Introduction: Survive Without Style - the Ultimate Garbage Bag Shelter

Picture of Survive Without Style - the Ultimate Garbage Bag Shelter

Many years ago I went on a hitchhike adventure through France. I started in Flanders, made it to Frances most western point and descended the magnificent French coast to the surfing beeches on the border with Spain. From there it went straight eastward, direction the Mediterranean Sea.

The more I hitchhiked through that part of the country, the less I hitched. My Tour Of France became a real walking trip. I enjoyed the land, the smell, the people & its wildlife. In that order, though - not the smell of the wild people on the land.

One day I arrived on a place called Iraty. Instead of the usual stinky sheep & occasional - but also stinky - cyclists the pass was crowded with a whole different sort of people: boys & girls with binoculars & scopes. It seemed that pure accidentally I hit one of Europes hotspots for the spectacular autumn migration of raptors & storks. I really never heard about that place before - being young, you know - and since I already stayed on some other migration spots before I decided to stay a few days.

Those few days became two months.

When I finally decided to go on with my trek to the blue coasts, autumn had fell and the nights were getting really cold in those mountains.

There was one problem: I had no tent & no decent sleeping bag. And also no money. Or not enough, let's say.

Instead of changing my plans, I decided to improvise. So I went to the local market, and bought a roll of garbage bags, some powertape & double sided tape, a cheap foam carpet and a survival blanket. And also a sixpack of orange juice. And a few beers. That's the official story.

In a bit more than an hour I built something that didn't look like anything else, but what proved to be one of the best shelters I ever had.

I heard about garbage bag survival before and I tested it once, but with this creation I tilted it to another level. No kidding.

Yesterday I built that shelter again, in the last beams of sunlight. Just like then.

Driven by fun, this time. Not by necessity.

Step 1: The Concept

Picture of The Concept

Like I said, 'garbage bag survival' is nothing new.

No matter what manual or instructable you read about it, they're all more or less the same: 'take a garbage bag and sleep in it.'

This concept has some advantages: those bags are cheap, those bags are light and ... yes, those bags are cheap and also light.

They have also one big disadvantage: condensation. They don't 'breath' and thus water vapour will condensate on every cold surface - aka the whole bag. So when you wake up you'll be soaked like a cat.

I truly hate garbage bag survival. And even more those who write good things about it.

So instead of staying in my corner hating things, I want to show you this upgrade.

Because I care about all of you and because IT WORKS LIKE CRAZY!

This is the cheapest heavy duty 'tent' ever.

And you're gonna make it.

You'll need: 8 garbage bags, 1 cheap camping carpet, 1 survival blanket (mylar), 1 roll of powertape, 1 roll of double sided tape & 4 screwable juice/sugar/whatever recipients. And a few meters of paracord.

Total cost: 20$. Try to get a tent for that.

Step 2: Preparing the Bottom (optional)

Picture of Preparing the Bottom (optional)

If you want to protect that fragile carpet it might be a good idea to protect the bottom of it with a few garbage bags.

Tape 4 garbage bags together (2x2).

Tape both sides for more strenght.

Don't tape both sides for less weight.

Step 3: Finishing the Bottom

Picture of Finishing the Bottom

Add a few bands of double sided tape to the right side of the carpet and stick the result of step 1 to it.

That's all. Ready is the bottom of your tent.

Step 4: Preparing the Roof (not Optional)

Picture of Preparing the Roof (not Optional)

You're going to make a high-isolation roof. Not only it will protect you against rain & postapocalyptic fall-out, but it will also keep you warm.

Making such a roof isn't complicated, but you have to do it right:

  • take 4 individual bags
  • tape them 2 by 2 together - BOTTOM TO BOTTOM aka the openings at the extremities
  • tape those 2 duos together - long side to long side
  • tape also the sutures on the back side - double tape everywhere

Step 5: Finishing the Roof

Picture of Finishing the Roof

Not only the roof will act as a pillow, it will also reflect your body heat.

Did you know that 4 garbage bags taped together are almost the same size as a survival blanket?

You'll discover, once you taped them together with that magic double sided stuff.

Step 6: A Plus B

Picture of A Plus B

The picture isn't really representive, it's just me taping the roof to the bottom.

Nothing complicated: 2m of powertape at each side and done it is.

Very helpful: a few meter of paracord taped over the whole length in the middle of the roof.

Step 7: Brown Sugar

Picture of Brown Sugar

To make this project a winner you really need to find something with a screwable cover aka a valve. Whatever that something may be - mine was brown sugar in really handy bags - you'll cut it in half and insert in each bag.

Doing it the right way:

  • add double sided stuff on the valves
  • insert those pieces in each bag and let just the cover peep out - that's why the openings had to be on the outside
  • close what's left of the bag-openings with whatever tape you have
  • air-tight, don't go for less

The concept:

Those valves will allow you to blow air in the 4 bags to improve their isolation. Thanx to that, condensation inside the tent won't have a chance.

Why? You know, condensation is water that goes from vapour to liquid. The key to this is cold air or a cold surface. Warm air on a cold surface will give you tears, warm air that cools down will give you clouds. Do you have condensation on your double glass inside your house? I don't think so, because the only surface that can get cold is the one in contact with the cruel outside world. Between the two glass sheets smart guys have put a gaz, not common air, to prevent energy exchange between them - called 'isolation'.

The difference between this and the garbage concept? None, in fact. Set aside that we're only using 'common air' from your lungs instead of nitrogen or argon. Will there be condensation IN the bags? Of course there will - unless you're able to spit dry air. Just open the valve and set those few droplets free.

Step 8: Without Style, I Said

Picture of Without Style, I Said

I agree, it IS without discussion my most uggly project ever.

But it's also the only that truly kept me alive, 20 years back at minus whatever how much in those French mountains.

Step 9: Happy When It Rains

Picture of Happy When It Rains

Setup is simple:

  • fix both ends of the roofline to something
  • inflate the four bags for ultra isolation
  • crawl inside & hold your clothes on - this is survival
  • have a very good night

It's been tested, it's been approved, it'll be shared, it'll be favorited and it will be liked.

Stay safe out there, and tell me all about it.

Garbage rocks, totally.


Niii Pawww (author)2016-10-02

I like your title

JulieD8 (author)2015-07-22

This is an ingenious upgrade to the garbage bag shelter, and I agree it does work! My scouting sons tried it! Thanks for this idea and keep 'em coming!

bricobart (author)JulieD82015-09-11

Glad they made it through alive!

Slime Eel (author)2015-07-09

Wow! This is a really well thought out design especially since it's totally improvised.

bricobart (author)Slime Eel2015-07-13

Cold sharpens the mind. But the idea of frozen fingers distills real creativity... ;)

thecrittercloset (author)2015-06-26

i dont understand the use for those brown sugar bags? could you please explain in great detail please? thank you! i love this!

I don't get it either. Super comes in a wax paper bag here, or clear plastic.

Sugar can come in many ways, but it always comes very sweet...

I used these only because they've got those nice caps/valves. Cut the bottom of these bags out en tape them inside the garbage bags, in such a decent way that the only way to communicate with the Inside World Of The Garbage Bags, is through the valve.

Use anything you like, it just has to be openable - if this isn't a word yet, it is from now.

CJDVise (author)2015-07-02

How heavy would you estimate this?

jswann2 (author)2015-07-02

how did you buy your equipment with no money?

bricobart (author)jswann22015-07-02

By improvising.

Those garbage bags were free, since I proposed someone to clean his garden for nothing. I ran very fast, at the time.

The powertape was more delicate. The hardest thing was deviating the attention of the guys on the worksite.

The rope was easy. Sorry about that washing line m'am...

The carpet was even easier. Every camping has leftovers after the season.

The survival blanket? I asked for it at the local ambulance and I got it for free.

The beers? I won them by gaining a bet - the one that I could have 2 rolls of garbage bags for free.

The juice? Another bet, the one with the free beers.

Just improvising.

kkbabineaux (author)2015-06-26

Include lint from your clothes dryer for fire starting could also be lightly soaked in lighter fluid first before sealing in a small pill bottle or tube.

While any lint should burn, synthetics will produce nasty smoke. If you sort by fabric content, just keep cotton, linen, flax or wool. Wool will smell like burning hair, but better than synthetics.

I saw a neat idea, not sure where, for lightly packing lint into eggs carton sections, adding a wick and covering in candle wax. Fuel and waterproofing in one.

MichaelR5 (author)kkbabineaux2015-06-28

Lighter fluid will eat through plastic. I know from experience. A bit of Vaseline rubbed into cotton stuffed into pill or (if you still have any source) film containers, will serve as fire starter and won't eat through plastic.

kkbabineaux (author)MichaelR52015-06-28

Oh Okay, MichaelR5 that's nice to know and Thanks for the feedback! I would have hated to get somewhere and discovered it all ruined :)

verger (author)2015-06-29

Make a video of this, you should. Hmm?

kkbabineaux (author)2015-06-28

As bad as my back is having lupus and all I was thinking of a way to add comfort and thought of the plastic bubble packing material you can buy at a Fed Ex Express or office supply by the foot might give those bad backs a little added comfort. Lol... "Just sayin!" ;)

JohnS4 (author)2015-06-28

It's a decent idea.

But $20 is way to much for it, you can get a decent tent for that and it will last much longer and be a lot less work.

JohnS4 (author)JohnS42015-06-28

And it is pretty inferior to a tent too. It's a good idea if you have nothing else, and already have this stuff. It's not that light either, thanks to all the bags.

kkbabineaux (author)2015-06-26

Question: How do you keep bugs & snakes from crawling inside with you???

bricobart (author)kkbabineaux2015-06-27

Snakes?! In the mountains? At minus 10? This device is definitely designed for where it's cold - isolation, you know. So please don't use it in snake county - you'll be cooked inside!

kkbabineaux (author)bricobart2015-06-27

Oh, I didn't know there were no snakes in the mountains! Texas hill country gal here been over seas, but not to any mountains to speak of except when I visited the Golden Buda in Tiland. Took a Baut bus up that mountain.

bricobart (author)kkbabineaux2015-06-28

I explained it wrong, in fact. Depending on the species, snakes live in dryer - aka warmer - regions, since they need external energy 'warmth' to aim their metabolism. You won't find snakes at higher altitude, for example, since the higher the colder, most of the time. Also, the higher the less prey to catch. Whatever, a good rule is always 'knowing your environment' and looking for solutions in function of that knowledge. I knew there was no danger from animals, the time I built it, and so I didn't care about those openings...

Barbara Anderson (author)2015-06-27

I am all for learning "ALL I CAN" when it comes to the survival mode that will be "REQUIRED" of all of us. NOT just a few. IF you don't give a damn about the survival, then get outta here, and go play solitaire in Slingo or Simslots or on MSN free table games. Because SOLITAIRE is ALL you will be playing, if there are ZERO survivors.....except for maybe YOU....until your NON-KNOWLEDGE of the TRUTH on survival gets you stranded with ZERO HELP for any upcoming cancers you just MAY develop, because you did not CARE enough to find out about the "FULL SURVIVAL MODES OF ALL CURRENTLY KNOWN TO MAN!!!" This is one RARE opportunity to LEARN and to HELP fellow man, and oh YES....."YOUR VERY OWN FAMILY!!!" WAKE UP AND GET A LIFE ALREADY.....MAKE IT A LIFE YOU CAN KEEP AND SHARE FOR A LONG - "LONG" TIME!!!

Barbara do you need a hug?

Maybe a long vacation or go on decaf?

Dear Barbara, you just could have said it a lot shorter you know. 'Thanx for sharing this very useful instructable!', for example. Or 'Bart you are so awesome are you sure you're married?'. You did it the long way, and I thank you for making my day anyway!

glorybe (author)2015-06-26

This could be helpful in cooler climates. I'm in south Florida and between the heat, the bugs and dangerous snakes and animals it would be uncomfortable and dangerous as well. We might have one night a year cold enough to use a bag tent.

bricobart (author)glorybe2015-06-27

As you said, it IS definitely a cold region device - that's why I initially designed it for. Next time I'll try to pist somethong that can be used in warmer regions ;)

buck2217 (author)2015-06-27

nice i'ble --do you carry the table with you as well to aid building? :-)

bricobart (author)buck22172015-06-27

Thanx buck - how did you guess that my next ible will be 'The ultimate garbage bag table'? ;)

plecat (author)2015-06-27

Sleeping on a hard surface can be tough on the back especially the low back. You might add some extra padding in this area for lumbar support (maybe an extra roll of foam) . I suppose you could use another "inflatable" container for adjustable support!

NIce!!!! Paul

kkbabineaux (author)2015-06-26

Hey don't make fun if the POS keeps making these bad judgments we might all have to run for the hills to survive!

kkbabineaux (author)2015-06-26

Question: How do you keep bugs & snakes from crawling inside with you???

ToddT (author)2015-06-26

Darn cool idea and a great idea to keep in the car during those hunting trips.

cleaverbikes (author)2015-06-26

What does this have to do with privilege? Freegan Awesome.

jlvanfosson (author)2015-06-26

cool idea! Needed this idea when I was in the Army!

Jobar007 (author)2015-06-26

Well written and well documented, as always. Thanks for showing that you can have style without being stylish.

bricobart (author)Jobar0072015-06-26

I really need to explain this to my wife! And also to my neighbour who didn't understand a word when he saw me crawling 'out of a trash bag!' that morning...

alexandraroach1 (author)2015-06-26 is it against badgers and/or zombies?

Or the ones I fear most: badger zombies! In fact, they don't care about it at all, since it looks really like a body bag - someone had to say it - and they know by experience that they're always filled with other zombies...

dkkim (author)2015-06-26

Very ingenious. Esp. the inflation to create some space and insulation. Thanks for sharing!

bricobart (author)dkkim2015-06-26

My pleasure, thanx!

gnach (author)2015-06-26

Elegant and brilliant. The air valves really make it great. From the headline and photo, I thought, with all sarcasm, "oh great, a sweat lodge" but now I'm thinking this needs to be taken up by NGOs that bring relief after natural disasters.

bricobart (author)gnach2015-06-26

Awesome compliment, thank you!

jeditemple2001 (author)2015-06-24

What do you need the sugar packets with the lid on for? It didn't seem clear but that most likely me being an idiot.

I think it's to inflate and insulate the top. It should also help with condensation since the cold air will be offset by the thermal blanket.

if the sugar bags are taped shut at the cut does the condensation get into it to drip out? and you cant inflate the top if the sugar bags are taped at the cut ends? i dont understand.

Hi crittercloset, captain speaking here.

What you missed in this story is that there's no such thing as condensation here. No condensation. Zero. Because know what? Condensation is just water that goes from vapour to liquid, and the key to this is cold air or a cold surface. Do you have condensation on your double glass inside your house? I don't think so, because the cold surface is the second glass sheet that'ss in contact with the cruel outside world. Between the two sheets is a gaz, not common air.

The difference between this and the garbage concept? None, in fact. Set aside that we're only using 'common air' from your lungs instead of nitrogen or argon.

Will there be condensation IN the bags? Of course there will - unless you're able to spit dry air. Open the valve and set those few droplets free. Less weight to carry, you know...

Hope this helped.

About This Instructable




Bio: I made a beer mug with only a knife & a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.
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