Survive Without Style - the Ultimate Garbage Bag Shelter




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

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.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: 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)

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Unusual Uses Challenge

Runner Up in the
Unusual Uses Challenge

Outside Contest

Runner Up in the
Outside Contest

Reuse Contest

Participated in the
Reuse Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Skateboard Contest

      Skateboard Contest
    • Make it Move

      Make it Move
    • Teacher Contest

      Teacher Contest

    74 Discussions

    Niii Pawww

    2 years ago

    I like your title


    4 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    1 reply

    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.


    4 years ago

    how did you buy your equipment with no money?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    4 years ago

    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.

    3 replies

    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.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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 :)


    4 years ago

    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!" ;)


    4 years ago

    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.