Gear Survival Gear

How Duct Tape Can Help You Survive Almost Anything

These 10 sticky tricks could save your skin in a survival situation

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During the past 75 years of its existence, duct tape has become a staple product for “fix-it-yourselfers” from every walk of life. This wonder tape has been used for jobs that the original duct tape developers never imagined. The versatile product can mend, bind, patch, repair, and replace many of the items we would need in a survival situation. And best of all, you don’t need any specialized tools or training to use it.

duct tape sunglasses
Use tape to guard against snow blindness. Tim MacWelch

In sunny, snow-covered conditions, some facsimile of arctic sunglasses can prevent snow blindness and keep you on the move. This makeshift eyewear borrows heavily from the traditional eye protection worn by Arctic peoples. The narrow slits restrict the amount of damaging UV light that your eyes receive from sunlight bouncing off the snow, and it’s enough protection to prevent snow blindness. Simply measure around your head (where a blindfold would go), peel off a strip of duct tape twice as long, and fold it in half lengthwise so the sticky side meets. Leave a small bit of adhesive exposed at the end to fasten the goggles together. Set the tape against a hard surface (like ice), cut two narrow slits for your eye holes, and you’re done. And in the absence of other protection like a mask or SPF, you can also use tape on your nose and cheeks to prevent sunburn and offer good protection from windburn and minor protection from frostbite.

burning duct tape
Try using tape as tinder. Tim MacWelch

Need something to help you start a fire in wet weather, or just running low on tinder? A crumpled ball of duct tape will burn for a minute or two when lit with an open flame. Don’t waste your time throwing sparks at it though, since duct tape responds best to the flame of a lighter or match. The secret to its flammability lies with several of the materials that go into this wondrous product. It’s typically made from a cotton mesh, coated with a polyethylene resin on one side and sticky rubber-based adhesive on the other. Now, guess which ones will burn? How about all three.

tick on a leaf
Duct tape can be an effective way to remove ticks that haven't yet latched on to your skin. Pixaby

Ticks are just another part of nature, but that doesn’t mean that we want them all over us. Depending on the species, an expectant momma tick may lay an egg mass with as many as 4,000 eggs in one spot. When these hatch in warmer weather, this “pocket” of tick larvae can be a land mine for outdoor adventurers. As soon as you step in the wrong spot, the assault begins. You may have dozens or even hundreds of baby ticks climbing up your foot and leg. The easiest way to remove these unwelcomed hitchhikers from skin and clothing is duct tape. Just peel off a strip and press is repeatedly on the affected area to remove the tiny ticks. Be very thorough in your tick removal. With certain tick species, even hatchlings can carry diseases.

duct tape arrow fletching
In lieu of feathers, try tape to stabilize arrows. Tim MacWelch

The bow isn’t a tricky weapon to make. At the end of the day, it’s a string on a flexible stick. It’s the arrows that are the hard part. Each finished arrow needs to be lightweight yet strong. It needs to be straight and balanced, too. It also needs to have fletching at the end for stable flight. In the absence of large feathers, duct tape can make a quick and effective arrow fletching. Press matching pieces of duct tape on each side of the nock end of your arrow. Stick them together and trim to the desired shape.

duct tape rope
Duct tape is strong, but twisting it makes it stronger. Tim MacWelch

Even cheap duct tape has a lot of strength, and by twisting the tape, you add even more muscle to it. Twisting duct tape into rope will give you a surprisingly strong cord that you can use for a host of survival tasks. For best results, twist it as you peel it off the roll and use a continuous strip of tape for your entire rope. Just note that splices will be weak spots. Military grade tape has a 40-pound breaking strength while the strength of less expensive tapes is in the 20-pound range. And by twisting the tape, you’ll add a few more pounds to its tensile strength.

duct tape sutures
No first aid kit? No problem. Tim MacWelch

Sucking chest wounds aren’t the only thing you can close with your judicious use of duct tape. You can also make your own butterfly bandage strips by cutting small rectangular pieces of duct tape. Add a smaller bit of tape in the center (sticky side to sticky side) to keep the tape from sticking to the wound. Or you can make four small snips with scissors, and fold the center of the tape in on itself from each side, so that no adhesive is exposed over your wounded skin. Use several of these strips to close long lacerations and just a few to close smaller cuts. Make sure you stick these strips to clean skin and leave them in place for several days. You may tear open a healing wound by peeling these strips off prematurely.

roll of duct tape
Turn strips of tape into all kinds of improvised tools. Tim MacWelch

Since duct tape is so flexible and it sticks to itself so well, it’s easy to form it into a multitude of shapes. From shoulder bags and pouches to water bags and other containers, duct tape is really only limited by your imagination. Make a foraging bag to carry your meal back to camp, or a water bucket to dip into the creek. When stuck together completely, duct tape holds water out or in, as needed. Sure, it makes the water taste like band-aids, thanks to its rubber adhesive, but this is survival we’re talking about. Beggars can’t be choosers.

duct tape restraints
Use duct tape in place of zip ties or handcuffs. Tim MacWelch

If someone is acting up during a survival emergency, you can duct tape his hands together around a tree to prevent him from becoming a danger to himself or others. Or place them on their belly and tape their wrists to their ankles, effectively “hog tying” them. For best results, don’t leave the tape flat. Crumple any open sections so they are less likely to tear.

duct tape trail marker
Tape can make a useful signaling tool. Tim MacWelch

Reflective or brightly colored duct tape is a great material to blaze a trail through the wild or mark a clandestine route through urban and suburban areas. Tear off little pieces and stick them to trees, rocks, sign or structures so you can easily find your way back or lead others to follow your footsteps. Make your sticky signs easier to spot by keeping them all at the same height (like eye level) or in predictable spots (bottom right corner of signs in urban settings). Add a permanent marker to the mix, and now you can write words or draw arrows or other symbols on the tape.

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duct tape shoe repair
Turn busted boots into functional footwear in no time. Pixabay

Does an army move on its stomach? Or on its feet? I think both are true, and in the absence of proper footwear, duct tape can save the day once more. While admittedly slippery, socks wrapped in a generous spiraling layer of duct tape can act as makeshift boots. And bare feet wrapped in this miracle product can tackle tough terrain better than bare feet alone. Furthermore, duct tape can prevent your feet from starring on Naked and Afraid by mending faulty footwear in the first place. Soles coming off your boots? Tape them back into place. Lost your lacings? Tape the top of your boots closed. In a pinch, duct tape can repair and replace your footwear, keeping you mobile in the face of adversity.