Practicing Minimalism

I love to read about or see what folks have packed in their survival kits. Sometimes I’ll see something I’ve not thought of before and incorporate it into my own kits. Other times, I shake my head and wonder just how far they think they’ll get toting all that gear.

Minimalism is basically just having the absolute bare essentials and making do. It relies much more on skills than it does on stuff. That’s something I’ve been preaching here since this blog started — no matter what happens, you’ll always have knowledge and skills. No one can take those from you.

Next time you head out into the field to practice your survival skills, try a minimalistic approach. Instead of taking along a 50lb rucksack with everything but the kitchen sink in it, use a fanny pack. Pare down your kit to the point that it’ll fit into that small space and see how you fare.

What would you consider to be your absolute bare essentials?

–Sharp knife
–Fire starting kit
–Container for water
–Small amount of high-calorie food
–Space blanket
–Cordage

And even some or all of those items could be done without, right?

Gear makes life easy, no argument there. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. But, if you don’t have it, do you have the skills to improvise and make do?

OPSEC When Shopping

One of the things we as preppers constantly have to consider is maintaining OPSEC (operations security). This is something that can be worrisome when shopping. Essentially, there are three elements to this we should consider.

1) Buying large quantities of items at local stores. Rolling up a cart filled with a couple cases of canned goods, several large bags of rice, a case of bottled water, and 20lbs of flour is probably going to raise an eyebrow or two at the checkouts. I can remember as a teenager, I worked for a small restaurant that had a Sunday brunch. On a pretty regular basis, we’d run out of one thing or another so I’d have to make a quick trip to the grocery store, where we had a charge account. This would result in me taking a cart and filling it to brim with loaves of bread and taking it up to the checkouts. I’d always get a funny look from customers and I’d often reply, “What can I say? I really like bread!” If you find yourself attracting attention, either from customers or the cashier, think ahead and have a reasonable sounding excuse ready to go. “I try to stock up when prices are low.” Or, “Watching my nephews over Spring Break and they’re about to eat me out of house and home!” Also consider spreading your shopping around a bit and either visit several different stores to make smaller purchases or make several smaller purchases throughout the week at the one store with the good prices.

2) Unloading mass quantities of supplies at home. Unless you are fortunate enough to live way out in the sticks, odds are you have neighbors who pay at least a bit of attention to what goes on in your neighborhood. Hell, don’t most of us watch what folks are doing around us? If you regularly come home with a trunk load of groceries a few times a week, someone is bound to remember that and maybe come calling when the balloon has gone up and they’re looking for a handout. If you have a garage, make a habit of pulling the car in, closing the door, and unload from there. Or unload later at night when you can’t be seen as well.

3) Receiving deliveries of online purchases. A few years ago, we had a neighbor who I would swear was singularly responsible for keeping eBay in business. He would receive multiple packages almost every day. Naturally, this was noticed since he wasn’t home during the day so the parcels would sit on his porch in a pile until he got home. If you have the means to do so, consider having at least some of your online purchases delivered to you at work. Doing so will obviously cut down on the number of packages you’re getting at home. Another idea is to have stuff delivered to trusted friends or family members. Some companies do also offer the option of not listing the company name on the package so at least nosy neighbors won’t see boxes coming to you from “PREPPERS R US” or wherever.

OPSEC is something you need to consider at all times. Look at your actions and behavior from the outside in and think about the information possibly being shared without your knowledge or consent.

Self-Defense and Lethal Force

Obviously, the news lately has been filled with stories about the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I’m withholding further comment on that particular case until more facts come to light as to what all happened before the trigger was pulled. There have also been other similar stories in the news lately, such as this one out of Slinger, Wisconsin.

I’m not here to debate the legalities of these individual cases. I have no information to go on aside from that which as been reported in the media. Relying upon the media to provide enough facts to make such a decision would be incredibly naive at best.

What I do want to bring up though is this. I know many of my readers legally carry concealed weapons for self-defense. That’s great, I have no issues with that. But, for those who do make that decision, I would implore you to educate yourselves on the legalities of using lethal force in self-defense. A CCW permit does not come with a badge that signifies you are a member of law enforcement. Nor does it grant you the right to walk around thinking you are Captain Badass.

If you haven’t done so recently, say within the last six months or so, I encourage you to look up any and all applicable laws for your jurisdiction that apply to self-defense, Castle Doctrine, and other related matters. Do NOT rely upon someone else’s interpretation of the law they’ve posted on their own website. If you have trouble translating the actual legal language as cited in the state statutes, have an attorney do so for you.

It is far better to learn the letter of the law now, rather than having it explained to you after a shooting and you find out you misunderstood something.

In almost all situations, it is preferable to get away from the danger than to escalate it. If you are given an avenue to escape, do so. Following that advice will help you to avoid a sticky and likely costly legal battle. Even if you were 100% justified in your actions, that does not prevent the family of a shooting victim from filing suit against you. They may lose but you’ll spend thousands of dollars in legal fees before you prevail. Just food for thought.

Book review: The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

I had recently seen mention of this book on one or another online forum so had my library order me a copy after I checked out the blurbs on Amazon. Overall, it wasn’t a bad read, though I don’t think I quite share Suzanne Collins’ (author of The Hunger Games) exuberance about it.

Twenty years prior to the start of the book, America was decimated in a war with China, during which the titular plague was released. Millions died during the war and aftermath. Stephen Quinn was born a few years later and has lived his entire life as a scavenger. He, his father, and his grandfather have criss-crossed the country countless times, picking up trinkets and baubles they find and trading them for food and supplies at Gatherings a couple times a year. You know, the type of lifestyle that fires up the adolescent adventuresome mind but in reality would suck more than a souped up Hoover.

As the story begins, Stephen’s grandfather has just died. A military veteran, he was a stern, even mean, taskmaster to both his son and grandson. While he taught them many skills necessary to survive, those skills were hard won and only achieved after sometimes brutal abuse. Stephen and his dad continue on with their travels after a rather unemotional burial.

They soon come across a group of slavers and the dad decides to step in and save the victim. He is severely injured during the confrontation and Stephen sets out to find help. He ends up in Settler’s Landing, a small village that looks almost untouched by the outside world. There, he finds much more than he bargained for in a new friend named Jenny. She is defiant, outspoken, and dangerous. Together, they commit what was meant to be a prank but ends up setting off a firestorm that threatens the entire village.

The story is written in first person, which I had a bit of a problem with in this book. Because it is written that way, you can already assume that despite the trouble Stephen has throughout the story, he makes it out ok in the end. I also found it somewhat unbelievable that this teenager who has spent his entire life living on the road can’t shoot a rifle very well, despite having been taught how to do so by his grandfather. He just came across as much too adolescent given the circumstances. In this type of world, you’d expect kids to grow up very quickly, wouldn’t you?

It was a quick read and there were some interesting parts but it could have been so much better, to my way of thinking anyway. I’d have liked to hear much more about the roving bands of ex-soldiers, the slavers, and just about how the world works in the aftermath of the war and plague.

Not a bad read, like I said at the outset. But, I’d borrow it from a local library rather than spending money on it.

Triangle of Life myth

Once again today, an email arrived in my inbox talking about the “Triangle of Life.” This is a theory about how to best survive an earthquake, developed by Doug Copp.

Taken from the Wikipedia entry, here is a description of the theory:

According to Copp’s theory, when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling upon the objects or furniture inside tends to crush them, but the height of the object that remains acts as a kind of roof beam over the space or void next to it, which will tend to end up with a sloping roof over it. Copp terms this space for survival as the triangle of life. The larger and stronger the object, the less it will compact; the less it compacts, the larger the void next to it will be. Such triangles are the most common shape to be found in a collapsed building.

Sounds pretty good, right? Seems to make sense?

The problem is it doesn’t hold up to reality checks. First, the theory is predicated upon buildings “pancaking” during an earthquake. While this does happen in some areas, building codes here in the United States are such that buildings don’t really do it all that often here. Further, the theory assumes these objects and furniture won’t be sliding around during an earthquake, which of course is not true.

Most injuries and deaths in an earthquake here in the US are the result of falling objects, not building collapse. If you are caught in a quake, you should “Drop, cover, and hold on.” Hit the floor, get under something sturdy, and hold on. Experts used to advocate getting into a doorway however that also has been proven to be a fallacy. In modern structures, doorways are really no stronger than any other part of the dwelling. You’re better off getting under a table to keep debris from hitting you. You’re at greater risk of injury trying to get TO a doorway or find one of these potential “triangles of life.”

Preparing dry foods for long-term storage

Rice is often a staple in a long-term food storage plan. Wheat and other grains are usually included as well. Beans, while not a grain of course, sort of fall into this same category too. The problem with almost any type of long-term dry food storage is eliminating pests both from within and without.

Quite often, there are tiny mites and other insects that can make their way into the bags of rice and such before they are sealed up at the factory. Appetizing, ain’t it? What you should do when you first bring the items home is toss them into a freezer. This will kill off any bugs and their eggs. How long should you keep the bags in the freezer? While a week is probably overkill, no pun intended, I’d rather err on the side of caution.

(Image courtesy of FreezeDriedSurvivalFood.com.)

After freezing, you’ll want to store the rice and such in air-tight containers if at all possible. The popular five gallon buckets you can score from bakeries and delis work well. You can either pound the original lids back on or use Gamma Seal lids, which are a lot easier to remove but cost a few bucks.

Some people take the added measure of tossing in oxygen absorbers or filling the buckets with nitrogen.

There are two main schools of thought on what to put in the buckets. On one side are the people who put “like with like,” for example putting only rice in one bucket, wheat in another, flour in a third, etc.. On the other side are those who advocate using a mix of items, usually things that will probably run low at near the same time, such as sugar, rice, flour, and beans. Use whichever method makes sense for your particular situation. Personally, I like to keep the items in their original packaging in the buckets if possible as that makes it easier to rotate the food through normal usage.

Once the buckets are filled and sealed, make sure you label them clearly with the contents as well as the date. Always use the oldest product first. Store the buckets in a cool, dry location.

Executive Order panic

Over the weekend, the Internet sort of exploded with discussion about the recently signed Executive Order concerning “National Defense Resources Preparedness.” Lots of cries about martial law, troops taking our preps, and other assorted nonsense.

Before you buy into this panic, please take a moment, breathe deep a few times, and let Uncle Jim explain a few things to you.

First, this type of EO has been in existence for quite some time now. It harkens all the way back to 1939. It has been updated many times through the years, of course. But nowhere does this current EO mention anything about martial law or any of the other major concerns of folks who haven’t really bothered to even read the damn thing.

See, here’s the thing. This current EO supercedes a similar EO issued by President Clinton in 1994. The reality is that the new EO updates the terminology of the one from 1994 in a few key ways, none of which have anything to do with martial law or stealing our preps. Back in 1994, there was no Department of Homeland Security and the tasks related to emergency preparedness fell within the scope of FEMA. Obviously that has changed in the last several years so the EO was issued to make those changes official.

This EO assigns specific governmental bodies to do five things. Identify the necessary requirements for emergencies. Assess the capabilities of our country’s tech and manufacturing base. Be prepared to make sure necessary resources will be available when needed during an emergency. Improve the efficiency of our industries to support us in times of need. Foster cooperation between defense and commercial sectors.

There are also provisions set out to allow for the purchase of necessary equipment.

The current administration gets enough things wrong all on their own without us needing to add to the conspiracy theories.

If this EO is something about which you are truly concerned, I’d encourage you to first actually read it through and make sure you understand exactly what it says.

Stripping a Car

To sort of spin off of yesterday’s topic, let’s say there is an EMP burst or something else along those lines. You are on the road at the time of the disaster. Your vehicle is not operable nor is it likely to ever run again.

Aside from the supplies you (hopefully) have in the vehicle and will take with you, what parts of the vehicle itself may prove useful? Think both in terms of things you could transport as well as things that would be useful if you were to stay where you are for a day or two.

–Floor mats could be used as makeshift ground cover to sit or lay on.

–Mirrors could be used for signaling.

–Gasoline, if siphoned and carried safely, would be useful, right?

–Seat covers could be fashioned into bags.

–Empty soda bottles could carry water.

–Wiring from under the dash could serve as snares.

–Fast food condiments might be nice to season wild edibles.

–Scraps of paper found in the glove box could be tinder for campfires.

–Seat belts would be great lashing material.

Let’s brainstorm a bit. What else could you strip from a dead vehicle? At best, you may have a simple tool kit with you, nothing fancy, just an assortment of wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, and maybe a hammer.

Comment below with your ideas.

Cool website for scanner frequencies

I’ve talked before about using a radio scanner as a survival tool. I highly recommend preppers invest in a good quality scanner so they are able to get a leg up, so to speak, on potential events in their area. Case in point, the other night my wife and I were alerted by one of our dogs that something was going on outside. When we looked out the window, we observed several local and county squad cars on a side road adjacent to our street. By turning on the scanner, we were able to determine there wasn’t any immediate risk to us.

Once you purchase your scanner, where can you find the relevant frequencies? There are, of course, tons of websites where you can find that information. However, my wife recently found what I believe is probably the premier website for this. RadioReference.com bills itself as being the world’s largest radio communications data provider and I’m inclined to agree with them. Their database of frequencies is second to none. They have everything from Federal agencies like FEMA and the FBI all the way down to Podunkville Police Department, Smalltown, USA. In addition to official agencies, they also have all the frequencies for FRS radios and HAM radios.

Here’s another cool feature. You can listen to many of the frequencies online, without a scanner needed. Just do a search for your area to see what’s available. Not all frequencies are there to listen to live, but you can certainly have some fun listening in on police departments from far away as well as close to home.

From a practical standpoint, this feature could allow you to tune in to agencies a county or two away and hear what’s coming in your direction. Very, very cool.

I’ll warn you though. This site is an incredible time sink. You can easily spend hours there playing around with things.

Listen to the world around you

Have you ever just sat and listened to the world around you? Turned off the TV, took the ear buds out, and just…listened?

Most people are very visually oriented. We tend to rely upon our eyes to inform us of the state of our world and warn us of danger. But we should be paying close attention to the noises around us as well. After all, if someone were to try breaking into your home, would you be more likely to see or hear them coming?

Quite often, we overstimulate our auditory sense. Many if not most people usually have at least one thing running, if only for what they’ll call background noise. A TV tuned in to the weather forecast. Stereo playing our favorite CDs. Or even our computers playing mp3s while we surf the ‘Net.

The problem with all that is, if we don’t know what sounds are “normal” in our home, we might not give enough weight to the abnormal ones.

Try this sometime this week. At some point during your day or evening, turn off all your entertainment devices. No music, no TV, no computer. Just sit in your living room and listen to the world around you. Pay close attention and discern what each noise is. Every house has particular creaks and groans, right? Get to know yours so you’ll notice when you hear something that sounds “off.”

How many and what types of noises can you hear outside your home? Neighbor’s dog barking? At some point down the road, that might give you an indication that something’s wrong in that direction. Kids yelling? How far away? While they’re probably just playing today, knowing how far away you can hear them can help you judge threat distance in the future.

There’s a whole big, wide world out there. Pay attention when it speaks to you.