Friday, May 30, 2014

Palette's Product Reviews: Bushcraft Essentials Outdoor Stoves

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
Back in March I was fortunate enough to receive a trio of outdoor stoves from Bushcraft Essentials for testing. It has taken me a while to put this review together (mainly because of recurring family health problems this spring), and I would like to thank Detlev Hoppenrath, the man behind Bushcraft Essentials, for his patience during this time.

For those folks who have not read my reviews at my other blog, I shall repeat what I said when I first reviewed camping stoves.

Before I begin the reviews, A Necessary Disclaimer:
I am not very good at starting fires. This makes me exactly the right person to review these stoves. A trained survivalist can make a stove out of a cow pattie, a hole in the ground, and a mirror. I, however, am an average schlub, just like most of the people who will be using these stoves. If they'll work for me, they will certainly work for you.
These were the tests I performed on the stoves:
  1. How easy they were to light and keep fed, using identical natural materials. 
  2. How quickly they could bring 16 ounces of water to boil in a steel mug. 
  3. How quickly they could bring 24 ounces of water to boil in an uncovered aluminum pot.
  4. How quickly they could cook a single egg on an aluminum skillet. 
All tests were performed on my back porch where wind would not be a factor. I used natural fuels, but since this was not a referendum on my fire-making skills, I used a lighter to start them. All water would be poured out and the containers allowed to cool between use.

Now that the formalities are taken care of, let's begin.

From left to right:  the Micro Stove, the Pocket Stove, and the Bushbox XL. 
 Or as I like to call them, Baby Box, Mommy Box, and Daddy Box.  

1)  Bushbox XL ($79.90 at Amazon)

The XL's size and shape immediately invites comparisons to a certain other box-shaped camp stove, but since I was specifically not asked to compare the two by the designer of the unnamed stove, I shan't do that. 

My first thoughts when I saw the XL were, in roughly this order:
  1. It's much lighter than I expected.
  2. It's far more expensive than any other camp stove I've seen. 
  3. It sure rattles a lot on those hinges. 
According to the designer, these hinges are made by hand and are over-engineered to withstand dust and grime, but no mention was given to structural strength. While the XL never once collapsed or otherwise failed during my tests, the amount of flex on the sides worries me nonetheless -- there is no way to lock the sides in place without using the included trivets, and if you do that then you do not have them to help you reposition the stove (unless you buy an additional set of trivets for $13.50).

Were I to use this on a campout, I would not feel comfortable leaving the stove alone, however briefly, to attend to other camp shores, but perhaps that is just my inexperience talking. As I said, it easily supported the weight of all testing elements. 

Test 1: Keeping It Lit

The XL is easy to assemble (it just unfolds) and is light enough to be easily re-positioned if necessary. It's similarly easy to light and keep fed, because it has a nice square opening in the front and has good airflow. 

However, this nice front opening is a two-edged sword: easy access to the fire means that the flames and heat have easy access to the air in a direction that isn't being used to cook your food. Similarly, while it was easy to feed larger sticks into the hole without worrying about being burned, I had to worry that longer sticks would cause the stove to fall over or that the burnt parts would detach and cause a burning piece of fuel to fall to the ground in front me. 

As I said earlier, I would not feel comfortable leaving this stove alone to cook while I did other things in camp. The fire required more maintenance than other camp stoves I have tested -- however, that maintenance was not difficult to provide, and the fire put out enough heat that the Bushbox XL can be used to provide warmth as well as heat for cooking. 

Test 2:  Steel Mug

I was informed that water boils in less than 4 minutes on the XL if operated properly.  While I am the first to admit that I may not be operating the stove properly (see Disclaimer, above), I did not experience similar cook times. 16 ounces of water in a steel mug started to boil at the 5 minute mark, and by 6 minutes I had achieved a rolling boil. 

Test 3: Aluminum Pot

24 ounces of water in an uncovered aluminum pot (why uncovered?  Because I forgot to cover it the first time I did a review and I want all of my tests to be as consistent as possible) gave identical times to the steel mug, with a rolling boil at the 6 minute mark, despite having to heat double the volume.  I want to attribute this to aluminum's superior ability to conduct heat, but all of my previous tests have had the pot boiling slower than the mug, so  I'm not really sure why this happened. I have a theory, though (see Conclusion, below)

Test 4: Scrambled Egg

It took one minute and fifteen seconds to scramble an egg, which is faster than I expected given the time it took to boil the water. 


Given the wildly varying times it took the Bushbox XL to cook things, I think the variability can be attributed to the constant need to babysit the fire in order to get a constant, easy burn. I have no real way to measure such a thing, but throughout my tests I got the nagging feeling that the fire was uneven, wanting to burn to one side or another unless specifically tended to. Therefore, the XL's performance varies according to how the fire is performing at any particular moment. 

All told, it's a nice little stove, and it performs well.  The problem I have with it, though, is that it doesn't perform well enough to distinguish it from other stoves.  It burns better than the Solo Stove, but the Solo is stable and practically idiot-proof, not to mention lighter and significantly cheaper. The XL folds flat, unlike the Solo, but there are other stoves which do fold flat and are likewise significantly cheaper while also being sturdier. 

I would consider this stove a study in compromise:  If you need a stove that is both lightweight AND folds flat, then this will do you fine. You're going to need those extra trivets, though.

My Rating: B+  

2) Bushbox Pocket Stove ($29.90 at Amazon)

Compared to the Daddy Stove, the Mommy Stove is smaller, lighter, and sturdier in feel and appearance. This is because the Pocket Stove uses precision-cut pieces of steel that interlock like a jigsaw puzzle rather than hinges. And yes, it truly is a pocket stove; when disassembled it is 4 inches by 5 inches and about a quarter of an inch thick. While I wouldn't try to fit into the front pocket of my jeans, it will certainly fit in the back pocket.

Test 1: Keeping It Lit

When assembled, it makes a nice little 3 by 3.25 by 4" box. One of the things I like about the design is that if I were using fuel tablets instead of wood, I could detach the ash pan (the lower piece of metal in the picture above) and place it in the middle of the box, level with the lower lip of the feed door. Alternately, I could remove the front altogether and use an alcohol stove as my source of fire. 

The Pocket Stove has the same issues as the XL in terms of keeping it fed and needing to be babysat to prevent the fire going out.  Being smaller, though, means that I can feed it with long sticks that are resting on the ground, rather than sticking out into the air like the XL does, which again reinforces the belief that this is sturdier than the larger version. 

Test 2:  Steel Mug

The problem with a small size became immediately apparent once I put something onto it: the mug covered nearly all of the burn area, leaving only the corners open. This is a concern because without an effective chimney, it's easy for fires to burn themselves out. Fortunately, the trivets that came with it have cuts of different depths depending on their orientation, so switching those around gave the fire room to breathe. 

Performance wasn't as good as the XL, as would be expected. The water in the mug started to bubble at 6 minutes and was boiling at 9 minutes.  I was unable to achieve a rolling boil due to not having enough fuel, and the fire went out while I was looking for more. I think it safe to estimate a strong rolling boil would occur before the 15 minute mark, which is actually pretty good for a jigsaw puzzle of stainless steel that only weighs 9.5 ounces. 

Test 3: Aluminum Pot

By this point I had pretty much figured out what needed to be done in terms of keeping the fire fed. It was bubbling at 9 minutes, boiling at 13 and rolling a minute after that. 

Test 4: Scrambled Egg

2 minutes flat to turn a cold raw egg into hot food. I had some concern that my frying pan would tip over due to the small amount of surface area provided by the trivets, so I held it in place via the handle. The other hand would either feed the fire or stir the egg to keep it from sticking and burning. 


I like this stove. Its performance and weight are similar to the Solo Stove, and while it isn't nearly as idiot-proof, the Bushbox Pocket Stove has the twin virtues of disassembling into a form small enough to fit inside nearly any mess kit and being quite affordable (almost half as much as the Solo).

It can't keep you warm the way the XL can, but it can definitely cook your food. Buy one and stick it into your Bug-Out Bag or Get Home Bag.

My Rating: A+  

3) Micro Stove, aka EDC Box ($19.90 at Amazon)

I'm not ashamed to say it:  this "Baby Box" is ADORABLE. Both my mom and I made squee noises at its cuteness when I unpacked it. How cute is it?  So cute that I was afraid I would hurt it by starting a fire inside of it.  Fortunately, its mommy and daddy were nearby to provide emotional support during this scary coming-of-age moment, as well as to be proud when junior passed the tests. (Yes, I am a big softie when it comes to cute things, SHUT UP.) 

It really is an "Every Day Carry" stove:  when disassembled, its dimensions are 2"x3" and 1/8th of an inch thick, easily small enough to fit in whatever bag or pocket you wish, or be hung from a carabiner.  Pack it with a lighter and a fuel tab and you're all set.

Test 1: Keeping It Lit

Assembled, it becomes a 2x2x2.5" box. Lighting it wasn't a problem; keeping it lit was. The smaller scale meant that I needed to use much smaller fuel to feed it, and it required constant blowing to make sure it got the air it needed. Given the small scale I wasn't worried that any of the small sticks I was using would cause it to tip.

Test 2:  Steel Mug

The trivets are so tiny that I didn't think they would support anything, but they did; I just needed to find the right balance point. However, given the largeness of the cup and the smallness of the burn area, I frequently needed to lift the cup  so I could blow into the fire and clear out the ash. 

How did it perform?  Uh...

4 minutes:  Bubbles began to form at the bottom of the mug. 
6 minutes:  Oh this looks promising, I can see steam rising from the water. 
7 minutes:  Fire goes out and needs to be restarted. 
11 minutes:  Ditto. 
14 minutes:  The surface of the water has some light surface bubbles.
20 minutes:  Test halted due to annoyance on my part. A thermometer showed that the water reached a maximum of 80 degrees C (176* F).

Test 3: Aluminum Pot

I didn't even try this, as I had no desire to spend 20-40 minutes blowing into a small opening. 

Test 4: Scrambled Egg

For this test I removed the trivets for maximum airflow and simply held the frying pan over the fire. After 4 and a half minutes of struggle, the fire succumbed to ash buildup and would not relight.  I declared the test over at this point. 


Well, it's cute, and it's tiny, and it's relatively inexpensive. Is it a great stove?  I don't think so, but this guy pretty obviously knows what he's doing as he was able to do some significant cooking over it. But even if I hadn't seen that video, I still wouldn't write the EDC Box off as a loss -- there is something to be said for a small stove that weighs essentially nothing (2.7 ounces) and fits in a pocket.

Yes, it's a toy, but it's a toy that can accommodate a fuel tab (something which I did not test myself).  If nothing else, the EDC Box provides you with a stable, sheltered chimney in which to start your fire -- getting that first spark to catch is crucial -- and once it's burning you can then use that stable flame to start a larger fire to provide warmth and to cook over.  While I wouldn't go so far as to say that I recommend it, neither do I recommend against it, provided that you do not have unrealistic expectations for its performance. 

If the price was just a bit lower -- between $15 and $20 -- it would become a no-brainer backup to keep in a bag. 

My Rating: C+  for effectiveness, A+ for adorableness

If you wish to leave a comment about this review but do not wish to deal with our Google+ system, I encourage you to visit my other blog which uses a different system for comment . All questions will be answered and all statements considered.

My thanks to Detlev Hoppenrath of Bushcraft Essentials for providing me with these stoves to review.

 Obligatory Middle Finger to the FTC:  I was given these stoves for free to review, but as you can see, I found fault with each of them.  Clearly, this shows that I was not given product in exchange for a good review. Go away. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Parasites- Soul

Parasites of the soul are those things that eat away at the very essence of what makes you an individual. A Scottish (Quaker) minister in 1892 summed up my feelings: "Never tell a child," said George MacDonald, "you have a soul. Teach him, you are a soul; you have a body."

These are a few of the things I identify as parasites of the soul. They can be just as deadly as any of the other parasites I discussed in my earlier posts, with the added danger of making you less than human.

Lack of Faith

I don't really care what you believe in, as long as you believe in something. I have noticed a correlation between faith in any guise and general contentment with life and the acceptance of what lies beyond this life. Belief in something better than us tends to make us want to be better, which is a good thing as I see it. Having little or no faith also leads to doubt and fear, which were covered in my post about parasites of the mind.

Blind Faith

Having witnessed a few cults in my time, I've seen the damage that blind faith can do. Use the brains that you have and don't let others do your thinking for you all of the time. Question authority - it's generally only there to get something from you, not do something for you.

I tend toward Gnostic Christianity in my beliefs. The Gnostic Church was stamped out by what eventually became the Roman Catholic church because they taught that people could find their own understanding of God, without the "help" of a hierarchy of priests guiding them. I would rather study a subject and discuss it with friends (or debate it with strangers) than have someone tell me what I "have" to believe.


However you define sin is between you and that which you worship. It is not my job (or my place) to tell you what to believe, but if you profess a belief I will hold you to it.
  • Don't tell me that you're a devout Christian and then get caught in bed with another man's wife. 
  • Don't tell me you're a good Muslim, then spend hours in a strip club drinking alcohol. 
  • Don't tell me how Odinism is the religion of your fore-fathers and therefore your heritage, then break an oath or fail to defend your family.
  • Don't preach to me about Mother Gaia and then toss your empty drink container out the window of your car.
  • Don't brag about how you deny the existence of all Gods, then swear an oath or invoke one of their names. If you don't believe in them, don't expect them to believe in you.

Hypocrisy is the biggest sin. If you're going to place your faith in something, do so completely. To profess a belief and then act against that belief is going to eat away at your soul because YOU have already acknowledged what is a sin and are choosing to do it anyway. If you believe in an afterlife and some sort of judgement when you get there, don't get upset if I or someone else points out your hypocrisy as a bad choice.


Demons, angels, devils, afrits, spirits, or whatever you choose to call them exist. They have existed longer than humans have and I have seen no evidence that they ever gave up and went away. The Vatican still employs exorcists for a reason.

I am of the opinion that there are positive spirits (for lack of a better term) as well as negative spirits. The positive spirits will try to help you without requiring payment, but the negative ones are always looking for some way to get something from you. Once a negative spirit gets its claws into you, it can be a terribly hard job to get them out of your life. If you're going to work with Ouija boards or seances, make sure you have a way to test every spirit that you may encounter to weed out the negative ones. I'm not clear or sure about what benefit they derive from invading your life, but I have seen the consequences of it and it can destroy a person's soul.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Prudent Prepping: Monthly Roundup

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping.

Monthly Roundup

This is my chance to wrap up the month and cover several topics at once.

Food and other supplies

Due to my budget, 3 items were purchased this month, all from Sam's Club:
  • 25 lbs. of Jasmine rice on Closeout (I think), $14.95
  • Bigelow Natural Green Tea, 160 count box, $6.95
  • 24 count Duracell AAA batteries, about $13
I still need to find someone with LDS (Mormon) connections to get the bulk food items I've purchased repacked into smaller containers. A question was asked of me(in person), "Why there are so many small sized packages, instead of bulk buys, in your stored food list?" My response was, in my planning for a disaster here, the idea is to have multiple medium sized  containers(5-6 gal. pails) holding duplicate items to prevent all of one staple being destroyed. This will also simplify the sharing of supplies with friends and family.

To be purchased:
  • Food Grade storage pails. I am continuing my run of bad luck in the search for free buckets and will look for a local supplier before ordering through Amazon and paying shipping.
  • 1 or 2 6 gal. water containers to bring my stored supply to at least 18 gallons. Walmart has them for $16.95 in their Camping department

Camping Gear Test

Osprey Day Pack test. Over the weekend I went to one of the Regional Parks in the San Francisco area with 15 lbs in the pack (10 lbs of beans and approx. 5 lbs of water and lunch) and hit the trail. The trail went mostly uphill from the start and I stopped a bit over 3 miles in to eat lunch. The pack has internal straps to keep contents from shifting, shoulder straps wide enough not to dig in, and the water bottle pouches were easy to reach. Coming out, the trail seemed to be mostly uphill again (ahem) but survivable.

I am more than pleased with how the Day Pack worked and am going to start making it into my Get Home Bag!

To be purchased:
  • New boots. My old hiking boots are falling apart and the insoles are shot. With my wide feet, finding comfortable boots in a Wide or Extra Wide is a priority. 
  • 2-3 person tent. Still on the lookout for a good used 3 Season tent.
  • More and better First Aid supplies for the GHB and stored for future use. Look at Lokidude's posts under Authors and herehere and here in particular for ideas.

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

First Aid Kit Upgrades

I promised after the Boomershoot excitement that I was going to upgrade my first aid kit and share the upgrades with you.  Here, at last, are the additions:

1.  Something to write with, and something to write on.  Both permanent markers and ball point pens are useful here, as well as a small notepad.  The ball points are for the notepad and the sharpies are great for writing on your bandaging tape, noting useful information such as the time that a set of vital signs was taken as well as those vital signs themselves.  Stick to fine-point markers, as they're far easier to read.  Perforated or spiral-bound pads are great, as you can just remove the page and hand off any of your notes when professional help arrives, giving them a record and an advantage in their treatment.

2. A blood-pressure monitor.  I went a bit old school and just pulled out my stethoscope and cuff, but that's because I have them in the house, and because I have the training and experience to use them.  They're a bit big and bulky for my EDC kit that I carry in my backpack, but they're going in a larger kit, reminiscent of the "jump kit" I used to keep on hand when I had my EMT certification.  Depending on how and where you pack your kit, the same may apply to you.  The ability to give the responding medical crew a running blood pressure on our Boomershoot patient would have been very nice, and something I felt pretty clumsy lacking.  In addition, regular checks of your own blood pressure are never a bad thing, and the model I linked has the ability to track 30 readings, so you can see how you're trending.

3.  Specific Wilderness/Remote First Aid training.  I've already talked up the Red Cross for training before, and had the BSA wilderness first aid training that they base their curriculum on, but that was nearly 15 years ago so I'm far beyond due for a refresher, which I'll be taking this summer.  They also offer their pocket guide as a PDF at the site linked, for free.  Free is good, so get that guide.

Seeing as I come from a family of diabetics, a glucometer might not be amiss in my big kit, but that will take a fair bit of research and consultation before I can make any kind of recommendation.

I'm certain there will be another round of updates and evolutions, as any good kit should grow and change with circumstances and experience.  As it happens, I'll certainly share it here.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

I'm not celebrating  Memorial Day with a cook-out and beer. I haven't in a long time. To me, this day is reserved for remembering those who died fighting for their country, whichever country that may have been.

I am a Cold War veteran. I was a REMF  (ask a vet what that means if you want the exact translation) and never saw combat. I maintained nuclear weapons in West Germany in the early 1980's when they were one of the main things keeping the Soviet Army from spreading Communism throughout Europe. Even though I never saw combat, a normal day at work involved large quantities of high explosives, highly radioactive materials, and chemicals that would peel the meat off of your bones. We had to trust each other not to screw up or one of us was going to get hurt or die. In the days before the invention of precision-guided munitions, tactical nuclear weapons were our answer to the roughly 3-to-1 numerical advantage that the USSR had over NATO troops and tanks. It worked: we won the Cold War, and Soviet tanks never poured through the Fulda Gap into western Europe.

My job in the US Army was mostly Monday through Friday, 0700 to 1700. I had free time to travel and since my room and board were paid for, I had money and a car as well. I wandered around a foreign country that was “First World”, so I didn't have to worry about much. The police weren't corrupt, the roads were well maintained, the people were friendly, the beer was cheap, the food was good (and safe to eat for the most part, although I won't touch Argentine beef ever again), and there was a lot to see in what I consider a small area. West Germany was about the size of Iowa and Missouri combined, so everything was closer than you'll find in the USA. Most of it is also much older than than the USA.

I was stationed in a very small NATO base in the northern part of Germany with very limited support, so I learned quite a bit of German just to get by. If I wanted fresh groceries, I had to go to town and know how to ask for them in German. This came in handy during my wandering, because it allowed me to read the plaques and memorials that seemed to be everywhere, if you took the time to look for them.

The picture to the left is of a war cemetery in Germany. I don't know which one exactly; there are over 400 of them in Germany alone. The last new WW2 cemetery for German soldiers opened in 2013 in Russia. Think about that for a minute. Over 70 years after the Normandy Invasion, and they're still burying their dead from that war.

The small picture to the right is the War memorial that was about 5 miles from where I was stationed. I was also about 10 miles from Wewelsburg, a castle used by the SS as a training center with a small labor camp at the base of the hill. Walking though cemeteries like these brought home to me the sheer scale of human loss that war brings, but having seen East Germany first-hand (we actually drove through it to get to Berlin) showed me that war is not the worst that can happen.

I am in no way condoning the actions or motives of the German government during the 1930's and 40's - they were inhuman and should serve as a reminder of how not to act - but the individual soldiers served their country and did what they were taught and told to do as best they could.

This picture is of Graves Registration during the Vietnam War. With the invention of computers and rapid transport, most of the casualties of war were shipped back home for burial by family instead of being interred in graveyards close to the scene of battle. The large battle cemeteries have become a thing of the past. 

I have family members who served in that war, and several friends who lost family over there. I also had uncles that served in and survived WW2 and Korea. I have talked with many troops that made it back from Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and a few places that are not mentioned in the nightly news. They've all lost friends and comrades. The term “brothers in arms” has a special meaning to those of us who have served in the military and experienced that unique bond of trusting another person with your very life. 

Please enjoy your family and friends this holiday weekend, but I ask that you raise a glass or two to the men who died in order to ensure that you have the freedom to do so.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Definitions Page Completed

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
I cleaned up and published BCP's page of prepper definitions. That's about all I can accomplish today, with my father in the hospital with a broken hip & fractured pubic bone, and my mother still recovering from last month's bout of spinal stenosis.

That page is a work in progress, so if there is anything you think should be added, please let me know.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Parasites- Spirit

Sorry to break the "Week of Reviews" trend we had going. I tend to leave the gear side of prepping to my fellow authors, although I may post reviews of books (if I ever find time to read again) in the future.

Parasites of the spirit are those things that will tear away at you feeling of peace. These little monsters can do just as much damage to your physical and mental health as any of the insects or traits mentioned in my earlier posts.


Not being sure of your surroundings is natural after a disaster, your world has just changed drastically and things aren't the way they used to be. That's being "unsure", whereas being "insecure" is the state of not doing anything (or very little) because you're not sure of your own abilities. If you are afraid of failure and the thought of trying something has you terrified, you're dealing with insecurity.

The cure for insecurity is experience. Get out and try new things, learn new things, see new things. As you learn more about what you're capable of doing the insecurity will fade and you'll be better able to deal with the unknown.

If one of your tribe or team members is feeling insecure (children, hipsters, etc.), lead them in exercises of their abilities until they gain some confidence. After that you'll need to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't exceed their limits. A newly freed spirit can often get into trouble by pushing the envelope too far, too fast.

Negative Thoughts

Negative thinking becomes a real problem when it gets personal. If you consider someone else in a "bad" way it can slowly influence how you view other people, but if you think negatively of yourself you will poison every interaction you have.

There are very few truly evil people in this world (and even Hitler liked dogs), so don't be afraid of facing your faults and failures while being aware that we all have them. It can be hard to like yourself sometimes, especially if you've done things that you're not proud of, but don't let that take over your life. Find something positive about yourself to focus on to help ward off the negative thoughts. Find a friend or, if there are none around, find a dog. Being accepted for who you are is the best antidote for a negative self-image and having someone else to focus on will make it easier to avoid self-criticism.

Helping others deal with a negative self-image can be as simple as reminding them of the good things about them or it can be a nearly impossible task of dragging them out of a well of self-loathing that probably took years to get into. Teenagers can be particularly difficult to deal with if they have been told that they are "worthless" by someone they admire. Rejection is a hard lesson to learn, and raging hormones don't make it any easier to deal with.

Negative people

Everyone knows at least one. The person who will always find the worst in any situation and fixate on it. They have the ability to ruin parties, make meetings (more) miserable, and make a bad situation even worse. Some people are raised to be negative, others learn it on their own. The real professionals take pride in seeing the bad side of everything.

The trick to dealing with negative people is to use them as a "Devil's Advocate" when you are doing any planning. Having someone point out possible flaws in a plan can help make the plan more likely to succeed, and may help you avoid pitfalls that you wouldn't have seen on your own. Keep them away from leadership positions and small groups, as they can rapidly "infect" others with their negative attitude and breed a "what's the use" view of the world, leading to slow or no action when it's needed.


I covered despair in one of my first posts, in response to a comment from a reader who thought she had nothing to offer is a survival situation and would be a drag on anyone who found her. That post is here.

TL:DR version- nobody is worthless, everybody has a talent or skill that will be of use once it has been found.

The Grind

The activities that make up our daily lives can easily become our lives. Getting "stuck in a rut" where every day is the same as the one before it can bore a person into becoming a drone, a non-entity that simply exists instead of actually living. With the changes in the work environment, this is less of a problem than it used to be (I worked the same job for 18 years - how many people under 30 can look forward to that?), but in a crisis situation the daily requirements of finding food, water, and shelter could rapidly change into a routine that becomes monotonous. Food choices will be drastically narrowed, entertainment and other forms of distraction will fall way down the list of priorities when you're hungry, and "spare" time can be available in feast or famine quantities.

Find ways to break up the monotony. Pack away a few decks of cards to provide entertainment and distraction. Make sure you have included "treats" in your preps to reward yourself and your tribe with (hard candies, coffee, chocolate, real toilet paper, etc.) Put at least one book in your BOB. I don't care if it's a Bible, a collection of poems, a manual on knot tying, or a basic foreign language textbook- pack something that will keep your mind active and shoo away the boredom.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sawyer Water Filter Review

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping.

Water, Water Everywhere...

What if there was an abundance of water, but you really couldn't drink any of it, because:
  • You are outside the U.S. and your sensitive G.I. tract can't handle local sources? 
  • Your local (planned-for) disaster just occurred and the faucet isn't working? 
  • The annual Big Blowout camping trip is here and dipping water from the creek after those free-range cattle crossed it ain't so appealing? 
Here is one possible solution to your filtered water needs.

The Sawyer Company

The Sawyer company,, makes many different products like:
  • Sunscreens, available in 2 formulas, which might be familiar to servicemen who have had Gulf War tours.
  • Insect Repellants, designed for your clothes or gear (lasts for up to 6 washings!) and for application to your skin in various formulas
  • First Aid kits/supplies from an EDC pocket kit to group sizes, splints, blister treatment and even tick removal pliers! 
But what I'm here to review is their unusual water filter system, made with hollow fibers. The filter I purchased, #SP129, is a very small, light weight and efficient way to filter up to 100,000 gallons of water!

It is made up of three main parts:
  • The water container/bag (more on this later) 
  • Water filter body and spout 
  • Cleaning syringe
There are no picture of this particular kit, as my card reader ate the camera's memory card. Sorry!

This filter is about as simple to use as I've seen:
  1. Fill the supplied bag with water
  2. Screw on the filter
  3. Squeeze and drink.
What makes this filter able to treat up to 100,000 gallons of water is the design of the filter membrane and the supplied syringe, used to backwash the filter body. (Not to be confused with the 'backwash' you used to do to your younger sibling's sodas!) Sawyer recommends back-washing every 5-7 fills of the 1 qt. bag, (depending on sediment or contamination of your water source) with 1/2 qt. of fresh water. I am packing coffee filters to place over the filler opening to keep sediment down.

Which brings me to my one problem: the bag. (Again, sorry for the lack of photos).

Mine split on the seam near the filler neck. Now, before all the Sawyer fanbois 'n girlz get excited, I can explain! If you compress the bag really hard to see how far you can get it to squirt, it just might fail. I'm talking to you, Pal! After doing a small amount of research on the 'Net, it seems that some problems with the bag is rare but not uncommon. Good thing REI has such a good Return Policy! After making my no hassle return a rep stopped me as I was picking up a replacement and I mentioned my bag issue. Turns out he had a similar failure and offered a cheaper solution:

  • A Sawyer Mini Filter, #SP128 containing the same filter as its bigger brother but only a 16oz. bag and a short piece of tubing to use as a straw 
  • One Platypus 1liter bag, with compatible screw threads to the filter. This bag is BPA free. 
  • Platypus Gravityworks carbon filter element. 
I purchased the replacement filter ($24.95), new water bag ($8.95) and the carbon filter ($12.95) and minus my  20% member discount ($4.99 off the filter) for total of $45.63, including tax, which is almost $5.00 less than the suggested retail for the larger kit.

Why a carbon filter, you ask? If you have been following my ramblings, I mentioned the possibility of having to 'Bug In' due to family obligations and a carbon filter will allow the filtering of organic compounds such as chlorine and other chemicals found in swimming pools! Carbon will also improve the taste of water from unusual sources, so those who have sensitivities can more easily drink the water needed to survive.

I will be retesting the filter with the carbon element very soon, without having a water gun fight with the bag.

As I mentioned, the Sawyer filter was easy to fill and backwash, it weighs very little (approx. 4-6oz. with the new heavy duty bag) and will fit into a 1qt. zip storage bag with room to spare.

I can recommend this to anyone who needs a very portable, simple and efficient filter.

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

    Tuesday, May 20, 2014

    Product Review: Gerber MP400 Compact Sport

    A while back, I picked up a Gerber MP400 Compact Sport multi-tool, and after putting it through its paces for about 5 months, it's time for a review.

    Gerber lists the MP400 at 6.8 oz and 4.37" closed, making it a very slim and light attachment to the belt.  It's a "SHOT" tool, meaning the pliers extend from the front of the tool with a flick of the wrist, to an open length of 5.63".  It's made of stainless steel, and the tools and pliers have a positive locking mechanism that holds them in the open position.  Its tools are a pair of scissors, 3 slotted screwdrivers, a Phillips screwdriver, a bottle/can opener, and a knife blade, in addition to the needle-nose pliers/cutters and crimping point.

    I'm not normally a fan of goofy torture tests, because they're just, well, stupid.  Instead, for the last few months, I did something worse:  I wore this tool on my belt, 7 days/week.  I took it to work, I took it to Boomershoot, I wore it around the house and working on cars.  I've taken it with me everywhere.

    The scissors are excellent, sharp and precise.  So too is the knife blade, which is quite sharp out of the box.  It's got scallops that aren't quite serrations, and they look like they'll be far easier to actually sharpen than a standard serration.

    The screwdriver tips are adequate, as is the bottle/can opener.  The big weakness of these types of bits on a multi-tool is that the tool itself,  just by its design, gets in the way. I've yet to see a multi-tool overcome this, and cannot envision a non-convoluted way in which one would accomplish this.

    The tool locks are plastic over metal, spring loaded, and quite stout.  They hold the tools in the open position well, but don't jam under use.  However, manipulating them easily takes a little bit of practice compared to the locks on my EDC pocketknives.

    The pliers, though, are excellent.  I've done my level best to beat them to death, and they just keep going.  The locking mechanism for them has held up through repeated direct impacts and twisting with no jamming or binding.  (One of the techniques we use at work involves knocking a metal slug out of a box, usually with pliers.  I've used my multi-tool for this on a great many times.)

    Now the criticism:

    • The sheath works well holding the tool close to the body, but the nature of its design makes it take up about 1.5 times as much space on as it could with a better pattern.
    • I wish that the tool had a file, because they're wonderfully handy. They probably removed it to keep the size down, which is understandable. 
    • Speaking of size... the tool feels a touch "dainty," a product of its slim size and light weight.

    That said, it is an excellent value.  Were I grading it, I'd give it 4 stars out of five, due to the sheath and lack of a file. More importantly, I'll give it the strongest praise I can as a capitalist: I'd readily buy another one.

    The Gerber MP400 Compact Sport can be bought at Amazon for around $30.


    (Dear FTC: I paid my own money for this tool, but would have given the same review had it been free. Shove off.)

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    Guest Post: Personal Electronics after SHTF, Part 2: Android Apps

    DZ, today's guest author, is a former Action Guy turned private investigator and bounty hunter who isn't nearly as cool as he used to be.

    Part 1 of this series may be found here.

    I should mention first that I use almost exclusively free apps. If you know of a paid app that could replace any of what I recommend here, and is worth the price, feel free to mention it in comments. Also, if you've used the paid version of any of the free aps I mention here, please do mention it, or message me and I'll update the article. The great thing about the free ones, though, is you can have multiple apps for the same general function and use whichever one you like for what you're doing.

    There's not much to most compass apps. Some may be prettier than others, and maybe you prefer that or maybe you want something a little more stripped-down for simplicity of use. Keep in mind that a lot of other apps use the compass in the phone, so depending on what you want to use it for, you may not even want a dedicated compass app. Also keep in mind that you should still have a real compass and use it to calibrate the electronic one from time to time. I, for one, would not trust an electronic compass, tiny and surrounded by metal as it is, to remain calibrated under rough use.

    There's not really anything that you'd call a GPS app, just apps that use the GPS function. All that are applicable are covered in their respective sections.

    Step Counter
    If you're using one of these for fitness reasons (Fitness is certainly important for preparedness, but I'm going to treat it for now as a separate issue) then you may have a preference for an app that keeps track differently or allows you to share your results with other apps or social media... whatever. But for grid-down navigation, all it needs to do is count steps, and they all do that. (Be sure to get your pace count and know how to use it, so that the app can help you concentrate on other things instead of counting.) Pretty much any step counting app will do, but if you don't have one, this one looks pretty lightweight and simple:

    Google Maps, the most common default map app, allows you to cache maps temporarily, but you don't control the data and the app only saves them for 30 days.. The choices of mapping apps that save maps for online use is huge, but most of them are oriented to street maps. I just switched from an iPhone to an Android phone a few weeks ago, so while I've downloaded a lot of offline mapping apps, most of them aren't the same ones as I had before and I haven't had the chance to try them much. But that said, here are a few that seem pretty decent:
    A note on mapping apps: some phones, mine included, don't have room for expansion cards. If yours doesn't either, you'll need to get something that does. There are tablets pretty cheap that will work, even if they're not that good for other uses. Just do your homework before you choose one.

    Certainly your device came with a camera app already installed. I promise you that's good enough for most things you'd ever want to use it for. But if you must try others, just look around. Here are a couple of the most popular:

    NFC Reader/Writer
    TagWriter writes NFC tags, and your NFC-enabled device can read them and follow instructions. An app like NFC Tools or many others can read the tag and follow instructions. For more info and ideas see here.

    The sky is the limit here. Purchase or download as many movies or songs as you like and save them to MicroSD cards for later perusal. (How to torrent.)

    Monopoly - OK, this ones isn't free normally, but it was for a limited time on the Amazon app store, and I jumped on it. But Solitaire, Chess, and Checkers are all free, and here are some other games that will keep working after the grid goes down. Go find some you like and install them. They'll help keep you sane after SHTF.

    Every Kindle book can be downloaded to your phone or tablet. Many preparedness-oriented books, manuals,and pamphlets are also available as PDF files that can also be saved and read offline later by the Kindle app or others such as Kingsoft Office.

    Beware! Keep your Kindle app updated. Otherwise, if they release an update just before SHTF and you don't have it, your app may stop working.

    Barometer falling = bad weather ahead. It's pretty damn near that simple. Take your pick.


    A note on battery life
    Yes, you'll need to have a way to charge your phone, be it solar or manual (or off a generator if you have one), but the vast majority of the battery usage is in the various radios in a smartphone or tablet. Put it on airplane mode and it'll last much longer.

    Friday, May 16, 2014

    Palette's Product Reviews: Michael's Custom Holsters

    Not actually Erin.
    Picture by KJ Photography
    & is used with permission. 
    Hello everyone, and thanks for putting up with the barrage of guest posts while I was on vacation (and subsequently recovering from vacation while taking care of an invalid mother). I'd like to think that I have my act mostly together these days, but just in case I'm going to give you a fairly easy article in terms of a product review.

    Custom Knife Sheath and License Holder

    Readers of my other blog are no doubt aware that I am a big fan of Michael's Custom Holsters. In fact -- disclosure time -- not only am I friends with Michael and his wife, but I am such a fan of the holster and gun belt that he made me in 2012 that I've hosted an ad for his site on my blog for quite a while now.

    So when I tell you that I am reviewing another product of his, please realize that I am not an unbiased source in this matter.  I think he's a great guy who does great work -- fortunately, enough other people say similar things about his work that I know I'm not just letting my friendship color my opinion of his products.

    One of the drawbacks of concealed carry is that you have to have your license to carry with you whenever you're carrying your gun.  Unlike a driver's license, where if you can prove you do indeed have a valid DL that you just left at home you can get the ticket reduced, if you ever get caught carrying without a concealed weapon permit, it's likely to result in automatic jail time and loss of carry privileges.

    This was a source of annoyance for me, because I carry when I walk my dogs, and I don't like having to dig my CWP out of my wallet just for walkies, nor do I enjoy having my wallet banging against my thigh when I wear shorts or sweatpants when I walk.  The solution, of course, was to find a way to put the CWP on my gun belt so that I'd be legal whenever I had my gun on me.

    But where to mount it?

    Inspiration finally struck when I realized that the Ka-Bar TDI which I carried on my weak side had a flat area which was exactly the same dimensions as my carry permit.

    All right, I had a location. All well and good. But how would I keep it there? Rubber bands didn't work (and looked terrible, to boot). What I needed was a custom holster (sheath, really) that could hold my knife and my license at the same time.

    Enter Michael's Custom Holsters. I described what I wanted, and he flattered me with the comment "Most ideas for combination holsters are terrible. I think this is the first one I've heard that makes good sense."

    After some back-and-forth regarding what I wanted, how it should work, and how I wanted it to look, we settled on a final design. Because Michael didn't have a Ka-Bar like this, I had to send him mine so that he could make a mold for it.

    Time passed  (Michael is a busy man and this was a prototype custom job), but this week it arrived and I am overjoyed!

    As you can see, it is an all-leather design with heavy stitching. My license is kept in a little pocket in the front, where it can be easily removed by either hand but held snugly enough that it isn't going to fall out.

    The back of the unit is the sheath for the Ka-Bar, which is also held securely while still facilitating a smooth release. Again, either hand may easily draw it.

    The reverse of the unit.  You can see that this is a simple belt-loop design. I specifically requested this because I am a restless sitter, constantly shifting my position -- leaning back, slouching forward, twisting to the side, etc -- and a sheath in a fixed position (from clips) would result in the handle of the knife digging into my ribs.  By keeping it on a loop, though, I am able to slide it forward or backward as necessary for my comfort, and also adjust the tilt forward or backward by a few degrees.

    To say that I am happy with this is an understatement. It is beautiful, it is rugged, and it does everything I want it to do. I do not have an exact price for this piece of art, as I did some bartering with Michael, but I believe he said something like this usually runs $100.  While that is not an insignificant amount of money, I can tell you that this is quality work that also comes with a lifetime guarantee.

    I cannot recommend Michael's Custom Holsters highly enough.

    Obligatory Middle Finger to the FTC:  I did not receive this product in return for a good review. Go away. 

    Thursday, May 15, 2014

    Parasites- Mind

    Parasites of the mind are the things that will cloud your thinking or make you pause before you act. If your mind is clear and you know what needs to be done, check for these to find out why you're not doing it. These are the major parasites of the mind as I see them.


    Being addicted to something means that you are under its control, you can't function without it. Being stuck without your drug of choice or whatever it is that you may be addicted to makes you cranky, moody, makes it hard to sleep, and generally makes you someone that nobody else wants to be around. You'll waste time and energy looking for that "thing" when you should be thinking and working toward making life easier to sustain.

    I disagree with some of the programs established to "fight" addictions like alcoholism and drug use in their definition of who is an addict. Because they survive off of the addicts, they tend to declare as many people as possible "addicted" in order to stay in business. I've known quite a few functional drunks and at least one functioning heroin user in my lifetime, and they may have fit the classical definition of an addict, but they were able to function with or without the drug of their choice.

    I am personally working on my nicotine addiction. I've smoked for about 35 years and have quit before (up to a year at a time), but always fall back on the cigarettes as a stress-reliever. Unless you know how to grow, harvest, cure, and store tobacco this is a habit to get rid of. I want to be able to put my money and efforts into other things, so I'm working my way off of them. They are a drain on me that I don't need, and will only make my life harder in a crisis situation. Be aware that most of the prescription drugs to help you quit smoking are related to the SSRI anti-depressants and carry the same side effects.


    "But that's the way we've always done it!" Sound familiar? If you've ever worked for a medium- to large-sized company, you'll have heard that whine before. Get married or just move in with someone and you'll be exposed to a whole new set of habits that may be unfamiliar to you. Compromise where you can, but not at the expense of life or limb (or principle and sanity in some cases).

    In normal circumstances habits are can be annoying, but in times of crisis they may be a major concern. If your water supply is tight, are you going to be able to deal with someone who has always flushed the toilet twice after using it? What about someone who doesn't wash their hands before handling food? How are you going to deal with a child who won't go to bed without his/her stuffed animal?

    Habits will make you do things without thinking about them and may therefore put you or others at risk in times of crisis. Habits can be hard to detect in ourselves and easy to see in others, so think of ways to point them out for each other without causing too much conflict.


    Doubts arise from the lack of information or experience. You may look at a tree and think, "Can I climb up that tree?" when you should be thinking either, "I can make it up that tree if I have to" or "That tree is too thin to hold my weight". The only way you're going to know is to try it. Find your limits and accept the ones you can't change, that will help dispel a lot of the doubts that may pop up and keep you from acting when you should.

    The more you learn, the fewer doubts you'll have about that subject so get informed about whatever you think is important. Can I really trust this water filter to remove the giardia cysts from that river water? Find out before it becomes a serious threat to your health. Remove the doubts and it'll free up your mental energy for the more important things you'll need to deal with.


    Fear is a double-edged sword, it can save you from doing something that you'll regret or it can prevent you from moving when you really should get out of the way of a moving car.

    Most fears are rational, born from painful experience, e.g. being bitten by a dog as a child may cause you to fear dogs for a long time. Fear of the dark, large carnivores, and death are hard-wired into us at birth as left-overs from when our ancestors lived in caves and had to deal with things that we've likely never seen.

    Other fears are irrational (sometimes they reach the state of becoming a phobia) in that there is no firm reason for you to fear something. Think about it, when was the last time a clown attacked you or someone you know?

    Some fears can be overcome, others have to be dealt with in whatever manner you can to get through the situation at hand (improvise, adapt, overcome is one way of looking at it). Watch for irrational fears in your group and realize that you probably have a few of your own. Don't belittle others for their fears, try to help them overcome them and you'll all be better off in the end.


    Shame is a feeling you do to yourself, guilt is what you let others do to you. Either one can make you stop and think before you do something that really needs to be done. These two can run deep and be very hard to overcome, since most of us were raised by people who used guilt to instill a sense of shame in us in order to make us "fit" for society. Can't have the children acting like animals now, can we? Except, there may come a time when you'll need to act like an animal to survive. The classic lifeboat exercise (you're in a lifeboat that can hold ten people, it's full. What do you do about the others trying to get in it?) is a good example of having to discard social rules without feeling shame or guilt.

    There may be a time to feel shame for things you had to do to survive after a disaster, but you need to be alive to get to that point. Don't let others guilt you into actions that will put you or yours at risk, that is just giving them control over your life that they haven't earned (and probably don't deserve if they have to resort to guilt in the first place).

    "Survivor's guilt" used to be a mental condition where people feel they did something wrong by surviving when others didn't. The latest Psych manual now classifies this as a symptom of PTSD, which doesn't make it any better or worse but does make it "treatable" by the mental health industry, usually with drugs.


    I don't mean the normal "What if?" type of worry, I mean the "OMG! What if this or this or this or......." type of worry that will consume all of your time, leaving you none in which to actually get things done. If you're reading this blog, you're probably a person who has a desire to plan ahead and have some legitimate concerns or worries. Don't fall into the trap of over-thinking every situation and never actually taking any action to alleviate your concerns. Plan in detail, but don't let the details set the plan. Too much worry can lead some people to just giving up and expecting to die in the event of any crisis. I don't think that's wise, but I realize that it is going to happen to some percentage of the population. Worry can be minimized the same way as doubt, through education and experience.

    Wednesday, May 14, 2014

    Prudent Prepping: Protecting Your Electronics

    The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping.

         Protecting Your Electronics

    Everyone has electronics in our prepping gear: radios, walkie-talkies, thumb or hard drives, and maybe even a spare cell phone. If we have a big solar flare or possibly an EMP, due to a lightning strike or (worst case) a nuclear attack, how will we protect these items?

    This month's Off Grid Magazine has a very detailed article on building a Faraday Cage. Unfortunately, this article is not online yet so I will summarize it here and also link to several very good Youtube videos.

    Faraday Cage a la' Off Grid

    This is an elaborate and very thorough plan for protecting your electronics, but a bit pricey (for me) at $80 for all the parts. The author used:
    • 6 gallon metal pail with lid (think miniature metal garbage can), the 'Cage'.
    • Rubberized floor mat, as you would see in front of a work bench, insulating material
    • Foil HVAC tape, NOT standard duct tape, to seal any openings
    • Miscellaneous glues 
    The lid and bottom of the pail are used as templates, with the remainder of the mat used as the liner for the pail that will result in a completely rubber-lined interior. After cutting excess material away, the rubber parts were glued in place and to each other, the lid placed on top, and foil tape used to seal the lid to the pail body.

    All things considered, a very sturdy, crush resistant storage system for emergency items here in earthquake country.

    What I'm Protecting

    An Eton Solarlink FR370 radio. This is a self-powered (crank) AM/FM/Weather radio & flashlight that also has a solar panel AND a USB cell phone charging port.

    Some of the available settings:
    • Seven different weather frequencies to choose
    • S.A.M.E (area specific weather notifications)
    • Along with the regular AM, FM, alarm functions found on portable radios.
    90 seconds of cranking will power the radio for 5-7 minutes, solar panel takes 8-10 hours to charge the batteries, the USB port will charge the radio also (I haven't tried) and an optional AC adapter is available. Fully charged, my radio will run for a bit over 3 hours, YMMV and all the rest!

    How I'm Protecting Mine

    Since I will have a very small item to protect, this is what I'm going to try:
    • Two Mylar balloons: $2.20 
    • Foil tape: $15 
    • Foam: $3 
    Since I already had the balloons and tape, the total cost for me was $3.27 with CA sales tax.

    I made a bag slightly larger than the radio from medium density foam and sealed with foil tape. I then sliced open a Mylar/metallic balloon at the filler nozzle, put the foam inside, and taped it shut. I then repeated the process with a second balloon and sealed it with foil tape. 

    How does it work, you ask? I'm not sure, but I did try placing my radio and pouch inside a 30 gallon metal pail, sealed in the same manner as the article, to test things. With the radio on, AM reception was poor but still listenable, and since my Mylar system seems to have about the same reception quality, this is a win in my book!

    My B&N Nook is shown for size comparison to the finished package. Since the balloons are round and the bag square, it looks larger than it actually is.

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

    The Fine Print

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

    Creative Commons License

    Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to