Thursday, May 31, 2018

WAG Bags and Poo Powder

I've covered outhouses and composting toilets, so let's take a look at one final method of dealing with human waste in an emergency before I move on to a less squeamish subject.

Outhouses work well if you have a BOL established, or have a yard to construct one in if you have to bug in. They're a semi-permanent fixture that will serve for years of use and have been around for centuries. Composting toilets are smaller than outhouses, and some models are mobile, but they have more maintenance issues and need to be emptied more often.

For the prepper who lives in an apartment or works in a multi-story building, neither of these options will work if your building is isolated from the normal municipal services. Some scenarios which come to mind:
You're at work on the 40th floor when a crisis hits and you're told to shelter in place. Most situations like this are resolved within a day or two at most, but nobody wants to hold their bladder that long. Street-level riots, flash floods, fires, active-shooter situations, and the like could leave you trapped, and there are multiple reasons that the water could be turned off. I've seen office buildings with key-card locks on every door, including the bathrooms, and a lot of them will stay locked if the power goes out.

Tornado sirens are going off, so you hustle your family into your underground shelter only to have the house settle on top of the shelter door. Emergency services and your neighbors will dig you out once they figure out that you're stuck, but it may take a day to get enough debris shifted that you can get out.

You've taken shelter in a cave with a floor that is too hard to dig into. Unless you find a sizable colony of bats and want to add to their guano pile, you'll need some way to carry your wastes out.

You waited too long to evacuate ahead of the hurricane and got stuck in the inevitable traffic jam for most of a day. The nearest rest area is 10 miles behind you and your wife has to pee “RIGHT NOW!” and isn't going to squat next to the car in view of all of the other unlucky people stuck on the highway.

There is a solution to all of these situations, and it's called a WAG Bag. WAG stands for Waste Alleviation and Gelling, which should tell you a bit about how they work.

WAG Bags come in a few different styles, the most common being a double-walled plastic bag containing a powder (usually referred to as “Poo Powder”). The powder may be scented, but all variations are hydrophilic (water-loving) gelling agents that will bind with water to rapidly form a gelatin-like mass. The gelling action turns liquid wastes into a form that is easier to transport (it won't spill) and will seal solid wastes to eliminate odors. Most of the bags are made of biodegradable plastic, so once it's full you can just toss it into any trash can and it will decompose in the landfill.

The plastic bags vary by brand; some of them are designed to fit into a bucket or waste-paper can, while others have wide flaps on the opening so you can just hold it open while you squat over it. Watch what you're buying, since the liners for the portable toilets usually don't come with the Poo Powder because they're just a plastic bag system for holding wastes.

Campers who use portable toilets often add clumping kitty litter to the bag after each use to get results similar to Poo Powder, so if you have a litter box for your cat you should be able to make a fair imitation WAG Bag out of two trash can liners and some clumping litter.

If you ever get a chance to explore some of the more remote areas of the world, you're going to find that most of them have a strict “pack out what you pack in” policy. Keeping wilderness areas clean of trash and wastes is important for aesthetic reasons, but the health reasons are more important. Think of all of the people who have attempted to climb Mt. Everest and the waste they've left along the trails: since there are at least 200 dead climbers interred on Mt. Everest, there has to be tons of waste as well. WAG Bags are now mandatory at a lot of hiking/climbing sites, so they're becoming more readily available and cheaper.

A container of Poo Powder is small and fairly cheap. If I were working or living in a high-rise building, I think there would be a few of them in a drawer or on a shelf, just in case. The powder is shelf-stable and has an indefinite shelf-life, so it will store for years.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Setting Up A Friend

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent 

I'm helping a new friend set up a Get Home Bag. I've set up several, including my own, and here are my basic requirements.

A Bag
There has to be a way to organize and keep things handy and safe. While a bag/backpack sling bag is required to 'Get Home', the size, shape, style or color isn't up to me so I'm leaving that up to my friend.

The Gear
This is another Work In Progress, with additions to the bag going in slowly. It's not my bag, after all.

The basic Basics

Esbit Stove and Fuel
I like the compact size and low weight of the Esbit stove, along with the fact it is simple to set up and use. Everything you need to heat water or food is right there, with no need to forage for twigs or dry tinder. To start the fire I added UCO Stormproof matches. I've taken the striker strips off the outside of the case and CAREFULLY placed them inside the waterproof case, because they are plain paper and will not work if they become soggy.

Cooking Pot
I've donated an MSR stainless steel cooking pot. This is their 1.1 liter size, large enough to heat enough water for 2-3 dehydrated meal pouches and then wash dirty utensils.

Water Filter and Bottle
The Sawyer Squeeze filter is extremely light weight at 3 oz. and this set comes with 16, 32 and 64 oz. water pouches.  The filter easily stores inside the 32 oz. Nalgene bottle, the wide mouth allowing it to drop right inside.

Blanket and Wipes
Everyone has their favorite emergency blanket, and I like the SOL brand. They are light weight, store easily, and will wrap up 2 people if necessary.

Wet wipes are useful for removing as much dirt and grime as simply and easily as possible, especially if water is in short supply.

And More...
This is just a start. I think with a little more time and a camping trip or two, additions to this set will be easier to discuss and then be adjusted to meet individual needs.

In Other News
Based on Scott's recent post on Rubbing Alcohol and the comments in the Blue Collar Prepping Facebook group, I decided to add some alcohol of my own to the GHB!

These are 50ml plastic pouches purchased from a local discount liquor chain. Since these will burn almost as well as rubbing alcohol, won't evaporate as quickly, and can be used as a disinfectant and water treatment, I bought two  vodka and two spiced rum. (Strictly for emergency use!)

Check your local stores for availability.

The Takeaway
  • Helping friends get prepared is important. 
  • Watching them realize how easy it is to protect themselves and their families is satisfying.

The Recap
  • One Esbit Stove and fuel set: $30.97 with Amazon Prime
  • One UCO Stormproof matches set in a waterproof case: $7.93 from Amazon 
  • One MSR 1.1 liter stainless pot:  $19.99 from Amazon with Prime
  • One SOL Emergency Blanket: $4.99 from Amazon with Prime
  • Four 50ml assorted alcohol pouches: BevMo (a local discount liquor chain) $1.99 ea.

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

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

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Guest Post: Water by the Gallon Jug

by Xander Opal

My favorite source of water is the humble gallon jug found at every supermarket and convenience store, preferably with a screw-on lid in case it gets knocked around or over. I get several uses out of each jug, refilling it as needed.

Uses of the Gallon Jug
The most obvious use is for drinking, though there are a number of other situations that make me glad I had that water along.
  • Washing. Sure, there are hand sanitizers, but those aren't good for rinsing and removing dust, dirt, or even nastier stuff that one might be spreading or spraying in the middle of a field, far from a tap.
  • Cooling. You can always pour water on a cloth tied around your head or neck and use to to cool yourself. There are also times when your vehicle has lost coolant and you need to limp just a bit further, so (carefully!) adding water to the radiator will do the trick. 
  • Fires. I was in a fast food drive-through when a careless smoker tossed a cigarette butt into the landscaping, which started to burn the dry wood chip mulch. One application of a handy gallon of water later and the initial problem was solved. While an 'A-B-C' fire extinguisher should be used for fires that aren't burning wood or grass, there are times where this is just plain handy.

To keep your water palatable, keep it cool and out of direct sunlight. I have also found that if that isn't an option (such as the only place available on a vehicle being in sunlight, against the transmission hump, on a hot day), putting a few mint leaves in means you at least have some halfway decent tea instead of hot water. This isn't good for long-term, but if you're out on a job for a day or less, it can help.

You're eventually going to run out of water, however many bottles, jugs, or barrels you have.

In civilized areas, make note of where stores, service stations, and restaurants are as well as their operating hours. If you're unfamiliar with a town or city, don't go wandering about on foot in the heat without knowing where you can stop by, top up and cool off.  Not only will this prevent heat injury by staying hydrated, but  if you encounter someone who doesn't know where to get water you can also be a big help to them.

Out in the wilds, clean potable water is harder to come by. There are many ways to purify water, but these devices and techniques do you no good without a source in the first place. Maps that indicate small streams and ponds, not just what might be shown on a road atlas, are important here. If you might end up away from civilization, plan ahead so that you can find the water you need to get back.

Water is important, so keep it close by and keep drinking!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Air Rifles and Backstops

When SHTF, you never know what will happen to your supply of food.

A number of people will resort to hunting and scavenging for their dinner. I know that some of our readers will be in an area that will be hunting rifle friendly, and they will have the budget to purchase one, purchase ammunition, and to go to the range regularly. However, this is not true of everyone, and to those people I suggest getting an air rifle.

Modern air rifles are good for hunting small game: rabbits, squirrels, turkeys and even pigeons (they were domesticated from rock doves as a food source). I don’t recommend using one to hunt bear, or elk, or even deer, but there are plenty of options in and around most urban environments that will keep body and soul together until you can get into a better situation.

What You Need
You only need a few things to use an air rifle for hunting: the rifle itself, ammunition, any storage that you decide on, any accessories, and a backstop.
  • The Rifle
A good air rifle can be had for less than $200;  they start at around $80 for a new one that will take very small game and go up from there. Many municipalities that restrict ownership of firearms do not restrict air guns, making them easier to obtain.
  • Ammunition
Air rifle ammunition is cheap. Plinking ammo tends to cost about a penny a round, and you can purchase high end hunting ammunition for two to three cents a round-- compared to even the cheapest .22 ammunition, it's a fraction of the cost.
  • Storage
Storage can be as simple as putting it in a closet all the way to keeping it in a full-scale gun safe.
  • Accessories
I like a red dot sight on mine,  but any cheap sight for an air gun is acceptable as  they are meant to be shot at 100 yards, not 1000.

Note: Make sure that any scopes or sights you put on an airgun are designed for it. The recoil works differently, and can actually destroy a scope meant for a firearm.
  • A Backstop
If you have a yard, or a long enough range, you can purchase a commercially made target. I have used a simple resetting target, and I enjoyed it, but as it is not a proper backstop it comes with a risk of accidentally hitting my neighbors' property if I miss my target.

If you want to spend the money, you can purchase a commercial backstop to stop the bullets, but they are expensive, with a small one costing around $85. I prefer to make my own.

Making Your Own Backstop
The recipe is fairly simple:
  • A Container
I use cheap old plastic Walmart bins, but I know people who use cardboard boxes or custom-made wood enclosures.
  • A Target Hanger
I make my own with hardware cloth and binder clips.
  • A Way to Stop the Pellets
Ballistic putty is what a lot of commercial options use, and it works well, but it gets quite expensive -- for a small target you will want ten or so pounds, which runs around $40.

For a do-it-yourself solution, I have found that old carpet scraps do the trick.
  1. Find a local store that sells carpet and ask for scraps. I was able to find a selection of commercial carpet, shag, and other, and all it cost me was asking nicely and picking it up.
  2. Eight layers of carpet in an old bin stops everything I have tested quite nicely, with the deepest penetration being at five layers.

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Caffeine Tablets

& is used with permission.
Some people just can't wake up in the morning without their cup of coffee. Other people get chronic headaches which are soothed by caffeine. It can give you a burst of energy when you need to stay alert, and it can help those who suffer from ADHD to concentrate and relax.

In short, there are many good reasons why caffeine should be part of your preparations. Yet it can be impractical to put coffee or high-caffeine energy drinks into your bug out bags due to weight, volume, or the necessity to boil water to prepare the beverage.

This is where caffeine in tablet form comes in. A 1 ounce bottle can hold the equivalent of 100 cups of coffee while taking up only a few cubic inches of space. Best of all, this caffeine doesn't spoil or require preparation; just wash down a pill with a drink of water.

My caffeine tablet of choice is Jet-Alert. I bought a 120-count bottle in February of last year because some days I am so sleepy I need more than my usual morning cup to wake up, but an additional cup upsets my stomach and a soda gives me a headache. I've been taking them on and off over the past year, sometimes as often as 1-2 a day for a week, then not taking them for months. After taking 95 of these tablets, here is my experience:
  • They work quickly and effectively. 
  • They do not provoke headaches or upset stomach. 
  • They do no cause dependence (it was easy for me to stop taking them once I felt sufficiently rested). 
  • I have experienced any side-affects from taking these tablets; however, I admit I have not been taking them long-term. 
Each tablet has 100 mg of caffeine in it, which is equivalent to one 8 ounce cup of coffee. At $6 for 120 tablets, that's five cents per cup of coffee which will fit easily into a bug out or get home bag. 

I think this is a tremendous value and will be adding a bottle to each of my bags. However, keep in mind that human beings react differently, so try this out before you add this to your preps. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Every Day Carry in Washington DC

The secret to quick in-and-out of memorials in our Nation’s Capital is reduced carry. My pocket trauma pack didn’t get a second look, but my flashlight did get me a second glance or two.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Another Alternate Toilet

Last week I wrote about outhouses as a way to handle human waste if normal infrastructure fails or is unavailable. However, there are places when an outhouse just won't work:
  • Locations in the mountains with very little or no soil
  • Any area where you can't dig a post-hole without the use of explosives
  • Locations near water where the water table is less than 3 feet below the surface (check at high tide)
  • Areas below sea level (New Orleans)
  • Arid or desert regions where the soil isn't stable or will suck the moisture out of the waste before it can break down
  • Areas with dead or toxic soil (salt flats or polluted/contaminated soils)
In places like these, you may want to look into composting toilets. A composting toilet (CT) uses controlled aerobic digestion to break down waste, and the long retention time will destroy most of the pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms present in the waste. Proper venting will keep odors and dangerous gasses out of your living spaces, so it is feasible to put a CT inside a house. There are a few different types of CT on the market, so I'll break them down by how they work.

Slow or Cold Composting Toilets
The simplest style, a slow CT relies on longer retention time and limited use to operate. Most often found in seasonal-use locations without running water or electricity, the slow CT isn't much different than an outhouse, the main difference being that a CT will have some method of diverting the liquid wastes away from the solid waste to allow the solid waste to build up in layers.

A cold CT will take months or years to completely break down human feces, so the holding tank has to be large enough to contain the expected input. I've read of some parks that use a series of vaults arranged in a line or a circle with a mobile structure above them. When one of the vaults gets full, the structure is moved to the next vault in line and the full one is sealed and left to decompose for a few years before being emptied.

The compost from a slow CT is likely to contain some pathogens (unless you can give it a year or so to decompose), so you aren't going to want to use it to fertilize a garden. Trees, flowers, and pastures would be good uses for this type of fertilizer.

Active Composting Toilets
This is the type most commonly found in stores. They usually come with a fan to provide air to the “pile”,  and some will even have a heating element to keep the temperature of the pile at a level where decomposition will occur most rapidly. Liquid wastes may or may not be diverted depending on design, and the addition of bulking agents like sawdust or peat moss after each use will help aerate the pile for quicker action.

An active Ct will break down normal human wastes in a matter of weeks, but since they have moving parts they have more maintenance needs. They are also quite a bit more expensive than a conventional toilet (most are close to $1000), though an active CT should be seen as an investment that will pay for itself in lower water use and production of compost.

The addition of heat and moving air will help kill pathogens, so the compost from this style is normally safe to use on a garden.

Wet Composting Toilets
Sometimes called a “vermifilter” toilet, a wet CT uses a minimal water flush (a pint or two instead of gallons) like a standard toilet to move the waste into a reaction chamber where the liquids drain out through a mesh on the bottom. Red worms or some other type of earthworm (hence the “vermi” part of the name; raising worms is known as vermiculture) are kept in the reaction chamber and allowed to break down the solid waste. There will also be some naturally occurring aerobic bacteria that will help the worms break things down, and once there is a deep enough bed of material they will actually clean the water as it trickles through. The water flowing through the bed will carry oxygen to the worms and bacteria, so it is a necessary part of the process.

The resulting worm feces (castings) and undigestable wastes are considered safe to use as fertilizer on food crops. The liquid that flows through should be treated, or at least disinfected, before being used for anything.

Clivus Multrum
Actually a brand name of a design, a Clivus Multrum is a large inclined room located beneath a toilet. It provides a lengthy retention time and has few moving parts, but needs to be built into a building.

If you're looking for a long-term solution and have the space and money, I'm sure one of their consultants would be glad to help you. There are similar designs out there; a search on the internet should find you more information than I have. I've never dealt with one of this style, as they're fairly new (patented in my lifetime) and they look to be marketed at larger structures like parks and campgrounds. The resulting compost should be free of pathogens and safe for use as fertilizer.

Other than the addition of sawdust, wood chips, or peat moss as a bulking agent, there are very few things you'll need to keep a CT running. There are various starter cultures of active bacteria on the market that you may want to use to jump-start your toilet if it has been dormant for a while; I see very little difference between the brands.

If you choose a wet CT, the earthworms will reproduce and keep the decomposition going (and may provide a source of income: think “bait shops”) but they will require a somewhat steady supply of food. Not a good choice for a remote cabin that only gets used a few days a year.

The fertilizer that you'll remove from a CT will return a huge percentage of nutrients back to the soil, making your garden grow better and last longer without the need for commercial fertilizers. For some people, that's enough of a reason to switch to a CT, but most of us aren't going to want to deal with the odors and mess unless we have to.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Prudent Prepping: $30 And 15 Minutes

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

I was unable to come up with a topic for this week's post until a behind-the-scenes chat with the BCP bloggers gave me an idea for a topic: What if I knew for certain an earthquake was going to hit in fifteen minutes, while I was in a Big Box home improvement store? I have only $30 to spend and fifteen minutes to get out of the store with my essential items to get through a disaster.

Here's what I chose and why. You can play along at home by substituting your local disaster for mine!

The List
This was a bit harder than I first thought, since Home Depot/Lowe's/Menard's don't have food. (Sorry, jerky and chips don't count this time.) That left other things that might be cheap and very useful in a disaster. First thing I picked?

Home Depot and everyone else sells water by the case of half liter bottles and occasionally half gallon jugs. I found these in cases, stacked by the contractor check out.

24 ct filtered water
This isn't "fresh from some mountain spring" water, this is "from your municipal system, filtered for you' water. The price reflects what it is: water. Just water.

With a good, clean supply of water, you can live quite a long time. I 'bought' 2 cases at $2.48 each.

It's organic!
Well, sort of. A bag of charcoal was my next pick. This is a way to cook and keep warm with minimal flame, smoke and blowing embers.

I looked to add a small grill to the mix, but the prices were most of the total budget. Besides, if I can make it home then charcoal will be a nice backup to the propane grill I already have; and if I'm stuck someplace, the charcoal will work very well in the Solo Stove in my trunk!

I 'bought' one  (almost) 16 lb bag for $9.97.

 2 mil plastic
A roll of plastic, a good amount of duct tape and rope will make a shelter for a reasonable amount of time.

Here is the plastic roll I picked out. 9' x 12' 2 mil plastic is a good compromise between strength, weight and cost. Whether it is used as lean-to or rigged as a tent, it is tough enough to do the job.

I 'bought' one roll for $3.18.

Duct Tape

If duct tape, some tie wire and super glue can't fix it, things are really broken! For use in my shelter, duct tape can seal edges to make a wind proof enclosure, be twisted into strands almost as strong as rope, or be used to temporarily plug holes.

I 'bought' one roll for $4.98.

Paracord with winder

This roll of paracord is 75 ft long -- 25 ft longer that than the usual bundle sold in Home Depot. This is long enough to tie other things together as well as rig a shelter. It  was $2.98 and I 'bought' one roll.

The Recap
So how did I do? Let's total this up.
  • Two cases of water @ $2.48 each: $4.96 total
  • One bag of charcoal: $9.97
  • One roll of plastic: $3.18
  • One roll of duct tape: $4.98
  • One spool of para cord: $2.98
Before tax, everything came to $26.07. Add in local and state sales tax and you get $28.74!

With a little bit more time to figure things out, I may have dropped one case of water and added in another drop cloth. Since this was a test with a time limit I gave myself exactly fifteen minutes to navigate the aisles and theoretically fill a cart.

Let me know what you think of this list and what you have in mind. Remember, walk through your local store and time yourself as you go!

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

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Rubbing Alcohol in a BOB

Isopropyl ("rubbing") alcohol is something that most preppers will have in their kit in small quantities -- perhaps a few wipes in their first aid kit -- but it always surprises me how underutilized it is in a  bug out bag.

In addition to being a way to clean wounds and sterilize tools, it's also an emergency fuel source.

Rubbing alcohol is like lighter fluid but more useful. The only disadvantage that I have found is that it will not burn if the conditions are actually wet. If you want to start a fire when it is wet, you are probably best off using something like fuel tablets.

How To Use It As a Fire Starter
My preferred method is to pour a quarter to a half of a 500 milliliter bottle onto some kindling, and toss on a match. Even if it is slightly damp, or not small enough to catch easily, it will burn, at least for a small while. If the only problem is that it is slightly damp, or that it is a little larger than ideal, it makes a dandy way to get a fire started in a hurry. It does a dandy job of drying out the kindling as it burns, so long as it is not saturated.

(As a note: I have taken to using rubbing alcohol in place of lighter fluid. Please tell me why I am wrong and am going to die in the comments.)
When I am using pre-moistened wipes, I like to pull one out and twist it around a twig or similar, before placing it into a pre-made “tepee” of kindling. I have had success with that, even in windy or somewhat adverse conditions.

Ways to Store It
I keep rubbing alcohol in a standard plastic bottle like the one it comes in from the store, complete with plastic seal. I keep it in my larger bug out bag, and I keep it handy in my first aid kit as a liquid form.

But if you have to have a smaller bottle (due to weight and space considerations), I have found that small flasks can be bought on Amazon or at Wal-Mart. Small travel-size plastic bottles can also work quite nicely.

I also keep some on hand in the form of wipes, pre-saturated, and kept in a foil pouch.

Keep isopropyl alcohol in your bug out bag. It can save a lot of hassle.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Roadside Ramblings and Treasures

You never know what prepper goodness you’re going to find along the roadside. This particular find is a treasure and has the price to go with it, but it’s yard sale time of year so be sure to look for bargains!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The House Out Back

If TSHTF in a major way and destroys the infrastructure that we depend on for water and sewage services, you're going to need to find a way to deal with the inevitable result of people eating: they urinate and defecate. I'll try to keep this family-friendly, but face it, everybody pees and poops and it has to go somewhere. If you have a Bug Out Location (BOL) that is remote or plan on spending lots of time at a location that lacks a sewer line or septic tank, you'll need a plan for dealing with those necessary bodily functions. I'll cover a few different options in the next couple of articles, but today I want to talk about outhouses.

While I may be old and have spent most of my life in rural areas, I did grow up with indoor plumbing. The rare occasions where a normal toilet wasn't available were during camping trips to some rather remote locations, a couple of field deployments in the Army, and a two-week period when we moved to a new house that wasn't finished before we moved in (the school year was starting and my parents wanted us to get into the new schools at the start). As an adult, I spent six years working 12 hour shifts at a location without a flush toilet; we used a porta-potty (the blue plastic boxes that are common at construction sites) until management spent the money to run a sewer line down to our office. In other words, I have some experience with outhouses of various types.

Planning and preparation are why we read and write blogs like this one, so let's take a look at some of the steps you'll need to cover.

If you're going to build an outhouse before a crisis, you'll need to check your local laws. Zoning ordinances will prevent you from using a functional outhouse inside most city limits, but a “decorative” outhouse can be quickly converted into a real one simply by dragging it over a hole dug in the ground. Use it as a “garden shed” to store your shovels and rakes until you need to activate it.

Do you know where the water table sits in your location? If you dig a hole and water seeps in, you're not going to want to place a standard outhouse there. Contaminating the groundwater is one of the things you're trying to prevent, so look for a better spot or use a sealed system (more on that when I get to types).

Know your soil types and plan accordingly. Well-drained soil will help keep an open-bottom hole from filling up as quickly; sand won't retain enough moisture for decomposition to occur; and clay won't let any liquid leech out. If you don't understand soil types, get a professional opinion from a local septic tank installer.

You want to keep the outhouse close enough that you can get to it quickly, but not so close that you have to smell it inside the house. Since it's likely that you'll be eating unfamiliar food, plan on placing your outhouse within sprinting distance. 50 to 100 feet from the back door was normal a century ago, so that's a good rule of thumb. Take the other members of your family or tribe into consideration as well; children and elders are more prone to urgent need of a toilet.

I've mentioned water tables already, but you also want to locate your outhouse downhill from any water source that you may use. Keep it at least 200 feet from any well or spring. This will prevent contaminants from percolating through the soil and ending up in your drinking water.

I'm not going to go into exterior design details. You can get as basic or creative as your time and budget allow as long as the basic functions aren't neglected.

The common outhouse was about 4' x 4', with the “bench” taking up the back half of the floor space. Look around the internet and you'll find designs for just about any shape and size you can imagine, but the simple 4' x 4' size is easy to build with common lumber. Plywood comes in 4' x 8' sheets, so you can build the walls, floor, and roof with 3 sheets and a couple of armloads of 2 x 4s.

The area under the seat and above the hole in the ground needs to be ventilated. Gasses produced by the decomposition of bodily wastes are unhealthy to breathe and basically unpleasant to every culture on Earth. Running a piece of 4” or bigger PVC pipe from a hole cut in the bench up through the roof is common, but I've also seen designs that use thin (less than 1” thick) wood to create a channel up one or both of the back corners. Cover the top of the vent pipe with netting or window screen to keep insects out.

Unless you're setting up on a tropical island, having a roof to keep weather off of you is not an option. The type of roof is going to vary according to your available materials and style, with traditional outhouses having a simple single-pitch (one piece, without a peak in the center) roof that angles down to the rear of the structure.

Privacy is nice, but the main reason for a door on an outhouse is to keep animals and insects out. A nice, dry shelter with a supply of nesting material (paper) is quite attractive to a lot of furry critters that you don't want to share your bathroom with. Equally disturbing is trying to use a bathroom that has become the location for a wasp nest.

I recommend putting a latch on the inside of the door if you have more than one person using the outhouse to ensure privacy. If you're handy enough and have the materials, a “dutch” door or “half door” that is split horizontally will allow you to close the bottom half for privacy and open the top half for ventilation while in use.

How you set up the interior is going to be purely personal preference. Other than a metal or plastic container to store your toilet paper (it keeps moisture, bugs, and mice out), you can go as basic or elegant as you want. 

A shelf for reading material is a good choice, as is somewhere to place a lamp or lantern if that's what you're going to use to find the outhouse in the dark.

When outhouses were common, people kept a container of wood ashes (from the fireplace) or slaked lime (ask at any hardware store or lumber yard) in them. A scoop of ash or lime was added to the pit after each use to keep odors down.

Keep the floor clear to prevent tripping and slipping, use the wall space for decorations and amenities.

You're going to need a place to park your butt while you take care of business, so make it comfortable. Standard toilets are about 15” from the floor to the top of the seat, but those of us with long legs prefer something closer to 20”. A regular toilet seat is a nice addition, but anything that will close the hole will work.

For winter use, cut a toilet seat shape out of styrofoam insulation and hang it in the house by the door so you can grab it on the way out. The extra insulation will make a huge difference, trust me. I've had to expose too much bare flesh to too much cold plastic over the years and hovering over a hole is more than my old legs can stand now.

Modern toilet paper is nice, but any paper will work to help clean your bottom and keep the wastes off of your hands (you'll still need to wash them, though). The old Sears and Roebucks catalog hanging from a nail provided reading material as well as a supply of paper for many years in many places. Newspaper will work after you've crumpled it up a few times to make it softer, and almost all newspapers use soy-based ink now so it's safer to use on delicate areas. Home-made paper from recycled magazines and newspapers would probably be softer and more pleasant to use than the “slick” paper found in advertising inserts, but more research is needed in that area.

Types of Outhouses 
(and how they work)

Open Pit or “Long Drop” Outhouse
This is your basic shack over a hole in the ground.

I've seen several examples that use a 55 gallon drum with both ends removed as a “liner” to keep the soil from collapsing into the hole. The height of a drum also ensures that the bottom of the hole is below the frost line in all but the most extreme environments. Metal drums will last for a several years and will eventually rust away, and plastic drums will stay in the ground for decades or centuries. Since the hole will eventually fill up and the house will be moved, I prefer metal drums. Plastic also tends to “float” out of the ground over the years if you live in an area where it freezes. The annual frost heave lifts the light plastic a few inches each spring, meaning you may end up seeing it pop up in the future.

Open pits work by holding the waste and letting naturally occurring bacteria decompose it. Having the bottom of the hole below the frost line ensures that you'll always have a live colony of bacteria available to work on the waste. This decomposition reduces the mass of the waste and destroys most pathogenic (harmful) organisms in the waste. The active bacteria tend to be anaerobic (they work in the absence of air) or facultative (they work with or without air), so you won't get good decomposition until you have enough waste to create an anaerobic pile. Anaerobes tend to create acids, so the old-time habit of throwing a handful of lime or wood ashes into the hole after each use will neutralize some of that acid and keep the odors down. I could bore you to tears with explanations of acid-formers and methanogens and the pH balance needed for each, but I won't.

Sealed or Watertight Systems
Where the soil conditions or local laws won't allow an open-bottom pit, you're going to have to use a hole with a liner that will trap all of the droppings. The biggest problem with this type is that they have to be pumped out or otherwise emptied when they start to fill up (the contents are then transported to a treatment plant for disposal) or they may be sealed (until services are restored) and the outhouse relocated to a new lined hole.

Vault toilets are a type of sealed system that you'll find in a lot of parks and campgrounds. The wastes are accumulated in a large underground tank that is pumped out by a contractor as needed, eliminating the need for an expensive septic system that will only get used for part of the year.

Bucket Toilet
While not common in the USA, “night soil” workers have been used in many countries through the ages to deal with a type of sealed system. Well into the mid-20th Century, outhouses built with a removable bucket were tended to in Australian towns, where they were known as “dunny cans”. The outhouses were built next to the fence on the alley behind the house and the buckets were removed and replaced through a hatch on the alley side.

Proper waste disposal is important at any time, but it becomes a priority when the normal infrastructure is unavailable or not working. Check the news for stories about E. coli outbreaks and the spread of “old” diseases like cholera and dysentery, they're happening more often than they used to due to improper sanitary practices and lack of education. With everything else you'll be dealing with after a crisis, you don't want to add disabling diseases that are preventable.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Out And About

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent 

I was able to get out into a park this past weekend for a very short hike with my new walking stick.

It was a nice day to get outside, sunny but very windy. There hasn't been any rain now for several weeks, so the hills are starting to go brown and trails are going dusty, but with the steady breeze I didn't have to worry about either breathing the dust or getting too much on my glasses.

One thing many people don't realize about the S. F. Bay area is how hilly it is; hiking in any of the regional or State parks can mean some pretty large gains and matching drops in altitude. I like to get a little off the popular (read: mostly flat) trails to get a better workout and see some of the better views.

 Over those hills is Berkeley

Since I was on less well-traveled trails, the chances of seeing some of the local wildlife are pretty good. One of my reasons for having a walking stick is for the local rattlesnake population. It's a little early to see a large number of snakes on the trails, but as things warm up, sightings and the potential for bites increase. I do NOT plan on killing any snakes with my walking stick, but if confronted I will use it to move the snake out of the way so that both of us can continue safely on our way.

 Local wild life!

The stick worked perfectly, just as I'd hoped it would. If you've been following my articles, that might surprise you!

 On the Trail

There were no creek crossings, but I did have a slightly soggy area to get through, and the pointy end was used as a depth gauge to find the shallowest area to walk across.

 Cleaned up

I was out for 3 hours and covered not quite 5 miles and gained and lost ~2500ft.. After getting home, I wiped the stick off with a damp cloth and both pole and brass fitting look to have come clean and show no damage. I may disassemble the end just to be sure.

I'm very, very happy with the result of this project!

The Takeaway
  • Having a project turn out successfully with minimal tool use and expense is a big blessing! 
  • I need more steady and regular exercise. Seriously. 

The Recap
  • Nothing was purchased this week, but I need to spend a little more time on fitness, especially cardio work. 

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

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

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


aka "Saving a lot of ammo with a new sight".

Imagine if the scope/red dot/iron sights on a rifle get damaged and have to be replaced. If you're in a nasty situation (like an emergency), you don't want to spend any more ammo than necessary to get that new sight zeroed in. Boresighting is a way to do that.
Note: this only works on a firearm where you can remove the bolt (bolt-action rifles and some semi-auto) or the bolt group (AR-style rifles) to see through the barrel.
  1. Have a spot selected as your aiming point, somewhere from 25 to 50 yards away. I've got a round piece of wood painted bright yellow that I can stick on a fence.
  2. You'll need a solid, stable place and way to set the firearm up. A table or the hood of a car will do, with a couple of sandbags to hold the gun steady.
  3. Clear the weapon of any ammunition, then get it ready. In this case let's say you've got an AR that needs a new scope mounted, so you will need to take the upper receiver group off the lower, remove the bolt carrier group, and then set the upper onto your stable rest.
  4. Look through the bore and line it up with your aiming point in the center. Take your time. Then look through the sight, and adjust it so that it's on the aiming point. Look back through the bore in case anything shifted while you were fiddling with the sight and adjust if necessary. Repeat as necessary.
  5. When you've got them both dead-on, walk away for a couple of minutes to rest your eyes, then check both again. When you're sure both are on, you're ready to put the rifle back together, go to a suitable place and shoot to do final adjustments.

Do it well, and at the least you'll be on the paper and pretty close to zeroed, which means less shooting time and less ammo used in getting the final adjustments made.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Emergency Calling Lists

The rain is falling. The news says something about a hurricane in the offing. Your neighbor is building an ark out of gopher wood. Rather than dressing up as a capybara and trying to convince your neighbor to let you hitch a ride, you should probably check to make sure that your friends and family are okay, and possibly see if one of them happens to have a speedboat or something.

This is where having a calling list comes in handy.

A calling list is just what it says on the tin: a list of people to call in a disaster.(This can also function as a “medical emergency” list for the next time someone is in the hospital, enabling you to alert everyone that will want to know what happened with a minimum of effort and energy.)

Ideally, the people you are calling each have a list of people to call, and so on, forming a “phone tree”, where a large number of people get checked on and alerted to the latest disaster plans in a short period of time. I keep a current printed copy of the calling list somewhere easy to find and easy to acess for anyone I send to get it. I keep mine on my wall next to my refrigerator, right beneath the fire extinguisher.

A prepper's calling list should include:
  • All of your close friends and relatives that you will want to keep track of in case of emergency, prioritized by who is local and a prepper
  • A list of who each person on that list is responsible for calling
  • Any group preps that each person is responsible for
  • A secondary list of “these people will just want to know that I am fine” (Mothers that live a thousand miles away, for example)
  • You may want a “pre-disaster” and a “post-disaster” calling list. “Pre-disaster” is for things like an oncoming wild fire, where you have warning beforehand; “post-disaster” is for things like an earthquake, where you only have a chance to call them afterward.
  • This being 2018, I tend to have a list of people who prefer to text over those who call. Sending out a mass text is easier than calling each person, but dealing with the information management from the mass responses can be a pain. Use wisdom.
  • (If this is an option for you) Someone outside of the potential disaster zone, who can act as a coordinator.

Information to talk about:
  • The latest information on the disaster
  • Your current medical status in brief (just fine, broken arm, etc). This applies to both parties on the phone call or text.
  • Confirmation that the other party does not require aid (not necessarily medical)
  • Confirmation of any applicable meeting plans or meeting places
  • Any delegation of tasks that needs to happen
  • Confirmation that they will contact anyone else on the call tree for whom they are responsible

Other information to keep on hand:
  • A predefined meeting place for people to meet, well outside the likely disaster zone
  • A time frame for when you are likely to meet (hours, days etc.)
  • A list of your own immediate family/pets that you are responsible for, and the preparations you need to work on for them. 
    • People do dumb things when they are stressed from disasters, and having a written list ahead of time can save a lot of mental energy in a pinch. 
    • Being able to delegate tasks to someone can make a serious difference.
  • A list of local emergency numbers, as well as a list of radio stations, websites and other local information resources

Remember to have workarounds 
in case someone is sick/missing/not picking up their phone.
  • Make sure to assign the missing persons' tree calls to other people, or do them yourself so that everyone is covered
  • Leave a message with all the essential information that you would cover

I actually wrote a script for my calls
to ensure that if I have to delegate the phone calls to anyone that they can still cover all the important points:
“Hi, this is (name). (Disaster) is happening, and I wanted to call you to make sure that our plans are up to date.”

“I’m fine, but do you need anything?”

“Can you call the people on your list?”

“Cool. I will meet you at (Place) within a day and a half, on (Date). Talk to you soon.”
(Handy template: )

Calling lists make disasters less stressful to deal with, and can save a lot of stress and time when the disaster actually comes. If you have anyone else you are working with for your preps (even if you only have one person), they can save your bacon.

Good luck, and don’t lick the wires. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Striker and Tinder Revisited

We are revisiting last week's topic and using a striker on tinder materials commonly found in the house, but this time the materials do not have petroleum jelly added.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Canning Roundup

While I'm sure Erin and others would love for me to actually film or or talk in detail about canning from my perspective, that is a very long term project and to be honest I would just end up re-hashing what has been said and written hundreds of times. A round up post is far more practical and a better use of my time.

That, and I live in Phoenix, AZ. Canning anything now that the summer temps are bearing down on us? Please, guys, I might be masochistic but I'm not stupid.

We're going to be keeping it simple with four videos today from channels on YouTube that got it right.

This video is the first of three. I recommend watching the rest of the series.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Odds and Ends

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.

Yet another collection of topics too short to become stand-alone posts. Many are follow-ups or updates to previous posts, and some are things that catch my attention for a moment.

General Prepping
Being a Prepper is more than having emergency stores of food; it is also looking for everyday items that will come in handy, which is why I buy warehouse club packs of paper towels and toilet paper, even if they're a seriously large amount to store. I have the space, and compared to buying smaller packs in the grocery store, four times the quantity is about three times the cost.

Since I'm in a Big Box store every day, I see bargains and markdowns when they are just being rolled out. One such is the pending change from Phillips brand light bulbs to FEIT branded ones. Most Home Depot stores are in the beginning stages of the change now, with more markdowns (yellow tags) going on the shelves every day. Soon there will be a buyback and the remainder of the Phillips bulbs will be removed and replaced overnight. Some of the current listed prices are reduced as little as 10%, while others are now as much as 50% or more! I can tell you that types and quantities vary by location, so checking around for your most commonly used bulb could pay off in a big way!

I Can't Even
There are some things that seem too obscure to ever make it into common usage, like steel take-down chopsticks*, "all the lumens" tactical flashlights, and tactical tomahawks and axes.

Well, two out of three ain't bad.

 Exhibit 1a:

Exhibit 1b:
The Axe of Major Injury

When items that previously graced the back pages of "Tactical MARSOC Special SEALS Monthly" suddenly appear on your local Home Improvement store shelves, it's time to admit they're not as cool as first thought.

* I have a set of those chopsticks in my EDC Lunch Box. For reasons.

Walking Stick Update
Last weekend was previously booked up with activities, so there was no chance to take the almost Staff of Knife out for a Field Test. This coming weekend is open and the trails in a local regional park are calling! I will have a full report next week.

The Takeaway
  • Prepping is more mainstream than most people know. Having a budget, finding bargains and saving money all qualify as Prepping in my book! 
  • The "Trendy Tool Shark" has clearly been jumped. 

The Recap
  • I've got my shopping list of light bulbs, and also several friends' lists too. 
  • Nothing was purchased this week, especially not a tacti-cool tomahawk!

    Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

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

    NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

    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