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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.

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

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