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How to Survive Your Camping Trip Without a Can Opener

Updated on December 10, 2009

Can foods like baked beans, corned beef and chili are some of our favorite foods when my brother’s and I go on our yearly camping trip. Forgetting the can opener on a camping trip can make for interesting times. 

While anybody can eventually open a can after trial and error, here are some tried and true safe ways to open a can without a can opener.  You can use them in a pinch.

Use a Knife (non folding) and your feet

The easiest way to open a can without a can opener is to use a knife.  As a matter of fact while I’m camping I prefer to use my K-bar over the can opener to open a can.  This maneuver can be done while standing or sitting.   I prefer to do it standing. Place your heels together and form a ‘V’ with your feet.  Place the can between your insteps and hold the can in position with your feet.  Place the point of the knife, with the blade facing away from you, at the edge of the can where the can opener would normally rest and PUSH the knife into the can using both hands.  If the can is being held well balanced by both of your feet the knife will penetrate the can with minimal force.  If not the can will tilt to one side almost immediately.  Make the necessary adjustment with your feet and try again.  Remember to PUSH the knife into the can.  Resist the temptation to stab the knife into the can.  After the knife enters the can a slight turn of the knife to the Wright as you pull it up will turn the can getting it ready for the next downward push making the next cut.  After opening one can in this manner you will be shocked at how fast you can get used to pushing the knife pulling it with the slight turn to the Wright  and delivering the next cut into the can.   An easy sawing motion that opens a can within seconds.  A word of caution:  I prefer to use my feet to hold the can instead of my hand because the heavy camping boots will protect my feet in case of an accidental slip where my hand will be unprotected and easily injured if the knife happens to slip.

Use a Folding Knife.

If all you have is a folding knife there’s a different way to open a can safely.  While you can use the same method as above with a folding knife, I wouldn’t recommend it, because the pressure of pushing down tends to fold the handle towards the blade and severe injury may occur to one or more of your fingers.  But even if it a small cut occurs during a survival situation it can have horrific consequences, so we try to avoid any injury if possible.  To use a folding knife to open a can, open the knife half way until it looks like an “L”.    Hold the can between the insole of your feet (same as above).  Hold the blade between your thumb and forefinger as if it were a nail. Place the point of the knife at the edge of the can where the can opener would normally rest and using a medium size rock or wooden club lightly tap the blade into the can.  Strike lightly and carefully to avoid injury and to avoid damaging the knife (you might need it for something else).  You will be surprise how little effort it takes to penetrate the can, slight turns of the blade will ready the can for the next strike.

Use a Tent Spike

If you don’t have a knife you can use a metal tent spike to open the stubborn can. Sharpen the point of a tent spike by rubbing it firmly against a rock. Soon enough you will see a point taking shape. When it’s as sharp as a nail, use the same method as the folding knife to open the can. Hold the stake between your thumb and forefinger, hold the can with the soles of your feet and strike the sharpened tent stake into the edge of can where the can opener would normally cut. You will end up with a can top full of little holes. Make the holes as close as possible and use the tent stake to break the thin metal between the holes. Remember that you don’t have to go through the trouble of removing the entire lid. All you need is to get inside the can, so if you open half of the lid or even one third of the lid you still will get to the food. Save your tools and be safe by opening the least amount of the can necessary.

Use a Nail

No Tent stake?  With almost every square inch of the world having been explored, sometimes all you have to do is look at the trees around you.  If you are camping at a designated campsite chances are someone that came before stuck a nail into one of those trees to hold up a lantern or a cloth line.  Remove the nail from the tree by striking it  from side to side with a rock or a club.  After a while the tree will loosen the grip on the nail allowing you to remove it.  Use the nail in the same fashion as the tent stake to open the devilish can.

Use a Rock

If you don’t have a knife or a tent stake, or can’t find a nail, use a rock to open the can. The first instinct is to smash the troublesome can open. All you’ll manage to do is waste energy making a mess that will produce little or no food. To open a can with a rock all you have to do is find a large flat rock. Stand the can on top of the flat rock and rub the can back and forth onto the rock using the rock as a filing tool to wear out the upper most edge of the can. We used to use the same method as kids and use the cans, after removing both tops, to spray water out of fire hydrants in the streets of New York. Of course New York sidewalks are very flat so it would only take a minute or two to file the top of a can. In the wild you may not find a totally flat rock. Use what you can find, keep checking your progress and you’ll notice where the edge of the can is wearing faster and make adjustment to compensate until the top is almost off. You don’t have to wait until the top is completely removed, mainly because the content of the can will spill. All you have to do is wear it thin enough that if you strike it downward until the top will bend into the can. Using a stick, to be safe, bend the top out of the way creating a opening from where the food can be removed.

Being prepared is the best solution, but you never now when knowing these simple techniques can save you time, energy or an injury.


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    • noelr profile image

      Noel Rodriguez 8 years ago from New York

      Thanks for your comments. Necessity drives you to be creative to get inside that can.

    • Drwibble profile image

      Drwibble 8 years ago from UK

      Great tip on using the rock as a file to open a can when camping, I never thought or heard of that idea before.