10 Handy Hacks for Emergency Situations

Video screen capture. YouTube

From the glow of butter candles to the glorious power of duct tape, try these alternative uses for common things when disaster strikes.

Before my mom sent me a steamer-trunk-sized emergency kit suitable for fending off a herd of zombies and other assorted apocalypses, my survival supplies consisted of a jar of instant coffee, a box of shelf-stable organic milk and a can of Sterno. I may have found myself without a flashlight or first-aid kit, but I would at least have a proper cup of coffee before battling the flesh-eating undead. A girl’s got priorities.

Yet even though I am now well outfitted with a stash of impressive prepper geegaws, one can never really be too prepared. Maybe you already have a really great emergency kit; or maybe you even have a whole basement tricked out with survival gear. But even the best-equipped might find themselves in a pickle when faced with an emergency. For those times, embrace the sustainable art of improvising and consider these handy hacks.

1. Build a lantern with a headlamp and a jug of water

If you have a headlamp and it has its batteries, you are already more prepared than many. But headlamps offer pretty specific light. To turn that beam into a more practical lantern, simply wrap it around a gallon water jug with the beam-side facing in. Voila, an illuminated jug that emits a surprising amount of light.

2. Make magical fire-starting balls with lint and goop

Creek Stewart at Willow Haven Outdoor explains that these “fuel extenders” made from dryer lint and petroleum jelly will take a spark from almost any ignition device such as flint and steel, fire steel, match, lighter, friction coal, etc., even in unfavorable conditions. The idea here is to make something that will encourage the flame to burn longer than normal to allow for the successful building of a fire. All you need is dryer lint and petroleum jelly; saturate a hunk of lint with the petroleum jelly, mix it in well, and form into a walnut-sized ball. When ready to start your fire, flatten it out a bit, ignite, and you’re set to begin gradually adding tinder. Also note that you can swap out lint for cotton balls.

3. Turn AAA batteries into AA batteries with foil

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who have an impressive array of correct batteries to suit all of their needs ... and the rest of us. If you fall into category number two and find yourself cursing your AAA batteries while holding your AA-battery-needing flashlight, try this tip from Lifehacker. Crumple up a small ball of aluminum foil and stuff it in the battery compartment where the batteries' negative terminal connects. Add batteries, making sure there is enough foil in place to make a connection between the battery and the connection point.

4. Make emergency candles out of surprising things

Emergency hacks

YouTube/Video screen capture If you are without a flashlight or candles when the power goes out – oops – not to worry. As long as you have some butter ... or crayons, or an orange, a can of tuna or other assorted oddities, you’re in luck. For a butter candle, simply slice a stick of butter in half, set it on its end, insert a wick and light.

If you don’t have a wick, we’ve got that covered too; as long as you have a crayon, that is. Snip the pointed tip off of the crayon (or burn it off), melt a bit of the bottom and affix the crayon to a fireproof and secure surface, and light the top. The paper acts as a wick, the crayon as fuel, and should afford you about 30 minutes of crayon-powered candlelight. To make a more luminous candle, bunch a group of crayons together and secure with a piece of wire or a strip of aluminum foil. We can't say that the fumes from crayon candles are necessarily salubrious, so best not to make a habit of this one.

5. Employ duct tape for quick butterfly sutures

Of course you would love to properly disinfect a wound and use clean Steri-Strips to close it up, but it’s a messy world out there. And sometimes when things go wrong and an injury requires some quick stitching with no stitches or Steri-Strips in sight, you may have to rely on the magic of duct tape. Clean the wound as well as possible, then make small strips of duct tape and follow these steps from NHS (and of course, watch for signs of infection and get to a doctor if necessary):

  • Carefully line up the edges of the wound.
  • Push them together, and, starting at the middle of the wound, apply the strips to keep the edges closed.
  • Place half of the strip on one side of the wound, bring the edges together by gently bringing the other side towards it, and then pass the strip over.
  • Place strips alternately above and below the first strip – this helps to match up the edges and keeps the skin tension equal.
  • To anchor the rows of strips in place, put two strips across the rows (one on each side of the wound).
  • 6. Mark things with duct tape

    Lost in the woods and happen to have some duct tape on hand? Mark your trail with small pieces of it. Likewise, if you are stranded in a remote place and have a roll of bright duct tape, use it spell out SOS in an area of high visibility. (Note to self: Don’t leave home without a roll of duct tape.)

    7. Fashion a rope out of shopping bags

    If you are a dedicated TreeHugger reader, chances are you may not have a stash of single-use shopping bags. But who knows? If you find yourself in a situation where you have a surplus of shopping bags and a dearth of rope, we’ve got you covered. In the how-to above, you can see how to stretch out your shopping bags, attach them together with simple loop knots and then braid them into a rope.

    8. Use a mattress and ice bucket in a hotel fire

    Should you find yourself trapped in your room in a burning hotel, don't panic. Fill the bathtub with water and throw the towels and sheets in it, and use them to seal the vents and door cracks. Next, advises US Travel Insurance Association, put the mattress up against the door and wedge it into place with furniture. Use the ice bucket as a pail and douse the mattress until it’s soaked. Also, if smoke is getting into your room, turn the bathroom exhaust fan on to help clear it.

    9. Use feminine hygiene products for bandages

    You have a wound that needs an absorbent dressing, but no absorbent dressing on hand? Check the handbag. A tampon can be teased apart until flattened a bit, a pad can be used as is – and these items are nothing if not absorbent. Apply and secure with tape, string, strips of fabric, shoelaces, or whatever you have on hand until you can get proper attention.

    10. Protect your feet with duct tape

    Duct tape

    Flickr/mhaithaca/CC BY 2.0 Basically, duct tape is your feet’s best friend. Use it to:

    • Secure soft material to a blistered area in place of Band-Aids.
    • Wrap a sprained ankle with it if you don’t have an ace bandage.
    • Waterproof or insulate your shoes with it.
    • Use it to repair shoes.
    • Use it to make shoes!