How to Make a Rope Out of Plastic Bags, by Zac T.

Here’s a little about me. I am a graduate student striving towards my Master’s in Public Health, which means I spend most of my time studying infectious diseases, what food people need during emergencies, and how to fight bioterrorism. When I am not pondering these problems, I enjoy backpacking, lifting weights, and growing bell peppers.

You wander from aisle to aisle, flashlight in hand, down what used to be your local tool supply store.

When the first case showed up over the mountain about three months ago, most of the stores in town were looted pretty heavily. This place is certainly no exception.

“Oh Lord, please please please,” you whisper underneath your breath as you finally come across the aisle where the rope should be.

You’ve been bugging out since the city became too dangerous to sleep in, and last night the old rope you salvaged for your tarp tent snapped in a scuffle with a falling branch. You need new rope. Without it, it looks like you’ll be sleeping underneath a tarp blanket.

You walk up to the shelves. Your gut drops.

“Oh noooo,” you mutter. “Not here, too.”

Every last rope is gone.

You stuff a handful of nails in your pocket on your way out as you continue your search elsewhere for that elusive length of rope.

What do you do when this becomes a reality?

In a survival situation, a good length of rope can mean the difference between life or death. People are smarter than you think and recognize this as well. As a result, post-disaster, rope is going to be VERY hard to come by. Yes, you are going to need food, you are going to need medical supplies, and you are going to need shelter, water, weapons, and the like. However, how are you going to hang your food in a bear bag if you bug out? How are you going to fasten a splint to your daughter’s twisted ankle? How are you going to suspend your tarp A-frame tent, bring supplies up to a tree-house, restrain an attacker, bundle your supplies, et cetera? The list could go on and on.

You are going to need rope and lots of it!

One good rope can mean the difference between surviving or forever being lost to the elements. Without rope you can’t hang a bear bag, tie down supplies, set up a tarp, secure a boat, make a splint, and a host of other things that could come in very handy in a survival situation. Luckily for you, however, you are about to learn that a quality length of strong rope can be made out of an everyday household item that I can essentially guarantee you’ve been stockpiling without even knowing.

PLASTIC BAGS.

I’m talking about those annoying little guys you pick up at the store EVERY time you shop for groceries, clothes, tools, or anything else, and then you store in your kitchen stuffed into each other. Yep. Those pesky boogers can be made into an incredibly strong length of rope. This is true, if you know what you’re doing, of course.

So, how do you do this? By following these six simple steps:

Step 1 – Collect Bags

If you want to make a plastic bag rope, you are going to need a lot of plastic bags. Gather as many as you can get your hands on, and lay them flat against the floor so that they are all stacked on top of each other in the same orientation with the handles at the top.

Try to smooth out as many of the wrinkles as you can. Ideally, you want your bags to look just like they do when they’re still stuck on the merry-go-round at Kroger. They are all flattened out and aligned almost perfectly there.

Step 2 – Make Half-Bags

Grab a very sharp pair of scissors and cut your stack of paper bags from the very middle of the base of the bags (where all the food rests when the bag is full) in a straight vertical line to the middle of the top of the bags (at the bottom of the U shape that the handles on both sides of the top form).

I’ve never been able to cut more than two at a time here, so it’s going to take a little while, depending on the size you want your rope to be. Lay out two bags on the ground, place your foot in the bottom right corner, and using your left hand to keep the other side taut, use scissors to glide the cut up the middle of the bags.

If you try to actually “scissor” your way up the bag, you’re going to end up with a pretty jagged cut. You really do need to do all that you can to keep the bags taut so that the scissors glide to the top.

Repeat this for all of the bags.

Step 3 – Poke Holes (a lot of them)

Now you have two little stacks of half-bags. Take a half-bag, and you’ll notice that there is a seam alongside the side of the bag. At the bottom, there should be a cone-like end to the seam within the bag. You are going to poke a hole that you can fit two fingers in about two inches from this cone seam.

So, if you have the bottom of the half bag facing you, the hole is going to be two inches away from the bottom of the side. Do this for all of the bags.

Step 4 – Girth Hitch the Bags Together Into Two Strands

Now you have a whole lot of half bags with holes in the side of them. You’re going to take one half-bag’s handle (BAG A), and thread it through the hole you tore on a second half bag (BAG B). Then make BAG A thread through its own handle so that the two bags are now connected with a knot.

Pull the bags tight to girth hitch the bags. Make it a snug fit. Do this by pulling on the bag close to the knot. By pulling farther away you’re going to stretch the bag’s middle and weaken your rope.

Make two strands of even length doing this.

Step 5 – Braid the Rope

Here comes the fun part.

You’ve already made two even length strands of half-bags. Now what you need to do is to take both strands and hang them by their middle from something, so that you end up with four even length strands. I, personally, think that this works infinitely better if you can hang the strands from a ceiling rafter (I use a punching bag stand), but around the back of a chair leg will work fine as well.

By hanging the bag strands from someplace higher than your head, you can avoid a lot of unnecessary bending over and a sore back. I’ve found it takes twice as long to finish the thing when you’re on the floor as well.

You need to braid the strands together to make a strong, durable rope. I’m going to explain it below; however, if you need a visual, resort to this video HERE.

This is much easier than you think.

You can see that you have four strands in front of you. If you held two strands in each hand, you would have a “LEFT”, and a “RIGHT” strand in each hand. You need to take the two “right” strands, and braid them over the two “left” strands.

Good job. You did it.

Now you still have four strands in front of you, and some of them are crossed over others. Now you have two new “middle” strands between your two hands. Take the left “middle” strand and braid it over the right “middle” strand.

You’re going to repeat that same pattern over and over and over again until your rope is finished. Two rights over lefts, middle left over right.

Make sure that you pull your braid work together tight at this step. The tighter you can make your braid, the stronger your rope is going to be. This is plastic, after all. By ensuring tight braids, the stuff will have less of a chance to stretch.

In Conclusion

For the rope I made for this article, I started off with 21 grocery store bags and I ended up with a 9’ rope in about 30-40 minutes. So, if you want an 18’ rope, you’re going to need 42 bags. A 32’ rope requires 84 bags, and so on down the line.

Getting the hang of the braiding pattern is always the toughest part. Once you can work through the first two feet or so of rope, your brain will instantly pick up on the pattern and you can roll through the whole project pretty quickly.

I decided to do a quick tensile strength test of my rope, as well. It ended up holding 55 pounds worth of dumbbells quite satisfactorily. I ran out of dumbbells after that, but I and the crack in my basement floor can certainly tell you it won’t hold your bodyweight. (I’m 160 pounds.)

Would I use this to rappel from something? Nope. There’s no way.

However, if you needed a way to tie down supplies, make a splint, hang a bear bag, or set up a tarp, this works just as well as the real deal.

As mentioned before, the tighter you can braid your threads and the sturdier of a bag you can find, the stronger your rope is going to end up being.

Also, make sure to keep this thing away from direct sunlight for long periods of time. Ultraviolet light weakens the plastic and will ultimately result in a broken rope. Because this thing is made out of plastic, there is going to be a fair amount of stretch to the rope when it’s loaded down. A little stretch won’t hurt anything; it’s similar to a bungee cord. However, once the weight overloads the tensile strength, the rope is going to stretch past its limits and snap.

You’re just about outside the doors when you remember something:

“How could I forget!” you exclaim.

“I can use plastic bags!”

You read how to do this in an article online, pre-plague.

You’re happy. No need to be a tarp burrito tonight.

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