Canned foods have been around since the early 19th century. Protected from air and light, a properly sealed can will last indefinitely, although the nutritional value may change. Canned goods are staple survival foods found in remote cabins, kitchen pantries, and stores worldwide.
Given the relatively low cost, storing food this way makes financial sense, but there is a trade-off. Canned goods are bulky, and can be challenging to open without a dedicated can opener. The resilience of the seal is both a blessing and a curse. You can still get by if you have cans but no opener; you just have to get creative first. We will show you how to open a can with just a few resources you may have at hand.
That combination tool on your Swiss Army Knife or Multi-tool, part box opener and screwdriver, is also a can opener. Similar to the P-38 or P-51 can openers issued, the Swiss Army Knife/Multi-tool opener works in a ratcheting way. On a Swiss Army Knife, the “hook” of the tool catches on the lip where the an is sealed. The body of the Swiss Army Knife is lifted, forcing the tip of the cutting edge into the can. The rest of the sharpened edge follows that point until the spine of the tool is flush with the lid. At that point, the edge is rocked up and then moved forward along the circumference, cutting as it goes. When the entire lid is perforated, the tool is placed inside the lid, and the lid is removed.
Cans are sealed when the lid is crimped around the can body. The lip of the lid is relatively thin, and it sits higher than the rest of the lid. An easy way to open a can that requires a bit of elbow grease and some concrete or a rock is abrading it. With the can held in one hand, it is rubbed against a rock or a rock against it. This will wear the aluminum down where it joins the lid, and the can body.
This method is effective, but it can make a mess. This is why it may be more convenient to use a rock on top of the can lid instead of the can on top of an abrasive surface. Another drawback is the ease of performing this technique with varying sizes of cans. Smaller cans can be palmed more easily than larger cans. That’s what she said.
While not as easy to use as a Swiss Army Knife, a fixed blade can puncture that aluminum lid. With a fixed blade, you need to drive the tip of the blade through the seal, and the safest way to do this is with two hands. One hand is used to hold the blade in place with the edge facing away, and the other is used to strike the butt of the knife with the palm.
If you thought that knife with the “skull crusher” feature was cool, you may regret it now that you are hungry. Holding the can in place with one hand and “stabbing” with the other IS NOT advised since it takes a momentary lapse of judgment or error in your aim to slice your hand when that blade tip misses. Just like the muzzle of a firearm, don’t point the tip of the knife at anything you’re not ready to puncture.
Once you poke a ½” hole in the lid, you must work the blade in a rocking motion where the edge cuts upward from the inside of the can to the outside. Putting a stick on the top of the can against the knife’s spine works as a fulcrum, or you can use the far side of the lid. Continue working around the lid until it frees. If you’re more impatient, or if the contents are mostly liquid, you can make an “X” or a “^” in the top and pry the flaps open.
This method is probably the most barbaric, but it will work if you’re willing to clean up the consequences. You can open a can by applying pressure in the right spot. We recommend doing this inside of a container like a deep storage bin you can clean out later. You can also do this inside of a plastic bag to contain the splatter. Using a heavyweight like a sledgehammer, you can crush the end off of a can. Instead of hitting in the center of the can, favor one side closer to the top or the bottom.
If you have a bench vise (this almost seems ridiculous that you would have a vice but not a can opener), you can also more slowly apply pressure until the can pops. This method is clearly not the most efficient use of your energy, time, and resources, but it will work. As we said, it is barbaric, as you’ll probably end up licking that sledgehammer or crushing tool/rock like a troglodyte.
You can open canned goods in many ways, and then there are effective ways to accomplish the same thing. A manual can opener doesn’t cost much and can be staged easily in your vehicle. Frequent your local thrift shop, and you’ll find them for pennies on the dollar. You can also make it a habit to carry a pocket tool like a P-38 keychain or Swiss Army Knife. Try to have options, but also have the choice to carry the better part of your EDC. You can also store/pack more easily accessed freeze-dried foods if you want to avoid loading up on cans. The choice is yours.