This week’s listmaker: Creek Stewart. Creek is a survival expert and the founder of Willow Haven Outdoor. He is also the star of Fat Guys in the Woods, airing on The Weather Channel at 10 p.m. Eastern. This piece originally appeared on his Willow Haven blog, and appeared previously as a Punchlist on 5/20/13.

Do me a favor for the next five minutes. Try to forget everything you know about a tampon. I know, it’s hard. But pretend that this is the first time you have ever seen or heard of the item below and it is a new survival product on the market: the Tactical Adventure Medical Preparedness Outdoors Necessity (T.A.M.P.O.N.).

All kidding aside, a TAMPON really does have a ton of uses to a survivor. One could even argue to include a couple in your survival kit. Ultimately, I’ll let you be the judge.

Before I get into the details of this post, a brief history of the tampon might surprise you.

The tampon is actually regulated in the U.S. by the Food & Drug Administration as a Class II Medical Device. The word ‘tampon’ is a derivative of the French word tampion, which means “a piece of cloth to stop a hole”. My research indicates that tampons were used as early as the 19th century as battle dressings to plug bullet holes. It wasn’t until later that they were used as a feminine product. There are even accounts of tampons being used as wound plugs in modern warfare. A friend of mine told me that it’s not uncommon for Army medics to carry tampons in their med kits. Tampons are sterile and come very well packaged in their own waterproof containers. This only adds to their survival utility.

I’ve highlighted a few survival uses below:

1. TAMPON Survival Use #1: Medical bandage.

Not only are these little tactical bandages packaged in a waterproof sleeve, but they are designed to be ultra absorbent – making them the perfect first aid bandage. They can be taped or tied over a wound as an improvised dressing. And, as I’ve already mentioned, they can be used to plug a bullet hole until more detailed medical attention can be administered.  Many items in modern society were first developed as a facet of military research – tampons being a prime example. The Internet being another. The list goes on and on.

2. TAMPON Survival Use #2: Crude water filter.

While it will not filter out biological, chemical, or heavy metal threats, a tampon can certainly be used to filter out sediments and floating particulates. This would be considered a first-phase filter and can drastically increase the life and efficacy of your main water filter. You can also use a filter like this before boiling to filter out larger particulates. 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 the container below.

The water dripped out nearly crystal clear.

3. TAMPON Survival Use #3: Fire tinder.

Nearly everyone knows that cotton makes an 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 one tampon into three or four fire-starting tinder bundles. Add in some chapstick or petroleum jelly and you’ve got an even better fire-starting tinder.

4. TAMPON Survival Use #4: Crude survival straw filter.

Yes, I have a tampon in my mouth – don’t laugh. As a last ditch water filter, you can make an improvised survival straw from the plastic housing and cotton from a tampon. As you can see in the photos below, just tear off a bit of the cotton and stuff it into the plastic housing. I find it better to leave a little bit sticking out to make the housing pieces wedge tightly together.

Again, this filter will not purify your water by removing biological, chemical, or heavy metal threats. But it will filter out sediments and particulates. This would be a last-ditch effort if no methods of water purification are available.

5. TAMPON Survival use #5: Wick for improvised candle.

In the photo above, I used the string on a tampon as a wick in an improvised candle that I made from rendered animal fat and a freshwater 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 have also worked as a fuel.

6. TAMPON Survival Use #6: Cordage. The string attached to a tampon is a cotton twisted 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.

I’m sure there are also numerous other uses for small amounts of quality cordage. For example, I also use this cordage in…

7. TAMPON Survival Use #7: Blow dart fletching.

The blow gun certainly has its place in survival history. From native Americans to tribes in New Guinea, the blow gun 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.

Watch out, birds and lizards: you may get shot by a tampon-fletched blow dart! For a great article about how to make natural cotton fletched blow darts check out this page:


So what did you decide? In the kit or not in the kit? The only part of the tampon that I didn’t mention was the wrapper/packaging. What uses can you think of for it? Or are there more uses that I didn’t mention?

If nothing else, this post is another lesson in the importance of looking at everyday products through the eyes of a survivalist. Creativity and innovation are critical.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN.

P.S.: Was talking to another friend of mine yesterday, Bill Szabo, who happens to be a medic in the National Guard. He also confirmed that it’s common practice to include tampons in military field medic bags and confirmed that he has two in his medic kit for emergency use.