Friday, January 20, 2017

Guest Post: Dangers and Praises for Multi-Use Preps

by Levi Ethan Groenendael

What "multi-use" means
For whatever reason, our society has become one of "gadgets" - and, as time goes on, we see those gadgets turn into "2 in 1" or "3 in 1" or "819 in 1" devices. For purposes of this article, we're talking about these kinds of things, as opposed to something you can use for one specific task or purpose, but use it multiple times.

Why is it becoming prevalent?
I suspect a big chunk of this has its roots in our use of technology. That's an industry I've dabbled in, once in a while, and people in that field like to use the phrase "convergence" - which is to say, purposes converge within one device. It's why Smartphones (and heck, even dumb phones) tend to have cameras, alarm clocks, music players, radios, calendar tools, contact management tools... one little device does so many things!

Unfortunately, that "one little device that does so many things" isn't always the best tool for the job. You may have a photography-inclined friend who disparages the use of a smartphone's camera, and instead has put a lot of money into a high-end SLR camera which takes some phenomenal pictures, compared to the camera on a smartphone. The camera is a single-purpose device: it takes pictures, that's it. The smartphone on the other hand, is a multi-purpose device: yes, it takes pictures, but not as well as the SLR camera, and it also does a lot of other things too.

Where this becomes a problem is that when the smartphone stops working, a lot (if not all) of the functionality will stop working like you need/want it to. Our technology-based society has gotten good at finding ways to make sure we don't lose data, but that doesn't necessarily apply in a SHTF situation.

Consumables vs. Durable Goods
So, we've talked a little bit about the difference between single-use and multi-use, but when it comes to prepping, we have another concept to consider. Durable goods are things like a camera or a smartphone -- stuff that you buy and use a bunch of times. They're durable, they last. Consumables, on the other hand, are things that you consume -- once you use them up, they're gone.

When it comes to durable goods, it's a good idea not to let your 'stuff' converge too far, or make sure that the function that you have  in the durable goods item is a function you can achieve with another  durable goods item you may have.  A good example of this would be something like a Leatherman or Gerber multitool: they have a blade in them, but they do a lot more than just cutting, and they're not exactly the sort of thing you'd use to split a log for firewood.  A heavy-duty Kabar knife, however, is (generally) a single-purpose durable goods item -- it's meant to cut, and it's big enough you can use a branch to "baton" with it to cut larger pieces of wood.  Odds are pretty good that most preppers out there are going to have one (or more) of each in their bug-out bag.  My general rule of thumb is that if something is a critical function, I need to have at least three ways to do it with the "stuff" I have. As I like to put it, Three for Me, Two is One, One is none.

Consumable goods are where this gets really tricky. Why? Because we have the idea that once something is consumed, it's gone, but that's not necessarily the case. One good example of this is a wooden strike-anywhere match: once you've used a match, it's used up, it's gone, it can't be used anymore... as a match. But so long as it hasn't completely burnt, it makes a great toothpick. If you have a handful them, you can use them as kindling. The box it came in makes a great storage container for small dry goods, etc.

MREs are another example. Some of the "stuff" that comes in these kits, like spoons, is obviously good for re-use... but what about the bag that the entree comes in? I've actually re-used those bags as an ad-hoc pot for cooking. The smaller ones make a great portable cup or fluid container, and they take up a heck of a lot less space than an actual cup or mug, too. Most MRE bags aren't resealable, but some are, and those are like gold if you're in a poor situation. Paper and other packing materials that might seem utterly useless otherwise, can still be used as toilet paper in a pinch. 

Want to get really 'out there'? Batteries, once dead, are still a useful weight, or depending on the construction, may yield a metal sheathing you can use for repairs to other gear, or even to use as an edge for an ad-hoc blade for other purposes.

North American Aboriginals were great at using every last bit of an animal that they'd take down. We preppers should try to do the same thing to consumable goods, with every last bit of material we have available to us should be used and re-used as much as possible.

How to choose?
I try to "use" my preps, one way or another, at least once a year. This means that, yes, consumable items are consumed. This may not be viable for everyone, but if you are able to, it means you have the option to try new things without the stress of your life depending on it.

That's where I figured out about cooking in a MRE Entree bag, and using a 9v housing and a rock to come up with a skinning blade. There are other tricks and tips I've come up with, as well as some I've gleaned elsewhere and put to use myself, but I don't want to take all  the fun out of it -- do it yourself and see what you come up with!

Positives and Negatives of Multi-Use Preps
I've tried to take a fairly even-handed stance here; I've made reference to both situations where a multi-purpose prep is the smart way to go, but while also tempering that with the value of a single-purpose prep as well. I once heard someone say, "It's trying to do everything, but does nothing well." That's really this in a nutshell: if you try really hard to be ultra-careful with your preps, and try to squeeze the most out of every single prep, your overall prepping is going to be really lean -- and we need some of that fat. As with other articles I've written, it's important to figure out what works for you, and what your own limits and minimum requirements are.

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