How to Escape Disposable Restraints

Disposable restraints as used by bad guys most often take the form of zip ties that you can buy at your local hardware store. At first escape seems daunting- how do you pick a non-existent lock? But rest assured, with a little practice and resourcefulness, there are several ways to escape unlawful restraint via zip tie. The effectiveness of these tactics will depend on the material type (these tactics are much less likely to be effective on the plastic cuffs used by law enforcement, nor should you try to) as well as the positioning of your hands and what tools you have at your disposal. As with normal handcuffs, if you think you may find yourself in a situation from which you need to escape, it’s a great idea to practice your tactics in advance.

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Breaking Zip Ties

Zip ties operate with a ratchet mechanism, very similar to traditional handcuffs, but without the double lock that prevents them from being tightened further once they’ve been secured. While tightening your restraints further may at first feel counterintuitive, it can actually work to your advantage. This method can work whether your wrists have been bound with a single tie, or with two ties bound together: tighten them as much as you can (you may need to use your teeth), then bring your arms up high, and pull them down quickly. Flare your elbows out and simulate touching your shoulder blades together on the down-swing as your hands hit your stomach (or your rear, depending on whether your hands were cuffed in front of you or behind you). For a visual, check out this video from ITS Tactical:



If you carry a lighter on your person and can maneuver to angle the flame toward the plastic between your wrists, you may be able to soften it enough to pull the plastic cuffs apart or more easily break them using the method outlined above. This method of course runs the risk of burning your own skin, but in a risky situation it will likely be worth it.

With a little forethought, you may be able to afford yourself extra wiggle room to maneuver around inside the zip ties. If you are able to, present your hands to your captor with your fists side-by-side, palms downward and thumbs pressed together. Then, once they have cuffed yours hands together, you can twist both hands sideways (palms both facing inward) and will find that you have much more room to work with, and you may even be able to slip out of the cuffs altogether.


A sharp serrated edge may be able to saw through the material, if you can position your hands correctly from the beginning to afford yourself as much wiggle room as possible (see above). You can also use a length of paracord to create a friction saw. Keep your eyes open to the objects around you that can be used as tools.


Because zip ties operate with a ratchet mechanism, you can shim them in the same way you may shim standard metal cuffs that haven’t been double locked. A shim can be any small, flat object that you can fit into the ratchet mechanism between the locking bar and the tie itself- including the excess end of the zip tie. Inserting the shim separates the ratchet from the locking mechanism, allowing you to easily loosen your restraints.

For more escape tips, check out this overview of handcuff escape methods.