There’s always the possibility that you’ll suddenly find yourself in a survival situation, or have to live off-grid for an extended period. You may think you don’t have the means to deal with situations like those, but most of the time you actually have the material to survive right on you –namely, the shirt on your back.
In this article, we list possible survival uses for the quintessential piece of clothing, the t-shirt, many of which you may find useful.
1. Improvised Head Protection
It may seem like child’s play, but by “wearing” a t-shirt, but stopping short of putting your head through the collar and tying the shirt’s sleeves in a knot behind your head, you instantly have some head protection. This can be useful for when you’re caught outdoors and it’s raining or snowing. In case of fire, a wet shirt wrapped around your face can also lower the risk of smoke inhalation. In addition to trapping soluble contaminants, some shirt fibers have a tendency to swell when exposed to water, though this depends on the cloth contents.
2. Improvised pillow
Let’s assume that you’ve had to camp out in the wild, found shelter and made your own survival bed. You’re about ready to turn in for the night, then you realize you don’t have anything to support your head. Because the human spine is naturally curved, sleeping without a pillow results in discomfort, less sleep, and possible neck and back aches.
This is where the t-shirt, a spare intact one, comes in. Simply tie off the sleeves, then stuff the shirt with soft material like leaves, soft pine needles, or other articles of clothing. Sweet dreams!
3. Survival straps or slings
If any straps or slings have broken from carrying the weight of your gear or other items, you can make temporary slings out of a t-shirt. Cut the shirt into long strips, loop one end through or around the gear, then tie the ends to secure the item. Double-up on them if necessary. And of course, your shirt slings don’t have to be limited to carrying objects – they can serve as temporary support for broken arms or wrists too.
4. Protective headgear in the desert
Place the t-shirt on the top of your head, letting the rest of the shirt “trail” down your nape, then put on a boonie hat or ball cap. This will effectively protect parts of your head that would normally be exposed to the beating desert sun. This works best when used with cotton, since it can protect against the sunshine while being light enough not to be humid against your scalp.
5. “Cooling” scarf
In a hot environment, dehydration occurs from sweating. A cooling scarf can go a long way to decreasing water loss so you can extend your canteen’s life. Lay down the shirt on a flat surface, then fold it up from the bottom until it’s just one long, narrow length of cloth. Douse some water along the folded shirt’s length, then wrap it around your neck, tying the ends. Now you’ve got a scarf that keeps you cool in the arid desert or tropical jungle.
A t-shirt also makes a great tourniquet to stop bleeding from serious wounds. Roll up the shirt, and wrap it around the wounded leg or arm. Place it on the heart side of the wound, knotting it up securely onto a stick. Turn the stick to tighten the shirt to control the bleeding.
To make a t-shirt into a torch, cut the shirt in half. Wrap it securely around the end of a long stick, then douse the shirt in flammable material like gas or alcohol. Ignite the shirt with a lighter or over a campfire. Just be sure the shirt is wrapped tightly around the stick with both ends securely fastened before setting it alight.
8. T-shirt bag
Another use for a spare shirt is to make it into a bag. To make one, all you need is a spare or old shirt, a sharp knife or scissors and some string. Follow these steps:
Step 1. Lay the shirt flat, and fold it in half lengthwise.
Step 2. Using the scissors, carefully cut out the sleeves from below the armpit area.
Step 3. Cut out the collar area, such that when you lay the shirt out it looks like a tank top.
Step 4. Turn the shirt inside-out.
Step 5. Scrunch up the bottom and tie it off.
Step 6. Turn the shirt inside-out again.
9. Firewood caddy
Gathering sticks for firewood can be difficult, especially when the sticks are of varying lengths. To make it easier to carry firewood back to camp, lay a shirt on the ground. Place the sticks across the middle of the shirt. Wrap the sticks by bringing the top and bottom of the shirt together, and tie them securely. You now have a “caddy” for your firewood and less splinters and scratches on your hands and arms.
10. Water filter
Water-borne illnesses like dysentery are one the biggest risks of drinking raw water in the wild. You can minimize such risks with a DIY shirt filter. To be safe, use at least three spare shirts for filtering rainwater or water from a river or stream. To make a filter, you’ll need three shirts with no holes in them, three sticks, measuring about 4 feet long, some cordage, a bit of grass, sand and charcoal, and a container.
To make a filter from these, do the following:
Step 1. Make a tripod of the three sticks; line them up so they make a triangle, then tie off the tops of the sticks.
Step 2. Tie the three shirts onto the three sticks, making sure they’re a good distance apart; tie them one above the other, about 6 inches apart.
Step 3. Fill the shirts with your filtering material; the top one with grass, the next with sand, and the last with charcoal. A couple of handfuls of each should do the trick.
Step 4. Place a container under the third shirt to catch the filtered water.
Improvising gear or accessories to help you through rough spots when SHTF sometimes only requires that you use your wits and the shirt you’re wearing. Repurposing old or spare shirts is also a great way to maximize their usefulness, and find surprising new uses for those tired old threads.