September 06, 2005

Needful Things

There are a lot of posts by bloggers on what to have in case of some prolonged emergency such as the one in New Orleans. I may or may not have any experiences that make my opinions matter, but I'll present them anyway.

The first thing to do is to decide if you're going to stay or leave. In some cases the decision has been made for you (impassable roads, lack of transportation, relative that can't travel, etc...) but we'll get to that in a bit.

Oddly enough the essentials for staying aren’t that different from those for leaving. You just get to have bigger quantities of some of them, with more creature comforts (i.e. bed instead of a sleeping bag). You’ll also have special needs such as water for sanitation (i.e. flushing the toilets if that’s possible) but most of those you’ll already have a handle on.

If you do elect to leave it's still necessary to be prepared. Whatever the crisis is you can't always be 100& sure that you can escape its effects. 20 miles outside of town you could have car trouble, or the roads could be impassable, or you get to your destination to find the conditions are no better. The key is in thoughtful preparation.

If you're driving it's a bit easier as you have more space to store things in. In addition to the things that should be in your car (spare tire, some towels, first aid kit, small fire extinguisher, flares, etc...) you should have at least enough food & water for each person for a few days. It's not that space consuming as you'd think. Depending upon the climate I figure about 2 quarts of drinking water per person per day minimum. Hotter or more arid climates you'd increase it by a quart or two, & ditto if you're doing any sort of moderate labor. So assuming 3 quarts per person for 4 people for 3 days you're looking at 9 gallons of drinking water. That's 72 pounds of water; a chore to carry on your back but not that much to fit in a car.

How you carry it is another issue. If you’re at home or in a vehicle then 5 gallons jugs will do fine. If you’re on foot though 1 or 2 quart canteens are your best bet. It’ll mean carrying a reduced supply of course, but 2 to 4 quarts shouldn’t weigh you down too much.

Water treatment is something you might also wish to consider. This can range from water purification tablets to boiling & adding a drop of bleach to water filtration. Here's a list of pump water filters. It's not exhaustive but it'll give you an idea of what's out there.

Food does a body good, so keeping enough with you to last a few days is a good idea. Plan on eating small to medium size meals in case cooking isn't an option. Power bars & granola bars & other such items are decent to have with you. They don't take up much space & they're actually good for you (to a degree). Plus they don't need refrigeration. Fruits & certain vegetables are good to include, as would be dried &/or canned meat or fish. Here's an article from Backpacker magazine to give you some more ideas of portable food you wouldn't have to refrigerate.

If cooking is something you don't want to forego entirely then look into portable grills or campers' stoves. You should be able to find a portable charcoal or propane grill at any Wal-Mart or similar place. They'll be okay for storing in the car & pulling out to make dinner. If you want something more portable then there are many varieties of camp stove for you. These are usually single or dual burner affairs so don't think you'll be able to whip out a 4 course meal in no time with one. They are very good at what they were designed for: a compact source of cooking simple meals. Explore the options as different models operate on different fuels. The fuel choices range from wood to alcohol to butane to Coleman fuel/white gas to auto gas to kerosene & a few kinds in between. Consider whether you'll definitely be able to keep fuel with you or if you think finding fuel along the way would be easier (the latter would mean alcohol, kerosene or auto gas fueled stoves would be worth considering). As a plus alcohol stoves are simple to make yourself. Here are the details of a do-it-yourself alcohol stove. So you could always have one home built alcohol stove handy & another fuel type of stove sitting beside it in the trunk.

Of course you need something to cook on, so a set of camping cookware is a good idea. the lighter the better but if it's going to be dedicated car gear you shouldn't feel bad about a cast iron skillet. Besides, nothing says "no" like a cast iron skillet meaningfully applied to the inquirer's forehead.

Tarps. Can't say enough good things about them. Many sizes are available for various needs. They make decent tents as well as ground insulators. Grab two or more as they're usually cheap.

Ropes can compliment tarps as well as be invaluable in many other circumstances. 50 foot of paracord goes a long way. Paracord is, more or less, nylon parachute cord. It has a diameter of about 1/8" & has around a 400 pound minimum breaking point.

Candles. Combine one with a tin cup & you'll be surprised how much heat it generates.

A shovel doesn’t have to be big. In fact a folding shovel will accomplish most of your digging needs. But it’s a good idea to have one handy.

Duct Tape. It’s like the force; it has a light side; a dark side; & it binds the galaxy together. Bring a roll or twelve.

Fire starter. This could be as simple as a book of matches, or a Zippo or a 100 mph lighter or a steel & flint set. Being able to make a flame on purpose is something you should not neglect.

Flashlights are really nice to have for all sorts of events. I'd recommend getting a cheap 2 D cell battery plastic flashlight in addition to whatever "tactical" model you fancy.

A compass & a map might come in handy. GPS systems are cool but it's still a good idea to have the compass/map combo as a back up.

A decent pair of binoculars. I'd recommend at least 7x but wouldn't think 16 is overkill. You never know when it'll be beneficial to see something a ways off without having to walk up on it.

Spare clothes are a good thing. Even if it's balmy when you leave it could get chilly real fast or vice versa. Plus you might not know what the weather is like at your destination. Have at least one set of summer clothes & one set of winter clothes, including a coat. Spare socks - your feet will thank you. Change them at least once a day. & make sure your shoes are broken in & fit well enough for prolonged walking, just in case.

Space blankets - you know those things that look like a roll of aluminum foil procreated with your sheet? Not only do they provide a lot of heat retention in a small package but I'm thinking that a fellow who knew what he was doing could hide (or at least minimize) his heat signature for anyone using some sort of thermal imaging system. I doubt the latter will ever be a concern but it goes a long way in the paranoid geek/nerd department.

First aid kit/medications are a must have. Aside form a basic first aid kit what you carry will be a matter of choice. Just make sure you know how & why to use each item in the kit.

Sunscreen is a must for warmer climates. & a good pair of sunglasses comes in just as handy in a blizzard as in a heat wave.

Bug repellant - trust me you won't notice the weight. If you live in a place where the mosquito is the state bird you'll know how important that is. It gets exponentially more important if you're in a place with more than its share of standing water. Get some Deet or Skin So Soft or Deep Woods Off. A citronella candle won't hurt either for times when you're stationary.

Books. Sure bring a novel if ya want, but I meant books with a more serious theme. Of course any manuals for any firearms or other complex tools should be included. I'd suggest getting either U.S. Army Survival Handbook Book by U.S. Department of the Army or The SAS Survival Handbook by John "Lofty" Wiseman or both. One I was looking at the other day but haven't picked up myself was The SAS Urban Survival Handbook by John "Lofty" Wiseman. Any one of those will contain more useful information than a dozen blog posts. Plus you can access it when off-line. They're not that expensive & they take up little space so there's no valid excuse to not have at least one.

Towels. You can never have enough towels. Ditto for Kleenex & toilet paper. Handi-wipes or some kind of pre-packaged & sealed moist towellete are also useful as hell.

Sleeping bags, tents & just about anything else you'd take camping with you probably wouldn't be a waste of space. Neither would a portable kerosene heater if you think it might get chilly.

Keep a backpack or two handy. This is in case you have to give up the car for some reason. You won't be able to stuff everything from the car into the backpack (nor should you try) but you should be able to snag the essentials. If you do have to ditch the car everyone in your party should have a backpack to help carry gear. Obviously with real small kids or real old adults that won't be feasible, but try to have a pack for every able bodied person with you.

First off make sure everyone has at least a one quart canteen. Preferably two or more if you can manage the space/weight. On foot at least a day’s supply of water per person would be the least I'd carry. I'd also make sure I had some sort of water filtration system so drinking water wouldn't be dependent on how much you carried.

Some way to cook would be nice, so if you have an alcohol stove or a camping stove throw it in the pack, along with any lightweight cookware you have.

Sleeping bags for everyone should try to be carried, & enough tarp to make a shelter for everyone. Space blankets will come in handy if it gets chilly. Same for clothes, towels, moist towelettes, matches, sunscreen, bug repellent & toilet paper.

GPS if ya got 'em, but a compass & map should be included. Ditto for the rope. Binoculars will be more likely to be useful if you're on foot. & you will have room for the survival book.

& food; don't forget the food. Preferably stuff that requires little or no preparation, but carry food with you in sealed airtight bags (especially if traveling in bear country).

You should be able to get each of the essentials in every pack (minus the stove) but if for some reason you can't divide up the load. Just try to make sure everyone has enough to be a little sufficient in case of separation.

That's by no means a complete list for a kit (especially since I haven't gotten to the most important item) but it'll get you going in the right direction. Pick up one of the books I linked earlier & from here you'll get an idea of what your needs probably will be & how to provide for them.

Now the most important item; the item you've all been waiting for... (drumroll please)

The knife. Yep. That's right. The one most important item you can possess is a knife. It may not be the perfect tool for every job but it's the most generalized tool you'll ever have. A good folding pocket knife for the small jobs & a good fixed blade knife for the big ones. A machete comes in handy but you'll be alright with just the folder & fixed blade.

For the folder - hell a good stockman's knife will do just fine. So will the old reliable 5 inch lockback. For a fixed blade Cold Steel offers The Bushman. A 7" blade & sharp from the factory will handle most if not all of your larger cutting chores. Plus its handle is hollow so affix it to a stick & you have a spear (I do wonder if they’ll come out with a ladies’ model named The Britney...). Under $25 is most places I've seen them. Course if you have another preference go ahead & indulge. Just make sure to have some sort of sharpening system in case you need to brighten up the edge. Oh, & Cold Steel has the cutest little machete based on the Kukri. Under $20 at most places I've seen it at makes it something you might wanna throw in the trunk just for the helluvit.

Despite the utility of knives firearms are better for self defense. Using a knife for defense or attack requires skill, speed & strength. Not that it's unattainable to be competent enough for defense, it's just not as effective as a firearm, nor will it ever be. But I'll cover the firearms in a separate post.

Posted by Publicola at September 6, 2005 06:47 AM | TrackBack
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