Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Prudent Prepping: RE(I)-placing Gear

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

I like to see, feel, and try on my clothing before paying out my hard-earned Blue Collar Prepping budgeted cash. Doing this is harder and harder with so many stores closing or expanding their Online Only offerings. In the past I have shopped at REI, since they carried a wide selection of camping and rugged outdoor clothes. Nowadays I'm spending little money and less time in their stores, which is a shame since I need to buy some replacement items that REI has and I really like them. So why am I doing that?

REI does not sell guns. We believe that it is the job of companies that manufacture and sell guns and ammunition to work towards common sense solutions that prevent the type of violence that happened in Florida last month. In the last few days, we’ve seen such action from companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart and we applaud their leadership.

This week, we have been in active discussions with Vista Outdoor, which has recently acquired several companies that are longtime partners of REI. These include Giro, Bell, Camelbak, Camp Chef and Blackburn. Vista also owns Savage Arms, which manufactures guns including “modern sporting rifles.”

This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action. As a result, we have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.

Companies are showing they can contribute if they are willing to lead. We encourage Vista to do just that.

I believe that companies have the right to choose to do business with whomever they choose, for whatever reasons they choose. To do otherwise would be poor business and possibly un-American. I believe this decision is wrong for many different reasons, but it is their choice.

This puts me in a bit of a dilemma, since I need to replace some socks I've worn for the better part of ten years (no, not the same socks!) first purchased from REI and reviewed in this post a year and a half ago. I too have a right to shop where I want and spend my money however I choose, because the opposite would definitely be un-American.

I really like this sock, since it fits well and keeps my feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I'm now looking at websites for companies selling what appear to be the same sock, but I need to order and wait to see if in fact they really are the same. If not, I have to get an RGA, mail the items back, wait for a credit back to my card and then try a different company. Many of you younger people have no problem ordering and returning item after item until you get it correct. I have only one thing to say:

Get Off My Lawn!
Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino (2008)

I like these socks. I really, REALLY like them, and if the heel and ball of the big toe area weren't getting thin, we would not be having this conversation about capitalism, rights guaranteed (not given!) in our foundational documents, and socks. Especially socks.

I'll keep everyone up to date on how the search is going. Until then, Sourpuss McGrumpyface is signing off.

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, September 18, 2018

Electrical Troubleshooting: Tools

I have returned from my hiatus. Short answer to expected questions: my family is good and things are getting back to as normal as they ever are. Thanks to everyone who expressed concern about it.

During my absence, questions about basic home electrical maintenance came up among the staff, and I was asked to do a series on the topic since that's how I pay my bills and buy my toys. I'm more than happy to do this, both in the interest of helping folks be more self-sufficient, and also in the hopes that some of our bolder readers will have an eye towards doing this kind of work safely and properly.

Electrical work requires some tools that other tasks do not, and since these tools will help prevent accidents and injuries, this is a very good place to being my series. Basic variants of these tools can be obtained very economically, while fancier versions have almost no ceiling to their cost. For homeowner purposes, those basic devices will work just fine, without the added expense of features that rarely if ever will get used.

Non-Contact Voltage Detector
The non-contact voltage detector is the first line of protection from electrical shock. It detects the presence of voltage in a wire, switch, or outlet without requiring that bare metal be exposed. Every professional electrician I know carries one daily. Shocks hurt, and this is cheap insurance.

Outlet Tester
A huge number of the electrical issues that crop up in a home involve wall outlets. This device plugs into a standard outlet and diagnoses any wiring problems affecting it. It is a very quick way to find trouble points.

The multimeter is the ultimate diagnostic tool. Basic units test for the presence of AC and DC voltage, amperage, and electrical continuity; fancier ones can test electronic components, measure temperature, and a host of other things. An auto-ranging meter is far simpler, but adds a large amount to the cost. If possible, look for a meter that lists a feature of "audible continuity," meaning it will sound a tone when a circuit is electrically continuous. This is useful when trying to identify wires or locate a broken wire.

Amazon has three very affordable kits that have these tools for all your basic electrical diagnostic needs. You could purchase them separately, but with the pricing and quality of these kits, there isn't a reason to unless you're looking for a very specific feature.

All of them are quality brands, carry the same basic features, and cost less than a date to the movies. You could pick from the Klein, Amprobe, or Extech kits based solely on your favorite color (yellow, red, and green respectively) and not make a wrong choice.

Next week, I'll show you how to use these tools to perform a variety of common household electrical tasks.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Prepping for Asthma

As any prepper knows, preparedness is key.

And as anyone with chronic health conditions knows, emergency preparedness for those conditions can be nearly impossible at times.

I have lived with chronic, severe allergies for the last 20 years plus, but they have only notably impacted my life over the last 10. The most significant day to day impact of this has been asthma, specifically allergy-induced asthma that has made interacting with the general public difficult... such as when I have an allergic reaction to most kinds of soap. In addition to soap, I am badly allergic to mold, such as orange mold, various plants, and dust mites.

(I am aware that there will are those of you who claim that it is impossible to be allergic to soap. Feel free to convince my allergist, and my body, of that. When the in double-blind testing I have the same reaction, I promise you that it is not “attention seeking”).

Non-Medicinal Preps
In an emergency, I don't expect frequent access to allergy medication so I can restock what I typically keep on hand. This means that for whatever emergency I am planning against, I have to keep enough on hand to last me for quite some time. To that end, I specifically look for things that will last for a long time.
  • Instead of just getting medication, I try to control the environment. Medication tends to expire much more quickly then filters for your furnace or a facemask.
  • When I do get medication, I try to keep a stock of individually foil packed pills, so that if there is an emergency, I don’t have to open an entire container of them and risk contamination or expiration.
  • When I do stock up on medication, it's easier to do it in stages. The rule that I have is one – two – five. I try to get a one month supply, and then a two month supply, and then a five month supply, and then a year's supply, and so on. If I cannot afford a month's supply at a time of whatever it may be, I start with a day or week.

Over the Counter Preps
As to the specifics of what preps I keep on hand:
  • I keep a year's supply in bottles of three different over-the-counter allergy medications. I buy mine from Costco, but it does not especially matter where you purchase yours from as long as they work and have a basic minimum level quality packaging. I use, sometimes more than one at once, generic/store brand versions of Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec
  • I also keep a two-week supply of each of these in foil-wrapped packets. I actually buy name brand for these, because in my experience the packaging tends to be more waterproof. The Claritin and Zyrtec are even available as a dissolving tablet, which means you don't need water to take them. 
  • I keep a two week supply of Mucinex on hand. I'm still working up to a full year's supply, but the supply that I do have is all foil wrapped.
  • I keep chlorpheniramine (an alternative to benadryl) on hand. I buy this in bulk, since it is cheap, and I know people who are allergic to Benadryl.
  • As far as controlling the environment, I use a good spray sanitizer when I clean, and then I use a power fan style HEPA filter.
  • To supplement that, I use a box fan with a 20” x 20”  filter on it.
  • I even use a face-mask respirator on occasion. It has excellent filtration, and on days like today (where the air smells like barbecue) it ends up being a practical method to be able to breathe outside. I tried to keep between four and six filter replacements for it on hand, because I occasionally use the respirator for work reasons.

Prescription Preps
Everything I have mentioned so far is not a controlled substance, requires no prescription, and can be purchased over-the-counter at any drugstore with no problem. Everything else on my list is still legal, but may be more difficult to obtain in case of power outages or loss of infrastructure.
  • Sudafed and other decongestant medications require identification (such as a driver's license) to purchase in the USA. Pharmacies scan your ID, and to enssure that you’re not making methamphetamine with it they monitor and restrict how much you're allowed to purchase in a given month. I try to keep a one-month supply on hand, which is thankfully not very much. I do not use it often, but when I need it, I have to have some on hand.
  • I try to keep an inhaler on hand in my backpack, in my desk, and on my person. When I am in public a lot I end up going through an inhaler every 3 to 4 months, averaged over the several that I keep on hand. I also try to keep a foil-wrapped inhaler in my bug out bag, my roadside emergency kit, my primary toolbox, and one to three in the long term food storage. I know that sounds like a lot, but inhalers are inexpensive, (less than $10 each at Walmart without insurance), will be very difficult to get a hold of in a real emergency, and are something I will quite literally die without. I feel that overkill is a far smarter way to go then underkill.
  • Finally there is the EpiPen. I've never had to use one, and I hope I never do, but if I have to it will be there. I keep one in my backpack and my first aid kit. I would like to keep one in several other places, but they are quite expensive. I hope to remedy this with an EpiPencil.

It's possible to prep for asthma. I did it, so you can do it too. I know it sounds like a lot, and in some ways it is, but it's entirely doable.

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Other BOB in Your Life

Last week I showed you my Every Day Carry Bug Out Bag.

This week, I show you my car BOB and my house BOB. Each one is slightly more complicated than the last.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tire Plugs

Last week, I mentioned using a condom as a make-shift tire plug, and that the subject of tire plugs was worthy of its own article. 

I have family with professional tire repair tools, so fixing a flat is not normally a big deal for me. In years past and at work, however, there have been several times where I needed to get a vehicle back on the road and AAA wasn't an option. We experience a major wind event (exceeding 65 mph) where I live about once every five years or so. This leads to a lot of roof repair, and the roofing companies tend to scatter nails along the roads leading to the dumpsite for old shingles. Picking up a nail or a drywall screw in a tire is normal, but it's still annoying. In SHTF situations, like relocating after a tornado or hurricane, similar debris may be found on the roads so it would be wise to know how to do your own repairs.

About Tire Plugs

  • Tire plugs are a “quick and dirty” way to repair a hole in the tread of a car/truck tire. 
  • Repairing holes in the sidewall of a tire is not considered safe, but in an emergency I would give it a try since it isn't going to make the situation any worse if it doesn't work.
  • Plugs will only work on tubeless tires, so if you're driving an older vehicle with tube-style tires, you're out of luck. 
  • Plugs work best on smaller holes, like those caused by nails and screws, but I have seen people using multiple plugs on holes caused by bone fragments from a suicidal deer. 
  • Tire plugs are sold as “temporary” or “emergency” repairs, but I have seen them last for years. They work, are cheap, and are easy to use.
Here's a picture of a typical tire plug kit. The two T-handle tools are a rasp for roughing up the hole (left) and an insertion tool (right); the  strips are the plugs, and the green tube is full of rubber cement. Additional tools required are a pair of pliers for grabbing the offending nail and a way to get air back into the tire after it has been plugged.

Use of the Kit
  1. Remove the foreign object from the tire. You may need to take the tire off of the vehicle to access the hole, but not always.
  2. Use the rasp, the T-handled tool that looks like a round file, to roughen the hole. This will give the glue a better grip on the tire. Insert and remove the rasp a few times, giving a twist to the handle once or twice.
  3. Place one of the strips in the notch of the insertion tool. Aim for the middle of the strip so you have equal lengths on either side of the tool. If your insertion tool has a slotted hole instead of a notch, put the plug strip through the hole.
  4. Apply a liberal amount of the rubber cement (glue) to the strip. This will act as a lubricant until it dries and becomes part of the plug when it does.
  5. Insert the tip of the insertion tool into the hole in the tire and push firmly until about half of the plug is inside the tire. You don't need a bunch left sticking out, but you don't want the plug to go completely into the tire, either.
  6. Once you have inserted the plug, pull the insertion tool back out about a half-inch and turn it 90°, then pull it out the rest of the way. This should disengage the plug from the tool, and is something you'll be able to feel when you try to remove the tool. For the tools with a hole instead of a notch, simply pull straight back on the handle and the tool should open enough to release the plug inside the tire.
  7. If you want, trim the excess plug material sticking out of the tire close to the tread. This is not really needed, as it will wear off with normal travel.
  8. Re-install the tire if you took it off of the vehicle and re-inflate it to normal pressure. 
  9. You're ready to go if the tire holds air. The glue will harden in a few hours and driving on it won't hurt anything.
Tire plug kits are cheap. Amazon has them for sale from less than $10 for a simple kit to less than $50 for a kit that includes gloves, pliers and extra repair parts like valve stems (one of them even has its own compressor for inflating the tire after repair). The plug strips do have a shelf-life, normally around 5 years, and once they get dry and brittle they need to be replaced. Replacement strips are sold separately for around five dollars. If you don't want to use an online vendor, most auto parts stores will have similar kits on hand for about the same price.

This is a technique that I have used and have had good luck with, so I recommend it to anyone putting together a vehicle kit. Sometimes having a spare tire just isn't enough and you need to get back on the road ASAP.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Freeze Dried And Packaged Food Pails

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

My long, long-delayed plan to have food suitable for long-term storage is not ending. It is, perhaps, at the end of the beginning.

I must admit that I didn't buy the two buckets of assorted meals; that was the Master Chief. We've collaborated on several projects, and as his budget freed up some extra money, he bought two different assortments from the same company to show their basic meals. Besides, he liked what is in each bucket.

Wise Emergency Food Kits
Wise Food Kits
On the left is the Wise 56 Serving Emergency Food Kit, and the white bucket on the right is the 104-serving Wise Emergency Food Variety Pack. There's a small amount of overlap in each pail, but not enough to make a difference or make picking both a hard choice.

All information on contents and nutritional values are from the Wise Company.

The 56 Serving Kit contains:
  • Creamy Pasta and Vegetable Rotini (4 Servings) 
  • Savory Stroganoff (4 Servings) 
  • Chili Macaroni (4 Servings) 
  • Chicken Flavored Noodle Soup (4 Servings) 
  • Cheesy Macaroni (4 Servings) 
  • Pasta Alfredo (4 Servings) 
  • Hearty Tortilla Soup (4 Servings) 
  • Granola Strawberry Crunch (4 Servings) 
  • Brown Sugar and Maple Multi-Grain (12 Servings) 
  • Apple Cinnamon Cereal (12 Servings)

Additional Information:
  • Includes 1 total bucket 
  • Total calories: 13,600 
  • Average calories per serving: 243 
  • Food is safely sealed in Mylar pouches 
  • To avoid waste, each pouch conveniently contains 4 servings 
  • Lock-in stacking buckets for compact and secure storage without the need of shelving 
  • Grab-and-go handles for easy transport in an emergency 
  • 25 year shelf life
  • Total Weight: 8 lbs (per bucket)
How this breaks down into servings per-package and calories-per-serving is a little on the skimpy side if you are doing manual labor, but if you are bugged in or trapped by bad weather, there is enough to keep you stomach from growling.

The Variety Pack contains:
  • Pouch of creamy pasta and vegetable rotini (4 servings each) 
  • Pouch of pasta alfredo (4 servings each) 
  • Pouch of savory stroganoff (4 servings each) 
  • Pouch of creamy tomato basil soup (4 servings each) 
  • Pouch of freeze-dried peas and corn (8 servings each) 
  • Pouch of apple cinnamon cereal (4 servings each) 
  • Pouch of brown sugar and maple multi-grain (4 servings each) 
  • Pouch of butter sauce (8 servings each) 
  • Pouch of vanilla pudding (8 servings each) 
  • Pouch of creamy yogurt (8 servings each) 
  • 2 Pouches of whey milk (12 servings each)
Listed serving size and calories  per serving are similar enough to be not worth repeating.

The Chief did some of his own taste testing before ordering, and is confident that everything is suitable for people with standard taste buds and no restrictions on diet.

What About Restricted Diets?
I'm glad you asked! Wise Co. has a good selection of Gluten-Free foods available, along with organic foods.

I have to admit my personal favorite brand of freeze-dried food is Mountain House, but that purchase will have to wait until my budget opens up and their basic assortment arrives on the porch.

The Recap
The Takeaway
  • Deals are around if you look and wait for them to arrive. 
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, September 11, 2018

Guest Post: Thoughts on Ear Infections and Sepsis

by George Groot
George is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before.

Last month I spent some time observing a multinational military exercise out in the Pacific. One of the participants was living in an old military installation where all of the bathing water was non-potable, meaning that it was unsafe for consumption. He bathed in that water, and got a pretty bad ear infection as a result. Luckily, he was eventually prescribed antibiotics which helped his body clear the infection.

What should he have done? 
He should have followed the guidelines for drying his ears after leaving the shower, and then sterilizing his ears with hydrogen peroxide or other mixture which would have killed any bacteria trying to get in.

The lesson to be learned here is that non-potable water shouldn’t be used for hygiene purposes if you can avoid it.

In another case, last week I had a run-in with a family member who came down with a case of systemic infection by gram-positive bacteria through, as best we can tell, a cut to her skin. We don’t know if it was a self-inflicted cut that was the vector, but given the location of where the abscess formed in her body, I assess it as likely. Had she not been cutting herself as a coping mechanism for other stresses in her life she could have avoided sepsis entirely.

She also picks at scabs (also a dysfunctional coping mechanism), and if the wound wasn’t already infected, opening up the wound again increased the risk of infection. A proper antibiotic ointment and a covering bandage would have avoided sepsis entirely if this were the infection vector.

What did we do?
First, we got her medical treatment, which included two visits to the emergency room, multiple blood cultures to identify what sort of bacteria was multiplying in her body, and hospitalization to administer antibiotics via intravenous delivery.

Second, I mixed a bleach solution in a spray bottle and sprayed down all the surfaces that I knew she’d touched in the house. Generally sepsis is not contagious, but it can spread, and sterilizing surfaces is a smart thing to do. 

Finally, all of her clothes were washed in accordance with CDC MRSA sterilization guidelines or thrown away. The CDC guidelines for washing linens are to use hot water as high as your washer can go, use detergent, and dry in a dryer on high heat.

In the end, she got the advanced medical treatment she needed to deal with the infection, and we're working on the behavioral health issues as well.

How does this apply to prepping? 
The worst time to get a systemic infection is during an emergency when normal services are interrupted, so self-care is very important, especially for people who may have to deal with individuals who are less than highly functional in dealing with normal life.

Self-care is important and you will need to ensure that you have some sort of way to wash your body using soap and water, as well as have an adequate supply of antibiotic ointment on hand for minor scrapes and cuts. With a background in biochemistry, I know that the average person already has some type of staph bacteria on their skin. There are many different varieties of staph, and normally they can’t get inside to do much harm, but the moment your skin is opened up you are definitely at an increased risk of letting something on the outside get into the inside.

The old wisdom of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies here:
  • Have powdered bleach on hand (it lasts indefinitely, where liquid bleach has a pretty short lifespan before it reduces down to saltwater), as bleach can turn non-potable water into sterile water pretty effectively. 
  • Have antibiotic ointment on hand, and I recommend getting two different generic store brand types (zinc-based and triple antibiotic ointment) in case someone shows allergy symptoms to one of the ointments. 
  • Have a good supply of covering bandages on hand. 
  • Have a way to wash yourself with sterile water and soap. 
  • Hydrogen peroxide to dry out ears after swimming or other immersion in non-potable water should also be on hand (although a mixture of vinegar and rubbing alcohol has also been said to work as an ear drying mixture).

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Most Broccoli Prep Of All: Budgeting

This is not my most thrilling article.

In fact, my editrix Erin calls these “broccoli articles”: not very exciting, but fairly important all the same. You have to eat your veggies so that you can eat your dessert, after all. But I hope that I can at least smother the broccoli in cheese, at the very least.

This post is about foundational preps. You might actually call it prepping for preps. This post is, in fact, about having a budget.

Lets say that you want a new gun, like a limited edition Barrett M107A1. You feel that this will make a valuable addition to your preps, and that it will be well worth the several $14,000  that you spend on it. Unfortunately, it will be some time until you actually have the money. You will have to budget in order to save for it.

I have made a spreadsheet for your convenience. Very few people in this world enjoy budgeting, and this should make the process less painful. You should be able to download it and just plug in your numbers. When you are finished, the spreadsheet should help you visualize how long it will take to reach your savings goal, and how much effort you will have to put in to get there.

The spreadsheet is in ODF format, and should work just fine with most versions of Microsoft Excel and Open Office.
  1. When you open the spreadsheet, enter your income and it will auto-calculate tax. (This is designed for use in the USA, and even with that you will have to look up your state income tax. That said, it should be a good estimate for federal income taxes and withholding).
  2. Set your savings goal. In the case of the rifle, it should be several thousand dollars. It's helpful if you can download a picture of your goal and keep it in front of you; it's easier to keep the discipline to save if you can visualize it. 
  3. Set the amount that your goal costs, and the amount you have already (if anything).
  4. Input the numbers into the budget categories: food, shelter, transport etc. It will automatically tell you if you have any left over, and if you are going over budget. If you need additional budget categories, there are several sections left for you to use.
  5. When you get to the section of the budget that covers your savings goal, you can see how many weeks you have at your saving rate until you get to your goal. I have set it up so that it displays the time to save to your goal in weeks, biweekly periods (since many people get paid in two week periods) and months. You can add or subtract from other sections of budget until you are satisfied, and you will be able to see how much difference saving from each paycheck can make -- a few dollars a month can make a big difference!
  6. Sooner than you may realize, you will have reached your savings goal -- a new rifle, a new tent, or even just being out of debt (the most boring financial prep of all).

So go ahead and eat your broccoli, and don’t forget to practice.

Friday, September 7, 2018

EDC Bail Out Bags

Sure, you have every day carry (EDC) and you have a bail out bag (BOB).. but do you have an EDC BOB?

I do. Here's what I have in mine.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Prepping with Condoms

It seems that Scott and I are running into some of the same idea generators. Last month he wrote a piece about the multiple uses of condoms, and I found an article about how they are used for various non-traditional purposes in a third-world country this week. I'll see if I can elaborate on that and add to his post.

First, I need to point out that condoms come in a variety of materials now. Since so many people are sensitive or allergic to natural latex (the most common material for making condoms for many years), there are now several options on the market. I first ran into this about 15 years ago while discussing birth control with a younger friend who is acutely allergic to latex. She was looking for an alternative and I did some research for her, finding several brands that offer natural (usually made from the intestines of sheep) and non-latex plastic (polyurethane or polyisoprene) versions.

Natural Condoms
This is the oldest type of condom, dating back to the early Roman Empire.
  • Will not stretch very much and may have a narrower section or draw-string near the opening to help it stay put when used in its intended manner. 
  • Being made of a layer of animal gut, they are also not completely water-tight.
  • While helpful at preventing pregnancy, they will not stop the spread of STDs nor will they hold water for very long. 

Non-Latex Plastic Condoms
  • Polyisoprene is made by taking natural latex and reformulating it to exclude the chemicals that trigger latex allergies. 
  • Polyurethane is made from petroleum.
  • Both are water-tight plastics, but don't have the elasticity of latex. 
  • They won't expand to near the size of a latex condom, so their carrying capacity is greatly reduced. 

Secondly, we are specifying non-lubricated condoms for a reason. The condoms you'll find in most drug stores are lubricated with a non-petroleum (latex will dissolve in petroleum-based lubes), often “dry” lubricant that may be laced with a spermicide as a back-up form of birth control. The most common lubricant/spermicide I've seen in my research is nonoxynol-9 (N-9), a non-ionic surfactant (soap) which shortens the shelf-life of the condom. I haven't found any major side-effects to N-9, but you may not want it in contact with food or water because it is a detergent and will affect taste.

For the purposes of prepping, we'll stick to the more common (and much cheaper) latex condoms.*

Scott mentioned using a condom to protect electronics from moisture. This is an old stage-hand trick that has been used for decades; musicians and performers tend to sweat a lot on stage and electronic microphones don't like water, so it has been standard practice to wrap the electronics in a condom. Amazon even sells condom-like covers* specifically for this purpose, about $0.11 apiece in bulk.

Inflating a condom like a balloon will show you how much they can actually stretch. If you've never tried it, you'll be surprised at how much they can expand. The article I read mentioned fishermen using them as floats to carry their lines away from shore to get the baited hooks out where the bigger fish are. I know we've covered jug-fishing here before, and condoms would serve the same purpose as an empty milk/bleach jug.

If you've ever picked up a nail in a car tire, you may have seen the guys at the repair shop use a tire plug to fix the hole without taking the tire off of the rim. This is a quick and cheap solution, but it won't last as long as a patch placed on the inside of the tire, nor will it work if you have an antique with tube-style tires. This is a subject for a complete article on its own, but the simple procedure is:
  1. Remove the nail
  2. Clean the hole
  3. Insert the plug
  4. Air up the tire
For a small hole, a latex condom will suffice. Use a wooden dowel or rounded metal rod to get it into the hole; the rubber of the tire should spread enough to allow insertion, then snap back to original size around the condom, sealing the hole. Folding the condom will add thickness if you have a good-sized nail hole.

If you know anything about wine-making, you know that you need to use an air-lock to allow gasses formed during fermentation to escape while keeping outside air away from the fermenting juice. Sticking a condom over the (open) neck of a jug will cause the condom to expand as the gasses are produced. When the condom deflates, you know the fermentation is complete.

Being very elastic and water-tight, condoms can also be used to cover an open can or jar of food if there is no lid available. Opening a jar of something that will take a few days to consume (like jam or peanut butter) and losing the lid usually means that the food gets contaminated or spoils rapidly.

For something that is cheap and easy to store, the common condom is a multi-purpose prepping supply that is limited in its usefulness only by your imagination. Think about it for a while, and when you finish giggling, let us know what uses you can come up with.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Guest Post: Regarding Altoids Tins and Sodbuster Knives

by Garry Hamilton

The "Altoids Tin Survival Kit" has been done to death, yet here I am offering to expand on a specific niche of a specific tool.

One of the basic precepts of the Altoids Kit is that it should (must?) contain at least one cutting tool. I've seen as many as three in a single tin, including a tiny knife, a razor blade & handle, and a two-dollar credit-card-sized multi-tool with a sharpened edge.

I've recently been doing some sampling of current sodbuster knife designs, builds, and quality. During this exercise, I stumbled over an Altoids tin while holding a sodbuster. That was all it took.

Why Sodbusters?
Short answer: More than ten years of trying out different knife designs.

The longer answer: As I've tested and tried dozens and dozens of knives over the last decade and a bit, I've had more than a dozen "favorite" designs. I've fallen in love with some old patterns and some new patterns, some simple designs and some complex designs.

However, every time I have to think about what kind of knife I'd be willing to a) bet my life on, b) buy and hide against the day I "might need it," and c) recommend to others for that same thing, I find myself leaning strongly to the simple ones.

What are the defining characteristics of a sodbuster? Are there actual rules? Well, like the pirate said, "they're more like guidelines."
  1. Slipjoint, meaning a simple folding knife having a backspring which holds the knife either open or closed. The traditional slipjoint has no locking mechanism. There's usually a nail nick on one side of the blade to make it easy to open.
  2. No bolsters, meaning none of those cool metal end pieces that so many traditional knives have. Some knives have two bolsters (see most stockman patterns, as well as most folding hunters), some have a single bolster (certain "gentleman's" knives), and some have none (most sodbusters).
  3. A straight, slightly broad, plain-edged (non-serrated) blade, with a tip more rounded than pointy. It turns out that this is one of those "guidelines" I mentioned. This blade will typically be either a mild drop point or, more olde skool, a trailing point profile. However, I've seen some that undeniably have a clip point. Them be "guidelines" for sure.

In general, a sodbuster is a working knife and, therefore, typically robust. They will often have somewhat thicker spines than other knives the same size. The blade will typically be a little broader than other the same size (although in my photos, you'll see that's also not always the case) and, being a working knife, its design lends itself to very good cutting characteristics and versatile applications.

In the hand, I have found that a sodbuster is bigger in application than the tape measure would suggest. I've used a 3 5/8 inch blade to make a complete salad, cutting up all the veggies and the head of lettuce with it. That's normally a job for a five or six inch blade, but the sodbuster was happy to do it. And then, just to prove I could, I used the smaller 2 5/8 inch Sodbuster Jr. to do the same thing.

So we have a mechanically simple knife with a working blade that's bigger than its measurements, which is also lighter than similarly sized knives because no bolsters means less metal.

What else is attractive about sodbusters? Well, there are more than a dozen good brands and many of them have very comfortable price points. Sure, you can blow a hundred bucks on a Queen Cutlery piece, or one from Great Eastern Cutlery but, unless you're well heeled, that's not what you'll want to "buy and hide" against possible future need.

Conclusion? Simple, inexpensive, generously proportioned, remarkably effective knife that's small enough to tuck away for that unlikely day when, somehow, you have suddenly lost your trousers and need to cut some fishing line or tent cordage or maybe a rope belt for that makeshift kilt (and what the heck happened to your pants??).

Which Sodbuster Do I Use?
To begin with, let's have a look at some sodbuster designs. It should be understood that W.R. Case & Sons (Case XX Knives) owns the trademark "Sod Buster" and "Sod Buster Jr." so that other knife companies have to use other names, like "Range Buster" or "Dirt Buster" or "Ranch Buster." Historically, "sod buster" has been a slang term for "dirt farmer," often used disparagingly by their contemporaries. Today, those who work with their hands have accrued some rear-view-mirror respect, and naming working tools after them has become acceptable, even popular.

I'm not going to go through the gymnastics of trademark and copyright for this study, rather, I'm just going to call them all "sodbusters."

The first picture is a collection of full-sized sodbusters. I've marked it up to indicate maker and country of origin.

I should mention that country of origin is part of the reason for this essay. I've observed over the last ten-plus years that the build quality coming out of China and Taiwan has steadily climbed, given the steady knowledge transfer and manufacturing discipline resulting from some of America's top knife manufacturers taking some of their operations overseas. We will leave the discussion of the economics driving that trend for another time.

Gerber took many of their designs to China, and suffered a huge hit to their reputation when the resulting quality of builds and materials and heat treatment fell off sharply, to the point where many cutlery stores would no longer carry the Gerber line. Schrade, Camillus, Frost, Buck, Spyderco, and others have all gradually made a similar move, but some of them learned from the mistakes of others. It didn't take long for Buck and Spyderco to grasp that you have to put your own people on the ground where the knives are being made to enforce QC and process rigor. Other big names followed suit -- Boker, Kissing Crane, Linder, etc. -- and now there are Chinese builds of a broad selection of brands.

It didn't take too many years for smaller brands and for the Chinese themselves to take advantage of these newly mastered technologies and produce their own lines of surprisingly high-quality, low-cost, often attractive knives. And it was noticing this which first led to me taking a new sampling of current builds.

(By the way, not all countries have caught up. One of the samples I got was from Pakistan. The build quality seemed okay, but the fact that its handle turned anything it touched red rendered it unusable. Had to send it back.)

So, back to the sodbusters. We won't be discussing the full-sized sodbusters beyond noting that they came first, and the smaller "junior" designs came later. That, and noting that a large, or even a medium, sodbuster won't fit in an Altoids tin.

See the frame comparing the three basic sizes of sodbuster. Also the two showing the actual measurements.

 An Altoids tin with all three stuffed into it, just to show it can be done.

Just for fun, I've also included a couple of frames with "sodbuster-like" knives (Swede 38 by EKA). They would be a viable replacement if the tins were a little bigger.

Then we have a spread of several sodbusters along with two which are sodbuster-like and which will also fit in the tin.

My Finalists

So, let me talk about these three pieces. Two of them are sodbusters (yellow Case, orange Boker), and the other is this oddball Italian thing (yellow MAC). It's a promotional item that's not listed on their site.

I picked it up on eBay as more of a curiosity than anything else. Don't know what I expected, but I've been carrying it for a week and it's doing a good job of being a lightweight, sharp, very pocketable knife, so it got invited to the show.

In this photo, the Case sodbuster cost around $28. It was an eBay buy, so that price is kind of a plus-or-minus five bucks thing. The orange Boker cost $11, also on eBay, so allow +/- $5 slop factor. And the Italian MAC was $1, plus $7 shipping & handling, so $8 total.

Given that the Boker is only $3 more, and given that its design is substantially better and its build quality is outstanding, coupled with the fact that of all the sodbusters evaluated it is the most compact, my conclusion is that it's probably the best compromise of quality and price and form for this application.

However, I should mention that I think I now have a source for the Italian MAC folder where I can get them for a couple of bucks each and buy, say, ten of them and only pay shipping on the single package. That's $2.25 x 10 = $22.50, plus $7.00 shipping for a total of $29.50, and if you split that out, it's about $3 per knife. So if I'm looking to put together a real bargain kit, $3 is a pretty compelling alternative. (Of course, if I buy 20, that's $45 and, allowing $10 for shipping, that's about $2.75 each.) And I've verified that it's an adequate build for "unplanned camping" adventures.

Am I going to feel bad about sequestering $11 to $16 worth of blade in a seldom-if-ever used tin? Nah, not really. But $3 for that same application? Heck, why not?

And remember, if I have my pants on when the "bad thing" happens, I'll already have better options on my person. Still, the kit might have loaner or exchange value. You never know.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Guest Post: Homemade Beef & Vegetable Soup, Southern Farm Style

by Stephanie Osborn

A lot of folks meet me and seem to think I grew up in the city, but I didn’t. I’m a rural Tennessee country gal,  and one of my favorite “harvest coming in” meals my mom made was homemade beef & vegetable soup with cornbread.

Both sets of grandparents had farms, and my parents had a big garden every year. Between all three, it was rare for us to have to buy veggies in the summertime once the plants started “coming in.” Summer evenings were spent communally, sitting on the front porch talking and prepping veg — shucking burlap bags (“tow sacks”) full of corn, snapping multiple paper grocery bags of green beans, shelling those same grocery bags full of crowder, black-eyed, or field peas. The completed beans and peas were usually dumped into giant mixing bowls resting in our laps. Sometimes we juggled two bowls — one prepped, one unprepped — and the hulls or strings would be dumped into another of those paper bags on the opposite side from the one full of veggies.

Since getting married, we’ve lived in the ‘burbs and I haven’t had room for a garden, and efforts at raising veggies and herbs in planters were flat failures due to location, drought causing the city to clamp down on water usage, and the local insect population. So I learned to wing it, substituting what I couldn’t get fresh with canned — which means this recipe can be made at any time of year, inside or out. I usually make it in a crock pot, but you can use a stock pot on the stove, or a kettle over the fire, just as readily; it isn’t fancy, and it isn’t hard, and there isn’t a hard-and-fast recipe, but it IS good!

  • ~1+ lb. stew beef (or a comparable amount of leftover roast, steak, etc.)
  • 2-3 medium to large red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
  • 1-2 bell peppers, cored/seeded/ribbed and cut into 1” squares (may also add 1-2 small chiles of your choice, if preferred)
  • 2-3 fresh tomatoes, peeled/seeded, chopped OR 1 can stewed tomatoes, broken up
  • 1 white or red onion (Vidalia or other mild variety preferred), peeled/chopped
  • 1 can whole kernel corn (or equivalent fresh corn, cut from cob, plus beef stock)
  • 1 cup crowder or field peas
  • 1 cup green beans, stringed and snapped
  • 1lb sliced button mushrooms, lightly rinsed OR 2 cans sliced/stems & pieces mushrooms
  • 2c. fresh coarsely-grated cabbage
  • 1c. sliced carrots, OR 1sm. can carrots
  • 1qt. home-canned tomato juice, OR 1 single serving of V8 juice with enough beef stock to equal ~1qt, OR 1 single serving of V8 juice plus one beef bouillon cube with enough water to equal ~1qt
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed, OR 1-2tsp dried garlic or garlic powder (DO NOT USE GARLIC SALT)
  • Herbs of your choice: sage, basil, oregano, marjoram, paprika, etc. as you like. If you added chiles, a hint of cilantro would be good.
  • Salt & pepper to taste

  1. If beef is raw, lightly season, then sauté cubed meat in hot pan until outside is seared.
  2. Place beef in bottom of a large cooking pot. Add, in order, carrots, potatoes, onion, pepper, peas, beans, cabbage, corn (with liquid, if canned), tomatoes (with liquid, if canned), mushrooms (with liquid, if canned). 
  3. Add seasonings, including garlic, and bouillon (if using). 
  4. Add liquids for broth (tomato juice, V8, stock or water); liquids should cover the veggies completely. (Don’t worry if you don’t use a whole quart. This is all approximate, and it will still taste great.) 
  5. Do not stir at this point.
  6. Cover and place on/over heat (crock pot, stove, fireplace, or cook fire), bring to a simmer, and allow to cook slowly for several hours, until beef is cooked through and vegetables are tender. 
  7. After the hardest veggies (potatoes, onions, peppers) start to tenderize, begin to stir the soup to ensure nothing sticks and flavors are distributed. 
  8. Add additional salt & pepper to taste, and serve with fresh hot cornbread.

This will feed two people for several meals, or a large family for one meal.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Razor Knife Review

Most preppers expect to need a knife of some sort when disaster strikes, and because preppers find themselves in so many different situations, there is not uniform solution for everyone.

I prefer to carry a pocket knife, but sometimes it makes more sense to carry a razor knife, especially at work where you may need to open packages or otherwise cut things, but a regular pocketknife is seen as a weapon.

To that end I decided to do a head-to-head review of two of my favorite razor knives, the DeWalt Premium and the Milwaukee Fastback, with a specific emphasis on their prepping uses.

My ideal razor knife is:
  • Easy to use
  • Safe (I have had some terrifying experiences with older tools)
  • Durable (no problems with a little bit of water or dirt)
  • Robust in operation, does not jam etc. easily
  • Fits in well with my other preps
With those qualifications in mind, let's review some knives.

DeWalt Premium Utility Knife

The DeWalt Premium has a solid single-piece shell and seems to hold together fairly well even in harsh environments like construction work.

It has several razor blades' (officially five, but I have fit as many as eight) worth of storage built into a compartment that stays closed even when accidentally dropped.

I like how the larger handle gives me more grip and power. It actually seems to be a little bit more precise, even though it is larger than the Milwaukee. This makes carving things, and carving bits off of things (such as fire starters), much easier.

I use the loop at the end of the knife much more than I thought I would. It makes a good attachment point for a carabiner or a loop of rope, and it allows me to clip it to a bag or similar until I need it. I have even put a zip tie through it in order to identify it as mine when somebody else has an identical knife.

I actually prefer the tool-free blade change on this one to the Milwaukee. Neither one requires a tool to change the blade, but I prefer the DeWalt method to the Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Fastback Utility Knife

The Milwaukee Fastback cuts well and folds up fairly small, but because it is a fold-out knife, it has an unwieldy feeling when due to the large handle and shorter total length.

There is space for up to four extra razor blades of storage, compared to the DeWalt's 5-8.

It has a pocket clip on the other side which has held up well over several years of use, and I know multiple people who use this knife for everyday carry.

The button lock on the fold-out portion works well, but it occasionally opens inside my pocket. Be careful about that!

I prefer the line cutter on this one to the line cutter on the DeWalt for ease of use. When fishing or cutting lots of small cord, it works quite well.

It's a good knife overall, but the occasional opening makes it a no-go for me.

Honorable Mention: Gerber EAB

The Gerber EAB doesn't fulfill all of my needs in a razor knife because I end up cutting through a lot of larger objects and I need a longer handle for leverage.

That said, I ownone of these, and despite its size it has made a remarkable general purpose tool. It has no spare blade storage, and it requires a tool of some sort (such as a dime, butter knife, or even a screwdriver if you really feel the need to) to change the blade, but it seems to do a fairly good job overall.

Verdict for Preppers
I prefer the DeWalt in every single category other than portability. If I needed something that folded, I would choose the Milwaukee.

Good luck, and don’t forget to practice.

The Fine Print

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

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