I’ve often said that a person’s most important survival skill is the ability to improvise. The skill of “using what you have to get what you need” in a life-threatening survival scenario often involves looking at everyday items through survival-tinted glasses. Many everyday items have surprising survival applications if you’re willing think outside of the box and get creative. Sudden and unexpected survival scenarios all have one thing in common – you’ll never have exactly what you need when you need it.
In my courses at Willow Haven I’ll often challenge students to list as many survival uses they can think of for a variety of random, everyday items that one might find in their purse, car or pockets. It’s a good exercise and always produces surprising results. Below is a great example.
How many survival uses can you think of for a … tampon?
Nearly everyone knows that cotton makes excellent fire tinder. When the dry cotton fibers of a tampon are pulled apart and hit with a spark or flame, they will burst into a nice, steady fire. If you’ve done the right amount of fire prep work, you can easily split 1 tampon into 3 or 4 fire-starting tinder bundles. Add in some Chapstick or petroleum jelly, and you’ve got even better fire-starting tinder.
Tampons are sterile, come very well-packaged in their own waterproof sleeves and are designed to be ultra-absorbent – making them a suitable, improvised, first-aid bandage. They can be opened and then taped or tied over a wound as a make-shift dressing.
I have a friend who is a medic in the U.S. military, and he packs tampons in his combat kit to plug bullet holes until more sophisticated medical attention can be administered. Accounts of this use date back to World War I.
Another excellent tampon survival use is as a crude water filter. While it will not filter out biological, chemical or heavy metal threats, it can certainly be used to filter out sediments and floating particulates. This would be considered a 1st Phase Filter, which can drastically increase the life and efficacy of your main water filter. You can also use a filter like this to filter out larger particulates before boiling.
In this example, I’ve pushed a tampon into the neck of an empty water bottle. I poked a small hole in the cap and then poured in dirty water to filter through the tampon and into a container below.
As a last ditch effort, you can also stuff the cotton fibers into the plastic housing and use it as a crude survival straw filter:
The string attached to a tampon is a twisted cotton cord typically made up of several 4-6″ pieces of twine. Though it’s not much, it is usable cordage. This amount of cordage could easily be used to make a Paiute deadfall trap:
The blowgun certainly has its place in survival history. From Native Americans to tribes in New Guinea, the blowgun and primitive darts have put food on the table for thousands of years. They are silent and deadly hunting tools, especially for small game. Oftentimes, especially here in the U.S., natural cotton was used as blow-dart fletching. Thus, the cotton from a tampon is a perfect candidate to make cotton-fletched blow darts. I used the string on the tampon to lash it into place on this bamboo skewer:
In the photo above I used the string on a tampon as a wick in an improvised candle, which I made from rendered animal fat and a fresh water mussel shell I found down by the creek at Willow Haven. After the string soaked up some of the fat, this candle burned solid for 20 minutes while I took the photos and still had plenty of wick left. Pine sap would also have worked as a fuel.
Waterproof match case
In wet and damp conditions, keeping fire-starting tools such as matches and tinder dry can be a challenge. The waterproof tampon package/sleeve makes an excellent improvised “dry-sack” for any items that are moisture sensitive. Just fold over the top 2-3 times and tie it off with the tampon string and you’ve got a great waterproof match case.
I am a huge fan of multifunctional products that can serve double or even triple survival duty. For the size, weight and cost, a tampon has an impressive list of survival functions. If nothing else, this article is another lesson in the importance of looking at everyday products through the eyes of a survivalist. Creativity and innovation are critical.