Beer Can Survival Hacks

A 12-Pack of Good Reasons To Bring Beer In The Backcountry

This guy survived an emergency... thanks to beer

On November 28, 2011, Clifton Vial found himself stuck in a snowbank 40 miles from the nearest town of Nome, Alaska. He had no cell service and was dressed in tennis shoes, jeans, and a cheap jacket. The temperature hovered between -12° and -17° F.

Clifton was stuck in his Toyota Tacoma for 60 hours (more than 2 full days and nights) before rescuers found him. He had no food or water available, save a few cans of Coors Light that were frozen solid. He cut the lids off with a knife and dug out the beer slushy, his only form of sustenance throughout his ordeal.

Beer... really? We're not car camping here.

In the backpacking scene, conversations often turn to pack weight. Anyone who isn’t paring their gear down to the lowest possible weight isn’t a “real backpacker.” If you told many hikers you were going to bring beer cans into the backcountry, they’d probably give you some pretty strange looks.

Now, we’ll share the 12 survival uses for a beer can that could potentially save you from emergencies - and ultralight hikers - in the woods.



Make an Emergency Whistle

Whistles can signal your exact location to rescuers much more efficiently and loudly than yelling, and even if you’ve lost your voice, you can still blow on a whistle.

How to make an emergency whistle from a beer can:

  1. Empty a beer ;)
  2. Cut off the top and bottom until you are left with a rectangular sheet of metal.
  3. Cut a ½-inch-wide strip that is 2.5 inches long
  4. Cut another ½ inch-wide strip that is 1 inch long
  5. Make a cross using the 2 cut-out pieces, laying the shorter piece on top of the longer piece.
  6. Fold the tabs (or sides of the cross) of the smaller piece around the longer piece and fold the top of the cross down as well.
  7. Form a small gap in the cross-section to create a mouthpiece.
  8. Fold the long bottom of the cross into a kink then fold the end back up. Hold in place with your thumb and index finger.
  9. Use your fingers as the sides of the whistle and play around with the mouthpiece until you get a sharp, clear sound.



Purify Water Without a Filter

A human can only survive without water for about 3 days, but drinking water straight from the source in the wilderness can make you incredibly ill. In order to consume water in the backcountry, it needs to be purified.

One of the easiest ways to purify water is to boil it, but if you find yourself in a survival situation without a pot, how can you successfully boil your water?

Enter: the beer can.

How to purify water with a beer can

  1. Drink a beer (or otherwise empty it but… come on)
  2. Fill it with water
  3. Set the can in the ashes next to the fire. Do not sit the can in the center of the fire as this will cause the metal to break down much faster.
  4. Bring water to boil for 1 minute to ensure it is safe for consumption.



Make a Fishing Reel

A fishing reel allows you to utilize more fishing line, enabling you to cast further and fish more areas. This increases your chances of success without allowing your fishing line to tangle. You can use a can to cast your fishing line into the water in the hopes of catching your dinner.

How to make a fishing reel from a beer can

  • Empty your beer in whatever refreshing way you see fit.
  • Measure out as much fishing line as you think you will need. We recommend at least 12 feet.
  • Tie fishing line to the tab of the beer can. Alternatively, create a small hole in the top of the can and tie a line through it.
  • Pull the line towards the back of the beer can and wrap the rest of the line around the can. Be careful not to tangle or overlap the lines too much.
  • Leave yourself a foot of line or so free so you can attach your tackle.



Make a Fishing Hook

You can easily make a fishing hook from the pull tab of a beer can. While the resulting aluminum hook may not be as strong as the commercially-made kind, it will suit your needs in a survival situation.

How to make a fishing hook from a beer can

  • Empty your beer. Somehow. No judgments here.
  • Break off the pull tab.
  • Using a knife, cut out ¼ of the circle on the tab.
  • Sharpen the hook tip to a point
  • Attach the other end to a piece of fishing line or paracord.
  • Bait appropriately

When using this fishing hook to catch fish, do not try to set the hook in the fish’s mouth. Instead, let the fish swallow it hole. Due to the weaker aluminum material, allowing the fish to swallow your bait and hook gives you a better chance of catching your dinner.



Make a Fishing Bobber

To complete your fishing set-up, fashion a bobber or float out of a beer can.

How to make a fishing bobber from a beer can

  • Drink your beer. (Or pour it out, but that seems wasteful.)
  • Using a knife, punch a small hole in the top of the can next to the hole you drink from.
  • Use a small rock to grind the drink opening smooth. Getting rid of the sharp edges saves wear and tear on the line.
  • Thread the fishing line through the small hole you created and the drinking hole. Tie it off to secure.
  • Attach tackle to one end and bait appropriately.
  • These floats can also be used for fishing nets, trotlines, and fish traps.



Rig a Perimeter Alarm

Perimeter alarms can alert you to anyone - friend or foe - entering your camp. They can even be used to alert you to the presence of wildlife like bears, and may even scare them off. To create a beer can perimeter alarm:

How to rig a perimeter alarm with a beer can

  • Drink Empty your beer can.
  • Throw several small rocks in the can.
  • Set the beer can somewhere at a height so it will make a crashing noise if it falls.
  • Tie a string to the pull tab.
  • Run the string around your campsite about one foot off the ground.

Similar to a tripwire, if someone or something bumps the line, the string will pull the beer can full of pebbles down to the ground. The noise should wake you up and, hopefully, scare off the would-be intruder.



Create a Reflective Signal

A reflector is a valuable signaling device, especially in a survival situation where you may need to signal rescuers for help or to alert them to your location. You can use a beer can that is shiny on the outside as a reflective signal. If the beer can is not shiny on the outside, you can still use it to signal for help, there’s just some preparation involved.

How to create a reflective signal from a beer can

  • The can needs to be empty. You know what to do.
  • Make a long cut from the top to the bottom of the can.
  • Cut the top and bottom completely off. You should be left with a rectangle of shiny material from the inside of the can.

The resulting surface may not be as shiny as a mirror, but it can still reflect light enough to signal for help. Use it to catch the attention of rescuers or hang in a prominent place as an “automatic” distress signal.



Make a Candle Lantern

When facing a survival situation in the woods, you must operate with the sun to take advantage of the light. If you need to be able to see after the sun goes down, consider making a candle lantern out of a beer can. A candle lantern not only gives off light but also protects the flame from wind and rain.

How to make a candle lantern from a beer can

  • You need light. You need an empty beer can to get it. Read between the lines.
  • Using a knife, cut 2 horizontal, parallel lines into the side of the can, 3 inches long and ½ inch from both the bottom and top.
  • Cut a third line to connect the middle of the first two cuts. You should have now cut what resembles a large letter “I” (“eye”) into the side of the can.
  • Fold open these “double doors” and place a tealight candle into the bottom of the can.
  • Use the pull tab to hang the lantern from a nearby branch.

To stabilize the candle, consider adding a handful of sand to the bottom. Do not hang the lantern by flammable or meltable line, as the heat will eventually cause the line to break and the lantern to fall.



Start a Fire (with chocolate)

This is a weird one.

We all know fire is incredibly important in a survival situation; it provides warmth, light, comfort, and facilitates both purifying water and cooking food. You can use a beer can to help you get a fire started. All you need is the bottom of the can and a chocolate bar.

It sounds crazy, but you can actually use chocolate as an abrasive polish to create a mirror-like finish on the hazy bottom of a beer can. Though it may take over an hour, abrading the bottom of the can with chocolate and a rag will create a shiny, mirror-like surface capable of concentrating the sun’s rays onto tinder. If done correctly, the magnified sun rays will cause the tinder to catch fire.

We tracked down detailed instructions on this unique survival hack from Wildwood Survival.



Make a Survival Cooking Stove

Creating a survival stove from a beer can is a fairly popular idea. There are various Youtube videos and online articles covering the subject. Here, we will talk about the simplest version of a survival camp stove made from a beer can that requires a beer can and a pocket knife.

How to make a survival cooking stove with a beer can

  • Drain your can however you see fit.
  • Cut the top off the can where the top meets the sidewall. The aluminum is firmer here and easier to cut through.
  • Cut the can in half, then cut the bottom portion down to about an inch and a half in height.
  • The size of the bottom piece determines the size of the top. Line up the top of your bottom piece with the top of the soda can (where the side meets the angled portion near the top.)
  • Once you’ve cut out both pieces, slightly dent the top piece in increments around the body.
  • Slide the top piece into the bottom piece.
  • Use your knife to notch a pinhole into the can around the top rim.
  • Add high-test alcohol (medical alcohol, surgical spirit, rubbing alcohol, etc.) to the bottom of the stove.

To “turn off” the stove, you must smother the flame. Slide the top off to remove the fuel and pour it back into its container. The fuel and stove cool off very quickly for easy storage.



Make a Waterproof Storage Container

Keeping your survival kit safe and dry could be the difference between survival and disaster. Luckily, you can use a beer can to keep items like fire-starters, first aid gear, and signaling equipment organized and safe. To make a hidden survival storage kit:

How to make a storage container from a beer can

  • Remove beer from the can without using the pull tab. This is easily done by puncturing the side of the can and cutting out a rectangular “door.”
  • Let can dry.
  • Store fire-starters, first-aid gear, and other important, small items inside.
  • Wrap 20 to 30 feet of duct tape around the “door” and rest of the can. This reseals the can, rendering it mostly waterproof, and also provides you with duct tape that could be useful in an emergency as well.

Not only is this method lightweight, inexpensive, and waterproof, it’s also an inconspicuous hiding place for a secret stash of some kind.



Drink the Darn Thing

Beer has saved our ancestors from areas with contaminated water for centuries. Beer, unlike water, is pathogen-free and also has the same calories as wheat or barley. Where food may be infested with bugs or rodents, beer can provide calories without risk of the cans being damaged by pests.

Beer can provide both hydration and calories, but always be sure to drink responsibly. Especially in a survival situation, drinking too much alcohol will dehydrate you and leave you in a much worse position than before.

Be smart about it!


In Summary

Bring the Beer Backpacking

The next time someone judges you for having unopened beer cans in your car or gives you a hard time for packing out cans of beer while backpacking, relay the story of Clifton Vial. Without the cans of Coors Light he had stashed in his truck, Vial may have perished from dehydration and exposure.

Plus, who needs another reason to bring beer?