Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Prudent Prepping: the SFD Responder 2.0

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

I returned early Monday from a three-day seminar only to hear the all news radio station doing non-stop reporting on the shooting in Gilroy. 

Where I had been had very similar security: fencing to wall off attendees from the public, metal detectors, wanding and pat downs, bag screening and a very visible police/private security presence. I felt reasonably safe -- or as safe as anyone can be in a crowd of 15,000 people, in a basketball arena, in a major city. 

I did pack as much stuff as I reasonably could into my computer bag, including some first aid gear, but I carried it a little differently. 

Oh, by the way, I made it back with my Kershaw Leek in my luggage and not in a mailer!

SFD Responder 2.0
The initials SFD stand for Safer Faster Defense, the name of the company which produces the Responder. A friend of the blog wrote about his personal experience with it with enough of a glowing endorsement that I bought one a year ago.

Yes, I've had this for a year and haven't done a real test on it. Until now.

From the SFD website:
  • Pockets are made of 2 layers of tough elastic cloth, lightweight and breathable. It conforms to the contents inserted allowing for secure and discreet carry of the equipment when walking, running or jumping.
  • We added 2 vertical 1/2″ silicone strips in each pocket to further improve the retention of the equipment.
  • Open bottom pocket design helps to “stuff” equipment in and keep it there securely.
  • Bottom of the pockets is reinforced with MIL-W-17337, class II nylon webbing and won’t fray from rubbing on shoes/boots like the elastic cloth would.
  • Two PALS MOLLE laser cut in LAHYCO®, a proprietary blend of Hypalon® and Cordura® 500D, offer more storage options if you need it. Using Shock Cord, Velcro or small pockets.
  • The female Velcro cloth is sewn on 3D Air Mesh helping tremendously with comfort, fit and breathability.
  • We use the new Velcro Ultra-Mate® for the closing tab. This wide Velcro tab is more rigid and has smaller “teeth” than regular Velcro. It adheres better and stays put even when saturated with sweat or water.
  • Long enough to fit over most tall boots, duty, tactical or hiking.
  • Weight: 3.8 oz.
  • Dimensions: 20” L x 4” W. With the load in the pictures the SFD Responder is 1 ¼ inch thick max.
  • *Items shown are for size and NOT INCLUDED in the SFD Responder!

NOTE: I am not a medical professional and what I carry is not to be used as a first aid recommendation.

I've worn the Responder 2.0 several different times, but until last weekend I hadn't worn it long enough to get a feel for how it would be to wear it every day, several days in a row. I usually wear a belt kit containing the things talked about in this post; what made me change to the ankle kit at the conference was having to sit all day for three days listening to speakers. As mentioned, wearing my belt pouch while sitting or driving pushes the pouch into my hip with no way to find a comfortable position.

I've been asked why I don't wear the ankle band at work, and it boils down to fit. I can't get the Responder 2.0 to stay down when I'm wearing my work pants: they're regular cut and fit Levi's jeans, and the legs are a bit too narrow, which causes the pants leg to snag on the Responder and either pull the band up or cause the pants to ride up over the band. I didn't have this problem at the conference since the dress code was Business Casual and denim pants were not recommended. My slacks were wide enough to not ride up or pull the band up.

Getting it through security was very simple: I kept the band in my bag and put it on when I made it through the metal detector! I believe the big concern was obvious weapons, unsealed bottles and outside food. I wore it from 7 in the morning until 10 at night all three days with only one very minor problem: when wearing the Responder, it rubbed me very slightly above my socks. Now this was not enough to be a deal breaker, but from now on I will be wearing socks that are tall enough to extend above the Responder. In its defense I have to say that there were no lumps or rough edges that rubbed me raw; I just didn't like the feel of it against my skin.

One other point I'd like to make is the SFD Responder 2.0 is not cheap, and by that I mean it is both "not inexpensive" and also "made well". The quality and finish are obvious when you pick the band up and feel it, so there is definitely value here.

The Takeaway
  • Making compromises doesn't necessarily mean doing without.
  • I still need to be prepared, no matter the social situation.

The Recap
  • One SFD Responder 2.0 in black: $68.95 from their website, currently on back-order.
* * *

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, July 30, 2019

Ladder Safety

I'm a short guy. I also work in the construction industry, which means I pretty much live my life on a ladder. While ladders are wonderful for accessing high places, they also can be rather dangerous. Like most things, that danger can be mitigated with some basic safety precautions.

I'll start by telling a cautionary tale: Some time back, I had to get into an attic with an entrance door at an odd height. It was just tall enough that getting in via a 6' ladder wasn't an appealing idea, but just low enough that an 8' ladder was too tall. Being inventive and fearless, with a get-it-done attitude, I leaned the 8' A-frame ladder against the wall at a too-shallow angle and scampered up toward the door. Just as my upper body got into the space, my weight shifted enough that the ladder chose to no longer stay in place. The ladder hit the floor, and I landed on my ribs, halfway into the door. I then slipped and hit my arm, and slipped further until I was hanging by my hands and able to drop to the floor. Other than a couple bruised ribs and my pride, I was relatively unhurt, but it could have been far, far worse.

According to a 2014 report by the CDC (the most recent data I could find), ladder falls cause over 100 deaths per year, and almost 50,000 injuries in 2011. That figure only counts injuries treated by hospital emergency departments, so the actual number is probably much higher. In addition, over 15,000 of those injuries caused employees to lose at least one day of work.

Examining what went wrong after an incident is a huge part of job site safety programs, and is a great way to learn and prevent future accidents in your personal life as well. Looking at my own incident, I made multiple mistakes that led to my fall.

  1. I leaned a stepladder against a wall. Most A-frame stepladders aren't designed for this and can slip and fall just like mine did. 
  2. I also leaned it against the wall at a terrible angle, which encouraged it to fall.
  3. I should have had my co-worker brace the ladder while I was climbing it. This is a good practice when you're transferring your weight from a ladder to an elevated work area. Even set up properly, ladders are not incredibly stable, and can move or tip when their load is off-center.

After looking at my mistakes, some changes were made in how we accessed that area. By turning the ladder 90 degrees to the left, we could set it up normally. It was a bit more awkward going through the access door, but the ladder was more stable. I also got my co-worker to support the ladder any time I have to move on or off it to an elevated area. Generally, this isn't a problem, but professional paranoia keeps me a professional.

OSHA, the arbiters of working safely in the USA, publishes a comprehensive list of ladder safety rules. They also publish rules for almost any job site safety concern you can think of. Study them, think ahead, and you can prevent serious injuries or even death.

Be aware, be safe, and be smarter than me.


Planning is prepping. Prepping is planning. Stolen from my Youtube channel from another topic. However this first installment definitely applies here.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Overcoming Hoarding

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
I have mentioned before that my father is a hoarder. I think it's time that I admit I have hoarding issues as well, although thankfully they aren't as bad as my father's and I'm fighting them because they annoy me severely.

I feel the need to justify myself, so please allow me to explain:
  • I have literally lost count of the number of times I've thrown something away only to need it later. While I acknowledge this is confirmation bias at work and that there are many more times when I haven't needed something I've thrown away, I still get a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I realize had X in my possession and now I need it, as if I've betrayed myself. Thus I find myself reluctant to dispose of anything useful because "I might need it later." So at least I'm not hoarding newspapers and pizza boxes!
  • I hate waste, by which I mean even if I've never used a particular something, I don't want to trash it if it's still serviceable. This is why I have so many hex wrenches: they're still perfectly fine tools and they don't belong in the garbage. If there were some way for me to extract value from them I would do so happily; for example, that I lived in the fictional Star Trek universe, then I would happily shove them all back into the replicator and turn them into credits, because then I wouldn't be wasting them. Alternately, if I could give them to someone who wanted them I would do that, because again that's not wasting a resource, that's transferring it to someone else. 
  • I'm sentimental about some things. There's some stuff from my childhood which makes me smile inside and I can't bear to get rid of it, even though I know I ought. 

The good news is that I know it's a problem and I'm working to correct it. 
  • I have realized that my mental happiness today is more important than the value of any one thing. For example, if I am irritated because I keep having to step over/around X, and X is not likely to serve me in the future, then I need to get rid of it because "not being irritated on a daily basis" has a value as well, and that value is likely far larger than whatever nebulous benefit I get from X. 
  • If I am undecided about something, I hide it, by which I mean "I put it in a bag and remove it from my sight." If I need it, then I know where to go to get it. But after a period of time -- a week, a month, a year if need be -- I go to that bag to clean it out. It's so much easier to throw away something that I know I have neither used nor needed for a long period of time. 
  • Sometimes it's the little steps which matter. Tackling a large pile can be daunting, but it's a lot easier to do it one "bite" at a time. If there is a collection of stuff which needs sorting, when I go past it I make a point of taking one item from the pile and then determining what to do with it. Curiously, it's easier from a mental standpoint for me to dispose of a single thing than an entire box of them. 
That's how I'm dealing with my hoarding impulses to (hopefully) ensure they don't become a large problem in the future. If you have similar problems, I'd love to hear how you have coped with them. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

People in the Aftermath

After a natural disaster hits, you can expect four types of people to show up almost immediately. The timing, numbers, and duration will vary with the size of the disaster and the local population, but they're almost inevitable.

First Responders and Government
Police and fire departments do a good job of getting to the site of a disaster and checking for casualties. They don't normally stick around for long, because most disasters will have them covering more area than they have the manpower to manage.

After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005 , the government disarmed anyone who chose to remain in their homes during the clean-up. Most states have since passed laws forbidding such foolishness. FEMA stories are countless and rarely have a happy ending.

In our wonderful age of social media and live news coverage, everyone within 100 miles of a disaster will know within 100' of where the damage has occurred. I tend to lump local media outlets into this category as well, as they're not there to help or hinder but will instead clog the roads and generally get in the way in order to get the right picture for their FaceBook/Instagram/news story.

I've seen this after a tornado hit a rural area, when the ambulances couldn't get up the gravel road because of all of the cars full of gawkers wanting to see and be seen with the damage. News crews vary, and most will obey police orders if told to stay back, but the desire to be the first to report a story can make them a nuisance. Live, on-the-scene reporting also provides targeting information for the group below.

Scum that will steal anything they can get, they seem to pop up after every disaster. We've seen several reports of looters following the flooding this spring here in Iowa, which is a fairly low-crime state. After every hurricane, massive fire, or earthquake you'll find reports of looters going through damaged areas looking for things to steal. “Looters will be shot” signs are a legal gray area depending on your local politicians; in some areas the signs could be used as proof of premeditation if a looter were to be shot, changing it from self-defense to murder. Timing will vary, with the local idiots being the first to try for an easy score and the opportunistic ones traveling from miles away showing up hours and days later.

A subset of looters are the scam artists. We get them every time we have a major storm that does damage to roofs and siding, let alone a tornado. They'll come in from out of town, give an estimate for the work to repair something, get a deposit or down payment, and never be seen again.

Friends, family, neighbors, insurance adjusters, and local groups in the more rural areas will show up and do what they can to help recover from a disaster. Food, shelter, clothing, equipment, and manpower are usually offered to victims of a disaster rapidly. Urban areas have shown that they can band together and help each other out if the disaster is large enough. The response after 9/11 is a good example, as firefighters and other first responders were given food, water, a place to rest, etc. for weeks after the attack. Aid came from all over the country.

Knowing what to expect is the first step in planning for how to deal with a disaster. Don't forget to take the people around you into consideration.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Prudent Prepping: Travel Tips and the $150 Leek

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

I'm traveling soon, and there are a few things that I need to resolve now instead of waiting until the last minute... like I've done the previous three trips.

Pack It Early
Get everything sorted, organized and laid out, even if it's not going into the suitcase this minute. It's good advice, so what spell is on me that prevents me from getting the necessary things into the bag? There's no magic involved here, I just seem to leave something home. The things I've regularly left are: tooth brush, tooth paste, razor, cord for the electric razor (when I used one), hair brush, floss, shampoo and flip flops. Not everything on this list was left out all at once; just random items in groups of three or less. Putting everything out where it can be seen seems to help, but not always.

Clean It Out?
I'm taking my sling bag with me, a Rush Moab 6 (talked about here and other places). By putting the whole bag sinside my suitcase, I won't have to worry that something odd setting off a TSA scanner, which means I can carry a real knife and a Leatherman multi-tool around with me.

... except into the building where I'm being trained. Yes, even in a gun friendly state there are restrictions in place for convention centers and other public places. What I'm really having a hard time compromising on is not having a pocket knife with me where it belongs: in my pocket.

The $150 Pocket Knife
I know this looks like your normal, everyday Kershaw Leek -- but it isn't! This is my EDC knife even if I can't carry it clipped to my pocket, since it technically violates my employer's "No Weapons" policy, so it sits in the bottom of my front pocket. Which still violates policy, but at least it isn't obvious.

My personal knife
From the Amazon page for the Leek:
  • Versatile 3.5 in. blade made with 14C28N Sandvik Steel, one of the highest performing knife steels in the world, for increased hardness, corrosion resistance and edge retention
  • 410 stainless steel alloy handle provides resistance to corrosion and extra strength and hardness
  • Frame lock gives the knife a slim sleek style while holding the blade open during use; Tip Lock keeps blade closed during carry
  • SpeedSafe Assisted Opening allows opening with minimal effort and maximal functionality; simple pocket carry and tactical engagement with strong or weak hand
  • Blade Length: 3 in.; Closed Length: 4 in.; Open Length: 7 in.; Weight: 3 oz.

After the events in this post I've mailed it back to myself twice more, which has pushed the total price of my knife to over $150. I know the controversy with safeties on knives, and how many people don't like them, but since this is in my pocket I don't want the knife to accidentally deploy. Yes, it has happened somehow, and that's a very uncomfortable feeling.

I really like the Stainless Steel version because it has been in my pants for over ten years and doesn't show wear. The listed steel is good for holding an edge, but not necessarily easy to sharpen if it gets dull. My Leek will be going into the sling bag as I leave for the airport from work, and then into the suitcase.


The Takeaway
  • Planning for a trip is the same as planning to Bug Out: everything needs to be planned and already on a list.

The Recap
  • Nothing was purchased but I really like the Kershaw Leek: $44.25 from Amazon with Prime shipping. 

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.

Saturday, July 20, 2019


Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
It happens to the best of us: we run out of enthusiasm, of ideas, of energy for a thing which used to propel and motivate us. Sometimes all that's needed is a break from the thing, like a vacation, to put that pep back in our step. But sometimes, that drain lasts.

I'm speaking from personal experience. I haven't been writing many articles for Blue Collar Prepping because I'm burned out. Specifically, I can't think of anything new to say on the topic of prepping. Now this would all be well and good if I were confident that I'd written the definitive blog on prepping; I'd simply announce that BCP was done, mission accomplished, and shut everything down.

But I know that I haven't written everything that needs be said on prepping, or learned all there is to learn on the subject. I'm pretty clearly burned out on it.

Burnout is a very real problem because it can affect everyone. Worse, it can affect people during the worst possible times, such as after a disaster or during a long-term survival situation. A lot of burnout can be attributed to having to do too much for too long by yourself, without rest, which unfortunately describes the realities of long-term survival.

Here are the signs of Burnout, cribbed shamelessly from a 2013 Psychology Today article:
  • Chronic fatigue. In the early stages, you may feel a lack of energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted, and you may feel a sense of dread about what lies ahead on any given day.
  • Insomnia. In the early stages, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep one or two nights a week. In the latter stages, insomnia may turn into a persistent, nightly ordeal; as exhausted as you are, you can't sleep.
  • Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention. Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can't get your work done and everything begins to pile up.
  • Physical symptoms. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches (all of which should be medically assessed).
  • Increased illness. Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.
  • Loss of appetite. In the early stages, you may not feel hungry and may skip a few meals. In the latter stages, you may lose your appetite altogether and begin to lose a significant amount of weight.
  • Anxiety. Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes with your ability to work productively and may cause problems in your personal life.
  • Depression. In the early stages, you may feel mildly sad and occasionally hopeless, and you may experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness as a result. At its worst, you may feel trapped and severely depressed and think the world would be better off without you. (If your depression is to this point, you should seek professional help immediately.)
  • Anger. At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace. (If anger gets to the point where it turns to thoughts or acts of violence toward family or coworkers, seek immediate professional assistance.)
  • Loss of enjoyment. At first, loss of enjoyment may seem very mild, such as not wanting to go to work or being eager to leave. Without intervention, loss of enjoyment may extend to all areas of your life, including the time you spend with family and friends. At work, you may try to avoid projects and figure out ways to escape work altogether.
  • Pessimism. At first, this may present itself as negative self-talk and/or moving from a glass-half-full to a glass-half-empty attitude. At its worst, this may move beyond how you feel about yourself and extend to trust issues with coworkers and family members and a feeling that you can't count on anyone.
  • Isolation. In the early stages, this may seem like mild resistance to socializing (i.e., not wanting to go out to lunch; closing your door occasionally to keep others out). In the latter stages, you may become angry when someone speaks to you, or you may come in early or leave late to avoid interactions.
  • Detachment. Detachment is a general sense of feeling disconnected from others or from your environment. It can take the form of the behaviors described above and result in removing yourself emotionally and physically from your job and other responsibilities. You may call in sick often, stop returning calls and emails, or regularly come in late.
  • Feelings of apathy and hopelessness. This is similar to what is described in the depression and pessimism sections of this article. It presents as a general sense that nothing is going right or nothing matters. As the symptoms worsen, these feelings may become immobilizing, making it seem like "what's the point?"
  • Increased irritability. Irritability often stems from feeling ineffective, unimportant, useless, and an increasing sense that you're not able to do things as efficiently or effectively as you once did. In the early stages, this can interfere in personal and professional relationships. At its worst, it can destroy relationships and careers.
  • Lack of productivity and poor performance. Despite long hours, chronic stress prevents you from being as productive as you once were, which often results in incomplete projects and an ever-growing to-do list. At times, it seems that as hard as you try, you can't climb out from under the pile.
How do you cure burnout? I wish I had the answer for you. I know that it's a form of stress, and so anything which reduces the amount of stress in your life ought to halt (and hopefully reverse) burnout. Having someone to confide in can help with this by letting you vent your feeling in a safe manner, and having someone you trust take some of the work from you can reduce your amount of work and responsibility, which is vitally important during and after an emergency. This is why having a "tribe" is so important. 

Unfortunately, I don't really have anyone like that in my life right now. This means that I sometimes have to take breaks from posting here. I hope you won't hold that against me. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Hot Dogs?

It's that time of year again. Whether you believe in Global Warming or not, summer is the hottest time of the year and this one is shaping up to be a warm one. When it hits 90° F in Alaska, you know it's going to be a miserable summer.

I know, I know; Arizona and the southwestern US gets hotter, and the southeast has humidity that you can almost swim through. Here in the upper Midwest, though, the temperatures are pushing 100° F and the humidity is >50%. With the exception of a few mountainous areas and the far north, we all have to put up with heat, which means we all need to know how to recognize and avoid heat injury. David did a good job last month of covering how to avoid heat injury to yourself, but how many of us have animals? Pets and livestock are just as susceptible to heat illness as we are, more in some breeds and areas.

Dogs and Cats
Dogs and cats don't sweat the way we do. We have sweat glands all over our bodies; they have a few on the pads of their feet and around their noses.Sweat glands cool the body by pumping out water that carries away excess heat as it evaporates. Without enough sweat glands, dogs and cats rely on panting and external cooling to regulate their body temperatures. Working dogs need to be watched carefully since their activity can keep them from cooling off. Long-coated breeds will overheat faster, of course, but they all need to be provided with the same protection as humans:
  • Plenty of cool water to drink. Cool water will absorb heat from the inside and carry it away when they urinate.
  • Shade. Get them out of the sun. If it's uncomfortable for you, it's probably the same for your pets. Dogs and cats can get sunburn, especially if they have thin or white fur.
  • Rest or at least reduced activity. Unless it's an emergency, try to avoid using your working animals during the heat of the day.
  • Cool places to rest. Cats will find a cool place on their own usually, and the smarter breeds of dogs are pretty good about it as well. The knotheads that some of us have as pets may need to be shown a cool, shady spot in which to lie down. 
  • Never leave an animal in a closed up vehicle. That's cruel, criminal in most states, and an invitation to a busted window in most areas.

Exotic Pets 
These will have to be cared for as your veterinarian suggests. Cold-blooded pets like snakes and lizards are very tolerant of the heat, but birds and small mammals may need some extra care.

If you're raising animals for food or sale, the loss of even one of them can be a significant blow to your pantry or budget. Most of the signs of heat injury in animals is the same as for humans; lethargy, stumbling, loss of appetite, etc. Prevention is much cheaper (and easier) than treatment, so provide the same water, rest, and shade as you would a person. One of the farm insurance companies has a good list of symptoms and preventative measures on their website. Scroll down towards the bottom of the page and you'll see a table of the water needs for some common livestock. Make sure you plan for a way to provide fairly clean water for your animals when you're considering raising your own food.

Stay hydrated and as cool as you can this summer and think about what you can do in a SHTF situation to prevent heat injury. Use the search box in the upper left-hand corner for some of our earlier articles; we've covered a few ideas over the years.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Prudent Prepping: A LITTLE Shaking Going On

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

Just as I was wrapping up my day yesterday afternoon we had an earthquake, followed by a second one 15 minutes later. Where I worked was 15 miles away from the epicenter, but due to all the noise and equipment, no one seemed to notice. I only found out from the all-news station that I listen to for traffic reports on the way home that there were reports of "no damage and things are back to normal."

A USGS scientist then said (paraphrased), "This was a very minor pair of quakes, on a fault line that has quakes of this magnitude regularly. There is no direct connection between the S. California earthquakes and the ones today." A couple texts came in as I was driving, and when I read them both were about the quakes and how to plan for a bigger one, if not The Big One. It forced me to sit down and write a short list for my recently transplanted, young friends. I've done this before, but here is what I wrote:

Short Term
  • Minimum of 2 gallons of water per day, per person. How you store it is up to you, but get to a week as soon as possible. I can send you links later. 
  • Stock up on your normal food, with things you normally buy. Start thinking about longer storage foods, something like this is a good choice.
  • Make sure your existing camping gear is in good shape. The weather here is milder than back home so you don't need anything extra.
  • Make sure to search the blog, starting with last week and working through the author list.

Something New
I picked up a new toy to try out, Night Hero Binoculars by BulbHead
From the Amazon page:
  • ATOMIC BEAM LASER: Night Hero Binoculars are equipped with a special atomic beam laser that reveals objects in complete darkness up to 150-yards away!
  • DAYTIME BINOCULARS: Use during the day for enhanced clarity and contrast with 10x magnification – a must-have for sporting events, sightseeing, hunting, and hiking!
  • NEVER MISS A THING: unlike night vision goggles, Night Hero Binoculars have rubber eye cups that give you the most comfortable fit. With a full range of focal adjustments, you’ll never miss a thing!
  • COMFORTABLE: take Night Hero Binoculars anywhere – their lightweight design and rubber eyecups make viewing easy.
  • INCLUDED: one (1) pair Atomic Beam Night Hero Binoculars
Now, the "atomic beam" is an emitter, so it isn't a night vision binocular that captures ambient light but rather needs something else to illuminate the area you want to search. I've only had them for 3 days and used them for maybe 20 minutes at night, so I can't really talk about battery life or compare this to actual NVG's, but the view is reasonably clear as a binocular and at night I can see much farther than if I just use my eyes. Another point to consider is that since this uses an emitter for viewing, anyone with similar equipment or just light collecting goggles will be able to see where you are. As I'm not worried about being spotted by other people, I think I'm okay. Besides, I can't afford to spend the several hundred dollars up to the price of a nice used car for proper NVGs.

Recap and Takeaway
  • It's good to know friends and co-workers are listening and not laughing when prepping questions are asked. 
  • Prepping is a journey and not a destination for me, my family and friends, especially since none of us are rich. 
  • One set of Night Hero Night Vision binoculars were purchased locally for $39.95 but Amazon has used ones from $28.51.
* * *

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, July 16, 2019

Gross Weight

I upgraded my truck very recently. In my world, trucks are for hauling and towing, and the new truck expands my ability to do just that. How much hauling you can do is determined by your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, or GVWR, while your towing limits are declared as your Maximum Trailer Weight, sometimes referred to simply as "towing capacity." GVWR will be located on a sticker on the driver's door frame, while max towing is usually listed on the rear bumper near the hitch. Both are also listed in your vehicle owner's manual.

GVWR is a measure of how much weight your vehicle can safely maneuver or stop within a particular distance at normal speeds.Without getting deep into engineering or math, it is based on your suspension and brakes and other components. It is the maximum that your vehicle can weigh, including passengers and cargo. If it rides on your vehicle's wheels and tires, it is included in that number.

Maximum tow rating is based on a lot of the same factors as GVWR, with a few others added in. In addition to the GVWR considerations, it is also limited by your hitch type, size, and hardware. You'll often notice two numbers listed as a max tow rating: the lower number is when a trailer is hitched only to a traditional ball on your vehicle, and the second, larger number is when a weight-distributing type hitch is used. These hitches use some variety of mechanical linkage to hold the the truck and trailer on a plane, so that the weight of the trailer is distributed forward on the truck.

For comparison, lets look at my two trucks side by side. My outgoing truck is a 2005 Ford F150 with a GVWR of 7600 pounds and tow ratings of 5000 and 9900 pounds. Its replacement is a 2001 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD diesel with a GVWR of 9200 pounds and the tow ratings are 5000 and 12000 pounds.

While the GVWR on the Chevy is 1600 pounds higher than the Ford, it is also a much stouter truck. I will probably only get an additional 800-1000 pounds of cargo once the added weight of the truck itself is accounted for. The lower max tow rating is the same for both trucks, because the limitation there is the hitch hardware itself. The weight-distributing rating went up 2100 pounds because the suspension and other components of the truck are far stronger.

The maximum weight of any trailer I'm likely to pull regularly is about 6800 pounds. When we were shopping for our camper, I was looking at trailers that maxed out at 7500 pounds or less. While the Ford is rated for more, I like to maintain a buffer between actual weight and max rating to give me a little bit of added safety. As the cost for failure when towing can be catastrophic, I recommend taking any bits of added safety you can get. Also, I live and drive in steep, mountainous terrain, and being under weight rating helps out both climbing and descending hills.

If the load you want to move is over the rating of your rig, don't risk it; instead consider making multiple trips. If that isn't an option, places like Home Depot and U-haul rent trucks that are properly set up and maintained to tow moderate trailers, and they'll rent you one for a very reasonable price.

Now you know what to look for when you're considering towing a load. Know your weights and ratings, and don't exceed them, and give yourself as much room as you reasonably can, both on the road and the load.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Guest Post: Reviewing the Aibocn Power Bank

by David Bock

A while back, Erin suggested I purchase an Aibocn 10,000mAh Power Bank. Unfortunately it arrived after I left for NRAAM this year, so I didn't get to test it then. However, I have had several chances to use it since.

The Power Bank comes well-packed in a small cardboard box and includes the battery bank itself, a 6" USB-A to Micro USB-B cable, a basic manual, and a thank you/registration card.

This cable is fine for Samsung and similar devices, but iPhone users will need to get a proper cable for their device. I'm a Samsung user, so this was fine for me.

Initial Charging
Using a standard cable, I plugged the Power Bank into one of my cell phone charger blocks. I checked on it occasionally, and it seemed to reach full charge in a little over 8 hours. The unit has four blue lights that tell you the approximate level of charge.

I don’t know if the Power Bank had any charge when it arrived. At a later date, I’ll attempt to discharge it completely and monitor the time it takes to reach full charge.

Usage and Performance
Using it to charge my phone was simple: I plugged the provided USB cable into one of the output ports on the Power Bank and the other end into my phone.

There are two ports for charging on the Power Bank, listed at 1.0A and 2.1A. This is pretty much the amperage of regular and fast chargers. With my phone at below 50% charge, I plugged it in but left it powered on while charging. The Power Bank brought my phone up to full charge within a few hours, nearly as quick as the dedicated wall outlet fast charger.

I also attempted to charge my usually very finicky tablet and had no problems. Then I tried charging both devices at once. I still had no problems, although it did charge slightly slower than before. All of this charging reduced the power indicator by one light, approximately 25% power loss.

The final test was attempting to charge a device while replenishing the Power Bank. I didn’t notice any difference in the phone time to charge, but the Power Bank took longer to top off, for obvious reasons.

I also left the fully charged unit on the shelf for a month or so, and when I plugged in a device it hadn’t lost any charge as far as I could tell.

The Power Bank also comes with a single LED flashlight. Beyond map reading or other very close up lighting, I didn’t find it very useful. However the illumination provided will last for a very long time due to the low power draw.

Rating: 5 Stars
For just over $10 (and free shipping with Amazon Prime) this was an excellent investment. I’m thinking of getting another for my go bag.

Thanks for the recommendation, Erin.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

More LED Lights

While looking through Amazon for the HybridLight that I reviewed last week, I noticed a variety of tiny LED lights that plug into the ubiquitous USB port. Since I have a spare USB port on my car charger, several portable battery packs for charging my devices, and unused USB ports on my laptop, I thought I'd see how they work as emergency lighting.

I found an assortment pack, three each of four different mini lights, for $13. Since I am an Amazon Prime member the shipping is free, so I added the assortment to an order I was placing anyway. They arrived in a sturdy plastic box which will probably get re-purposed after I figure out where I want to store the individual lights.

Looking at them, you can see how simple LED lighting actually is. There are only three components on the simple ones; power contacts, a resistor, and the LEDs. The resistor is there to knock the 5 Volts supplied by the USB port down to whatever voltage the LEDs use (it varies by type of LED, which is a topic for another time).

There are several other models on Amazon, some as cheap as $0.50 apiece and most costing about $1.00 each. The designs are all similar; some are obviously just rebranded version of what I bought and others are slight variations with fewer or more LEDs. There are also several types of USB powered lights on flexible stems that would be more convenient for direction light where you need it. All of the mini lights have the LEDs on the same side of the board as the power contacts, so you have to move the power source to move the light, which isn't easy if it's plugged into a laptop.

Here's what I got with some specifications and my notes so far.

Clear Plastic Cased (top)
  • 3 LEDs, larger than the others, a bright white light.
  • The brightest of the four, this version looks like a thumb drive with its rounded plastic case and full USB connector. There's even a hole in the case for a lanyard or small ring to attach it to a keyring.
  • Because of the fully encased design, this is the only one I would put in a pocket or pack by itself.
  • Listed as 2.3W, which works out to 460 mA.
  • Quickly got warm, but not hot, to the touch.
  • The only one of the four styles that would stay on when plugged into my HybridLight. Further research found that the circuitry inside the HybridLight and some battery packs will not recognize a load below 100 mA and will shut off power to the port after a short period (23 seconds by my stopwatch).

Black board, Warm White (left)
  • 3 LEDs, a warm, yellow glow
  • Listed at 0.2 W, so 40 mA draw. From a cheap 5000mA battery pack you could expect to run one of these for 125 hours or a little over 5 days continuously.
  • Runs cool to the touch.
  • A hair smaller than the white-boarded style, they do have a hole in the board for attaching it to a keyring or lanyard. I'm not sure how sturdy they are, and I wouldn't trust them bouncing around in a pocket with keys or loose change.

White Board with Touch Sensor (middle)
  • 4 LEDs, a warm yellow-tinted light.
  • Listed at 0.5W, it draws 100 mA. That's 50 hours from one of my little battery packs, and 100 hours from the larger ones. Plugged into a USB charger in a car cigarette lighter, you could light up a stranded car for about three weeks, non-stop, if there were nothing else drawing on the battery.
  • The touch sensor works with no pressure, just the contact of bare skin on a conductive pad on the back of the board.
  • Bright enough to cast sharp shadows in a small, dark room.
  • Small. At about a half-inch wide and an inch and a quarter long, these would be easy to lose in a pocket.

Black Board, “Positive White” (right)
  • The same as the one on the left, but with different LEDs installed. You can barely see a difference in the color of the LEDs, and there are no markings or other clues to tel you which is which.
  • The light is a lot more white and seems a bit brighter than the other black boarded type.
  • Bright enough that you don't want to look straight at it.

Simple, cheap, small, and they work.

You may wonder why I place so much emphasis on lights in my choice of products to review. I have a family member with severe anxiety issues. Total darkness and silence are two of the big triggers for that anxiety, so I do what I can to eliminate those before they become a burden in a time when I have other things to worry about.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Prudent Prepping: The Big One, part the Latest

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

There has been quite a bit of shaking this last week in Southern California, and I believe it's past time to do a recap of basic prepping with a focus on earthquakes. I have been asked what is different with earthquake prepping compared to either tornadoes or hurricanes, and my answer is "Very little, other than earthquakes regularly collapse freeways and bridges." That gives a little bit of extra stress to getting around in California after a large quake. 
What Is This?

Here is an updated map of all the earthquakes in California for the last week, updated through July 9. Pretty scary, right? In fact, other than the magnitude 7, 6 and the high 5, it was an almost normal week. If you go to the source page here, you can see an enlarged version of the map for any spot in California where an earthquake has occurred by clicking on the squares shown. My part of California has been calm after the Napa quake (mentioned in this post) almost 5 years ago. Many people don't realize we have earthquakes every week, and unless there is actual property damage, they are barely felt.

The San Andreas Fault runs up to San Francisco, but a branch called the Hayward Fault travels through the East Bay.  Here is an animation of the Hayward Fault, which is not the fault responsible for the 1989 Bay Bridge collapse. This is the fault that will do the most damage near me, due to most of the cities being built on areas that were originally marshland.

Even with the (noted) exaggeration, the Oakland area of the map will be severely damaged in an earthquake. I live to the right side of the earthquake fault, near the mountain peak shown in the larger portion of the animation and to the far right side of the earthquake damage shown in the inset on the left.

It's expected that the three major major bridges will be damaged, including the reconstructed Bay Bridge. With freeways damaged as expected, food and water will be in short supply.

What To Do
Everyone should be reasonably aware of what to do, if you've been reading Blue Collar Prepping for any length of time, but if you haven't, this post has links to several authors and what they recommend. I really do suggest going to the Search box on the blog page and reading what everyone thinks is an important topic, especially Bug Out Bags, followed closely by First Aid kits. 

Where To Start
You already have what you need, but probably not enough. My friends already have plenty of rice and canned goods that, when combined with my stored food, should get 4 people through three weeks without a problem. What is a problem, however, will be getting enough water for three weeks, if water mains or the power is off for an extended time. I'm down to 28 gallons of water because I shared another seven-gallon can with a friend to get them started in prepping. 

I live within a mile of a spring and don't have any bridges to cross to get there and back. Even with getting water right from the source, we will be using a filter and possibly heating everything to the pasteurization point before use. My favorite filter brand is a Sawyer filter of some type. I have done tests of Sawyer filters here and here, and Chaplain Tim did a recap of a real-world study of Sawyer Filters and like how adaptable they are. (He also has an excellent series of posts on water sources, with this being most applicable to me. Go and read them all.)

Getting the water back is what our next priority, so this next month we are buying at least two more of these jugs:

Reliance Products Jumbo-Tainer 7 Gallon Jerry Can

I already have four of these, and while I don't stack them, they do nest together well.

From the Amazon page:

  • 7-gallon jumbo-tainer style rigid water container
  • Combines the easy to carry shape of a traditional in a more contemporary style
  • Features reliable tap style spigot and dual grip-through handles

I like the fact that the spout is replaceable* and at 7 gallons, it's light enough that most people can lift one. Pouring is easy when the air relief valve on the can (white button) is opened.

* We are ordering 2 replacement spouts along with the cans.

I've eased my friends into prepping and with the examples of the damage in Southern California, this is going to be an easy 'sell' towards prepping.

  • Start with what you have. My tag line 'Some is Always Better Than None!' is in response to a blogger who wrote the polar opposite to that phrase.
  • Make sure everyone is on the same page and committed to working together.
  • Make your plans fit your group and location.
  • Nothing was purchased this week.
Be safe in your travels, check in with your friends often and do what you can to be prepared.

* * *

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.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hybridlight Journey

One of my sources for inspiration for articles (what we like to call “blogfodder”) is a weekly newsletter called The Woodpile Report. The host of this newsletter goes by the name of Remus and, like me, is a man of varied interests. The topics tend to wander from great works of art to old cars to modern-day world events, but there is always something of interest for me in each issue. Remus doesn't archive any of his posts, so the old ones disappear as they get replaced by newer ones. This means that you'll have to save your own bookmarks of interest if you want to come back to it later.

Remus recently mentioned a flashlight that he'd picked up and how well it lived up to its advertising, so I decided to get one and try it out.

The Hybridlight Journey is a small, simple flashlight with a few features that make it a good candidate for a prepper's shopping list. Here's what I've found in the first week or so of use:

Made of hard plastic with a waterproof switch and sealed lens, it's listed as being waterproof to 1 meter in the instructions and 3 meters in the Amazon listing. I've held it underwater in a bucket for 15 minutes with no problems.

It Floats
This made the waterproof test a challenge. It does float and, being bright yellow, it would be easy to see if it fell out of a boat. They are also sold in black, camo, and red/white/blue colors.

Solar Charging Panel
About an inch wide and 4 inches long, this is a fairly small panel. It's covered with a thick, clear cover so it should keep working for a long time. I'm going to estimate it at about 100 mA output based on the size.

Simple Switch
Push once for a low beam (about 30 lumens, plenty of light for seeing where you're walking), push twice for high beam (160 lumens, good for lighting up a small area), push again to turn it off. Hold in the switch for 2 seconds to activate a slow (2 pulse/second) strobe.

It weighs 4.5 ounces (135 g) and fits in a pocket nicely. My work pants have a pliers pocket on the leg and I barely notice that it's there.

USB Ports
This is a nice feature. Unscrew the gasketed, waterproof cap on the tail end and you'll find a standard USB A port and a mini-A port. The standard port lets you use the flashlight to charge a cell phone or other device, while the mini-A port allows you to charge the flashlight from a common charger.

The plastic case is sturdy and the cover over the solar panel is pretty thick. I've not intentionally dropped it, but it has met the ground a few times and it hasn't picked up any dings or scratches. Being lightweight, it isn't going to be prone to damage from falls.

Things I am testing

Long-Term Storage
Both Remus and the instructions mention that the battery will hold a charge for years. Remus has tested his for a year; the factory claims 7 years and still holding 90% charge. That, coupled with the claim that you can't overcharge the battery by using the solar panel, make this a good cache light.

Battery Life in Use
8 hours of battery life when using the high beam is confirmed: I left it on over night and it was still working when I got up about 8 hours later. The 30 hours on low beam is going to take a few days to set up and test. I mainly need to remember to check it every few hours towards the end.

Battery Capacity
The maker mention that it contains a Lithium-ion battery, but the capacity is listed variably as 2200 or 2400 mAhr. I'm going to test it by using it to charge a cell phone with a known battery to get a general idea of the capacity. Reading up on it, the manufacturer states that is has a 20% reserve set aside for the LED, so only about 1800 mAhr is available from the USB port.

Solar Charge Time
I set the flashlight on the dashboard of my pickup for a full 12 hours and it didn't register a full charge. This is going to take a few charge/discharge cycles to measure, and when working with a light that can last all night the discharge takes time.

Things that need improvement

It Rolls
I prefer having at least one flat side on a flashlight, so I can set it down and have it stay where I put it.

A Lanyard
I'd like to see a lanyard, or at least a way to attach one. There are time when I like to be able to secure my gear with a carabiner, and other times where I'm working with my hands and like to have a light available without digging in a pocket.

Charging Indicator
There is a simple red/green LED between the switch and the front cap. Red means charging, green means charged. The LED is set too deep into the case to be easily seen and could be a bit brighter.

Better Solar Panel Protection 
The cover is good, but the edges of the case could be raised a bit more to protect it from scratches. As it sits now, the cover is almost flush with the edges of the case, which leaves it vulnerable to damage.

All in all, I'm happy with the $30 that I spent on this light so far. The battery is not replaceable, so this is a throw-away light once the battery dies. It will likely end up in my parts bin when that happens, or I'll perform surgery on it with a hacksaw and some epoxy if I can find a battery that will fit.

The Fine Print

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

Creative Commons License

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