Every camping grub box should contain some canned goods. Canned foods are brilliant for the outdoors because they give you the opportunity to prepare quick, affordable, well-balanced meals while in the wild.

Packed in thin aluminium tins, canned goods are sturdy, rodent-proof and come with a long shelf-life. They do not require refrigeration, and once you remove the label and open the lid, you can place the can directly in a campfire.

However, when roughing it out, we sometimes forget to include the can opener to the must-have survival gear checklist. Hunger can make us do strange things, like prying open a can of sardines with a knife, fork, spoon, axe, machete, and even a rock. Yes, we’ll show you how to do it!

1. Opening A Can with A Camping Knife

Camping knife

One of the essentials every avid camper will tell you to invest in is a camping knife. It can cut through a string and at the same time protect you on the off chance that you are attacked by a hungry animal. When you are out in the woods craving some clam chowder with no can opener, your pocketknife should be the first tool you reach out for. 

Technique 1

Place the can upright and hold the knife firmly at the handle. Place the tip of the blade in a vertical position on the inner edge of the lid. Perforate the top of the can by tapping gently on the knife handle. Repeat this process until you end up with a series of small holes around the lid. Using the knife in the last hole, pull back the lid, grab a spoon and dig in.

Although this process is time-consuming, it eliminates the chances of getting metal shavings in your food.

Technique 2

Another approach would be to puncture the top of the lid as described above and slice into the can. Using a back-and-forth sawing motion, move the knife blade around the whole circumference until the lid can be pulled back or removed entirely.

Two downsides to this method are that the repetitive sawing motion may dull your knife, or you could get metal shavings dropping into your canned food.

2. Opening A Can with A Spoon

Having some form of outdoor cutlery (especially a spoon) while camping can make the difference between you staring ravenously at a sealed can of baked beans or filling your belly with them. Although this method required patience and elbow grease, once you puncture the metal, the spoon does the rest of the work.


Firmly grip a tablespoon with your entire hand, enclosing your fingers at the lower part of the handle. Place the edge of the spoon at the inner lid and start creating friction by moving it back and forth, vigorously. You can partially hold the bowl of the spoon if you find that more comfortable. Do this until you tear the lid, then use the spoon to push and slice through it.

3. Opening A Can with A Fork

Using a fork is one of the safer methods you can use to open a can without a can opener. However, just know that will be the last time you will use that fork. Chances are, by the time you are done, it will take a shape that may require you to dislocate your jaw before you can use the fork again. You will also need a fairly strong fork, one that will not bend easily.


Similar to the spoon method, grip the base of your fork and place it on the lip of the can. Ensure one prong is on the inner lid while the other three are over the rim. Using a stick or any improvised mallet, tap down hard on the fork until you pierce the edge of the can. Keep the inner fork prong in the piercing and rip your way around the rim, as if you were using a can opener. Carefully pry the lid open.

4. Opening A Can with A Rock or Concrete Block


Having canned goodies but no can opener can leave you feeling like you are between a rock and a hard place. But that can work to your advantage. You can use that rock to snap open a can.

This method tends to get a little messy and will require some effort on your part. You will need a hard surface like the broad side of a rock or a flat concrete slab. The texture of the rock should be a little rough to create sufficient friction that can puncture the lid of the can.


Place the can upside down against the rock or concrete block to break the seal found at the top of the can. Vigorously scrub the can against the rock, stopping on 20-second intervals to see your progress. Stop as soon as you see moisture on the can or the rock. This means the lid is weak enough to open. You can either pry it open with a spoon, pocketknife or squeeze the sides of the tin until it pops open.

Please be cautious when using this method. It would be such a shame to go through all the work of opening a can without a can opener, only to have your food spill out into the dirt.

5. Opening A Can with An Axe or Machete


This method is not recommended for everyone but as an alternative for a real woodsman with outdoors skills. Using large or heavy blade like a camping axe or machete increases the chance of random accidents. You do not want to chop off your foot all for a can of mushroom soup!


You will need to locate a tree trunk or flat surface to lay the can on its side. You can position it with two stones to prevent it from rolling away. In one swift move, strike one edge of the can with the corner of the blade until the tip pierces the can. Try not to use too much force as you might cut right through the can, and there goes your dinner.

Once you have pierced the can, you can slowly manoeuvre the edge of the blade around the circumference of the can.

BONUS: The CrazyRussianHacker Method

As Always, Be Very Careful

While you may not be ready to toss out the can opener just yet, you could show off your survival skills with these methods on your next camping trip. Always handle tools with sharp edges carefully and do your best to avoid any injuries. It may not be easy at first, but with enough determination, you will be going to bed with a full belly and not a growling one.

 If you are not sure of what to eat while camping, this guide to campfire cooking can help.

Kelvin Mwathi