Overlooked Survival Items

This is the 4th and final part of a miniseries regarding odd or often overlooked items that could be useful during a survival situation. Here’s a summary of what’s been covered so far:

  1. The first part describes how a towel can be useful if the SHTF.
  2. I channeled my inner Joan Crawford to say “Yes!” to wire hangers because they can be useful in a survival situation.
  3. I then described how survivalists can use rubber bands before and after the SHTF.

I’m taking a different approach this time and won’t describe the many ways a single item can be useful. Instead, this article lists a variety of items and describes how they can make life a little easier for survivalists.

Plastic Shopping Bags

They may be evil to environmentalists in today’s society, but plastic bags have their uses.

  • They can hold items found while scavenging.
  • You can give them to people who trade things with you.
  • Or they can hold your trash. 

Most bags found at the checkout counter aren’t water-tight and tend to break easily. Despite those limitations, several bags (broken or unbroken) can be woven to become a floor mat or window blinds.

Trash Bags

Trash bags hold stuff, but unlike plastic shopping bags, they have water-tight bottoms. They can protect clothes and equipment from the weather or hold rain water.

I especially like 55-gallon bags because the size add versatility to their function.

  • They can be worn as a make-shift poncho (without hood), by cutting a hole into the bottom for your head and two on the sides for arms.
  • They trap heat and humidity and can be used as a solar water heater for showers, or as a still to get water out of leaves[1].
  • They’re large enough to be used as a make-shift sleeping bag too.
  • Heck, you can even build a small shelter out of these large trash bags.

Produce Mesh Bags

Plastic mesh bags are found in the produce section of most grocery stores. The intended purpose of these bags is to hold fruit or vegetables together to be sold in bulk, but they can be reused as netting for catching fish or small animals.

Not all mesh bags are created equal and you should consider the inherent limitations before reusing them.

  • Wide mesh bags are easier to interlace onto a framing material (sticks, metal tubing, wire hanger, etc.).
  • Fine mesh bags may be ideal for ensnaring small creatures. However, some of these may not have a strong weave.

Test the strength of the weave is before using it. If a mesh bag has a fine weave but doesn’t feel durable enough to use in a trap, use it for something else. They sort of look like window screens, and can be used to patch or replace existing screens. When I built my first tiny house and couldn’t find a window screen, I stapled a fine mesh produce bag over a small window to keep mosquitos out.

Magnifying Glass

Before electronic entertainment took over, magnifying lenses were the go-to source of entertainment for bored children on sunny days. Instead of frying bugs, a responsible user can use it to focus the sun’s energy to start a campfire.

Dryer Lint

Lint can be used as tinder for starting fires before or after the SHTF. I bring dryer lint with me while camping because it’s better at starting a fire than other kindling. I suspect the reason why lint is such a good fire starter is because it burns at a higher temperature than wood flakes or pine needles (but I’m not a combustion scientist).

Paper Rolls

The cardboard cylinders found at the center of toilet paper or paper towels, “paper rolls”, can be used to hold things. I use them to hold dryer lint and plastic bags, but they can hold other small items by folding the ends inward (like sealing a roll of coins). As an extra precaution, both ends can be held closed with a rubber band. 

Pencil Sharpener

The sharpness of a knife’s edge dulls slightly every time it’s used, so this is more of a knife-saver. If you’re making spiked traps for small game, a pencil sharpener can be used to form the pointed end to impale your prey. You can even use the wood shavings as tinder for a campfire.

Sharpener Types

The type of sharpener is important. I don’t recommend using those tiny rectangular sharpeners because they’ll strain your hands. You need something with a little leverage, so look for a sharpener with an attached container to hold the shavings. Unfortunately, these are typically made using cheap plastic and can break easily (and you’ll have a tiny sharpener all over again).

I think the best and most durable sharpener is one that mounts onto a wall or desk. They are very durable, the hand-crank makes sharpening easier, and the cover can be removed to sharpen large sticks. Unfortunately, they aren’t ideal for a bug out bag because they’re large and bulky.

Duct Tape

Duct tape can be used in many ways. It’s called duct tape for a reason because it seals ductwork, but it can make quick repairs to leaky pipes… or seal a rupture of hot air from coming out of someone’s mouth (keep someone quiet). It can be used to seal a chipped window or completely replace it.  


Baby wipes or the adult version, Dude Wipes, can be used to clean yourself when bathing isn’t an option. I’ve used wipes on extended camping trips and they get the job done. Even if they dry out, they’re as good as new when remoistened with a little water. 


In addition to maintaining good dental hygiene, floss can be used as thin cordage. Floss easy to travel with and has a built-in cutter. It makes a decent snare line or tripwire for an alarm system. Floss is supposedly sterile because it’s coiled in a container, so a medic could use it to stitch wounds[2]. Heck, most dental floss is mint flavored and the cooling effect could make stitches less painful or irritating.

The downside to floss is its flimsiness. I wouldn’t trust it to be sturdy enough for fishing line, and it definitely can’t be used as a clothes line.

Shoe Laces

Shoe laces are great cordage. Most laces nowadays are as strong as paracord and are a good substitute if you’re running out. They average to be about 3 feet in length, so multiple laces need to be tied together to form a longer rope. I’ve used shoelaces to make tripwires and a clothes line, and tie tarps to tree branches.

Key Chains

A key chain can be used to hold several small tools together. Attaching them to individual items can make hanging and organizing easy. They can be linked together to form a chain and I’ve used such a chain as a free-standing closet hanging rod.


Cans come in many shapes and sizes, which may dictate their usefulness. Soda and small food cans could be stringed up as noise-makers at walkways, hiking trails, or along a perimeter. The pull tabs from soda and certain canned foods make decent fishing hooks. Soda pull tabs in particular can be woven into metallic sheets to make durable hand bags or a window screen.

Cans could be used to measure ingredient portions as well[3]. Simply wash the can and use a permanent marker to write the approximate volume it holds. If you don’t have a marker, carefully use a dull blade or a sharp tool to scratch the “cup” size. Here’s a few examples of what can be used:

  • About ¼ cup: Diced Pimentos (2 oz glass jar; I know… it’s not a “can”)
  • About ½ cup: Deviled Ham (4.25 oz), Vienna Sausage (4.5 oz), or Canned Tuna (5 oz)
  • About 1 cup: Tomato Sauce (8 oz), Canned Corn (8.75 oz)
  • About 2 cups: Canned Beans (16 oz), Diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)

Larger cans may be used to cook food over a fire if you don’t have a pot. A #10 can should be the same size as the pots found in most households. They can easily cook a meal for a family of five, with room for an additional 2-3 cups of liquid if filled to the brim. A large 30 to 40-ounce can of coffee, beans, or corn should be able to cook a meal for 2 people.

Even if you don’t have a large can, 15 to 16-ounce cans are able to hold and cook a meal for one person. 16 ounces may not sound like much food, but consider that military or camping canteens hold about 2 cups (16 oz). That may become the standard meal portion size for each adult person if a camp needs to ration food.

Glass Jars

Most glass jars hold liquids and are labelled with “fl oz” to show how much food is contained within. Some mason jars have lines built into the glass mold, displaying the number of ounces at each level.

Unlike cans, glass jars have a resealable lid that protects the contents from the elements. The lid can even be resealed to preserve foods (canning). Unfortunately, glass has a habit of shattering and such a container probably won’t be practical for some people.

Family Photo

A physical photo of living family members is a good thing to have. If a family member gets separated from your party or is lost, having a photo will increase the chances of being reunited with your loved one. Humans are visual creatures, which means photos are more effective at jogging a traveler’s memory than a name and description.

You may think it’d be impossible for you to lose track of family during a survival situation, but shit happens no matter how careful or prepared you may be.

I previously emphasized having a physical photo of living family members. Here’s why:

  • Physical Photo: Depending on the SHTF disaster, electronic devices (phones, iPads, etc.) probably won’t work. That means photos stored within the device, are probably lost forever. You won’t have that problem with a physical photo. But how do you get one? Photo booths still exist at some bars, tourist attractions, and malls. Even a home-printed picture is better than nothing (but, I’d use a laser printer to ensure the ink doesn’t smear when it gets wet).
  • Living Family Members: Survival is both mental and physical. You can be as fit as a football quarterback and have the best survival equipment, but that’s useless if you lose the will to live. A photo of a loved one can encourage a person to keep going and survive because your family needs you. It doesn’t make practical sense to carry around a photo of a long-lost family member. Keeping such a photo could be a constant reminder of the world you lost and may cause depression.


This is the 4th and (probably) final part of my miniseries about reusing common household items or trash after the SHTF. A wise survivalist will think of how an item can be reused to serve a different function before throwing it away.

Such creative thinking can make life easier in a survival situation… or it may save your life.

[1] Plant Still: Use caution when selecting plants to use in such a still. If a poisonous plant is used, the extracted water will be poisonous too. There’s always a risk of microbial contamination, so be sure to filter and/or boil the water before consumption.

[2] Medical Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a doctor or any type of medical professional. The information presented is for educational and informational purposes only, and does not constitute any professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

[3] Can Sizes on the Label: The amount of food contained in a can is indicated on the label as “Net WT”, which means the weight of the food without the packaging (can). According to many manufacturers, the Net WT is approximate or equivalent to fluid volume in ounces. Note the emphasis on “fluid” volume. dry or dehydrated goods will not have an equivalent volume to weight in ounces (obviously).

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