Smart Ways to Use Zip Ties for Survival

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Zip ties are handy little tools that can be used in pretty much any situation. In a way, they are kind of like duct tape in that the possible uses are infinite. Their strength and holding power are impressive, even in the smaller sizes.

image: black zip ties on concrete background

Originally called cable ties, the modern zip tie is made out of plastic. Original cable ties were used to, you guessed it, tie bundles of cables together. Nowadays, they are found in emergency kits, bug out bags, camping and hunting gear, and have a multitude of uses.

Smart uses for zip ties

According to Wikipedia, the first patent for these ties was in 1958 by an electrical company for use in airplane wire harnesses. Since then, the applications these simple tools have been applied to are as limitless as our imagination.

When it comes to survival situations, zip ties should be included in every plan and in at least one person’s emergency kit. Here are 10 uses for zip ties in a survival situation:

  1. Keep items tightly packed so they use less space. Tightly roll a set of clothing together (pants, shirt, underwear, socks) and secure the roll with a zip tie.
  2. Use to attach a snare just about anywhere, giving you more flexibility with this trapping method.
  3. Make handcuffs, in a pinch
  4. Emergency shelter building with a tarp or tent
  5. Repair backpacks, straps, tents
  6. Use for clothing repair or keeping clothes on (as zippers, belts, etc). Also, close pant legs around the ankles to protect against ticks, snakebites, and mosquitoes.
  7. Hold a splint in place or a makeshift sling
  8. Attach items to packs, bags, or shelters
  9. Tourniquet
  10. Use as a tamper-evident device, such as a ‘lock.’ If something that has been secured with a zip tie has been tampered with, it will be cut or stretched out indicating that someone tried to break it open.

Which Zip Ties to Buy?

As you can see, uses for zip ties abound, but there are a few things to think about when deciding which ones to buy. Type, length, tensile strength, and color all play a role in determining the best choice for your purpose. Ultimately, you want a variety available to handle different jobs, and quality counts!

Which type of zip ties should you buy? You ultimately want a variety of sizes and widths available to handle different jobs.

Select the right type of zip tie for your needs

When most people think of cable ties, it’s the plastic, single-use versions that come to mind. They’re designed to not release; you must cut them off. Those are great for something that you don’t want to remove, but what if you do? Someone else had that same question because reusable versions–releasable, beaded, and hook and loop–are also available.

Releasable ties corral things you know you’ll want to rearrange or relocate umpteen times, like household cords and electronic cables, or perhaps device cords for electronics in survival gear. For reusability in more rugged conditions, consider beaded ties. And the hook and loop version is a great option for delicate items.

Bonus tip: To “reuse” a non-releasable tie, cut the tie as close to the locking mechanism as possible, rather than in the middle of the loop. Remove the remnant and voila! The leftover section can be used again; it’s just a bit shorter now. Or use a tool, like a small flat head screwdriver or the tip of a pocket knife, to depress the locking tab allowing you to remove the full length of the tie.

Which length to buy?

Length is rather obvious; you need enough cable to do the desired job. For bundling, estimate the diameter of your bundle and select accordingly. For survival purposes, bundling is only one of many uses, however, you’ll still sometimes estimate the length needed. Fortunately, sizes from micro, think less than three inches, up to 60 inches plus exist. When in doubt, go long.

Bonus tip: If your zip ties are too short, daisy-chain several together to make one longer tie. Just keep tensile strength in mind (see below). Or combine them with paracord, which also has many uses.

Tensile strength

Tensile strength, or test weight, is the amount of weight a zip tie is rated to safely hold. Exceed its tensile strength and the tie breaks. This may not be so critical when using a tie to say, hold your hair back in a ponytail, but when you start talking about suspending something from a ceiling or tree, for example, the importance of test weight is more apparent.

Bonus tip: Use multiple zip ties to secure items heavier than the individual ties are rated. Learn more about tensile strength and how to do this safely.


Plastic reacts to sunlight which means zip ties exposed to the sun over long periods lose strength and holding power. Therefore, the color of zip ties is important. Many people I know swear by using the black ones because they last longer than colored or white ones do.  The black ones also eventually give out but tend to last longer. Urban myth? Perhaps. Thankfully, this myth doesn’t harm anyone or anything so I go with it.

Bonus tip: In addition to marking trails, use colored ties to create a code that can tell family members what you might not be able to. Red = Danger. Yellow = Caution. Green = Proceed to alternate location. You get the idea.

At our house, we keep a few variety packs of different lengths and colors on hand. We use the colored ones for short-term jobs or to mark a trail. The black ones find their way into jobs that need to last longer than a couple of months, or in situations where we don’t want the zip tie visible.

Zip ties nearly always come in large quantities, which make it easy to divvy them up between different emergency bags and kits, adding a few to camping, hiking, and backpack gear, and having a few left over for household needs.

What other survival situations would you use zip ties for?

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Renee Russell

Renee is a writer, reader, and avid watcher of disaster flicks. She lives on the west coast with her family where they're all preparing for their own disaster reality show--The Big One--to occur.

33 thoughts on “Smart Ways to Use Zip Ties for Survival”

  1. I think heat in general affects them negatively. I just used a variety of sizes and colors on a project. They had been sitting in my garage for several years in the dark. The garage gets up to 120 degrees in the summer. Almost all of them faltered after a few days of moderate stress.


  2. The Reluctant Prepper,

    I agree with you. Heat will affect pretty much anything, especially at 120 degrees! Living in Alaska, I cannot even imagine what 120 is like (and don’t want to haha). Thank you for the comment and input, you may have saved someone a headache! 🙂


  3. regarding color- zip ties or any thing made from plastic, like the plastic buckets we use for storage, gardening and many other tasks; yes, color does matter, and the more the color, the better when it comes to resisting degradation from sun exposure – i learned this directly, many years ago, from a rep for one of the companies that makes these buckets – black is the most resistant, but any color will be more resistant than the plain white buckets commonly available at the grocery store/bakery.

    we had a pickle factory near us, and for a while were able to get the green pickle buckets very cheaply, with the lids – i wish we had bought a bunch more when these were available – the green is holding up very well in spite of year round exposure to the sun and weather because we store them outside.

  4. Zip tie is not a great choice as a tourniquet. It will cut instead of “squish”. A cravat made from clothing or some other cloth/fabric/material would be much better. Tourniquets need to squish-not cut- into the muscle to be effective.

    Scott P.

  5. Only 10 Uses????
    Use them as trail markers on bushes or trees, in case you get lost, follow the zip ties back.
    Color Code your Pack Pockets: Red Fire, Blue Water, etc
    Color Code secret messages to others in your party: Red Stop do not proceed, Blue Need water, etc
    I once used a zip tie as a wrench, I needed to tighten a nut and all I had was a zip tie. I was able to tighten it much tighter than “hand tight”.
    If you are being chased in an urban environment you can lock a gate with a zip tie, it may only give you a few seconds or minutes but that might be enough to escape.
    Boot laces
    Improvised Ice Cleats: put 3 or 4 on each shoe with the lock on the bottom of the shoe and cut off extra tie, it grips the ice
    Zipper Pulls
    With enough of them you can make a chain for eyeglasses so you don’t lose them
    Key Chain to hold your spare keys together
    etc. etc. etc

  6. My silverware basket in the dishwasher was coming apart on the bottom. I secured it together using zip ties. I wove then together and locked them in place. It held for the next 6 years until the inside of the door broke and it couldn’t be used anymore. 🙂

  7. I used zip ties to keep the toestraps on my bike pedals on after the nut/bolt came off, works great! As mentioned earlier also used it to ziptie spare house/truck key together and keep as my back up.

  8. I used zip ties to fasten chicken wire to fence posts around the garden to keep out the critters. Also to get computer wires up off the floor.

  9. To ensure which “ZipTies” are UV (ultra violet, the light that deteriorates plastic ) check the manufacturers web site or literature. Look for UV/ultraviolet resistant in the description.

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  11. As a paramedic of 35 years and someone who has carried zip ties in my personal survival kit for at least 10 of those, I agree with Scott. I would add only greater emphasis to his remark. Using something narrow like a zip tie can result in the loss of the limb. Using a cravat, belt, or commercially available tourniquet can stop the bleeding while preserving the limb, provided definitive medical care is provided within several hours.

  12. UV resistant zip ties are available; as one post suggested, check the packaging or with the manufacturer. Carbon black is used to color plastics black and also provides UV resistance; hence the reason that most black zip ties will maintain their properties longer. Typically, yellow and red pigments degrade quickly with exposure to UV.

    NEVER use a knife to cut a zip tie. This can be VERY dangerous. The knife can slip or the zip tie can suddenly break. I almost lost a thumb trying to cut a zip tie with a knife. Use a pair of diagonal or side cutting pliers instead.

  13. They use these to secure large, poster-size banners to the cyclone fence at my high school’s football field, and were going through a lot of them (one for each corner = 4/poster, sometimes more for middle of poster/banner, and 20 or so posters/banners), but they found that you can use the ‘tongue’ end to loosen them: slip the end that leads the way through the ratchety hole part back around and into the hole and it will lift the ratchet part enough to allow sliding the tie back through the hole. A small eyeglass repair sized flathead screw driver into the hole and it will do the same. Or use the end of one zip tie to lift/loosen the ratchet on another zip tie.
    Just thought you all would want to know so you can a) reuse your ties and b) maybe look closer to see if a tie has been tampered with–I’m not sure how obvious or not this sort of loosening is.

  14. I use many different type of zip ties and they are not all equal in tensile strength …Check the Mfg bag for posted tensile strength. If they are not rated at least 50#, I would leave them on the shelf…3M and GB brands are among the best in small ties..I carry several 36″ long ties we call “Duct straps” in the HVAC field and they are extremely tough, some rated at 200# TS…I keep several coiled up in my bug-out bags for emergencies……Some with an eyelets to anchor wire or PVC pipe…Reuseable zip ties for bundling anything like a tarp, making a handle or closure for a bag..I don’t have much use for the different color ties unless they are used indoors…Cheap brands are usually just that…CHEAP! So test a few before you start depending on them to work…Hope this helps..

  15. If you didn’t already know, They make a very large Zip tie about 3 feet long and about a half inch wide. They are used to hold the air conditioning/heating ducting together in your attic. You can get a package at home depot/lowes. They would come in handy on occasion i would imagine.

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  19. Lisa please caution people to be sure if they are using zip ties as a tourniquet or have large ones around small children to be prepared to cut them off. My son saved a small child who tried to play necklace with one, then panicked and pulled it tight enough to choke.

    I also saw an incident where a broken arm was splinted with duct tape and the swelling of the tissue cut off blood supply.

    Common sense is not all that common.

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  23. Please please do NOT use a zip tie as a tourniquet! Way too narrow for this! Take an ER nurse’s word for it.

  24. I used zip ties for extra traction when I was caught in a surprise snow storm on my commute home. They worked great!

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  26. Please don’t use zip ties (cable ties) for tying up your computer, tv, phone. or any other type of electrical cables. This is one of the quickest ways to cause damage to these cables. Especially if they are pulled to tight, they break the inside wires and depending on what type of wire it is it could shock you or cause a fire. I work in networking and I see this all the time. They make special ties for cables and a good cheap way to go is to use a velcro tie, just remember not to have it so tight that it will leave a permanent twist mark in the cable. I personally use zip ties for numerous things, but tying up cables is definitely not one.

  27. Hubby calls me a “Tree Hugger”. I don’t like leaving trash in the woods. I HOPE that All you people who are using these PLASTIC zip ties as “Trail Markers” are being conscientious enough to cut them loose and take them out of the woods when you go, please. We have enough trash/plastic already. Also, if you leave them on the trees, eventually (if the ties last that long) the tree/tree limb, will be “girdled” and that is not good, either. Not to mention if some little critter manages to eat it, or get hung up in it in some way. Please, take your plastic/trash out of the woods when you go.
    “Take nothing but pictures, Leave nothing but foot prints”.

  28. I’ve used small zip ties to make a chain to hang items such as lights or other lightweight items in camp when cordage was either a premium or otherwise being used.

    Zip ties have to be the single most useful item ever invented by man.

  29. I put multi-colored together to hang my plants on the porch–the colors are blue, orange, yellow, and red.
    Nice look too.

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