The skill of improvising

I’ve always felt that proficiency in improvising, or “MacGuyvering,” is a key element of prepping. Being able to look at a common object and imagining all sorts of alternate uses is a great way to practice this skill.

Take, for example, an ordinary spring clothespin.

Naturally, you can always use them to hang your hand-washed clothes to dry. You could also use them to suspend a tarp or sheet to close off an area of a room for privacy.

What else?

Well, a clothespin makes a great trigger for an electrical powered alert system. Wrap copper wire around each of the jaws of the clothespin. The wires then go to the alert device and on to the power source. Place a piece of plastic or other non-conductive material in the jaws, interrupting the circuit. Tie your trip line to that piece of plastic and affix the clothespin to a board or something to keep it in place. Someone trips the line, which pulls the plastic, and completes the electrical circuit.

I suppose in a pinch, the wood of the clothespin is dry enough to be used as kindling too.

Headphones / ear buds from an mp3 player? Great for lashing together limbs in an improvised shelter. String a few of them together and you might have enough to use for fishing line. Not great, I’ll grant you, but better than nothing.

Look around you right now. Pick up a random object and think about it for a bit. How many different ways could you use it, or parts from it?

Don’t Be This Guy

This graphic has been making the rounds on Facebook the last couple days.

Sadly, I know several preppers who would fit into that category. People who complain about government interference in their lives, yet are first in line for assistance.

Look, the reason we prep is so we don’t have to rely on outside assistance, right? In a weird way, I look at prepping as almost being like a public service. By providing for our own needs, we free up assistance for those who truly need it. There are people out there who just aren’t able to prep, at least not in much of meaningful way. They may be hampered by physical ailments, mental issues, or are just plain broke. Those are the folks who need the help and who should get it.

In any disaster, there are three groups of people.

1) Those who prepped in advance and can fend for themselves for the most part.

2) Those who really need help to stay safe.

3) Those who just become a huge pain in the ass by engaging in any number of activities, such as looting or forcing first responders to risk their lives because the people were just being stupid.

Be part of group 1 and do what you can to help group 2. Don’t be a member of group 3.

Stay safe out there. Sandy is showing herself to be one brutal mistress.

Hurricane Sandy

Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock or out in the brush the last few days, you’ve no doubt heard all the dire warnings regarding Hurricane Sandy.

By all accounts I’ve read thus far, they aren’t exaggerating. This one is shaping up to be one hell of a storm. The cloud field is truly staggering, 1,600 or so miles across. Being that it will make landfall during a full moon, they expect the tidal surges to be even worse than they would otherwise.

If you live out on the East Coast, the next week or so might be a great time to go visit relatives out west. Secure doors and windows, pack a bag, and go west, young man, as they say.

If you choose to shelter in place, get your preps together immediately rather than wait until the last minute. Food, water, plywood for windows, if you live out that way you should know the drill.

For those who live in low-lying areas, consider investing in sandbags to put around your house. With storms like this, it is actually water damage that is worse than the high winds. You want to do whatever you can to reduce the threat of flooding.

Again, if you are in an area that is expected to be affected by Hurricane Sandy, I would highly encourage you to get out of Dodge for a while, just in case. If you decide to do so, sooner rather than later to avoid the inevitable traffic jams. Remember the images of packed freeways just before Hurricane Katrina hit? Learn from the past and don’t make the same mistakes.

Good luck to all of you out East. Please do check in and let us know how you’re holding up once Sandy stops by to say hi.

Proper Footwear is Important

It is that time of year when we start transitioning our bug out bags and other kits over to cold weather gear. It is very important to not overlook your feet as you do so. Make sure you have an extra pair of good boots with your bug out bag in your trunk, as well as a couple pair of extra socks.

Many of us are more or less forced to wear “nice” shoes to work every day. Even in a business casual environment, men can at least get away with a bit more rugged shoes, something with a thick sole with some traction. However, it is always a good idea to have a back up available, just in case.

Boots and shoes are definitely not something you should buy and just toss into your trunk. You want them wore in at least a little bit so they are comfortable. I’m sure most of us have had the experience of buying a pair of shoes that felt fine in the store, then about killed our feet after a full day of wearing them.

Thick wool socks are always welcome. Keep in mind socks can serve many purposes too — improvised mittens, cushioning and insulation for water bottles are just two that come to mind. You want a few pair in your bag in case one or two get wet. If at all possible, you want to keep your feet as dry as you can.

Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you.

FEMA Camps

Every Wednesday, I do what I call “Ask Me Wednesday” over on my Facebook page. Basically, I encourage my FB friends to post any questions they may have that are related to prepping or survival. If I can’t answer it off the top of my head, I’ll see what I can dig up through some research. It has gotten to the point where some of my friends will also post their answers, which is cool.

Today, a question was posed as to my thoughts about alleged FEMA camps. I posted a quick reply on Facebook but thought I’d address the topic a bit more here.

For those not in the know, the subject of FEMA camps comes up fairly regularly in online survival discussions. The idea is that FEMA or some other government agency has constructed several large internment camps throughout the United States. These camps are to be used for imprisonment and/or “re-education” of potentially difficult citizens if/when a major catastrophe strikes. Some folks go so far as to say the catastrophe has been planned ahead of time. Supposedly there are massive piles of plastic coffins to allow for quick burial of bodies. Trains have been set up to transport people from all areas of the continental U.S. to these various camps.

Ok, so that’s the basic theory. Here’s my take on it.

First, I find it almost impossible to believe such a massive undertaking could take place without at least a few folks involved spilling the beans. Building such massive camps would involve thousands of workers.

Second, one of the key elements often mentioned is the high security with these camps. Armed guards constantly on patrol, that sort of thing. Yet, for all the technology and manpower supposedly present, some guy manages to snap photos and upload them to his website, talk about them at length, and nothing happens to him?

And the photos you see on those websites? Quite often, they’ve been found to actually be train repair yards, National Guard bases, even locations from overseas.

I’ve been around for a while now and I have yet to have a single, credible person tell me a believable story about FEMA camps.

But, I will say this. If there were such camps, I can only hope FEMA is indeed in charge of them. After the colossal screw up with their response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I’m not overly worried about their capabilities to pull off an internment camp.

Cash in the Bug Out Bag

Something that is occasionally overlooked when assembling bug out bags is the need for cash. Remember, it need not be a complete end of the world calamity for you to end up having to rely on your bug out bag for at least the short-term.

For anything up to a total collapse, cash is likely to still be king. If the power is out, many places won’t take credit/debit cards. If you’re a motel owner and you have two people in front of you, one with a Discover card and the other with $50 in cash, you’re going to go with the cash every time.

If the power is still running, a few singles and some quarters can get you some quick calories from a snack machine. Hell, you might even run across a true rarity — a working payphone.

How much cash should you have in your bug out bag? Well, in all seriousness, the more the better. Make sure you have a little bit of everything, from twenties down to quarters. I’d say twenties are probably the largest bill you want to carry as you don’t want to end up in a situation where all you have is a fifty and the other guy doesn’t have change.

Here’s my recommendation for cash in the bug out bag, if you can swing it.

$100.00 in twenties
$50.00 in tens
$30.00 in fives
$20.00 in singles
$10.00 in quarters

That gives you $210.00 total. Plenty of cash to get you a decent motel room for a night or two, plus perhaps a couple cheap meals or a ride out of town.

My suggestion is to include in your bug out bag a pouch, commonly called a neck safe. This is a small cloth bag you wear around your neck and under your shirt. Put most of your cash in there to keep it safe when you’re traveling. Keep a bit of cash in your pocket for easy access.

The roll of quarters serves two purposes. It can get you a bit of food and it can also be inside your fist, should you need a bit of…reinforcement.

Archery for Survival

From time to time, the subject of archery comes up in survival discussions. I’ve heard some folks talk about making their own bows and arrows to use after TSHTF, for hunting and for defense. They also talk about the need for a “silent kill.”

Here are my thoughts on the subject of archery for survival.

If you currently are not extremely well-adept with shooting a bow, and you plan to use one down the road for survival, start practicing immediately. It can take a much longer time than you may think to consistently hit your target. There is a lot more going on than if you are using a rifle. Trajectories are different, as are just the basic mechanics of shooting a bow.

Crafting a bow and a few arrows totally from scratch is as much art as it is skill. This isn’t something you can just read about and pull off on your first attempt. Done incorrectly, the bow may snap and cause you injury. Just as bad if not worse, arrows lacking a certain amount of flex to them will snap as you release the bowstring. See, if you watch a slow-motion video of an arrow being released, you’ll see it actually bends before it takes flight. If the arrow is too stiff, it might shatter.

Now granted, I as well as many other people made fairly functional bows and arrows in our youth. Never once did I have an arrow shatter on me. But, why take the risk of having it happen because you did something wrong? Do your homework, then practice, practice, practice.

Personally, while I think archery may have a role in survival, it should obviously be secondary to proficiency with firearms. Certainly a bow and arrow are much quieter than even a .22 and there may be situations where that relative quiet will be desired. It is something to think about.

The Importance of Proper Storage

So, last night, my wife went to get a new sack of flour out of storage. There were three 5 pound sacks in a sealed five-gallon plastic pail.

Found bugs all over all three sacks. Lovely.

We had bought these sacks toward the beginning of this year when they were on sale. Thankfully, those three sacks were the only things in that particular bucket so the loss was minimal.

Why did we get bugs? Thinking back, we missed a step in the storage process. For grains like flour, you should freeze them for a few days before storing them. Freezing them will kill off any mites or other bugs that may have worked their way into the sacks.

After they’ve been frozen, put them into the buckets and secure the lids. Some folks go a step further and fill the buckets with nitrogen and/or add oxygen absorbers before sealing them up. We might end up going that route. We’re going to check our other storage over the weekend and see how things are holding up.

I’m just thankful we found the problem now, rather than when we truly needed the flour.

I cannot stress enough the importance of inspecting your food storage from time to time. Make mistakes now before they really matter.

Books for Barter?

A question came through in one of my Yahoo Groups today concerning storing books for future use in barter transactions. While on the surface it doesn’t sound like a bad idea, I do have some thoughts about it.

First, let’s say there was some sort of major regional or even national catastrophe. One large enough that would result in folks relying on barter to get what they need. One of the key components of whether an item would be useful as barter is the expected rarity of the item. For example, we would expect food to be high on the value list, right? Fuel would probably be another one.

Books though, I have to wonder how scarce they’d be. I mean, most homes have at least a couple bookcases full of paperbacks and such, right? Libraries would be another source for finding reading material. Also, statistics have shown for years that less and less people read for entertainment. Sure, ebooks are obviously the new big thing and some of the people who devour them now might turn back to physical books when their reader dies.

There is this too — most of the avid readers I know already have a TON of books in their homes. They aren’t necessarily stored for barter purposes but just because many readers don’t like to get rid of their books. Heck, I have books in literally every single room of my home.

Another consideration is the type of book being stored. I would guess that practical information, like books on homesteading skills and wilderness survival, would fetch a higher “price” than a 15 year old Grisham novel.

I’m not saying that considering books for barter use is a bad idea. But I’d think hard about storing several cases of them in place of storing things like salt, matches, sewing needles and more practical things.

Property Lines After TSHTF

Our topic today was something that was brought up on my Facebook page earlier by one of my FB friends. I’ll quote part of her post:

Somebody made a good point to me though; if shtf, titles and property lines are not going to matter.

With all due respect, I beg to differ. I think property owners will be increasingly more vigilant about their boundaries after any sort of catastrophic event. Let’s say you own a couple dozen acres out in the sticks. Today, if you learn someone is hunting on your land without your permission, you might call your local sheriff’s office or maybe the DNR. After TSHTF, that wayward hunter will be seen as taking food from the mouths of your family members and the county sheriff won’t be available. Odds are pretty good that more than one trespassing hunter will end up at the wrong end of a rifle.

Even today, there is a ton of public land out there and many hunters use BLM acreage every year. I have to believe though that while that land is publicly accessible now, after TSHTF you’re going to see people squatting on that land here and there. They’ll consider certain areas of the forest “theirs” and will go to great lengths to discourage visitors. They’ll work out their own property lines as they see fit.

The best advice I can give, aside from acquiring your own land soon, is to do what many hunters do today. Work out an agreement with the land owner where you are given permission to hunt their land, perhaps in exchange for part of the bounty. Better to give up part of a deer in barter than end up with lead clogging up your innards.