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Survival Friday: How to Open a Can Without a Can Opener

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
Survival Friday: How to Open a Can Without a Can Opener

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Have you ever been stuck somewhere with canned food but no can opener?  Or perhaps you were prepared but your cheapie can opener broke?  Now really, this is one area you want well covered when it comes to your preps but just in case you are stuck with out a working can opener, there are some options.

Open Tin Can With Rock

Today my friend Joe Marshall shares his solution to opening a can when there is no can opener is sight.

Did You Forget The Can Opener Again?

Have you ever headed out for a nice weekend of camping only to end up frustrated and hungry because you forgot one little thing… a can opener? Fortunately there is a little trick that lets you open up any tin can with nothing more than a rock.

Modern cans are sealed using a roller that bends the top of the can over the wall and the bends it again to form a leak proof crimp in the can. This leaves only a small amount of metal around the top lip of the can that actually seals the contents.

If you ever find yourself without a can opener simply find a large flat rock or piece of concrete, the rougher the better.  Simply place the can upside down on the rock and press down slightly.  Begin sliding the can back and forth across the rock until you begin to see moisture from the contents being left behind.

Once you see the juice, it means that the seal on the can has been broken and you should be able to use a knife or other sturdy utensil to pry the top of the can off.  If you are not concerned with saving water and only want the food, you can keep sliding the can across the rock to further erode the seal and make opening the can easier.

This is a much safer alternative than trying to hack away at the can with your pocket knife and if you apply the right amount of pressure should take you less than a minute open.

The Swiss Army Knife Solution

Some multi-tools and Swiss army knives include a can opener attachment.  If you own a pocket knife, check for a can opener attachment. It’s not as easy as using a normal can opener (it’s likely to be more fiddly) but with some practice, you should be able to use it proficiently.

Open can with swiss army knife

The Final Word

I have one problem with these solutions.

For less two bucks you can purchase military surplus P51 can openers that are light weight, time tested and will fit on a key ring or in your wallet.  It seems to me that using the real thing makes a lot more sense than a rock.can opener_0

How about you. Do you have any other alternative tips for when you don’t have the right tool for the job?

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Bargain Bin:  Let’s be honest.  There is no excuse not to have a proper tool for opening cans.  Here are my suggestions.

GI P38 & P51 Can Opener Combo Pack (Made in the USA):  This is one of the army’s greatest tools. Can be used for dozens of jobs. Makes a great can opener, cutting edge, groove cleaner, screw drive, clean finger nails, open seams and many, many more practical uses. Now you can have one of each size.

Wenger Serrated Backpacker Swiss Army Knife: Not all Swiss army knives include a blade that can be used to open cans but this one does.

Victorinox Swiss Army Climber II Pocket Knife: This is the Swiss army knife that both Shelly and I carry.  It includes the following: large and small blades, two standard screwdrivers, bottle and can openers, a corkscrew, a wire stripper, scissors, key ring, reamer, and parcel hook. In addition, there is a tweezers and a toothpick that pull out of the end.

OXO Good Grips Can Opener:  This is my own go-to can opener.  I have owned this particular model for over 10 years and it still performs as well as when it was new.  OXO products are not the cheapest out there but they are well designed and they just work.  The one time I had an OXO product that I hated, I sent them an email and they sent me a refund.  Talk about good customer service!

Emergency Essential Corn Bread 013Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials

I really love the Provident Pantry Corn Muffin Mix which I cooked up as corn bread in my cast iron skillet.  Oh my gosh – it was better than anything boxed that I have ever purchased and as good as home made.  The best part is that all I had to add was water!

Same with the Buttermilk Biscuit Mix.

These are just two of the food storage items that you can purchase at Emergency Essentials.  And if you need some recipes?  Go to the Food Storage Recipes page of Emergency Essentials for lots of creative (and free) ideas for using the good you have on hand.

Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials

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10 Responses to “Survival Friday: How to Open a Can Without a Can Opener”

  1. A neck knife, or small full tang fixed blade will also help solve the risk of having the blade snap closed on you with excessive pressure.

    I have seen some people just pull the p38’s blade through the lid instead of rocking them to open the can.

  2. If you have a knife it is easy to open almost any can. You can either put the point against the top, near the rim, and hit the butt of the knife with the palm of your hand (repeat as needed) or do pretty much the same thing against the side of the can, right below the lid crimp.

    A folding knife which doesn’t lock is a little more difficult. Be SURE to hold it without your fingers over the slot in the handle so that if it folds it will not close on your fingers. Push hard, making sure that if it slips it will not drive into you.

    In all cases, I’m pretty strongly inclined to have the cutting edge facing away from me.

    It’s also a good idea to practice ahead of time, ideally with heavy leather gloves. Don’t worry about making a little messy.

    • Tom – I had not thought about the heavy duty gloves. That is a good idea.

      We practiced using our little P38 and P51 yesterday while opening a can of Hunts sauce. We were good – no mess at all. But as you say, practicing ahead of time is important.

  3. we have a couple of p51’s from when we were in military. Hubby is skilled at using them, but I need practice

  4. I’ve opened many a can with just the blade of my pocket knife. No spillage or ground rock that way.

  5. If you want to see someone that is desperate to open of can of food…on a rock…watch the movie Threads – that will motivate you to get a good supply of P51’s and put one in every storage container of canned goods.

  6. I first read that method of opening can in one of Cody Lundin’s books, that is good to know in emergency. Having said that, you are right – a military can opener takes up zero space and can be used as a blade screwdriver as well.

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