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.