The enlightened survivalist/prepper/outdoorsman is nothing if not flexible. Whether you’re faced with the apocalypse or a hunting accident transcending difficulty calls for quick thinking and the ability to improvise. Preppers all hope their years of careful preparation will pay off if the SHTF. But in truth, there is no way of telling exactly how much S will HTF and what form it will take. So an open mind and the ability to think on one’s feet is essential.
The following survival hacks and tips represent a cross-section of our own ideas and those gleaned from others over the years. It’s not a comprehensive list since, again, who’s to say what form your particular challenge will take? But these hacks should be enough to at least get you thinking in non-linear terms. So here they are, the 20 best survival hacks/tips for 2021.
1. Duct Tape, Don’t Leave Home Without It
Regardless of whether you’re a hunter, hiker, handyman or prepper duct tape is the one thing you should never be without. It’s doubtful that the person who invented this tape to seal heating and air conditioning ducts ever envisioned it would become the go-to material for just about every kind of hack one day, but here we are.
There isn’t room here to list all the potential uses for duct tape, but we’ll cough up a few. Use it to repair holes in your tent, to fix broken tent poles, to repair leaky water bottles, to hold bandages in place over serious wounds, to fix tears in your jeans, to fix rips in your down coat, to remove splinters, patch holes in your boots, hold cracked windows together, improve the grip on your survival knife, to create a splint to hold broken bones in place, to cover blisters (over the Band-aid), to restrain foes and much more.
2. Super Glue Sutures
Even the most well-appointed first aid kit doesn’t typically include a surgical needle and antiseptic thread. Which can mean trouble if you incur a significant gash during a survival situation. Antiseptic, gauze bandages and painkillers are great to have, but they’re no substitute for stitches if stitches are called for.
This is only one of many reasons why you should always include super glue in your survival kit. Simply clean the wound to the best of your ability, dry it off as best you can, pinch both sides together and apply the glue to the length of the gash. You can then cover it with Band-aids or wrap it in gauze to protect it while it heals.
3. Stock Up On Crisco Because… Candle
Not every survival situation entails having to flee from ravenous hordes of peaceful protesters. Sometimes a natural disaster strikes, such as severe winter storms and hurricanes that cause prolonged blackouts. When that happens you may burn through your available candles, and then what do you do?
Well, if you have a can of Crisco available you’re all set. Just open it up, sink a piece of string through the center as a wick and light it up. Not only will the shortening burn brightly, a large tub of Crisco could provide weeks worth of light.
4. Don’t Just Block the Rain, Collect It
No matter the situation one thing remains a constant for human beings: we need to have water to drink or we’ll be in deep trouble in just a couple of days. If a survival situation has dragged on long enough that you’ve gone through all your water it’s not necessarily the end of all things, as long as you have a tent with a rain cover.
When the sky opens up hang the rain cover from your tent between trees with one end forming a V-shaped low point at the edge. Put your collection bucket, bottle or whatever under that low point and collect drinking water while you stay dry under the rain cover. The large collection area of your rain tarp will capture plenty of water quickly, even if the rain is not very heavy.
5. Triple A + Tin Foil = Double A
Let’s say you’re in a survival situation and the AA batteries on your headlamp die. It’s time to resign yourself to the dark, right? Not necessarily. If you happen to have some AAA batteries (and every true survivalist should stock a variety of batteries) and some aluminum foil on hand you can transform the AAAs into AAs.
Just wrap the batteries in duct tape (as we mentioned at the outset, you should always have some with you) to pad them out to the right diameter, then place them in the headlamp and fill the space between the end of the battery and the contact with aluminum foil. Problem solved.
6. Light a Fire with Corn Chips
A lot of survival hacks have to do with starting fires, and for good reason. Fires keep you warm, they allow you to boil water to make your meals, make coffee to keep you going, produce drinkable water, sanitize eating utensils and more. In keeping with that spirit here’s another nifty way to get a fire started if all else fails.
If you don’t have a survival lighter on you, those corn chips you’ve been stockpiling can actually be handy for something other than bringing on a heart attack. Turns out that they burn like gas-soaked paper. So if you can’t find any dry kindling or cardboard or birch bark to get your fire going just break open the corn chips and spark ‘em up.
7. Dry Off Wet Shoes With Your Laundry
Maybe the only thing worse than being in a survival situation is being in a survival situation with wet shoes. Discomfort and blisters will be your constant companion unless you can find some way to dry them out. Fortunately, if you have some dirty laundry in your backpack, you can.
Once you settle down for the night, take off your nasty wet shoes, remove the soaking wet insoles and stuff some of that dirty laundry into the shoes/boots. As long as the dirty clothes are dry and made of absorbent material they’ll soak up much of the moisture from the shoe while you sleep. Just remember to take your socks off too and dry them out.
8. Free Yourself With Paracord
It’s always a good idea to have paracord handy and a convenient way to do that is to swap out your stock boot laces with 550 paracord. Now, let’s say the next lockdown turns into a full-fledged clampdown and you find yourself being wrongfully held with your hands bound by zip ties. Ordinarily you’d be short on options, especially if The Man relieved you of your EDC or survival knife. But with paracord laces freedom is just a few minutes away.
Once you’re sure you’re not being watched just remove the laces and tie them together to make one long cord. Tie one end of the cord around one foot, thread the loose end through the zip tie, and then tie it around the other foot. Now pull your hands away from your feet until the cord is tight against the zip tie and start moving your feet up and down like you’re cycling. As the paracord moves back and forth across the plastic zip tie it will heat it until the tie finally breaks. Just remember to remove the paracord from around your feet before you hightail it outa there.
9. Jump Start a Fire
Small batteries and tin foil are a well-known hack for starting fires. But what if you don’t have any small batteries or tin foil with you? Not to worry, as the Brits say. If your car is handy and you have access to some tinder (or tinder substitute), jumper cables and a pencil you’re all set.
Stack your tinder on a dry surface. Use your knife to shave away the wood on your pencil and expose the graphite at opposite ends. Attach one end of each cable to the pencil, making sure that both alligator claws are contacting the exposed graphite . Clamp the other end of the cables to the battery terminal and start the car. The current from the car battery will heat the graphite until the pencil wood ignites. Use the burning pencil to light your kindling.
10. Those Annoying Trick Candles Can be a Life Saver
If anyone’s ever punked you by putting those trick candles that can’t be blown out on your birthday cake, you probably cursed the day they were born (quietly of course). But maybe you should send them a thank you card instead for turning you on to these incredible survival tools.
Whether you’re lost in the woods or on the road in search of a safe place to hunker down and ride out the collapse, you’ll need light and the ability to make a fire. Thing is, windy conditions can make getting a fire started next to impossible. Unless you have some of those trick candles. Get a couple of them going and place them among your twigs and birch bark and the wind will have no power over you.
11. Improvise a Compass
Knowing how to sew can come in very handy if you find yourself in an extended survival situation. So let’s say you learned some basic stitches and carry a small sewing kit with you in your larger survival kit or bug out bag. If you find yourself lost, and the battery on your GPS device has died, you can get your bearings by putting that sewing kit to good use.
Remove one of the needles, rub the eye end of it vigorously against your wool socks, scarf, balaclava or other wool clothing item (silk will do too), and then place the needle flat on a leaf and place that leaf onto the surface of a puddle or any other still body of water. The magnetized needle will turn to reveal the north/south axis with the sharp end pointing north.
Keep in mind too that at night you can navigate via the North Star. Simply find the Big Dipper then draw a straight line between the stars that form the outermost edge of the dipper part. That line, when extended, will take you directly to Polaris, the North Star. When you’re squared up facing the North Star, east is to your right and west is to your left.
12. Don’t Forget the Tampons
Everyone in your party will potentially benefit if you remember to bring along plenty of tampons. “How’s that?” you say. We’ll tell you. Tampons are designed specifically to absorb blood and other bodily fluids, and that can come in extremely handy if someone incurs a significant wound during a survival situation.
Should someone in your party have a deep gash, reach for the tampons and place one into the wound. If you’ve kept them properly wrapped they’ll be sterile and they’ll soak up the blood effectively, while also expanding to fill out the wound over time. They’re cheap, light and don’t take up lots of space and they could save your life.
13. Who Needs Wood When You Have Ramen?
Let’s say you find yourself in a survival situation but you’ve lost your stove and don’t have access to any dry flammable materials. This might ordinarily be cause for consternation, but if you have some rubbing alcohol in your first aid kit and some ramen in your food stash you’re all set.
Simply punch a hole in the top of the ramen package and pour in the alcohol. Let it absorb for a while. Place a flat rock or piece of aluminum foil on the ground with a rock on either side to suspend your pot over the flame. Then place the alcohol-soaked ramen on the flat rock or foil and light it up. It should burn for 20-25 minutes. Just try and be parsimonious with the rubbing alcohol. You might need to do this again or you might need it to treat a wound.
14. Surround Your Fire with Rocks
Staying warm in outdoor survival situations is crucial. But if you’re working with limited amounts of firewood you’re going to be in a tough spot once the fire dies. Unless you surround the fire from the outset with rocks.
As any outdoorsman knows, once the fire dies things can get cold pretty quickly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Make the most of the heat generated by the fire by surrounding it with rocks. These rocks will absorb heat while the fire is roaring and stay warm long after the flames have died out.
15. Use Toothpaste to Treat Insect Bites
If you don’t have toothpaste in your bug out bag, survival backpack or underground bunker you’re in for a long post-apocalypse. Not just because it will help you maintain your twinkling smile and minty fresh breath in case you meet that special someone who will help you restart the human race, but because toothpaste is another one of those everyday items that can be put to multiple uses.
Unbeknownst to most people toothpaste is actually a pretty good way to treat insect bites. It contains ingredients that help cool down inflamed skin, reduce swelling and relieve some of the itchiness. Toothpaste can also be used to obtain relief from nuisance rashes, and rubbing a bit into your exposed skin can help ward off mosquitos.
16. Crayons Can Bring the Light in a Pinch
Earlier we talked about how shortening like Crisco can make an effective candle that lasts for weeks. But what if you don’t have any candles and you don’t have that type of shortening available? Well, if you’ve got kids and they have crayons you have a perfectly serviceable substitute.
Simply stand the crayons up and light the tip. A full standard crayon will give you about 15-20 minutes of emergency light. If the kids like to draw, and drawing has been helping them stay calm during the emergency, then you’ll have to weigh the emotional cost to them of burning the crayons. But they’re there in a pinch if you need them.
17. Use Your Antibacterial Wipes to Get a Fire Going
You can never have enough fire starting hacks, and this is one of our favorites. You know those antibacterial wipes or prep pads you have in your survival first aid kit? Well, they’re not just handy for cleaning cuts and scrapes. They’re also good for starting fires.
Sanitizing wipes and prep pads are typically soaked in alcohol, which, of course, is flammable. If you’re having a hard time getting a fire started squeeze the alcohol from one or two of them onto the tinder and it will catch fire quickly and effectively. You can use hand sanitizing gel too as long as it contains alcohol.
18. Use a Bra as a Mask
There’s no telling what shape a crisis might take, including the possibility that it might be accompanied by dangerous materials in the air. Volcanic ash, toxic debris from burning buildings, clouds of pulverized concrete and insulation from collapsed buildings and, of course, viruses may all be airborne during a crisis. You’ll need a way to effectively cover your mouth and nose. If you don’t have a surgical mask handy what do you do?
You go braless, that’s what you do. Or you ask your sweetheart to go braless. The cups of a bra are actually quite a nice fit for the average face. You’ll have to do a bit of tweaking to get the straps to work, and some bras are easier to adapt than others. But most bras will do a perfectly serviceable job filtering out dangerous particles in the air.
19. Key Knuckles
Everyone is familiar with brass knuckles that you slip over your fingers to deliver one-and-done Mike Tyson-style right or left hooks to the face. But brass knuckles are heavy and if you’re caught without them when the SHTF then you’re up S-creek. Or are you?
If you are beset by someone who is intent on stealing your backpack full of carefully considered survival items, simply take the keys from your pocket and project them out between your fingers. When swung with proper vigor they’ll open up the weasel’s cheek as effectively as they’ll open the front door.
20. The Grass-Filled Spare
Let’s say you’re fleeing the collapse of civilization and you suddenly get a flat. You’re in the middle of nowhere and you realize you have no spare. That’s it, right? You and your trunk full of survival items that you spent years accumulating will just have to sit by the side of the road and wait for the Humungus and his sadomasochistic horde to descend on you. Right? Not so fast!
If you have a lug wrench with a flat end pry one side of the tire off the rim and stuff the tire full of grass. If you have no way to pry open the tire use your EDC or bushcraft knife to create discreet slices in the side of the tire through which you stuff the grass. You’ll have to keep the speed down, but it should help you get to your destination.
Bonus Hack: Don’t Forget The Aluminum Foil
While it’s not quite duct tape, tin foil has numerous useful applications in survival situations. For this reason you should always have a roll of aluminum foil in your bug out bag, survival bag, or the trunk of your car.
Aluminum foil can be laid on wet ground to create a dry platform to start your ramen fire on. It can be used to create a reflector that bounces heat from the fire in your direction. It can be used as a light reflector to get the attention of others. It can be used to enable AAA batteries to work in AA battery slots. It can also be used to create a makeshift bowl to eat from.
Survival Hacks: Conclusion
Survival situations rarely happen when we think they will or unfold the way we expect them to. The key to transcending difficulty is to stay calm, keep an open mind and remain solution-oriented. That way you’ll be able to think outside the box and find new ways to make use of common items.