Garbage Bags for Disasters

The next time you visit your local hardware store, pick up a small package of contractor grade trash bags. While a box or roll of them will be somewhat heavy, individually they weigh seemingly nothing and adding a few of them to your bug out bag won’t be noticed.

Garbage BagsSome folks use a garbage bag to line their packs, in order to keep things dry inside. This isn’t a bad idea at all. Simply open the pack and drop in a trash bag, very similar to how you’d use the bag in a trash can. Then, fill it with your gear and use a twist tie to close up the bag. This method is far better than first putting the gear into the bag, then trying to stuff the loaded bag into the pack.

A trash bag also makes for a great ground cover when you’re out in the field. You can kneel or sit on it, even lay a couple of them end to end so you can lie down. This is why I suggest using contractor grade bags. They are thicker and thus much more durable. The standard trash bags you’ll find at the grocery store are typically very thin and will tear easily if you tried using them as ground cover.

Should you find you need to cross a small body of water, you can fill the trash bag with air and tie it closed to make a flotation device. It isn’t perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it will work fairly well for short term use.

If you’re in bear country, put all of your food and such into a trash bag and hang it high from a tree. The plastic trash bag will help keep smells from wafting through the forest.

Contractor Grade Trash Bags

In a pinch, you can stuff a bag with leaves and grass to make a pillow or small mattress. Not the most comfortable option in the world but it will help insulate you from the cold ground.

At home, if the plumbing isn’t working after a disaster, you can line the toilet with a trash bag to avoid having to use the tree outside. After a few uses, you’ll obviously need to change the bag. Don’t wait for the bag to get too full. You might be surprised at just how much human waste weighs. Keep a box of baking soda or some powder laundry detergent nearby and sprinkle some into the bag after each use to help with odors.

Remember, try to stick with the thicker, contractor grade, trash bags. They are going to be more expensive, yes, but they are also far more durable. When you piece it out, they’ll still amount to mere pennies per bag, too.

Bugging Out – Where to Go?

Bugging out should, with rare exception, be your last resort rather than your primary plan. That said, it is important to plan for the possibility that home won’t be a safe haven.

While putting together a bug out bag is, of course, a crucial step, knowing where you’re going is perhaps more important than knowing what you’re going to take with you to get there.

See, here’s the thing. Without a specific destination in mind, bugging out just makes you one more refugee on the roads. There are a few different factors to consider when choosing a bug out location.

Bugging Out

Attempting to bug out to a location that is several hundred miles from home is likely folly at best. Remember, the odds are pretty good that you may end up on foot for some or even most of your journey. Think about it like this – if you can’t get to the end of your driveway and back without getting winded, you’re probably not going to make it a few hundred miles on foot. As a general rule of thumb, I like to use 100 miles as the absolute maximum distance a bug out location should be from home. For most vehicles, that’s less than a half tank of gas. That’s still a haul, though, if you’re on foot.

Next up is property ownership. Planning to bug out to some sort of state or county owned land probably isn’t the greatest choice. See, you’re not the only person who’s going to have that brilliant idea. In fact, you might find the state forest bursting at the seams with wannabe survivalists. The absolute ideal, though it isn’t feasible for everyone, is to bug out to land you personally own. A hunting cabin, perhaps? Failing that, talk to family or close friends who live outside your immediate area. Come to an agreement whereby if disaster hits your area, you’ll be welcome in their home and vice versa. Maybe go so far as to stash some supplies at their place, including extra clothes, toiletries, cash, and such.

I also suggest choosing more than one bug out location. I recommend at least three possible bug out locations, ideally laid out in sort of a triangle around your home. For example, Grandpa’s hunting cabin to the north, your old college roommate’s house to the southwest, and your Aunt Suzanne’s farm to the east. The idea here is to give yourself options. Given that we have no way to know the nature of the disaster that could cause a bug out, we can’t reliably predict whether it would prevent us from traveling in the direction of our primary bug out location. Let’s say the way north is blocked by massive storm damage, earthquake fissures, or even manned roadblocks. It would be nice to have some alternate locations to consider, right?

Plan ahead, choose a few different bug out locations, and practice different routes getting to each of them.

Make Fire in All Weather Conditions

The ability to make fire in all weather conditions is an absolutely critical survival skill. Fire keeps us warm, it cooks our food, it boils our water for disinfection, and it lights up the night. On top of all that, there is a strong psychological element at work. When you’re lost and anxious, a good fire will help keep you calm.

In any survival kit, you should have multiple ignition devices. These are the things that get the fire started. Best options include strike anywhere matches, butane lighters, and ferrocerium rods. There are others, of course, including magnifying lenses, but if you have matches, lighters, and ferro rods and you still can’t get a fire going, you’re doing something wrong.

Next, you should have a quantity of ready-to-light tinder. Yes, there are many natural sources of tinder, such as birch bark, chaga, fatwood, seed pods, and the like. But, you can’t always count on finding it when you truly need it. Or, you might find plenty but it is sodden due to recent rains. It is best to have something with you, just in case. Search first for natural alternatives, so as to not use up your supply if you don’t have to do so. Options for tinder you carry with you include cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, tinder tabs, Wet Fire cubes, and dryer lint. Keep this tinder in a plastic bag so it stays dry until you need it. Again, though, you should keep an ample supply and only use it when you can’t find tinder in the wild.

Making a FireWhen it comes time to lay your fire, think ahead. A common mistake is to not gather enough kindling and fuel right off the bat. The last thing you want to do is scramble around trying to find more sticks as your just lit fire fizzles out. Assemble a healthy pile of small twigs and larger branches, close enough for you to grab as needed, before even trying to light the fire.

When possible, I like to grab a slab of dry bark, peeled off a fallen log, and build my fire on that. This keeps things dry if the ground is wet. Plus, the bark is usually curled up a bit on the sides and if you place it properly, this will cut down on wind hampering your efforts.

There are many different methods for fire lighting, including building a bird’s nest with your tinder. What this entails is taking loose fibrous material like grass or shavings and tossing sparks into a hole you’ve made in the pile. This works very well in most situations. What I often do is to make a small pile of tinder and use kindling to build something like a teepee around it. I leave an opening in the teepee where I can insert the lighter, match, or where I can aim sparks from my ferro rod. As the tinder lights and burns, the small kindling will begin to catch. Slowly, so as to not smother the fire, add more kindling until it is all burning fairly briskly. Then, add thicker branches one at a time until everything is burning well.

There are many different types of fire lays, including the keyhole fire and the Dakota hole fire. Do your homework and learn some of them and find out the purposes behind their use. Every fire lay is used for certain things, such as cooking or just for warmth. But, no matter which fire lay you use, it all starts with ignition and tinder.

Keeping Track of Survival Information

It is important to remember that in a grid down situation, you likely won’t have ready and easy access to the Internet so all of those great articles you’ve bookmarked will be useless to you. On top of that, depending on the nature of the calamity, even e-books might be out of reach. Any and all personal record information, such as insurance policies and such, won’t be accessible if they are only found on your computer.

Keeping Track of Your Information

Survival Binder

A survival binder is a simple way to keep all of that information handy. Start with a 3 ring binder and a three hole punch, both of which can probably be found at your local Goodwill if you don’t want to pay for new (though they are very cheap, especially at back to school time). While you’re at it, pick up one or two packages of dividers, which are cardstock with tabs affixed to the side. These will allow you to better organize your binder.

Some people go so far as to use plastic page protectors as well. This isn’t a bad idea but will add a bit of expense to the project.

Set up your binder with sections for things like:

Important documents – insurance policies, financial statements, property ownership paperwork, etc.

Food – recipes using food storage items, information on different ways to cook offgrid, that sort of stuff.

Water – information on filtering and purifying water.

First aid – information on how to stay healthy, treat injuries and illnesses, how to use different first aid items you might have on hand.

The list goes on and on. As you find information online that you might want to be able to reference if the power is out, print out a copy and store it in your binder.

I would caution you to stay on top of the organizing part of this project. It is all too easy to go on a printing binge and then just toss everything into the binder, promising to yourself that you’re going to organize it later. Trust me, later never comes. It is far better to place the printed pages into the correct part of the binder each and every time.

As you go along, you may end up getting to the point where you’ll need more than one binder because you’ve accumulated so much information. That’s perfectly fine and normal. What I suggest you do at that point is to create labels for the binders so you know what is in each. This will hopefully cut down on your searching time when you’re looking for a specific piece of information.

The survival binder is an excellent project for keeping track of all the great information you find online, allowing you to access it when the computer and Internet aren’t viable options.

Planning to Regroup

One aspect of your preparedness planning that is often overlooked is giving thought to the fact that family members may be separated when disaster hits. Sure, it’d be nice if everyone were safe at home when it happens but odds are that won’t be the case. Kids may be at school, adults may be at work. Some may be out shopping, at the movies, out to eat, or Lord only knows where if teenagers are involved. With that in mind, there should be a plan in place for regrouping.

One part of this plan should address emergency communications. Depending upon the nature of the emergency, calling everyone’s cell phone might not be feasible. Phone lines often become overwhelmed during a crisis. However, text messages may still get through as they run on a different system. Create some sort of code word or phrase that, if received, indicates they should head for home immediately. It needs to be stressed that the only time this code phrase is used is in a true emergency. Also, there can be absolutely no mistaking the importance of receiving the message and acting upon it immediately. If your son receives a text from you that says, “Code Red,” he is to drop whatever he is doing and head for home using the fastest route possible.

But, what if the nature of the emergency prevents an easy travel back home? What if, for example, there is massive storm damage between your son and home? If he’s unable to safely travel home, he should seek other shelter and hunker down. If at all possible, he should contact those at home to let them know, whether via phone call or text. Ideally, he’ll transmit his location and that he is ok.

Children who are too young to travel home themselves will need to be picked up. A plan needs to be devised to lay out who is picking up the children and, if it is from school, that person should be noted in the school file as an authorized pick up person. Schools are, rightfully so, rather insistent upon this.

On top of all of this, there should be one more plan – what if home isn’t safe? What if, instead of having everyone meet at the residence you need for them to meet elsewhere? Choose an alternate location, someplace that is relatively nearby but not immediately next door. Say, a park in the neighborhood, for example. If this is the message received, “Code Red, Location B,” they know to head to the park and meet up there. The idea here is to give yourself options, which is what prepping is all about. I’m not suggesting you have 87 different locations, each with a different code phrase. We’re not talking 007 stuff here. The point is to have an alternate meet up location, just in case.

Give serious thought as to where your family members may be if disaster hits. Make a plan to allow for fast regrouping, should the need arise.

Pros and Cons of Two-Way Radios

Two-way radios, the modern version of the walkie-talkies many of us had as kids, can be a great tool for emergency communication among family members. Provided, though, that you understand their limitations. Bear in mind, we’re not talking about amateur (ham) radio. That’s a whole different ballgame.

Privacy
These radios all use the same group of frequencies. On the plus side, this means you can easily program several radios to communicate together, even radios from different manufacturers. However, this also means that anyone else can listen in to your conversations if they hit upon the same frequency. Your safest bet when using these radios is to avoid talking about any confidential information on the air.


Range
Manufacturers like to make rather exaggerated claims regarding the range of these radios. You’ll see packages that say, “up to 25 miles” and other such nonsense. Yes, the radio might truly transmit that far…if there is absolutely nothing between the sender and receiver. The problem is that things like buildings and trees easily block the radios or at least inhibit transmission. Realistically, if you can get a mile or two of range from the average two-way radio, you’re doing pretty darn well. However, that also means that anyone who wishes to listen in to your conversation must also be in that range. Which, actually, might not be a good thing when you think about it.

Power
Many models of these radios take the rather common AA or AAA batteries. That makes life a little easier as you won’t have to hunt down some obscure size. However, by their very nature, batteries go dead after a while. If you plan on relying on radios like these, better plan ahead and add a solar battery charger to your preps.

No satellites or towers are used
Unlike cell phones, for example, two way radios are sort of a closed system. The transmission is sent out directly to the receiver, rather than bounced off of a tower or satellite. This means that even if the entire electrical grid is down, the radios will still work (provided they weren’t impacted by the event that took down the grid, such as an EMP strike). There really isn’t a downside to this, other than the lack of towers and such helps to limit the effective range.

Two-way radios are a fun way to stay in touch when you’re out and about with your family. When times are normal, they can help keep you from chewing up minutes on your cell phone. But, if you plan on using them after a major disaster, it is important to understand they are not always what they are cracked up to be.

Book Review: Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury

Reviewed by Jim Cobb

Dave Canterbury is one of the most well-known survival instructors in the United States. His Pathfinder School has taught thousands how to survive in the bush. Dave has also been featured on television, as the co-host of Dual Survival for a couple of seasons. He’s been there, done that, and truly knows his stuff.

Bushcraft 101

Bushcraft 101 isn’t the first book Dave has written but it might just be his best, at least so far. We’ve all likely heard the term “roughing it” when talking about camping, hiking, and such, right? Dave’s approach is what he calls,”smoothing it.” Rather than making things hard for yourself, Dave wants to show you how to make your time spent in the woods as enjoyable as possible.

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, Gearing Up, Dave outlines his 5 Cs of Survival. These are:

Cutting tool
Cordage
Container
Cover
Combustion

With each of these categories, Dave gives his recommendations for what he likes, but is careful to point out that what works best for him might not be the best for you. He also talks about why each of the categories is critical to survival.

The second section is In the Bush. This is where we get into the nitty gritty of bushcraft. From choosing a campsite to different types of fire lays, trapping to wild edibles, Dave covers it all. It is important to note, though, that we’re talking bushcraft here. This is not the same as bugging out, despite the apparent similarities. While there is a fair amount of crossover between the topics, they are more like kissing cousins rather than true siblings.

There are several appendices at the end of the book. The Pathfinder Concept details Dave’s thoughts and perspectives on the conservation of resources when engaging in bushcraft. This was the first time I’d read about this concept and I really, truly appreciate the sentiment here.

There are no photos in Bushcraft 101 but there are numerous very detailed line drawings. I’ve found that sometimes these drawings can make things clearer than photos, so I had no issues with the lack of photos.

All in all, I found Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival to be an excellent primer on the subject and highly recommend it.

Water Purification Options When Bugging Out

Water, more specifically clean water, is essential to survival. Common thought is that one can live perhaps three days without hydration. As a practical matter, the latter day or two of that time frame will be spent in delirium and agony. Suffice to say, you need water to live.

Purifying Water when Bugging Out

You can only carry a finite amount of water. It is heavy and takes up a lot of space. Therefore, a wise prepper will not only carry water but also invest in the supplies necessary to treat additional water to make it potable. Fortunately, there are several options available.

Boiling

Bloing Water in a Metal Container for PurificationBringing water to a boil is about the surest way to kill any pathogens or other critters floating in it. It is best to filter the water first by running it through a coffee filter or something so as to remove any sediment and debris that might be present. Then, use a clean pot to bring the water to a rolling boil. Technically, just bringing it to a boil is enough to kill anything in the water. But, many people like to err on the side of caution and let it boil for a few minutes. Realistically, you aren’t using that much extra fuel in doing so, if that’s your preference. However, it can be difficult to provide enough water for an entire family or group using this method. Of course, this method also requires you to carry a metal container you can use for boiling the water.

Purification Tablets

Water Purification TabletsA mainstay in many survival kits, water purification tablets work very well. The tablets add a chemical (typically either an iodine compound or chlorine dioxide) that will kill off the bad stuff in the water. Generally speaking, you’ll add the tablets to your water, shake vigorously, then seal tightly and wait 30 minutes or so. Follow the directions on the package exactly to ensure the best results, of course. Personally, I’ve found the chlorine dioxide based tablets leave the water tasting better than the iodine based tablets. Your mileage may vary. What I suggest is that you carry two water bottles. One with water ready to drink at all times and the other being treated as you travel.

Filter Straws

Straw Filter for DrinkingA third option is to purchase a filter straw. What is nice about this option is there is no work or waiting involved. The device consists of a straw with a built in filter. You simply put one end of the straw into the water and suck through the straw, just as you would if it were a can of soda rather than a stream or river. The water is filtered as it goes through the straw and is potable by the time it reaches your mouth. This can be a great option for those who are looking to truly travel light.

My suggestion is you double or triple up on your water purification methods for your bug out bag. Remember – two is one and one is none!

Choosing a Food Storage Plan

We are very fortunate to be living in what we might call a renaissance when it comes to disaster readiness. At no other time in history have we had such a wide array of products available to us. Of course, that also means it can be rather overwhelming when you’re trying to make a decision on which product or type of products will work best for you.

Food storage is no exception. There many different options available to you as you plan for long-term food needs. Let’s talk a bit about each of the major categories of food storage.

Canned and dry goods

These are the things you likely buy every day at the grocery store. Canned vegetables and fruits, dry pasta, rice, and beans. If it comes in a can or a box, it probably falls into this category. The benefits to using these items is you are accustomed to eating them already, you know what you like and what you don’t. Preparing these foods is simple and easy, for the most part.

Canned Foods

The downside, though, is canned and boxed foods are often loaded with preservatives and other chemicals. They just aren’t the healthiest foods on the planet, y’know? On top of that, I can all but guarantee that once you’ve eaten fresh produce, like green beans and peas right off the farm, the ones that come in a can will probably turn your stomach.

Home preserved foods

There are a few different ways to preserve food at home, such as home canning (pressure or water bath) and dehydration. Foods preserved in these ways tend to be healthier, as you are in control as to what ingredients are added. There is also a strong sense of accomplishment in knowing you are providing for your own needs. However, there is a fair amount of work involved, not to mention the investment in a pressure canner, dehydrator, and other supplies.

Freeze-dried or dehydrated foods

Wise Company Food StorageSome of the more well known brand names in this category include Wise and Mountain House. These foods are specially packaged and preserved to last many years. Typically, all you need to do is add hot water and wait for the food to rehydrate. The nice thing about these products is there is little prep involved. If you can heat water, you can make dinner. Plus, these pouches and buckets are designed to last decades.

There are a couple of potential downsides, though. First, these products tend to be more expensive than other options. Second, some folks have reported digestive upsets and such. What I suggest is, if you want to explore this option further, buy a few sample meals and try them out. See if you like the taste and make sure the food agrees with you.

MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)

A common staple among preppers, MREs are either actual military surplus or are manufactured to the same guidelines and sold to the general public. Typically, one pouch will consist of a main dish, a side dish, a dessert item, crackers or bread, peanut butter or jelly, powdered beverage mix, a utensil, condiments, and a flameless heater. Basically, everything you’d need for a complete meal, all in one handy pouch. Because of this all-in-one nature, they can be nice to have on hand. Plus, the food merely needs to be heated, though it could be eaten cold in many cases. You don’t need to add water to rehydrate the food, just heat and eat.

MRE Components

MREs tend to be very expensive, though, when compared to the other options on this list. They are also rather bulky, taking up far more space than an equivalent number of canned goods or dehydrated food pouches.

What I recommend is diversifying your food storage plans. Start with the canned and boxed goods you normally eat on a regular basis, then add in a box or three of freeze-dried foods and perhaps a case or two of MREs. Ideally, you should learn how to preserve your own food at home as well.

Civil Unrest Preparedness

It has become increasingly common to see and hear news reports of riots, looting, and other forms of civil unrest in our cities. The causes are varied but the fact is, if you live or work in an urban area, you are at risk of getting caught in the middle of a potentially violent situation.

Preparing for Civil Unrest

Civil Unrest

Obviously, the first thing you’ll want to do if you find yourself in a bad spot is to get out of the area as quickly as possible. If you are on foot, don’t try to go “upstream” through the moving crowd but instead move perpendicular to the forward motion, pushing to one side of the crowd. Once you are out of the thick of things, keep moving away from the area, cutting down side streets if possible. Link hands with those who are with you so no one gets left behind.

If you are in a vehicle, you may find it a bit tougher to keep moving. Keep your windows rolled up and your doors locked. Do the best you can to keep going forward until you can turn down a side street. However, if you’re not familiar with the area, watch for signs that indicate the side street is a dead end so you don’t trap yourself.

For those who live in urban areas, civil unrest can be a two-fold dilemma. Not only might you get caught up in the thick of things when you’re out and about, the riots and looting could make it unsafe to even leave your home.

This is one of the many reasons why I encourage people to have enough food, water, and other necessities in their homes, sufficient to last at least a couple of weeks. That said, impending rioting and looting in your immediate area would be one of the rare occasions where I’d suggest you give serious thought to bugging out to a safer location until things settle down.

There is a documented psychological effect at work in large groups. Often, it is called mob mentality. It is actually pretty scary when it happens to you. Without any real thought, you’ll find yourself mimicking the actions of those around you.

Their emotion becomes your emotion. The issue at hand might have originally had absolutely no bearing on your life but suddenly it has become your passion. You’re angry, you’re upset, and you want to do some decidedly nasty things.

Later, you’ll be at a loss if asked to explain what happened. It’ll all just seem to be a blur. If you find yourself getting caught up in the moment, try to remember to take a step back and breathe for a moment or two. Clear your head, calm yourself down, and give just a second or two of thought to the situation. Doing so might help keep you from doing something you’ll regret later.