7 Life-Saving Garbage Bag Survival Hacks – Part 1

survival-garbage-bag-hacksTrash bags. We use them everyday to hold and collect our garbage.  But did you know this simple piece of disposable technology could save your life in a survival or bug out situation? Here’s how…

Why Trash Bags are Great for Survival Kits

I don’t know about you, but when I’m deciding whether something should go in my already packed out survival kit, it’s almost always gotta be lightweight, affordable, and multi-use.  There are other criteria, durability for example, but these three are important to me.

One of the most useful and versatile items that satisfies these criteria is a simple garbage bag.

But NOT all garbage bags are made the same. So let’s first take a quick look at the types of garbage bags and then consider some uses for them.

Not all garbage bags are created equal...

Not all garbage bags are created equal…

How to Select the Right Size and Thickness

Garbage bags are often measured by both the number of gallons they hold and the thickness of the garbage bag wall.  You can easily find bags that are 55 gallon size or larger and that is what we recommend.

Now, you can certainly use your regular kitchen bag if that is your only option.  But the larger sizes will be able to serve many purposes.

Trash bag thickness is measured in mils. Cheaper bags will have walls 1 mil thick or thinner. This means they won’t last long.  So for survival purposes, we recommend a minimum of 2.0 mil – 3.0 mil thick bags (which are often marketed as contractor bags), because the thicker bags can last a LOT longer with minimal care.

Trash Bag Color Matters

There are basically 3 color choices in garbage bags.  Black, white and clear.  Black bags are usually the ones most readily available in thicker 2.0 mil – 3.0 mil plastic. However, clear bags are best for some water collection tasks.  So because of the small size and weight of even the thickest trash bags, it’s not a bad idea to carry one or two clear AND black garbage bags.

Trash bag rain jacket

Trash bag rain jacket

7 Survival Uses of Garbage Bags

Rain Jacket – Garbage bags make great improvised rain jackets.  Just cut a hole for your head so you can breathe, maybe even arm holes so you can continue to do some work.  If you are just sheltering from the elements, the less holes the better.

Water Collector – Hang your bag in a bush, tree, or a stand you create from debris to use as a water catch basin.  This could include rain, or snow.  You can also gather water from a creek, stream, or similar body of water and then haul to a separate location.  You can then boil, douse a fire or use the water you collected to clean game.

Garbage bag ground tarp

Garbage bag ground tarp

Ground Cover / Mattress – Simply lay on your bag to keep your body or gear separated from the moisture and debris on the ground. Upgrade this idea by

stuffing the garbage bag with leaves, cattail heads or other soft debris to insulate your body from the cold ground and help form a “mattress”.

Sleeping Bag/ Insulator – Stuff it full of dry debris so that is can serve as an insulator and wear it.  Heat from your body will be captured inside in the forest debris, inside the bag and help to hold the warmth.  If it is not raining, poke some holes in the bag for moisture to escape.  Otherwise the condensation will remain in the bag and all the contents, including yourself, will get wet.

Trash bag water collection

Trash bag water collection

Transpiration Bag – Place a clear bag over green vegetation, water will evaporate out of the green material and collect in the bag.  This could be a real life saver.

Solar Still – Although a transpiration bag (mentioned above) is my first choice because it puts off more water than does a solar still, a solar still can prove life saving in the worst of “last ditch” situations.

Gear Carrier – In an urban survival situation, It’s easy to fill trash bags with clothes, food, and supplies, and then grab the bag and go in a survival situation.  In the wilderness a durable garbage bag can make a very suitable carrier for wild edibles, harvested game, and even fire starting materials.  If the bag is clear you can easily see what gear you have and where it is, in the bag.

As you can see, garbage bags are not just for garbage anymore…  they are a vital, lightweight and affordable resource that you can easily add to your survival kit or supplies.

~ About Craig Caudill ~

Craig-Toon-BustCraig Caudill is the Founder and Chief Instructor of Nature Reliance School. He specializes in wilderness and urban survival, land navigation, scout/tracking and defensive tactics training for private, public and government agencies. Craig is a frequent survival and preparedness contributor to TV outlets, blog sites, magazines and is a popular online outdoor educator on YouTube via Nature Reliance and Dan’s Depot channels.

Craig also has advanced rank in both Judo and Aikido and continues to teach and train after 20+ years of training in each and is also an avid student of all things gun. Forever a student, Craig always attempts to find ways to help others to develop their mindset and critical thinking skills so they can think on their own and for themselves.

9 Responses to “7 Life-Saving Garbage Bag Survival Hacks – Part 1”

  • Michael

    I love reading the reviews on this site. No ‘BS’ gear that requires some super steel or magical fabric that costs a super price for it to work. The humble garbage bag that has so many uses yet costs a pittance. A fine example and worthy addition to this site.

    My only addition would be for Australian readers. We don’t seem to have coloured bags but the orange coloured ‘garden bags’ are very strong and ideally coloured for a survival/rescue situation.

    • Michael

      By coloured bags I meant we don’t have the clear variety. I have only ever seen black, green and orange. My apologies.

      • Thomas

        The clear bags are hard to find but they are out there. In the US, all institutional food stored in a plastic bags has to be stored in clear bags so, I get them from a food service supplier. They have two varieties, food safe and non-food safe, the food safe costs more but is worth the money. If you are just looking for a few, go to a neighborhood restaurant and buy some from the owner. Trash bags are also nice for starting fires, drape them over the wood and light the kindling. As the kindling burns the plastic will catch dripping hot burning plastic all over the fire wood.

    • Thanks for commenting Michael. I really like how you think! Survival doesn’t always have to be about the latest, greatest and coolest stuff out there. Sometimes just using what you have is a great way to practice skills.

  • Hi! Dave,
    As an avid outdoor enthusiast all my life from Scouting to Outward Bound Instructor, Adventure Tour Operator rand ex Chief Aircraft Engineer from both British and Australian Navy’s. Now retired as a Disabled Veteran I am very interested in following your website and found your reviews and advice interesting & really commendable.

    Although retired hurt, I still follow the tradition of ‘Bug Out’ & Survival equipment and have done so all my life!

    An interesting tip for additional use of Heavy duty Garbage bags besides your comments & drummed into my survival training, is the use of these bags as a means of survival from the cold. We had to get into one (or more) even in a snow cave without any clothes on & they kept you extraordinarily warm! of course you had to drain them of moisture from time to time & we even put our sleeping bags inside them for additional warmth!

    Another good survival tool is the basic 3/16th” plastic hose around a foot long. Great fire assistance by blowing onto glowing coals etc. especially good in wet weather (Don’t suck!! obvious!)
    I also always had one attached to my life jacket when canoeing! Saved a few lives when trapped under water & used as a snorkel even a good way stuck under logs or rocks as such! Wouldn’t go into the bush without one! Plus many other uses such as a tourniquet &possible tracheotomy conditions!

    Hope these comments and suggestions have been useful to your followers mate?

    I will avidly keep following your website Dave and although 73 years of age am still young at heart.

    The mind is still as sharp as a tack, but the body is falling to bits!! Ha! Ha!

    Keep up the good work

    Regards from Ron ‘Down Under!’

    • Carin

      David: Wow, Ron! Great to hear from down under and thanks for sharing from your wealth of experience!

  • Doug Linn

    One other use, cut the seams down the sides and make a narrow but nice length emergency tarp shelter from rain. Not a bad idea but definitely more weight and room taken up to carry 2.

  • Caleb S.

    Another great alternative to contractor trash bags are the thick waste containment bags that the fire service uses in Australia for car accident cleanups. Very thick, large and durable. Only prob is that they’re clear.

  • Caleb S.

    Was in the supermarket the other day and found some 44 gallon black ‘heavy duty’ garbage bags. These are pretty much equivalent to the ones David/Craig always mention. So yes they can be found in Oz 🙂

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