Ah, the noble condom.

It has been the faithful companion of men around the world for hundreds of years for its labeled purpose, and we have been finding alternative uses for them since they started making them out of latex (they were, and still are often made from sheep intestines).

One old school use of condoms is as a waterproof or dirt-proof container. Back in WWII it was common for sailors, especially those on the extremely vulnerable liberty ships, to put their valuables in a condom and tie off the end. If they were torpedoed (an all too common occurrence) and they had to abandon ship, it would keep their stuff dry. And at least since Desert Storm (and probably long before) soldiers and marines have often tied a condom over the end of their M16s to keep the sand out of the barrel. As long as whatever you want to keep dry is not too large or sharp, condoms can make a cheap and effective protective case.

I have heard of some people using condoms as fishing bobbers. I suppose that if you inflated the condom especially large you could use it for jugging (where you tie a baited line to an empty jug and throw it out into a lake), but you would probably want to put the condom in a bag or net rather than to tie the line directly to it; a big fish might rip it through tugging.

The elastic properties of condoms can allow them to serve as rubber bands. I am not sure how effective of a sling shot could be made with a condom, but you could probably make a decent polespear with it. It can also serve as an emergency tourniquet or can be used to secure a field dressing.

There has also been a lot of talk lately about starting fires with condoms full of water. I have tried to do this, but have been unsuccessful so far. However, this link will show the video of someone who knows how to make it work.

However, the most popular and practical use of condoms in the wilderness is as a water carrier. I was not always a big fan of condoms for holding water, but the fact is that no other container takes up less space in a pack or kit and can hold as much water as a condom. Some people have filled their condoms with a gallon or more of water, but it will last longer if you limit it to a quart or two. I have also learned a few tricks to make them more effective water carriers.

First, common logic would seem to dictate that non-lubricated condoms would be the preferred choice, but I have heard some good arguments for lubricated condoms. Condoms will dry out over time which will cause them to break more readily (hence the expiration date on the package); I have tried using some expired condoms as water carriers for a test, and they are quite a bit more fragile than new ones. In theory, lubricant should slow the drying of the latex. Also, the heavy duty lubricated condoms seem to be thicker, and hence stronger, than non-lubricated condoms which usually only come in one strength. As long as the lubricant is water based, it will rinse off the condom pretty easily. However, washing the condom is only practical where there is a lot of water available; if you were in the desert where water is more scarce, a non-lubricated condom would probably still be more practical.

Next, always inflate the condom several times to stretch it out. Obviously don’t over inflate it until it pops, but blowing it up like a balloon a few times will make it much easier to fill with water.

The trickiest issue with condom is how to seal them up while still making them accessible to drink from. Undoing a latex knot is maddening at best, so many, if not most people who carry condoms in their kits also include a twist tie. But there is an even better way…

I ran across this video a while ago which explains how to make a spout out of an elderberry branch (elderberry has a pithy core which is easy to dig out and make a tube with). It is pretty slick, but what if you don’t have elderberry or an equivalent pith cored wood to work with? There is another way:

The stages of twisting a spout out of green wood

I learned a trick from this video. The idea is that if you heat a green stick over a fire the heat and steam will allow you to twist out the core, leaving you a hollow tube. If you can build a fire and have a knife or other tool that will carve wood, you can make a spout. You will want a green tree branch at least an inch in diameter, and as straight as possible. As you can see in my pictures, you want to carve a notch about 1/2 of the way to the center of the stick all the way around and three inches or so down from the end. You then heat the stick over the fire, turning constantly as you don’t want to burn it. Once you hear the moisture in it start to hiss, and you can begin twisting the stick. This part takes some practice. You want to twist it hard enough to separate the core, but if you twist too much before the stick is heated enough, you will just snap the core. What I did was to twist it as far as possible to put the core under tension, and then would put it back over the fire for a while longer; twist, heat, twist, heat, and so on until the core breaks free. You also want to carve in as deep as I said, because if you go too shallow, the outside of the stick will split while you are twisting. This is definitely something you want to practice around the campfire a few times. If you are successful, you will have a tube.

Carve your notch and sand it smooth with a rock

There will be a bunch of loose fibers in the spout, but pushing a twig through it a few times will get rid of most of those. Carve a notch around the spout to be able to tie the condom to; just make sure you don’t go too deep. At this point, it is a good idea to take a rough pebble to sand everything a smooth as possible. You do not want any splinters to rip the condom. Once the spout is completed, carve a simple plug to use as a cork. Then it is just a matter of securely tying the condom to the spout:

It was raining out, so I just filled this in the sink quick. This is just to show you what it looks like; always use a sock or bandana to support the condom.

I also decided to try making a full abo-style condom canteen:

With a birch bark neck and a netted body, I think this looks pretty cool. I don't know how practical this is, but I think Cody Lundin would be proud.

If you want to see the steps to making the neck, click here.

The last major issue is filling the condom. If you have a waterfall it is pretty easy, but what about lakes and streams? If you live in birch country, it is no problem. Make a simple funnel-shaped scoop out of birch bark with the exit hole slightly smaller than your condom or flask mouth:

A simple cone of birch bark can do wonders. I pegged it together with spruce root, but even twigs would work.

Just hold the funnel tightly to the condom/flask and scoop.

The funnel will leak, but you will still have enough water pressure to do the job. You mught have to squeeze the water down a few times (like milking a cow), but it should fill pretty easily.

That is enough stuff for now. As always it is best to practice this stuff at home. I do admit, it is quite entertaining to go to the drugstore and tell the clerk, “well, I worked my way through the last six I bought; better give me an even dozen this time.” And what brand to buy? I like Durex; after all, the Trojans did lose the war against the Greeks.

Until next time.