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Prepping & Survival

The Best Can Opener for Prepping and Survival

A handheld can opener is about the most boring piece of equipment you can have in a survival kit, but it is important if your emergency food storage has lots of cans in it (which it should!) You won’t be getting any ‘tacti-cool’ points for having the best can opener but it is one of the most practical tools available. Relying on a cheap (or nonexistent) can opener to open dozens of cans in an emergency is just not a good plan.

Can openers have been around for a while. In 1858 Ezra Warner popped the first can with an opener with his invention. Since then, a lot more brands and models have come around to choose from. Some are innovative and some are just meant to look pretty in a kitchen.

This is where we come in. We’ve researched the best can openers, tested them, and the results are in: the overall best, our budget pick, and a portable option. If you need a can opener that won’t let you down in a survival situation, one of our suggestions will keep you popping cans.

Contents (Jump to a Section)

Swing-A-Way Crank Can Opener

The Best Can Opener

Swing-A-Way Crank Opener

Extremely Durable, USA Quality, with Leveraged Crank

Trusted for almost a century now, this can opener outperforms the rest and is the one to rely on in an emergency.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

Swing-A-Way has been doing its thing for almost a hundred years, and we didn’t find anyone that could hold a candle to them. Who can count how many traditional cans and #10 cans their can openers have gone through? It doesn’t matter much, because they continue to make the best can openers.

On the Swing-A-Way crank opener, the leverage gained from the rotary handle makes it a breeze to open however many cans you want. It is a full-steel construction with a carbon steel cutting blade that never skips. The 10″ long frame is mostly handle, letting you easily get that first pop on stubborn cans.

Full Circle Smooth Operator Can OpenerFull Circle Smooth Operator Can Opener

Smooth-Edge Can Opener

Full Circle Smooth Operator

Safe, Smooth, and Effective

A side-cut can opener leaves nothing to chance and is incredibly versatile.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

I’m officially a smooth-edge convert. Smooth-edge openers have proven themselves to be ridiculously versatile and a plain upgrade over all but the most reliable conventional openers.

The smooth-edge opener is also known as a safety opener because you are less likely to get cut handling a lid or can- it doesn’t leave a sharp edge. This is important during emergencies where medical attention may not be readily available.

Between the Smooth Operator and the OXO, the Full Circle won out by being lighter weight, less expensive, and holding a reliable grip on a wider range of cans. A big shoutout to Gary and Kevin down in the comments for suggesting that we include safety openers in our review. This one has earned its place beyond the review process and is my family’s go-to opener now.

The Full Circle Smooth Operator Can Opener is the smooth-edge pick that anyone can get behind. It won’t ever need to be upgraded so it’s money well spent and worth a spot in anyone’s home with a long-term food storage plan that includes cans.

Homemade Diversion Safe Can Using Smooth Edge Can Opener to Stash and Hide MoneyHomemade Diversion Safe Can Using Smooth Edge Can Opener to Stash and Hide Money

P-38 and P-51 Military Can OpenersP-38 and P-51 Military Can Openers

Portable Can Opener

P-51 Military Opener

Tiny, Battle-Tested, and Inexpensive

Simple and effective, military openers get the job done surprisingly well and stow away anywhere.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

You may know the little one affectionately by its nickname, the “John Wayne” due to its dependability- but it’s the big one that puts in the work. When the military developed the P-38 and the P-51 openers, they named them after how many punctures it takes each of them to take the lid off a conventional can and a #10 can respectively.

While the P-38 is only a half-inch shorter, it’s less than half the weight of the P-51. Still, I prefer the P-51 because we’re just talking a few grams here and the P-51 gives you extra leverage and blade reach/longevity in the field.

The Shelby 2 pack will let you decide since you get one of each. These openers are highly suggested for any survival kit, because they are dirt cheap, tiny, and can open any type of can you come across.

Top of a can sitting on wood table with military can openers on the left and right side opening it.Top of a can sitting on wood table with military can openers on the left and right side opening it.

Everything We Recommend

The Can Openers We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to the several can opener brands and types that we tested: Chef Craft, OXO, EZ-DUZ-IT, Coleman, Shelby, Swing-A-Way, Full Circle, and more.

There are a lot of brands that make can openers but most of them are made for the masses. They are constructed out of plastic and are simply not designed to last. They were pretty easy to pick out of the running, and the solid openers we tested all performed much better than the bargain brands we’ve used in the past.

We also steered clear of industrial table-mounts and automatic openers, due to cost and complexity. If you have an industrial opener already at your disposal, that’s great! If not- we’re not going to suggest you put down that kind of money on a can opener- there are plenty of other prepping and survival essentials we can recommend.

Any sort of electric opener was ruled out, due to the nature of emergencies and electricity- it’s not something you want to rely on. Sure, if you have one and the power is on or if you have plenty of wattage leftover on your generator- feel free to use it.

What to Look For

  1. Value
  2. Durability
  3. Quality
  4. Leverage & Comfort
  5. Versatility

The best can openers have several important features to look for:

When you get the right blend of these, you can find an unmatched can opener that will help you stay fed as you sort through your canned food storage. Below, we break down what each of these features means for a truly great can opener:

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you can spend on a can opener really shouldn’t be that high. Can openers are just one tool in a long list of gear that can help you in an emergency.

As we’ll talk about later- you can even open cans without a dedicated can opener. Despite that, a can opener is definitely worth having around so you can easily and reliably get into your food storage.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, especially something like a can opener. Luckily, can openers are cheap (or at least the ones we suggest are). Using your money to get the most functionality and versatility out of your survival kit is the smart way to go. There is a sweet spot where you get high value out of the best features with not too high of a price, which is where our top pick sits.


The one thing you do not want is your can opener breaking on you when you are relying on it. This really weeded out a lot of can openers on the market that are constructed out of plastic or stamped out of low-grade steel.

Stick with can openers that have a proven track record for durability, and they’ll help you sleep (and eat) easier.


Durability is a part of product quality, but we go a little deeper here. Even though can openers are simple contraptions, the materials used to make them and even the tolerances accepted when they are assembled make a difference.

If you have ever used a cheap can opener, you may have noticed the ‘play’ there is between the moving parts. This not only makes the can opener less durable over time, but it also makes it more frustrating to use when a gear slips.

Leverage & Comfort

You can use plenty of things to open a can. Rock, hammer, knife, gun…. the list goes on forever. The difference between a good can opener and all of these is that a can opener is supposed to make it easy.

If your can opener is giving you carpal tunnel when you use it or putting a beating on your hands- is it really doing what it’s supposed to be doing?

Sure, our budget picks of the military P-38 and P-51 aren’t super comfortable and aren’t providing much leverage, but that’s to be expected for a lightweight EDC option. A six to ten-inch kitchen-grade can opener should not have these issues. This is where our top pick really excels, with the commercial-grade crank that makes it easy for anyone to turn it on a can.


While the P-38 and P-51 military can openers aren’t the most comfortable, they certainly are the most versatile. Here are the quick specs on them:

Opener Material Length Weight
P-38 Carbon Steel (Zinc Plated) 1.5″ 4 grams
P-51 Carbon Steel (Zinc Plated) 2″ 9 grams
Swing-A-Way Stainless Steel 9″ 7.2 ounces
Smooth Operator Stainless Steel (Paper/Resin Handle) 7″ 7 ounces

They are small enough to go on keychains, dog tags- any survival kit, etc. Being small, lightweight, and able to open cans of any typical shape makes these versatile enough for any survival application.

How to Open Cans With and Without Can Openers

You can open a can with pretty much anything. But, then you have to get to the contents (food, in our case) without making a huge mess.

Anyone who has used a knife can tell you that it’s not that much fun. It’s dangerous, harder than it looks, and can dull your knife pretty darn fast.

If you don’t have any resources, you can still open your cans with a bit of concrete and patience. CrazyRussianHacker did it best:

Who Needs a Can Opener?

Can openers are needed everywhere there is a can, and canned foods are an important part of long-term food storage. Not to mention, every adult has to buy a can opener at some point in their life to keep in the kitchen, so why not get a reliable one?

Can openers are an essential part of these kits:

EDC can openers are suggested for these kits:

No matter what threats come your way, a solid can opener is nice to have around so you can pop open those cans of food.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We have vast prepping and survival experience and bring in outside experts when needed. Hours on end are spent testing gear in stressful conditions and using specialized testing gear to verify claims. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. Learn more about how we test.

Sources and References

All of our experience and the testing that we do to determine the best can opener is useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical military and prepping experience:

Huck, R. (1972). The Economic Geography of the Production of a Can-Opener. The Geographical Bulletin. Vol. 4 Issue 36. (Source).

Foster, R. (2009). The best Army invention ever. Fort Monmouth Public Affairs. (Source).

Risch, S. (2009). Food Packaging History and Innovations. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. (Source).

The Final Word

Can openers have been around for a while and happen to be one of those things that they perfected pretty early on. Many of the can opener ‘advancements’ over the last few decades play into home fashion or comfort grips. We found this was at the expense of quality and durability. Still, luckily we have some tried and true models that get the job done reliably.

To go along with a solid can opener, you’ll need cans in your long-term food storage. Check out our list of the best canned foods to stash. Besides canned foods you’ll also want to check out:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our research and testing found that the Swing-A-Way crank opener is the best option given its value, durability, quality, and versatility. If you take our suggestion and buy our EDC suggestion (P-51) for your mobile kits, be sure to try them out first. They take some getting used to. It’s also good practice to get things out of your kits and to get familiar with them.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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The Best Can OpenerThe Best Can Opener

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