Every prepper knows that no matter how you much they’ve done to prepare ahead, there’s no guarantee things will go according to plan. Supplies can run out quicker than expected, tools can break, or food can be stolen. Whatever happens, you must learn to adapt and improvise so you can live to fight another day.
In what follows, I want to show you different ways of hacking everyday objects into survival tools. I recommend you try these survival hacks now, before SHTF, because if you don’t practice them, you won’t be able to remember them after simply watching the videos.
Caution. This article is meant for informational purposes only. It is under the assumption that you will exercise caution and care in doing any of the suggestions presented. SurvivalSullivan.com will not assume responsibility and liability for any injuries and damages that might happen in attempting any of the survival hacks below.
Table of Contents
Candle and Oil Lamp Hacks
1. Butter candle
Using butter is a popular choice for homemade candles. Cut a block of butter and pierce the center using a toothpick. Roll a piece of tissue paper, roll it in the butter to make it flammable and plug it at the center. It should burn and provide light for hours.
2. Orange peel candle
Slice the orange peel around in half without slicing through the fruit itself. Remove the fruit but make sure that the stem remains at the center. This will be your wick. Fill the peel with oil and light it up.
3. Mayonnaise candle
Melt the mayonnaise until it becomes liquid and place it in a container. Twist a napkin into a roll and soak it in mayo. Place the napkin on top of the mayo and its all set to light.
4. Brazil nut candle
This one’s a no-brainer. If you have fresh Brazil nuts lying around, just remove the nut from its shell and light the tip. It’s a simple as that. For a more stable candle, create a metal base as shown in the video below.
5. Tuna candle
Pretty much like your butter candle, make a hole at the center of your tuna can and plug the wick inside. The oil from the tuna will keep your candle burning.
6. Vegetable shortening candle
The use of vegetable shortening goes beyond the kitchen. Simply add a wick and you have yourself a candle that’ll last you for a month or so. The video below shows a vegetable shortening candle that lasts up to 45 days.
7. Crayon candle
This is a pretty obvious choice considering it’s made of wax. Just get a crayon and light the end. You can drop a couple drops of melted wax on a heat resistant surface and stick your crayon candle in it to let it stand.
8. Soda can lamp
Cut the soda can in half. Pour torch fluid on the bottom half and soak a strip of cotton cloth in the fluid. Twist the cloth and fit inside the can tab of the upper half of the can so that a little piece peeks out. Fit the top half inside the bottom half, enclosing the oil and the cloth.
9. Light bulb lamp
You can make a lamp using an old light bulb and oil. Break open the base of your bulb, empty its contents and pour oil inside. Soak your wick (preferably a rope) in the oil, place it inside the bulb, and you’re all set. Since it won’t be stable, make a stand using duct tape or a pen holder.
10. Soda can holder
Another thing you can try with soda can is to cut a section of the can like a window and place a candle inside. The tin will reflect the light across the room, increasing its brightness.
Place small candles on a tray that can withstand heat. Put your clay pot on top of the candles, plug the hole, and a place bigger clay pot on top of the smaller one. This will keep you warm indoors in the absence of a fireplace.
12. Brass Doorknob Lamp
If you can gather some old brass doorknobs and you’ve got access to some basic tools, you can create these practical oil lamps to use whenever the power goes out. The doorknob lamps as seen in the video link above are long lasting and designed so they won’t leak fuel.
Flashlight and Battery Hacks
13. Homemade flashlight
You will need: a piece of wire, a light bulb, and two batteries. Get the wire and hook it securely on the light bulb. Place the batteries along the length of the wire.
Attach the remaining end of the wire on the negative terminal of the battery. You can use metal clips in place of a wire and toilet paper roll or duct tape to hold your batteries.
14. LED and battery flashlight
Believe it or not, you can also make a flashlight with an LED bulb and a 3V battery. Just clip the wires of the bulb on both sides of the battery and the light will immediately turn on. Pretty neat stuff, eh?
15. Tin foil battery
If you are one battery short for a flashlight, you can use tin foil as a substitute. Get a large piece of foil and fold it in half, lengthwise, several times until its length matches your battery size. Roll it up until it resembles your battery. Test it out in your flashlight and behold the light.
16. Small batteries from a big battery
If you need small batteries and all you have are big ones, just pry them open with pliers and you will find smaller ones inside. An A23 battery contains eight cell batteries while a 9V battery has six. If the batteries are a bit small for your flashlight or other devices, boost them up with tin foil.
17. Use a flashlight without a battery
If you’ve got a flashlight but no batteries, don’t throw it out. If you can get your hands on a 6v DC motor and a manual fan, you can produce sufficient power to make the flashlight work again.
Fire Starting Hacks
18. Magnesium and flint fire
Starting a fire without matches won’t be a problem if you have magnesium and flint. Scrape some magnesium into a paper or any flammable material. Next, you will need to create sparks by scraping a knife on your flint. Contact between the sparks and the magnesium will start a fire.
20. Potassium fire
Another example of creating chemical fire is adding glycerin to potassium permanganate to start a fire. Use small amounts though because the chemical reaction can be pretty explosive.
21. Steel wool and battery fire
Just grab a piece of steel wool and touch the terminal of your battery (usually 9 V) with the wool. Sparks will instantly appear, giving you your fire. You can use cotton balls to make the fire spread faster.
22. Dead lighter fire
If your lighter runs out of juice, don’t throw it out yet. Remove the heat guard as shown in the video link above. Flick the flint wheel on the lighter on a ball of tissue, cotton ball, or dryer lint to release the flit shavings.
It may take a while, but your tissue will catch fire from the shavings once you apply spark.
22. Cotton ball fire
Cotton balls and maxi pads make pretty good tinder. Just soak them in petroleum jelly or paraffin wax. You can prepare them beforehand and store them in a Ziploc bag for future use.
23. Chlorine fire starter
Chlorine can serve as a fire starter. Place it in a small container and pour brake fluid on it. A hand sanitizer works just as well.
24. Gum wrapper fire
Cut the tin foil wrapper, from a piece of gum, in three, and store the two pieces for future use. Fold the wrapper half and cut out a small triangle on one side of the folded part.
Place each end of the wrapper on top the two battery terminals. A small fire ensues on the middle of the wrapper. Best to do it while wearing gloves so as not to burn yourself.
25. Sandwich bag and water
If you find yourself stranded and in need of a fire, all you need is a sandwich bag and a bit of water along with some tinder. Follow the steps provided in the video and you’ll have a fire to cook with or to help you stay warm.
26. Split log fire
Chop your log into sections. Place your shavings and fire starter at the center and enclose them with the chopped wood.
27. Soda can stove
You can create your own stove with two soda cans. Cut the base of the two cans, approximately 1.5 inches, with a knife. You can draw a line around the can or put a rubber band to guide you. Stuff one base with steel wool and fit the two bases together.
Create holes around the rim and on the center of the top stove. Pour a small amount of alcohol or any flammable material inside the holes and light it up. You can stabilize the flame by putting a coin on top of the stove.
28. Cinder block rocket stove
To make one, I recommend using four 8”x8”x16” blocks. One will serve as a base, two connecting blocks to put the wood and shavings in, and a top block is to place your cooking implements.
29. DIY rocket stove from a soup can
If you need to boil water or cook food in an urban survival situation, you can create your own rocket stove using found materials and no special tools, other than a battery powered drill and some pliers.
As shown in the video, you’ll need a large can, like a paint can, some fine gravel, and a soup can.
30. Rubber band shooter
A simple version of a bow and arrow is pairing a rubber band with a bamboo skewer. Place the rubber band between your thumb and index finger. Load the skewer on the band. Pull back the rubber band and skewer with your other hand, aim, and release.
31. Balloon arrow shooter
This is another adaptation of the bow and arrow. You will need a deflated balloon, bamboo skewer, and a plastic bottle. Cut the mouth of the bottle and fit inside the balloon opening.
For greater accuracy with shooting skewers, add the toothbrush heads to hold the arrow straight as shown in the video and add feathers or duct tape fletching to your skewer.
Place the skewer inside the balloon. You can now launch the skewer using the balloon as your makeshift bow. This can be useful for hunting small animals or for self-defense.
32. Potato cannon
Join the ends of a 4-inch and 2-inch PVC pipes using an adapter. Use PVC cement as glue. Once the glue is dry, drill a hole on the 4-inch pipe for the lighter.
Push you potato ammo down the barrel using a stick and spray a stream of aerosol into the firing chamber. Cover with lid to keep the aerosol in and immediately light a fire into the drilled hole using a lighter and aim.
33. Watch compass
When charting through unfamiliar woods, best to bring a compass with you. If not, use an analog watch. Just point the hour hand towards the sun and create an imaginary line dividing the hour hand and 12 o’clock sign (measure clockwise before noon and counterclockwise in the afternoon). This line points to the south while the opposite is the north direction.
34. Needle and straw compass
Another compass hack is to use a straw, needle, and a strong magnet. Rub the needle on the magnet several times to magnetize it. Cut two small pieces from the straw and pierce them on both ends of the needle. Place the needle on top of a glass of water and it’ll point north.
35. Open can with no tools
No knife or opener for your tuna can? No worries. Just rub the can surface on concrete surface vigorously until the lip of the lid grinds away. Squeeze the sides of the can and watch lid pop out. You can even open it with your bare hands by creating dent at the center and ending the can to open the dented portion.
36. Toilet paper dispenser
Prevent your toilet paper from getting wet by turning your old coffee can into a dispenser. This super simple hack will be worth remembering when travelling in the rain or in case of floods.
37. Tarp raft
You can make a small raft by using branches and a tarp. Pile the branches at the center of the tarp, wrap the ends, and bind the raft with a string. Test it out first on shallow waters before getting on yourself.
38. Food containers
When carrying grain foods along to your travels, put them in durable containers to keep them dry and intact. Transfer your rice and beans in plastic bottles and your herbs and spices in Tic Tac containers. This way, you get to enjoy your food without the mess.
39. Altoid tin heat source
Bring a little heat source with you by putting an Altoids tin with corrugated cardboard in your pockets, especially on long hikes.
40. Mosquito repellant
Camping outdoors involves having to deal with those pesky mosquitoes. Prepare a simple trap by mixing water, brown sugar, and yeast together to stop bugs for a good night sleep. Those bloodsuckers won’t know what hit them.
41. Glow stick signal
When travelling in groups, best to make everyone keep a glow stick to use as a signal in case anyone gets lost.
42. Vaseline Baby oil for frostbite prevention
Travelling in the snow can lead to frostbite if you’re not careful. Slather some Vaseline on those vulnerable areas like your nose.
Farmers use Vaseline in winter months to protect chicken combs from frostbite. This may not be foolproof, but it can delay the process until you can find some shelter.
43. Food preservation
Preventing food can be tricky without electricity. Store them in your own pot-in-pot fridge. All you need are two clay pots- a small and a big one, sand, and water. First, plug the holes in the pots using cork or duct tape.
Pour sand into your big pot to a height where your small pot will be even with the rim when you place it inside the big pot. Fill more sand on the remaining spaces.
Place your food inside the small pot and pour water on the sand until it is soaked. This action enables evaporation to cool down the food in the small pot. See our full instructions here.
44. Signal fire
In creating signal fires, green pines and spruce are the perfect choices. They produce a lot of smoke, resulting in great visibility across large distances.
45. Keep cool in the dessert
When you find yourself stuck in the dessert, avoid getting heat stroke by peeing on your shirt and wrapping it on your head like a turban. You may not enjoy the stench, but it’ll keep you cool under the dessert sun.
46. Water from leaves
Place the leaves inside the plastic bag. The heat of the sun will release the moisture from the leaves and into the plastic bag.
47. Vicks VapoRub for mosquito bites
Suffering from insect bites? Apply Vicks VapoRub to reduce the pain and swelling. Its cooling sensation will soothe the sting away.
48. Bucket shower
Drill a small hole near the base of the pail the size of your connector pipe. Plug the connector in and add some rubber seals to prevent the water from leaking.
Next, attach a water faucet so you can turn the water on and off. Connect a pipe to the faucet and attach a sprinkler so the water will come out like a shower. Fill the basin with water, hang it up and you’re good to go.
49. Ice pack
You can make an ice pack by combining rubbing alcohol and dishwashing liquid. Mix them together inside a zip lock and store in the fridge before venturing out.
50. DIY thermos
Grab an empty bottle. It can be made of tin, glass, or plastic. Wrap a thick sheet of paper towel around the bottle and cover it up with tin foil. Provide another layer of insulation by wrapping duct tape around the bottle.
51. Flat tire no more
Got a flat tire on your bicycle and no patch or spare? One fix would be to cut small holes into the sidewall and fill your tire with grass, if there is any nearby. This can work to get you to your destination and save you from a long walk.
52. Soda can shim
In emergency situations where you need to bust out a lock, you can use a soda can shim. Cut a square piece from the can. Make a T-shaped form from the square, but with the bottom part round and smooth.
Wrap the shim into the loop of the lock. Push the round bottom of the shim inside and lift the lock up. This may be a little tricky, but the shim will get the job done.
53. DIY cordage
Did you know you can fashion cordage from fibrous leaves such as Yucca, Agave, or Cattail? Strip the fiber from the leaves and start making the rope using reverse wrap technique.
Take the fiber in both hands, twist the fiber in opposite directions until a loop forms. While holding the loop, with two fingers or your mouth, twist both ends in the same direction until it is firm enough.
Wrap the lengths of the fiber on each other in the opposite direction you just twisted to keep them from unravelling.
54. Leaf toilet paper
Running out of toilet paper is no cause for panic when you’re outdoors. Leaves are the next best thing to toilet paper. They have good absorptive properties. Click here to find out more.
55. Leaf insulation
If you’re out in the cold and your jacket is not warming you enough, stuff your jacket with leaves, newspaper, and anything you can find that can give you an extra layer of heat.
A lot of these DIY ideas may seem basic, but they will be deadly useful when the time comes. They are so practical that you don’t have to wait for a zombie apocalypse to put them to good use. Whether you’re hiking, waiting out a storm, or just plain broke, these hacks will come in handy.
Which of these hacks have you tried already? Let me know how they turn out. Or if you have other ideas, please share them in a comment below.
updated by Megan Stewart 09/25/2019