37 Awesome Survival/Prepping Hacks

July 1, 2013 by | 31 Comments

Many people think that if they just have this one tool, or the right gun, or a super-secret hide out, they can survive anything. They are wrong.

The thing about survival, whether it means walking 100 miles through the Amazon back to civilization, persevering after a natural disaster, or fighting off the hoards of imaginary zombies that are never coming, the most common attribute of those who survive is creative thinking—improvising to accomplish the necessary tasks. In a survival situation, you won’t have the luxury of driving to your local supermarket or hardware store, so you need to learn how to work with what you’ve got before the time comes.

Water Bottle Fire Starter

In a survival situation, you’ll usually either have a disposable water bottle or a Nalgene bottle on hand, or you’ll likely be able to find a disposable water bottle because of thoughtless litterers who have passed through the area before you. Thanks to the curve of the bottle and refraction from the water, you can focus sunlight into a beam capable of igniting tinder to start a fire. It’s not as intense as the beam you’ll get from a true magnifying lens, but it’s better than nothing.

TP Roll Sprouts

I recommend storing as much food as space allows, but true sustainability can only be achieved by growing your own food. Using old toilet paper tubes filled with soil is a great way to get your seeds started in an easily controlled environment, and once the sprouts get large enough to move outdoors, you can simply place the tubes into holes in the ground. The cardboard will disintegrate, and the roots will grow down through the open bottom.

Store Rice/Beans

The packaging that rice and beans come in is porous and easily torn which reduces the shelf life of your valuable food. A better alternative is to transfer these dry goods into 2–liter soda bottles, which are made from much thicker plastic and offer an air-tight seal. If like my family, you don’t drink soda, you can probably get more than enough bottles from friends. You can ensure an even greater shelf-life by adding an oxygen absorber to each bottle.

AAA Batteries

You can use AAA batteries in place of AA batteries by simply balling up some aluminum foil to fill the gap in the battery compartment. Both types of batteries output 1.5 volts and differ only in amperage (AA batteries produce a little more than twice the amps than AAA batteries do) but in a device like a weather radio or flashlight, this isn’t something to worry about.

Beer Can Lantern

I think we can all find an empty beer (or soda) can lying around, and when combined with a candle, we have a handy improvised lantern that produces a fair amount of light.

Bike Wheel Bow

Darren Hall posted this genius improvised bow made from a bike wheel and parts you can find in any hardware store, and shares his step-by-step instructions on Instructables.com.

Tarp Raft

Need to cross a river or lake without being devoured by alligators, frozen to death, or drowned by your gear? Simply lay out a tarp and pile small lightweight branches (the idea is to fill it with buoyant materials that will also create plenty of air pockets) in the center, then wrap the ends up and bind the entire raft with paracord or string. Be sure to test your raft thoroughly in shallow water to ensure it will carry your weight and not fall apart before venturing into deeper water.

Crayon Candle

If you have kids, you likely have far more crayons lying around the house and in the couch cushions than will ever be needed—these make great emergency candles.

Chalk Trail Marker

Anytime you venture into the wilderness, you should carry a few pieces of chalk—ideally, those giant sticks of sidewalk chalk. If you happen to get lost, marking your path along the way (on trees and/or rocks) are useful both to ensure you don’t wander in circles and to help search and rescue crews track you down. The chalk is environmentally friendly and will eventually wash away. Hopefully, after you’ve found your way home or been rescued.

Circuit Board Arrowhead

You can make a super simple, super effective improvised arrow or spear head from an old circuit board. Enough said.

Crisco Candle

Simply plug a wick into a can of Crisco to create a makeshift candle. This is about the same brightness as a typical candle, but it lasts much longer. I’m told it will burn continuously for 30 days, but I’m not sitting around long enough to verify that. Bottom line: it burns for a really long time.

Dorito Tinder

This will make you think twice about the crap you’re putting into your body. Doritos and most other snack chips are highly flammable and make great tinder. You’ll just need to weigh your needs carefully—will the calories in your belly or a toasty fire be more valuable based on your current food supply, environment, and physical condition?

Duct Tape Fletching

Improvised weapons come in handy, and we all know duct tape fixes everything. This takes it a step further using duct tape to create things; in this case, arrow fletching. Simple, cheap, and effective—what more could you ask for?

Egg Radiator Patch

I want to emphasize that while you can use an egg to plug a hole in a leaking radiator, this is an absolute last resort. It may or may not work (it depends on heavily on luck because a bit of egg must lodge into the leak) and may cause permanent damage by plugging up your heater core—so only use this technique if it’s your only way out of a survival situation.

Garbage Bag Rain Coat

In the tropics, rain may just present an inconvenience; in the Marine Corps, we routinely patrolled in the rain, but in colder climates, getting wet can lead to hypothermia which can quickly lead to death. If you have a few garbage bags in your bug out bag (and you should), just cut a few holes and you have an instant rain jacket. You won’t win any fashion awards, but you will stay dryer and warmer.

Glasses Fire Starting

Eyeglasses are essentially a pair of magnifying lenses. They can be used to collect and focus sunlight into a concentrated beam of light that can easily ignite tinder to start a fire. You can also use a camera lens or other curved clear glass.

Glowstick Perimeter Alarm

A mousetrap and a cyalume glow stick is a simple, cheap way to set up a perimeter alarm system. This won’t make much noise so it requires someone constantly watching for a glowing light to appear. Ideally, keep your tripwires short and use more alarms so that you can more precisely identify the location of intruders.

Gorge Fish Hook

A gorge hook is one of the simplest fishing tools known to man, and has been used since the beginning of recorded history. Simply whittle a short piece of wood to a point of each end and a groove in the center. Then tie string or fishing line tightly around the groove and embed the hook into your bait. When a fish swallows it and tension is applied, the hook will turn sideways, lodging in its gut, making it easy to pull your next meal in.

Grass Tire Repair

Most people don’t have an air compressor in their vehicle so how can they repair a flat tire? A short-term solution is to cut small holes into the sidewall and fill it with grass until the tire is relatively firm. When you get back to safety, you will have to replace your tire—there is no repairing this—but the key is that it will enable you to get home.

Hacksaw Knife

I have a particular fondness for re-purposed tools, and this mini-knife is a perfect example of that. Most of us have a few old hacksaw blades, and once they become dull, turning them into a new tool is a far better option than simply throwing them away. Here’s the beauty: all you need to create this is an old hacksaw blade and a metal file.

Headlamp Jug

Headlamps are great until you try to talk to someone wearing one. Then you just feel like every redneck who claims they’ve been abducted by aliens. The solution is to turn your headlamp inward, facing a 5–gallon jug of water. Between the translucency of the plastic and refraction of the water, light gets bounced all over the place, creating an area light similar to a lantern, rather than a focused beam like a flashlight.

Improvised Bow

Improvising a bow is simple: bind several flexible reeds, like bamboo, tightly together tiered by length. You’re not going to get the same power as your $600 carbon fiber compound bow, but you can produce enough power to take down most two and four-legged predators.

Keys Fist

A fist full of keys make a powerful, yet discreet weapon that you always have handy and can be carried anywhere without arousing any suspicion.


Corrugated cardboard doused in anything flammable (paraffin wax, oil, lard, etc.) and packed tightly into an Altoids tin can be used as a lantern that fits in your pocket. A side benefit is that when you close it (it will go out immediately) you can toss it into your pocket for added warmth, or even use it as a hand warmer.

Plastic Bottle Boat

The ingenuity of humans never ceases to amaze me. A boat can easily be made from trash, such as water or soda bottles, milk jugs, 5–gallon jugs, etc. Most Americans live the easy life, rarely stepping outside of relative safety, but think about the number of people who have fled Cuba on rickety boats just like this.

Pot-in-Pot Refrigerator

Keeping perishable foods cool without power is not a new technology—our ancestors have done it long before refrigeration existed. With two terracotta pots, sand, water, and basic physics, you’ll be in business. Place some sand in the bottom of the larger pot to raise the smaller pot the same level, then fill the space between the two with more sand. Place your fruits and vegetables in the center pot, and pour water in the sand between the pots. Evaporative cooling will draw heat away from the smaller pot, keep them nice and cool. A few important recommendations: your smaller pot should be glazed, neither pot should have a hole in the bottom, and you should cover the whole unit with a wet cloth.

Reed Boat

Building a reed boat is time-consuming, but worthwhile because they tend to be far more durable and maneuverable than other improvised methods like the tarp raft I mentioned earlier. Build up a bundle of reeds thick enough that you can just fit your hands around it, and bind them with the inner strands of paracord or other string. Repeat this process until you have enough bundles to form a solid base and sides. The key is binding your reeds tightly—both when binding the individual bundles and when binding the bundles together.

Rocket Stove

A decent-sized empty can and a sturdy knife allow you to make a small stove that helps focus the heat of your burning fuel on your cooking device. (Pot, pan, skillet, etc.)

Seed Hole Maker

It can be a pain to place your seed holes at a consistent distance and depth when you need to cover a large area, but this tool stamps them all at once. If you need to cover a larger area, you can either build a larger version or simply stamp and move.

Shell Whistle

All you need is a hacksaw to turn an empty shell casing into a very loud signaling whistle.

glow stick signal

A length of string can be used to twirl a cyalume glow stick as a signaling device, making it much more obvious and visible from a greater distance.

Soda Tab Fish Hook

These simple no-frills fishhooks can be made by clipping away metal with your Leatherman a filing them to a point.


Achieving sufficient caloric intake can make a big difference in your chances of survival, and crappy food can make that tough. Some people are easier to please than others; give me a bottle of hot sauce and I’m happy to eat damn-near anything, but your neighbor may think he can’t eat a meal without a gourmet selection of herbs and spices. Regardless of which category you fall into, why eat crappy food when it’s as easy as filling a few Tic Tac containers with your favorite herbs and spices?

Tarp Shelter

A tarp makes an improvised shelter that can be broken down in a hurry. Just be sure to add a drip line unless you’re a masochist who enjoys Chinese water torture.

Toilet Paper

During the Civil War, troops were told to keep their powder dry. Today, you have more important things to worry about, like keeping your TP dry. It’s easy to make a toilet paper dispenser from an empty coffee can, protecting it from the elements and ensuring a clean fresh bum as long as you have a supply of toilet paper.

Wax Cotton

Depending on your environment, good tinder can be hard to come by, but you can make your own by covering cotton (cotton balls, dryer lint, maxi pads, etc.) in paraffin wax or petroleum jelly. A Ziploc bag full holds plenty for even an extended outing and weighs next to nothing.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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  • Beat The End says:

    Wow there are some very ingenious inventions you listed. Thanks for the great info.

  • bruce marusich says:

    great stuff!

  • Christopher de Vidal says:

    Good stuff. Also, certain kinds of disposable bottles can actually purify water when left in the sun for eight hours (or overcast skies for two days). Google SODIS.

  • shtfscenario says:

    The pop bottle boat is brilliant but I wonder how they’re all fashioned together?

    I’ve used tuna fish cans and cat food cans with corrugated box/wax to make a nice candle. The lid can serve as a flame adjuster. Four notches spaced evenly around the rim of the can and 2 strong rubber bands can hold the lid on for transport.

    Thanks for the ideas, very useful.

  • malweatherly says:


  • Olivia says:

    Just double checking…..with the jeer pot….the smaller, inside pot should be glazed? I hadn’t read that, thought both pots should be unglazed. Can’t wait to try this project.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      I recommend a glazed pot for the center because then you can use any liquid (impure water, saltwater, even urine) to keep the fruit and vegetables cool. The glaze prevents the liquid from passing through to the food.

  • Some good stuff here. The only one I take exception to as a personal protection instructor is the keys between the fingers thing. Using them as shown is only going to hurt your hand and fail to concentrate force. Instead take your biggest key, or even attach one for just this purpose, and plays it between your thumb and forefinger. You will probably not be very effective targeting the face first, so instead jam in as hard as you can between their ribs or solar plexus. When their hands come down in reaction to the pain jam the key into their throat or under their chin. With a little training you can do the same thing with your thumb without the key.- George

    • MarineArty87 says:

      Good correction George. I’ve seen the damage that can be done to the hand from a punch with keys.

  • John says:

    dryer lint is excellent by itself for igniting a fire especially if having to use a spark instead of a flame to start a fire.

  • Rosalyn says:

    Thanks, good advice. The metal strapping used to band lumber is easy to cut into very sharp arrow heads for small game or birds. the duct tape fletching finishes up a quick reed or rosebush arrow.

  • Patty says:

    In a pinch, several outdoor solar lights would provide light inside after dark and they recharge during the day!

  • Don Odom says:

    Great ideas! I tell people all the time, the greatest asset in a crisis is a clear head and a good imagination.

  • Diane says:

    Excellent and creative ideas!

  • CT says:

    My dad used black pepper for a leaky radiator. Stopped the leak and smelled real good! It seems the black pepper would swell and stop the leak.

  • Survivalist says:

    You could craft small seedhole makers for your shoes, and the simply walk

  • Tim Spencer says:

    I have taught defensive tactics for about 20 years now and using keys as an improvised weapon is a good tool. I just want every one to think about it before they use there car keys if they need to make a hasty retreat, or there house keys if they need to get inside quickly. Using your keys in such a fashion will ward off an attacker however you risk bending your keys and making them unusable.

  • Dave says:

    Very nice page with very useful tips. I would just like to add that water stored in plastic bottles can become very unhealthy, you can learn more by checking the symbol with a number in triangle, it will tell you how bad or good plastic is. While people like the writer of this article are pro survival, I was thinking what would be best second choice for water storage?

    • teotwawkiandifeelfine says:

      If I had the space – glass. Yes it breaks, but unless it is actively jostled or punched, it’s safe. Plus you may be able use the SODIS type method sterilizing the water. Also it’s reusable for bunches of things. I’d love to find some of the older 5 gallon glass ‘water cooler’ jugs. Heavy as all get out, but be great to protect the water. Good for saving pennies or making wine in. Only wine. Cause anything stronger would be ill-eagle.

      What are the better numbers/letters on the plastic?

  • JO says:

    These are all good ideas except I’m just starting out and I’m not as crafty as I’d like to be. Having the instructions on how to make these things would be phenomenal. How do I go about getting them?

  • EssDee says:

    Great tips!!

    The eyeglasses-as-magnifier will work if you are hypermetropic (positive power / reading glasses). Lenses for myopics (negative power / distance glasses) will spread the rays. This is because reading glasses are convex, and distance glasses are concave.

    I know ’cause I am myopic – my glasses spread the rays.

    • teotwawkiandifeelfine says:

      If the whole set of glasses is concave, wouldn’t you just reverse the lense? I know mine are concave/convex. They are trifocals so maybe they are different.

  • theora55 says:

    Would love more details on the home made rocket stove.

  • cool guy1009 says:

    a bar of soap will fix a radiator for a long timb

  • willowa says:

    Good article! A couple of other suggestions: a paper matchbook with candle wax dripped on it (fold the cover in when the wax is still warm, then open and light the cover or pull out a match or two at the edge). It burns really hot! Secondly, it occurred to me that the birthday candles that you can’t blow out might be useful for lighting on a windy day. You can light one in the protection of you coat or whatever and when you move it out into the wind, and then to the kindling/tinder, it will relight.

  • William says:

    All of these are cool, I’m surprised there wasn’t anything on here about shoe polish being able to be reused to burn or maybe about touching a battery to brillo pads to start a flame.

  • CG says:

    Good stuff.
    Another cool survival trick in winter is to melt thin surface ice between your palms with a twisting motion to fashion a magnifying lens… fire from ice.
    Also, human hair is some of the best tinder for fire starting when everything else is wet.

    If confronted by wildlife, aerosol bug-spray lit with a lighter is a far better deterrent than mace.

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