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Monday, October 22, 2018

Cheap Gear Review: Zippo Hand Warmers

Winter is Coming, or at least that's what I've been told, by people who read a lot of epic fantasy.

Be that as it may, I live in a chilly climate in the Rocky Mountains, especially this time of year. I have plenty of history to draw upon for stories of people who have literally frozen to death while crossing through the area I live in, brave tales of losing fingers to frostbite adorn the plaques at local parks, and there is quite literally a statue that memorializes a group of individuals who saved many others by taking them across a frozen river and later dying of related injuries.

On the other hand, I get irritated when my hands are cold while I'm at a soccer game. But I don't like spending money on disposable hand warmers, so of course I went ahead and spent $28 on reusable Zippo hand warmers. Note that this is $14 per warmer, not per set!

Now in my defense, at the time I bought these I was working outdoor construction during the winter. Having owned them for a couple of years, they've only saved me a few dollars overall, but I still think they were worth it.

I'm going to compare the Zippo to the more standard, disposable hand warmers everyone is familiar with.

Standard Hand Warmers vs. Zippo: Cons
  • They are not reusable. This means that the cost really does add up after a  time,  especially if you’re in a very cold climate and/or have to be outdoors a great deal. 
  • They have a relatively short lifespan. They are good for a number of years while still in the package, but once they are open they only last for about four hours. If you’re attending a soccer game, that’s great; if you're working overseeing a construction crew, that’s a pain in the butt.
  • Standard hand warmers are not refuelable. This is another variant on  “not reusable”, but instead of a cost in dollars, it’s a cost of space. The amount of fuel that my Zippo hand warmer requires takes up notably less space than a single packet of disposable hand warmers, and those are already fairly small.
  • Refillable hand warmers can get hotter than standard ones. Mine actually comes with a little pouch for it that allows you to restrict how much airflow it gets, allowing you to keep it burning for longer and a little bit cooler, but you don’t have to. I have actually handed mine to someone who stuffed it down the front of their shirt in order to keep their torso warm,  which does a much better job at than a traditional hand warmer.

Standard Hand Warmers vs. Zippo: Pros
  • They are smaller than the Zippo, and thus easier to stick inside a glove or similar. 
  • They're cheaper if you don’t use hand warmers a lot.
  • They don’t require you to fuel them. You open them, shake them, and use them. 
  • They store well. They take up only a fairly small amount of space and are very light. 
  • They aren't expensive.
  • They are flexible. This is the biggest advantage that I've found to this type. The Zippo style of reusable hand warmer cannot be slid into place in a boot as easily or comfortably as a traditional disposable. .
  • The Zippo catalyst eventually wears out, and you have to replace it. I haven't had this happen yet, but it does eventually happen. 
All that said…

My Zippo hand warmers have lasted me for six years, and I tend to break them out at least once a winter. I’m not outdoors as much, or at least not for work, but I am out and about just often enough to regret it not bringing the hand warmers out of storage. They're nice for when I'm outdoors all day; if I'm outdoors for less than two hours, they really aren’t worth the effort.

Rating: 4/5
If you live in a very cold climate, I seriously recommend looking into getting a Zippo hand warmer due to the savings from it being reusable. If you already use a Zippo lighter, the hand warmers even use the same fuel, which simplifies your logistics.

If you live in a less-cold environment where you only need hand warmers a few times every winter, then use disposable ones instead.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

In the Dark

You're out with friends when disaster strikes. What do you do when you're in the dark?

Part two in a series of the gear we carry and how we use it.

Thursday, October 18, 2018


The word “panic” comes from the name of the Greek god Pan, the god of the woods and fields, and the entity responsible for making mysterious noises that would spook herds of animals and scare people in lonely places. The dictionary definition of “panic” is a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons or animals.

Let's break that down and look at the individual parts and how to counteract them where possible.

People don't plan to panic; it's a flight response to something that their minds either can't comprehend or is perceived as a threat. I've seen people panic when they can't find their child in a store, misplace or lose something of great value, or just plain get scared out of their wits. Panic hits quickly, and there is very little warning.

Situational awareness will prevent a lot of the causes of panic: if you know what's going on around you, it's less likely that something will appear suddenly. Organize your things and control your offspring.

Panic takes over a person's thought processes, hindering or preventing logical thought. The instinct to flee danger is hardwired into us, and isn't something that's easy to turn off once triggered.

Unfortunately, the only two ways I know to break a panic spell are to wait until it passes or have an external source of control impose order into the situation. Talking a friend down from a panic attack is never fun, but it's something we should be prepared to do. You can be the source of control that they need. Laughing about it later is a choice you'll have to make based on your level of friendship.

With or Without Cause
Panic with cause is natural; panic without cause is an anxiety disorder. The natural forms of panic are easy to identify after the fact, and may even be predictable in some cases. I'm not a psychologist or doctor, so I won't try to diagnose a mental disorder.

Anxiety disorders are treated with anti-anxiety medications. Most of them have side effects that should be carefully considered and discussed with the doctor who prescribes them. They are also one of the classes of medications that you don't want to stop taking suddenly.

The “with cause” forms of panic are best countered by avoiding, or at least being aware of, what may trigger them. Situational awareness is a good defense, as is a healthy self-knowledge.

Irrational Behavior
This is where panic can become dangerous. The word “hysterical” is out of fashion, since it originally referred to women and the emotional roller-coaster they endure during menstruation, so I'll stick with “irrational”. Irrational means without a rational basis; in other words, mindless. Irrational behavior can mean running towards a greater danger or freezing in the path of oncoming danger.

Strength of will is the only way I know of to fight irrational behavior. You have to be in control of yourself and know how to think things through under stress. Recognizing the first tinge of panic and telling yourself, “No, I will not let this take control of me” is difficult, but necessary.

Spreads Quickly
Panic is highly contagious. The more homogeneous the group, the faster panic can spread because of shared cultural and personal biases. Financial panics are a good example: a large group of people who all deal with the same products and processes, and who communicate in many ways, is very susceptible to the spread of panic. If one person panics, another one will see their actions and likely panic as well, causing a chain reaction of irrational behavior. Natural and man-made disasters that affect large groups are perfect triggers for mass panic, especially when routes of escape are limited or blocked: fire in a crowded building, rumors in a refugee camp, and unlocking the doors of a store on Black Friday are all examples of things that can trigger a crowd into a panic.

The easiest way to avoid the spread of panic is to avoid crowds. If you can't avoid a crowd, always know where the exits are and position yourself near one. If you see a panic starting, get away as quickly as you can. By definition, irrational people will hurt you without thinking about it, so get clear by any means available.

Absent an underlying anxiety disorder, most people only panic when they are abruptly presented with something that is foreign to their lives, or if they get caught up in a “herd” mentality and someone else panics.

To prevent panic:
  1. Know yourself and your surroundings.
  2. Think about what could go wrong and plan accordingly.
  3. Have a backup plan. 
These are all part and parcel of being a prepper, and will keep you a bit safer during a panic.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Prudent Prepping: The "Key" to Security, pt. 2

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

In this post from last year, I talked about buying extra keys for my new (to me) car. Since then I've tried several different ways to hide a spare key and keep it waterproofed, with little success. That is, until now.

Monster Magnetics MiniMag Plus

This is what I originally tried to do with other boxes, but without any success. I couldn't get a good watertight seal or attach a magnet securely to the box. The usual hide-a-key boxes available from any hardware store aren't waterproof, and even with a liberal coating of silicone did not keep moisture out. I tried. This actually works.

From the Monster Magnetics Amazon page:
  • HIDE A KEY, FOB, FULL SET OF KEYS - AND MORE! Covertly stash your valuables and magnetically mount in, on, under, or behind any magnetic surface - in a secret hidden spot that only you know! The watertight magnetic container will stay securely attached to any magnetic surface - in any environment. This all-weather dry box makes the perfect under-car hide a key, GPS tracker mounting case, geocache swag container, and stash box for securing keys, money, jewelry, meds or just stashing your goods.
  • 16 CUBIC INCHES OF STORAGE SPACE! More storage capacity than the original MINIMAG ensures a great fit for the new larger GPS trackers, such as Spot Trace Anti Theft, Vectu, and Trackimo, and also fits smaller devices along with up to a 3-cell extended battery. Great for spare keys, fobs, garage door openers, cash, cigarettes, meds - most any reasonably sized item you might not want found in your vehicle. Great accessory for your geocaching accessories and swag arsenal!

My Honda key
From what I've read, this is designed to hold GPS/Tracking devices that mount to cars, so it has to be watertight and securely mounted to any steel parts of a car or truck. There is plenty of room in this box to hold 2-3 fobbed keys and have space left over to hold other things of value.

The box is actually larger than I need, with the interior measuring 4.25 x 2.81 x 1.38" and the exterior 5 x 3.75 x 2",  but the smaller version is just a little too short to hold my key. It will however hold a non-fob key just fine or one of the switchblade folding keys equally fine.

Since the box has a little more volume than I need, there is a little bubble wrap under my key to keep it from rattling around and possibly getting damaged.

In the top photo you can see the two magnets used to secure the box to your car. These are neodymium magnets and measure right at 1" (or 25mm) and are recessed into the case. They are also strong. How strong, you ask? I locked the box to the garage door track and, holding it square to the bracket, I almost lifted myself off the floor before the magnets let go. Where and how it is mounted on my car means I'll have to really do some damage to knock this thing off!

I always look at the Q&A portion of the Amazon ads, both for the reviews and to see what some of the questions others have asked the seller. This item has several 'interesting' questions, and the best one was a question if the box was smell or air tight! The answer was "No", so if someone finds it necessary to carry goods that might be detected through scent, find another container!

The Takeaway
  • If you have an electronic key fob, there needs to be extra care in protecting you spare key from the weather. If I had planned things better, I would have made TWO valet keys and placed one copy in the hide-a-key box and hidden the regular key inside the car.
  • This is a LOT more than I really wanted to spend, but I can't take the chance of ruining this key!

The Recap

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pocket Ref Preview

We're taking a break from electrical work this week, mostly because another project has superseded working on the house. In lieu of that, let's take a look at something cool that I was reminded of by a couple other members of the staff: a book called The Pocket Ref. With a name like that, it sounds like something the NFL could have used a few years back, but in reality it's far less humorous and far more useful.

The Pocket Ref is a handy reference for all things math, conversion, and general knowledge. I've handled them in the past, but never owned one. I had honestly forgotten about it until it came up in a discussion among the BCP staff.

I can attest that they're worth having in any prepper's library, especially when the paperback is under $13. The question posed, however, is whether it is worth packing into a BOB or other prepper bag. Is the knowledge within useful on the road or in the woods, and is it worth the weight and space it contains, in contrast to other books?

I've ordered my copy, and highly recommend it for any library, whether or not it's worth toting with you. As soon as mine gets here, I'll break down the kind of material it covers and we can start determining it's value as a mobile resource.

If you're the kind who hits the reference materials frequently, or are just a bibliophile with a bit of extra green, there's also a hardcover available for $35, which is pretty reasonable given the contents. A bit of Google-fu also shows some .pdf copies of the book, but I have no clue about accuracy, completeness, or legitimacy, as I've not found them on my usual digital copy sources.

Order your copy and we'll start a Pocket Ref Book Club!


Monday, October 15, 2018

Hand Tools for Woodworking

Many preppers have aspirations of building something at some point in their lives.
  • Some of them have the money to have someone else do it for them;
  • Some of them have the power tools and skills (or how-to manuals) to do it themselves fairly easily;
  • Some preppers don’t have the money for power tools, but they have the skillset to use inexpensive hand tools to do the job well;
  • And some preppers don’t have any of those.
This post is directed at those of you who fall into the latter group.

Several preppers I know have made "First In, First Out" shelving, or have made a raised bed frame for the express purpose of keeping food storage underneath it. Both of these projects are good for beginners, since both of them are fairly simple, relatively forgiving, and fairly easy. I recommend that you look into a project that you want to do before you invest in tools, so that you know what you will want.

Whatever your project, you will need a few basic hand tools. At minimum, you will need:
  • Handsaw. The linked handsaw is actually fairly nice, and you can purchase a much cheaper one if you want, but the extra ten or so dollars for this one means that you will be able to cut things more easily and with less effort. Because you will not have to put in as much effort, it will stay sharp longer and will cut straighter lines. 
  • Tape Measure. This one does an adequate job, and will generally be fine for a beginner.
  • Carpenter's Pencil. I like to use a carpenters pencil, but a normal #2 pencil, just like you use in school, will do just fine. Cheap works just fine for this.
  • Hammer. “When all that you have is a hammer, the entire world looks like nails”. There are cheaper hammers on the market, but for a general use, inexpensive hammer that is useful and durable, I recommend something like this. I especially like one that is a little heavier (over 12 oz) for when I have to construct larger things, like animal cages or shelving.

There are also several tools that will make it much easier, but are not actually totally necessary:
  • Carpenter's Square. The most used feature on this tool is allowing you to mark right angles on things. There are a lot of advanced features, and some neat tricks if you want to look them up, but having a carpenter's square makes life a lot easier when you are doing woodworking, with hand or power tools. 
    • This one is inexpensive, but works great. The advantage to metal ones is that they tend to be a little tougher, and over years of use, the numbers are more clear on them. If you only use it intermittently, you are probably fine with a cheap plastic one.
  • Hacksaw. Hacksaws are great for cutting into boards that have who-knows-what in them, like old nails or screws. If you are very space limited, a hacksaw can actually substitute for several other kinds of saw, such as a wood cutting saw, so long as you have replacement blades. (If you want to get replacement blades, remember that low tooth count blades -- 9 to 16 or so -- are best for wood and plastic, while high tooth count is better for harder materials like metal).
    • I like this model because of how compact it is, and I keep one in my general use tool box. It extends the blade in such a way that it is a little harder to make precise cuts at the tip, but you can put it into places that another saw could not reach. I have used it to make some fairly nice cuts on lumber when something else was not available; I just had to go slowly and carefully.
  • Center Punch. When you have to make a precise mark and put a nail in it or measure with it, it's sometimes easier to use a center punch than to just use a pencil since the punch leaves a divot in the wood.
    • In a pinch you can just use a nail, which works just fine for woodwork. The advantage of a center punch is that it is easier to use. I also have a tendency to accidentally hammer in a nail that I am using as a center punch for wood.
  • Tool bag or box. I prefer a tool bag for a small tool kit like this which doesn't have a bunch of fragile or expensive items in it. Tool boxes tend to be more expensive for the same carrying capacity, but have a hard shell to protect things like expensive tools or chemicals. Tool boxes have the added advantage that they are harder to break into, since they are usually easier to lock and much harder to cut. 
    • That said, the point of this article is that you can have a good tool kit for an inexpensive price. I like this model because it has the features that I need, is fairly durable, and not unreasonably expensive. 

Now when you go on to whatever project you choose, know that you have the needed tools to make just about anything that a carpenter could before 1900, and you bought them all for around $100.

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Disaster from the Beginning

What do you do if disaster strikes and you don't have your bags handy?

First in a series.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Training for the Future

If you've been a prepper for any length of time, you'll have at least thought about getting training in one field or the other. Basic first aid, field-craft, marksmanship, and food storage are all valuable skills that we commonly seek training in.

The question for today is “What are you doing to train other people?” We all have skills of various kinds and at various levels, so there is always room to teach as well as learn. This was brought to mind recently at work when my boss fell down some stairs and broke his ankle. Not a major crisis, but since he and I are the only ones who know how to do most of the less-mundane tasks around here, guess who got saddled with doing all of them? I have a couple of co-workers, but they are new and haven't seen some of the problems that I have. They're younger than my son, so I have a lot more experience troubleshooting and fixing problems as they arise, and they're learning things at a decent rate. They also have young families that take up a lot more time than my empty nest, so they're not available to work the hours that I am. The next few months are going to be interesting.

Training others is essential for a few reasons.

Like my boss, sometimes people get injured. What are you going to do if your cook/mechanic/guard/gardener gets injured or sick? If they haven't passed on some of their skills, life will be a lot more difficult.

Future Generations
I have grandkids that I want to see grow up and become useful, happy people. Teaching children that they can do things and change things is a great way to prevent the victim mentality that has infected so many of our youth. If you've been reading our blog for a while, you'll know that I tend to take a long-term approach to prepping. I want to see my family get through bad times as best they can, and that means prepping them as much as prepping for them.

This is also the only way to prevent the loss of knowledge if things go Dark Ages-style wrong.

Sometimes our tribes get scattered. People move around and may not be close enough to take advantage of the skills and tools you've accumulated; teaching them how to be more self-sufficient will make their lives easier and may provide you a resource to call upon if you're traveling or caught in a disaster away from your normal area.

Having two or more people trained to do a task usually means that the job can get done faster. Use your specialists for the tough jobs, and have them train people to be able to take care of the lesser jobs. Having run into college graduates who can't identify a Phillips-head screwdriver, this is a no-brainer for me; having a knowledgeable “gopher” handy will save a lot of trips to the tool box and thus a lot of time.

Think back to when you were in school: did you have good teachers who went out of their way to teach you something? If you did, you will remember them for the rest of your life. Teaching and training people is an excellent way to generate goodwill among groups, and can open doors to opportunities that you may not have seen before. Mutual aid in time of crisis is based on goodwill and common skills, so you can increase your options by spreading the wealth of knowledge that you hold.

Before you start thinking that you're lacking any useful skills, please go read one of my earliest posts. No one who isn't evil is worthless. You have skills, but you might have to stretch your imagination a bit to figure out how they can be used in a crisis. You can also get training in other skills, which you can bring back to your tribe and pass on to others.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Calling an Entrenching Tool a Spade

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

My friend the Master Chief is a Geardo 1st Class with Oak Leaf Clusters (or whatever the Navy version is). He disposes his income in ways I can't on items that I really like. Here is one of them.

KP Solution Chico Group Folding Camping Survival Shovel

From the KP Solutions Amazon page:
  • VERSATILE, PORTABLE UTILITY: Take this folding shovel tool camping, hiking, in your car. Keep it handy at a backyard party and amuse guests using the bottle opener in the spade blade.
  • LIGHT AND COMPACT: No need to haul a belt or bucket of tools. You’ve got what you need for the beach or a few hours gardening, hanging at your waist.
  • GARDENING OR EMERGENCIES: This tactical grade multitool is a spade, pick saw, car glass hammer, fire starter and folds into a hoe. All in a small carrying pouch.
  • PRUNE SMALL BRANCHES: Swap out the spade for a saw - the multi-piece handle lets you use either one. At just over a pound there’s no excuse not to take it camping.
  • USE IN SNOW OR SUN: This multitool will be useful any time of year, whether to shovel snow off your steps, hoe your garden, or sawing kindling.
I like the weight (it's not listed, but I'm guessing < 3lbs), the fact that it stores in the included pouch, and how solid the handle feels when assembled. The segments thread together very easily, and there is a gasket (similar to the ones on better flashlights) to keep moisture out.

How the shovel blade articulates is pretty much how every folding shovel works: turn the locking ring to free the tabs and unfold to the angle you want. You have a choice to use this as a hoe, or to unfold the blade completely and use it as a shovel. The hinge and bracing plates that allow the dual use seem very stout and unlikely to wear out or break any time soon.

I'm not so sure of the durability of the included accessories, especially the saw blade. It certainly seems to be mounted firmly into its segment, but I don't know how well it will last if used as an actual saw. The Phillips screwdriver seems to be a #2 and I have the same questions on life span with it as I do with the saw.

Don't even ask what the Master Chief said about the compass on the end of the handle. Just don't.

Since this is not my personal tool, I'll have to wait for some action pictures, possibly this weekend, when spring bulbs get planted. All of our camping trips were canceled by being either directly affected by the N. California fires or were close enough to be covered in smoke and ash.

The Recap

The Takeaway
  • For bugging out or camping, a shovel is a good tool to consider. 
  • While this product needs further testing before I can recommend it. 
  • If it works, though, then it's something I'd like to keep in my trunk.

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Electrical Diagnostic Tools

I promised a video demonstrating electrical diagnostic tools, and here it is. I also promise a whole lot more with the multimeter as I fix other things in my house.


Monday, October 8, 2018

DIY Air Filters

Erin suggested I write a follow-up post to Prepping for Asthma, explaining how to make a box fan air filter. This is useful when you deal with asthma, but also dealing with air quality issues, such as forest fires.

For most of you, an air filter is something you really don’t think of very much. Maybe you stick it in the furnace and change it once a year (if that often; even if people should, they usually don't), and most of you don’t think of it beyond that except to think “Oh, the air smells a little funny” once in a while. One of those great things about living in modern society is that often we live in an environment where we don't have to think about these things.

Unfortunately, if the SHTF scenario you will occasionally find that certain things don’t happen --  things like shipments of allergy drugs, or furnace filters, or similar, and you will find that sometimes you have to improvise something. The goal of this article is to show you how to make a do-it-yourself, HEPA type filter unit, with near HEPA grade air filtration. This should be usable in case of emergencies, and while not muscle driven, it draws a very low amount of power and should work for extended periods of time off of a simple battery bank or solar panel system.


Box Fan
A square fan that is commonly found in the summers across the US. Usually 20 inches by 20 inches, they tend to be very common in places that cannot afford air conditioning. During the summer they tend to run between $20-30, but you can find them in a great many discount/thrift stores in working order for as little as $2-3.

Hog Hair Filter
A coarse prefilter (usually made from a synthetic fiber, usually used as a simple particulate filter on swamp coolers) can be useful to extend the life of your other filters by catching things like large chunks of things and pet hair. Washable and reusable, it comes in very useful. Hog hair filters can be obtained at most hardware stores and Walmarts. They're meant to be cut down to the size needed, and usually cost between $5-10.

Mid-Grade Filter
Most furnace filters come with a rating system. Major retailers tend to have their own, but what it boils down to is that some of them are more efficient than others. More effective ones cost more money, and so having a cheaper one in front of it on the air intake saves your more expensive filter from having to be replaced as often. If you are willing to spend noticeably (8-10 times) more than the disposable filters cost, you can buy a cut-to-size washable mid-grade filter for $20-30. These are useful for filtering out as much as possible before you get to the pricey ones, to save you money on replacements.

(The listed Amazon link is an example. Amazon doesn't sell these in small quantities; I think it has to do with shipping.)

HEPA Filter
HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance. Originally developed for use by the Manhattan Project to trap radioacative particles in the air before the scientists' lungs did, since then they have found many uses in hospitals, homes, manufacturing, and even agriculture. HEPA will filter down to a very small level, even taking out viruses and odors. For this project you want a HEPA furnace filter from someplace like Home Depot. They typically are rated to last around 3 months of continuous use, but if you use other filters in front of them they will last much longer. They cost upwards of $10.

(Again, multi pack.)


  • A box fan is typically 20 inches by 20 inches. 
  • Filters, which we will be adding to them, are measured by height, length, and depth. 
  • You will want a 20 inch by 20 inch by 1 inch filter, for both the mid grade and HEPA filters.
  • In the cases of washable and/or sizeable filters, simply find something that is around 1 inch deep, and that can be cut to size that is at least 20 inches by 20 inches. Excess material can be used for other projects, such as air filters for lawn mowers.

  1. Stack the filters in front of the air intake to the box fan from least fine on the outside to most fine on the inside.
    • In this example, put the hog hair on the outside and the HEPA filter next to the fan, with the midgrade between them. 
  2. Make sure that if there are any airflow direction arrows on the outside edges of the filters, that they are pointed the correct direction.
  3. The easiest way to secure your filters to your fan is simply with suction. If you turn a fan onto high, usually it will keep a three stage filter (HEPA, mid grade, and hogs hair) in place while the fan is running. 
    • You may want to put zip ties at the corners of the filter, punching through the filters and connecting to the plastic grid protecting the fan blades.
    • Alternately, use duct tape or similar.
  4. Sit in front of the filter, and enjoy.
  • When the hogshair is visibly filled with debris (such as pet hair) or is noticeably darker than it was, wash it using dish soap and water, and put it back into use. 
  • When the midgrade or HEPA filters become visibly darker (they start out as white or a very light grey), replace them. 
  • I usually visually inspect my filters about twice a season, and depending on how much they have pulled out of the air, they may last the entire season (or longer).

This air filter is simple, effective, cheap. It clears a room of burned food smoke remarkably quickly; pollen, pet hair and dander, and even viruses get caught in the filter and can save you a lot of grief. And if the power goes out, just use the power module you built; the power draw for this is quite low.

Friday, October 5, 2018


Some thoughts on, and examples of, I’m Never Coming Home (INCH) “bags”.

And the Survival Water Bottle:

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Local Sources

In times of chaos like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and civil unrest, many people rely on “the government” to provide for them. As preppers, I feel we should look at “the government” as one of many sources for aid and not to rely on their assistance for much of anything; after all, our own federal government tells us to have a minimum of three days' food and water on hand because it will take them at least that long to respond to a disaster. When disasters happen too close to each other, even the bloated bureaucracy get stretched beyond its limits and they start to ration aid. This is one good reason of many to prepare ahead of time.

I know we cover a lot of online information and sources for gear, but how many of you are building your local connections? If it's going to take days or weeks for outside help to arrive and start putting things back together, it may be time to take a look around and see who and what you have locally that can alleviate some of the chaos. I've learned that most people have a fair memory and will repay kindness as they can. Making friends with your local sources might come in handy someday. Here are a few worth noting:

Local Medical Staff
My sister-in-law is a nurse and her neighbor is also an RN. The doctors that run the local clinics all live in the local communities and we have several more that commute to the city every day for work. Knowing where the closest medical assistance is can be vital, even if they aren't at work. They have skills and training that could literally save your life. Don't forget the local veterinarians! They're more likely to be familiar with improvising than a medical doctor.

Local Power Company
After major storms, local power companies will get assistance from other companies -- they have a form of “mutual aid” agreement for situations that require more manpower than they can supply. I've also seen them help each other find parts that aren't in the normal supply chains. The linemen and underground crews will have electricians that can answer a lot of your household sized questions, so they're a good source to know.

Water/Wastewater Technicians
This aren't very glorious jobs, but everyone will notice if they aren't done right. These are the people with access to the lab tests that can tell you if a water source is safe to drink from, and the ones who will be working overtime to make sure the contents of your toilet ends up in the right place after you flush it. Laugh at them all you want as you Google dysentery and typhus.

Road Crews
When flooding knocks out a bridge and you don't know a way around, the men and women who maintain the roads will be able to tell you what's still passable and will be the ones repairing the damage afterwards most likely. If nothing else, they'll have access to some heavy equipment that could make cleanup a lot quicker.

Law Enforcement
Small towns are easier than large cities when it comes to getting to know your local LEOs, because we don't have the turnover rate (sheriffs around here tend to stay in office for decades) or constant reassignments that a large city will. This allows us to get to know the good ones from the bad ones, and take steps towards each accordingly. I have very little official interaction with law enforcement, but I know several of them on a personal level. They're people like the rest of us, so there are some I would gladly help and others I wouldn't piss on if they were on fire.

We don't have paid fire/rescue crews in my home county; they're all volunteer. That means that some of the folks who will show up to a house fire or auto accident will know the victims quite well, and in many cases will be related to them. These are good people to know and make friends with, because they will know more about the local area than anyone outside of law enforcement. They also have access to some nifty tools for extraction and entry into buildings and vehicles, which could be useful.

Construction Workers
Smaller sub-contractors tend to be mom-and-pop operations. Once you find someone who does good work at a fair price, keep in contact with them. They might be more willing to help you repair or rebuild if they have a favorable opinion of you.

In times past we called them blacksmiths, but most towns and cities have small businesses that take on small repair or fabrication jobs. Farming communities will always have someone who can weld together a broken part that is no longer made, and the cities will have machine shops that serve the same purpose. Getting to know these people might give you options for repairing or repurposing things that you wouldn't have thought of. If you have local artists that deal in metal or wood, they may be a suitable replacement if you can keep them on task.

Local Gun Shop Owners
I saved the best for last. Get to know the local gun shops around you. You'll soon figure out which are there for the customers and which are just there to make a buck, but either will be a source for supplies and ammunition. Finding a good shop run by good people is a prize to be treasured. Mine closed when the family running it retired and I'm still looking for a suitable replacement. The new local shop isn't as friendly and the staff isn't as helpful, so I'm looking further away.

It's always good to know someone who knows more about a subject than you do or who can do things that you can't. They're a source to learn from and a resource to call upon in times of need, but you have to make the connections before the disaster for best results. Follow your instincts when dealing with people; if something strikes you as odd or wrong, it is best to walk away and look for a different source.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Prudent Prepping: The Taste Test

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

When I wrote about my friend the Master Chief ordering freeze-dried long term store-able food, our esteemed Editrix asked the obvious question, "But how do they taste?"

Here is my answer.

Wise Emergency Food
I opened both buckets and chose one item from each that I am reasonably certain of how they should taste: Apple Cinnamon Cereal and Noodle Soup.

Easy Choices

This was straightforward: read the label, boil the correct amount of water and taste. The cereal uses 3.5 cups of water which I nuked in a microwave.


Too much water
Apple Cinnamon Cereal
This is an instant cereal most of us have eaten. I take instant cereal with me every day, in case I didn't eat breakfast or get hungry before lunch.

Wise doesn't break down the ingredients, nutritional values or serving sizes for their multi-serving packages in an easily copied format, so here is the page for the entire contents of a bucket, with the cereal towards the bottom.

The flavor is very good with enough cinnamon to make things flavorful and not just sugary, and the texture is different from the single-serving oatmeal I've eaten; this is closer to slow-cooked whole oats. As is my normal way to try new items, I followed the directions as shown. Also as is usual, the amount of water listed is more than I feel is needed to mix or cook the test items: the cereal is runnier than I like, and I'm tempted to use at least 1/2 cup less water or add the cereal to the pot while still on the fire to cook off some of the water and possibly speed up absorption.

Noodle Soup
Another item most people have eaten in the past, and another favorite from my earlier days, before Ramen became popular. This product's information is also on the page mentioned above.

This package recommends 4 cups of water, which I'm going to use, because this is actual soup!

Noodle soup
The texture came out better than I expected, with the curly noodles cooked enough to be firm but not chewy. What did not come out better was the taste: salty.

Lots and LOTS of salt in the soup, to the point that the other flavors seem sharp tasting; I don't know and other way to describe the 'taste'. I've eaten instant soup exactly like this in the past and wasn't a fan then; I still don't like it.With water filtration systems available, something this salty might not be a problem if you have enough plain water to drink in an emergency.

The vegetables reconstituted as expected and you could tell you were chewing something other than a noodle, but that was all. Did I mention salt?

The Recap
  • Wise freeze dried long-term storeable meals, first mentioned in this post. Available from Amazon
  • As with most things, the more money you spend (to a point), the better off you are in quality. The Master Chief and I both think Mountain House is better tasting, butat a higher price point that neither one of us can afford at the moment.

The Takeaway
  • Buy what you can afford and upgrade when you can. Nothing is perfect, but in an emergency the calories you have now are better than the ones still on a store shelf.
  • Wise Foods gets my recommendation for emergency food, even with the minor flavor/salt issue.

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Know Your Electrical Panel

We've talked about the basic electrical tools used to diagnose issues; now let's look at your electrical panel, which is what distributes all the electrical power for your home. If you have outbuildings with power, these may have their own sub-panels that distribute power just to that building. Knowing the location of these panels is critically important to being able to safely work on the electrical circuits in your home.

Inside your panel, you'll find either circuit breakers or fuses. Resettable circuit breakers are used in all modern construction projects; fuses are found in much older homes, usually dating to the 1950s or earlier. Some of these buildings have had update and refit work done, however, and if so they will have modern circuit breakers. I discussed the basics of fuses and circuit breakers here and here, and they're worth a quick review.

A residential breaker panel, pictured closed.
Breakers inside a panel.

The pictured panel is the one in my own home. Notice that there are both single and two-handle breakers: the single-space breakers supply 120V power to lights and normal outlets, and the two-space breakers supply 240V power to things like ovens, clothes dryers, and electric HVAC systems. There should be a schematic inside the panel door listing what each circuit powers, but these are sometimes out of date or inaccurate.

Knowing a few things about your panel can help you isolate which circuit you need to disconnect:

  • Breakers marked as 15 amps are almost always lighting. 
  • 20 amp breakers can be lights or outlets. 
  • As mentioned above, two-space breakers (referred to in the trade as two-pole breakers) power high-draw items like ovens and clothes dryers. These breakers are the top two breakers in my panel as pictured. 
  • Some panels will also have a breaker marked as "Main." This breaker kills all power to the entire house, and will be labeled with a higher amperage than any of the other breakers, almost always 100 amps or more. If the main breaker isn't in the panel, it will be located near the electrical meter, as noted here.

Find your own panel and take a look inside. Be familiar with your breakers so that when you need to flip one, you've got nothing to be afraid of.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Cheap Gear Review: Electrical Conduit Walking Staff

I like to walk. If you have seen my author photo, you may have noticed that I am a little bit heavy. Because of that, I like to have a selection of walking sticks made of electrical conduit pipe at hand.

They function as a way to keep my balance when I am having balance issues or dealing with knee and ankle injuries, help me get over rough terrain, and even serve as a dandy impromptu weapon should ever come to it. I have even been known to use one as a way to carry multiple bags across my shoulders instead of in my hands. What I am carrying is, in effect, a short quarter staff made from steel.

5'5" walking staff.
Model: Joe Vasicek

Now if a walking stick or cane is not your style this article may not be for you, but hopefully it will help you if you ever decide to get one as a gift for a friend. They are surprisingly inexpensive to purchase, and it's surprisingly easy to personalize them.
  1. First, the staff itself. I purchase ten foot lengths of pipe and cut them down, since it is cheaper per foot, but you can buy pre-cut five foot (and in some places four foot) lengths. I like to purchase mine from Home Depot, but any hardware store should carry it. 
    • I prefer to get 0.5" diameter pipe, but I have purchased 0.75" in the past. The half inch is lighter, but not quite as strong, which I have never had an issue with. I know someone who uses one inch, but I find that to be uncomfortable in my hand as I hold it and I do have some fairly large mitts.
    • The total cost for a pre-cut (so more expensive), 5 foot long, ½ inch diameter galvanized steel electrical conduit at the time of this writing is less than $3 US.
  2. I prefer to put Great Stuff Expanding Foam on the interior of the staff. This gives it just a bit more weight, and prevents crud from getting in. If you have some sitting around from a project and need to finish a can off, this is a great way to do it; just make sure to spray it in from both ends, to get better coverage. Loctite makes an excellent similar product that actually works better than Great Stuff for projects like these.
  3. Then I put on a rubber ferrule. It protects the bottom and provides traction when I'm walking around. I couldn’t find a single one on Amazon, so this link is for a multi-pack, which is nice since these tips eventually wear out.
  4. Finally, I put on grip tape. I use 3M electrical tape and re-apply after a couple of years, but your mileage may vary. The neat bit is that it comes in a bunch of interesting colors, making customization is easy.
  5. Your electrical conduit walking staff is done. Have fun with it!
3'5" walking stick.
Model: Joe Vasicek

(Regular readers may ask if I have run my staff through the dishwasher. The answer is no, because it will not fit. If I ever purchase an industrial dishwasher I will remedy this.)
Don’t forget to practice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Prudent Prepping: RE(I)-placing Gear

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

I like to see, feel, and try on my clothing before paying out my hard-earned Blue Collar Prepping budgeted cash. Doing this is harder and harder with so many stores closing or expanding their Online Only offerings. In the past I have shopped at REI, since they carried a wide selection of camping and rugged outdoor clothes. Nowadays I'm spending little money and less time in their stores, which is a shame since I need to buy some replacement items that REI has and I really like them. So why am I doing that?

REI does not sell guns. We believe that it is the job of companies that manufacture and sell guns and ammunition to work towards common sense solutions that prevent the type of violence that happened in Florida last month. In the last few days, we’ve seen such action from companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart and we applaud their leadership.

This week, we have been in active discussions with Vista Outdoor, which has recently acquired several companies that are longtime partners of REI. These include Giro, Bell, Camelbak, Camp Chef and Blackburn. Vista also owns Savage Arms, which manufactures guns including “modern sporting rifles.”

This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action. As a result, we have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.

Companies are showing they can contribute if they are willing to lead. We encourage Vista to do just that.

I believe that companies have the right to choose to do business with whomever they choose, for whatever reasons they choose. To do otherwise would be poor business and possibly un-American. I believe this decision is wrong for many different reasons, but it is their choice.

This puts me in a bit of a dilemma, since I need to replace some socks I've worn for the better part of ten years (no, not the same socks!) first purchased from REI and reviewed in this post a year and a half ago. I too have a right to shop where I want and spend my money however I choose, because the opposite would definitely be un-American.

I really like this sock, since it fits well and keeps my feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I'm now looking at websites for companies selling what appear to be the same sock, but I need to order and wait to see if in fact they really are the same. If not, I have to get an RGA, mail the items back, wait for a credit back to my card and then try a different company. Many of you younger people have no problem ordering and returning item after item until you get it correct. I have only one thing to say:

Get Off My Lawn!
Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino (2008)

I like these socks. I really, REALLY like them, and if the heel and ball of the big toe area weren't getting thin, we would not be having this conversation about capitalism, rights guaranteed (not given!) in our foundational documents, and socks. Especially socks.

I'll keep everyone up to date on how the search is going. Until then, Sourpuss McGrumpyface is signing off.

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Electrical Troubleshooting: Tools

I have returned from my hiatus. Short answer to expected questions: my family is good and things are getting back to as normal as they ever are. Thanks to everyone who expressed concern about it.

During my absence, questions about basic home electrical maintenance came up among the staff, and I was asked to do a series on the topic since that's how I pay my bills and buy my toys. I'm more than happy to do this, both in the interest of helping folks be more self-sufficient, and also in the hopes that some of our bolder readers will have an eye towards doing this kind of work safely and properly.

Electrical work requires some tools that other tasks do not, and since these tools will help prevent accidents and injuries, this is a very good place to being my series. Basic variants of these tools can be obtained very economically, while fancier versions have almost no ceiling to their cost. For homeowner purposes, those basic devices will work just fine, without the added expense of features that rarely if ever will get used.

Non-Contact Voltage Detector
The non-contact voltage detector is the first line of protection from electrical shock. It detects the presence of voltage in a wire, switch, or outlet without requiring that bare metal be exposed. Every professional electrician I know carries one daily. Shocks hurt, and this is cheap insurance.

Outlet Tester
A huge number of the electrical issues that crop up in a home involve wall outlets. This device plugs into a standard outlet and diagnoses any wiring problems affecting it. It is a very quick way to find trouble points.

The multimeter is the ultimate diagnostic tool. Basic units test for the presence of AC and DC voltage, amperage, and electrical continuity; fancier ones can test electronic components, measure temperature, and a host of other things. An auto-ranging meter is far simpler, but adds a large amount to the cost. If possible, look for a meter that lists a feature of "audible continuity," meaning it will sound a tone when a circuit is electrically continuous. This is useful when trying to identify wires or locate a broken wire.

Amazon has three very affordable kits that have these tools for all your basic electrical diagnostic needs. You could purchase them separately, but with the pricing and quality of these kits, there isn't a reason to unless you're looking for a very specific feature.

All of them are quality brands, carry the same basic features, and cost less than a date to the movies. You could pick from the Klein, Amprobe, or Extech kits based solely on your favorite color (yellow, red, and green respectively) and not make a wrong choice.

Next week, I'll show you how to use these tools to perform a variety of common household electrical tasks.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Prepping for Asthma

As any prepper knows, preparedness is key.

And as anyone with chronic health conditions knows, emergency preparedness for those conditions can be nearly impossible at times.

I have lived with chronic, severe allergies for the last 20 years plus, but they have only notably impacted my life over the last 10. The most significant day to day impact of this has been asthma, specifically allergy-induced asthma that has made interacting with the general public difficult... such as when I have an allergic reaction to most kinds of soap. In addition to soap, I am badly allergic to mold, such as orange mold, various plants, and dust mites.

(I am aware that there will are those of you who claim that it is impossible to be allergic to soap. Feel free to convince my allergist, and my body, of that. When the in double-blind testing I have the same reaction, I promise you that it is not “attention seeking”).

Non-Medicinal Preps
In an emergency, I don't expect frequent access to allergy medication so I can restock what I typically keep on hand. This means that for whatever emergency I am planning against, I have to keep enough on hand to last me for quite some time. To that end, I specifically look for things that will last for a long time.
  • Instead of just getting medication, I try to control the environment. Medication tends to expire much more quickly then filters for your furnace or a facemask.
  • When I do get medication, I try to keep a stock of individually foil packed pills, so that if there is an emergency, I don’t have to open an entire container of them and risk contamination or expiration.
  • When I do stock up on medication, it's easier to do it in stages. The rule that I have is one – two – five. I try to get a one month supply, and then a two month supply, and then a five month supply, and then a year's supply, and so on. If I cannot afford a month's supply at a time of whatever it may be, I start with a day or week.

Over the Counter Preps
As to the specifics of what preps I keep on hand:
  • I keep a year's supply in bottles of three different over-the-counter allergy medications. I buy mine from Costco, but it does not especially matter where you purchase yours from as long as they work and have a basic minimum level quality packaging. I use, sometimes more than one at once, generic/store brand versions of Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec
  • I also keep a two-week supply of each of these in foil-wrapped packets. I actually buy name brand for these, because in my experience the packaging tends to be more waterproof. The Claritin and Zyrtec are even available as a dissolving tablet, which means you don't need water to take them. 
  • I keep a two week supply of Mucinex on hand. I'm still working up to a full year's supply, but the supply that I do have is all foil wrapped.
  • I keep chlorpheniramine (an alternative to benadryl) on hand. I buy this in bulk, since it is cheap, and I know people who are allergic to Benadryl.
  • As far as controlling the environment, I use a good spray sanitizer when I clean, and then I use a power fan style HEPA filter.
  • To supplement that, I use a box fan with a 20” x 20”  filter on it.
  • I even use a face-mask respirator on occasion. It has excellent filtration, and on days like today (where the air smells like barbecue) it ends up being a practical method to be able to breathe outside. I tried to keep between four and six filter replacements for it on hand, because I occasionally use the respirator for work reasons.

Prescription Preps
Everything I have mentioned so far is not a controlled substance, requires no prescription, and can be purchased over-the-counter at any drugstore with no problem. Everything else on my list is still legal, but may be more difficult to obtain in case of power outages or loss of infrastructure.
  • Sudafed and other decongestant medications require identification (such as a driver's license) to purchase in the USA. Pharmacies scan your ID, and to enssure that you’re not making methamphetamine with it they monitor and restrict how much you're allowed to purchase in a given month. I try to keep a one-month supply on hand, which is thankfully not very much. I do not use it often, but when I need it, I have to have some on hand.
  • I try to keep an inhaler on hand in my backpack, in my desk, and on my person. When I am in public a lot I end up going through an inhaler every 3 to 4 months, averaged over the several that I keep on hand. I also try to keep a foil-wrapped inhaler in my bug out bag, my roadside emergency kit, my primary toolbox, and one to three in the long term food storage. I know that sounds like a lot, but inhalers are inexpensive, (less than $10 each at Walmart without insurance), will be very difficult to get a hold of in a real emergency, and are something I will quite literally die without. I feel that overkill is a far smarter way to go then underkill.
  • Finally there is the EpiPen. I've never had to use one, and I hope I never do, but if I have to it will be there. I keep one in my backpack and my first aid kit. I would like to keep one in several other places, but they are quite expensive. I hope to remedy this with an EpiPencil.

It's possible to prep for asthma. I did it, so you can do it too. I know it sounds like a lot, and in some ways it is, but it's entirely doable.

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

The Fine Print

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