The Thermodynamics of Survival

Growing up, one of my favorite survival authors was Ragnar Benson. Over the years, I’ve read many of his books and enjoyed all of them quite a bit. Very knowledgeable, full of common sense approaches to survival methodology.

I can’t recall in which book of his I first read it but he came up with a theory we’ll call Ragnar’s Rule of Survival Thermodynamics. Simply put, the rule states you should avoid expending more energy on a task than you stand to gain from accomplishing the goal.

How does that translate into real life? Well, here’s just one example, albeit a little simplistic. If you burn several hundred calories out hunting and at the end of the day all you’ve managed to bag is one scrawny squirrel, you’ve had a net loss of energy. You aren’t going to gain that many calories consuming that one little tree rat, right?

Automatic Fishing ReelThis is why trapping and fishing are typically better approaches to obtaining meat than hunting. Remember, we’re talking survival scenarios here, not just heading up north with your buddies for a weekend of deer and beer. While you’ll burn energy setting out a trap line and checking it each day, you stand to gain far more in meat than you might by tramping through the forest, rifle at the ready. Fishing is typically even less involved when it comes to energy expenditure. Invest in a few Yo Yo Fishing Reels and check them from time to time as you take a break from other chores. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, right?

Survival is, in many ways, about energy conservation. Cut off from easy food procurement, you need to conserve your limited calories as best you can. Calories are the fuel that powers our bodies. Without a renewed supply gained from food, our bodies will cannibalize our fat stores. Granted, some of us could stand to lose a few pounds but a survival crisis situation isn’t really when you want to suddenly try out a crash diet.

If you find yourself in a true survival situation, give serious thought as to what you stand to gain from a given course of action, particularly where food procurement is concerned. While a straggly squirrel beats eating nothing at all, concentrate on methods that will be force multipliers for you, such as trapping and fishing.

Offgrid Cooking Solutions

As you journey down the path of disaster readiness, you’ll no doubt amass some sort of food storage. This might be special freeze-dried and/or dehydrated foods or perhaps just simply stocking up on some extra canned goods and other “normal” foods your family eats regularly. Whether you take one particular approach or maybe a combination of the two, you should also plan for various methods of cooking food in the wake of a disaster.

One of the first things to go when a crisis hits is power. Suddenly, that microwave oven is just one more bit of clutter on the kitchen counter. Many people have electric ovens and stove tops too, which won’t be working. Fortunately, there are many possible options for offgrid cooking.

Offgrid Cooking Options

Cooking with a CampfireThe simplest, at least in terms of advance preparation, is a campfire. After all, mankind has been cooking over an open flame for thousands of years. If this is an option for you, I would suggest you lay in a supply of branches and split wood and practice cooking in this way from time to time.

There is just as much art as there is science to campfire cooking. Keep in mind, you’ll typically get more heat, as well as a more constant temperature, cooking over glowing coals than you’ll get cooking over the actual flames.

Of course, many of us already have charcoal and/or gas grills on our decks and patios. These work very well for cooking just about anything you’d prepare over a regular stove burner, provided you have fuel for the grill. If you have a charcoal grill but run out of briquettes, you can always just use sticks and branches, making sort of a contained campfire.

Patio fire pits are also very common and serve as portable campfires. Again, be sure you have fuel for them. If you want to explore this option, what I suggest is you hunt around for an old grill grate and place that over your patio fire pit. This will make things much easier when it comes time to warm up water for coffee or hot chocolate.

Folding Camp StovesFolding camp stoves are great to have on hand for emergencies. Very small and compact, they won’t take up much space on a shelf in the garage.

While you won’t be preparing any elaborate, five course meals on these nifty little gadgets, they work great for a can of soup or stew as well as boiling some water to purify it.

Larger gas camp stoves are also excellent additions to the home preparedness gear. Again, you’ll need to stock up on fuel for them.

You could go with the small propane tanks they sell for camping or invest in a converter so you can use the larger tanks you’d have for a patio gas grill.

Moving one more step up in the chain brings us to rocket stoves. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The basic idea is you’ll have a combustion chamber at the bottom of the stove, where you’ll burn biomass like sticks and branches. Rising up from that chamber is a chimney, carrying the heat to the top where you’ll have your cook pot. Because of the way these rocket stoves are designed and insulated, it doesn’t take much fuel to create quite a bit of heat.

My suggestion is to plan for at least three different ways to prepare food during an offgrid emergency. For example, have a gas grill on your deck, plus a patio fire pit and a spot in the yard for a campfire. Always be sure to have plenty of fuel on hand for each method, too. A great addition, as well, is a tripod grill. You can find these at any camping store. They consist of three metal poles that are set up like a teepee, with a chain running down from the top to a circular grill. These work tremendously well if you’re cooking over a campfire or patio fire pit.

Disaster Planning with Pets

For many of us, our pets are truly members of the family. They aren’t employees that are only there to perform a duty. Instead, they are much more like children, albeit with fuzzy faces and a lack of a command of the English language. It stands to reason, then, that we need to consider their needs when we go about our disaster planning.

Now, I’ll warn you in advance that the information here is primarily applicable to those who own dogs and cats. For you folks with other critters, the basic topics covered below will still apply, you’ll just have to adjust accordingly based on your pet’s particular needs.

Food and Water

If you’ve had the pet for any length of time, you should already have a pretty good handle on how much food and water it consumes daily. After all, you’re probably the one filling the bowls, right? Yeah, I know the kids promised they’d do that. Kids promise a lot of things, don’t they?

Extra Cans of Dog FoodStrive to always have enough food on hand to last at least three full weeks. If need be, consider adding some cans of food to the storage in case you run out of kibble. I would strongly caution you to do away with any thoughts of just feeding the animal table scraps. First, there might not be many scraps to be had. Second, human food isn’t easily digested by many animals, leading to upset stomachs, vomiting, and other unpleasantness.

As for water storage, obviously the animals can drink the same water you do. That said, while animals can often tolerate dirty water, such as mud puddles, with no ill effects, include their hydration needs when you determine how much water you should have on hand for you and your family.


If your pet has to take certain medications on a regular basis, make sure you have extras socked away in case you can’t get to the vet for a refill. Even vitamins and supplements should be included. If need be, talk to your vet about keeping a small supply of medications at home, just in case. Many vets will be happy to help however they can.

Waste Disposal

For cats, keeping some extra kitty litter is a no brainer. Few cat owners let that supply run too low. Your dog can probably still run outside and do their business quickly in most disaster scenarios. But, should something arise where that isn’t a viable option, you might consider keeping a supply of newspapers in a box in the basement. Use these to lay out a spot where Fido can do what he needs to do. I would, of course, highly suggest the newspapers be placed on a hard surface, such as a concrete basement floor, rather than carpet, if at all possible. If you lack a bare floor, you might consider picking up an old kiddie pool at a rummage sale and keeping it in the garage. Line it with newspapers and you’re all set.

Newspaper for your Pet

You might also want to pick up an extra bottle of bleach and several rolls of paper towel to help clean up the messes as they happen, which will help reduce odors. A box of garbage bags will also help in this regard.

Health Records

While you’re at the vet talking to them about medications, ask them to print out a complete copy of your pet’s health record, including immunizations. While we would hope we’d never have to go knock on the door of a community shelter for a place to stay after a disaster, if that becomes necessary they will probably want to see proof your animal has been vaccinated against rabies and such.


Again, in the event you need to hit up a shelter of some sort for a place to stay, and you have an animal with you, you’ll likely need to keep it contained or confined in some way. For smaller animals, this means a crate. For larger ones, a leash and possibly a muzzle will be required. Be sure to have these items in or next to your home evacuation supplies. What we’ve done is use duct tape to attach a plastic bag to the back of a crate. In that bag is a leash, muzzle, and vet records for our dog. She likes to hang out in the crate from time to time so we don’t want to just leave the stuff in it.

Current Photo

Keep a photo of you with your pet on your phone or stored in some way you can easily retrieve it. Should you and Killer get separated, this is a quick and easy way to prove ownership. Plus, that way you’ll have a photo you can show people who are helping you search for the animal should it get lost.

Our pets rely upon us to provide for their needs. In return, they are there to comfort us (or, in the case of cats, to remind us constantly of their superiority). Take steps now to make sure you are able to keep them healthy and safe, no matter what happens..

Survival Kits for Pets

Emergency Planning for Your Pet

You can also pick up a prepackaged emergency kit specially designed for your pet. The commercial packs are a good start in getting your “ducks” in a row when planning out your disaster plan.