Garbage Bags for Disasters

The next time you visit your local hardware store, pick up a small package of contractor grade trash bags. While a box or roll of them will be somewhat heavy, individually they weigh seemingly nothing and adding a few of them to your bug out bag won’t be noticed.

Garbage BagsSome folks use a garbage bag to line their packs, in order to keep things dry inside. This isn’t a bad idea at all. Simply open the pack and drop in a trash bag, very similar to how you’d use the bag in a trash can. Then, fill it with your gear and use a twist tie to close up the bag. This method is far better than first putting the gear into the bag, then trying to stuff the loaded bag into the pack.

A trash bag also makes for a great ground cover when you’re out in the field. You can kneel or sit on it, even lay a couple of them end to end so you can lie down. This is why I suggest using contractor grade bags. They are thicker and thus much more durable. The standard trash bags you’ll find at the grocery store are typically very thin and will tear easily if you tried using them as ground cover.

Should you find you need to cross a small body of water, you can fill the trash bag with air and tie it closed to make a flotation device. It isn’t perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it will work fairly well for short term use.

If you’re in bear country, put all of your food and such into a trash bag and hang it high from a tree. The plastic trash bag will help keep smells from wafting through the forest.

Contractor Grade Trash Bags

In a pinch, you can stuff a bag with leaves and grass to make a pillow or small mattress. Not the most comfortable option in the world but it will help insulate you from the cold ground.

At home, if the plumbing isn’t working after a disaster, you can line the toilet with a trash bag to avoid having to use the tree outside. After a few uses, you’ll obviously need to change the bag. Don’t wait for the bag to get too full. You might be surprised at just how much human waste weighs. Keep a box of baking soda or some powder laundry detergent nearby and sprinkle some into the bag after each use to help with odors.

Remember, try to stick with the thicker, contractor grade, trash bags. They are going to be more expensive, yes, but they are also far more durable. When you piece it out, they’ll still amount to mere pennies per bag, too.

Make Fire in All Weather Conditions

The ability to make fire in all weather conditions is an absolutely critical survival skill. Fire keeps us warm, it cooks our food, it boils our water for disinfection, and it lights up the night. On top of all that, there is a strong psychological element at work. When you’re lost and anxious, a good fire will help keep you calm.

In any survival kit, you should have multiple ignition devices. These are the things that get the fire started. Best options include strike anywhere matches, butane lighters, and ferrocerium rods. There are others, of course, including magnifying lenses, but if you have matches, lighters, and ferro rods and you still can’t get a fire going, you’re doing something wrong.

Next, you should have a quantity of ready-to-light tinder. Yes, there are many natural sources of tinder, such as birch bark, chaga, fatwood, seed pods, and the like. But, you can’t always count on finding it when you truly need it. Or, you might find plenty but it is sodden due to recent rains. It is best to have something with you, just in case. Search first for natural alternatives, so as to not use up your supply if you don’t have to do so. Options for tinder you carry with you include cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, tinder tabs, Wet Fire cubes, and dryer lint. Keep this tinder in a plastic bag so it stays dry until you need it. Again, though, you should keep an ample supply and only use it when you can’t find tinder in the wild.

Making a FireWhen it comes time to lay your fire, think ahead. A common mistake is to not gather enough kindling and fuel right off the bat. The last thing you want to do is scramble around trying to find more sticks as your just lit fire fizzles out. Assemble a healthy pile of small twigs and larger branches, close enough for you to grab as needed, before even trying to light the fire.

When possible, I like to grab a slab of dry bark, peeled off a fallen log, and build my fire on that. This keeps things dry if the ground is wet. Plus, the bark is usually curled up a bit on the sides and if you place it properly, this will cut down on wind hampering your efforts.

There are many different methods for fire lighting, including building a bird’s nest with your tinder. What this entails is taking loose fibrous material like grass or shavings and tossing sparks into a hole you’ve made in the pile. This works very well in most situations. What I often do is to make a small pile of tinder and use kindling to build something like a teepee around it. I leave an opening in the teepee where I can insert the lighter, match, or where I can aim sparks from my ferro rod. As the tinder lights and burns, the small kindling will begin to catch. Slowly, so as to not smother the fire, add more kindling until it is all burning fairly briskly. Then, add thicker branches one at a time until everything is burning well.

There are many different types of fire lays, including the keyhole fire and the Dakota hole fire. Do your homework and learn some of them and find out the purposes behind their use. Every fire lay is used for certain things, such as cooking or just for warmth. But, no matter which fire lay you use, it all starts with ignition and tinder.

Keeping Track of Survival Information

It is important to remember that in a grid down situation, you likely won’t have ready and easy access to the Internet so all of those great articles you’ve bookmarked will be useless to you. On top of that, depending on the nature of the calamity, even e-books might be out of reach. Any and all personal record information, such as insurance policies and such, won’t be accessible if they are only found on your computer.

Keeping Track of Your Information

Survival Binder

A survival binder is a simple way to keep all of that information handy. Start with a 3 ring binder and a three hole punch, both of which can probably be found at your local Goodwill if you don’t want to pay for new (though they are very cheap, especially at back to school time). While you’re at it, pick up one or two packages of dividers, which are cardstock with tabs affixed to the side. These will allow you to better organize your binder.

Some people go so far as to use plastic page protectors as well. This isn’t a bad idea but will add a bit of expense to the project.

Set up your binder with sections for things like:

Important documents – insurance policies, financial statements, property ownership paperwork, etc.

Food – recipes using food storage items, information on different ways to cook offgrid, that sort of stuff.

Water – information on filtering and purifying water.

First aid – information on how to stay healthy, treat injuries and illnesses, how to use different first aid items you might have on hand.

The list goes on and on. As you find information online that you might want to be able to reference if the power is out, print out a copy and store it in your binder.

I would caution you to stay on top of the organizing part of this project. It is all too easy to go on a printing binge and then just toss everything into the binder, promising to yourself that you’re going to organize it later. Trust me, later never comes. It is far better to place the printed pages into the correct part of the binder each and every time.

As you go along, you may end up getting to the point where you’ll need more than one binder because you’ve accumulated so much information. That’s perfectly fine and normal. What I suggest you do at that point is to create labels for the binders so you know what is in each. This will hopefully cut down on your searching time when you’re looking for a specific piece of information.

The survival binder is an excellent project for keeping track of all the great information you find online, allowing you to access it when the computer and Internet aren’t viable options.

Planning to Regroup

One aspect of your preparedness planning that is often overlooked is giving thought to the fact that family members may be separated when disaster hits. Sure, it’d be nice if everyone were safe at home when it happens but odds are that won’t be the case. Kids may be at school, adults may be at work. Some may be out shopping, at the movies, out to eat, or Lord only knows where if teenagers are involved. With that in mind, there should be a plan in place for regrouping.

One part of this plan should address emergency communications. Depending upon the nature of the emergency, calling everyone’s cell phone might not be feasible. Phone lines often become overwhelmed during a crisis. However, text messages may still get through as they run on a different system. Create some sort of code word or phrase that, if received, indicates they should head for home immediately. It needs to be stressed that the only time this code phrase is used is in a true emergency. Also, there can be absolutely no mistaking the importance of receiving the message and acting upon it immediately. If your son receives a text from you that says, “Code Red,” he is to drop whatever he is doing and head for home using the fastest route possible.

But, what if the nature of the emergency prevents an easy travel back home? What if, for example, there is massive storm damage between your son and home? If he’s unable to safely travel home, he should seek other shelter and hunker down. If at all possible, he should contact those at home to let them know, whether via phone call or text. Ideally, he’ll transmit his location and that he is ok.

Children who are too young to travel home themselves will need to be picked up. A plan needs to be devised to lay out who is picking up the children and, if it is from school, that person should be noted in the school file as an authorized pick up person. Schools are, rightfully so, rather insistent upon this.

On top of all of this, there should be one more plan – what if home isn’t safe? What if, instead of having everyone meet at the residence you need for them to meet elsewhere? Choose an alternate location, someplace that is relatively nearby but not immediately next door. Say, a park in the neighborhood, for example. If this is the message received, “Code Red, Location B,” they know to head to the park and meet up there. The idea here is to give yourself options, which is what prepping is all about. I’m not suggesting you have 87 different locations, each with a different code phrase. We’re not talking 007 stuff here. The point is to have an alternate meet up location, just in case.

Give serious thought as to where your family members may be if disaster hits. Make a plan to allow for fast regrouping, should the need arise.

Pros and Cons of Two-Way Radios

Two-way radios, the modern version of the walkie-talkies many of us had as kids, can be a great tool for emergency communication among family members. Provided, though, that you understand their limitations. Bear in mind, we’re not talking about amateur (ham) radio. That’s a whole different ballgame.

These radios all use the same group of frequencies. On the plus side, this means you can easily program several radios to communicate together, even radios from different manufacturers. However, this also means that anyone else can listen in to your conversations if they hit upon the same frequency. Your safest bet when using these radios is to avoid talking about any confidential information on the air.

Manufacturers like to make rather exaggerated claims regarding the range of these radios. You’ll see packages that say, “up to 25 miles” and other such nonsense. Yes, the radio might truly transmit that far…if there is absolutely nothing between the sender and receiver. The problem is that things like buildings and trees easily block the radios or at least inhibit transmission. Realistically, if you can get a mile or two of range from the average two-way radio, you’re doing pretty darn well. However, that also means that anyone who wishes to listen in to your conversation must also be in that range. Which, actually, might not be a good thing when you think about it.

Many models of these radios take the rather common AA or AAA batteries. That makes life a little easier as you won’t have to hunt down some obscure size. However, by their very nature, batteries go dead after a while. If you plan on relying on radios like these, better plan ahead and add a solar battery charger to your preps.

No satellites or towers are used
Unlike cell phones, for example, two way radios are sort of a closed system. The transmission is sent out directly to the receiver, rather than bounced off of a tower or satellite. This means that even if the entire electrical grid is down, the radios will still work (provided they weren’t impacted by the event that took down the grid, such as an EMP strike). There really isn’t a downside to this, other than the lack of towers and such helps to limit the effective range.

Two-way radios are a fun way to stay in touch when you’re out and about with your family. When times are normal, they can help keep you from chewing up minutes on your cell phone. But, if you plan on using them after a major disaster, it is important to understand they are not always what they are cracked up to be.

Book Review: Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury

Reviewed by Jim Cobb

Dave Canterbury is one of the most well-known survival instructors in the United States. His Pathfinder School has taught thousands how to survive in the bush. Dave has also been featured on television, as the co-host of Dual Survival for a couple of seasons. He’s been there, done that, and truly knows his stuff.

Bushcraft 101

Bushcraft 101 isn’t the first book Dave has written but it might just be his best, at least so far. We’ve all likely heard the term “roughing it” when talking about camping, hiking, and such, right? Dave’s approach is what he calls,”smoothing it.” Rather than making things hard for yourself, Dave wants to show you how to make your time spent in the woods as enjoyable as possible.

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, Gearing Up, Dave outlines his 5 Cs of Survival. These are:

Cutting tool

With each of these categories, Dave gives his recommendations for what he likes, but is careful to point out that what works best for him might not be the best for you. He also talks about why each of the categories is critical to survival.

The second section is In the Bush. This is where we get into the nitty gritty of bushcraft. From choosing a campsite to different types of fire lays, trapping to wild edibles, Dave covers it all. It is important to note, though, that we’re talking bushcraft here. This is not the same as bugging out, despite the apparent similarities. While there is a fair amount of crossover between the topics, they are more like kissing cousins rather than true siblings.

There are several appendices at the end of the book. The Pathfinder Concept details Dave’s thoughts and perspectives on the conservation of resources when engaging in bushcraft. This was the first time I’d read about this concept and I really, truly appreciate the sentiment here.

There are no photos in Bushcraft 101 but there are numerous very detailed line drawings. I’ve found that sometimes these drawings can make things clearer than photos, so I had no issues with the lack of photos.

All in all, I found Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival to be an excellent primer on the subject and highly recommend it.

Properly Using Emergency Blankets

Emergency blankets, sometimes called space blankets, are found in just about every survival kit on the market today, as well as being available for separate purchase. They can be crucial to survival, provided you understand how to use them properly.

Emergency Blankets are More Like Thin Tarps

All Weather Emergency BlanketThe term “blanket” is actually something of a misnomer. These aren’t things you really want to curl up under to watch a movie with your significant other or favorite furry friend. They are more like thin tarps than blankets. Typically, they are made from mylar or a similar material and often have a reflective finish on one side. They work by trapping your body heat, preventing it from radiating out into the world.

Heat is energy and cold is just a lack of that energy being present. If there is no barrier between your skin and the outside air, the heat energy your body produces simply drifts away. Where many animals have a fur coat that helps trap that heat, we don’t (except for that one uncle many of us have who has so much body hair that when he steps into a pool it looks like he’s suddenly surrounded by kelp). Therefore, we need clothing to keep us warm. In a survival situation, we may end up not having the proper clothing to prevent heat loss. In those cases, we can use an emergency blanket to stay warm.

Common Mistake When Using an Emergency Blanket

The common mistake people make when using emergency blankets is they wrap themselves up tightly, as though they are trying to make a human burrito. While the blanket will certainly keep out the wind and rain, using it in this way won’t do much to warm you. Instead, there needs to be some degree of dead air space between you and the blanket. That air is what will warm up as a result of the trapped body heat, and thus keep you warmer. If you have a jacket and such on already, keep those items on your body and wrap the blanket around you. The heavy clothing will serve to create that dead air space you need. In fact, that’s sort of how our winter coats operate already. The fluffy insulating material in the coat creates the air space, then the outer material keeps the heat in.

Loosly wrap in Emergency BlanketIf you find yourself lacking a coat or jacket, drape the emergency blanket loosely around you. Tuck it in here and there to prevent drafts but don’t wrap it tightly around your body. Either way, if the blanket has a reflective side, keep that directed toward your body.

Caution is advised if you’re buying one of the cheap emergency blankets you’ll find at the dollar store and similar outlets. Quite often, the material used is so thin, it will wear away along the fold lines over time. Then, just when you need the emergency blanket the most, you’ll find you have nothing more than thin ribbons of material. Better to spend the money on quality. After all, your life might just depend upon it!

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.

Preparing for Hurricane Season

It’s hurricane season again and time to make sure we’re prepared to get through what Mother Nature dishes out. From June 1st through November 30th of each year, there is higher chance of one forming in the Atlantic basin and reaching the US.

Preparing for Hurricane SeasonNow that we’re relocated in Florida, the hurricane season takes on a bit more significance. It’s more than just a slight possibility that we’ll be affected by a tempest now, than it was when we were further up the east coast and more inland.

Even during regular rain storms here, power goes out. Usually it comes right back on but it’s already went out for over an hour one day this year. So I can predict with near certainty that if a hurricane were to hit this area, we’ll be out of power for who knows how long.

Getting Ready for a Hurricane

Hurricanes bring torrential rainfall and extremely dangerous high winds. The combination can be damaging to homes and businesses yet they don’t come without warning.

With today’s technology, we know when they transform from a tropical storm into the real McCoy and even the projected path they’ll follow with relative confidence. Knowing all this beforehand lets us know its coming and to get ready to either evacuate or hunker down and ride the storm out.

Preparing for either option is best and it goes without saying that you should already have a survival or emergency kit inside your vehicle at all times. Your home should also have some things on hand to help make life easier when Mamma Earth comes a knocking.

Assuming your home is structurally sound enough to withstand the abuse of the gale force winds (or else you’d evacuate, right?), you can pretty much expect to be without power. Without electricity, you can’t flip a switch and have the lights come on. You can’t cook on your electric stove or use your microwave to heat up food. Your freezer and refrigerator won’t have the power to keep your food from spoiling for very long.

These things will happen. If it’s only for a short period of time, it’s not a big deal. But as time goes on, the longer it takes to get the power restored, the more life will be more difficult. There won’t be hot water to take a shower and there may not be any running water at all for toilets to even flush.

Think about how you’ll adapt to these conditions beyond the having extra batteries for your flashlight. If your refrigerated food goes bad, what will you eat? How will you heat up your canned goods that you have in the cupboard? You may not need to heat it up, but a warm meal is a major comfort in a situation like this.

Above all, a clean source of water is necessary. Having a supply stored for such a “rainy” day is a good idea so you’ll be set when you need it. In the case of a hurricane, you’ll have warning so you can fill up your bathtub and as many containers as you can before it hits. Just be sure to have thought this out so you can get into gear as soon as you know it’s coming.

Weekend Project

This weekend, I’d like for you to take a little time and put together a mini survival kit. Nothing elaborate nor fancy is required. Just a kit that will satisfy most if not all your basic needs in a survival situation, yet be small enough to fit on your belt or in a purse.

To review, here is a list of basic needs:

–First aid

Preppers are some of the most ingenious people around. This is often highlighted when it comes to building survival kits. People figure out all sorts of great ways to save space and not sacrifice quality.

So, show me something! Get creative! Send me a pic or two of your creation, along with some info about what you included in the kit. I’ll pick the best ones to feature here on the blog in the next week or two.

Send the pics to: