Survival Kit Odds n Ends

There are several items that I often suggest be included in your survival kits, yet don’t really fit neatly into any single category because they are so multi-purpose. Most of these things are very inexpensive and will certainly come in handy during a survival situation.

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Surgical tubing is wonderful stuff. It is hollow and stretchy and has several uses. You can use it as a long straw to pull water from hard to reach places. This is also the same stuff that is often used for commercial slingshots and obviously would work well for a DIY one too.

Contractor grade trash bags fold up very small, fitting into almost any kit. Yet they have a wide range of uses. Stuff one with leaves and grass for a makeshift mattress. Cut holes for head and arms to make a rain poncho. Just lay it flat on wet ground to have a dry place to sit. Hold it open during a rainstorm to collect water.

Glue sticks, the kind that are for hot glue guns, are incredibly handy to have. You don’t need the gun, of course. Just hold the glue stick over a flame until it softens, them smear it where needed. Be careful as the soft glue will be hot, which should go without saying but….

Zip ties are, to my way of thinking, almost though not quite, as useful as duct tape. They are wonderful for attaching gear to your pack, lashing limbs together for a shelter, or any of another hundred uses. There are types of zip ties that can be undone, instead of needing to be cut off, but they are more expensive.

What sorts of odds and ends do you have in your kits?

Rummage sale season is almost here

Around these parts at least, rummage sales are starting to crop up again. Not too many, of course, given that there is still snow on the ground, but a few here and there are being advertised in the local fish wrap.

rummage sale

While I don’t get to as many sales as I used to, I still love to swing in to them when I can. You just never know what you’ll find. Last summer, I stopped at one that had listed knives in their ad. Come to find out a guy was liquidating his entire collection of blades — knives, swords, machetes, martial arts weapons. While a lot of it was really junk and just looked pretty, I found a couple of decent folding knives for a buck each.

I’m always on the hunt for tools, especially old hand tools. While it is a common saying — they don’t make ’em like that anymore — with tools in particular it really is true. You’d have to pay a considerable amount of money on a tool today to have it be of the same quality as something made 40+ years ago. Back then, they made things to last. The best part is you can usually pick these up pretty cheap at rummage sales. Not always, of course, as invariably there are a few people out there who know the real value of these things. But there are enough people out there just looking to clean out the garage that it is usually worth my time to see what treasures might be gleaned.

Of course, any sight of camping or hiking gear deserves a closer look. A few years ago, I was driving through a neighborhood to visit a couple sales. Saw one that had a large canoe sitting in the front yard. I’m glad they had it there to catch my eye because about ten minutes later I was loading into my trunk a box full of camp cookware I’d purchased for about four bucks.

Sit down and make a list of what you feel you need to round out your preps. Then, do your homework and determine the average cost for those items. Have that list with you when you start hitting rummage sales this season. That way, you’ll be able to recognize deals when you see them.

Homemade Stew

Ok, in the interest of helping those who are all thumbs with scratch cooking, I wanted to share with you my own recipe for a simple stew that is very filling as well as incredibly easy to prepare.

Seriously, there is absolutely nothing fancy here at all. Just good, old fashioned stew.

Stew

Ingredients
1 lb stew meat, cubed
3-4 large potatoes
1/2 lb corn
1/3 lb peas
2 tbs flour
4 packets beef gravy mix
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooking oil (canola or vegetable)

Start by cubing your meat into small chunks. Personally, I like them to be about an inch or so all the way around.

Put 2 tbs flour in a ziplock plastic bag and then put in the meat. Seal the bag and shake it up until the meat looks to be all dusted with the flour. Put about four tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a heavy pot and turn the heat to about medium-high. When a drop of water sizzle when tossed on the oil, dump in the dusted meat.

What you’re doing is browning the meat on all sides. Stir it up frequently until it is completely browned.

Pour in four cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat a couple notches. Sprinkle in the contents of two beef gravy packets and stir well. Simmer for about 30 minutes or so, uncovered.

While you’re waiting, peel, rinse, and cut up 3-4 large potatoes. I like a lot of taters in my stew. If you don’t like them quite as much, don’t use that many. Again, I cut them up to about an inch in size. After the meat has been cooking for about a half hour, add the potatoes as well as two more cups of water. Sprinkle in the remaining two gravy packets, stir it all up, and simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes or until the potatoes seem tender.

By now, you should have people walking into the kitchen, asking what that glorious smell is coming from.

Add the corn and peas, stirring them in. You can use fresh, canned, or frozen, whichever you have on hand. I usually use frozen and since I like corn a little more than I like peas, I add more of the former than the latter. However, you are welcome to use whatever you like for veggies — corn, peas, carrots, green beans, etc.

Simmer for about ten minutes and you’re all set. You could add dumplings too, just follow the directions on the Bisquick or Jif Mix box.

The stew will be very thick, more like meat and veggies covered in gravy instead of in a broth type soup. It will keep in the fridge very well for a few days, provided there are any leftovers. It however does not freeze very well in my experience.

Scratch Cooking

Cooking from scratch has become something of a lost art. Entirely too many people prepare the majority of their meals by picking a box out of the freezer and tossing it into the microwave. And that’s if they actually heat the food at home and aren’t just getting take out.

The reality is, a lot of those folks will be in for a rude awakening should a disaster strike and they’re forced to figure out cooking on the fly. Of course, a lot of those people might not have food stored to begin with but hey, gotta take it one step at a time I guess.

Scratch cooking

Scratch cooking is an important skill and if it isn’t in your repertoire, you need to fix that as soon as possible.

If you are a total beginner, start by stopping in at your local thrift store and buying one or two decent cookbooks. Personally, I love the Betty Crocker one I’ve owned for about 20 years now. Don’t worry about any of those themed cookbooks, like “101 One Skillet Meals” or some such nonsense. Just get a basic cookbook that has instructions on how to prepare a bunch of different stuff, as well as guidelines for cooking in general. It should define terms like braising, simmer, and poach.

Then, pick one recipe a week to try. Doesn’t need to be anything fancy and, in fact, if you can’t pronounce the name, pass on it for now. Maybe start with basic soups and stews, adding dumplings if you feel adventurous.

The main reason why preppers should learn scratch cooking is because storing basic ingredients is way cheaper than storing complete meals. By knowing how to turn dried split peas and a few potatoes into a tasty soup, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Cooking isn’t hard if you know how to read and follow directions. Rest assured, you’re going to mess things up here and there. That’s ok, as long as you learn from the mistakes. Hell, one time I made meatballs from scratch and instead of putting in parsley, I put in mint. Just wasn’t paying close enough attention to the spice rack. I didn’t realize it until my wife and I sat down to dinner. It was…interesting. They actually weren’t that bad, just different. She still ribs me about it from time to time. Believe it or not though, we did happen across a meatball recipe a few years ago that called for mint too.

How many fire starters are enough?

It should go without saying that every survival kit should contain the means to get a fire going. Fire is one of the basic survival necessities. It will keep you warm, cook your food, boil your water, and dry you out. There is also the psychological component. Damn but a campfire just makes us feel safer, doesn’t it?

Campfire

How many different methods of lighting fires should we have?

The short answer is, as many as practical. By that, I mean I’d not want to shortchange the food supply just to fit another dozen boxes of matches in my pack, of course. But, you should have several different items with you. Options include:

–Butane lighters
–Strike anywhere matches
–Magnesium bar with flint striker
–Old fashioned flint and steel
–Magnifying glass

Of course, there are other primitive ways as well, such as a bow drill. And learning how to use those methods is a great idea. However, just about any survival expert I know will tell you he or she carries matches and lighters too.

In addition to these tools, you should have ready to use tinder as well. This saves you from having to try to find dry material during or after a rainstorm. Cotton balls soaked with petroleum jelly is a popular choice, as is dryer lint. You could go a step further and make some fire straws too.

The main point to understand today is you should have several different methods at your disposal for lighting fires. Scatter them throughout your pack and your pockets. I’d say three different methods would be the absolute bare minimum to have with you. And I’m not counting primitive methods in that number either.

Stock up on paper goods

One suggestion I often make to new preppers is to stock up on things like paper plates and bowls. While yes these products aren’t the most environmentally friendly, they are great to have on hand during emergencies.

Quite often, one of the first things to go in a crisis is potable water. Granted, we preppers should always have a good supply of water stockpiled for this very situation. We should also have multiple means of purifying water too.

However, washing plates and bowls could quickly cut into that supply. You’re not going to wash these things in dirty water, are you? Water that might be tainted with, oh, perhaps raw sewage? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Disposable plates and bowls can just be tossed into the fireplace or wood stove when you’re through with them. Flatware can be easily washed with very minimal water or you could set aside a couple boxes of plastic utensils.

We don’t have a warehouse store like Sam’s Club near us so I can’t speak to how cheap paper plates might be in places like that. For us, we stock up at Walgreen’s when they go on sale for $0.99. Used to be a package of 100 but that changed to a 72 count a few years back. Even so, a couple bucks will give you enough plates to last several days without a problem.

Trapping 101 – Set Locations

I often see snare wire mentioned as a component of different survival kits. While a great idea, I do wonder how many of these people have ever trapped anything. For our purposes today, we’re going to concentrate on the snare type of trap. In general, this trap works by strangling the prey, at least that’s the plan. Sometimes, you might end up with an animal that has caught a leg instead of their neck. If that happens, you better have some means of disposal with you, or otherwise have a way to set the animal free.

There are snares available for purchase, of course, or you can make your own. There are hundreds of sites out there that can explain in great detail how to craft your own snares. Today, I just want to talk about where you should set snares.

There are several different sets or locations you should consider. Obviously, if you plan to set out snares to augment your diet with meat post-collapse, you should take the time now to learn what critters are in abundance in your immediate area. Look for game trails, for starters. Often, a variety of different animals will all use the same trails. Think of them as the highways of the forest. These trails will give you indications of what is out there to be caught.

Now, you don’t want to place your snares at any old place along those trails. You first want to identify locations along the trail that just naturally lend themselves to snares. For example, look for places where the animals have to scurry under brush. They are already used to having branches and leaves brush against them so they won’t notice the snare wire. You may consider extending the entrance of the “tunnel” a few more inches and place your snare inside. Better to catch them before they get fully into the brush so you have better access to the animal once it is caught.

If you have fencing or other border types of structure, look for places where the animals are crawling under it or have found a hole to go through. Most animals prefer going that route than climbing or jumping over the obstacle. A similar location is when a fence ends at the beginning of the forest. Critters will usually walk along the fence until they reach that spot, then shoot over into the tree line.

Existing culverts are another good spot. If the area at the opening of the culvert is wide open, consider adding brush around it so the snare won’t be seen as well.

Identifying good set locations now will give you a leg up on the competition later. However, if you decide to actively trap animals now, please be sure to obtain the necessary permits first and abide by whatever laws are in force.

Five Cheap Barter Items

In the aftermath of a major disaster, our traditional currency might not have much value. Obviously, this would be particularly true in the event the dreaded economic collapse finally hits us. For at least some period of time after, we may need to fall back on barter as a means of “purchasing” what we need.

While a complete list of potential barter items could go on for pages, here are five things that are pretty cheap now and may bring a premium in a post-collapse world.

1) Salt — At one time, salt was so prized it was actually used as currency. It not only flavors food but it can help preserve meat and even has some medicinal properties. Unless people around you have the means to produce their own salt, it will be a prized commodity.

2) Coffee — For many people, the thought of going without their daily caffeine fix is the very definition of TEOTWAWKI. Odds are, they won’t turn up their noses at instant coffee when nothing else is available.

3) Heirloom seeds — This is a long-term investment in the sense that the person receiving them isn’t going to reap any immediate benefits. However, there may well be people who are thinking ahead to next year’s growing season. You’ll probably do better if the packages of seeds are sealed.

4) Booze — No need to go out and purchase a case of the good stuff. Hard core drinkers will be happy to just get something other than Sterno down their throats.

5) Toothpaste — Pretty much anything that helps someone feel human again will bring a high price for many people.

When it comes to stocking up on things for barter, here are my rules.

A) The item must be fairly cheap now. There is little sense in investing hundreds of dollars in things that you might never truly need.

B) Related to A above, barter items should have value to you regardless of whether you end up trading them or not. Don’t stock up on things you don’t feel you’ll ever use yourself.

C) Never trade ammo. To me, there is little sense in giving someone else an item that could be returned to you at high velocity.

Dealing with trash post-collapse

Something to consider in your plans for a post-collapse situation is what to do with garbage. For most of us today, we just set it out at the curb for collection or take it to a dump ourselves. But services like trash collection will probably be one of the first to cease after a major crisis, at least for a while. For our purposes in this discussion, we’ll include recyclables in the trash category since that gets picked up by garbage collectors too.

I am sometimes truly amazed at how much trash a single family can generate in a week. I think my family does fairly well, all things considered, in that we barely fill one garbage can in a week’s time. Quite often, there are only two bags of trash in it. The recycling bin is usually pretty full though. Either way, not too bad for a family of five. I know other families with less people living in the house who generate twice or more the amount of trash in the same time frame.

Whether it is one bag a week or five, you need to plan ahead for what you’re going to do with it when it won’t just disappear each week.

Organic matter — compost, as long as it isn’t animal products like bones and meat scraps. For that stuff, bury it fairly deep to keep animals from digging it up.

Combustibles — cardboard, paper, etc. can all be burned either in the wood stove or a fire pit.

Plastics and metal — if possible, try to repurpose these. If you can’t figure out a way to reuse them, rinse them out and crush them flat. This will help to conserve space. If need be, you could bury it. If you go that route, do so well away from any water sources in case any of the chemicals in the plastics and such leak out into the soil.

A critical element here is to keep food-related trash in a pest-proof container until it can be disposed of properly. The last thing you want or need is a mouse or rat problem on top of everything else.

If you have a trash dump nearby, and the crisis goes on for a considerable length of time, you may be able to make arrangements with neighbors to haul trash on a rotating basis.

The Survival Binder

Spend much time perusing prepping websites and message boards and you’ll soon start accumulating massive amounts of information. You’ll be downloading .pdfs and files, as well as copying/pasting information into emails or documents to print out. Won’t be long before you’re headed to the store for more paper and ink for your printer.

I’ve always advocated having information in hard copy format, rather than just saved on a disk or hard drive. Paper doesn’t require electricity to be able to read, y’know? But, all that information isn’t going to do you much good sitting in piles scattered hither and yon.

Next time you’re buying paper, or better yet when you next visit your local thrift store, pick up a binder or three. You might want a three-hole punch as well.

Start organizing your information by topic. Some suggestions include:

–Water purification
–Manuals for equipment and tools
–Firearms
–Food storage
–Recipes
–Medical / First aid

Break down any subcategories in a way that makes sense to you. Everyone is a little different in how they organize their information.

Now, here’s the important part of this:

ACTUALLY READ THE INFORMATION YOU PUT INTO THE BINDER!

I know entirely too many preppers who concentrate all their efforts on acquiring these files and documents, squirreling them away for when they might need the information. Yet, at the same time, a lot of the information is repetitive or worse, absolutely worthless. Really, how many different lists do you need to print for bug out bag contents?

The second reason it is important to actually read the info in the binder is you’ll have a much better grasp of what you have and what you’re lacking. After your fifth list of first aid supplies, you can probably move on to another topic to seek out.

Organization is key here. There may very well come a time when you need to look something up in a hurry. Better to have all sorts of colorful tabs showing where stuff is than try digging through piles of papers and hoping you recognize the document when you see it.