8 Ingenious Survival Gear Hacks

Readers share their best tips for starting fires, repairing gear, and staying dry

What’s the quickest-catching emergency tinder for starting fire in the wild? How should you pack a first-aid kit for backcountry hunting adventures? And, what’s the best to pack what is arguably the most use tool in the world (duct tape, of course)? Few situations can inspire on-the-spot, life-saving ingenuity like a real-world survival scenario. Here, readers share their best and smartest survival tips. And be sure to check out past collections of reader camping and fishing tips.

Start a Fire with Pencil Shavings

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Pencil shavings work great as tinder.

When I have trouble finding dry tinder for a fire, I reach for a couple of the secret weapons that I keep inside my survival kit: a pencil and pencil sharpener. All you have to do is sharpen the pencil (dead pine also works), and collect the wood shavings to use as dry tinder. The pencil shavings light easily. —Ron McLane

Vacuum-Seal a First-Aid Kit

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Vacuum-sealing first-aid supplies keeps them dry, and the package takes up less space in you backpack than a bulkier kit.

I use my vacuum sealer for more than just venison steaks. Bandages, gauze, and other first-aid items can be sealed and shrunk inside a small plastic bag, keeping them dry and giving you more space in your pack. This also works great with matches. —Jeff Orr

Add a Fire Starter to Your Knife

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Give your trusty Swiss Army knife yet another tool.

A small replacement flint—the kind used with a striker that you squeeze to light a blowtorch—makes a backup emergency fire starter. I drilled a 1/16-inch hole in the threaded end of the flint, passed a small split ring through the hole, and attached it to the lanyard hole on my Swiss Army knife. Just strike your knife against the flint for a spark. This wouldn’t be my first choice for starting a fire, but it works, and a backup never hurts. —Mark Crowe

Make a Waterproof Shell for Your Matches

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Spent 12- and 16-gauge shells work well as a protective matchbox.

I rely on an old but still useful tip to keep my strike-anywhere matches safe and dry. I place them inside a spent 16-gauge shotgun shell capped off with another spent 12-gauge shell. This keeps my matches in a compact, rugged, water-resistant, floatable container for whenever I’m ready to use them. —Ryan Arch

Carry Duct Tape, Minus the Bulky Roll

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As long as you’ve got duct tape, you can survive pretty much anything.

Duct tape can be a lifesaver. But carrying an entire roll takes up valuable space inside a backpack—and you probably won’t need that much tape. Instead, I wrap a couple feet around a Bic lighter, so I always have a short supply inside my pocket. If you need more, you can also wrap some around a Nalgene bottle. —Ben Wagner

Make On-the-Go Repairs with a Glue Stick

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Add a glue stick to your keychain for quick fixes.

A glue stick offers countless solutions to problems encountered outdoors—patching a hole in your canoe, repairing fishing-rod tips, reattaching arrow nocks. I poke a hole through one end with a heated paperclip, and attach it to the key ring on the emergency compass in my survival kit. That way, I know it’s always there. When I need to make a repair, I just heat the end of the glue stick and apply where needed. —Ken Holtz

Store a Hook and Leader in a Matchbook

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Turn a matchbook into an emergency fishing hook.

A simple and safe way to carry a hook is by wrapping it inside a matchbook. This way you’re never without a line when you’re backpacking, ice fishing, etc. And you’ll always have a backup fire starter, too. Slide the point of the hook behind the matches at the base, and wrap the line around several times. On the last wrap, lift one match and secure the line behind it. —Howard Gibson

Store Tinder in a Chew Tin

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Recycle old chew containers to keep your tinder dry.

If you dip smokeless tobacco, you can use one of the empty cans—which are fairly watertight—for storing tinder. Split fatwood into pencil-size sticks, then shave off small pieces using a standard pencil sharpener or your knife. Continue shaving until you end up with smaller and smaller pieces. When you need it, take out a pinch and it will start with ease. —Paul Thompson