Empty beer or aluminum cans have so many practical uses in the field that they should be one of the first things that we look for in a survival situation.  Let’s take a look at a few examples of how you can turn someone’s trash into treasure when resources are scarce.

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Cut a vertical slit on the can that extends from about ½ inch from the top and bottom.  Cut two horizontal slits about 1/3 the way around the diameter of the can that intersect with the vertical slit.  This will allow you to pull back the walls like you would open shutters on a window.  Place a candle inside and light it up.  You can open or close the doors to regulate the flame, and the shiny aluminum will act as an improvised light reflector.

Signal Mirror

Cut off the top and bottom of the can before cutting a vertical slit along the body as well.  Unwrap the can and cut that in half lengthwise as well.  Now you have a concave piece of shiny aluminum that you can hold in the palm of your hand, and this makes for an excellent improvised signal mirror.  You can also poke a hole along one of the edges and hang it in a conspicuous location in order to attract attention as it blows in the wind.


Take a full can, cut a small, horizontal rectangle on one of the sides, and dump out the liquid.  You can use this as a storage container after you’ve rinsed and dried the can, and the hole can be sealed with an adhesive bandage.  If you can’t find a full can, you can use an empty one, but you’ll have to plug the top  as well.  This is an excellent way to store and transport small items that could otherwise become lost or difficult to retrieve later, and it can protect items from getting wet or dirty as well.

Fishing Pole and Hook

Tie off some fishing line along the center of the can before twirling around the rest.  While you may not be able to cast the line over great distances, the can will act as a spool and provide you with an easy way to hold your rig while you fish.  You can also break off the tab at the top of the can and fashion it into an improvised fish hook.

Fire Starter

The concave surface on the bottom of the can is just enough to capture energy from the sun and direct it towards tinder.  This is a great alternative to a magnifying glass, and all it takes is some good aim and patience for this method to work.

Improvised Alarm

Install a rudimentary tripwire across areas where you expect people or animals to pass through.  Attach a can to one or both ends of the wire, and place some small rocks inside.  The cans will jiggle and make noise as the line is snagged, and this can provide you with a simple, yet effective early warning system.


Believe it or not, you can get a decent amount of char-cloth by incinerating a can in a hot fire.  All you need to do is cut off the top of the can before stuffing the inside with tree bark, cotton cloth or other fibrous forest debris.  Crinkle the opening closed before placing the can into the heart of the fire for around 5 minutes.  The can will start to disintegrate while the material inside begins to break down.  The combination of aluminum flakes and organic material can provide you with an an excellent fire-starter that can be stored and used in the future.

These are just a few examples of the many practical uses that we can get from cans during a survival situation.  Think of other ways that you can put this resource to work for you, and you’ll quickly discover why aluminum cans are a lot more valuable than a lot of people think.

Penny Can Stove