It seems like everybody has some sort of prescription medication. Most of them come in plastic bottles with seal-able caps. Here are some ways to make the best use of this underused resource.
by Leon Pantenburg
I never gave much thought to plastic prescription bottles until I was put on medications after open heart surgery. Suddenly, I was accumulating several of the small containers each month. Having a “Waste Not, Want Not” Depression-era mentality, I keep them, trusting that some day I will need a prescription bottle and have just the right size. Today, I have – literally – a bushel of different sizes, shapes and cap styles.
If you look around, you can find all sorts of uses for them.
Here are some general tips on using the handy little containers.
- Check the cap fit first: make sure the container will seal and stay waterproof. If in doubt, test the sealed container in water.
- Wrap them with several feet of duct tape. You need to carry duct tape anyway, and this is one place where the tape will be handy. You might also wrap a container with a bootlace or piece of paracord.
- Use labels: You might know what is in the containers, but you may not be the one who needs to use it. On some containers, such as the cotton balls and petroleum jelly, you should post directions on how to use the contents.
Here are 10 different ways to use plastic prescription bottles:
Matches: Even if your matches are waterproof, they should be carried in a waterproof, shock proof container. You may have to trim the ends of some for them to fit in a prescription bottle, but that’s not a big deal. Make sure to put the abrasive strip from the match box in, too, even if they are of the strike-anywhere variety. Some brands of matches won’t work with different strips. And, you may be in a situation – as in falling in a river on a rainy day – where there is no dry place to strike a light. Carry several backup match caches in your gear.
Cotton balls and petroleum jelly firestarter: My all-time favorite, go-to firestarter is cotton balls infused with petroleum jelly. (Don’t waste your time with dryer lint.) The treated cotton balls can be lighted with anything, but I prefer a ferocerrium rod. (Check out the video.) Each treated cotton ball will burn for about four to five minutes, which should be plenty of time to get a fire going. I usually tape two bottles together, with matches in one and firestarter in another. Tape a ferro rod to both and you have a firestarting kit to depend on.
Sewing kit: A backpacking sewing kit doesn’t have to be elaborate. You need some needles, sturdy thread (I’ve been sewing on buttons with mono filament fishing line forever) and maybe a button or two. Look at the clothing you will be wearing, and think about what could tear or rip, and what you might need to fix it. Then pack your sewing kit bottle accordingly.
Fishing stuff: I don’t carry fishing gear in my pocket survival kits. Here’s why. But on a day hike, I might grab a lightweight fishing rod before leaving and some flies or lures. The prescription bottles are ideal for packing lures, hooks, weights etc. If you segregate your different types of fishing equipment, you can take what is needed instead of a hulking tackle box with stuff you won’t use.
Sunscreen: Or other specialty lotions, such as chamomile, may be needed. Sunscreen is one of those lotions you’ll use year-round, and there’s no point in carrying a bulky tube if it isn’t needed.
Pills: Many of us regularly carry prescription medications, and that’s what these bottles were designed for. If you have different meds, separate them in little plastic bags before putting inside the bottle. You can also carry over-the-counter pills for minor aches and pain. As a minimum, I pack aspirin, Imodium and benadryl in addition to prescriptions.
Containers for flashdrives and digital cards: All records can be saved digitally, and you can take credit card numbers, ID info, PDFs of important documents etc and put them on a flash drive for safekeeping. Put the flashdrives or digital cards in a bottle to protect them from moisture, dust or dirt, and getting broken. Wrap the item in some cloth or something to pad it and keep it from rubbing.
Small screws, items needed for quick repairs: John Nerness, my hiking partner for more than 40 years, always carried a collection of aluminum pins, clevises and small repair pieces. The items are not heavy, and are well-chosen to fix a broken backpack and possibly a stove. (John is also an engineer, and always on the lookout to fix things.) During a hike in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, the strap connection on a backpack broke, and he had the repair part. Take along an aluminum pin, some split rings, a couple feet of wire, and any small parts that may break.
Geocache containers: A great field exercise for learning to use your GPS is geocaching. The idea is to put a cache somewhere, post the coordinates on any of a number of geocache websites and let someone else find it. It should be good, clean fun – the motto is “Cache in, trash out.”
Food containers: If you’re backpacking and want to reduce weight, only take along what will be needed. Check to make sure the lids seal. For insurance, carry any liquids double wrapped in a plastic bag. You can carry cooking oil, syrup, spices or whatever is needed to turn trail food into a gourmet meal.
Look at your gear – chances are you can find something that can be packed more efficiently in a small prescription bottle. In addition to recycling a resource, you’re also making the best, most efficient use of items that might otherwise get thrown away.
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