Why Garbage Bags Should Be in Your Survival Kit

November 22, 2011

Survival Kits

Americans produces lots of trash each year

According to a 2008 Environmental Protection Agency study, Americans produce a staggering 1.35 billon pounds of garbage each day. Much of that waste is disposed of in a common household item: the plastic trash bag.

Despite being thrown away thousands of times daily, garbage bags can be an invaluable tool for the survivor. They are lightweight, easily carried, and offer many potential uses for the creative survivor.

Protection from the Elements

A good shelter that provides protection from harsh weather is critical for the survivor. In fact, protection from the elements is second only to air in importance in many survival situations. Exposure to rain, wind, cold, can quite literally zap the life out of you.

A garbage bag can be used in an emergency situation as an impromptu rain suit. Cut a hole in the bottom on the bag just large enough for your head to slip through, add a couple of slits for arm holes, slip it over your head and you have an inexpensive but effective poncho. It may not be much to look at, but it’ll keep you dry and protect you from the wind and rain.

A garbage bag can also be used to help waterproof a wilderness shelter such as a debris hut or an A-frame shelter. Simply slice the bag along its seams to increase the surface area and place it over your shelter. Secure it with limbs or rocks and you’ll have a dry place in which to seek shelter from the rain.

Collect Drinking Water

Water is another incredibly important component for survival. Without clean drinking water, your chances of surviving beyond three days are minimal.

The same characteristics that allow the garbage bag to offer use protection from the rain can likewise be used to help us collect the precious liquid. A garbage bag can be formed into a rain catch to gather pure, clean water from the skies. You can use it directly to catch the water, or you can use it to channel water into a more rigid container such as a cup, bucket, or bottle.

You can also tie it around the end of a leafy branch of a tree and allow the heat of the to extract water from the tree. It won’t be much, but every little bit can help in arid conditions.

Signaling for Help

When stranded and awaiting rescue from others, anything that you can do to draw attention to yourself is good. Many lost victims are not dressed in clothing that is easily seen; this is especially true for hunters. The camouflage that helps them to go unnoticed by their pray also obfuscates them from any would-be rescuers as well.

A brightly colored trash bag can help draw attention to you. Tying the bag to a long stick and wave it back and forth like a signal flag can help to catch the eye of searchers in distance vehicles. Spreading the bag in the middle of a field so that it’s visible from the air will help ensure that your site is visible even when you’re away or asleep.

Other Uses

There are many other uses for trash bags for the survivor. They can be used to protect food from flies, carry supplies from one location to another, filled with leaves and used as bedding or even a jacket, protect gear from water, or even as a trap from small prey or fish. You’re only limited by your own creativity and resourcefulness.

Weighing next to nothing and taking up very little space, garbage bags have more than earned their way into my survival kit.

What are some other uses for garbage bags in survival situations?

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19 Comments on “Why Garbage Bags Should Be in Your Survival Kit”

  1. Rob's Bunker Says:

    I would buy the thick contractor bags as they are the best to use. I have used these to cover our windows during the winter to cut out the cold winds. Your regular trash bags are too thing and rip easy.


    • Joe Says:

      Aha! Good point. In my mind I was thinking of contractor bags. You’re right, they are much tougher than the normal tall kitchen bags.


    • Gerald James Says:

      In a Water Emergency, they could be used for Emergency Floatation. Although not manufactured for such purpose, they can provide more buoyancy than a life jacket. A stranded boater in a capsized boat can use them to help get their torso up and out of the water. They can also be used to protect from hypothermia by getting “inside” one and then pulling the open end up and around your neck. (But, to do this you must have have adequate floatation attached to your body, such as a life jacket. And you would Not tie it around your body because you might need to shun it quickly.) The purpose of the aforementioned is to protect against thermal loss. In salt-water, using the previous method, they can help to protect from stinging jellyfish.The principle is that the trash bag would create a barrier from the ambient water and the water that would be next to your body thereby reducing the loss of temperature from your body. Rather than elaborating on the various ways you might use a trash bag, if you will put some in your car and boat, you’ll have them handy, just in case. Considering the relatively low cost and the fact that they take up almost no space when stored, every boater should keep heavy duty trash bags in their boat and tackle box. If ever needed, they just might save a life. As a final comment, I like the previous suggestion that “Bio-Hazard” bags are strong and are Bright Orange which would be better for visibility in a rescue situation.


  2. Mr Darcy Says:

    Great article and ideas…just one concern regarding using the bags to catch rainwater for drinking water. I had read that the plastic garbage bags have a pesticide on them. If this is true, it would not be good to use to collect drinking water. Your thoughts? Keep up the good work!


    • Joe Says:

      Thanks Mr Darcy! I appreciate the comment.

      I’d tend to agree with Jarhead Survivor. I’d doubt that the amount of pesticides, if any, would have an immediate affect on me so I’d risk the potential longer term affects of exposure to pesticides for the short term prevention of dehydration. Having said that, this of course varies by situation and person.

      By the way, according to Glad web site, none of their trash bags contain pesticides or insecticides.

      You know, you bring up a good point – things that we may consider unsafe in ongoing home life are worth risking in a survival situation. Another example: there have been concerns about the long term affects of drinking from bottles made with BPA. As parents, we’ve gotten rid of all those bottles from our household. However in a survival situation, if a BPA-laden bottle is the only container I have, my whole family would drink from it. In that scenario, I’m more concerned about the short-term risk of dehydration than the longer term effects of BPA.

      Again, thanks for mentioning it Mr Darcy. I hadn’t heard of it and haven’t given that possibility any thought.



  3. jarhead survivor Says:

    I use contractor bags too. I can’t imagine that the amount of pestiside on a bag would stop me from using it in a survival situation though. I’ve never heard that, although it could be true.


  4. millenniumfly Says:

    Gargabe bags are one of those items that you’ll use day in and day out and since they last seemingly forever there’s no reason not to have boxes of them on hand.


  5. Patrick Duran Says:

    Hi, I just stumbled across your website here, and have been thoroughly enjoying some of your posts. I look forward to reading more.
    I’ve had friends poke fun at me for carrying two clear plastic trash bags every time I go backpacking. But they have so many uses, it’s foolish *not* to carry them!
    I’d like to add that a plastic bag (a clear one works most effectively) may also be used to construct a solar still for water purification. You may already know about this, but it’s yet another use for a trash bag!


    • Joe Says:

      Absolutely, Patrick Duran! You can make a great solar still out of a trash bag.

      Someday when you’re backpacking and the trashbag comes in handy (eg, some’s tent leaks or they’ve forgotten their rain gear) you’ll have the last laugh. Just whip out your trash bag and hand it to them with a big grin on your face.




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