Friday, January 8, 2016

Shaking Out my Bug-Out Bag

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
On Monday I mentioned that I went camping from Dec. 31 to Jan 2 in order to test out my bug-out gear. While I previously discussed the contents of my bug-out bag here, it should be noted that my gear is always in a state of flux as I add, remove, and re-arrange items, so what is listed in last year's posts is not necessarily what I had with me.

I encourage all preppers to take their gear out for a test drive at least once a year; not only will it give you an idea of how well your gear works (and therefore whether or not it deserves a place within your BOB), but it is also a way to keep an eye on the state of your gear that may need repair or replacement due to torn seams, rusted metal, or expired food.

My Tent
My tent is a Stansport Black Granite Starlight, and it worked very well. The open top and sides gave excellent ventilation during our hot and humid first day, and the rainfly did an excellent job on the second day when it rained practically nonstop. An interesting feature of the rainfly is that it extends out further than the mesh when deployed, which means that I avoided the annoyance of condensation building up within the tent during the night.

At 5.5 pounds it's relatively light and fits in a backpack well (but see below). This is a very good tent, and I recommend it, but there are two complaints that I have:
  1. It's listed as being a two-person tent, and while it can technically sleep two people, they are going to be very cramped. If you try to add your gear inside the tent, you're going to be intimately familiar with each other, especially if you're trying to dress/undress inside it. So unless you're family members or are at the "My, what pretty panties you have" stage of your relationship, things are going to be cramped.
    • On the other hand, for a single person it is ideal, with lots of "rolling-around room" to either side. I even had enough room for my pack at my feet, but then I'm 5'4ish; people who break six feet might not have that luxury. 
  2. Likely as a result of having walls made of nothing but mesh, there isn't a way to hang a drying line. If you need to hang something up to dry or air out, you'll need to rig something up. 
Unfortunately, sometimes the most efficient method of packing a bag results in being unable to quickly get at gear. My tent, being one of the heaviest things in my pack, was as close to the middle of my back as possible for proper weight distribution, but that means it had other objects on top of it and in front of it. It took me several minutes to unpack my bag so that I could reach it, which wasn’t a good thing because by the time I had it out and ready to set up, it was already dark. I have since re-packed it in a different position that is easier to retrieve.

My Lights
Speaking of being in the dark, be sure to pack enough illumination. I brought several flashlights with me, and they really weren't sufficient for the task of setting up a tent at night: either they didn't throw enough light, or the light was too directional. I was fortunate in that I had a headlamp with me -- do NOT discount the extreme usefulness of having a hands-free light that points wherever you look! -- but mine had a very feeble LED. I have since ordered a brighter headlamp.

It’s also very easy to trip over tent stakes or lines in the dark, and that can lead to people getting hurt or damaging a tent. I make extensive use of UV Paqlite glow sticks to find my gear in the dark, and so I took one from my bag and looped it around the stake I kept tripping over. With that glowing marker, it didn’t happen again.

I had intended to bring a Goal Zero Lighthouse lantern with me to provide campsite illumination, but in all the excitement I forgot it. (In my defense, it's not part of my BOB; it's what my family uses in the house when the power goes out due to a storm.)  The lesson here is Make a checklist of items you want to bring along. If I forgot that gear because I was excited to go on a trip, just imagine what could be forgotten during the panic and chaos of an evacuation!

My Sleeping Arrangement
My Klymit Static V was comfortable mattress, although it did take a little bit of getting used to. Less comfortable was my large Exped air pillow; I'm a side sleeper and it wasn't large enough to put my head at a comfortable angle. I've since ordered the extra-large version in the hope that it will solve my problem.

Another issue I had with the Exped is that its surface is rather slick and it has a tendency to slide along the surface of my Klymit and/or sleeping bag. Fortunately, this issue was solved by wrapping the pillow in the fleece blanket I always carry.

The winner of the "Most Valuable Piece of Gear" for this trip goes to my set of silk long undewear. I really cannot say enough about these, or why they belong in every prepper's BOB, but I'll try:
  • The first day it was so hot I didn't need a sleeping bag, and just slept on top of my mattress. The longjohns kept me from sticking to the plastic and helped wick sweat away from my skin. 
  • When it got cold on the second night, they served as an extra insulating layer. 
  • When I woke up on the third day and it was in the 50s (which is cold for Florida), I just put my clothes over them (being silk, they didn't add extra bulk) and they kept me warm until noon. 
  • Finally, they are extremely lightweight and pack down small, so they will fit in any rucksack. 
Get a pair; you will not be disappointed.

Cutting Tools
The campsite we stayed at was an oddity; there were fire pits, but we couldn't cut our own wood. Instead, we had to have it delivered to us by the park ranger, and what we received were logs about a foot across and half a foot long. The ranger asked us "Y'all have an ax or a hatchet, right?"

Well, no we didn't. I haven't been able to find a good, lightweight ax that fits into my pack; I generally make do with my kukri machete for chopping down smaller trees, and for larger things I have since acquired a Sven Saw, but I didn't have that saw during the campout. Hopefully the machete/saw combo will remove the need to carry an ax.

My Mora Clipper got lots of use during the trip and proved its worthiness once again, but the most unexpectedly useful tools were my Mezzaluna and cutting board when, on Friday night, my camp buddy drafted me to chop up vegetables. Instead of slowly cutting the veggies with my Mora on an iron skillet I was able to quickly chop and dice them! I'm very glad I was able to find room for them.

Cooking and Fire
Because I was busy setting up my tent, I asked my friend to start the fire Thursday night, and he seemed to interpret that to mean he was in charge of fire for the rest of the trip. I wasn't complaining, mind you; he's a better cook than I am. But I did feel bad that he was constantly making the fire and cooking meals, so I pulled out my handy Solo Stove and used it to boil water for morning coffee. It worked great in that regard, and because I was feeling lazy I used its little alcohol burner to make things easy.

And it worked great... until the fuel ran out. Apparently the stove only carries enough fuel to boil 64 ounces of water, and I didn't have any more in my bag. I didn't think this was particularly a tragedy, because I had other fuel sources in my bad. I pulled out an Esbit fuel tab and tried to light it.

I don't know if you know this, but Esbit tabs will NOT light in the rain. In fact, rain dissolves them. I have since learned that a good trick is to cover the tab with hand sanitizer and then light it; not only will the gel keep the tablet from dissolving, but it will also light with a spark from a ferro rod. (Regular tablets need open flame, such as from a match or a lighter.) However, I didn't have this knowledge when I needed it.

Fortunately my friend came through by producing a can of Sterno which fit nicely inside the Solo's burn chamber. It took longer to boil the water than the alcohol, but when it was done it looked like I'd hardly used any fuel at all. I am definitely going to add a can of that to my bag.

Other Things (aka multi-media crossover)
There are other lessons I learned from my camping trip, but this article is already plenty long. When Gunblog Varietycast #73 drops on Sunday, you'll hear about other things, like why you should bring a tarp even if you have raingear and the many uses of an empty water bottle.

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