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.
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:
- 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.
- Use to attach a snare just about anywhere, giving you more flexibility with this trapping method.
- Make handcuffs, in a pinch
- Emergency shelter building with a tarp or tent
- Repair backpacks, straps, tents
- 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.
- Hold a splint in place or a makeshift sling
- Attach items to packs, bags, or shelters
- 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, 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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