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Survival hacks are solutions that break the rules. The best survivalists don’t just blindly follow rulebooks, so we hack when necessary. Sure, there are hundreds of survival guides we learn from but you’re at a huge disadvantage when you rely too heavily on any one resource.
Real survival is a creative endeavor that requires fast thinking and an open mind. Sometimes you have to improvise, adapt, and make it up as you go along. You have to make split-second decisions. You have to work with what you have got.
You have to think like McGyver by survival hacking your way to safety.
Some of the following survival hacks are my own personal tricks, others I have learned from different survivalists, but together they are very useful and applicable in most any survival scenario.
But remember: you can always “make up” a new survival hack on the fly. All you need is a goal and a handful of random materials. There’s always more than one way to solve any problem.
The following list of survival hacks is not comprehensive. In fact, these 34 survival hacks are just a small drop in a much larger bucket. But this list will inspire you in a creative survival sort of way.
The Survival Hacks (We’ll Start Simple)
1 – Dorito Fire Starters
If you need to get a fire started ASAP, but don’t have paper or lighter fluid, use Doritos (any corn chip will work well). These chips are flammable and will ignite quickly. They are a perfect makeshift tinder to get a small quick flame. Time to survival hack your way into building a much larger fire.
They are a perfect makeshift tinder to get a small quick flame. Use Doritos to survival hack your way to build a much larger fire.
2 – Alcohol Swabs as Fire Starters
Similarly to Doritos, alcohol swabs are incendiary. The alcohol makes them flammable enough to catch quickly and the cotton holds a flame long enough to establish a lasting fire.
3 – Battery as Fire Starter
Another great survival hack to generate flame is to use a battery and a couple small pieces of tin foil (or wire). By placing one tin foil strip on each end of the battery, you can get the foil to heat up and burst into flame.
Any battery will do, and the flame generated should be big enough to set fire to paper, thin bark, alcohol swabs or even Dorito chips.
4 – Pencil + Jumper Cables + Battery = Fire
Simply attach the cables to your car battery like you are giving someone a jump. But connect the other ends to a pencil.
The graphite core of the writing utensil will conduct electricity, heating up and causing the pencil to burst into flames.
5 – Crisco Candles
Often times, in survival situations, people lose electricity to power their lights. But fear not! As in times of old, you can use candles to generate light. But what can you do if you are fresh out of wax candles?
Crisco makes a good candle “wax” substitute. Just run a makeshift wick through a big glop of it and you’ll be good to go.
6 – Crayon Candles
Crayons are more than just art supplies for kids. They can be stood up on end, lite on fire, and viola you have a makeshift candle. Each crayon candle will only last about 15 minutes but you can get a box of 96 crayons. That equates to 24 hours of emergency light.
7 – Terra Cotta Heaters
Here’s a survival hack for when there is no electric heat, and you need to warm up a small room. Well, without a fireplace, starting a fire in the living room is out of the question. But there is another way: terra cotta conducts heat very well and radiates the warmth that it collects.
By placing a few candles beneath an upside down terra cotta pot (which can easily be bought at any hardware or garden store) you can create a mini-heater that will pump out a surprising amount of heat.
Set up a few of these makeshift heaters and your home will be nice and toasty in no time!
8 – Coke Can Alcohol Jet Stove
Cut the top of the coke can off about 2-3 inches from the bottom of can, and turn it upside down. Drill or poke holes in the bottom of the can so that air can flow through the ‘stove’. Place a gel fuel tin (or something similar) under the upside down coke can and light it.
You may have to adjust the size of your holes and the airflow somewhat, but once you get it, you should have a working jet stove.
9 – Wild Plants For Insect Repellant
Smoke of any kind works as a general insect repellant, but a few wild plants work as well.
The video below is proof that the right wild plants will keep these dangerous pests at bay.
10 – Super Glue Stitches
Super glue is small, easy to carry, and when there is an open wound that needs closing there really isn’t anything (short of actual stitches) that is better suited for the job.
Just make sure to pinch the laceration closed until the glue dries.
11 – Makeshift Slings
Slings are one of those things you don’t need until you really need one. Luckily, they are pretty simple and really easy to improvise: bandanas, t-shirts, hoodies, blankets and tarps can all work.
If it is too big, cut it, if it is too small, tie a few together.
12 – Hunting Broad Heads From Keys
With the right kind of tools and a file, a key can be shaped into a makeshift hunting broadhead.
13 – Duct Tape Fletching
If you are making your own arrows, you will undoubtedly need a form of fletching. Fletching is the feather (or foam, or plastic) “rudder” at the end of your arrow. It stabilizes the shaft during flight and increases accuracy by a great measure.
In a pinch, when you do not have the time to craft fine fletching on each arrow, duct tape can provide the necessary stiffness to balance the flight of your projectile.
14 – Can Top Fishing Hooks
Fishing is one of the best ways to gather food in wilderness surviving. But finding the right materials is not easy. Luckily, one very common item makes for an almost perfect fishing hook: pop tops!
The fun little tags on top of your beer and soda cans are a great shape to make a fishing hook out of. All you have to do is remove one segment of the top and file it to a point. And there it is: you’ve got yourself a functional fishing hook.
15 – Gorge Fishing Hook
Gorge fishing is one of the oldest methods for fishing. Human beings have been using this technique for thousands of years to catch fish, and it is pretty simple: sharpen both ends of a small twig or stick, and carve out a notch in the center of it.
Wrap line around the carved notch and stick your bait on one sharp end. Drop the gorge hook in the water, and when a fish swallows it, pull the line hard and the twig will turn sideways inside the fish, lodging in its throat and securing your dinner for the night.
16 – Fish Trap from 2-liter Bottle
Take the cap off of the top and cut that end of the bottle right just where it reaches full thickness. Flip the smaller piece and insert it back into the bottle, in reverse. You may have to make a few cuts in the cap end so that it fits snugly inside the bottle’s body. Tie (or otherwise secure) the inverted cap end inside with wire or string.
The basic idea of this trap is the same as any commercial crabbing trap: for fish to swim inside, where they will not be able to swim back out.
Of course, don’t expect to catch any monster fish with this, but it is a good way to secure a few mouthful of minnows.
17 – Yucca Sewing Kit
This is one of my favorites, but it is also only viable in certain geographic areas of the United States.
Yucca is a sharp, agave-like plant with big fat leaves that end in sharp barbed points. Cut one of the leaves off the plant, and start shaving off the edges, until you are left with a long thin, single strip of Yucca with the barb at one end.
Now, cut that thin strip in half and twist the two strands together like a small rope. This will increase the tensile strength of the twine and leaves you with a sharp needle and a thread with which to sew your torn garments.
18 – Water Bottle Ceiling Lights
Need a ceiling light, but don’t have electricity? We got you covered. Just fill a transparent water bottle with water and cut a hole in the roof of your shelter (this probably will not fly in the house).
Jam the bottle up in the hole, and there it is! The light will travel through the water and disperse (hooray for physics), creating a source of light to brighten up your darkest days.
19 – Desk Lamp Water Jug
Gallon jugs of water can work as lamps too! Just fill them up, and wrap a headlamp around them. The light from the headlamp will turn that gallon jug into a bright desk or table lamp.
20 – Improvised Compass
This is one of the oldest and most useful survival hacks in the “book”.
Get a cup or puddle of water (it does not matter as long as it is still and not flowing), lay a leaf in the center of it and gently place a sewing needle or piece of wire on top, so it floats. The magnetic fields of the Earth will naturally orient the needle to point North/South.
This trick has saved thousands of humans over the centuries and is a hack every survivalist should know well.
21 – Rain Collection from A Tarp
All you need is a large tarp and a 5-gallon bucket to collect a significant amount of water when the skies open up. Even in a light drizzle, you can collect a decent amount of drinkable water with this simple survival hack.
22 – Signaling Whistle from Bullet Casing
Maybe might have noticed that larger spent bullet cartridges look a lot like whistles. This similarity was not lost on us, and with a few precise cuts, you can make a very loud, very shrill whistle, perfect for signaling distress.
23 – Folgers Toilet Paper Protector
What is worse than going to the bathroom only to discover you have no toilet paper? Going to the bathroom and discovering that the toilet paper you did bring is soaking wet… I only had to make this mistake once before I changed my ways forever.
Now, I use a coffee can to house my toilet paper, keeping it forever dry! Zip lock bags work well too and pack easily.
24 – Condom Canteen
Yeah, you read that right. Those trusty rubbers are good for more than just baby-prevention, they can also save you from dying of thirst.
Fill one up with water, and carry it with you if there are not any other viable options for transporting the water. Just make sure the condom is not used, or flavored, or lubed.
25 – Improvised Reflective Signals
These can be fashioned from any number of reflective materials; rear-view mirrors, CD’s, polished metal and even jewelry can work.
Of course, some are easier to work with than others. But as long as it shimmers in the sunlight, you should be good to use it as a distress signal.
26 – Tarp Shelters
Survival shelters are hard to come by in many situations. Especially a waterproof shelter. But with a
But with a large survival tarp, you can make sure that you stay dry and protected from the elements.
Tarps do not insulate very well, though, so while it is possible to just hang one up and pass out underneath it, you won’t be staying warm for long. So, the best way to remedy this it to build a small stick frame (like that of a tent) and lay the tarp over it.
Then, pile dirt and moss and leaves up against the sides of the tarp, this will act as insulation and keep your heat from dissipating too quickly.
Snow can be substituted for the dirt in winter (like an igloo).
Here’s where you can get an Aqua Defender King Camo Tarp like the one in this video.
Complex Survival Hacks
27 – Hunting Bow from a Bike Tire
There are a few slightly different methods to accomplish this, but the general idea is the same. First cut the frame of a bike wheel in half, clean out the spokes and sand down the sharp edges.
Then create a guidance system for your string with a couple of well-placed eyelets along the cut rim of the wheel.
The video below goes into much greater detail. It takes time, and it requires a number of supplies to accomplish successfully, but this is the kind of thing that could be used for hunting or self-defense in a pinch.
28 – Makeshift Raft
If I learned anything from the movie Jaws, it’s that empty plastic containers float pretty well. That simple fact applies to smaller containers too; like drinking water bottles and gallon jugs.
By fastening a bunch of empty plastic containers together – either with string or by wrapping them all together in a tarp – you can create a pretty big flotation device capable of carrying at least one person.
29 – Coffee Can Wood Burning Stove
Coffee cans are useful for a lot of purposes. But perhaps my favorite (and one I learned years ago, back in cub scouts), is the wood burning rocket stove.
Turn the metal coffee can (plastic won’t work, sorry) upside down on the ground, and punch a couple of ventilation holes in (what is now) the top of the can. You can also cut a small circle of the flat part for increased airflow.
Cut a square out of the side of the can where you can feed the fire inside. Now all you have to do is collect wood, and keep the inferno inside your coffee can burning.
These stoves work great for cooking outdoors when you don’t have a gas stove or don’t want to cook over an open fire. They also generate a lot of heat and can act like a small heater on chilly nights.
30 – Blanket Chair
Just because you don’t have access to your favorite Lazy Boy recliner, doesn’t mean you have to forsake comfort entirely.
By building a tripod A-frame out of 4 or more solid branches, and tying a blanket or a tarp to it, you can make a very comfortable, single person camp chair, perfect for keeping your bum off the cold ground.
31 – Homemade Penicillin
If you are not familiar with the revolutionary excellence of penicillin as an antibiotic, you need to get educated. This awesome little mold was one of the first ever discovered antibiotics used to fight bacterial infections.
And in the wilderness, or in a survival situation, having an antibiotic to fight an infection will absolutely save your life.
Before antibiotics were discovered, people regularly died because of small cuts that got infected. And you will too, without antibiotics. But you need to be careful, making sure to follow every step in the process as closely as possible.
And I wouldn’t wait around until you have an infection to start growing penicillin – because that is already too late. This is one that needs to be planned ahead by growing your own or with survival antibiotics…
32 – Ping Pong Ball Smoke Bomb
Have you ever tried lighting a Ping-Pong ball on fire? If so, you know that they are incredibly incendiary. They light up like the 4th of July.
By wrapping tin foil around the ping pong ball, and leaving a funnel for air at one end, you can create a fairly effective smoke bomb.
Put a flame to the bottom of the tin foil wrapped ball until the plastic inside ignites. And BOOM! Smoke will start billowing out the funnel.
33 – Grass Tire Pressure
If you get a flat tire and do not have an air pump, a spare, a patching kit, cell service to call for help, or any other viable option, you can fill a burst tire with grass and other foliage to provide just enough support to drive on it.
Simply cut a few holes on the inside of the tire and start stuffing! Obviously, you will not be able to use that tire ever again – it will need to be replaced – so don’t do this unless you have no other options.
34 – Improvised Perimeter Alarms
Security is important and becomes more important in survival situations. Air horns, firecrackers, or any triggering device can be rigged with string to go off when someone trips the wire.
A well-planned perimeter alarm system can help you get a good nights sleep when you’re concerned about trespassers.
You can pick up some Sentry Alarm Mines that work with .22 rounds. When tripped, these will fire off the .22 round and make one hell of a bang.
The Final Word
There is no “right way” to survive. Each individual is going to have his or her own survival style, tricks, and hacks. I highly encourage everyone to develop your own…
No website, book, or teacher will ever capture every possible survival hack. Quite simply because, there’s always new ones being developed by clever survivalists. Anyone with a handful of materials, a goal, and the will to survive, will rig together things in order to stay alive.
So share your own survival hacks with us today in the comments below!
– Will Brendza
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