11 F&S Reader-Submitted Survival Gear Hacks


What is the fastest emergency tool for starting an outdoor fire? How should you pack a first aid kit for backcountry hunting adventures? What’s the best way to pack what is arguably the world’s most useful tool (duct tape, of course)? Few situations can inspire on-the-spot, life-saving ingenuity like a real-world survival scenario. Here, readers share their best and smartest survival tips. And be sure to check out past collections of readers’ camping and fishing tips.

1) Start a fire with pencil shavings

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Pencil shavings work great as sanders.

When I’m having a hard time finding dry materials for a fire, I reach for some of the secret weapons I keep in my survival kit: a pencil and pencil sharpener. All you have to do is sharpen the pencil (dead pine works too) and collect wood shavings to use as dry polish. Pencil shavings lighten easily. -Ron McLane

2) Vacuum seal a first aid kit

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Vacuum sealed first aid supplies keep them dry and the pack takes up less space in your backpack than a larger kit.

I use my vacuum sealer for more than just venison steaks. Bandages, gauze and other first aid items can be sealed and shrunk inside a small plastic bag, keeping them dry and giving you more space in your pack. This works well with matches too. – Jeff Orr

3) Touch the blade of the knife to the edge of the car window

If you’ve ever found yourself wearing an animal next to your car, this is for you. Roll up your window and notice that the top edge of the glass is a little rough. While it won’t turn a dull knife into a razor, the edge of a car window can be used as a ceramic rod to sharpen a knife blade. -Pete Christensen

4) Add a fire starter to your knife

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Give your trusty Swiss Army Knife another go.

A small replacement flint – the kind used with a striker who squeezes it to light a lighter – makes for a spare emergency igniter. I drilled a 1/16 inch hole in the threaded end of the flint, threaded a small split ring through the hole and connected it to the lanyard hole on my Swiss Army Knife. Just hit the knife on the flint for a spark. This wouldn’t be my first choice for starting a fire, but it works and a backup never hurts. – Mark Crowe

5) Make a waterproof shell for your matches

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12 and 16 gauge spent shells work well as a defensive matchbox.

I rely on an old but still useful tip to keep my strike-anywhere matches safe and dry. I place them inside a spent 16-gauge shotgun shell, covered with another spent 12-gauge shell. This keeps my matches in a compact, rugged, water-resistant, floatable container for whenever I’m ready to use them. -Ryan Arch

6) Wrap the snare wire around everything

Good wire is one of the most important survival items you can pack. It’s great for tying sticks, perfect for hanging cooking pots over the fire and can be turned into traps for small game. I wrap my knife handle and cooking pot with wire so I don’t forget to pack it. But one of my favorite places to store wire is right under the head of an ax or hat. Wrapped tightly around the ax handle, the wire will protect the wood from excessive blows until you need to use it. – Jim Grozik

7) Carry duct tape, minus the heavy duty roller

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As long as you have duct tape, you can survive almost anything.

Duct tape can be a lifesaver. But carrying an entire roll takes up valuable space inside a backpack—and you probably won’t need that much tape. Instead, I wrap a few meters around a Bic lighter so I always have a short supply inside my pocket. If you need more, you can wrap some around a Nalgene bottle. – Ben Wagner

8) Make repairs on the go with a glue stick

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Add a glue stick to your keychain for quick fixes.

A glue stick offers countless solutions to problems encountered outdoors – drilling a hole in your canoe, repairing fishing rod tips, regluing arrow joints. I punch a hole in one end with a lighted paper clip and attach it to the key ring on the emergency compass in my survival kit. That way, I know it’s always there. When I need to make a repair, I simply heat the end of the glue stick and apply where needed. -Ken Holtz

9) Drying stuffing for lighting fires

Before heading out into the woods, I always hit the laundry room and grab a few wads of dryer lint. Dryer lint will take a spark from an iron rod almost immediately. It’s lightweight and if kept dry, you can rely on it to start a fire in tough conditions. But if you forget to attack your dryer trap, don’t worry. You likely carry some already – just check your pockets and socks. – Carl Skinner

10) Keep a hook and leader in a matchbook

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Turn the book of matches into an emergency fishing hook.

A simple and safe way to hold a hook is to wrap it inside a matchbook. That way you are never without a rope when backpacking, ice fishing, etc. And you’ll always have a spare lighter too. Slip the hook point behind the matches at the base and wrap the line around several times. On the last coil, lift a match and secure the line behind it. – Howard Gibson

Read more: Stock up on a premium first aid kit with these 11 essentials

11) Store Tinder in a chewable tin

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Recycle old chewing gum containers to keep your skin dry.

If you dip smokeless tobacco, you can use one of the empty tins – which are quite waterproof – to store the fuel. Split the thick wood into pencil-sized sticks, then shave off small pieces using a standard pencil sharpener or your knife. Keep shaving until you end up with smaller and smaller pieces. When you need it, remove a tip and it will start easily. – Paul Thompson





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