9 Ingenious Survival Hacks Using Plastic Tarp

Last Updated: March 1, 2022

If a disaster strikes and you need to flee, what would you take with you?

There is a lot of debate about what to pack in your survival bag (aka Bug Out Bag), but there is one item you shouldn’t omit: a plastic tarp.

Though light and compact, a plastic tarp can perform a multitude of tasks and very well may save your life in survival situations.

Here are just some of the amazing uses for plastic tarps for survival.

See the best tarp for survival here.

Emergency Shelter

With just a plastic tarp and a bit of paracord, you can make a great survival shelter to protect you against the elements.

One of the easiest emergency shelter to make is the Tarp Tent. You just tie the paracord between two trees and drape the tarp over it and secure the ends to create a tent.

You can check out other survival shelter designs here.

tarp tent design
Image credit: Tarp tent by Joseph (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

Rainwater Collection

Water is one of the core things you need to survive. The body can only go about 3 days without water (compared to about a month without food!).

And, once your body is even slightly dehydrated, your immune system will weaken and your cognitive function will decline.

This is not what you want to happen in a survival situation!

You could just put the tarp on the ground with the edges tied up a bit to catch the rainwater. But there are much better ways to catch rainwater with a tarp.

In my article about rainwater harvesting, I shared these two designs which use a tarp to ingeniously collect rainwater.

rainwater collection with tarprainwater collection system

Solar Still

A solar still is a way of both collecting and distilling water. It is particularly great in situations where no water is available, such as dessert survival. It works best if you have a clear plastic tarp or plastic sheeting. A clear rain poncho could even work in a pinch.

To make a solar sill, you first must dig a hole. It should be about 3 feet deep and 3 feet wide, which means that you will have to do a lot of work! You could make a smaller solar still too, but then you won’t catch as much water.

You can put cacti, leaves, grass, or even urine into the pit you dug. Put a bucket or other water collection vessel into the middle of the pit. Then cover the pit with your plastic tarp.   Secure the tarp so it won’t fall into the pit. You will need to put a rock or other heavy object into the center of the tarp so it angles downwards.

As the sun shines through the plastic tarp, it will cause moisture from the ground and plant matter inside the pit to evaporate in a greenhouse-like setting. The vapor will touch the plastic tarp. As it does, the vapor will cool and condense on the inner surface of the tarp. Since the plastic tarp is angled downwards (thanks to the rock you set in it), the drops of condensation will drip into the bucket below.

This method isn’t fool-proof for cleaning contaminated water since pollutants can get into the vapor as well, but it is fairly effective. Solar sills are also used for filtering salt water when stranded at sea.

In the picture below, a straw has been put from the water collection vessel to the outside. But you could also just remove the vessel and drink the water.

solar still
Image credit: “Puits Solaire” by Solar_still.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

And this image below shows an ocean solar still made by Aquamate.

ocean solar still

Trapping Body Heat

A plastic tarp can also work wonders for keeping you warm in survival situations. You don’t want to wrap yourself in plastic tarp though. This will make you sweat, and then you will get wet – which will make you colder.

Instead, put the plastic tarp between two blankets. Then wrap yourself in the blankets. This sandwich will help you retain body heat.

If you don’t have blankets, then use the tarp to create a survival shelter. You can cover yourself with leaves or even bury yourself in dirt to stay warm.

Tarp Stretcher

One of your team members has gotten injured and cannot walk. How do you carry them to safety? Plastic tarps are surprisingly strong and can make a stretcher.

You will need to long, sturdy branches or sticks to serve as the stretcher base and can just wrap the tarp around them.

This video shows how it is done.

Ant Egg Collection

Did you know that ant eggs are tasty and nutritious? And, with the help of a plastic tarp, you can easily collect them all.

Fold over the edges of the tarp as in the picture. Then find an ant hill, dig it up, and dump all of the contents (ants and dirt) onto the center of the tarp.

The ants will scramble to save the eggs — and carry all of the eggs into the “safety” of the folds around the tarp.   After they are done scrambling, you can just gather up the eggs and eat them.

Oh, and you can eat the ants too. Read this article about eating insects for survival.

using tarp for ant egg collecting
Image credit: Collecting Ants Eggs by Henry; work found on Flickr.  CC BY NC ND 2.0

Signaling for Help

Lay out your tarp and write HELP on it really big to get noticed by airplanes. Or climb a tree and fly the tarp like a flag to signal for help. More about signalling techniques.

Create an Animal Trap

This only works if you dig a DEEP hole, which means you will need a shovel and probably waste a lot of energy in the process.

But, you could be rewarded with a nice rabbit for dinner.

Just dig your hole, loosely cover it with the tarp, and put some bait on top of the tarp. When the animal comes to eat the bait, it will fall into the hole below.

Yukon Pack

Did you have to flee without grabbing your survival backpack? Hopefully you did have time to grab a tarp and some paracord, because it can be fashioned into a backpack. Check out how it is done in this video.

yukon pack

Have you ever tried any of these tarp survival hacks?  Share your experiences in the comments below or join the discussion on Facebook!


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