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Camping Hack: How to Open a Can Without a Can Opener

We’ve all experienced the sinking feeling when we realize we’ve forgotten an essential item on a camping trip. Depending on where you’re camping, tracking down something as simple as a can opener could be an adventure in and of itself. If you plan to spend a decent amount of time camping, you’d best develop your MacGyver skills. Are you wondering how to open a can without a can opener? Let’s take a look!

5 Ways to Open a Can Without a Can Opener

You don’t have to starve if you brought canned food but no can opener. Here are five ways you can open a can without a can opener!

3 Awesome Ways to Open a Can With NO Can Opener!

Use a Spoon

If you forgot a can opener and have a spoon, we have good news for you! You can open a can with only a spoon. Let’s look at how this method works.

You’ll start by placing the can on a flat surface. Use one hand to hold the can and take the spoon in your other hand. Then take the spoon and position it up and down with the tip of the spoon against the ledge of the lid next to the lip.

Move the spoon back and forth slightly to create friction between the spoon and lid. With enough heat and friction, you can put a hole into the top. Repeat this process as you move around the lid until you can use the spoon to pry the lid open.

It’s important to remember that the lid will be sharp. You don’t want to cut your finger or hand. Use a towel or cloth to protect your hand or fingers. If you’re too far from a store to try this method, you’re likely too far from medical attention to take any chances.

Effectiveness Rating: 7/10 – This is a relatively effective method. However, you’ll need strength for it, and it will likely take at least 10-15 minutes for the average person to do it. You may work up quite an appetite with this method.

Woman holding knife while hiking.
Survival tools, like a pocket knife, can ensure that you can still open and eat your canned foods while camping.

Break Out Your Pocket Knife

If you have a pocket knife on hand, you should be able to get a can open in no time. First, place the can on a flat and solid surface. Make sure to fully extend the blade and place the tip of your blade on the edge of the lid.

Smack the top of your knife firmly, but make sure you don’t lose control of the knife. This method will create a minuscule piercing in the lid, and you can repeat this as you move around the top. You’ll eventually be able to pry open the lid.

It would be best to make sure you’re not hitting your knife so hard that you lose control of it. You might stab yourself or an innocent bystander. Also, make sure to retract the blade fully so it doesn’t close up when you hit the end. 

Effectiveness Rating: 9/10 – A sharp knife is a standard part of camping gear. There’s a good chance you or one of your fellow campers will have one. Once this technique is down, you can likely open a can in less than a minute.

Pro Tip: A can opener isn’t the only useful kitchen gadget to have! In fact, we thought of 33 Must-Have RV Kitchen Accessories!

Rub It On a Rough Surface

Who needs a can opener when using a rock or a rough surface to open your cans? Turn the can upside down with the top down on the rock. Rub the lid back and forth with even pressure until you notice moisture from the can appearing on the rough surface. Turn the can over to avoid rubbing through the top and spilling the contents. You’ll then need to use a knife, spoon, or pliers to pry the lid open.

Make sure to apply even pressure to the can as you rub it back and forth. Be mindful that you want to be careful where you place your hands when rubbing the can on the rock. You don’t want to accidentally scratch your hand or fingers aggressively against the rough surface.

Effectiveness Rating: 6/10 – While this method is helpful, it requires the use of another tool to pry it. The two most common tools to use are a spoon or knife; both we’ve shown are capable of opening a can without the need to rub the can on a rough surface.

Overhead view of tops of cans on orange background
Cook up a delightful dinner over the campfire with canned foods.

Use a Chef’s Knife

If you have a chef’s knife on hand, it may do the trick. However, please don’t use a chef’s knife the same way as you would a different knife in our previous suggestion. Doing so will damage the knife because a chef’s knife is much too thin to try and shove through the can. Instead, you’ll use a different method.

You’ll first set the can on a solid and stable surface. Rest the heel of the chef’s knife on the edge of the lid and apply pressure to force the sharp point of the heel into the lid of the can. This will puncture the lid and create a hole in the lid. You can repeat this process around the entirety of the lid. Then use the knife to pry off the lid and access the food.

It would be best if you placed your thumb on the side of the blade. Failing to place your thumb here could result in cutting your finger and needing to make a trip to the emergency room. It would be much easier and likely less expensive to take a journey to find a can opener.

Effectiveness Rating: 7/10 – This is a solid option for those who carry a chef’s knife with them when they’re camping, but you run the risk of seriously cutting yourself. Please be careful with any of these methods!

Pro Tip: You also don’t need a bottle opener to open a beer bottle. Find out how 7 creative ways here!

Man cooking food in the back of his camper van on camping trip.
Spoons, knives and pliers can all be helpful tools to get your canned foods opened and cooking.

Use Pliers

A set of flat-nosed pliers can open up your canned food in no time. You’ll want to place the canned food on the ground or a level surface. 

You may want to attack the lip of the can with the pliers in an aggressive manner. Try to crush it and crimple it as much as you can to weaken it. Once you’ve crimped around the entirety of the lid, you’ll be able to pry it off and enjoy your food.

Effectiveness Rating: 8/10 – This method is pretty straightforward and only gets easier the more hungry you are. If you’re hungry, you’ll likely have little trouble attacking the lip of the can.

Keep Your Hands Safe

Whenever you’re dealing with cutting or stabbing your way into metal, there’s a risk of injury. It can result in you needing to take a trip to the emergency room for stitches. Take your time and use rags or gloves when necessary to protect your fingers and hands. Always make sure your fingers are out of the way of any blades or pieces of sharp metal.

If you’re camping in a remote camping location, help can be a considerable distance from you. If you or someone you’re camping with gets cut, it could be quite a trek to get medical attention. So stay safe and avoid getting injured while camping.

Opened cans of food.
Always be careful while opening canned food to protect your fingers.

Pro Tip: Keep your canned food to yourself while camping! These are 5 Reasons to Not Feed the Wildlife While Camping!

Mini Can Openers for Any Camping Trip

If you’re not interested in perfecting how to open a can without a can opener, it’s a good idea to make sure you always have a can opener on hand. These mini-can openers can easily fit with your camping gear and help ensure you never have to try to hack your way into any canned food.

Coghlan’s Can Opener

This can opener from Coghlan’s is a small and slim device that can fit into any gear pack or survival kit. It’s 2”x1” and made of carbon steel.

It’s lightweight and compact, two critical features for camping gear. This tool is easy to use and designed to stay sharp for years. 

Coghlan's G.I. Can Opener, Pair
  • Lightweight, versatile tool for camping, backpacking, backcountry...
  • Set of two can openers that can also be used as a cutting edge,...
  • Made of nickel-plated, hardened steel that won't rust; will stay...
How to use Coghlan's #702 GI Can Opener

Korin Can Opener

The Korin can opener is a Japanese-style tool with no moving parts. This makes it user-friendly and durable. The blade is extremely sharp and should last for a very long time. A multi-use tool like this is a must-have item for your camping gear bag. 

Korin Can Opener, 6.5x11x3cm, red
  • No movie parts making it user-friendly and durable
  • Food won't get stuck in crevasses
  • Sharpness of edge lasts for a long time
Korin Product Show - Episode 3: Japanese Ganjy Can Opener

Opening a Can Without a Can Opener Is Possible

If you’re worried about opening a can without a can opener, take solace in knowing that there was a 45-year period where canned food existed before the can opener. So that means for 4.5 decades, people were learning how to open a can without a can opener. If they could do it, you should be able to, as well!

What’s your favorite canned food to take camping? Drop a comment below!

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Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

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She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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