While it is hard to imagine how a simple roll of gray tape could be so mighty, duct tape is famous for its uncanny ability to fix just about anything. If you’re planning some quality time outside – where you may be far from the conveniences of modern life – having the necessary supplies for self-reliance is a must. Throw some duct tape in your pack and you’ll be prepared for everything from clothing repairs to first aid solutions and fire starters, with a catchall survival tool for whatever sticky situations may arise.
A History of Adherence
What we now call duct tape was first developed during WWII as a handy way to seal cases of ammunition (soldiers wanted a waterproof material that was strong, easy to slap on, and quick to tear off). It didn’t take long for soldiers to experiment with uses of the new invention, which they nicknamed “duck” tape (both because it is waterproof, like a duck, and because it’s made from duck cloth). Soldiers reportedly used it for vehicle and aircraft repair, as a temporary means to close wounds, and as a general all-around quick fix-it. After the war, the soldiers brought their love of duck tape from the battlefields to the home front.
In the 1950s, companies, including Johnson & Johnson, marketed duck tape as a way to seal metal heating and air conditioning ducts. They also changed the tape’s color from army green to the now standard silvery gray (although, funnily enough, connecting ducts may be the one thing the wonder tape isn’t actually much good for). The rebranding still stuck, as we now know the famous fixative as “duct tape.” In the decades since, duct tape has helped people get out of all sorts of tight spots, from fashion emergencies on the runway to saving the lives of the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 who mended their failing carbon dioxide filters with it. Read on for more genius ways to tap into duct tape’s potential.
Duct Tape to the Rescue
If it’s good enough for wars and space travel, it’s good enough for all sorts of hacks for your next camping trip. When times are rough, here are some ways duct tape may help get you out of the woods.
After a long day outside, there is nothing worse than getting to a campsite and realizing something is wrong with the night’s cover. Here are some ways duct tape may be able to step in to help you get a good night’s sleep.
- Mend a fabric tear: Tear off a piece of duct tape long enough to cover the rip in the tent. Adhere the tape on both the outside and inside of the tent. This should help keep water, dirt, and bugs out of your shelter.
- Fix a broken zipper: Rather than let the tent door flap in the wind and let in the chill, apply a strip of duct tape along the break in the zipper.
- Remedy a broken pole: If a pole snaps in half, put it back together by wrapping duct tape around the two parts. For a sturdier fix, tape a stick alongside the broken pole for reinforcement.
- Fashion guylines: Guylines protect tents from rough winds by increasing stability. If the air is howling and your tent isn’t equipped with guylines (or they’re too tangled to use), fashion some out of duct tape. Make the cord by twisting several lengths of duct tape together. Tie and/or stick the cord to the sides of the tent, and then tie the other ends to rocks or trees, keeping the guylines taught.
- Whip up an unplanned bivvy: No tent? No problem! With some duct tape and a couple of trash bags (which can also serve plenty of survival/camping purposes) you’ll be able to build a tent in no time. First, run a cord (a duct tape one, if needed – see guyline instructions) between two trees, allowing enough space for you to fit in between. Tape two trash bags together and drape them over the cord. To hold the shelter in place, place rocks where the trash bag meets the ground to hold it in place.
Solid footwear is one of the most important pieces of equipment for a quality camping trip. But if treads fail or your feet are in need when out in the elements, here are several ways duct tape can step in.
- Make a basic repair: You aren’t going to be able to hike very far if the soles of your boots are literally falling off, but keeping them strapped on with duct tape will allow you to regain basic function for at least a few more miles.
- Waterproof: Soaking wet socks are no fun. When the rain’s coming down, wrap duct tape around shoes to help keep the water out.
- Construct gaiters: Even if boots do a fine job keeping out moisture, a day of winter tromping can mean wet feet when the snow creeps in around your ankles. Stay dry with makeshift gaiters by wrapping the tops of the boots in duct tape, and continue wrapping the tape about halfway up your calves.
- Fashion snowshoes: This one is going to take a little longer – something you’ll likely want to do at home, rather than when you’re actually in the snow. You’ll need two rolls of duct tape, hot glue, a sharp knife, several sturdy sticks, string, scissors, and a large bowl. Find more detailed instructions here.
Just as the WWII soldiers discovered, duct tape is a great addition to a medical kit.
Note: The following is not a substitute for basic wilderness first aid. Please brush up on your skills with a class before a big trip, and be sure to bring more than just duct tape in your first aid kit.
- Make or enforce a bandage: Place sterile gauze over a cut and hold it in place with duct tape. This is also a good quick fix for blisters (just be sure the duct tape itself is not touching the wound). Alternatively, wrap an existing bandage with duct tape to hold it in place more securely and protect against dirt.
- Wrap a sprain: In lieu of an Ace bandage, wrap your ankle or wrist in duct tape to provide support.
- Stabilize with a splint: Stabilize a possibly broken limb with sticks and duct tape. First, lay sticks on either side of the injured bone. Then hold it all together by wrapping duct tape around the sticks.
- Create a serviceable sling: Fold a length of duct tape down the middle so there’s no longer a sticky side. Tie the tape around your body as a strap to hold an injured arm in place.
- Make a tourniquet: In the event of unstoppable blood, tightly wrap the affected area above the wound in order to stop blood flow.
- Ward off bugs: For walks through grassy fields that may be home to ticks or chiggers, wrap some duct tape around the hem of your pants to keep the bugs from sticking onto you.
- Protect your eyes: You may not always think to bring sunglasses on a winter camping trip. If the sun is beaming—especially at high altitudes—it can intensely reflect against the snow and cause painful and possibly permanent damage to your eyes, called snow blindness. Prevent eye damage with some super makeshift sunglasses. Tape two pieces of duct tape together, then cut horizontal slights over each eye to let in just enough light to see, but not enough to seriously impair corneas.
- Prevent frostbite: Alaskan dogsledders swear by this frigid practice: If it is really cold out, stick duct tape directly to your face (especially around the eyes) to keep sensitive skin from freezing over. Just be careful when removing the tape so as not to take some skin with it.
Did you leave an oh-so-important item at home? Duct tape can be molded into all sorts of basic necessities.
- Craft a cup or bowl: Don’t let a forgotten bowl keep you from enjoying dinner. With several strips of duct tape, you can quickly craft a nifty alternative. Thanks to duct tape’s waterproof attributes, it should be able to hold liquids as well.
- Use as a fire starter: Duct tape is surprisingly flammable. In a pinch, it could be the secret tool to get a campfire going. For an even more reliable fire starter, wrap duct tape around a bundle of dryer lint, and then cover the outside with char cloth.
- Build a makeshift torch: Don’t have a flashlight? Light up a wad of duct tape to provide a bit more illumination – even if short-lived.
- Create a handy hat: When the sun beats down, stick several pieces of duct tape together to form a visor, then use another strip to strap it on. (Be sure to take some selfies showcasing the fashionable new headpiece.)
The Rest of the Roll
- Make an all-purpose cord or rope: A duct tape cord can have a lot of uses beyond just guylines, such as a clothesline, a gear sling, or a way to tie food in the trees to keep it safe from hungry critters. You can also make a heavier duty rope by braiding three pieces of duct tape cord together.
- Repair clothing: If you have a tear or hole in a down jacket or even sleeping bag, place a strip of duct tape over it to help keep the feathers where they are.
- Mend leaky bottles: If your water vessel – be it a plastic water bottle or a flexible water bladder – has sprung a leak, stop it (or at least slow it down) with a piece of duct tape over the puncture.
- Soften sharp edges: There is nothing more annoying than the constant jabbing of a pointy object in your pack. Apply a layer of duct tape to buffer sharp edges.
This list should give you plenty of ideas for duct tape survival, but there are many more ways to salvage your outdoor adventure with this wonder tool. Throw a roll or two into your pack, or wrap several layers around a water bottle or trekking poles for later use, and you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to unstick yourself from all sorts of binds.