We’ve all seen it in the movies: the hero gets captured by the villain’s henchmen and is either handcuffed or tied up, but somehow finds a way to break free of their bindings, escape, and go on to defeat the bad guys.
This type of scenario may be viewed as romantic or unrealistic by some. However in reality, there are several ways to escape from zip ties, handcuffs, rope/paracord, and duct tape. If you ever find yourself captured by foes in a SHTF or disaster scenario, with a little know how, you can escape and make it back to your group or family.
It’s important to attempt an escape from your bindings at the right moment. If you are seen escaping from your bindings, it will only complicate things for you. As the old saying goes, practice makes “permanent”. It’s crucial that you practice all of the methods below in a recreational setting, at home, before your life depends on it.
Make sure you’re practicing the right way, using the right methods. Otherwise, you could find yourself developing bad habits. Thus, dooming yourself should you ever need to use these techniques in real life.
Table of Contents
ESCAPING ZIP TIES
Zip ties are extremely useful items in a bug out bag or survival kit, and one of the many uses that they fulfill is none other than to tie people up if necessary.
In order to understand how to escape a zip tie restraint, you first need to understand how zip ties work. Zip ties are made of a durable Nylon material with several, tiny teeth that run down one side of the tie. A molded ratchet is located on the end with several small teeth in a small case.
Since it is molded, the ratchet can allow pressure to be placed downward when the tape is placed through the open case, and then brought back up so that the areas in between the teeth on the tape come into perfect alignment with the teeth inside the ratchet.
This is what causes the zip ties to lock. When this happens, more movement will tighten the tie, but moving it backwards will not. It is precisely for this reason that zip ties can make for an effective restraining device.
Even though they are strong, they are not invincible. In fact, one such way to free you from them is to break them. If you have enough strength, it is possible to break apart the locking mechanism, but you can’t always count on this.
As an alternative method to break them apart, you can raise your hands above your head (assuming they are tied in front of you), and then bring them down with much force and speed against the upper part of your abdomen, while simultaneously pulling your elbows back and apart as much as possible.
If done with enough force and speed, the action will break the locking blade in the zip tie. The downside to this method is that it typically multiple attempts and it does cut deeply into your wrists.
There are two additional methods to break free of zip ties other than actually breaking them. You can pick the lock of the zip tie using a thin piece of material to press the locking mechanism up.
If you prevent the locking mechanism from coming into contact with the teeth of the strap, it’s possible to just pull the zip tie out. Examples of materials that you can use to pick the lock include hair barrettes, a pocket clip, paperclips, or if possible, your finger nail.
Finally, if breaking or picking the zip ties is not possible, you can attempt to cut or saw through them. Look around nearby for a material made of stone, concrete, or brick. Any item with rough edges may work.
Although time consuming, it is possible to cut the zip ties using the friction created by rubbing the ties back and forth over the rough edge.
Just in case there are not materials with rough edges within reach when you are trying to escape, you need a back-up plan. Smart preppers know to replace their shoelaces with 550 paracord so it is always available to them.
How can 550 cord be used to cut through zip ties? Simply remove both of your shoelaces (or more appropriately, 550 cord) and then tie them together.
Next, tie a bowline at both ends of the cord, with the resulting loop being large enough for you to slide your foot over. Next, thread the 550 cord under one of the zip ties, and then put one foot in each loop and move your feet into each loop.
Move your feet so that the cord will move back and forth, similar to how you would ride a bicycle. Eventually, the pressure on the zip ties from the 550 cord will generate enough heat to simply wear through the zip tie.
The faster you make the bicycle motion, the more friction you create and the quicker you will cut through the ties. Once the ties break, replace the 550 cord in your shoes and execute your escape plan.
Handcuffs have been in use for many years, and yet during that time the process by which they work (referred to as the double lock) has largely been left unchanged during that time. In fact, both the single and double lock mechanisms remain virtually unchanged since the invention of handcuffs in 1912.
We’ll start with the single lock handcuffs. Chances are you don’t have a key, so to get free you’ll need to perform your own special magic trick. You will need to fashion your own key out of any wire-like materials you have. Excellent examples of this include a hairpin or a paperclip. Either way, straighten the material out so that you can make it easier to form it into a key like shape.
Next, place the piece of wire into the key hole. With the wire still placed inside the keyhole, bend it to an approximate seventy degree angle. Then, place the wire back into the hole and bend the other end. The resulting shape should resemble a crude wavy line.
Now you can insert this key into the hole, sliding it into the locking mechanism until it’s running alongside the teeth. Simply wiggle the bent piece of the wire until it points in the direction of the locking arm. It should now be in a ninety degree angle when put up against the keyhole. See this video:
The goal is to lift the locking device inside of the cuffs and spring them open. You will need to twist the wire key in different directions. Be patient, it will take several tries.
The double lock is rumored to be manipulation proof but we all know that’s not exactly true. There are many magicians who are able to escape handcuffs with a short period of time. If the magicians can do it quickly, it must be something you can learn to do if you practice enough.
In double locked cuffs, a spring is pushed in the opposite direction of the cuff’s travel, and takes the serrated bar with it. This alone makes the cuffs impossible to escape from using the single lock method. But once the double lock has been unlocked, the bar will slide back over and from then on you can release the single lock.
In order to release that double lock, you’ll need to take a pick and insert it into the upper cut out, but this time around, point the pick in the opposite direction of the cuff’s travel direction. Then, turn the pick in the direction that the actual key would turn in order to release that double lock.
It will need more pressure and tension in order to move, but if done right, the pick will press the bar on the double lock and it should release. Once the double lock has been released, all that’s left for you is to pick the single lock. For a better understanding of the method, I’ve linked this video:
If lockpicking isn’t your thing, you can plan ahead and tie your shoes using the boot lace covert handcuff key, which is a pair of shoelaces where a handcuff key is discreetly attached to the end of the bootlace.
This key have a very miniscule chance of detection and can be used from any position, lying down, standing, or sitting, to unlock your cuffs.
You can also escape from handcuffs using a hair barrette. Remove the middle and then break the barrette. Break off the edges by working the metal forward and backward repeatedly until you end up with two roughly equally sized bands. Determine the smoother of the two edges and break that edge away from the ball where it meets the two edges.
Slide that smooth edge into the cuffs one click in to separate the serrated edges and disable the lock. With some practice, this method is quick and efficient but only works well if the edge is smooth and not jagged.
It’s imperative for you to practice these methods at home with someone standing by with the real key if needed. You don’t want the first time you try to get out of handcuffs to be when you are captured and restrained in a real disaster scenario where your life depends on escaping.
Learn more on escaping handcuffs using shims here.
ESCAPING DUCT TAPE
Duct tape is arguably the easiest restraint method to break out of, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Duct tape, a fabric tape reinforced with polyethylene coating, is undeniably one of the strongest adhesives out there. This is great news for when you need to get something repaired, but its bad news if you’ve been tied up with it by hostile forces.
One way to break free of duct tape is similar to the method for zip ties. Raise your hands above your head, and then bring them down quickly and forcefully against your abdomen while pulling your elbows apart. The advantage here is that you won’t cut your wrists like you would with the zip ties.
With that being said, you can heavily bruise, or break your wrists if you’ve tried multiple times with no success. Exercise caution when you’re practicing this method. Start small, then work up to more layers of duct tape. This way, you can tell what your body is capable of breaking using this method.
In addition to cutting through duct tape with a sharp object or rough edged material, there are three additional ways to break free of duct tape. Each one will work but has its own limitation.
The first to to wiggle and flex your hands and wrists until you are able to pull one hand free. It sounds straightforward, but do not be deceived, it takes a LOT of effort and time. It’s not as quick as the next two methods. The limitation with this method comes into play if the duct tape is also around your arms and torso, making it more difficult to escape.
A second method for getting through duct tape, and you may have guessed it, is to chew through it. If your hands have been tied in front of you at a point where you can bring them up to your mouth, use your teeth to gnaw through the tape or at least weaken it.
This works best if used together with the first method of working one hand free. The obvious obstacle here is your mouth must be free. You will need another strategy if your captors thought to cover your mouth with a duct tape as well.
A third method to escape duct tape is to get the duct tape wet with water. Duct tape is water resistant, not waterproof. This means it can withstand moisture and water for only short periods of time.
If enough water or moisture is applied for long enough, the adhesive can and will fail. The more wet the tape becomes, the easier it is to peel away from whatever it is stuck to—in this case your hands or wrists.
If you have any water bottles or are near a natural water source, get the duct tape around your wrists soaked and you’ll have a much less challenging time wrestling free of them. If you aren’t within reach of a water source and can’t get your hands to your mouth to use saliva, you’ll have to use a different method.
If duct tape is around your mouth, simply extend your tongue out of your mouth and lick the tape surrounding your lips, while simultaneously opening your jaw vigorously. With enough practice, you will be able to free your mouth from the tape, as the adhesive can’t stick to a wet surface.
The fourth and final restraint that we will discuss breaking free from is rope/paracord. The neat thing about rope is that you can actually, in a way, influence how tightly it is tied around you.
Pretend to be cooperative while you are being tied up by holding your knuckles in the direction of your captor, but keeping space between your wrists and elbows. This makes it easier to slip your hands out later when trying to escape.
If the rope is being tied around your chest (to a tree for example), take a huge breath to fill your lungs with air. Hold it as long as you can, hopefully until your captor is done tying you up. When you release that air from your lungs, there will be a little slack in the rope.
The first way to break free of your bondages is to cut through the ropes with a knife, rock, or any other sharp object. You can also use something as unsuspecting as a key in your pocket.
Assuming your mouth hasn’t been gagged or taped over, you can use your teeth to loosen up the ropes.
After some work, you should be able to slip out of them. This method is made even more effective if you hold your wrists slightly apart like in the above example.
If none of the above examples work for you (maybe you were expertly tied up or your captors caught you holding your elbows apart) and it’s impossible for you to loosen the ropes or wrestle out of them, then what you’ll need to do is to take your shoelaces (or better yet, paracord if you have it) and make a large loop on both sides.
Next, place one loop around your left foot, bring the rest of the shoelace around your ropes one time, and then place the second loop around your right foot.
Get on your back with your feet up in front of you, and then move your legs as if you were riding a bicycle. In anywhere from fifteen seconds to a minute, the shoelaces should saw through the ropes.
Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in a situation where you will need to break free and make an escape. But when it comes to prepping, you must be ready for anything. Like we’ve mentioned before, have a friend or family member on standby while you practice getting out of these restraints.
The more your practice, the easier it will be to get out of them…and easier for you to make your daring escape should the time ever arise in an SHTF situation.
updated by Reaper 02/01/2018
Nick Oetken is a prepper, outdoor enthusiast but, most of all, he is our in-house firearms expert. Look out for his articles on guns to find out which ones you need for your survival.