Most preppers who have spent any amount of time amassing the skills and gear they will need to take on a survival situation, or tackle apocalyptic conditions are familiar with the bread-and-butter items needed for the task: Food, tent, water filter, bush knife, etc.
These are the items that most typically think of when considering gear that might save the day. But there is a humbler class of survival gear that could wind up being just as important, one most people would never consider their use in a survival context.
Some common items and even things that you would throw away as trash might turn into vital survival tools in the right circumstances.
Some of these quirky and characterful items have uses beyond their intended purpose, where others can be improvisationally utilized when purpose-made gear is not available, lost or worn out. Regardless, these surprisingly useful items deserve a place in your kit.
Below you will find a list of 20 quirky survival items that just might save your life when the chips are down and many of them can be used in ways that you would least expect.
You don’t have to include every single one of these in your kit, but you should definitely learn how to employ all of them. We will get into the list just below.
1. Pencil Sharpener
The humble pencil sharpener is a surprisingly useful survival tool in certain contexts. You can employ a pencil sharpener with dowel rods, thin branches or twigs and even, believe it or not, pencils to produce sharpened points on a variety of wooden objects, and even some others.
The usefulness of a sharp stick is not debatable, though it might produce a few chuckles. Sometimes, a sharpened stick is just the right tool for the job!
The sharpened points produced by a pencil sharpener are useful in all kinds of constructions, from trap triggers and fishing hooks the weapons like spears, gigs and arrows.
You can even use a sharpened stick as a stake for secure lashing points and other constructions. As the cherry on top, the thin paper-like shavings produced by a pencil sharpener make excellent if short-lived tinder.
If you plan on adding a pencil sharpener to your kit, spring for a durable one.
Floss is obviously super useful for keeping your teeth clean and healthy, even in a long-term survival situation, aside from oral hygiene and has another survival power; flaws make some excellent and bodaciously strong cordage out of all proportion to its cost and diameter.
Floss makes an excellent lashing for a variety of applications, including securing arrow and spear heads to shafts. It also has some utility for tying off heavier loads when it is braided or employed with more secure attachment.
Floss also makes a pretty good tripwire or snare for smaller game. No care must be taken in the latter application since the captured animal can easily chew through it if able to reach it.
Floss is so compact and so lightweight there’s almost no reason why you shouldn’t have a spool or two tucked in your kit.
Might as well keep the surprising survival uses of toiletries going with toothpaste.
Just like floss, taking care of your teeth during a survival situation is just as important as everyday life, especially when living through a long-term or indefinite term event. But toothpaste is good for more than just keeping your pearly whites in tip-top shape.
Toothpaste is a mildly abrasive quality to it that makes it a surprisingly good metal polish, and you can use that polishing quality to shine yourself up a reflective signaling mirror or the bottom of an aluminum soft drink can in order to focus the sun’s rays to start a fire.
Toothpaste also works well as an improvised cleaning agent to help you remove nasty, sticky messes from your hands or your gear that can then be easily washed away with water.
4. Dryer Lint
Dryer lint is one of those strange survival supplies that the old-school preppers knew about, but as time goes on it seems the newer generation has either omitted it or forgotten about it entirely.
Dryer lint has no purpose for most people and is only bound for the trash can, unless someone is a weirdo who collects it! Well, call us weirdoes with them, I suppose, because you should be keeping a portion of your dryer lint, too!
Dryer lint is an excellent fire-starting material, burning very hot and quickly. You should collect and compress dryer lint so that it can fit into a small capsule for easy storage and safekeeping.
The old-fashioned film canisters were perfect for the task but you can use anything that is reasonably waterproof. All you need to do is fluff it up a little bit before putting a flame to it and it will catch fire instantly.
5. Glass Bottles
You might think a glass bottle has no purpose after it has been drained of its contents but you would be mistaken. A glass bottle can be put to use in several survival scenarios, not the least of which is as a ferocious impact and lacerating weapon.
No one needs any instruction on how the nasty shards resulting from a broken glass bottle can be put to gruesome use on defense or offense at close range.
Beyond that, the glass fragments that you can harvest from a glass bottle can be scattered on a hard surface to serve as a noisemaker and early warning system if trod on.
Even if they are detected by human adversary, they will have to slow down to cross them quietly or attempt to move them, buying you time. You can also bury a glass bottle that has the wide bottom knocked off facing up as an improvised pit trap for small game like mice.
6. Aluminum / Steel Cans
You should never be too quick to pass up a source of quality metal in a survival situation, especially one where you are already very limited on what supplies and gear you have access to. The common, humble soup can or soda can is capable of being crafted into all kinds of useful devices, or repurposed for its raw material.
Soup cans and other steel cans in particular can easily be crafted into small stoves for heating and cooking, and with a little time and patience can be cut in folded into a variety of useful shapes, including weapons.
The thinner, more flexible aluminum cans may be fashioned into fishing lures, choker-style hooks, arrowheads and more.
As mentioned above, the bottoms can be polished into a type of concave lens, useful for starting a fire or even signaling. Don’t be so quick to kick the can down the road! You might be throwing away a useful resource.
And I’m not talking about useful survival manuals and other prepper-centric books either! I’m talking about any other kind of book, new or old, soft cover or hardback, big or small. You can repurpose books for all kinds of surprising and interesting survival uses.
One of my favorite techniques is to create a book safe out of it, a compartment able to hide valuables or sensitive materials in plain sight.
Another use that might become very important indeed, especially during a pandemic, is the tearing out of their pages to use as toilet paper. Simply crumple and uncrumple the page a few times to soften it, and you’ll be ready to go, literally.
That same paper also works well as an aid to fire starting and if you care to stack or arrange multiple books in a row they even make surprisingly decent improvised armor against gunfire. A bookcase full of old books at a strategic chokepoint in your home can shield you from bullets!
8. Mouse Traps
You might consider adding mouse traps to your survival stockpile, and not just for keeping pests away from your stash and your shelter although they will do that with chilling efficiency.
The mechanism of a mousetrap is, by design, an extremely efficient and sensitive trigger that you can repurpose for other traps of various purposes, with one of my personal favorites being setting up a snap light on the bed of the trap and stringing it with a tripwire in a visible place.
If a person, or large animal, hits the tripwire it will activate the trap cracking and illuminating the snap light.
Also one should not forget that mice and other rodents are a common and undervalued source of animal protein for food during survival situations.
Consider that you can bait and set a flotilla of mouse traps for far less energy and a higher chance of return than larger traps for bigger game. You might be better off pursuing the “quick nickel” school of trapping for calories.
There are few preppers who undervalue the usefulness of writing utensils in a survival situation, since you will be scribbling down notes, vital information, sketching maps and so much more.
But what preppers do underestimate is the necessity perhaps of leaving messages on natural materials or improvised writing services. This is where chalk comes in handy.
Everybody used chalk at some point in their childhood, either in school or out; doodling on the sidewalk, solving a problem or completing an exercise on a blackboard and more.
You can do much the same with chalk in a survival situation and though it is far from the most permanent form of marking it is much faster than etching or engraving.
You can also rest easy knowing that your message or markings will eventually disappear entirely from exposure to water and wind. Chalk can also be ground to act as a desiccant and sprinkled upon a flat surface to provide a visual indication of the passage of people or small critters.
10. Panty Hose
Pantyhose are a truly strange item for survival, but despite what misgivings you might have the material they are made from is uniquely capable of certain tasks.
First and foremost, the ultra-fine elastic mesh the pantyhose are made from makes it a great option for pre-filtering water, or even incorporating a second- or final-stage filter in an improvised water purification setup.
Second, it makes a great insect or fishnet. Pantyhose also have some utility, if you can take the time to fashion several together, as a mosquito mesh or netting that is capable of blocking even the smallest insects like noseeums.
Lastly, pantyhose are surprisingly adept at preventing blisters, and if you are worried about blistering your feet during some particularly hard work or hard tracking ahead as you should be you can slip on a pair under your socks to give your feet a little extra protection and earn yourself some better mileage.
Remember: Laugh all you want, but blisters can be show stoppers, something you can ill-afford during a real survival scenario!
11. Steel Wool
Steel wool is a handy if unconventional survival item for preppers. It can of course be used for its typical purpose of removing rust, buildup another unwanted deposits from metals of all kinds, but it also makes a wickedly good fire starter in conjunction with a 9 volt or AA battery.
All that you need to do is take your steel wool, roll it up into a rough tube shape, and then pull out and tease the ends of the roll into a thin tapering section on either side.
Get your firewood ready and your tinder in place, then cautiously touch one end of the steel wool to the negative terminal on the battery and the other to the positive terminal.
In no time you will see segments of the steel wool glowing like a hot coal, more than hot enough to get your tinder going even in unpleasant conditions.
This is often far faster and more reliable than trying to utilize any primitive method of fire starting, so remember to make use of this if you have much in the way of junk but little in the way of proper survival gear!
12. Snare Wire
Snare wire is another good addition to your survival toolbox for its intended purpose, catching small and medium-sized critters, but also for its additional uses as high-strength cordage that will resist abrasion and even use as a tripwire for early warning systems.
Snare wire works beautifully for lashing arrowheads or spearheads to their shafts, and so long as you have a blade capable of cutting with it you can work with it with little difficulty.
Cutting snare wire is one application where having wire cutters on your multi-tool or built into your knife sheath will definitely pay off. This will save the primary blade from a little bit of abuse.
13. Zip Ties
Zip ties are a useful lashing component that no prepper should go without. They are fast and effective for securing all kinds of things to something else, creating quick loops for routing or hanging cordage, securing a bundle of like sized items, making hasty attachment points on gear and more.
These work beautifully for securing trap components or creating temporary hold-downs that will show evidence of tampering or passage if broken or forced. You can even use the tapered end of a small zip tie as an effective handcuff shim.
The largest varieties can also help in creating temporary splints for broken bones when used cautiously. As an attachment point that is fast and truly secure for light and medium-duty applications zip ties cannot be beat, and you would be wise to include a variety of sizes in your survival kit.
It stands to reason that quite a few of us will want a smoke to help calm our nerves during the stressful business of survival, but aside from giving you some perk and soothing your nerves, cigarettes have other survival uses.
For one, they make excellent bartering fodder, especially for people who are not getting their nicotine fix under the circumstances and tobacco, even processed tobacco, has mild analgesic properties that could come in handy if you are lacking in proper medical supplies.
Also, don’t forget that pretty much the entirety of a cigarette is designed to burn steadily, and they make a halfway decent fire starter especially when you need one that burns a little bit slower.
Also, despite the health hazards of long term use nicotine is a noted mental stimulant, and if you need some serious pick-me-up for a grueling task or a long march ahead, smoking a cigarette is one way to give yourself a little pep, and still good as a social bonding activity despite the negative connotations.
Liquor is another vice that you probably don’t want to be imbibing on the regular during a survival situation no matter how bad the outlook is. You will be at your best when you are sharp, but that doesn’t mean liquor doesn’t belong in your survival stash.
Very much like cigarettes, high-proof liquors are excellent trade materials because there will be plenty of people looking to numb the pain of the trials and travails they are currently going through.
And now as in years passed, liquors also have some utility as disinfectants, and can be used for everything from rinsing an open wound in a pinch to clearing nasty germs and other mild infections from your feet.
Also, not for nothing, anytime alcohol has a proof of 80 or above, it can be expected to reliably ignite, with anything over 100 proof burning very well. Remember: Most alcohol will burn with a blue flame, and some even burn almost invisibly so remember that if it appears like your alcohol failed to light.
16. Safety Pins
Safety pins are another innocuous item that seems to be beneath notice for serious survival purposes, but they nonetheless can do the job in a pinch. The spring steel that safety pins are fashioned from works excellently as fishing hooks and with a little shaping as suturing needles.
A handful of safety pins can easily be attached to a sturdy stick for use as a gig or arrowheads for birds and small game. Safety pins can also be fashioned into a variety of trap components like toggles if the situation calls for it.
Also don’t forget the utility of safety pins for attaching things to other things, particularly fabric. Safety pins work great for temporary repairs of busted zippers and buttons, and can be used in a series to hold a gash in fabric together.
Safety pins are commonly used for attaching casualty reports, or other important medical information to victims or patients who cannot communicate on their own behalf or reliably.
Sometimes the most reliable form of communication for the situation at hand will be a written note pinned to something visible.
Tampons are another uniquely capable survival tool but not for the reasons you are thinking. Old, Fuddian prepper lore tells us that tampons work great as a tool for treating gunshot wounds, but this is far from the truth as there is no way a tampon can deal with the hemorrhage produced by a gunshot wound.
But what tampons can do is work as a rudimentary filter straw for drinking from found water sources, keeping the larger and nastier particles out of the water you are drinking.
If you don’t need a tampon for water filtration, the cotton wadding found inside is highly dense, fibrous and burns readily, making it a useful bit of tinder.
The plastic hole of the tampon also has a variety of uses in improvised construction. Don’t forget that you can always use tampons as trading fodder during a long-term grid down situation, as most women will not be willing to go without.
Common cork, be it from a wine bottle or cork paneling, has a variety of uses for the savvy survivor. Cork makes a great fishing bobber, so including a wine cork with your survival fishing kit is a great idea.
Cork is also excellent for dampening sound and you can use it to line the inside of noisy containers to reduce your sound signature when traveling with your BOB.
Lastly, cork paneling is easy to puncture (as you probably know), and it is an easy thing to incorporate a panel of cork with foliage and other detritus in the local area to make a sort of camouflage trapdoor over a hide or a trap.
It is not ideal, but cork soaked in any flammable liquid can be easily lit and will burn steadily for some time, making this a great aid for getting a stubborn fire going.
Never leave home without your prophylactic! You never know when you might need a condom, but hopefully you aren’t worried about random hookups in the middle of a major SHTF situation.
Despite this, a condom can save you a lot of grief all the same. Condoms made from latex and other synthetics are incredibly stretchy and can actually make effective if fragile water bladders so long as they are not treated with spermicide.
You can also use a condom to replace a lost cap on a bottle or jug that can serve as an improvised canteen, and they also work wonders for covering the muzzles of long guns to prevent the infiltration of rain, mud and sand.
20. Garbage Bags
Garbage bags are a prepping superstar if you are surviving on a budget or just about all out of supplies.
Common garbage bags and especially the heavy-duty can liner-type will take care of all kinds of survival tasks, including water collection, shelter creation, ground cover, being fashioned into a poncho and even made into a sleeping bag.
The latter is a trick that the homeless living in many cold climates are well acquainted with. If you take two large can liner style trash bags, cut the bottom out of one before taping them together into one large bag, and in stuffing the interior with newspaper you will have a surprisingly effective sleeping bag that will keep out moisture and cold.
Combined with some appropriate cold weather clothing, this might keep you alive when everything else fails. Don’t go anywhere without a couple of trash bags in your kit, and remember that so long as you have a roll of these useful bags you can do all sorts of things!
Survival is a risky endeavor, one that is best approached with the right gear and supplies in hand. But sometimes, through accident or just plain bad luck, you won’t have the right gear or you’ll lose or run out of it.
This is where repurposed or discarded items can save the day if you can supply a little ingenuity. Take the time to review this list, and commit these items to memory so you can have a good “Plan B” when you need it!