To a survivor or a prepper, any simple piece of gear that has countless uses is an important piece of gear to have, and nothing in your pack/kit has more uses than zip-ties. They’re strong, reliable, and rarely ever break. Once in place, they stay there until you have to cut them off.
There are a few different kind of zip-ties with many specialized uses. Some deal with extreme temperatures while others provide the ability to hold heavy loads very securely. They come in a wide variety of sizes, lengths, and widths for a host of applications. Though they are made from a variety of materials, the most widely used zip-ties are made of general purpose polyamide nylon, are flame resistant, and some are even provide protection from the sun.
What Can You Do with Them?
Frankly, the possibilities are endless, as zip-ties can be made to do a host of things, from the ordinary like lashing a bundle of sticks together to the extraordinary, like using it as a tourniquet (but only as a last ditch effort). There are many, many other things zip-ties can do to change your survival experience, and here are just a few:
Quick Crampons: If you find yourself on an icy trail or the sidewalk is icy, attach two or three cable ties around each of the bottoms of your boots. They will provide extra gripping power like ice cleats.
DIY Spear: Use zip-ties to lash a knife to the end of a stout sapling for a makeshift spear. Use heavy-duty ties for this because they will need to be tight, especially when under force. Use the pliers on your multi-tool to pull the cables tight.
Hand Restraints: In certain situations, you may need to restrain individuals and zip-ties are ideal for this. There are dozens of websites showing how easy it is to break out of zip-ties, so make sure to use the strong ones.
Pants Belt: Perhaps you needed your belt for something but your pants are falling down. Slip a zip-tie through a belt loop and then secure to another loop a few loops away and draw tight to keep your pants up.
Trail Marker: Simply zip a brightly colored tie on a branch or bush and the trail will be easily recognizable.
Makeshift Shelter: Use a zip-tie to lash tarps or ponchos together to make a shelter. They can also be used to lash saplings together in a variety of ways to form a shelter’s inner structure.
Splints Support: Use zip-ties to lash splints to a broken arm or a sprained ankle. Leave the zip-tie relatively loose for the first couple of hours to allow for the swelling of the limb.
Shoe Laces: Emergency shoe laces if you had to use your laces for cordage. Slip a small tie though several of your boot eyelets and secure.
Pack Stash: With zip-ties, you can easily lash a variety of items to your pack, an ATV, a horse, and even the sides of your bug-out vehicle.
Color Coordinated: Use different color zip-ties to mark different pack pockets or compartments to help you remember what is in them. Blue is water (purification tablets, filters); red is fire (ferro rods, matches, tinder); and yellow is signaling devices (mirror, whistle).
Quick Lock: Use a series of zip-ties as an inexpensive and quick lock when you need to secure bug-out bags, gear, and compartments on a tool box. Because the only way to remove a zip tie is to cut it, it will make stealing your gear slightly more difficult.
Hangers: Easily secure lanterns and other gear overhead by looping a ziptie around a limb or tent pole. You can also secure food bags up high to keep animals out of your supplies.
Easy Pull: Slip a small zip-tie through a zipper’s loop to make the hard-tograb zipper pulls easier to manipulate.
Tight Roll: Use one or more zip-ties in a chain to keep items, like a bedroll or a jacket tightly packed so they use up less space.
Animal Traps: With a little creativity, a zip-tie can be made into an animal snare. As the animal goes through a loose loop, it will tighten around him as it pulls.
Rip Stop: A large tear in a tent or backpack can mean your gear will spill out. Very small zip-ties can act as an emergency sewing kit by temporarily shoring up the hole.
The Invention Of Zip-Ties
Originally known as cable ties, they were invented by Maurus C. Logan after touring a Boeing aircraft manufacturing facility in 1956 and observed workers cutting their fingers on the cumbersome wax-coated braided nylon cord used to tie together bundles of aircraft wiring. He felt there should be a better way, and on June 24, 1958, he submitted a patent for the Ty-Rap cable tie. They were originally designed with a metal clasping tooth but Logan’s company, Thomas & Betts, later switched to a nylon/plastic design that is used today. As the ties gained in popularity, the name cable tie fell from use in favor of zip-ties, describing the ratcheting sound of them tightening.
Types of Zip-Ties
Nylon: These are the most commonly found material zip-ties are made from. Depending on the type of tie you need, their normal operating temperature range is -40 to 185 degrees F. They come in many different colors, sizes, lengths, and tensile strengths. The nylon zip-ties are miniature, standard, intermediate, heavy duty, and extra heavy duty, named so because of their size as well as the tensile strength.
Stainless Steel: Stainless Steel ties are used when liquid and/or extreme temperatures are involved. These ties can withstand temperatures ranging from -100 to 1000 degrees F. The stainless steel ties have a tensile strength of about 100 lbs.
Halar: Also known as plenum ties, these are the most durable and are used in nuclear plants, chemical environments, telecommunications equipment, aerospace, and high and low temperature environments. They are resistant to fire, radiation, and emit a very low quantity of smoke if burned. They have a maximum continuous operating temperature of 302 degrees F.
Tefzel: These have a distinctive aqua color. Tefzel cable ties are mainly used in applications that require resistance to environmental hazards such as chemical attacks, gamma and ultraviolet radiation, and extreme temperatures up to 300 degrees F. These cable ties are fire and acid resistant as well.
Metal Detectable: These are primarily used in the food preparation, pharmaceutical, or beverage industries because they show up on x-ray machines and metal detectors. They can also be found with a magnet because the ties are made with metal mixed in with the polymers. These cable ties have a distinct teal color which allows them to be easily found as well. These cable ties have a maximum operating temperature of 239 degrees F.
How Zip-Ties Work?
Zip ties are long strands of plastic with ridged edges in a row along the entire length. The end of the zip tie is a box or case with a latch that catches on these ridges. When you slide the end of the tie through the box it goes in easily, but the direction of the latch prevents the tie from coming back out by grabbing on to the ridges. A kidnapper may think you are secure with a zip tie around your wrists, but there are a number of different methods you can use to get free.
Which Zip-Ties to Buy?
Which type of zip ties should you buy? You ultimately want a variety of sizes and widths available to handle different jobs and you want to make sure you carry with you a variety of lengths and widths. The color is also important due to how the plastic reacts to the sun. Long exposure to the sun will make the average zip tie lose strength and will cause them to eventually break. Typically, the black ones are specially coated and better protected from the sun.
Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.