Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Handling a power outage

It is that time of year here in New England when heavy snow fall and ice storms are a real threat. Each year I expect us to lose power a few times, at least one of which will be for a day or more. The year before we moved into our current house, the area was without power for 2 weeks due to ice, so we know long term power loss is a reality we might face. In classic Yankee style, people here cope. This is true in many parts of the country for various reasons. Let's talk about how to do it.

Depending on where you are in the US when you lose power, this can be your biggest concern. While areas in places like Texas and California can experience power outages during very hot months, living without AC is primarily a concern to the elderly and very young. This can be dangerous and something I will briefly touch on as well. However, if it's below freezing out, EVERYONE is in danger, so we'll focus there.

The best option is to have a heat source not dependent on electricity. Many homes in the north have either a primary or secondary heat source not tied to the grid. Of course, those in apartment complexes or many more modern homes may have nothing but electric baseboard or forced hot air, both of which are useless without power. Let's talk first about the large options, then dive into heating without them.

Wood -
Fireplaces are pretty common in many older homes and are still built in modern houses for appearance and ambiance. The problem with a fire place, especially in new construction, is that our homes are now not built in a fashion to take advantage of the way they work. room layouts have changed, insulation methods have improved, and people are less used to waking up in a cold house. Round the clock warmth is a fairly new thing in the scope of human history. Still, a fireplace might be your best bet in an emergency, but there are dangers and caveats to keep in mind.

With ANY wood burning option, you'll have a chimney with which to deal. This means maintenance in the form of regular cleanings. Many people neglect this important need, especially if they only use the fireplace on occasion. In an unlined chimney, soot and residue build up pretty quickly. Even in a lined one, getting a chimney sweep (yes, they're really out there, and no, they don't sing and dance like Dick Van Dyke) in once a year to clean it out is a good idea. If you use the fireplace a lot, get it lined. A metal tube is put inside the brick chimney to prevent residue building as quickly. Also, NEVER burn pine in your fireplace as the creosote will cling to the chimney walls more quickly, catching more soot along the way. Stick to burning hardwoods, they provide more heat anyway.

Many people have opted to replace or supplement their fireplace with a wood stove or fireplace insert. This may be less aesthetically pleasing, but provides much better heat production. We put an insert into our old fireplace within a year of moving in and couldn't be happier. The insert takes up a lot less room than a wood stove and provides a glass front for viewing the fire. A blower helps move the heat out of the insert and into the room while the large amount of iron in the insert holds the heat and radiates it back into the house. Even when there is no fire, it helps to prevent the warm air in the house from going up the chimney. The downsides are needing a lot of firewood to keep it going, and the overall dirt and detritus that goes with handling wood a lot. That and keeping it stocked. Since our primary heat in the house is oil, we do use it very regularly to help keep our oil bill down. When the power goes out, it is our only heat source, though the blower doesn't work without power. I'll talk about how that gets handled in a bit.

Pellet stoves -
These have become hugely popular in the last few decades. Using compressed sawdust or cherry pits, they make use of fuel sources that would otherwise be wasted. They do require a chimney and stick out from the wall, but many have found they can place one in their basement, especially with a large feed hopper, and forget about them when there is power. Their biggest drawback in an outage is that they use electricity for both their blower and the auger that feeds the fire. This is something to consider if this is to be your backup heat sorce.

As we're starting to see, electricity is everywhere in our heat! Oil and gas heat sources primarily rely on electricity to power the blowers that move heat from the furnace throughout the house. This is not true of old gas systems, but most of those have been removed from modern homes for safety concerns. If you don't have a wood option, you're going to need something to keep you going. Let's look at a few alternate, short term solutions.

Kerosene and propane heaters -
These are very popular short-term choices. They are relatively small and portable and kick out a lot of heat for their size. The danger is partially caused by that high heat output - they can quickly use up the oxygen in an area and/or produce carbon monoxide. As such, they need ventilation to avoid serious risk. There are some designed to burn slower and longer which provide less risk, but it is generally wise to use them in only short bursts indoors and try to keep them ventilated. NEVER go to sleep with one burning in the house, as there is a serious risk that you won't wake up! Do your research when purchasing, and follow the warnings.

Gas -
Without electricity, your big gas furnace may not be working, but all may not be lost! Gas stoves and ovens are often put into service as heaters. In fact, many have a heating element on the side of the stove. These are a good way to heat the kitchen and surrounding rooms, but may not get into bedrooms too easily. This leads us to the smartest, first thing to do when you expect a large power outage where heat (or cool!) will be a concern. Think small!

Other options -
One reason older homes could get by with central fireplaces is that they used less space than we do today. Even large colonial homes would shut off rooms during the winter. Our modern, open-style homes require heat everywhere. When faced with a power outage, it is wise to quickly shrink your living space to the bare essentials. This may mean moving out of bedrooms into the living room, using tarps and blankets in open doorways, and covering large windows when the sun goes down to better trap heat in the area. If you have kids, make this a fun thing, a family camping trip to the living room, and you might come out of it all with some great memories!

If you're stuck without heat sources for your new, smaller living space, I recently saw a great idea floating out on the interwebs. Using just a few flower pots and tea light candles, you can make a small heater. I have yet to try it out, but shall be doing so shortly and will report back. You can learn about it HERE. If it works as well as stated, you should be able to keep toasty with just a little prep.

Food storage
My first concern whenever we lose power is less about our heat (since the house will take a while to get too cold) but instead out our food storage. While a modern fridge is insulated and acts as a cooler, it tends to get opened a lot, more so by kids. The freezer, especially the "up top" versions, will lose their cool into the fridge, so have limited time as well. I usually figure I have about 24 hours before everything needs a new home, and plan accordingly.

Coolers -
Pretty evident, move your food into a cooler. Of course, you'll need ice for this, and a cooler is only a few day solution for the most part. It will help significantly if you have some ice stored up - storing frozen bottles of water (which thaw into drinking water) is a big help - and pack it with the coldest stuff you have. We own a few coolers of various sizes that do OK for a few days. I also recently decided to take the plunge and get a Pelican cooler. I'll telly you, I've never encountered a more impressive cooler. I recently went away for a weekend and packed it with beer and a few Blue Ice packs. I intended to add more ice to it but never did, yet the beer stayed cool for 3 days. The plan is to use that one for frozen meat that I want to make sure doesn't defrost if we have an outage more than a day or 2.

Cooking -
This is a good plan for things in the fridge. Make meals that use the items you're most worried about loosing. Prioritize. Things like bacon, certain sandwich meats, cheeses, juices, and even eggs can last for longer than milk, meats, and the like. I recommend taking a quick picture first thing after an outage of what is in the fridge so you can plan accordingly. Oh, and eat the ice cream quickly, it is probably calorie free in the circumstances.

Throw it out -
No, I don't mean get rid of it. If, like often is the case in the north, you lose power in the winter, put your food outside! Put it in plastic bins and tubs and put it right in a snow drift. Keep an eye on the outside temps to make sure you won't have major thaws that cause you to lose the food, but otherwise enjoy nature's cooler.

For thousands of years, mankind lived with the idea that the sun going down was the end of the productive part of our day. Eventually we developed candles, then gas lights, and, yet again, electricity. This last step fundamentally changed how we work and live in the developed world. No longer were we limited to daylight hours for work and entertainment. But when the power goes out, we experience more of what our ancestors did. Chances are good that your biology will kick in and cause you to get tired sooner than you normally would. Don't fight it, but you still will need some light, especially during the winter months where darkness comes so early.

Candles -
These are great for reading and general lighting, but they don't put out a ton of (wait for it) candlepower. They're also pretty cheap, and can fuel that heat lamp above. You can up the illumination by putting them in front of mirrors and reflective surfaces. Make certain you protect surfaces from dripping wax and keep them away from pets and small children. And pre-teen boys, trust me on the last one.

Oil lamps -
You can lump other lamps, like lanterns and kerosene lamps in this category as well. As they can be refilled, they'll last a lot longer than candles will, making them a decent investment. The fire hazard is a potential risk, but people figured out how to live with them for years, so you should get by for a day or 3. The ability to adjust the flame size is a big benefit in my book.

Battery operated electric light -
A broad category, there are a lot of great options here. handheld flashlights are nice for getting around, but generally suck for lighting up a room. Some can convert into more of a lamp or lantern style. You also have to weigh rechargeable versus disposable battery, too. I like to have a few dedicated lantern types charged and ready to go, then have standard flashlights where I know how to find them. One always needs to live at the top of any stairs you might have as a safety precaution. Having dedicated power failure lights that come on when the power dies can be a huge help, just make sure you check them once in a while as they can die from constant charging.

Like folks anywhere in the first world today, electricity has become a matter of dependence, not just convenience. We're used to light on demand, constant entertainment, and running any and every kitchen appliance we can imagine. Then Mother Nature comes along and puts the brakes on our fun!

Generators -
OK, yes, you can run a generator. I'll admit it, I do. But if you're going to make that much noise and suck down the gas, make it worth while. In our house, we use a large portable generator, not the wired in propane style. This means I need to plan for when and what we will run. We set about 3 hours a day to handle it, during which time the fridge and deep freezer run constantly. A power strip is used to charge up all the vital electronics, like cell phones, so that we have constant communication with the outside world. The TV used to go on to check on the outside world, but smart phones have made that less vital in our house. Your needs may very.

The critical thing, and I can't stress this enough, is to do everything you can to be able to shut the generator off overnight. First off, leaving it unattended while asleep is a bad idea. Secondly, nothing seems quieter than a neighborhood without electricity. Don't be that one house keeping people up with their noisy power generation at a time when you aren't even using it!

Battery Backups -
While many are familiar with UPS systems for computers, you may not realize you can build or buy a battery system to use for the house and car. There are instructions all over the web for building a system, like this one on Instructables, but I opted for a more portable option that generally lives in our cars. The Power Dome can recharge in the car or through AC current, making it very flexible, but it is remarkably compact. When we need to run the blower for our heat, this is what I turn to. The draw of a blower is fairly low, allowing this to run a long time. It will also recharge in my generator window with no difficulty. This could also power a fan should you need to keep cool during hot months.

What do you do to entertain yourself without power? This should be an easy one to figure out. Pull out those old board games or cards, tell stories, sing songs, or read books by candlelight. If you need to, run the laptop battery down to nothing watching a DVD, but maybe now is a time to do all those things you've been planning to do, as long as they don't take electricity. Otherwise, test the battery life on your iPad.

So, some general thoughts here on dealing with power outages. They really aren't a big deal with a bit of planning. In fact, they can be a bit of a vacation, assuming you aren't shivering and wishing you'd been better prepared! Share your thoughts and plans below, I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Survival fit

One aspect of preparedness I have fairly well ignored on this blog is that of general health and fitness. Considering how every single day of your life is impacted by your health, this is a massive oversight on my part. I'll post at a later time specifically on medical conditions, for right now I want to talk about general fitness and how I'm working to improve mine.

I know a lot of preppers who are not what I would call fit. I've been one of them, heck, I still AM one of them if I'm completely honest. Whether you're waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse, peak oil, economic meltdown, or a super storm, all your preparedness will be for not if you don't have the physical ability to get things done. I'm not saying you have to be a body builder (actually, that could be really bad!) or an Olympic runner, but having the base level to get through a rough day or 14 until your body adjusts to its new situation would serve you incredibly well. This means building up stamina more than anything else, with additional strength and weight loss being a nice side effect.

Back in January, a friend of mine and I challenged each other to do a Spartan Sprint in August. For those who don't know, the Spartan Sprint is one of the 'fad' obstacle courses that have sprung up in recent years. This is an entry level race of 5k with about 18 obstacles of various sorts thrown in. Things like rope climbing, balance beams, and the like. While I'm not planning to make a career out of running these sorts of things, it served as a wake-up call and goal post for my general fitness. I found myself looking in the mirror and seriously disappointed in the belly bulge I saw there and knowing I had to get into some kind of shape if I was going to survive this race. Of course, I put doing something off for as long as possible.

Age and years of working desk jobs had slowed my metabolism significantly from its insane rate in my teens and 20s. Between high school graduation and the age of 30, I'd put on @15-20 pounds and 5 inches in height. I was thin by any standard, but I couldn't say I was in great shape. I was fighting regularly (both staged and armoured combat, good work outs!) and had enough reserves to bail my body out of whatever it got itself into, but I was putting no further effort into stamina or strength. Now in my middle years, I found myself at my heaviest (215...ok, 220 instead of that svelte 185), lethargic, and struggling with heavy objects. Had the SHTF, I would have had a very rough time hiking with any weight or living off a lower calorie count. As I hit the end of April and saw the race date looming, I knew I needed to get into gear.

While the race was the immediate impetus, general health and ability is my real goal. This meant cardio for improving my stamina and lungs (I'm asthmatic, so this is a big concern for me), dieting to lose excess fat, and strength training to avoid losing muscle mass while dieting and improve overall strength. Quite a lot on paper. One of my problems is that I don't like gyms for this sort of thing. I dislike running on treadmills, I find gyms noisy and often crowded when I want to work out, and I tend to not actually go, defeating the purpose. That meant coming up with a plan that I could do on my own when I could. Since I wasn't going to be using a trainer, it also meant I had to motivate myself to get it all done.

Spoiler alert here - Between the time I kicked this all off at the end of April and the end of July, I've lost 20+ pounds and gained a ton of stamina and general strength. That's just under 5 pounds a month. I'm now putting on muscle mass without putting on fat. I tell you that now only so you'll understand that, yes, you CAN get your own ass into shape. It might add more weight (ha!) to what you read below.

Number 1 on the list was diet. I knew this would be the biggest impact on weight-loss and keeping the weight I didn't want off. I dislike fad diets as I don't think they're sustainable. Making it worse is the fact that I LOVE good food! I'll admit that I looked at things like the Paleo Diet and briefly considered it, but I'm not a fan of denying myself things I want. I prefer, instead, to follow the Julia Child philosophy, "Everything in moderation... including moderation". To top it off, I'm a huge fan of beer. The stuff is incredible, tasty, and so varied I knew I couldn't give it up. I travel a lot for business, especially to Portland, OR, the craft beer Mecca, and cutting it out wasn't going to be an option. Travel also means you don't always get the choice of what/when you want to eat, or you might find yourself somewhere with amazing food you simply MUST try. The only option left was to watch calories.

I don't like counting calories. It used to be you carried a little book around and looked things up, writing down items in a diary or keeping it all in your head. Fortunately, in the smart phone age, it's gotten easier. Friends recommended MyFitnessPal, and app I'd used briefly before that has an easy interface, good website, and massive database of foods. It also lets you set certain targets and goals, which helps tremendously, and accounts for exercise so you don't underfeed on days you work out. I set my daily target a few hundred calories below my needed daily need for maintaining my weight and started plugging away. I made this something I do after every time I eat and it has become habit. I use it less now since my eating levels having become more habitual, but I'll keep using it a few days a week until I've hit all my goals and move into more of a maintenance zone. Time wise, I spend less than 5-10 minutes a day on this app, but I credit it with a major portion of my weight loss.

Truth be told, I have modified some of what I eat, as well. the top thing I did was eliminate soda from my diet. Gone. I actually drink nothing but water and, occasionally, juice at meals. And beer, of course beer. But even then, it's a beer, not beers. This means all my calories are in food to fill me up. I've seriously reduced my complex carb intake as well. Less bread, very, very few donuts, and few sugary treats. This was HARD! My standard breakfast for years on the road has been a Dunkin Donuts coffee (decaf) with cream and sugar and 2 donuts. No more! My breakfast at home is always a smoothie made of apple juice, banana, yogurt, frozen mixed berries, and soy protein. I cannot describe how much I enjoy having this for breakfast. In fact, my company's new office isn't near a smoothie place and I've had to start planning a morning walk while there to get something similar. I do still snack, usually eating things like veggies or peanut butter crackers. I have cake and cookies once in a while, and ice cream even a few times a week. I just eat less of it all than I once did. I don't need to be a garbage disposal, and I don't need to always clean my plate like I did as a kid.

The other half of the equation is getting off my butt and exercising. While exercise is more like 20% of the weight loss equation, it is critical to my overall fitness goals. In many ways, this is tougher than dieting. While dieting was changing existing habits, this requires starting completely new ones. That meant deciding on an approach then sticking to it.

Early in 2012, I decided to try out running. It worked pretty well for me until I injured my knee in May that year and never went back to it. Since I had decent shoes, I carried them with me for, well, months on trips until I finally went out for a run at the end of April. From there, I kept going every other day to get 3 runs in a week. My first few weeks were BRUTAL, but I did 30 minutes each time. I began by walking for 2 minutes, then running for 2. That was tough for me. I built up to 2 walk, 5 run, then walking for 1 minute, then run 7, walk 1, then 15 with a 2 minute break. I was at the end of my 4th week when I realized I could run the full 30 minutes! To make it a little more interesting for me, I noted key milestones, like the first time I ran a full mile without stopping, 2 miles, and eventually 3. I'm excited by the fact that my "lazy day" run is around 3 miles at this point, something I had never accomplished in my life prior to this summer.

Cardio played a big part in my weight loss and overall stamina. I was at a point where I was using my emergency inhaler for my asthma multiple times a day. I was always tired and not sleeping well. In addition, as I watched my calories it proved a big boon as I'd have 3 days a week when I could eat more, but still be under my goals for the day. I now find myself sleeping better, energized all day, and there are even days I don't use my inhaler, even during the summer which is traditionally my worst time.

While I was losing weight, I didn't want to lose muscle, which can be a serious concern. Running helped, but on days I didn't run I started doing a body weight circuit I found at Nerd Fitness. I really liked Steve's approach when I came across it, and his geekiness didn't hurt. Sure, he's making his living off a "gimmick" side of fitness, but his straight forward approach and focus on everybody, regardless of equipment, fits well with mine. I've since picked up his Rebel Strength guide and am following it to build up strength.

So, how'd all this work out? Well, A few weeks ago I ran the aforementioned Spartan Sprint. I didn't "place" or make great time, but I did complete the entire thing. Over 3 miles and 18 very tough obstacles beat the crap out of me, being the most physically challenging thing I've done in my life, but I pulled it off. Not only pulled it off, but decided to go back next year and do better, because I know I can. More importantly, I've gone from this:


To this:

August 28Late August

I'm not going to win any beauty contests, but I do feel like I can get myself and my family through some tough times if it came to it. Your plan and goals may vary, and they need be something you want to do. If I can get into the best shape of my life at 43, so can you. Do it for yourself, or do it for those who depend on you!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The value of basic handy-man skills

Let's say the world comes to an end tomorrow. Will knowing how to paint your walls or fix a leaky pipe matter? No, we'd all be gone. But, since that's unlikely to happen, we might as well plan for things to move on and for smaller emergencies to impact our life. Things like stuck doors, torn screens, and leaky sinks crop up all the time. Yes, you could call in a professional to deal with it, but you can save a few bucks and learn some things by doing them yourself.

For months, nay, years now, we've been living with bad plumbing in our kitchen. Not the constant drip that drives you slowly insane and you notice all the time. Instead, we had a few small issues that occasionally piled up. A faucet that leaked around the base when in use, but never really caused a problem was the most minor. Poor plumbing run in such a way as to interfere with under-the-sink storage was another. The worst was that the drains from both sides of the double-basin sink didn't like to stay attached. Maybe the trash can would knock it out of line, or placing a heavy item for filling, such as a bucket or dog waterer, would shake things loose. Next think you knew you had a trash can full of water, or worse if it was on the side without a receptacle to catch it! This would crop up occasionally, I would get upset and declare this needed to end, fix it "for now", and then life would get in the way and I'd forget until the next incident. A few weeks ago I declared that enough was enough.

Now, what could have been a simple project wasn't likely to stay that way for long. Neither my wife nor I much cared for the existing faucet, so just replacing it seemed the best bet. And while I could just fix the drain issue, the sink itself was a bit old and uninspiring, so it had to go. So far, not bad. But what needs to be understood by anyone who has never done such a project is that nothing will remain simple.

Step one in the whole process was to pick out the pieces we wanted. We hit the local Lowes and started to look at sinks. There's a new trend towards composites, but I'm not yet convinced of their long-term look, so we ruled them out. Most of the stainless models were little better than what we were ripping out. Then we spotted it, a beautiful porcelain white number up out of reach. It featured a larger left basin, meaning I could demand the right stay devoid of dishes for food prep. The sinks were deeper than our existing model, which would provide more room to fill the dog waterer and ease the plumbing. And it was enameled cast iron, one of my favorite combinations of all time. We needed this sink!

Sadly, our Lowes didn't have it in stock. However, a nearby one did and my wife agreed to pick it up after work. Neither of us pieced together that this sink was going to weigh in the neighborhood of 80 pounds when this plan was conceived. Thankfully, she got help to load it up and then we both lugged it into the kitchen to sit until needed.

For a new faucet, we picked a pretty cheap one that looked nice. Turns out much of it is plastic, so durability may be a problem, but we hope to sell the place before that becomes a serious issue.

Armed with these materials, I tried to determine what I would need for plumbing supplies. After numerous calculations and measurements, I felt ready to roll. I decided to wait on purchasing items until I took the old sink out. This brings us, really, to the first critical skill in home repair: home demolition.

Breaking things is easy. Breaking just the parts you want can be much tougher. The night before everything went in I set about to rip the old sink out. This meant everything was gone from that part of the counter and all dishes were clean. Knowing that I would be out of town for a week the day after this sink went in meant I had no room to wiggle. If I broke it too badly, I'd have a very, very unhappy home situation when I returned.

When removing the sink, I broke the seal (OK, it was broken, but not all of it) of silicone around the lip using a screwdriver. Our counter top is tile, so this was pretty easy to do. I then SHUT OFF THE WATER and disconnected all the plumbing. Really, shut off the water under the sink before any of it, so you can then bleed the lines and let it drain somewhere other than your cabinet floor. Once this was all done, I tried to remove the sink before leaning there were clips keeping it attached to the counter. With those removed, the sink came out and went outside.

Now the fun began. I realized that the water lines were actually PEX hose, a form of flexible plastic pipe. I don't much care for this and decided to use braided steel lines instead. I realized, too, that the base of the new sink placed the plumbing further back than the old one, so all those measurements and calculations were for not. I opted for bed instead of starting any more, hoping the next day would go smoothly.

Before heading out for a run in the morning, I took some more measurements. I stopped at the Home Depot on the way back (I'm equal opportunity on the box stores) and grabbed everything I thought I would need. Hah! Never, ever believe this will be the case. I got home and started in by cutting the old plumbing off at the highest point I could. This was at the floor of the cabinet, which I proceeded to fall through due to rot. Oh good, more fun! I proceeded to rip this rotting press board out as well, then measure for a replacement. It was now a plumbing AND carpentry project. At this point I decided I should take a picture or two.


The first part of putting it all back together was to replace the floor of the cabinet. I had enough plywood around to make that happen, so I dragged out the saws and got to work. Learn how to use different saws, as they all have their place. My table and jig saws came out for this one, though the circular would have worked as well. As I the original floor had been stapled and channeled in place, I needed to make blocks to brace the new floor up. The prior floor had 2 holes in it as it was pre-fabbed to fit a variety of situations. My new one only needed a hole exactly where the plumbing was, which is what I did. Everything cut, I took it inside to see if I'd measured properly. Apparently, I did:


Now, back to plumbing. I quickly realized I had purchased the wrong size pipe, but before my return to the store I set up the new sink with drains to take even more measurements.


You might notice that the sink is sitting between 2 chairs. Had I thought this out, I would have gotten help to do this, but as I was home alone at this point, I had to do it on my own. I started by placing it on cardboard, one side at a time, then putting the chairs in place and giving it a go. Doing this pointed out to me that I could never get it into the sink hole on my own without breaking the tiles around it. I still had plenty to do before help got home, so I checked some fittings, glued up the PVC for the new drain, and installed the faucet (which is actually in place on the picture above). I decided that the drain plumbing would go in after the sink was in place to verify that I had everything right.

When our teenager got home from work, I immediately conscripted her. First we ran a bead of silicone around where the sink would go. The opening was a little wider than I would have liked, but had enough overlap to handle the weight of the new sink. Once the seal was down, we hoisted the sink up and in by first lowering my edge, then having me slide under the sink to slowly lower hers. I cleaned up the seal and crawled underneath to tie it all in.


One thing you should realize on modern plumbing is that much of it doesn't require soldering. Screw on fittings, glue, and pressure hold a lot of parts together. That means that the entire setup can go together in a matter of 20 minutes that looks like this:


While I know I didn't go into much in the way of plumbing technique in this post, the point was more to convince you this stuff isn't rocket science. Doing this myself saved us a few hundred dollars in labor and meant I felt pretty accomplished when all was said and done. It's all stuff I've learned over the years and improved on by doing. Try crawling under you sink and just seeing how it all goes together. Maybe you'll realize it isn't as horrible as you thought. And maybe you'll someday use this to plumb up a water purifier when the zombies come!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Critical preparedness skills

It's been a while since I've talked about specific skills. Let's leave the political crap behind for a bit, shall we?

I realized when thinking about posts, specifically skill related ones, that it might make sense to build out a list of what I consider critical skills, then get your input to expand it. Without further fanfare, here we go (with "brief" explanations/justifications). I'll also list what critical slot they fill

CookingFood - if you can't eat, life without takeout will suck.
Water treatmentWater - easy to pick up, but even more vital than cooking
Fire buildingEnergy - including fire starting
PioneeringShelter - knot-tying and lashing, allows shelter and tool building on the fly
FirearmsSecurity/Food - good to know about even if they don't fit into your security philosophy, if only to handle safely
ArcherySecurity/Food - your standard backup/predecessor to the gun, takes way more time to become proficient

GardeningFood - growing your own assures a constant source, especially if you add greenhouses
Handheld radio basicsCommunication - when there's more than one of you, you need to talk
Knife use and careFood/Shelter/Security - as your most versatile tool, it needs to be in working order
Food and water storageFood/Water - keeping the basics around
Land navigationNavigation - getting around without electronics
First aidBasic Health - from boo-boos to heart attacks
Foot careBasic Health - if you can't walk, you're a sitting duck
Emergency planningGeneral - without planning, it can all fall apart
Mental fitnessBasic Health - keeping your head (and those of your group) together
Leadership/group dynamicsCommunication - even if you aren't a born leader, you need to know how to deal with them and people
Basic hand tool useGeneral - shovels, hammers, screwdrivers, oh my!
SignalingCommunication - getting found or passing on messages without electronics

Let me know what I missed, and maybe what topics you'd like me to expand on sooner than later. No, really, just take a few minutes and comment right below!

Edited for added skills from readers:

Gathering woodEnergy/Shelter - for firewood, pioneering, and tool making
ForagingFood - Non-animal wild nutrition gathering
Hunting/TrappingFood - Animal wild nutrition gathering
Survival hygieneBasic Health - keeping healthy without running water
Alternate medicineBasic Health - getting by when there isn't 'modern' medicine
Tool makingGeneral - fixing broken tools or crafting from scratch
Primitive laundry and dishesBasic Health - cause getting sick during tough times would suck
Preserving foodFood - making what you gather last
Keeping fitBasic Health - being in shape keeps you in shape when you're working harder
RationingFood/Water - how much do you really need?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Liberty: Use it or lose it

There has been a lot of talk in the past few months about a number of our rights as citizens of the US and how they should or shouldn't be interpreted. It should come as no surprise that I have thoughts and opinions on these incursions. I've already shared my thoughts on the Second Amendment, but it might surprise you that this is not the most important of those "magical" first 10 for which I care. That is a privilege that goes to whichever one is currently the most under attack. Unfortunately, that list keeps growing.

PRISM, metadata, FISA courts...these are the buzzwords now. Why should we be upset that the government has access to our personal data while we willingly give it away to private companies more interested in adding to our stock-pile of consumed junk than watching gout for threats to our way of life? To me, the answer lies right in the question. When you get a credit card, order from Amazon, or sign up for a gmail account, you agree to allow them to collect that data and use it. True, most of us just click "accept" and never read an EULA, but when we do this we make the choice that we don't care enough to do so. Yet when a government institution gathers broad details in search of crimes that may or may not be happening, they are not seeking our permission and are (IMO) going past the 4th Amendment and the intent of illegal search and seizure. No longer do you have to be suspected of a crime to start an investigation, you simply need to have a phone number or email going to the wrong person.

Combine this with the Supreme Court's decision that gathering DNA from a suspect and keeping it in a national database is acceptable. Now we're moving in on the 5th Amendment, too. Should a crime ever occur, even one where you are not a suspect, your DNA can be searched and compared to crime scene evidence. As wrongful arrests occur more than we care to admit, the possibilities painted are grim, allowing for a future where crimes are pinned to an individual before he is interviewed or aware he might be a suspect. Simply having your DNA on file implies a level of criminal nature that should make us uncomfortable. Being wrongfully or maliciously accused of a serious crime as a minor could lead to a point where you remain tagged for your entire life, worried that having contact with someone unfortunate enough to fall victim to a crime places you instantly on a path of defending your innocence.

Incursions like these, combined with the way in which the snooping was exposed, not to mention other recent scandals around the IRS and the AP, lead to a building distrust of our government. To be clear, I in no way am implying this is strictly an issue with the current administration as it was obviously occurring in prior ones. It does, however, add fuel to the fire of those who are worried about what else the government might be capable of encroaching on. Is free speech truly safe, or by opining on such issues might we expose ourselves to incursions on our personal freedom? Do blogs such as mine put a person on a watch list of those who might be dangerous to national security as defined by those who seek to preserve the power they have gained at the expense of the American people?

Thus do we come to the crossroads of preparedness and liberty. You're all aware by now that I like to plan for the worst, but you also hopefully realize I want to live for the best. To me, this means living the life that I feel is my right as a citizen of this country. That is not a life free from all danger, safely wrapped in a security blanket of declining civil liberties. It is not a life where success, comfort, or wealth are promised me, but rather a life where I can pursue those items within the confines and opportunities afforded me by a document hundreds of years old, yet crafted with hard work and deep thought. That means being ready for the worst that can come from that liberty, but living to make the most of it.

I have a duty as a citizen of this country to live up to those very same ideals. Rights that are not exercised will disappear. We see that erosion today, we've seen it over the history of this country, and we see it in other nations around the world. I have been told implicitly by folks whose advice I treasure dearly that I would be well served by staying quiet. This is something I simply cannot do as a patriot, as a citizen, and as a believer in the ideals upon which this nation was founded. My opinions are put here exactly because we need to exercise and stretch our rights lest we lose them.

Live free, my friends, as best you can. But prepare in the event that freedom is taken from you, by nature, by fate, or by the very government sworn to uphold it.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Gear Pods, First pass

I recently ran across Gear Pods in an article on ITS Tactical. After seeing the pro and looking over their website, I decided they might be worth checking out, especially for specific applications where you want a durable kit that won't take up a ton of room. I'll talk about that more in a later post.

The idea behind Gear Pods is simple - ram as much needed survival equipment into a small, durable tube. What options you decide to go with will vary largely on what you plan to do and where you will keep the tube. They have varying sizes of interlocking tubes, many of them already configured for use. I opted to get their Survival Pro as the base, having read about their small but powerful stove. I added to that their Bivy for a simple shelter option. I then chose to tie it all together using an interlocking ring, which you can buy separate from the core kits. Here's what it all looks like just out of the tube.


Everything fits pretty snug into it's container, though there is a little space in the bivy one I might fit a tiny Altoid can into. I'll fill it with spare meds like Advil and Claritan. Otherwise, not a lot of space is left unused. You can see why here.


Let's break it down a bit more. The bivy fits in the small container. It's the emergency model from American Medical, not a multi use option, but good in a pinch. The sack it comes in might prove useful as well. Not much excitement here, and something I hope never to need. Still, a body-sized waterproof and thermal bag isn't a bad thing to have.

There's a lot more to ogle in the Pro itself. There are 2 major divisions here; the items in the stove, an those in the mug. We'll start with the stove.


Gear Pods is apparently fond of stuff sacks, and I'm OK with that. The stove fits neatly into one and helps keep everything in place when you take it out, so you don't dump all your valuable survival gear (value on such inexpensive things going up considerable when you need them) all over the ground. The obvious item in the bag is the stove itself. Small, compact, but sturdy enough to get the job done. I haven't tested it yet, but it's a heat tablet stove, so no great mysteries to be found. Gear Pods does offer a denatured alcohol adapter, but for an emergency stove that seems above and beyond for me. If I were to use it for backpacking I might feel differently.

The stove itself holds the heat tablets for cooking, some emergency tinder (great stuff, used it before), emergency whistle, compass, thread/fishing line, snare wire, nylon cord, and an LED keychain light. The quality on most of these items seems solid overall. Yes, the keychain LED light is limited in what it puts out and the nylon cord is far less useful than paracord, but all good items to have around. I've seen much cheaper in kits. I'd say it's all on par with those items found in any of the kits American Medical puts out, and I mean that in a good way.

Now, onto the mug...


I'm pretty impressed by the mug itself. The construction is solid and includes a strip of (I assume) kevlar around the top to grab the mug when it's hot. The bottom of the mug is somewhat concave which slightly limits its storage space, but will aid in cooking. The capacity with the lid is just over 9oz, so not enough to make many freeze dried meals. You could move half of my meal into the storage bag or a tube and cook it in stages with little problem

This is also where the bulk of the supplies are stored, and there's some good stuff here. Outside the mug and it's lid, everything is wrapped up in the windscreen enclosed in plastic to protect the mug's non-stick coating. "Everything" includes: a pencil and some sheets of paper; a signal mirror;fresnel lens; plastic bag for water; storm matches with striker; folding knife; folding saw; 6 water-purifying tablets; a vial with a needle, fishing supplies, and safety pins; duct tape; and a flint striker. All this is a little tough to pack into the mug and you need to do it fairly specifically with the pencil in the center, but it does all fit.

While there might be a fey items I would add, there really isn't anything I would take out to make room. Together it makes for a pretty sweet kit, and the tubes themselves are valuable for protecting the goods inside and transporting and/or treating water. I do plan to try out the stove and report back on how it works, but this is going immediately into the side case of my motorcycle, in the hopes I never need it!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Preparedness books

I really need to get more of a bibliography going up here. It’s something my wife does well on her blog, but I haven’t talked about here. My plan is to therefore put up reviews of books then link to them on the side. Let’s jump into review numero uno!

The Prepper's Pocket Guide: 101 Easy Things You Can Do to Ready Your Home for a Disaster

The basics
I came across this book as a recommendation from Amazon on my Kindle account. It was affordable and I decided to pick it up, mostly because I get asked at times by people, "How do I start prepping?" I knew going in that I wasn't necessarily the target audience, but I figured, what the heck, I'll give it a try. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised.

The book's formatting groups action items by topics. The categories are as follows: Getting Started, Financial Readiness, Water Needs, Food Supplies, Ready Your Home, Personal Health and Safety, When the Power is Out, and When You Have to Get Out. Each of these is broken out into areas of specific actions that can be taken, skills to learn, and items to acquire. The book caps off with a conclusion and a list of resources for further follow up. At 224 pages, it doesn't take long to get through. The paperback appears to be standard size, though I have the Kindle version myself. This might change

The introduction lays out the point of the book very succinctly. Everyone who preps started somewhere, so can you. It took me a while to realize that the author, Bernie Carr, was a woman as these books are so often written by men. The writing style and approach were part of the tip off which was confirmed by comments deeper in the book. I mean this entirely as a good thing as the book is written to be very useful and focused on real life, day-to-day needs. The focus is less on security, collecting a lot of guns, and defending what you have; instead it gravitates towards the no-nonsense, easy to do things that will help you out in a variety of situations.

Each of the book's topics has solid, well categorized action items underpinning it. Instead of most books in this genre which load you up on information but little to do with it, Carr gives you very specific, deliberate items that feel attainable. Well, most of the time. There are a few times when she goes into a bit of a laundry list, such as acquiring specific skills, and others when the action item is very broad. The assumption here is that you will pursue more information on those topics yourself. While some might find this annoying, I think it is impossible to expect a book of this nature to go into too much detail. I found the information presented was more than enough to get you going down the right path in any area. Even as someone who's been at this for a while, I found a fair bit of meat here and items I'd never thought about (like draining my water heater for more drinking water!)

Final Thoughts
Carr does a good job of sticking to her original intent of providing real life benefit. There is very little in the way of explanation about what might go wrong and more focus on how to prevent and cope with it. This book will not scare you into preparing, but instead make the prospect of prepping itself less scary. Her tone and approach have a broader appeal than many books in this genre. She does move quickly through personal security (firearms are covered in 2 short paragraphs) but that is an asset, in my opinion. She avoids alienating a portion of her audience by suggesting further research elsewhere. I also like the fact that she comes through as knowledgeable without seeming a know it all.

For me, the final endorsement of a book needs to be whether or not I would recommend it. Not only would I recommend this book, I would suggest it as the very first book a budding prepper should own. For those already on the path, this book can act as an excellent yardstick to see where you are and where you want to be. In short, buy it!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The trouble with gas cans

Like many of you, I expect, I own a lot of gas powered tools. Snow blower, lawn mower, chain saw, weed whacker, and generator for the short list. Then there are the bigger ones - pickup, car, and motorcycle. The last 3 I (generally) fill up right at the pump, but I like to have spare gas with me when possible. The smaller ones all require I have gas in the garage (and one or 2 that I pre-mix it with oil). This has led to an assortment of gas storage containers, mostly of the plastic variety. And all with modern "safety" nozzles.

Yes, I used quotes on safety. I have had more trouble with the various mechanisms that prevent gas from pouring until it should than I ever did with an old-style "Gooseneck" spout. I assume that a number of people either immolated themselves or something else, resulting in the safety mechanisms we now have. I know that, with these new contraptions, I have twice spilled gas on an engine and once on myself. I often end up with it on my hands after manually forcing that should be an "easy to use" system to engage and allow gas to flow.

Personally, I think if you cannot use a simple flexible spout to get gas into a gas tank, you should reconsider operating whatever you are fueling. Some might say you should be able to handle the fueling through the modern safety devices, but the issue on these is that the devices themselves are unreliable and the point of failure, not the operator. When the devices fail to engage, or get stuck, and require manual manipulation at the point of fueling, your device is less safe than the person operating it. The attitude should be one similar to operating a car - the most important safety mechanism is located between the ears of the driver.

All this lead to my pursuit for old style gas cans. I had a few key requirements for this pursuit:
- Easy, no frills spout
- No additional safety features that inhibit pouring
- Durable construction
- Useful for garage or in vehicle transportation

In the end I decided I wanted a metal can for durability. I don't mind plastic per se, but long term exposure to sunlight is not good for it, making it a poor choice in the bed of my truck. Additionally, I have yet to find one that comes with a good spout that meets the first requirement. The classic, squat, round cans are very hard to find. They are also often illegal in many states. The same is true of the NATO "Jerry" can, what many will recognize as the gas cans seen on the backs of jeeps and Range Rovers. I settled on picking up a couple of Jerry cans and spouts, despite not being permissible in my state for fuel usage. This is a risk I'm willing to take, your mileage may vary.

Metal gas cans get a bad wrap for the danger of sparks when the metal of the nozzle and the can opening come together. You know, like the metal when you put the nozzle in you car tank. There is also a worry of rust and degradation, but this comes down to upkeep and care. I'm willing to take on the simple maintenance. The final worry is that they tend to be fine up to temps of @130 degrees but have no vapor release valve, like many plastic cans do. Thus, if you put the can into, say, the hatch of a car, you can push it to the point where the can will fail and gas or vapor will escape. Without ignition, you're still not going to have a fire, but this isn't an ideal situation. I plan to keep it in the back of my pickup where the temperature will not exceed the outside air. In New England, 130 won't be an issue. I'm exploring mounting options, likely I'll just weld something up that I can easily take out when I need the full bed.

The classic "Jerry" can

So, where do you find them? It is possible to find used ones at an Army Navy store, but I really wanted to go new in this case. I finally settled on getting them from as I have a membership there. I rarely use it, it came with supporting The Survival Podcast, but in this case it pushed my price per can down to $44. I've found smaller cans for less, but for the 5 gallon version, this is a decent deal. I also don't pay shipping, which really helped. I had to have them shipped to a friend in a neighboring state. Again, my call, not advocating you do the same.

The cans are green in color, being of military design, so I'll be marking them as containing gas through labeling or painting them red. I bought a spout for each one which mounts nicely to the can itself. Putting the spout on and pouring safely and quickly into my power equipment should never be an issue again!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The value of the Second Amendment

I don't do big political posts here. I'd rather not stir the hornet's nest, but readers here undoubtedly know how I feel. As a preparedness guy, I'd be remiss not to weigh in on the arguments going around. Here's my piece, take it for what it is.

Why is there a Second Amendment - This is the crux of the problem. We often hear people state that "no one will take away your hunting guns". But 2A isn't about hunting. It's about allowing the people to resist a tyrannical government. Period. That's the first thing we need to be clear on. With that in mind, let's look at the arguments made against the current state of gun ownership in the US.

The Founding Fathers couldn't have foreseen what guns would be like in 200 years
First off, this is a non-argument. The 2nd Amendment doesn't include "unless technology advances".
Secondly, these were men who were the bright minds of their day. Many were inventors, authors, great thinkers. Some saw advances to firearms within their lifetime in the form of the percussion cap. They were one, maybe 2 generations removed from the heavy use of matchlock muskets. Rifling became more prevalent during the late 18th century and was used by them to good effect during the revolution. In fact, the rifle has changed less in the past 100 years than it did in the 100 before that. To state that they couldn't imagine advances to guns beyond their current experience is to assume, as so many do, that people used to be less intelligent than we are today. Certainly they wouldn't know the exact form, but they knew things would advance.
Finally, the intent was to allow the citizenry to resist an oppressive government. I doubt they expected more than civilians having the same firearms as the common soldier. Today that is a select-fire M4 rifle and an M9 semi-automatic pistol. Already we are prevented from owning select fire weapons, so the civilian is less armed than intended. And no, no one is saying folks should have more than a common soldier, no rocket launchers or flame throwers

Civilians can't fight the US military. They have tanks, jets, and bombs
That this argument is even made in the face of over a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq is astounding. The insurgency in those countries, a very small portion of the population, did an awful lot of damage being very outgunned by the US military.
When our Revolution began, the rebels were very outgunned. There were a few cannons in private hands, but very few. The budding country had no warships to call on and no control of forts. The first shots were fired by militia against trained and professional soldiers. Yet they managed, over many years, to turn the tides against the largest army in the world. Even in the modern age, there are methods used to fight against advanced technology.
There is also the fact that a large portion of the military and/or police force would have difficulty carrying out attacks on US citizens. Small groups of wackos are one thing, but a concerted uprising against a government deemed to be in violation of the Constitutional rights of a citizenry is completely different. Military oaths are sworn to uphold the constitution, not the current US government.

The constitution can be amended to remove the 2nd Amendment
Yes, it can. We've done it before for good reason. We've also done it for bad reasons, like Prohibition. That didn't work out by well for us, as banning something often makes it more desirable.
To me, the bigger problem is that the amendment in question is one of the first 10, the Bill of Rights. If we change or remove the 2nd one, what prevents us from messing with the other 9? Already the government has made inroads on our privacy and our right to a speedy trial through long term detention. Free speech comes under attack regularly. Once one falls, can we honestly say others won't?
Yes, this is the slippery slope argument, and one that has been had since the country started. Take away the 2nd Amendment, though, and you remove the last recourse afforded us when we were founded.

We already have a militia in the National Guard:
Without arguing the wording of the "right of the people" portion of the Amendment, the Guard when formed was done so as a formal militia, with the intent that the people made up an informal militia. Should the need arise, every citizen could be called upon to defend the nation. In recent years, the idea that our Guard is strictly a militia has been proven false. Regular deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan prove that they are treated as a wing of the military and not for defending the borders of the state and country to which they belong. This defies the idea that they are strictly a defensive force.

We're more advanced, we don't have to defend ourselves against the government
Yes, I have heard this. Recent history is full of examples where this has proven untrue. Iraq, Afghanistan, numerous Central and South American nations, Kosovo...the list goes on and on. The "it can't happen here" argument is never a good one. It is nothing shy of conceit to think we're better or different than other people on this planet. In the USA we love to claim we're #1, but our history is chock full of horrible things we've done to our own people.

That's my $.02, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts, arguments, etc. Preferably right here below and keep them polite. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Online resources for preparedness

Any given day will find me looking at least once or twice online at some survival topic or another. Various blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and the like are in my regular rotation, with more being added all the time. My Amazon wishlist is constantly growing as I add new items or reading material to it. And then there are just conversations with friends by email, Facebook, or here. I figured it was high time to mention a few of those I use regularly. I'll be adding to this on as time goes on, so check back once in a while. And please share yours in the comments below.

When on the road, whether in a car or plane, I like listening to podcasts about as often as I do music or NPR. They're a great way to soak in information while I'm otherwise occupied.

The Survival Podcast - When this podcast began 4 or so years ago, there wasn't much out there, and what was out there was sporadic. Since that time, Jack Spirko has inspired others and actually makes his living now off this (mostly) daily show. The motto of the show, "Helping you live a better life if times get tough, or even if they don't" sums it up nicely, and fits my personal thoughts on the matter of preparedness. Episodes cover everything from gardening, solar power, financial lessons, firearms, buying property, and a mind boggling number of other topics. Some cherry picking is good here, and while some of the early episodes have poor audio quality, they have good info. You can search for topics of interest, but you'll likely find his easy, no-nonsense style of broadcasting pulling you in more and more. Highly recommended

The Preparedness Podcast - I have less time than I once did to listen to podcasts while commuting, as I now mostly work from home. While I was, I would occasionally listen to this podcast to supplement the one above. Another point of view, not too far off from Jack's, but they do sometimes disagree. I find this one has less rants and stays on topic more, but can pound a topic too hard. I like it, but only tune in once in a while now. Worth Checking Out

There are a lot of these, and they vary in approach and point of view. Some of them are far to one fringe or another, honestly. I use forums largely as place to get a number of options all at once. I've tried to be more active in some of these in the past, but I honestly find I don't have the time to keep up.

TSP Forum - This is the forum of the above mentioned Survival Podcast. The community Jack has built is fabulous, and the moderators keep flaming and trolls to a minimum. There is a TON of information here, with real world successes and failures to draw on. Honestly, this is now the only one I check in on, I haven't found a need to venture to others. Highly Recommended

Survivalist Boards - This board has been around a long time and has quite the following. It's pretty decent, though some topics get derailed and there are the "grizzled veterans" that way in on everything. It's still a nice place to go in and poke around, especially if you have a specific topic in mind. Worth Checking Out

I've been spending more and more time on YouTube and, no surprise, there are a lot of channels out there dedicated to preparedness and survival. Here's a few to which I subscribe

Analytical Survival - I added this one a while ago but only recently realized how cool it really is. Each episode is essentially a PowerPoint presentation on a specific topic. Topics vary. A recent favorite of mine was on creating Emergency response Protocols for the house, along with a link to what the host created. Highly Recommended

- This is not really a survival channel, but instead deals with alternate energy and DIY projects. I personally tie those 2 together, but some don't. I enjoy the straight forward approach and the fact that the host shows every step along the way. Highly Recommend The Nutnfancy Project - You may have noticed that I like gear. I also like getting reviews about it before I buy. That's how I found Nutnfancy. It really is mostly reviews, with occasional other topics. The items are gear, knives, and guns, with a strong pro-2A bias, so it may not be for everybody. Worth Checking Out

Bug Out Vehicles - I originally added this as his early posts were around getting out in a SHTF scenario. He's since gone towards an odd mix of useful info and...Armageddon fan-fic? I still tune in sometimes to see what he's got going on, but earlier videos are better. Maybe Stop By

The Survival Bookshelf - Analytical Survival turned me on to this channel and I love it! The host has a good way of breaking down the books he reviews, gives you a chance to peak at what is inside, and then lays out whether you should get it. He also recommends other books that might supplement or compliment the book. Finding this has inflated my Amazon Wishlist dramatically! Highly Recommend

I actually don't follow a lot of survival blogs, but that's something I plan to fix. You can look to the right here => to see a few I recommend. I'll be adding to this list moving forward.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cargo and tactical pants, the everywhere EDC

Those who know me know I love being able to carry things with me. It is a serious consideration when getting a new clothing, packs, and the like - how much can I carry with this? This led to my discovery and love of Utilikilts, something I wear quite often. But when I'm on a motorcycle or dealing with work, I find pants preferable for a few reasons. Since my work often includes the use of tools or air travel, I've gravitated towards cargo pants.

As a child of the 80s, I know too much about cargo pants. They were all the rage for years. In Scouts, our uniform pants were based loosely off the military BDU. In fact, surplus BDUs became for many of us the unofficial pants when we didn't have to be in uniform. Camo pants also came into fashion, many of them with multiple pockets. Still, these styles didn't always fly in the work world and stuck out in everyday life. Eventually, jeans became acceptable in more and more places and Carpenter's jeans became popular. Just enough room to tuck a cell phone, but few of us ever needed that hammer loop.

Move forward to today and you can see that cargo pants are still popular, but have moved into more mainstream styles. Very often in solid colors, it is not uncommon to see them in the work place. Additionally, many companies have begun catering to the "tactical" lifestyle stemming from private contractors utilized in the most recent US wars. These individuals desired pants similar in function to military versions, but appearing more relaxed and mainstream. The popularity of them has spread to the common populace once more. I own way more cargo pants (really tactical pants) than I should probably admit. A few of them are in camouflage patterns for playing airsoft, but most of them I use for everyday work attire. Let me lay out how I use them, some pros and cons, and which ones I favor.

I carry a cell phone everywhere, as most of us do. Actually, I sometimes carry 2. I've tried the belt carry option before, but the it gets stuff on my seat belt or makes me too wide for comfort in a plane exit row. It now goes into a pocket. But I hate things that are to thick in my front pockets as it will dig into my thighs when I sit. Putting that phone in a side pocket works out very well for me, especially with the thicker cases on iPhones. Additionally, I carry a wallet (now part of my phone case), keys, multi-tool, cash, and often a flashlight. When I travel I have these items with me, as well as earbuds, gum, my boarding pass, tissues, and sometimes snacks. That's a lot for limited real estate in dress slacks or jeans. I also don't like back pockets if I'm going to sit for too long, so moving thins further down the leg makes good sense.

Cargo vs. Tactical
The recent slew of tactical pants appear, in many ways, like cargo pants but have a few improvements. The large side pockets often have internal pockets designed to hold a gun magazine, but conveniently sized for a smartphone! They can be great for keeping items closer to the leg without bouncing around, and I will often slip pliers and other tools into them. Many also have more pockets and/or pockets designed for easier access. These pockets are sometimes less obvious, having zippers and being placed along seams. While put in place for carrying a small concealed weapon, I find them perfect for cash or other items I want to keep closer to me, especially in areas where I fear pickpockets. In fact, the pair I am wearing right now has such pockets where my hotel key and cash are safely out of sight. This morning when hit up for help by a stranded couple looking to get gas, I was able to pull out some change without tipping them as to my current cash level.

Let's break down pros and cons. On the plus side, you get a lot more room to carry things. That's the biggest one right there. I've also found that the big name tactical pants are better constructed and reinforced in stress areas, a definite plus. They are also more readily available in odd sizes than most pants, since many are made by military contractors who have to serve a broad range of body types, so my 36" inseam doesn't keep me from pants that fit (a major reason I like kilts!)

On the other hand, let's face it, cargo pants look like...well, cargo pants! You certainly wouldn't wear them to an interview, though there are a few that look more like regular work slacks. You're also likely to get a pat down at the airport with the back scatter machine as the extra fabric will show as an anomaly. Plus, more pockets can mean not knowing where everything is. I'll sometimes have to go through each one to find my car keys. I'm working to combat this by placing things consistently in the same place, but it still happens.

Which pants I like
I do like most of the cargo and tactical pants I've worn, but a few are my favorites. While I own a pair of the "Covert Khakis" I linked to above, I don't like the material. As most of the time I'm wearing these pants in an office or airplane environment, I'm most comfy in cotton. If I'm going to be outdoors a lot I'll opt for a poly-blend to shed water. The Coverts are, however, static builders of a level I don't find enjoyable, so they only come out when I need to look more professional but still need to carry tools, like at a trade show.

The style I have the most of are the fairly standard cargo look. Pants such this pair from 5.11 have a specific cellphone pocket large enough to handle smartphones. The fit is nice and comfortable. I've recently picked up a pair of Vertx pants based on the recommendation of a friend. Though I think these are more comfortable and the pockets more subdued, the improved flexibility in the knee is fairly blatant. This undermines subdued nature of the pockets. They do include one of the zippered right front pockets, and I like the flaps in the back pockets to keep your wallet in. You know, if I kept my wallet back there.

My current favorites are also made by 5.11, their Covert Cargo Pants. Having a side zipper pocket on both sides and zipped cargo pockets, they stick out a little less in a work environment. They're also cotton which is comfy for regular day wear. both pockets also have a reinforced area for those of us who carry pocket knives. The side zip pockets have divisions in them for pistol magazines that fit a money clip or hotel key very well. They also come in a nice variety of work friendly colors.

There's certainly nothing that says you need to wear lots of pockets when you're into preparedness, but it does expand your options for what you carry. When I don't (or can't) have my EDC bag with me everywhere, I take comfort in knowing that I have the room to take what I need with me. This is especially true on a plane where I may want everything to keep me comfy during a flight within easy reach. How about you?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The importance of quality in Preparedness

Like many in our modern culture, I am infected with the consumerism bug. I like stuff, and I like to pay as little as I can for it. I'm trying to get a better handle on this, especially as I look around my house and see just how many things I own but never touch. This glance has saved me a few bucks recently (why buy the Xbox 360 when there's literally dust on the Wii?), but it has also made me think about the level of quality in what we buy.

First off, let me say that I am not a hard-edged "Made in the USA" sort of guy. Yes, I do try and support our country's economy where I can, but the fact is the "American Made" does not always mean "Well Made". My Toyota Tundra is one example. This truck is solid, and has a historical longevity outstripping all the competition. Granted, it was also built here, but by a Japanese company. However, we have a preponderance of cheap items available in stores like Wal-Mart that seem a great deal. Why spend a lot on a DVD player when you can toss it out and buy a new one for less than getting a top notch one now? I think that attitude can work for those items we don't need to rely on, but what about the really critical items in our lives? What if your life actually depends on it?

Growing up, my father had an assortment of tools in the basement. The fact is, he wasn't the most handy guy around, so his tools tended towards the affordable yet functional side. I know my brother killed a few of those tools as he became more and more mechanically inclined. He began to adopt our grandfather's attitude of buying a quality tool that wouldn't fail. As I later became more handy, I took this to heart. My old business partner, a very skilled blacksmith, helped to drive it home. Why buy a cheap grinder that couldn't be repaired and kept going when your livelihood depended on getting product out the door?

When it comes to survival and prepping items, this becomes my #1 concern, over cost. Yes, cost comes into it, but I would rather spend 2-3 times the cost on, say, a pocket knife that is of quality construction and steel than picking up a poor substitute at Harbor Freight. I will grab items like sand paper and grinding wheels there, just not items I know may become "mission critical" at some point. I try very hard to physically lay hands on items I worry about before a purchase, or make sure the return policy is one that allows me to return it if I am unsatisfied. Even if I have to pay to ship something back, I'd rather not keep it around if I can't rely on it.

So, what are those items we need to stress about from a preparedness standpoint? Here's a short list, please share your thoughts with me in the comments:

1) Survival kit items: Anything that might actually save your life in the field. Lighters, pocket knives, emergency blankets, etc. Learn to look for signs of poor construction, and then test the item out when you get it. If you can't rely on it, put it aside for use where it won't be critical. For instance, a cheap lighter can still light your fireplace, but shouldn't be in your Bug Out Bag.

2) Critical work tools: When we think about having to board up the house for a storm, cut up a fallen tree, or fix a busted fuel line, knowing your tools won't fail you is vital. Consider that in an emergency you may not be able to go buy a replacement. A friend of mine has a good rule on what he won't buy at Harbor Freight. If it spins, cuts, oscillates, or passes life-threatening levels of electricity, he won't buy it there. That said, you need to investigate tools you'll rely on as buying them at a big box store doesn't guarantee quality. Read reviews, do your research, and give it a good looking over. If it feels poorly made, it likely is.

3) Storage containers: This is a pretty wide category. Not only does it include the plastic totes and glass jars you might use for food storage, but also bags for vacuum sealing, backpacks for Bug Out Bags, and gas and water cans. If it holds something you might rely on, buy quality. Also learn the limits of that container. Plastic totes are fine at room temp and out of the sun, but store them below freezing and they become brittle. Store a plastic gas can in the bed of your pickup and the plastic will start to break down. That last one is the voice of experience, leading me to investigate metal "jerry cans" for that purpose.

4) Footwear: It took me a long time to understand the value of spending money to buy quality footwear. I was a fan of Payless until I realized how much longer I could walk and stand in good quality shoes and boots. Now imagine needing to walk home from work, or being stuck at a friend's place for weeks on end. Being stuck in crappy shoes could really blow. I tend to wear new shoes a few days for the first few weeks I have them till I feel they can really go the distance. I do have certain shoes, like Crocs, that only get worn for trips close to home, and I also like to keep a pair of solid, reliable shoes in the car for trips further than a few miles from home.

5) Self-defense items: Yes, you can buy cheap pepper spray canisters, but will you want to rely on it when you need it? Have you tried the specific type of ammo in your EDC firearm, or will it jam in the cheap magazine you bought? If your training is up to speed but your equipment isn't, you'll get caught in the lurch should you ever need it.

6) Vehicle needs: Bargain tires and batteries won't be a bargain when you get stuck on the side of the road in a snowstorm. Shelling out for quality is really a form of insurance payment.

There are plenty of cheap items out there with which we can get by. If your guitar controller for Rock Band dies on you, you'll survive. But the one time you need some quality rope to hold something together and the cheap poly twine you bought gives out, you'll wish you'd thought a bit more about quality.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The dying art of being decent to each other

Something has been bothering me for years now. I've commented on it in the past, but in the recent months around the election, mass shootings, and financial hooplah, I've really been annoyed by the lack of common decency. I suspect the Internet hasn't helped, with the ability to make sweeping blanket statements about people and hide behind an anonymous username. The decline of personal responsibility hasn't aided things either.

Don't get me wrong, being a jerk to your fellow man verbally or in print is nothing new. I know too much history to ignore something like the election between Adams and Jefferson as an example. That said, our modern world allows everyone to take part in the denigration of folks just because of their personal and political beliefs. I've seen some extremes lately and realized that, according to many out there, I personally shouldn't have a right to some of my opinions. This is not something for which I think this country should stand.

First, let me point out some facts many of you may know, but not all. I am a white, middle-classed male of Protestant decent. Opinions of my "ethnic type" are what have shaped and ruled this country for centuries. But already, but making that leap, we're going down the slippery slope that leads to people making assumptions and broad statements about me based on those facts. The truth is, with the info I just provided, you know very little about my political, religious, and personal beliefs. I have found myself a minority on many issues, and while I definitely benefit from being the "norm" and avoid the abuse heaped on people for their physical characteristics, I do hear and read enough broad slanders against me I feel qualified to continue on this topic.

Most recently, I have been labeled a murderer. This is not a new slur to me. I've heard it before as I support a woman's right to choose what happens with her body, even when a fetus is involved. I, personally, would never want a child of mine aborted, but I concede that: A) I will never be pregnant, so I can't ever experience the thoughts, emotions, and physical anguish that might lead someone to make that call; B) have never experienced the brutal violation that is rape and sexual abuse, which could well lead to an unwelcome pregnancy; C) feel that overpopulation is the cause of a lot of harm on this planet, so have a hard time arguing against a procedure that might reduce that issue. For my support of this cause, I've been labelled a murderer by extremists on the opposite side, despite the fact that I would argue against an abortion and for adoption personally. No distinction is made on the side of the extremists.

Now, because I own guns and believe in the right to own them, I'm a murderer again. It does not matter that I have never plotted, considered, and get personally upset at the idea of taking another person's life. Because I do not believe that we should give up a particular right and that I have contributed money to organizations which fight for this right, I am a murderer. I know of people, personally, who have been confronted on this issue because of stickers on their cars. I read one case of a guy having to call the cops to deal with an irate gun control advocate.

Folks, this isn't healthy. It isn't helpful. And it certainly isn't decent! I will always calmly and rationally discuss any of my beliefs with you. If one of us finds ourselves getting too emotionally invested, I'll gladly table the discussion. Heck, my wife is VERY anti-gun. It is an issue we have learned to disagree on, but she would not call me a murderer for owning them. Why? She knows me. She has an understanding of where I come from on the issue and, while she disagrees, she respects my opinions as another human being. More importantly, she respects ME as a human being. That's the foundation of decency.

This, I think, is the core. Everyone who has an opinion, whether you agree or not, is a human being with experiences and thoughts different from your own. When we passionately believe something, we need to understand that others may be passionate on their side of the topic. Their experiences are different and have shaped where they are today. Can their opinions change? Certainly! I know mine have over the years on a variety of topics. But never once have I changed my thoughts because someone took an extreme opposite opinion and berated me for what I think and feel, in person or online. Each change has been a result of intelligent discussion, research, thought, and time. This is made much easier with decency.

I rail a lot on our government, but at the end of the day they are a reflection of the people they serve. They are a mirror. Don't like what you see in their behavior? Try being decent to others and, in time, the reflection may come to match. If nothing else, you're eliminating a lot of angst and hate from your life and making the world a little better place to live.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The everyday benefits of the Bug Out Bag

Over the recent holidays, we got to see a minor incident made better by the presence of a Bug Out Bag (BOB). We had given our 18 year-old her own kit for the holidays, as I mentioned here. We convinced her to take it with her for our trip over Christmas. Good thing we did, too!

We were driving back home on Christmas day. I was ill, so my wife was forced to do the bulk of the driving. There were 5 of us in the truck, 3 human and 2 dogs. We had just pulled into a gas station to change up drivers and get something to keep us going when there was an "Oh crap" from the back seat. Our niece had just spilled something on the seat. Not just something, but about 1/4 of her Strawberry coolata from Dunkin Donuts. You know the kind, basically artificial flavor, corn syrup, and Red Dye #5. Yeah, all over my truck seat. Needless to say, I was not happy! I informed her she had better find a way to clean it up as best she could before we moved on.

When we came back out of the gas station, having looked for something stain removing, I asked if she had anything in her BOB that would help. She went digging and pulled out SHOUT! wipes, which turned out to do a quick and fabulous job of getting all the staining deep red out of the seat. So, with very little to be angry about anymore, I took the opportunity to point out how preparedness had saved the day, we loaded into the truck, and went the rest of the way home.

In short, not every emergency is a major one, but a little prep can help each time!