.

Of course one may still be left with the next question of what to do if you belong with the 75% of people who use the inferior granny knot. Well don't worry.... you're not doomed to a life of forever tripping over your shoelaces as there is an easy solution. In fact, all you have to do is change the way you perform the cross-over part just prior to the loop part of tying your shoes. If you normally cross the right lace over the left lace, then switch things around and cross the left lace over the right lace. Then tie the loop part as normal. The net effect will be to change your granny knot into the square knot and your shoes will stay tied!

- My Web Poll -

Which knot do you use to tie your shoes?

Square Knot

Granny Knot


Since beginning this page, I have found that many others also have found an interest in the everyday practice of tying one's shoes. This first link suggests an alternate way to tie your shoes so that it will never come undone accidentally. A couple of people have also suggested the reason that some people tie their laces wrong is due to the parent teaching their child while looking at it from the wrong direction. The child of course just copies what he/she sees, and the result is that the child learns the granny knot even while the parent normally uses the square knot. I have to admit I'm not sure how much this really contributes to the problem since most of the people in the informal poll didn't even know the difference, but it certainly is an interesting theory. Finally, I just recently have had Ian Fieggen show me his webpage on how to tie an 'Ian knot' which makes use of both hands to tie the standard shoelace knot and has the self-made claim of being the 'World's Fastest Shoelace Knot'. While I certainly can say nothing about the claim he makes, the result definitely is a much quicker knot formation which has the added benefit of a more uniform wear to help avoid shoelace breaks.

I guess all this just goes to show that given a problem, someone will find an answer...or two...or three... or..... In any case, I hope this page has helped you to realize that there is indeed more than one way to tie your shoes. Hopefully one of the ways above will help you avoid unnecessary falls due to poorly tied shoelaces!


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Updated June 11, 2001