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How to Escape a Zip Tie in Self-Defense

How to Escape a Zip Tie in Self-Defense

Hopefully, the advice in this piece is something that you’ll never need.

But, unfortunately, with the world being what it is, there is a possibility that you could find yourself detained with zip ties at some point in life. If that does happen, you’ll want to know how to get out of that predicament in a hurry.

There are several methods for how to escape a zip tie using nothing but what you have on your person. From breaking the restraint to using shoelaces to escape, knowing these techniques could mean the difference between life and death in the event you’re illegally restrained.

In this piece, we’ll talk about how zip ties work, go over multiple tactics that you can use to escape them, and share a few tools you should consider adding to your everyday carry system.

Understanding How Zip Ties Work

As any mechanic, electrician, plumber, or other tradesperson will tell you, zip ties are an extremely useful tool in the right hands. They’re simple, usually cheap, pieces of plastic that lock around on an object using a ratcheting mechanism.

This Instructables article comes with a good explanation of the mechanics behind zip ties, as well as clear images of how the ratchet mechanism works to keep them locked in place once the tie is in place.

Essentially, zip ties work by threading their flexible strap through a ratchet mechanism. When the strap is pulled, the ratchet locks it in place, creating a secure loop that can only tighten further and cannot be easily undone without cutting the tie.

The same things that make zip ties awesome for everyone to have in their toolbox – being cheap, secure, easy to carry around, and adjustable to any size – also make them a tool in the arsenal of bad actors who want to illegally restrain someone.

Understanding how these ties work is important, so you can visualize what’s going on if, for instance, you need to practice how to escape zip ties behind your back.

When To Use This Information

There are certainly some cases where you’d want to escape from zip ties. Kidnappings are one possibility, as are any number of unpleasant criminal scenarios. That being said,before we get into the methods of breaking zip ties, there are a few disclaimers we have to make.

First, if you are under arrest and a law enforcement officer legally detains you with a zip tie, we do not recommend trying to escape. Even if you’re innocent, trying to run away from the police will likely only end with an evading arrest charge for you. Argue your case with your attorney, not in the back seat of a police cruiser.

Second, if you’ve been detained for illegal or dangerous purposes, escaping could mean the difference between life and death. Some of these methods for escaping zip ties will hurt – a lot.

In addition to potentially straining your wrists, there’s the risk of falling over, bruising yourself, or even dislocating your thumbs or shoulders. All of that is deeply unpleasant, but when it comes to life-or-death matters, people are capable of dealing with a lot of pain.

Again, I hope you never need this advice, but if you do need it, I hope you remember it well.

How to Escape a Zip Tie: Methods

Here are five different tactics for how to escape zip ties that could come in handy in the event you’re ever illegally restrained by them.

Using Shoelaces to Make a Friction Saw

Out of all the techniques, the friction saw is the most physically involved but is also the least painful and most likely to work. This technique exploits the fact that zip ties are all made of plastic, which has a relatively low melting point. This keeps the ties flexible and is also their greatest weakness.

In concept, the technique for how to escape a zip tie with shoelaces is easy. The idea is to thread your shoelaces through the restraint and tie them together, so you can use them as a “saw” to break the zip tie.

Shoelace Friction Saw Technique to escape a zip tie

In practice, there is a bit more to it. Assuming that the zip ties are in front of you, you’ll need to untie your laces and thread one of them through the loop of the zip tie. Then, tie that shoelace to the one on your other shoe, and “bicycle” your feet so that the laces rub against the zip tie until it breaks.

This technique will be a little bit harder if you start with the zip ties behind your back. If that happens, try to put your legs between your hands to get the zip ties in front, or, if you cannot do that, untie your shoes behind your back. It certainly won’t be easy, but this is a very reliable technique.

I would also recommend doing this quietly, and re-tying your shoes after making your escape from the zip-ties: you’ll probably need to do some running soon thereafter, and doing so with one shoe would be far from ideal.

Check out this video for a visual on how to use the friction saw technique.

Shimming the Zip Tie

Although shimming is a lot easier to explain than the friction saw method, putting it into actual use is another matter. Basically, all the shimming method requires is an object you can shove into the mechanism of the zip tie from the side opposite the tail to disengage the teeth and let the loose end slip out.

In practice, doing this requires several things to have gone right. First, the zip ties will have to be loose enough for you to work: this Art of Manliness article suggests a few hand positions that might help if you have the presence of mind to think about it while being tied in the first place. At this point, if the captor is a fool and makes the tie far too loose, simply slip out of it and get out of there!

But, assuming you can work with your hands, you will need a tool. A lock pick or a pocket knife would work if, again, your captor is a fool and does not bother to search you when you’re being captured. If not, then look around for any flat, metallic object. A paperclip would be worth trying, as would the edge of a table.

If you find something, jam it in the mechanism of the zip tie from the side that begins the loop, not the side where the tail is loose. If you work the object in deeply enough, it should either release or damage the mechanism, freeing you from your bonds.

Here is a visual of how to shimmy a zip tie.

Break The Ties

It’s also possible to break zip ties, assuming a few things worked in your favor. First, this is much easier with the ties in front of you rather than behind your back, though it is possible.

Second, you’ll need to be fairly strong to do this, or at least have enough adrenaline to fuel you. Finally, this might not work with heavier ties that are explicitly meant to work as restraints for people.

But, in any case, this is one of the only techniques that does not require any sort of tool to escape. And it is worth trying, as it’s both fast and fairly simple.

Breaking the zip ties

All you have to do to break a zip tie is use your teeth to get it as tight as you can to make the most tension. Then, raise your hands above your head and slam them down towards your midsection, while simultaneously pulling your elbows backward.

This method also works if you’ve been restrained by two zip ties handcuff style (with one zip tie around each wrist, fastened to each other).

If done correctly, this is the fastest way to break free from zip ties. Be warned, though, you might well dislocate either your wrist or thumbs while doing this. Both of those will hurt, but that’s certainly better than remaining a kidnapping victim.

Here’s a video on how to break a zip tie, and here’s one that demonstrates how to do so if your hands are tied behind your back.

Slip Out of the Ties

Finally, if the zip ties are loose enough, you could potentially slip out of them.

The best chance you have at using this method is to present your hands to your captor correctly when they go to zip-tie you. If you appear to be compliant and hold your arms out straight with your fists clenched, or with your wrists crossed, the tie would be loose enough that you could slip out.

Unfortunately, this will likely only work if your captor is inexperienced. With that said, if someone who plans to do you harm would make this mistake, you should absolutely take advantage of that and any other misstep that they would make. It’s at least worth a try.

There is no such thing as “too easy” when it comes to escape methods, and you should use the method that takes the least amount of effort and time. In fact, this would be the first method I would try before others.

Here is a video to help give you an idea of how to use this method.

Importance of Remaining Calm

I am happy to report that I’ve never been zip-tied against my will. On the other hand, I have been through enough medical and safety emergencies to know that losing your cool is the first step in making a bad situation worse.

Should you find yourself needing to escape zip ties, the first thing you should do is take a moment, breathe, and take in what’s going around you. What position/condition are you in, physically? What tools might you have on hand?

When you’re calm and more rational, you have the best chance of exploiting any mistakes that your captors may have made, and you’ll be able to get yourself out of the situation faster.

Tools to Add to Your Everyday Carry

To give yourself the best chance at escaping zip ties, consider adding a few things to your everyday carry kit. Reinforced shoelaces are a great idea, and are the least likely to be taken from you in a search (they’re also really good for people who break shoelaces often)

From there, a pocket knife is a common piece of kit that might come in handy, but any kidnapper worth their salt would take that. Some lock picks are small enough to be slipped into a pant hem or inside a shoe, and might well work for getting your zip ties to disengage.

With that said, the best tools you will ever have in your arsenal are situational awareness and self-defense. The best way to escape zip ties, in my view, is to avoid them altogether.


Even though zip ties are a common and effective restraint, it is possible to break free of them in a few different ways. No matter which of the methods you choose, being calm and collected is the first step to successfully escaping zip ties.

There are several tested techniques for how to escape a zip tie. You can wriggle loose, cut them with the friction from your shoelaces, or break them in one swift motion. All of these methods certainly have their place, and the best one to use will depend on the circumstances.

Including tools like reinforced shoelaces and a lock pick in your everyday carry setup is a great way to either escape a zip tie restraint or avoid one in the first place. If you’re in need of a new holster for your concealed carry gun, visit our Holsters by Gun Model page for Kydex holsters that are custom-made for your weapon of choice.

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