18 Survival Uses For Plastic Bags

They’re lightweight, they’re multi-purpose, they’re inexpensive and they don’t take up hardly any space; a plastic bag fits all of the criteria for being an ideal survival item.

Since they’re so readily available, you should have some in several different sizes just so that you can be prepared for even MORE scenarios!

Here are just a few survival uses for plastic bags – we promise not to state the obvious use of carrying things!

1. Maintaining Body Heat

Garbage bags or yard bags are plenty large enough to use as make-shift windbreakers. They’re waterproof and keep out the cold wind while keeping your body heat trapped inside where you need it. You can make a jacket or leg coverings from big ones and you can use small ones for your feet, hands and head.

2. Bandages and Bandage Covers

A fabulous survival use of plastic bags is to keep bandages clean and dry for short periods of time.

You can also use them to cover sucking chest wounds long enough to get the patient somewhere for treatment. Just tape the bag securely over the wound so that no air can get in around the edges.

3. Ice Packs

Since they’re waterproof, the ice won’t melt and leak out all over the place. To avoid damaging your skin, wrap the ice bag in a rag and remove it every so often just long enough for the skin to warm back up.

4. Keeping Areas Sanitary

As long as the bags don’t have any holes, you can use them to store hazardous medical waste such as bloody bandages or bodily fluids.

You can also use them to line your waste bucket, then just tie it shut until you can get it outside. The odor and bacteria will be trapped mostly inside and will help prevent the spread of disease.

5. Water Collection

You can fill the bag up with water to carry back to camp or you can hang it up when it’s raining so that water collects in the bag.

You can also use a plastic bag to make a water collection unit as described in another article.

6. Securing Food Supply When Camping

growing beans in plastic bagThough the bears and raccoons love it when you leave your food down, you may not be as happy with the results. To keep animals from raiding your food supply (which can also be dangerous!), place your food in a garbage bag, tie it shut and hang it from a tree limb several feet off the ground.

7. Building a Shelter

The only thing worse than being cold is being cold and wet.

Use a garbage bag to create a waterproof roof for your shelter that will keep rain and even dew off of you and your possessions. Just string it between limbs using rope or zip-ties and you’re set. On the flip side, you can also use it to make shade. Heat stroke is just as dangerous as frost-bite.

8. Ground Cover

You can lose a lot of body heat through the bottom of your sleeping bag, and sleeping wet is never a good time.

Lay a garbage bag under your sleeping bag and you’ll keep your body heat in the bag while keeping ground moisture from soaking up through your bag.

9. Creating a Quarantine Zone

Combine garbage bags with the ever-present duct tape and you can make a relatively secure quarantine zone.

In a post-SHTF scenario, disease is going to be an issue and you’ll need to keep sick people separate to prevent spreading the illness.


10. Make a Mattress

Another great survival use of plastic bags is as a mattress. Just stuff it full of dry leaves, old blankets or whatever you happen to have on hand. The super heavy duty ones are great because they’ll be less prone to tear and you can wipe them down and reuse them if you’re traveling.

If you’re on the run, you’ll need to get quality sleep when you can and this will make it much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.

Video first seen on Breakof Day

11. Lining Your Garden

Plastic bags have several uses in the garden. You can place them over the soil to keep it warm and moist and to keep weeds out of your garden.

You can also use it to line your beds to preserve dirt and moisture. You can even fill them with dirt and grow root veggies such as potatoes in them.

12. Flotation Device

Plastic bags, especially the heavy-duty ones, make great flotation devices in case you need to cross a river. Just fill them with air and tie them securely shut. Duct tape is handy here yet again.

13. Blanket

When you have nothing else and the temperatures are dropping, you can always stuff a large garbage bag full of leaves and use it as a blanket. It may not be perfect but it will work to keep your body heat in.

14. Rain Boots

Walking around with wet feet is not only uncomfortable; chronic wet feet can be a health hazard. If you’re on the run and only have one pair of shoes, you want to try to keep them dry.

Plastic bags are great to cover up your shoes when you’re going to be walking through water or marshy turf. Just step into the bag and tie or tape it around your ankle or calf.

15. Patching Tears in Bags or Rafts

Cut a piece of bag to use as a patch for your bag or tent. Duct tape over it and it will most certainly get you by in a pinch.

Video first seen on DPRG Clips

16. Stretcher

In a pinch, a big sturdy plastic bag can be attached to two poles for use as a stretcher. You’ll have some stretch but as long as the bag is sturdy and you keep it off the ground, it should last for quite a while, especially if you double-layer using two bags.

17. Heating Water

Fire from waterThere are a few different methods to accomplish this but the easiest (and safest for the bag and the water) is to simply put the water in the bag, tie it shut and hang it in the sun. You’ll be surprised by how quickly the water heats.

18. Lashing a splint together

Because the bags have a bit of stretch (but not too much) and are extremely flexible, they’re great to use as “rope” to bind a splint together. Simply tie the bags around the limb and the poles and you’re done.

The number of uses for plastic bags for survival really is only limited by your imagination. Because they’re so versatile, we recommend that you carry at least a couple in your BOB and your medical kit. After all, they weigh nothing, take up very little space and have more uses than possibly any other item.

If you can think of any uses for plastic bags that we missed, please tell us about them in the comments section below.

This article has been written by Theresa Crouse for Survivopedia.

Written by

Theresa Crouse is a full-time writer currently living in central Florida. She was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, where she learned to farm, hunt, fish, and live off the land from an early age. She prefers to live off the grid as much as possible and does her best to follow the “leave nothing behind but footprints” philosophy. For fun, she enjoys shooting, kayaking, tinkering on her car and motorcycle, and just about anything else that involves water, going fast, or the outdoors.

Latest comments
  • Braiding plastic bags together will make an even more substantial mat for sleeping on.

    • Plus the braiding makes for a flatter surface while the crochet has some lumps/bumps. I know, I have taught how to make these as sit upons with Girl Scouts.

  • You can also use them for self-defense by placing them over the enemies head and suffocating them to death.

  • This list is awesome. Plastic bags aren’t just for groceries anymore. Guess next time I go camping, I’ll make sure to take some bags with me, on the off chance I need to save my life. Thanks for sharing–and Jonn’s comment is hilarious.

  • I had no idea that there were so many different ways that plastic bags could save your life. It is a really good idea to use plastic as a ground cover in the outdoors. This really can help you maintain more body heat. It is also a really good idea to use these bags for heating water. I never would have thought of that.

  • The roll of bags for a vacuum seal a meal can be used a water bladder/ heater. Seal one end, stretch out the whole roll and fill. When filled seal the other end. If left out in the sun it will be purified and hot. An 18 ft roll holds about 50 gallons.

  • Storing vast quantities of plastic shopping bags is easy. Save the empty square style tissue boxes. Compress your shopping bags and stuff into the boxes. Neatly stacks and can easily store up to 50 bags in each one.