Dogs and disaster readiness

I am now and have pretty much always been a “dog person.” Dogs are faithful, loving, and dependable. We’re down to one dog right now but at one point not too long ago, we had three. Harley was a purebred keeshond. More fluff than substance, nonetheless he was exceedingly loyal. He was our early alert system as he barked at anything he felt didn’t belong in or near our yard.

We brought Nikita home from the humane society. Near as the vet could tell, she was a purebred husky. Bright blue eyes that glowed red when the light would hit them just right. She was nothing but skin and bones when we got her, but we fixed that up in a hurry. She was the protector of our pack. Huskies don’t really bark, they more “talk.” She rarely ever made noise but I had little doubt that if she felt one of her pack was threatened, she’d make quick work of them.

Tucker is our current mutt. We took him in when a neighbor moved away. We’re not sure of his lineage but figure he probably has at least some golden retriever mixed with chow. He’s a fairly good watchdog and keeps tabs on what goes on outside. He has also shown some very good protective instincts.

Why should you consider adding a dog to your disaster readiness plan?
They are great with pulling sentry duty. Obviously their senses of smell and hearing are vastly more acute than ours and they will sense something amiss earlier than you. Most dogs are protective of their packs and will defend you without hesitation. They provide a much needed stress relief too. There just aren’t many people who won’t feel better after hugging a canine friend.

While you should certainly stockpile kibble and canned dog food, most dogs can hunt on their own to supplement their food needs. Our husky was able to catch squirrels, for example.

Larger dogs can be fitted with specially designed backpacks to help carry supplies during a bug out. Consider purchasing booties for them as well, so their paws don’t get cut on broken glass or other debris in this situation.

Obviously, training is important. Dogs are a responsibility not to be taken lightly. They need to be taught how your home “works.” In some ways, they are like little kids and need to be shown right from wrong. Of course, there is also the financial end of things. Vet bills can easily run into the several hundred dollar range.

Most dog owners have favorite breeds, like german shepherds, goldens, or rotties. For my money though, I’ll take a Heinz 57 mutt over any of them.

Review: Survive! – The Disaster, Crisis and Emergency Handbook by Jerry Ahern

First off, I’ve been a fan of the Aherns for many years. Jerry and Sharon wrote that great series The Survivalist, as well as a bunch of other action/adventure novels. Jerry also made a name for himself with non-fiction, penning countless articles in the firearms press. Based on how successful The Survivalist was, and continues to be, it is of no surprise they took a stab at the survival handbook market.

The book starts out with an excellent overview of the wide range of disasters that could befall us, including those world-changing potential events like the eruption of the Yellowstone caldera. Each disaster is discussed rationally, with the presentation of researched facts rather than alarmist propaganda.

From there, the book goes into the nuts-n-bolts of preparedness. Food, water, communications, medical needs, emergency power, weapons, vehicles, the list goes on. Each category is discussed in great detail, including storage methods and calculating needs. Ahern goes to great lengths in recommending specific items by brand name and even model numbers in some cases. This is both good and bad, in my opinion. It is great to offer specific recommendations to those new to prepping. But, it also makes segments of the book read like a catalog.

The only other real criticism of the book would be that while it is profusely illustrated with hundreds of photos, many of them do little to add value to the book. Seeing a picture of Ahern drinking a glass of water he’s filtered through his Katadyn system doesn’t add much to the discussion.

What I really enjoyed about the book overall is the common sense approach to survival. This book is full of practical advice applicable to just about everyone, rather than being yet another “survival handbook” where the first instruction is to go out and purchase 50 acres of vacant land in the middle of the desert.

This would be a great book to hand off to someone just starting to get interested in disaster readiness. Those of us who have been at this a while will appreciate the gear recommendations and look into the perspective of the folks behind John Thomas Rourke.

Preserving memories

In your evacuation kits, you should already have copies of important paperwork, such as insurance policies, bank account information, and identification cards. Those will be very important to have if you need to hightail it out of your home on a moment’s notice. In the event of a localized disaster like a flood or wildfire, your home could be destroyed and having those documents on hand will greatly speed up your insurance claims.

However, perhaps just as important on a personal level are treasured family photos. These are items that, by their very nature, could never be replaced. While not life critical, their loss will be a burden to you forever.

Take some time now to preserve those memories. There are a few ways you can do this. Probably the easiest way would be to scan them and save the digital images to a thumb drive. Put the thumb drive in a waterproof case and toss it in your evacuation kit. Down the road, should you have lost the originals, you can have copies printed.

Another way would be to just copy the photos and save the prints. Again, put them in a waterproof container. The downside of doing it this way is they will likely get crumpled a bit as you travel, or even bump the bag around in your closet.

It wouldn’t be the worst idea to have duplicates of these photos sent to a trusted friend or family member out of state. Offer to do the same for them, keeping the photos in a safe place should the unthinkable actually come to pass.

Stuff can be replaced — furniture, DVDs, appliances, and clothing. Family photos, once lost, are gone forever. Get on this and do it today.

Weekly assignment — Cooking without power

For any of a number of reasons, you may sometime find yourself needing to prepare a meal for your family and not have the stove top, oven, or even the vaunted microwave to cook the food. While having emergency food that requires little or no preparation is a great idea, sooner or later having a hot meal will be almost a necessity. If nothing else, you should be able to competently boil water, which if you’ve not done this before in the field, takes quite a bit longer than you may realize.

This week, I want you to prepare one full meal without using any kitchen appliances that require electricity or gas. Pulling ingredients from the fridge or freezer is fine. But, no stove, no nuke machine, no blender, no toaster oven…you get the idea.

While the use of a propane or charcoal grill is ok, I’d prefer you use a method you’ve not practiced with before. Either cooking on a campfire, using a hobo stove or buddy burner, even a solar oven. Have fun with this and pretend you’re out in the wilderness with your kids. Let them help if possible.

The idea here is to practice skills you may need during an emergency. Having all the latest and greatest whiz bang gadgets won’t do you much good if you’ve never used them before. Make the mistakes now, rather than when they’ll actually count.

I’d love to hear from some of my readers who take up this challenge this week. What did you cook? How did you prepare it? Did everything go as planned? Leave a comment below.

Prepping on a Budget presentation outline

As promised yesterday, here is the outline I used for my presentation on Prepping on a Budget at the 2011 Survival & Preparedness Conference.

Money is tight for most of us. We’re living paycheck to paycheck, trying to make ends meet. We have very little in the way of extra funds we can put toward preps. Sure, we’d all love to be able to drop a few thousand dollars on #10 cans of dehydrated food every other month but that just isn’t going to happen for most of us.

So, let’s talk about ways we can stretch your dollar and get the most bang for your buck.

First, we’ll start with some general pointers.

–Know what you already have. Do a complete inventory of your pantry, your workshop, every closet, nook, and cranny. If you’re anything like me, you probably have forgotten at least some of the items you’ve already bought.

–Related to that, keep track of what you buy, when you buy it, and how long it should last before going bad. Come up with some sort of system to rotate your food and such on a regular basis.

–Remember, when it comes to purchasing anything, you need to do your homework ahead of time. Learn average prices in your area so you can recognize deals when you come across them. I think all of us have probably been duped at least a few times into buying something we thought was a great deal, only to find it cheaper somewhere else within a day or two.

Clearance bins
Don’t be afraid to check out clearance carts and other in-store displays. You can often find canned goods that are approaching expiration. They will likely last for some time yet and you can always move them up in your rotation if need be.

Haggle
If you’re buying a case or two of an item, it doesn’t hurt to ask a manager if you can get a discount. The worst that could happen is they say no but more often than not, they’ll toss you 10% or more off. Also, talk to the produce manager about buying fruits and veggies that are blemished or slightly out of date. I know one person who has a regular exchange with her local grocery store where she buys the slightly dinged produce for literally pennies on the dollar. What she doesn’t eat or can up for later she feeds to her animals on the homestead.

With many commodities, buying in bulk (Sam’s Club, Costco, etc.) will usually get us the best overall price per unit. However, many of us don’t have the means to buy a pallet of toilet paper at a time. We need to allocate our pennies and dollars across a wider range of purchases every week. Thus, while I encourage you to take advantage of bulk buying if at all possible, we’ll limit our discussion here on smaller quantity purchases.

Food Storage

Naturally, having a stocked pantry is not only a great idea, it can be such a comfort. With a well-stocked larder, we know that we’re set to withstand almost anything, right? The hard part is getting to that point. Food can be expensive and it generally doesn’t last forever. But, we can eat tomorrow at today’s prices so let’s look at ways to get more food for less money.

Store what you eat, eat what you store
The best way to ensure you are regularly rotating your stock, using it before it goes bad, is to actually USE your food pantry as more than just a stockpile for the distant future. Don’t store food you or your family don’t like. If you don’t like brussel sprouts, don’t buy them.

Start small if you need to
Buying just a couple extra cans a week will add up quickly.

Shop the sales
Every week, make sure you get a copy of all the sales ads for your local stores. Make your shopping list based on these sales.

Coupons
Be diligent about cutting and sorting coupons. Use them religiously. Watch your grocery sale ads for opportunities to stack coupons. Stacking refers to using a manufacturer’s coupon on top of an in-store special. If you have a local store that will double or even triple coupons on certain days, do whatever it takes to get there and take advantage of it.

Sign up for store loyalty cards
Many, if not most, grocery stores now have some sort of customer loyalty card. Get one for each store you patronize regularly. These cards will get you better prices on your purchases and are free to obtain.

Learn to preserve food at home
Invest in canning supplies and a good dehydrator. Being able to preserve food at home will be a tremendous help if you come across a great deal on meat or fresh produce. There is little sense in buying a bunch of food that will go bad before you can consume it. Plus, home canned food is much healthier than store bought canned goods.

Foraging and hunting
Take some time now to learn the edible plants in your area. Get out there and actually forage some of these tasty treats. If you have the means to go hunting, I’d encourage you to do so.

Gardening
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, should have at least some type of garden. If you’re in an apartment, do container gardening. If the your soil isn’t great, try putting in raised beds. Every vegetable you grown and harvest is one less you’ll have to buy in the store.

Cheap but filling foods for long-term storage
Rice
Beans
Pasta
Ramen
Canned tuna
Canned chicken
Canned/bagged soups
Oatmeal
Baking mixes

Gear and other goodies

Oh my, isn’t there just a ton of STUFF you need to stockpile? And all that stuff adds up quickly in terms of cost. There are a few ways you can cut that cost down though.

A few words of caution. As stated earlier, make sure you can recognize a good deal when you see it. Just because an item is priced very cheaply doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good deal. If a given widget goes for $5.00 brand new, buying it used for $4.50 might not be the greatest deal. Also, especially for any kind of equipment, be sure to inspect the item thoroughly before buying it used. That camp stove you find at a rummage sale for $3 isn’t a good deal if it leaks and turns into a propane bomb the first time you use it.

Freecycle
Surf over to www.Freecycle.org and search around for groups near you. The way these groups work is you sign up to join their Yahoo Group. What happens then is you’ll receive emails from people who have stuff they want to give away. If you’re interested in the item posted, you respond back to them by email telling them so. It is up to the poster as to who gets the item so you won’t always be the lucky recipient. But, you can get some great stuff absolutely free using Freecycle. You are also able to post your own used items to get rid of them and make room for your preps. Most groups will also allow you to make a limited number of “Wanted” posts, where you can ask the group members if anyone has a particular item you want or need. Absolutely free to join and use.

Craigslist
Use this with caution. There are so many scams out there, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, people are on there every day selling and/or giving away some good stuff.

Rummage sales, garage sales, tag sales
Get out there early in the morning for the best selection, but late in the day for the best prices. This is where you can usually find the best deals on tools, camping equipment, and other odds and ends. Don’t be afraid to haggle a bit but don’t lowball them either. Also, if you don’t see something for which you are searching, sometimes it pays to ask. For example, you’re really in need of some camp cooking gear and you see they have a tent and sleeping bag they are selling, ask if they have other camp related stuff they might want to get rid of. Fairly often, they’ll come up with related items that just didn’t make it out to the rummage sale.

Flea markets
Personally, I don’t do well at these but your mileage may vary. In my experience, most of them have turned into just a collection of home based businesses like Avon and Tupperware.

Thrift stores
Some great deals to be had, but pay close attention to prices. Many times, I’ve seen used items for sale priced higher than I could pay for brand new. However, for spare clothing, books, and movies, the prices usually can’t be beat.

Library sales and used bookstores
I’m a voracious reader and maintain an extensive home library. Well over half of my approximately three thousand books were purchased used, often paying far less than half the cover price. Most libraries hold used book sales at least once a year. You can find some incredible deals at these sales as the books are often priced for less than a dollar each. Toward the end of the day, they’ll even do bag sales, where you fill a grocery bag and pay around $3. Used bookstores are another great source, with the prices often being half the cover price or less.

Repurposing

Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.
Improvise, be creative.

Trim the Budget Elsewhere

Eat at home, pack lunches — healthier and cheaper
Bundle services when possible
Little purchases add up quick
Mind your energy consumption

Every dollar you save can be used for preps!

Barter/trade presentation outline

While I was in Dallas last month, I told attendees that I’d be posting the outlines for my presentations here and elsewhere. I realized today that I’d failed to put them up here. Here is the outline I used for my session on Post-Collapse Barter and Trade. Tomorrow, I’ll post the outline for Prepping on a Budget.

After TSHTF, paper money will likely be pretty worthless. As for gold and other valuable metals, well I’m personally not sold on the idea of stockpiling them for future currency. I think that if the world does finally end up turned on its ear, it will be quite some time before people are concerned with more than just filling their bellies and keeping some form of roof over their heads. I think for at least the immediate future after TSHTF, barter and trading will be the most popular forms of currency.

No matter how long we’ve been prepping, each of us will probably forget to have stockpiled some item, or at least enough of it, that will get us through. Hopefully, someone else will have had the foresight to either stockpile it or in some other way be able to provide it…probably for a fee. No man (or woman) is an island and we all likely lack at least a couple of skills we might need at some point down the road. Thus, we’ll need a way to “pay” for someone else to help us out in those areas we lack.

There are essentially two categories for what you might have available to trade or barter – stuff and skills.

Stuff refers to the physical items you have on hand you could trade to someone else for either goods or services.

The key elements in my opinion as to what items to stockpile for future use in barter are:

1) They must be relatively inexpensive now.
2) They must be long lasting and easy to store.
3) They must have inherent use for you, whether you trade them later or not.
4) They must be easy to divide into small quantities.

Some suggestions for stuff to stockpile for use in bartering:

Vices
Tobacco
Alcohol
Hard candy
Coffee / tea

Medical/Hygiene
Toilet paper
Chapstick
Feminine hygiene
Vitamins
Pain relievers
Caffeine pills
Condoms
Yeast infection creams

Consumables
Garden surplus
Honey
Sugar
Powdered milk
Drink mixes
Vegetable oil
Salt
Seeds

Toiletries
Soap
Shampoo
Toothpaste
Toothbrushes
Dental floss

Miscellaneous
Cheap folding knives
Can openers
Butane lighters
Strike anywhere matches
Nails, screws
Hand tools
Cloth, patches
Needles, thread
Safety pins
Socks, underwear

Skills are the services you could provide in exchange for either goods or services. Again, same with stuff, the skills must have inherent value to you and your family.

Medical (including herbal remedies)
Dental
Carpentry
Electrical
Plumbing
Sewing/knitting
Automotive, small engine repair
Home brewer, distillation
Cooking
Leather working, tanning
Welding
Smithing, metal working
Reloading

Obviously, if you have skills to offer, you should have stockpiled the necessary tools and supplies to do the job. Most of the above skills would be well suited for a cottage industry after a collapse.

The key elements to a successful trade either now or later:

1) Both sides should be happy with the result. Ideally, each party will feel they got the better end of the trade.

2) The trade should take place in a safe manner, as best as is possible. Thus, I highly discourage the idea of trading ammunition, just in case the other person feels like returning their “purchase” using some form of quick delivery system. If the other party is a neighbor or friend, obviously that is a less worrisome transaction than someone relatively unknown. In the latter event, perhaps you can work out a neutral location to swap goods.

3) After TSHTF, it is important you don’t “tip your hand” and make it known you have a stockpile of goodies just waiting for someone to decide they want for themselves. Although, with the right system of protection in place, setting up shop as a trading post may indeed be lucrative.

Retreat location considerations

Last night, I was a guest on the Survivalist Radio show, part of the Prepper Podcast Network. Ed Corcoran (editor of Survivalist Magazine) and I had a brief discussion on finding “prepper-friendly” places to live. In case you missed the show, here are some of the points we discussed.

First of all, the term “retreat” is something of a misnomer. The ideal is to live at your “retreat.” Perhaps homestead would be a better term to use. I fully realize this isn’t practical for some people, due to work requirements or what have you. But, it is difficult enough at times to maintain one residence, let alone a residence coupled with a home away from home.

Deciding on an area of the country in which to settle and put down roots is a very personal choice. There is no place on the planet that will be 100% perfect for everyone. You need to find the place that is perfect, or nearly so, for yourself and your situation. But, with that said, there are some general guidelines to bear in mind.

Growing season — It can be difficult to grow substantial crops if the growing season only lasts a few months. Thus, the far northern areas should be considered with caution.

Water — This goes hand in hand with gardening. If it is difficult to provide enough drinking water on a daily basis, growing crops is out of the question.

Overall climate and weather patterns — Many areas of the country experience significant snow falls in the winter months. Today, that might not be a big deal if you have a snowblower. But, shoveling it all is a different matter entirely. Cold winters = more heat needing to be generated.

Flora/fauna — Having the option available to forage, hunt, fish, and trap to supplement your food storage is a necessary component, in my opinion.

Support systems — While many of us may strive (at least in our heads) for some sort of loner lifestyle, it is wise to consider the potential need for medical treatment, dental care, and other necessities. Thus, being somewhat close to at least a smallish village would be preferable. Plus, let’s face it, most of us do need to maintain employment and it is difficult to do so when you are completely removed from society.

Local “culture” — You need to take into account the general mindset of the people in the area. Moving to a part of the country where firearms are frowned upon, for example, probably isn’t the best choice. Also, bear in mind that in many rural areas, you can live there 15 years and still be looked upon as the “new people.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of and take into consideration.

Local politics — You’d be hard pressed to find a part of the country that politicians haven’t yet screwed up to at least some degree. So, you’ll need to just find someplace you can tolerate when it comes to political climate.

What do you feel are the critical issues to consider when deciding on a retreat/homestead location?

Good additions to the Get Home Bag

We all know, or should know, the basics to have in a Get Home Bag — food, water (and means of purifying found water), fire making supplies, first aid kit, navigation (maps, compass, etc.), that sort of thing. But, there are a few items people often overlook that while might not be absolutely essential for survival, sure make life a little easier.

Bug repellent — I don’t know about you but where I live and work, the skeeters come big enough to carry off small children. Spending a few nights in the rough without bug repellent means those nights will be spent slapping and swatting rather than sleeping.

Sunscreen — If the possibility exists that you’ll be traveling on foot, you’ll want to avoid sunburn on your face and arms as much as you can.

Sunglasses — Sure, you likely have a pair in your car now but what if you don’t remember to grab them? Toss a cheap pair from a dollar store in your bag, just in case.

Hat with brim — A cheap ball cap will keep the sun off your face and help prevent heatstroke.

Bandanas — Dozens of uses and very cheap. Toss a few in your bag.

Glue sticks — These are very handy for quick repairs to clothing, packs, and other gear. Just heat the end to melt it a bit and you’re good to go.

Gloves — Having a decent pair of heavy work gloves can be a blessing when you’re gathering firewood, moving brush, or any other similar activities. They don’t need to be made completely out of leather but should at least have leather on the palms.

Spare socks and underwear — Clean socks will help prevent blisters. Clean underwear because that’s what Mom’s biggest worry always was, right?

Almost all of these items are very inexpensive, small, and add very little weight to the Get Home Bag.

Weekly assignment – Making fire

This week’s assignment is probably old hat for some of you but I’d like for all of you to still participate.

The ability to get a fire going is one of the most important survival skills. Fire will keep you warm. It will cook food. It will purify water by boiling. It is a comfort during lonely nights in the woods. It can be a tremendous morale boost.

This week, I want you to practice at least two methods of starting a fire. Mirror, as best you can, getting the fire going in a survival situation. None of those fake logs you can buy in the fall. Just gather your own tinder and kindling, then get things going. Matches/lighter, bow drill, magnifying glass, flint/steel, or magnesium striker are all acceptable. You may use any form of tinder or homemade fire starters you’d like, as long as the materials are something you could reasonably expect to have on hand in an emergency situation. Ideally, you should practice methods you’re not already familiar with using.

Bonus points if you use the fire you make to cook food or boil water.

Please post in the comments below how you did, what you learned, and what methods you used.

Fishing for sport vs survival

This past weekend, my family and I went fishing for the first time this season. We ended up going twice as a family and I took my middle son once with just the two of us. All told, we caught 8 fish. Considering we spent close to seven hours total fishing through the weekend, that’s just a hair more than one fish an hour. Factor in the fact that only one of those fish was even close to legal size (thus, enough meat to actually eat), we didn’t do so well if it had been a survival situation.

Do you have fishing gear in your survival kits? Do you plan to at least supplement your food storage plan with fishing?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, when was the last time you went out and wet a line? Have you ever actually tried using the stuff you have in your survival kit for fishing?

While casting and reeling is a great way to spend a summer morning or evening, fishing for survival is a whole different ball game. You could spend hours on the shore and barely get enough to feed yourself, let alone your family. Granted, fishing burns a lot less calories than hunting on average. But, all that time spent fishing could be used for other, possibly more productive, activities. This might not be an issue if you have several people in your group and you can delegate the duties. But, that also means you’ll need to bring in more fish so there’s a bit of give and take there.

There are many different types of traps you can build for fish. Let Google be your guide and learn a few of them. They aren’t legal to use now but in a true survival situation, all that generally goes out the window. These traps will do the work for you, while you attend to other matters. They might not work all the time but at least you didn’t waste the day away.

Whether you decide to look into fish traps or not, I’d encourage you to get your fishing license this year and practice using your fishing kits. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Do it now, while your life doesn’t depend on it.