Friday, February 27, 2015

Magic: the Preppering

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
(Warning: This is possibly one of the nerdiest posts I have written. I wasn't originally going to do it, but I was egged on by my fellow nerds on our Facebook Group, so blame them if you like. 

I assure you that all terms will be explained and all relevancies made plan by the end of the article.) 

While I was writing my Bug-Out Bag series, I made two realizations:
  1. I have a tendency to put stuff in my bag to see how it works with the rest of the stuff, and then if I don't like it after a period of trial and thought, I take it out. 
  2. This is exactly how I used to build my Magic: the Gathering decks. 

How Magic: the Gathering Works in Brief
This is going to be grossly simplified so that I don't lose my non-gamer audience. 

Magic: the Gathering (hereafter M:tG) is a collectible card game, which means that it combines luck (physically acquiring the cards you want to use) with probability (how often are those cards going to show up in your deck during a game) with skill (how best to use those cards against your opponent). 

If you're still confused, here's an analogy:  You know those baseball cards you had as a kid, and you traded your duplicates for ones you didn't have?  OK, now imagine you use them in a game against other baseball fans, and the stats on the cards enable them to fight each other. 

So the way it works is like this: 
  1. You construct a deck of 60 cards.
  2. You are only allowed 4 duplicates of any card in your entire deck.
  3. At the beginning of the game, you have a hand of seven cards.
  4. Each turn, you draw a card.
  5. You play cards from your hand to the table (kind of like in gin rummy).

How Is This Relevant to Prepping?
I'm glad you asked. Both M:tG deck construction and bug-out bag assembly are cases of usefulness vs. probability of need vs. space/weight restrictions.

In M:tG, I may have a really cool game-winning card -- but before I put it in my deck, I have to answer a few questions:
  • Will I be able to get it when I need it?
  • If I get it, will I be able to play it?
  • If I can't play it, will it hurt me by taking the space of another card I could use?
  • In general, is it worth the space in my finite deck?

Whenever you get a new piece of prepping gear that you think would go well in your bug out or get home bag, you need to ask yourself similar questions:
  • Does this serve a purpose that other items don't?
  • How likely will I need it?
  • Does its usefulness and likelihood of being used justify the room it takes in my finite pack?
  • If not, what needs to be removed -- this, or other items?

In M:tG, there is a red card called Lightning Bolt. Every player who uses red in their deck ought to have 4 of these cards, because
  1. They are common.
  2. They are easy to play.
  3. They have immediate utility (damaging your opponent or his resources).
  4. Later in the game, you can still use them, but if you need to discard them to retain a more powerful card it's not an agonizing loss. 
Prepping is similar. Let's continue our analogy by talking about a gun in your bug-out bag.

Does this serve a purpose that other items don't? 
If you don't have a gun in your preps, then the answer to this is "yes". If you already have a gun, then you need to weigh its utility vs. the other questions below. As an example, you may be served well by having both a pistol (for defense) and a rifle (for hunting) in your preps, but you may not need both a rifle and a shotgun. 

How likely will I need it?
You may never need your pistol... but if you need one, you really need one. Depending on your bug-out plan, you may never need a rifle, or you may need one constantly for subsistence hunting, or you may find it something useful but not completely necessary. 

Does its usefulness and likelihood of being used justify the room it takes in my finite pack?
Weight is a huge concern when loading a BOB, and so is space. Guns are heavy, and unless they're pistols they're also quite large. What's more, you need ammunition to make a gun work, and ammo is both heavy and often takes up a lot of space, depending on its caliber and how often you think you'll need it. 500 rounds of .22LR is a portable four pounds; 500 rounds of 5.56mm weighs thirteen pounds. 

If not, what needs to be removed -- this, or other items?
Any single-function item needs to do an essential job and do it really, really well to justify its weight. Multiple-function items are beloved by preppers because they maximize utility by minimizing volume, hence the popularity of both the Swiss Army knife and the Leatherman tool. In general, any time you can replace 2+ pieces of gear with a single item you should -- but keep in mind that this rule is in constant conflict with the prepper maxim of "Two is one and one is none."

But what if I'm not sure?
The problem with my bag is I keep wondering "Do I need this?" and "I think I should add-" and it's never finished. -- Mark Brothers, on the Facebook thread which started all of this
Testing is the order of the day! Just like Magic: the Gathering players test new cards and new combinations before taking their decks to tournaments, so should you test your gear before you need it in a survival situation.

Put stuff in. Try it out. Wait a while, then think about it some more when the appeal of a shiny new thing has lost some of its luster. Take the item out, and reflect on how it makes you feel. If, after testing and reflection, you still really really want that item in your bag, go ahead and put it back in.

My reasoning is this:  As much as building a BOB is a logical exercise in probability and resource management, there is a psychological element to it as well -- and a proper mindset is critical for survival. If having an item in your bag makes you feel better and gives you more confidence, put it in! If you truly need it psychologically, you'll have no problems carrying it around.

But if you start having doubts about it?  Well, maybe you don't need all of those Shivan Dragons in your deck after all.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Preppers Are Portrayed by the Media

I recently saw a mainstream magazine with a prepper-themed cover story. I haven't bought that particular magazine for many years  -- since their content was usually stories about things so far beyond my price range that I wasn't getting any value from it -- but this one piqued my interest so I bought it.

I'm not going to give the magazine any free publicity (however much a mention in our little blog would be) by naming it. If you're really interested in knowing which rag it was, it should be on sale for a few more weeks. You can't miss the cover story.

The title of the article is “XX survival secrets that will save your life”, with plenty of all caps. Any time an advertisement mentions a number, I get suspicious. The “20 piece tool set” is going to include at least 10 “throw-away” parts. This article is no different, in that most of the “secrets” are things like “keep matches on hand” and “a 12V inverter will let you run a 110VAC appliance”. Other throw-aways include:
  • Any use of the tern“ultimate survival” in reference to a product is a red flag that someone has something to sell, and as far as I'm concerned, it's generally a “throw-away”.
  • Listings of the “5 safest cities” are subjective and the joking tone of the descriptions (“the moonshine will keep you warm”, “Great if you don't mind ceaseless rain, or plaid”) further devalues the author's choices. 
  • The list of stuff “you may not absolutely need, but, boy, it'd be nice to have” (direct quote, somebody needs a better editor) includes a $550 parka, a $350 cooler, a $100 hammock, and a $200 pair of gloves. Waste of print space, but in line with the magazine's normal reviews of cars that cost more than $100,000 and similar extravagances. 
  • There is a “ticker” type bar across the bottom of the pages labeled “Prepper Jargon Decoded”, with pithy definitions of phrases and acronyms like WROL, TEOTWAWKI, and OPSEC.
  • Maybe it is because the weather is cold in most of the USA right now, but the great majority of the “secrets” dealt with cold-weather survival. This is great for people living in the northern half of the USA, but they almost ignore any other climate and how to deal with it. Very little mention is given to any of the other various sorts of nightmare fodder that some of us have to deal with, or at least be aware of.
  • The general tone of the article is evident in the heading of a section called “Prepping Lite”- “What preppers do and what you, a slightly less paranoid citizen, can do”. I'm not sure if the author was trying to be cute or funny, but the examples given of how a prepper acts in regards to water storage and communication are extreme and portray anyone who identifies as a prepper as being unhinged.
  • The suggestions for water. A prepper would calculate storage as 1 gallon per person per day “times ten- just to be safe”. A “casual survivalist” should keep a pitcher of water in the fridge and start filling containers/bathtub at the first sign of trouble. The first is rarely possible unless you live in a rural setting, and the second is not going to help because the first sign of trouble may well be the water supply being cut off or contaminated. 
  • For communications, a prepper will have established dead-drops that he has only shared with trusted “confidants”. Everybody else should look into amateur radio, which is not a bad idea for preppers in my opinion. Dead drops are for spies, not preppers. 
  • The suggestion for “Heat” of using candles inside upside-down ceramic flower pots (listed as a “less paranoid” option) is questionable. I've seen the idea on a few websites, but the math doesn't work out. Candles are made of paraffin wax which has a calorie content that is close to that of fuel oil or diesel fuel. The idea that you can heat a room by burning a few ounces of wax makes no sense from the physics involved. My kerosene space heater burns about a gallon (roughly 6 pounds) of fuel per hour and barely keeps a room warm, a half-pound of candles isn't going to duplicate or surpass that. 
  • A prepper will build an underground bunker, preferably not on the same property as their house, but regular people should just have a list of shelters available. One suggestion was a friend's basement, which also has a pool table. 
  • The magazine picked a few “survival experts” to provide insight and suggestions; an Air Force SERE instructor, an alpine search-and-rescue team member, and a dog-sledding tour guide. These three gentlemen have the experience and training to be good source of information, but the selections chosen for publication were extremely basic. Find water, build shelter, gather food, and build a fire are all very basic steps to wilderness survival and none of them were covered in any depth. I'm sure these gentlemen could have done a lot more good if they were given the space and seriousness they deserve.
  • There are a few obligatory zombie references – the “Barricade your house from the inside” section was conceived by a construction worker while watching The Walking Dead. They actually admitted that in print.
(Editor's Note:  listen to my podcast segment, Doomsday Preppers: A show designed to make everyone look bad, for more in this particular vein.)
They do mention the popularity of survival-themed reality TV, and take most of them to task for being less survival and more “how to live in the woods”. The author proclaims that Naked and Afraid is the best of the bunch. For those of you who don't watch much TV, Naked and Afraid takes a man and a woman, strips them naked, and drops them into a remote location for three weeks. I've seen a few episodes, and it is an extreme test of survival skills and the participants don't always get along. The gist of every show is always"build a shelter, find food and water, make some clothes, create tools to make living easier." The author's statement that, “it's good to know......that your body could actually function for a good chunk of time on stagnant water and snake meat” is followed by the quip, “What a great way to lose weight.”

All told, I'm almost sorry I spent $5 on this piece of misinformation and bias. Nothing positive was mentioned about preppers; we're all borderline lunatics as far as this magazine knows. I must be getting old, because the “funny” and “cute” style of reporting is starting to irritate me. If you're going to write a story for an established magazine that has been in print for over a hundred years, I would think you'd select a style other than the one you'd use for The Onion or on Comedy Central. I think Colbert/Stewart have influenced an entire generation of writers and reporters, and not for the better.

The only redeeming part of the whole magazine was an article in the back about restoring old tools, and that is the only reason I may keep this issue around.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Prudent Prepping: February Buffet Post

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.

Items of Interest 
REI is closing out their Bushnell Solar charger line in favor of Goal Zero. I really like the Bushnell model reviewed here, even thought the Goal Zero reviewed here offered more but at a higher cost. I like the Bushnell so much that I bought one from REI on close-out for $32.

Here is information on the closest Bushnell match to Goal Zero, the SolarWrap:
  • Packs plenty of power in a compact lightweight continuous roll; flexible solar panels roll up into the integrated and easy to pack protective case 
  • Solar charging and power storage for charging your devices when you're off the grid 
  • On board high-capacity Li Ion battery; power gauge provides easy to read battery level indicator 
  • Battery charges from a USB power source in 4-hours or 6-hours from the sun; high solar collectivity even in less than full sun conditions 
  • Single USB output compatible with nearly any USB powered rechargeable device, Micro-USB input for pre-charging with included USB/Micro-USB cord
    Even on REI's website, this larger charger is a personal budget buster at $112, but compares favorably in features to the Goal Zero which really kills my budget. Check your closest REI for actual inventory.

    Book Find 
    Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County California, V. K. Chestnut. Reprinted by Mendocino County Historical Society ,1974. First published in Contributions from The U.S. National Herbarium Vol. VII, 1902 (!!!).

    I don't expect to 'live off the land' in any fashon now or in the future, but knowing what is useable in my environment is important. While I do not live in Mendocino County and their current crop of natural herbs (ahem!) may get you in some legal difficulty, the climate and native plants are close enough to what is near me to be useful. The author and an assistant interviewed the local Indians, collected native names, and also listed (at the time) scientific classifications of the plants, their growing areas and uses. I recommend everyone look for this type book written for your current location, whether it is for actual use or just historical interest.

    This was found in my local Half Price Books for $5. I'd have paid more. A new version may be bought on Amazon for $17.49 .

    Other Items
    The solar charger wrecked my budget for a few weeks, so additions have been limited to:
    • One 7 gallon water jug, from Walmart, $18.99. A gift to my beginning prepping friends 
    • Two 10 count Instant Coffee, Trader Joe's, $1.99 each. These are the single serve tubes with creamer and sugar included. 
    • One 10 count box of Hot Cocoa mix, Trader Joe's, $3.49

    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 be 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, February 24, 2015

    Fire Safety Preps

    My father was a firefighter when I was growing up. In a firefighter's house, clock changes are significant dates. With a change coming in just shy of two weeks, it's a good time to review fire safety preparedness.

    Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Detectors: The batteries in your detectors should be changed when you change your clocks. You should also check the function of your alarms by pressing the button marked "Test" on the face of the device. Also, ensure that you have enough detectors. At a minimum, you need one on each floor of your home, and ensure you have one near each sleeping area.

    Fire Extinguishers: Check the charge gauge on your extinguishers and make sure it still indicates a full charge. Ensure that the safety pin is still in place. Check the body of the extinguisher for any physical damage, corrosion, or leakage.

    Escape Plan: While you're reviewing the rest of your fire safety preps, give your escape plan a once-over, making sure it is still current and appropriate. If you don't have an escape plan, now is the time to put one together, and practice it with your family. Make sure there are multiple escape routes from each living area, and keep them clear. Also have a planned rally point away from the house where everyone knows to gather.

    Other fire safety tips:
    • Inspect your clothes dryer outlet vents. Make sure there are no bird or rodent nests, or buildup of lint and debris, at the duct outlet.
    • Check your electrical outlets. Ensure that they are not overly loaded with plug-in devices.  Overloaded outlets can easily lead to fire.
    • Check your furnace and any other heat-producing appliances. Make sure that all flammable materials are kept well away from your appliances.
    • Check your furnace filters monthly and change them as they get dirty. Restricted filters can cause a furnace to overheat and cause a fire. 
    • Store oily and greasy rags in a fire-resistant container, and keep flammable liquids in a safe area away from sparks and flame.
    Fire safety is a simple but ongoing process. Stay on top of it to stay safe.


    Monday, February 23, 2015

    Guest Post: Gear Levels

    by hightecrebel

    (Editor's Note:  in reply to my Bug-Out Bag series, hightecrebel said "I also have a different breakdown of my gear levels than most, normally having Get Home Bag, Grab & Go, Bug Out Bag, Bug Out Kit, and Screw You, I Ain't Leaving levels."  Intrigued, I asked for a breakdown of each of those levels. This article is his answer to that request.)

    Because Erin asked...

    I don’t have access to most of my stuff right now, since I’m in the process of switching coasts (and climates), so some details may be sketchy. I know I'm missing items from the kits, but those are the ones I can remember. However, here is a general breakdown of my prep gear levels.

    Fire Kit
    I realized a while ago that most of these just boil down to a few variations on the same thing, but mine were all different items. I decided to have standard items & amounts in their own kit, and just add them as needed to the various levels. Each of these is in a Coghlan’s waterproof pouch.
    • Contents: 1x Waterproof match case/tube, 2x Coleman match boxes, 2x Bic mini lighters, 1x flint striker (basically the wheel & flint from a lighter done in a way that throws lots of sparks), 12x fire starters, 3x trioxane (I think…) solid fuel bars, 2x Wet Tinder .

    Get Home Bag (GHB)
    This sits in the trunk of my car.
    • Clothes: a pair of sneakers/boots, pants (black jeans or khaki cargo), belt, socks, thermals (if winter/cold location), t-shirt, and a button-up shirt (either ‘nice’ or flannel).
    • First aid/survival: Compass, fire kit, water treatment, 2x Israeli Bandages, 2x CAT tourniquets, gauze, self-stick wrap, chewable pepto bismol, small ibuprofen bottle, small excedrin migraine bottle, small antacid bottle, signal mirror, 2x emergency poncho, 4x survival blanket, drink mixes (hot & cold), toilet paper, bug repellant wipes, sunscreen wipes, 1x emergency stove w/ fuel tabs.
    • Other: Belt knife, hand/body warmers, small shovel, East German surplus cutlery, finger light, head lamp, trail tape, 4x stripped MREs.

    Grab & Go (GNG)
    This is near the door at home. It’s meant to be used if there’s an emergency that requires getting out of the house, but not completely out of the area and not hardship living.. think house fire, temporary evac due to earthquake/tornado/moron in a backyard busting a gas line, etc. I expect to have a GHB to supplement it.
    • Clothes: One partial set for each family member, spare underclothes/socks.
    • Water: Two screw-top aluminum water bottles, water treatment tablets.
    • First Aid: 1x tourniquet, 2x bandage, 1x splint, assorted bandaids/gauze, chewable pepto bismol, small ibuprofen bottle, small excedrin migraine bottle, small antacid bottle.
    • Survival: Compass, signal mirror, fire kit, drink mixes (hot & cold), toilet paper, 1x emergency stove w/ fuel tabs.
    • Other: USB drive w/ scans of important documents & contact information, trail tape, food pouches (tuna, chicken, dried fruit, trail mix, etc).

    Bug Out Bag (BOB)
    This hangs up in the garage where we can grab it and toss it in the Jeep. Supplemented with GHB and G&G, and BOK (below) if we’re with the Jeep.
    • Clothes: Two full sets, three spare under clothes changes, good boots for each adult, full-cover footwear for each child, hats.
    • Survival: 2x Fire kit, 2x Swiss Poncho, 6x emergency poncho, 6x emergency blankets, drink mixes (hot & cold), toilet paper, 1x emergency stove w/ fuel tabs, signal mirror, emergency strobe light, bug repellant, sun screen.
    • Water: Two screw-top aluminum water bottles, two camelback bottles, water treatment tablets.
    • Shelter: Two person tent (I know, small and stuffy, haven’t found a 3 / 4 that is light, compact & affordable), 2x two-person sleeping bags (yay compression bags).
    • Other: USB drive, bath poof thing (you know, the mesh scrubber thing), soap, 2x microfiber towels, bug spray, trail tape, food pouches (stripped MRE’s, freeze dried food, tuna, chicken, trail mix, etc.), 2x belt knives, leatherman, hatchet .

    Bug Out Kit (BoK)
    This also sits in the garage, and is packed in a Pelican Storm Case trunk (don’t remember the number offhand, I was issued a couple of the medium trunks in lieu of the rolling duffel bags that wouldn’t survive more than one deployment). It’s basically a ‘vehicle camping’ kit.
    • Clothes: Three more sets for each
    • Blankets: Two wool, two fleece
    • Cooking: Coleman propane single-burner (used, purchased at an AF MWR auction/sale for $5) & two bottles, two pots, one pan, set of metal cups & plates, cutlery,
    • Shelter: Four person tent (way too bulky for the bag, but works for this
    • Keep-the-kids-happy: Box of graham crackers, bag of marshmallows, little hershey bars
    • Other: Solar Shower, camp soap (bar & liquid), additional towels, sleeping pads, box of strike- a-fire fire starters, LED lanterns, canned food, toilet paper

    Screw You, I Ain’t Leaving (SYIAL)
    This is my bug-in plan. Access to all of the above, plus a fully stocked pantry, water, and everything else in my house.

    Gun Blog Variety Podcast #27

    Not actually Erin.
    & is used with permission.
    Episode 27 is up!
    • Adam and Sean celebrate their new logo:

    • Erin Palette helps out when Sean needs advice on what he should have in his prepper pantry. 
    • Nicki Kenyon reminds us that despite all the talk of 50 Shades of Grey and Gwyneth Paltrow's steaming nether regions, ISIS is still slaughtering people. 
    • Miguel Gonzalez and Sean argue about "Real Guns." Pro-tip: Don't get a Taurus Judge. 
    • Barron B. tells us all the interesting things we can do with the $35 Raspberry Pi computer. 
    • and Weer'd deconstructs the anti-gunner mythologies about so-called "waiting periods."

    Check us out!
    Listen to the podcast here.
    Show notes may be found here.
    Thanks for downloading, listening, and subscribing. Don't forget to share with a friend!

    Friday, February 20, 2015

    Apocabox Unboxing #4

    Not actually Erin.
    & is used with permission.
    My apologies for posting so late. I had to help my mother uncover plants this afternoon (welcome to Florida, where it freezes Thursday night and by Saturday it's back to the mid-70s)m which put me behind schedule.

    The fact that it seems to take an hour to upload and process a 368 MB didn't help, either.

    But here I am, and better late than pregnant, I always say.  So please enjoy video #4 and tell me what you think!

    I apologize in advance for all the sniffling into the microphone.

    Pictures of this month's contents may be found here.

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    Layers (and I don't mean chickens)

    Living in an area that provides all four seasons every year (sometimes all four within 24 hours), I've learned the philosophy of layers. Dressing in layers is a staple of cold-weather survival, with the basic idea being to add light layers of clothes as you get colder and removing them as you warm up.

    An Example Of Layering
    Let's say I need to go out to cut firewood in January -- something that is not wise, but yet sometimes has to be done. I know I'm going to be traveling in a truck with no heater (it didn't come with one from the factory), dragging a chainsaw up a hill to the trees, felling a tree or two, trimming off the branches, cutting the wood into lengths that will fit into the stove, and then loading and unloading the truck.

    I'll start off in the morning fully dressed with thermal underwear under jeans and insulated bibs over them, a T-shirt under a shirt and sweater with a heavy insulated coat over that, wool liners inside leather gloves, and a stocking cap. Once I get to the trees I'll take off the coat and leave it in the truck. As the day warms up and I start working, I'll take off the bibs and take the wool liners out of the gloves. By the time I have a load cut and it's time to start loading the truck I'll take off the sweater and do the heavy lifting in just the thermal/jeans and T-shirt/shirt. The work will be paced to prevent working up a sweat, since sweating kills the insulating value of most material and leaves you cold and damp when you stop working. 

    Clothes will be put back on as needed for the trip back home in the unheated truck depending on how cold it is, and taken back off for the unloading. The trick is to stay cool enough that you don't sweat, but warm enough that you don't shiver.

    The concept of layering gives me a variety of options for staying warm that a single heavy layer would not. If all I had was a snowmobile suit or heavy parka over normal clothes, I would have only the choice of hot or cold with no options in between.

    This concept also works for other prepping subjects:

    If you're in a tent, you probably also have a sleeping bag and a rain-fly for that tent. These, along with a ground cloth and sleeping pad, are your layers of shelter. In warm weather you'll be comfortable with the tent flaps and vents/windows open, but if you're out in the Spring or Fall you'll want to use all of the layers available to keep heat inside with you. Many sleeping bags are now “sleeping systems” that consist of two or three individual bags designed to be used separately for mild/cool weather and then combined, one inside the other, for colder weather. 

    If you look at how houses are constructed, you'll again see the concept of layers in action. The outer skin is usually wood or plastic siding with a Tyvek vapor barrier. Underneath that is the sheathing, a plywood or Oriented Strand Board (OSB) layer that attaches to the studs and reinforces the frame as well as providing another barrier to anything trying to get inside. Insulation is placed between the studs, and a layer of drywall is placed on the inside. Some builders will place another vapor barrier under the drywall if humidity is a serious problem.

    The best security has always been designed in layers. Look at a normal bank: they have a vault at the core of the building, with alarms and solid walls surrounding it, and guards in place during business hours. They also have monitored cameras trained on each teller position as well as the outside of the building. Each teller station has an alarm button, and a lot of the cash trays have a secondary alarm switch built into them (empty out more than one bill slot and it triggers an alarm).

    Security around your home should be set up in a similar layered fashion, with the specific barriers and measures dependent on your particular situation. Threat analysis is a specialized field, but you should at least have an idea of what you'd like to be able to keep out in order to develop a security plan. Locks, alarms, solid doors, cameras, and all of the other home security measures are parts of your security layers.

    Food in individual servings packed into a box, and then stored on a shelf in a basement, is an example of layered storage. In order for anything to get to the food, it first has to defeat the protection of the house walls, then get up to the shelf, and work through the box and packaging. Grain stored in Mylar bags inside of a bucket in a pantry is the same idea, and works just as well. Having caches and storage sites other than where you live is a good example of having layers of storage.

    When you plan out how you're going to pack things in your bug-out bag, it's a good idea to think of the layers that will be formed by stacking things on top of each other. Place the things you're going to need most often towards the top to make them easier to get to, and prevent having to unload everything in the pack just to get to that dry pair of socks.

    Staying healthy requires good hygiene practices and layers of cleanliness are good ways to plan them. Start with the innermost level (where you have the most control) and work your way out to where you run into circumstances you have little or no control over. 
    1. Personal hygiene consists of washing your hands and keeping your body as clean as possible. 
    2. The next layer is your clothes: keeping them clean and dry helps prevent diseases and parasites from getting a foothold. 
    3. Your living quarters are the next further out from your body. Keeping your house clean and free of vermin minimizes disease vectors and secures your food from pests. 
    4. Placing your sanitary facilities (outhouses and trash pits) well away from living spaces and water sources is a common sense hygiene step. Removing or preventing others from placing trash and waste near living spaces is about as far as you can reasonably go in improving your physical layers, but there may be benefit to helping others improve their hygiene practices.

    Face-to-face communication is the base layer, followed by short-range radio or intercom/field phones, and then long-range radio. If you live in an area with a population that speaks a language other than your own, plan on having translators handy to make communications possible. Cell phones, text messaging, and e-mail fill more than one layer and are harder to classify as devices. I prefer to think of their uses, rather than the devices themselves, as layers.

    And the Rest
    If you look at other parts of your preps you may be able to find similar patterns in areas like scouting, food production, and bartering. It's a tool you should use to check your preps for a shortcoming or two. There are other methodologies that will work just as well; if you have one that works let me know in the comments below.

    Unlike some in the prepper-sphere, I have no pretensions of knowing everything. I am learning something every day and I try my best to share what I have learned. If you have anything that you'd like to share with fellow preppers, leave me a note in the comments and I'll contact you -- or check out our Guest Articles link at the top of the page.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Woods to Burn While Camping

    Not actually Erin.
    Picture by KJ Photography
    & is used with permission. 

    Found on Imgur. Obviously this is not an exhaustive list and biased more towards the Eastern US than the west, but hey, at least the ice cream is free.

    Of course, if you don't know how to identify these trees this chart isn't very helpful, so enjoy some tasty links:

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

    Simple Shelters

    Last week, I talked about the basics of shelters, what makes them work, and what to look for when establishing one. This week, we'll take a look at a couple very basic shelter setups.

    Both of these shelters start with the same base: a waterproof tarp. I prefer using 8x10 tarps for shelters, because they're large enough to provide good cover, but small and light enough to be easily packable. For an even more compact piece of kit, an 8x10 square of heavy-gauge plastic would perform almost as well, at the cost of a slight decrease in durability.

    The first shelter is a basic tent or lean-to. This is a place for the paracord that we've all talked about in the past to shine. The basic lean-to is mostly useful in warmer conditions, but built up properly, it can provide lifesaving shelter even in very cold temperatures.

    A basic lean-to.  Image from
    String your paracord between two trees or other supports; high enough to fit under, but low enough to be snug. Drape your tarp across the cord, and anchor it to the ground to give it strength. In warm weather, this may be enough shelter, especially if you keep the area inside relatively tight as smaller shelters retain heat better. If need be, light branches or other foliage can be used to insulate the shelter, as well as insulating your body and bedding from the ground. Building the lean-to with the open side facing some manner of wind break will also make a huge improvement in heating and protection from the elements.

    If you lack supports or paracord, a simple "burrito" shelter works quite well. This is exclusively a warm-weather shelter, useful 6-8 months of the year in Utah, but potentially a 12-month shelter in southern California or Florida.

    Start by centering your sleeping bag in your tarp.  You want roughly a one-foot overlap at both the head and foot of the bag.  If you happen to have a sleeping pad as well, place it on top of the sleeping bag at this point.

     Fold one side of your tarp over the top of your sleeping bag.

    Fold the other side over to match.

    Flip the whole assembly over, and tuck the portion below the foot under the burrito roll.

    The overlap left at the head of the bag provides a sheltered area for your head, boots, and other small gear.

    The only insulation provided by the burrito shelter is that of your sleeping bag, so be sure that the bags you buy are rated appropriately for the conditions where you live and travel. While it does a rather admirable job of keeping out modest amounts of water, heavier storms will intrude on it, but they intrude on virtually all impromptu shelters and even some tents. 

    A burrito can also be made using larger tarps; they just need to be folded down to roughly 8x10 or so. The tarp I used to demonstrate this shelter was 10x20, and simply happened to be the most convenient tarp I had. It worked very well.

    Stay warm and dry out there!


    Monday, February 16, 2015

    Guest Post: The Power Module

    by Scott Bascom

    Scott Bascom is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before.

    It is a dark and stormy night....

    Ever since the storm started, the power went out. Soon, roving gangs of teenagers are complaining about how their cell phones don’t work, and your neighbors have resorted to talking to each other for entertainment.

    You live in an apartment, so you don’t have anywhere to store fuel for a generator. You don’t have space for a solar panel array, and you don’t yet have a bicycle generator. The lights have gone out, so it is hard to get around, and in a couple minutes, your tablet is going to run out of power to play irritated avians...

    Thankfully, you have a power module.

    A power module is a battery. You just leave it plugged in until you need it. It does not generate power, but you can recharge it.

    The power module I will walk through in this article is a small one, designed to give enough emergency power to keep a few cell phones, a fan, and a CPAP going for perhaps a day. Fewer items will keep it going longer, more will drain it sooner, and some items will not even run on it at all.

    I have provided links for finding each of these items at stores that most people can find. Even though I link to specific items, please understand that you can make substitutions from other sources. I specifically used Walmart because most people have one within walking or bus distance, and can afford the item linked.

    What you will need
    There are a lot of variations on the basic recipe, but most of them come down to this (in order of importance):
    1. The Battery
    2. The Inverter
    3. The Charger
    4. The Box
    5. Spare Cords

    1. The Battery 
    The core of the module. The Battery just has to be a 12 Volt battery of any sort. The really fancy power modules use lithium ion batteries, and other sorts of fancy things. For now, though, just use a lead acid battery. 

    The bigger the battery the more expensive it is, but also the more energy it stores. I tend to use a marine battery, like this one, but you can use just about anything with 12 volts as long as it's rechargeable. 

    Anything that is “Deep Cycle” is good for a lot of use, any anything that is “Absorbed Glass Mat” or “Gel” is good for use in rugged environments (Back of rescue vehicles, rock crawling, etc.). These things are nice to have, but make the battery more expensive. Bigger batteries are nice, but unless you have a LOT of battery, you are just going to be powering small items, like tablets and maybe a router. There will be a later article on this subject that will include information on battery selection, but for now just use some sort of car battery or marine battery. 

    2. The Inverter 
    This turns the power in the battery into something you can use. An inverter for this module should have battery clamps, so that you can connect it to the battery directly, instead of wiring in a cigarette lighter so that you can use it. This inverter only has enough juice for a few items at once, and trying to plug in too much will cause it to fail. I prefer an inverter that has USB ports on it directly, so that I can easily charge cell phones and tablets. 

    If it comes to it, just having an inverter and a battery will work as a power module. The other items make things much easier, but the inverter can be rigged if you have to.

    In a later article, I will discuss how to size an inverter. For now, just remember that you don’t want to plug in to much, and that anything with lot of moving parts, or that generates heat, will generally take too much power for this. 

    When you store the power module, disconnect the inverter, since it can cause a drain on the battery even when not in use. When you need to use it, connect the battery clamps to the battery terminals (the metal bits at the top of the battery), and then turn the inverter on. Red is positive (on the + terminal), black is negative (on the - terminal). So long as you don't mix up the red and the black and don't lick the terminals, you should be fine.

    NOTE: If you DO mix up the red and the black, don’t panic.Turn off the inverter, and connect the cables to the correct battery terminals. Turn the inverter back on. If it works, everything is fine. If it does not, there is a standard automotive fuse in the back of the inverter. It will probably be blown. Those fuses are color coded, and most inverters come with at least one spare. If it does not, make sure to purchase one before you use the inverter. In an emergency, you may be able to scavenge a fuse from a car. 

    3. The Charger 
    The part that charges the battery for use. In an emergency, you can do without one of these by using jumper cables and a car, and hooking it up as if you were going to jump another vehicle. This will charge the battery slowly, but it takes some time, and requires you to have a car running.

    An ideal charger will have a maintenance mode, a charging mode and an automatic stop or switch to maintenance mode when it is done charging. That last one is the most important, since overcharging a battery can damage it, or (in a very unlikely but horrible situation) even cause it to explode or catch fire.

    To charge a battery, once again make sure to put the red clamp on the positive terminal, and the black clamp on the negative one. Make sure all settings on the charger are correct, and then plug it in. 

    I like this battery charger because it is inexpensive, reliable, and comes with several options -- you can even keep a car battery topped off via cigarette lighter. 

    4. The Box 
    All the box is for is to keep everything together. Something sturdy, but light, is nice. You just need something to hold everything together. A cardboard box will do, but the best option is a rugged plastic one. 

    5. Spare Cords 
    These are just nice to have. An extension cord has all sorts of uses, including running power to another room so someone can run a CPAP while you charge a cell phone in your room.

    A final note 
    Most of your issues will come from your inverter or battery charger. I recommend that you read all manuals involved with any of these items. Always remember to check that things have a good metal to metal connection, and that they are turned on. Don’t lick the wires, and remember that this thing is heavy, so don’t get hurt.

    Gun Blog Variety Podcast #26

    Not actually Erin.
    & is used with permission.
    Has it been six months of podcasting already?
    • Adam and Sean continue to execute their host duties flawlessly.
    • Erin Palette tells us how Doomsday Preppers is designed to make everyone look bad.
    • Nicki Kenyon discusses the 2015 National Security Strategy.
    • Miguel Gonzalez wants us to get our heads right by reading some good self defense books.
    • Barron B. talks about how two factor authentication needs to come to banks.
    • and Weer'd scores an interview with Joe Huffman about the Seattle Smart Gun Symposium and how so-called "Smart Guns" aren't really all that bright an idea.
    Listen to the podcast here.
    Show notes may be found here.

    Thanks for listening, downloading, and subscribing. Don't forget to share with a friend!

    Friday, February 13, 2015

    The 12 C's of Preparedness

    Not actually Erin.
    & is used with permission.
    (A shorter version of this article appeared on Episode 23 of the Gun Blog Variety Cast. It has been written at the request of readers who desire a written record.)

    I have mentioned before that I enjoy watching survival shows. Some of them I legitimately enjoy as a source of quality instruction (I will watch anything with Les Stroud or Mykel Hawke in it); some I watch as a kind of "survival sitcom" to laugh at the scripted scenarios (Bear Grylls might be competent but he's bought into his own hype) or poor choices (Naked and Afraid); and some (like Doomsday Preppers) I watch for reasons I can only call "Prepping Penance" -- or possibly I just have a masochistic streak and enjoy grinding my teeth.

    So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I watched Dual Survival back when it was Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin (I called it "Odd Couple Survival"), and that I preferred Dave's crusty military approach to Cody's hippie-dippy barefoot style.

    Dave left/quit/was fired from the show after two seasons due to a disagreement with the producers, and while his claims of badassery in the Army have turned out to be false, I still like the guy and feel he has some good ideas regarding survival. One of those ideas is a mnemonic he calls "The 10 C's of Survival."

    The 10 C's, like the name suggests, are 10 things that will keep you alive in the wilderness, and they all start with the letter C to help you remember them. They are:
    1. Cutting Tool
    2. Combustion
    3. Container
    4. Cordage
    5. Cover
    6. Candle
    7. Cotton
    8. Compass
    9. Cargo Tape
    10. Canvas Needle
    Many of these are good things for preppers to have in their cars or Get Home Bags, or even for Every Day Carry. However, some are a bit specialized, and so I replaced some and added others to come up with what I call the 12 C's of Preparedness.

    1) Cutting Tool: Obviously a knife of some sort, they have various uses form opening packages to self-defense. The best kinds are full-tang knives (where the metal of the knife extends all the way to the back without narrowing), although for lighter use a rat-tail tang is acceptable.
    • For EDC I recommend the Ka-Bar TDI. Designed by a law-enforcement officer and made by a company that sells knives to the Marine Corps, it's a great full-tang, all-around knife that you can get in a variety of sizes, shapes and blade profiles. 
    • For a GHB, the Mora Clipper is a great all-around knife that is inexpensive without being cheap. It's not a full-tang knife, but the tang is reinforced by the very strong plastic of the handle -- I wouldn't put my entire weight on it, but it's strong enough to handle most abuse, including batoning. 
    • For a BOB I endorse the Cold Steel Kukri Machete based on years of experience with it. Its shape gives it amazing chopping power, and it's made from 1055 carbon steel that can take any kind of punishment you care to dish out. 

    2) Combustion: The ability to start a fire should never be underestimated. Not only can it keep you alive. you never know when you might need to light a candle or burn off a stray thread.

    While there are a variety of options out there, from Fresnel Lenses to Sparkies, to my mind nothing beats a good old disposable Bic lighter. Get them by the package at the grocery store and put one in every bag. 

    3) Container:  A fancy way of saying "water bottle". I recommend the following characteristics:
    • As large as you are comfortable using, but at least 24 ounces.
    • A wide mouth -- makes it easier to fill from shallow streams, easier to clean, and easier to add/remove items if you store survival items inside it when not using it.
    • Stainless steel (or titanium) and not aluminum -- stronger, and no worries about chemicals leaching into the water.
    • Unlined, single-wall construction -- so that you can boil water inside the bottle to purify it.
    • Unpainted -- some paints will either catch fire, or insulate against the heat.
    A good example of all these characteristics can be found here

    4) Cordage:  Paracord has so many uses that I can't list them all. Just get some and carry it with you: wrap it around your water bottle, replace your shoelaces with it, wear a bracelet of it; just have some. 

    5) Cover: "Cover" is a bit of a catch-all term, as it encompasses both clothing and improvised shelter. But put simply:
    • Always dress appropriately for the weather.
    • Always have a warm jacket, rain gear and waterproof boots in your vehicle.
    • Always have something like a tarp in your car, so you can make a lean-to.
      • Alternately, have something like an Army poncho with you, and it can serve as both rain gear and shelter.
      • Add a poncho liner (aka "woobie") and you have an excellent way to stay warm and dry. 
    • Always have spare socks in your bag, preferably wool as that material stays warm even when wet.
    • Always have some trash bags with you, as they can be used to make improvised cold/wet weather gear and shelter, along with a variety of other uses.

    6) Candle:  Not literally a candle -- although they are great things to have in a BOB or GHB, because the first thing you should light with your match or lighter is something that will burn for a long time, like a candle -- but in this case, anything that will provide light. Since we already have heat from the Combustion source, I interpret this to mean a portable light source like a flashlight. My recommendation is a Cree Ultrafire Mini, as it is small, powerful (over 100 lumens), affordable, variable in strength, and takes a single AA battery.

    7) Cotton: The only time I will recommend cotton in a survival situation is in the form of a shemagh;  it can be used as a sling, a filter, a mask, and more besides. Just make sure you don't get one in gang colors, or a pattern associated with a political entity like the PLO; stick to tactical colors like olive drab, coyote brown, foliage, etc. Check out the GBVC show notes for more uses and links on how to tie one.

    8) Caliber:  This is where I diverge from Dave Canterbury. I'm not going to tell you what kind of gun to carry, as that's an intensely personal choice based upon finances, hand size, body shape and local laws; I'm just going to suggest that you have the largest pistol you are comfortable carrying and operating. That last bit is most important; if you don't like practicing with it, then you won't, and what you end up with is just an expensive weight on your hip.

    9) Cartridges: A gun is useless without ammunition, so carry as much as is comfortable for you. Personally, I never go anywhere without at least 30 rounds of ammo for my pistol.

    10) Cell Phone: Not only is it a critical tool for keeping in touch with your family or calling 911 in an emergency, a smartphone can hold a staggering amount of information in PDF or ebook form. Load it up with info on first aid, knot tying, wilderness survival and other goodies, as well as compass and map apps, and you've tripled its usefulness.

    11) Charger: A dead phone is like an empty gun, keep your alive with a spare battery pack. The Intocircuit charger has high marks and is very affordable.

    12) Compression Bandage: In other words, a trauma kit. As has been pointed out elsewhere, if you carry a gun for self-defense you need to accept the possibility that you or someone else will be shot at some point, so prepare for it. I am fortunate it that I've never needed to use one, so I have no practical experience in this matter, but from what I have read I firmly believe that the Adventure Medical Trauma Pack is the best one to buy, as it is small enough to fit into a cargo pocket and is full of goodies such as:
    • 5x9 trauma pad
    • package of Quick Clot
    • nitrile gloves
    • triangular bandage
    • gauze
    • antiseptic wipes
    • and even some duct tape!
    Pair with an Israeli Bandage and you've got an impressive kit that will help keep someone alive until the ambulance arrives. 

    These are my 12 C's of Preparedness, and I have them with me wherever I go. How many do you have?

    Thursday, February 12, 2015

    Foot Care and Why It's Important

    In times of crisis, you are very likely to be relying on your own two feet for transportation. Roads and streets can be torn up by tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, or man-made disasters, or blocked with debris and dead, unmoving vehicles from same. Cars can run out of gas in all kinds of weather and conditions. There are countless ways that you could be forced to travel by foot, and so it makes sense to look at your most basic form of transportation.

    Our feet are a complicated mix of bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and various other tissues. They are also the part of our body furthest from our heads and are often covered by shoes, so they tend to get less attention than other extremities. Taking care of your feet and footwear breaks down into several important parts.

    Proper selection of socks is based on the type of boots and the type of activity you plan on engaging in.
    • Hiking and long distance walking require a set of socks that will provide cushioning and prevent friction from causing blisters. A normal hiking set is silk or nylon socks (for preventing friction) inside wool socks (for cushioning and insulation). 
    • Cold weather will require insulated or heated socks to keep your feet warm. Carry extra socks and change them as often as you need to in order to keep your feet dry. 
    • Cotton is not the best choice for socks, but can work if you change them out often and keep them clean.

    Selecting Footwear
    Weather and terrain should influence your selection of footwear.
    • The sandals you might be able to get away with on the beach will not work anywhere else. 
    • Those insulated snow boots you'll need to walk around in knee-deep snow will be dangerous to wear in the summer. 
    • Waterproof boots work both ways -- while they keep water off of your feet, they also keep your foot-sweat from evaporating and can lead to some very unique odors at the end of the day. 
    • Select your footwear based on your expected use of it and try to remember to have a back-up pair.
    I'm old-school (some say I'm just old), so I prefer leather for my footwear. Leather is easy to care for, easy to waterproof, comfortable, renewable, and affordable. I prefer laces on my boots to zippers or slip-on styles, since they provide the ability to vary foot compression depending on the thickness of my socks and possible swelling of my feet.

    Buying Footwear
    Poorly fitting shoes and brand new shoes are hard on your feet, so learning how to shop for shoes is an essential step in taking care of your feet.
    • Wear the type of socks you intend to use with the shoes when you shop for them to ensure a good fit. 
    • Proper footwear should be snug, but not tight, and must support the sole of your foot to prevent breaking your arches. 
    • I place quality boots below only food and water on my list of preps, mainly because if I can't walk then I can't gather more food or water. Spend as much as you need to in order to get good boots. That neat pack is nothing more than a pillow if you can't walk, your tacticool carbine will make a rather poor crutch, and unless you have someone willing to carry you around, your caches are just buried treasure.

    Care For Your Footwear
    Your feet will sweat regardless of the temperature outside. You may have to walk through water or wet areas, getting your boots wet. 
    • If your boots are waterproofed or made of one of the breathable fabrics, your feet might stay dry but the boot itself will get damp. 
    • When you are done walking for the day, take off your boots and find a way to dry them inside and out. 
    • Campfires can work, but never set your boots closer to the fire than you can leave your hand. 
    • Leather dries best with gentle heat, and plastics will melt if placed too close to a heat source.
    • Brush the dirt and mud off of the outside of your footwear whenever you get time. This removes water trapped next to the surface and lets the fabric breathe on untreated boots. Spend a few extra minutes cleaning your footwear at the end of the day.
    • Unless you're in IDLH (Immediate Danger to Life or Health) conditions, never sleep in your shoes/boots. Your feet need a chance to decompress and your footwear needs a chance to dry before the next day's challenges.

    Care For Your Feet After Walking
    Blisters form from friction between your skin and your footwear. Keeping your feet and footwear clean and dry will minimize the friction and blisters as well as reduce the chances of picking up any of the varieties of fungi that like to grow in dark, damp places.
    • At the end of the day, wash and dry your feet, if you can, to get rid of dead skin and anything that may have started growing over the course of the day. 
    • Change out of the boots you've worn all day and rest your feet if you can.
    • Learn how to prevent and treat blisters before you get them and do what you can to avoid them. 
    • Learn how to use moleskin. 
    • Frostbite is a danger up here is the frozen North. Learn how to identify it and prevent it. Treatment of frostbite is advanced medicine and best left to professionals, but you should learn as much as you can.

    Keeping your toenails clean and trimmed prevents them from catching on clothing, keeps them from being forced back into the cuticle when hit, and removes a breeding ground for bacteria/fungi. You don't need to get a pedicure every week, but spend a little time trimming your nails after washing your feet (nails cut better when damp).

    What Inspired This Post
    A friend of mine damaged his right knee at work last fall. He already has light nerve damage from a separate medical issue and has limited feeling in his feet, so he pays attention to his feet to avoid damaging them. He developed a blister on the top of his right foot from his shoe not fitting right, and because he couldn't bend his knee all of the way, he couldn't take proper care of a simple blister. After two weeks, this poorly-treated blister became infected, and the bacteria from the infection spread and moved down into his foot. 

    These are pictures from a week after his surgery -- the kind of surgery where he wasn't sure if he'd still have his foot when he woke up. I must warn you that the pictures are not pleasant to look at. If you have a weak stomach or are easily grossed-out, don't click on the links below, and for heaven's sake never open a real medical book. That is about as close to a “trigger warning” as you're ever going to get out of me. I'm a firm believer that bad things happen and turning away from or ignoring them doesn't make them go away. 

    For those of you with limited medical training, that yellowish-green tint is a sign of gangrene. Gangrene is one of the “old” diseases that used to kill people before the invention of antibiotics. When the tissues of your body stop getting sufficient blood flow, and therefore oxygen, they start to die and break down. When the tissue breaks down, it creates a nutrient-rich environment for bacteria and the damage spreads. If you look at the pictures close enough, you'll notice that he is missing several layers of “meat” on the side and top of his foot. This is called “debridement “, which is the process of removing dead tissue in an attempt to limit the spread of the infection. The tissue may or may not grow back to fill in the hole; only time will tell.

    With access to a modern American hospital and well-trained doctors, my friend is going to survive. He is currently limited to standing no more than 5 minutes at a time, not carrying anything that could put weight on his right foot, and no walking more than 30 feet. A trip to the bathroom is an Olympic event that involves hopping and balancing, and usually leaves him worn out. He is taking large doses of antibiotics chosen for the specific bacteria he was infected with, and is taking pain pills for the effects of having his foot flayed to the bones and somewhat put back together. 

    Recovery time is estimated at 12 weeks. That's three months of no work, no play, and no walking.

    If this had happened anywhere or anywhen without the medical support facilities of a modern city, the best he could have hoped for was an amputation below the knee. Untreated, it would have killed him.

    Take care of your damn feet, people.

    The Fine Print

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