27 Survival Uses for Plastic Bags

If you think that plastic bags are useless relics from the past then it’s time for a paradigm shift. I think that preppers should have a large supply of plastic bags on hand. In this article I’m going to share 27 survival uses for plastic bags.

In the middle of an emergency, the last thing you need is wet clothes, soggy rations, or contaminated medical supplies. Plastic bags have even more creative uses than keeping your supplies dry.

Why should I keep a supply of plastic bags?

Think of your plastic bags as a super multitool. Plastic bags are super lightweight, portable, and very easy to store. They can be crumpled up or folded without diminishing their strength of carrying capacity. Since they are plastic, they won’t rot and will last much longer than organic materials like paper, wood, or canvas. If it’s the end of the world, you’re going to want materials that will last. In this case, plastic is up to the task.

27 Survival Uses for Plastic Bags

Survival uses for plastic bags

1- Shelter

You can stay warm and dry without a tent. Even if you don’t have a large trash bag to build a full shelter, you can use the smaller plastic bags as roof and wall patches between branches and leaves. Create full wall panels and roof shingles by layering them together. You can split larger Ziploc bags, spread them out and use them to block drafts. Plastic bags also make excellent vapor barriers under flooring.

Know that you don’t have to split the bags apart for draft and vapor barriers, but they will cover more surface area this way. If you don’t plan on staying in the shelter very long, don’t split the bags. Instead leave them intact so that you can use them for other purposes in a future shelter.

2- Insulation

You can create insulation for your shelter by filling ziploc bags with leaves and tacking them to the shelter’s walls. You can use shopping bags in a pinch for this purpose, but they won’t work as well since they can’t be sealed and the filling can escape. If it’s all you have, use the shopping bags and tightly tie them to avoid spillage.

If you’re reading this right now, it means that you can still add resealable bags to your stash before SHTF. Hopefully you have more solid plans for emergency shelter and won’t have to build it with plastic bags. You can use grocery bags to seal in windows and any cracks that happen over time.

For the best results, pack bags into the cracks tightly and seal them in with duct tape. Additionally, you can use plastic bags for personal insulation. Stuff your clothes with the grocery bags to hold in your body heat.

3- Bedding

Use crumpled, folded, or layered grocery bags as a mattress that will get you off the cold floor. You can fill the bags with leaves, pine needles, vegetation, clothes, or other bags to make your mattress more comfortable.

You can use the same approach to make a pillow. A gallon sized ziploc bag filled with leaves works really well. Getting plenty of rest will increase your ability to survive so don’t skimp on comfort!

4- Sanitation

Whether you’re bugging in or bugging out, you will have sanitation needs. Plastic bags will help you handle unsanitary materials. Ziploc bags are the best choice because they can seal in odors and materials until you can properly dispose of them. Think feces, vomit, bloody bandages, dirty handwipes, used condoms, and any other biohazard material. Yes, it is appropriate to have safe sex even if it’s the end of the world.

Build a duct tape bag:

Whenever I go camping, I always bring my duct tape bag with me to pack away my trash. I use a gallon sized ziploc bag then cover the outside with decorative duct tape.

I know that I’ve said that you can reuse plastic bags again and again, but there is a limit. Please don’t reuse plastic bags that have been used for sanitation purposes. When SHTF you may not be able to get medical care so you will want to keep germs at bay.

5- Personal Rain Gear

It’s the end of the world and nobody will make fun of you for putting a plastic bag on your head to stay dry during a downpour. I would personally applaud the effort. Staying dry is key in an emergency situation. Even if it’s not the end of the world and you are hiking for recreation, you still want to stay as dry as possible.

Large bags can become excellent rain slickers. Simply cut a hole in the bottom for your head and two holes for your arms. You can also protect your ankles and feet by wrapping and taping bags around them. You may not stay perfectly dry, but it’s better than having no rain protection.

Tutorial: make your own rain-poncho

27 survival uses for plastic bags

6- Food Storage

This one is probably obvious, but there’s more to it than just dropping your food rations into a plastic bag. You can use ziploc bags to portion out your food for each day. This will help you to see at a glance how much food you have left. This level of preparation can pay off and help you plan for the future. It will also allow you to ration out portion sizes and make sure that everyone gets a fair share.

7- Starting Fires

Did you know that you can start a fire with a plastic bag filled with water? It is effective and also really cool to watch. Simply fill a clear plastic bag with water and leaving it unsealed, hold it by the top corner and twist the bag to force the air out.

The bag will bulge and create a water sphere. Use the sphere to concentrate sunlight onto a pile of tinder. I have covered this process in detail along with other fire-starting methods (without matches) in the article below.

8- Warmth

We stated above that you can start a fire with a plastic bag and the same principle can be used to warm your body, food, and shelter. Make sure that you don’t keep the refracted light concentrated on your skin because it could burn you. The main drawback to this approach is that the warmth is concentrated in one area and cannot heat a large space.

9- Wound Care

Plastic bags work well as wound covers in all situations, but you don’t want to leave them in place for too long. Covering a wound with a plastic bag will stop dirt and germs from from infecting your wound, but it will also block airflow and slow the healing process.

Only use plastic on your wounds temporarily until you can get access to the proper medical supplies. It is a good idea to keep a few plastic bags sealed inside of a sterile bag for this purpose. This is NOT the time to use recycled bags.

10- Boil Water

Don’t have a pot to boil water? Use a plastic bag! You cannot put a plastic bag over a fire, but you can still use one to boil water.

  1. Dig a hole in the ground.
  2. Line the hole with a thick plastic bag and fill it with water.
  3. Get a few red-hot rocks from your fire and drop them into the bag one-by-one to heat up the water.

Boiling Water in a Plastic Bag

27 survival uses for plastic bags

11- Bug Out Bag (BOB) Organization

Your bug out bag can get messy if you don’t have a good organization system. Plastic bags are a simple and efficient for this purpose. You can use larger bags to separate food, clothing, and medical supplies.

Within those bags, you can use smaller bags to portion your food into separate meals. Using multiple sized bags can help you to quickly and easily identify specific supplies when you need them. If you ever need to use your BOB in a survival situation, having extra bags can be extremely useful.

12- Barter

The best preppers have a nice supply of barter items. Many people will forget plastic bags and your stash of bags will become a hot commodity when it comes time to barter. This is another great reason to have some extra bags on hand.

13- Funnel

Need a funnel? Cut a corner off of a stiff plastic bag and you will have a quick funnel. This is especially useful if you are splitting rations and need a way to measure rice or other grains. Make sure that you hang on to the corner that you cut off because it’s about to come in handy!

14- Fishing Lure

Remember that corner of the bag you cut off to make a funnel? Grab that now! Use that corner you cut off as a fishing lure! The reflective surface can attract fish. If it happens to swallow the lure, it is easy enough to retrieve it when you are cleaning and preparing the fish for dinner. Then you can easily use it again!

15- Gloves

Plastic bags work well as makeshift gloves and will keep your hands clean and sanitary. In a long-term survival situation, sanitation will be vital to your survival. Opt for thicker bags like ziploc bags. Shopping bags are not ideal because they often have tiny holes in the corners.

16- Plant / crop protection

If you’ve survived the end of the world, then you also need to think about the future. This means planting some crops. The world will be full of hungry critters who will feast on your precious seedlings. If it’s winter time, you will also need to protect your crops from frost.

Create a tiny greenhouse with a plastic bag to protect your tender new plants. Ziploc bags can stand on their own, but it’s a good idea to shove a few sticks around the plants and place a bag over the frame. Make sure that you use clear plastic bags so that the seedlings can get as much sunlight as possible.


17- Carry Fresh Water

There may be times when you won’t have enough bottles or clean containers to carry water. Plastic bags can be a lifesaver! You can fill Ziploc bags to the brim, seal them, and carry them for long distances. Make sure that you carefully pack the bags so they don’t burst from too much pressure on the zipper portion.

You can make a grocery bag work if it’s all you have, but you will need to double it up for the best results because those bags often have tiny holes near the seams.

Survival Tips – How To Carry Water In A Zip Lock Bag

18- Hauling Small Game

Caught or shot some small game? Excellent! Now it’s time to get it back to your shelter without attracting flies or leaving a bloody trail. You can accomplish this by carrying your game in a plastic bag. Any bag will work just make sure that you seal it to keep the bugs out.

If you have a long distance to hike, then you may want to seal it in a plastic bag and stash it in your backpack. The plastic will keep your backpack clean and your hands will be free.

19- Rope

You can make an awesome rope with grocery bags by twisting and tying them together! Braid your bags to make an even stronger rope. If you need a long length of cordage, there is a technique I will teach you to create very durable cordage from plastic bags.

How to build a rope out of plastic bags:

First, cut the handles and the bottoms off of your bags. Next, cut them into 2 inch strips to create rings. Hold a ring with both hands on opposite ends and start twisting. After awhile, the bag will begin to twist on itself in the center. Keep going until you have a fairly straight cord. Once you reach the end, use a lark’s head knot to add another plastic ring to the end and keep going.

How to Tie and Use a Lark’s Head

This article provides really good instructions for creating a rope out of plastic bags. If you practice this before SHTF and become proficient at it, then you won’t need to carry a rope with you and this could free up some storage space. You will be able to make a rope whenever you need one.

20- Mark your path

You can use a grocery bag to mark your path when you’re exploring a new area or want to mark a path that will allow friends and family to find you. Grocery bags work better than ziploc bags because they are light and easier to bend and tie. Trash bags also work well. Since the bags are plastic, you won’t have to worry about your marker disintegrating under the elements.

Make sure that you place each bag within the eyesight of the previous one. White bags have the best visibility, but black bags are easier to camouflage if you want to hide them from outsiders.

21- Water Filter

You can snip off the very tip of a Ziploc bag to create a quick water filter(much like the funnel technique) . It won’t remove bacteria from the water, but you can filter out sticks, small bugs, pebbles, and even sand if the hole is small enough. At the very least, it is a good way to pre-filter water before treating it with purification tablets or some other method.

22- Fencing

You can use plastic bags to bind fence pieces together. They make incredible durable ties that won’t rust, break, or rot in the rain. However, if you are in a sunny area check them monthly. They may become weakened from sun exposure and need to be replaced. Luckily, this is a fairly easy process.

Fencing can be used to keep small critters out of your garden or funneling game into a trap.

23- Flotation Device

In a flood, Ziploc bags can become flotation devices when you fill them with air. Other bags can work, but you would need to tie them off tightly and patch holes with duct tape. A popular technique is to fill small Ziploc bags with air, then place those air-filled bags inside larger grocery or trash bags. Tie off that larger bag and secure it to your waist and you will have a potential floating device.

The bigger the bag, the better the floating power. Even small bags can keep you and your valuables out of the water.

24- Quarantine Zone

Nobody wants to think of a flu, viral, or bacterial outbreak during a survival situation, but it’s bound to happen and it’s best to be prepared. If you’re living with other preppers once SHTF then people may eventually get sick.

You can stop the spread of illness by creating a quarantine zone with plastic bags. Trash bags are the best choice for this task because they can cover the most area without being split or cut.

It is possible to do this with smaller bags, but the more overlapping and seams you have, the more likely it is for infection to spread. Hopefully you have a good supply of duct tape in your shelter or BOB. If not, you can layer the bags and hold them in place with rocks.

The video below shows the kind of quarantine room that I’m talking about. You would just build it with the supplies you hopefully have on hand.

DIY Containment/Quarantine Room Kit for Disaster Preparedness

25- Raft Patches

A hole in your raft is not a hopeless situation if you have some duct tape and plastic bags. You can even repair large tears if your plastic is big enough.

This kind of patch will not be a long-term solution, but it can easily last for a few days if done well enough. Make sure that the area you are patching is dry so that the duct tape will properly bond to the surface. Again, this is not a permanent fix, but it could keep you afloat in a desperate situation.

26- Cups, Bowls, & Plates

Plastic bags can work will as plates, bowls, and cups. Thick plastic bags, such as Ziploc bags, are tough enough to hold hot liquids like soup while you eat it.

The trick to making a good cup, bowl, or plate is to fold over the top edges of the bag multiple times towards the bottom of the bag. If you are attempting this process with grocery bags, check for leaks first and double layer your bags.

You can even get creative and twist grocery bags tightly together to make utensils!

27- Kindling Storage

Every bug out bag needs some kind of kindling to assist with building fires. You need to protect your kindling so that even if you stumble while doing a river crossing and submerge your bag in the water, your kindling will remain dry.

A Ziploc bag is excellent for this! What kind of kindling should you keep? There are many things that you can use, but I like to collect my dryer lint in a Ziploc bag. Once the bag fills up I store it with my other survival supplies. Dryer lint is excellent for starting a fire when there is not other kindling option available. It is also lightweight with no expiration date.

30 Survival Plastic Shopping Bag Uses & Hacks

What are the best plastic bags for survival purposes?

Honestly, any plastic bag will be better than canvas or paper so use whatever you can find. Since you’re here, you’re obviously a smart prepper who is planning ahead and won’t have to scrounge around for bags after a disaster. Ziploc bags are my favorite and large contractor trash bags are my 2nd favorite. It is important to also have some grocery bags and multiple sizes of bags.

  • Stock a variety of multiple sizes and shapes. This variety will come in handy when you have tasks to complete. A sandwich bag just won’t work well for a makeshift shelter, but a trash bag will. Flimsy shopping bags won’t be able to carry water or store pressure the way that a Ziploc bag can. It’s best to have choices so keep a variety stored in your stash.
  • Strength is obviously important. You really don’t want your plastic bag rope to snap as you are hoisting up the roof of your new shelter. You need something thick and strong to begin with. Stronger bags will also last longer which means that you’ll be able to use them for a variety of purposes.
  • Flexibility is also important. The thickest bags may be great for heavy lifting, but they are useless if you need to wrap delicate items or need to create small tools. You either need to find a balance between strength and flexibility or have a variety of options. I like having options.

Plastic Bag Limitations

Plastic bags are good at keeping things dry, but it is important to know that they are technically not 100% waterproof.

All plastic is gas permeable which means that water vapors will eventually get in. While plastic can be great at keeping your food dry if it accidently lands in a puddle, you won’t be able to store food in a permanently moist environment.

Make an effort to keep your items in a dry environment even if they are stored in plastic. Also, dry your bags thoroughly between uses to prevent condensation buildup.


While they may not be handing out plastic bags at most grocery stores anymore, it’s never too late to start collecting some plastic bags. If you’re lucky, you may even have some forgotten plastic bags stored in a dark drawer from another era. Add those to your survival kit!

Did a friend give you a Ziploc bag full of cookies? When you finish your treats don’t throw away the bag! Instead, clean it out, dry it, and add it to your stash. I’m not trying to say that you need to stockpile 500 plastic bags, but it’s a good idea to keep a reasonable variety of plastic bags handy because they could help you survive someday.

What are some creative uses for plastic bags? Comment below to share! I hope this was helpful and that you learned something new!

See you next time!