HEMP by Gene Hickman


I am a very large fan or Hemp Rope and hemp fabric. It is also the most correct rope for us to be using in our 1800-1840 Rocky Mountain Fur Trade interpretation.  It was not only the most common rope in the 18th & 19th century it was almost the only type of rope. From 70-90% of all rope, twine, and cordage was made from hemp until 1937 (Herer 2000). After 1937, due to the concern about marijuana and laws enacted to prohibit it hemp rope and all other hemp products all but disappears in the United States. It was only after this prohibition that manila and sisal rope really took off, although they had been around for a long time and for most of us manila or sisal has been our primitive or “old timey” rope.


If you want to be correct replace all of your manila or sisal ropes with hemp rope. You will find that the hemp is a superior rope, not damaged by sunlight, is much stronger and softer, with standing heat, mildew, and insects. A 6mm (about ¼”) hemp rope has a breaking point of around 407 pounds and is probably all of the rope you’ll ever need. I have replaced all of my ropes with hemp. I especially like the 4mm (3/16”) rope and have put it on all of my shelters, tarps, etc. The 4mm has a phenomenal 215 lbs. test. I have the 6 mm on my canoes and the 10mm as my tipi tie down rope. We recently started using the 6 mm and 8 mm for tying down panniers and bags on our pack horse.


Here are some other weight tests for hemp rope courtesy of Mackelfish Mercantile: 

4 mm 3/16” = 215 lbs.

6 mm ¼” = 404 lbs.

8 mm 5/16” = 803 lbs.

10 mm 3/8” = 1540 lbs.

12 mm ½” = 1914 lbs.

16 mm 5/8” = 2728 lbs.


Hemp fabric and hemp straps also have all of the same attributes of the rope. I have hemp pants which are almost indestructible and I have a “Market wallet” or cloth saddle bag made of hemp. Additionally I have an 1803 (Lewis & Clark era) Army frock of hemp, a hemp strap on a canteen and had a hemp gun sling on one of my former trade guns. Hemp is not only strong and durable, but I’ve found that it takes a dye quite readily too. When doing research into early 1800s Army uniforms I found that not only were the majority of all uniform and even civilian items of linen and hemp, but often the term linen was used for hemp items too.  This makes it somewhat more difficult to differentiate what an historic garment was made of, linen or hemp. Although I found that hemp was used for those less expensive items, especially if they were going to have to withstand a lot of rough use, like army fatigue uniform items. All of the old sails for ships were hemp and of course all of the rigging was hemp. You’ll find that the Russia Sheeting and others were as often of hemp as they were of linen. Tents, tarps and canvas were hemp and only later were made of the cheaper cotton. That is, when cotton got cheaper as it was originally more expensive than hemp or linen.


Today most hemp fabric and hemp rope comes from either Romania or China, but hemp is now coming back in other areas as well. There are also more and more good sources of hemp rope and other hemp products becoming available from traders like Mackelfish Mercantile run by Robert McLeish an AMM brother in California. A link to Bob’s Mackelfish Mercantile can be found on the trade blanket page of this website. You want historically correct? You want durability? You want hemp.


Herer, J.  2000. The Emperor Wears No Clothes: The Authoritative Historical Record of

Cannabis and the Conspiracy Against Marijuana. 11th Edition. AH HA Publishing Co., Van Nuys, CA. Pp. 330.


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