Unusual Tips Americans Can Learn From Our Armed Forces

The people (and animals) who serve in our armed forces are heroes. They’re also really good at life hacks. We can learn a thing or two from these military men and women who find creative ways to handle nearly any situation. The next time you need a life hack, try one of these tricks.

1.  Pack without using several suitcases

Smiling man with luggage
Prioritize one bag. | Westend61/Getty Images
  • You can master the art of packing t-shirts, pants, and socks to fit more clothes in a smaller bag.

It’s common to fill at least one large suitcase for a week’s vacation. After all, you need many casual clothes, beach clothes, “nicer” clothes, and much more, right? When you’re in the armed forces, however, you must be ready to roll out at any time.

Next: A minor inconvenience for civilians is a big deal for the military.

2. Keep your shoes tied

Soldier tying his shoe laces
A solider ties his laces | Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images
  • Soldiers tie knots at the top of their laces to keep them from coming untied. They also tie a knot at the center of the boot to keep them tight.

You may not give a lot of thought to your shoes coming untied. In the armed forces, though, an untied boot could become a huge pain or even put you in danger. That’s why soldiers learn how to tie shoelaces properly during basic training.

Next: There’s no excuse to be under-caffeinated.

3. Make quality coffee no matter your location

Black coffee with an Aeropress
Preparing coffee with an Aeropress. | FancyStudio/Getty Images
  • Read former Marines’ instructions on the best ways to make coffee on the road, in the wilderness, or elsewhere.

Members of the armed forces can’t get a grande latte while deployed, but they still know how to make a good cup of coffee. Fortunately, you have convenient portable coffee options at your disposal.

Next: A tip for anyone who hates driving at night

4. Master nighttime driving

Bright headlights on a dark road
Headlights can blind you. | releon8211/Getty Images
  • As a car comes toward you, close one eye. When the car passes, reverse eyes so the one exposed to light is now closed and the one closed is open. Stay like this until the eye that had exposure to the headlights has recovered.

No matter how good your eyes are, driving at night can be hazardous, especially if you’re sensitive to bright lights. The next time you drive at night, try this trick to get past the high beams of oncoming cars.

Next: Duct tape really does fix everything!

5. Prevent blisters with duct tape

Duct Tape
A roll of duct tape | Devonyu/Getty Images
  • Duct tape is actually better than bandaids or moleskin at preventing blisters and hot spots.

Athletes and hikers, take note. Most of us turn to bandaids at the first sign of a blister, but that’s not always an option for people in the armed forces. Use duct tape instead.

Next: It sounds weird, but it works.

6. Soak your leather shoes to fit them to your feet

Shoes soaking
Soaking your shoes | Bowonpat Sakaew/Getty Images
  • Soldiers soak their DMS boots in water, then walk around in them to get the leather to stretch out.

Soldiers custom-fit their shoes by soaking them, which softens the leather, stretches the shoes, and prevents blisters. As the boots loosen, the soldiers re-lace the boots so they’ll mold to their feet even more. They dry the boots in front of a fan.

Next: Try this the next time you want to start a fire.

7. Build a fire using Vaseline and cotton balls

Petroleum jelly
Just add cotton balls. | Yoyochow23/Getty Images
  • Put vaseline on your finger, rub it into cotton balls, and seal them in a plastic bag.

It won’t get you a roaring bonfire, but vaseline-filled cotton balls work well as a lightweight, portable accelerator. When you want to start a fire, strike the cotton with a match. You’ll get at least two minutes of burn — enough time to add kindling.

Next: Shine bright with this fiery trick.

8. Shine shoes using the ‘fire method’

Shine shoes with the fire method
Don’t be afraid of fire. | Slate via Youtube

Your dress shoes can keep that shine with what the military refers to as the fire method. While we civilians might forget to shine our shoes, or are just too lazy to care about scuffs, in the military, it’s important to get rid of scuffs and have perfectly shined shoes. This video walks you through the steps including what materials you need to get rid of dirt and keep your shoes looking good.

Next: Keep your shirts tucked in all day long.

9. Tuck in your button-down the right way

tucked-in shirt
A tucked-in shirt looks nice. | airdone/Getty Images
  • Before you tuck your shirt in, pinch the shirt’s seams on the sides at your waist, then fold it up toward your back. Tuck it in tightly to get rid of the puffy look. It will stay tucked in all day.

Stop the awkward cycle of shirts coming untucked by learning how soldiers keep their shirts tucked in. You can learn the “military tuck” in a few steps thanks to Slate.

Next: A good use for all those socks

10. Keep drinking water cool in hot areas

military water bottle
A military water bottle | NorGal/Getty Images
  • Put your water bottle in a sock soaked in water. As the water dries, the sock’s temperature will lower by as much as 30 degrees, which can make the water drinkable.

If you’re in a hot climate where you can’t keep your water cool, try this trick used by the military stationed in Afghanistan, where it can be up to 120 degrees. This trick will keep your water cool so you can stay hydrated.

Next: It will get wrinkles out when you’re in a pinch.

11. Smooth wrinkles without an iron

A wrinkled shirt with spray bottle
Spray a shirt. | Mrkob/Getty Images
  • Hang your shirt. Spray it with water (don’t soak it). As your shirt dries, the wrinkles will fall out.

If you don’t have an iron or a dryer handy, but you need to smooth your dress shirt, try this trick. This won’t be as effective as an iron, but it will make your shirt look better in a time crunch.

Next: The only time it’s acceptable to pee in the shower.

12. Peeing in the shower can cure athlete’s foot

Wet legs in a shower
A new way to shower | Madiz/Getty Images
  • Members of the armed forces are often told to pee on their feet (in the shower) to cure or prevent athlete’s foot.

Hear us out. The urea in our urine can treat skin conditions. After all, urea is added to skincare products. However, doctors say the amount of urea in urine isn’t enough to cure athlete’s foot. So, try this at your own risk.

Next: MacGyver would be proud.

13. Soak up blood with maxi pads

Unused disposable pads
Panty liners and sanitary napkins | LexCollection/Getty Images
  • Maxi pads are useful for wounds as they soak up a lot of blood and don’t stick to skin.

If you’re a woman, you probably have some laying around the house. The next time someone has a wound with a lot of blood, wrap a maxi pad around it and secure it with duct tape.

Next: Be ready for any temperature.

14. Use runner’s tights instead of long underwear

Winter arctic army soldier
Army serviceman in winter camo in the Arctic | zabelin/Getty Images
  • The lightweight dry-fit material will wick sweat to keep your sweat from drying, which would make you even colder.

When you need an extra layer on cold days, opt for runner’s tights instead of cotton or wool long underwear. They’re snug enough that you can easily wear them beneath pants.

Next: Be ready for anything.

15. Always have access to a survival guide

Disoriented camper
Your smartphone can save you. | Motortion/Getty Images
  • Download a Survival Guide from the app store so you always have military strategy in your pocket.

You don’t need a bound copy of the military survival guide (if you could even get your hands on it). Take the digital version with you when camping or hiking, and rest easy knowing you’ll figure things out, military style.