Duct Tape: Its Survival Uses Are Nearly Endless

Duct Tape Arrow Fletching

Duct tape is cloth or scrim-backed pressure-sensitive tape usually coated with polyethylene. Powdered aluminum pigment gives traditional duct tape its silvery gray color. Duct tape, as most know it, is traditionally gray or black, but today it comes in multiple colors.

How It Got Its Start

During World War II, Revolite, at the time a division of Johnson & Johnson, developed an adhesive tape made from a rubber-based adhesive that was applied to a durable “duck cloth” backing. The tape was water resistant.

A mother of two soldiers fighting in the war named Vesta Stoudt worked in a factory that tested the tape for the company. Vesta soon realized that there were many practical uses for the tape and she had one use in particular in mind.

She wrote to then President Roosevelt in 1943 asking that the Army look into using the tape to seal ammunition cases during that period. She knew from her son’s accounts that the ammo cases allowed moisture inside, thus creating problems with their ammunition.

A team headed by Revolite’s Johnny Denoye and Johnson & Johnson’s Bill Gross were asked to help develop the new adhesive tape in the beginning for sealing ammo cases. The tape was designed to be ripped by hand and not cut with scissors. 

Duct tape got its start as “duck cloth” which had a multitude of uses from shoes to electrical applications. Electrical cables were wrapped in duct cloth to prevent corrosion and the cloth was sewn into to shoes and clothing to make them stronger.

The Melvin A. Anderson Company of Cleveland, Ohio, acquired the rights to the tape in 1950. It was typically used in construction to wrap air ducts, thus, the name “duct tape” became part of the vernacular in the 1950s, along with other tape products that were colored silvery gray like tin ductwork.

The duct tape you know today is not suitable for duct work, because it does not hold up well under heat. There is tape however, designed specifically for wrapping/sealing duct work (ShurTech Brands, n.d.).

Duct tape today, is made with a variety of tightly woven fabrics to provide strength. The threads or fill yarn, as it’s called, may be cotton, polyester, nylon, rayon, or fiberglass. The fabric is very thin gauze called “scrim” which is laminated to a backing of low density polyethylene.

Duct tape has been a staple in the military for decades, and it is often referred to as “riggers’ tape”, “hurricane tape”, or “100-mph tape”. Duct tape was and is supposed to withstand up to 100 mph winds, thus the name. It was used during the Vietnam War to repair or balance helicopter rotor blades.

Enough of the Science and History behind It: On To Survival Uses

1.) Fire Starter

Lay out a short piece of duct tape adhesive side up and scrap your magnesium bar over the adhesive to collect the magnesium shavings. Once the tape is well coated roll the tape into a cylinder and store in a pill bottle or some other container. You can make dozens of these fire starters up ahead of time.

One or both ends of the cylinder can be ignited with a match or lighter, and it will burn for several minutes, allowing you to ignite dry or damp tinder, or you can slice a hole in it to ignite the magnesium scrapings with a spark in the absence of matches or lighters.

Duct tape itself is combustible and you can ignite it with a spark from a Ferro rod, flint, and steel or ignite it with a match as you would tinder. Cut into small strips and pull the strands apart to create a surface for oxygen.

2.) Cordage

Cut the duct tape into strips and twist into cordage and the strength of the cordage is related to how wide the strips are when you twist them.

3.) Arrow Fletching

The simplest method is to cut two strips about four inches long. Lay your shaft on the adhesive side of one and then lay the other over the shaft lining up with the other piece of tape. Then cut at an angle on each side to create the Fletching. You can get creative with the tape, but remember you are in a survival situation so do not make it too complicated. Simple Fletching will work.

4.) Create a Sling for Your Injured Arm

You can put two long strips of tape together by placing adhesive side, to adhesive side to create a long strip that can be shaped into a sling. Where the elbow rests place additional pieces to create a pocket for the elbow, so it stays in place. Make it long enough to tie off behind your head or in some cases you may need to secure the limb to the body tight by wrapping tape around the lower chest or stomach.

Use duct tape to attach splints to legs, fingers, and arms.

5.) Snow Goggles

You have to protect your eyes from light reflecting off snow and one way of doing this is to cut two strips long enough to cover both eyes with some overlap. Put the two pieces together adhesive side, to adhesive side and put up to your eyes. Using a pencil, marker or by carefully pricking to mark where to cut small slits for the eyes. Once you have cut the eye holes, attach cordage to each end, and tie around your head.

6.) Restrain Someone

Use duct tape to retrain hands and legs of any person.

7.) Repair Gear, Equipment

Use to repair holes in tents, shoes, clothing, and backpacks and so on. Duct tape is only a temporary fix and it will leave behind a residue that can be very difficult to get rid of. Cover larger rips in clothing by placing a piece on the inside and outside of the tear making sure the tape sticks to the sides of the cloth and to each other.

8.) Fly Catcher

Sprinkle sugar or honey on the strip and hang like any fly strip around the tent or campsite to keep flies and certain other flying insects away from your food and body. You can just hang the strips without adding sugar or honey if you fear you may attract more than you catch. Insects will stick to the tape as they try to make their way inside your tent or shelter.

9.) Wound Closure

Use like a butterfly bandage except do not let the tape touch the wound. Cut into strips. Place cotton or another type bandage between the wound and tape however. Use the tape to draw the cut closed, by attaching one end to dry skin on one side, and then pull the wound closed and attach the other end of the strip of tape to dry skin on the other side. Learn a bunch of other medical uses for duct tape check out Duct Tape 911

10.)  Trail Markers

You can buy duct tape in various colors and orange tape would be ideal for marking trails. Cut into strips and hang from limbs or even wrap around limbs instead of making blaze marks on live trees.

Additional Uses

  • Tape together Mylar Blankets to create an emergency shelter or use for sleeping bag covers, or make a ground cover by filling a Mylar blanket/tarp with pine boughs, leaves or grasses and tape the ends and sides together
  • Tape a fixed bladed knife to a sapling to create a spear
  • Temporarily repair a water bottle, make sure the area is dry and clean before applying the tape, this does not mean the bottle will not leak, but it will reduce the loss of your precious water supply
  • Reinforce or make grommet holes so you can attach cordage to light material. Fold over a piece wherever you plan to attach cordage to keep the material from ripping. Material such as Mylar blankets, plastic sheeting, and thin canvas, for example. Put the hole through the duct tape
  • Cover sharp ends of frayed cable/wire and tape over frayed ends of rope to prevent more unraveling 
  • If using glass or sharp pieces of Chert for cutting, tape one side to protect your fingers/hands
  • Tape loose fishhooks ends if you do not have a proper storage container, to keep the hooks from stabbing you or ripping gear or clothing
  • Lay a piece of duct tape out, adhesive side up, to secure small screws from knife handles, eyeglasses or any other piece of gear or equipment to the adhesive as you work, to keep from losing the part (s)
  • Wrap up wood curls/sawdust in the tape to create even more fire starters
  • Make a temporary knife sheath using cardboard and duct tape or just use duct tape

As stated earlier the uses for duct tape are endless. For today however, we concentrated on what we thought might be some of the more important uses in a survival situation. The uses really are only limited by your imagination.

ShurTech Brands. (n.d.). Retrieved 2015, from http://www.duckbrand.com/about