Plastic handcuffs (aka FlexiCuffs, Plasticuffs, Riot Cuffs, or Zip Ties) are popular with military and law enforcement officials when mass arrests are expected. Consisting of either two interlocking straps or a single cable tied around both wrists, they are cheaper, easier to carry, and less likely to spread communicable disease (plastic handcuffs are disposable). But are they a foolproof means to bind a captive?
Zip tie handcuffs were designed with a tensile strength sufficient to keep a person from applying pressure outward and breaking the restraints. But there are ways to incorporate leverage, and a few simple tricks, that can be used to defeat their design.
It begins when presenting your hands to captors – slipping out of a zip tie handcuff that is improperly tightened
The plan to escape your zip tie bindings should begin before they are put on you. With a cooperative attitude, present your hands to the captor with your thumbs together, palms facing downward and fists clenched tight. Doing this will expand the circumference of the area to be bound and allow you to later reduce the circumference by turning your wrists inward after the cuffs are applied.
If the captor recognizes your ploy and requires you turn your wrists inward, make sure your fingers are curled and continue to keep your fists flexed tight. With fingers curled, press the knuckles of both hands together to further expand the wrist area and as much as possible, pull your elbows towards and around your body.
Once you are ready to begin your escape, unclench your wrists and turn your hands so they are facing inward. Work your hands out of the cuffs beginning with the thumb. If this proves to be impossible, move to the next method – breaking out of the cuffs.
Breaking out of zip tie handcuffs
Law enforcement personnel are trained to tighten plastic handcuffs just enough to keep a person from slipping out, but not so tight that blood flow to the hands is restricted. With a tensile strength of over 600 pounds, the nylon strips are nearly impossible to break by applying pressure. But the locking heads are much weaker than the loops and given a quick burst of leveraged pressure, can be made to break or snap open.
If your hands are cuffed behind your body, begin by working the cuffs to the front by pulling your hands behind and under your feet. With the zip tie cuffs in front of your body, use your teeth to tighten the cuffs as much as you can by pulling the strap end. While tightening the cuffs, make sure to position the locking mechanism above your thumbs and centered between your hands. Tighten the cuffs as much as possible.
To break the cuffs, bring your hands high above your head. With hands held high, flare your elbows out as much as possible pulling your shoulder blades inward towards each other. Now bring the hands down explosively into your stomach (in the finishing position, your hands will be at about belt-level). With sufficient quickness, the locking mechanism will break as the hands strike the stomach and the wrists are forced outward from the impact.
Note: this method even works with other binding materials such as plastic rope or duct tape.
Shimming a zip tie handcuff
Finally, the locking mechanism of zip tie handcuffs can be “picked” using a shim. A pawl in the head of the zip tie forms a ratchet which locks against grooves in the zip tie’s gear track (see picture above). Careful examination of the plastic handcuff head will reveal a small locking bar that keeps the cuffs from loosening. Using a fingernail, pin, paperclip, or corner of a credit card, pry the plastic bar upward to release the tension and allow the cuffs to slide open. This method is much easier if you have someone else pry the zip tie tab open while you adjust tension on the bindings to work the cuffs loose.
Other methods you can use to escape plastic handcuffs
It may help to mention other, more obvious means to escape plastic zip tie handcuffs. Although the nylon material is fairly durable, it can be cut using a knife or rough edge of any hard surface (e.g. rock, brick). Don’t forget that plastic ties may be melted too using a flame or tip of a cigarette too.
Image CreditsCross section of a ziptie ratchet demonstrating the mechanism of a zip tie via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain. April 17, 2010
A policeman carrying several pairs of Plasticuffs zip ties via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License