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September 23, 2009

10 Preparedness Tips on the Cheap (or Free)

The following tips have proven themselves very valuable, and most, if not all can be used for multiple tasks. I always tell my students to improvise, be creative, and think outside of the box. Try approaching things without naming them, so as not to limit their uses. A trash bag, for example, is only a trash bag when you fill it with trash. Fill a trash bag with pine needles, or dry leaves, and it becomes a soft insulating mattress, or thick, warm blanket. The list of possibilities is endless. Here are a few things to try out if you haven’t already. Remember, be creative, and have fun in the process.

1.) One of the fundamental tools of survival is a knife. A good quality knife need not cost a weeks paycheck. There are many wonderful, inexpensive options available. If you are really strapped for cash, you can modify a kitchen knife into a serviceable camp knife for near nothing. Such knives can be had for a dollar, or less from your local thrift store, or yard sale. For those wanting something a bit more suited to the occasion, I offer a few traits I look for in a good solid blade. There are so many blade materials out there that it can get very confusing when selecting the best tool for the job. Technology has given us many options for different metals with varying degrees of hardness, and strength for many applications. I am a big fan of keeping things as simple as possible. When you are in a trying situation, you don’t need to sort out which blade you are going to use to get yourself through the situation. You want something that is tough, easy to sharpen, and that will be simple enough to get you through with the least degree of cogitation.

There are some phenomenal blades out there made from A2 tool steel that are virtually indestructible. They really are things of beauty, but when you have such an investment in a survival setting, you don’t want your irrational mind throwing you in harms way to protect this valuable tool. You are less likely to lay your life on the line for a $30 knife than a $700 one. It will be easier to move on, and improvise a way if you have more disposable gear. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. I find it best to keep things as simple as possible with maximum efficiency. Personally, I stick with quality that I know best. For me, American, and Swedish made knives are my first preference. I stay completely away from anything made in China, or any imitation knockoffs. I stick with 1095 carbon steel because I know how it responds, and I can sharpen it easily. I am very familiar with its properties, and know I can rely on it. I don’t like stainless steel, but if I have no other choice, I look for Swedish steel, or at the very least, 440HC stainless.

For overall versatility, camping, and survival, a fixed blade, drop point, non-serrated edge, full tang 1095 carbon blade is my first choice. I use a Swedish Mora carbon steel, 3 or 4 inch blade for light work, gutting game, and general utility. For heavier work such as digging, splitting wood, building shelter, or anything strenuous, I use a Becker/KaBar Bowie knife made in the USA, at a cost of around $75. My backup fixed blade is a KaBar military issue combat/survival knife with a 7 inch carbon steel fixed blade, made in the USA, of course. The large blade knife, 7-9 inches can take the place of a camp axe, or machete and can be used to dig a latrine, or fire pit if need be. I also carry an old CaseXX Barlow knife that I have had for nearly 40 years. The old Case knives were real gems. I am not so sure about the newer models. I think most are lesser stainless blades now. I also have an old Leatherman multi tool that is very handy, and a Swedish EKA folding lock blade that has a surgical steel blade.

These are all personal choices and my selection is based on familiarity, ease of use, and ability to maintain with ease. One's knife is a very personal thing, and should be carefully thought out. One final note on the merits of carbon steel, is its ability to be used in conjunction with a piece of flint, or quartz as a method of fire starting. The more methods of fire making one has available the better, as fire is among the most important elements of survival.

2.) Large, contractor grade trash bags are priceless. A whole article could be devoted to their merits in a survival situation. I say never leave home without at least one of these on your person. A box of 20 can be had for $7 if you shop around. There are so many uses for these things. You can poke holes in them, and make an ugly, but functional raincoat. Using two of them, cut the bottom out of one, duct tape the two together to form one long bag and use it as a bivy type of shelter. They can be a ground cloth, or a canopy when used with parachute chord and some duct tape. Filled with dry leaves or pine needles, and it becomes a soft and insulated mattresses, or a warm blanket. With a little creativity, I’m sure you will come up with many more ideas.

3.) The 1 pound coffee can is recycling at its finest. Put a wire handle on it, and you can hang it over your fire to boil water in, use as a cook pot, use as a digging tool, store things in, and even make it into a hobo style stove. Again, use your imagination, and I’m sure many more uses will emerge.

4.) Keep several small, adjustable, non child proof lighters around for obvious reasons. Mark them with brightly colored tape so they don’t get lost, and have one in every kit and pack you own. A little side note here, in an emergency, or survival situation your body, and mind experience dramatically changes. Clear thinking, and fine motor skills are greatly diminished, leaving you compromised and disoriented. Because of this, it is a good idea to mark your gear clearly with brightly colored tape, and label what the item is. This may seem almost childish under normal circumstances, but when you in a dire circumstance all of your senses are compromised. Your environment may be dark, cold, wet, and awkward. You may be injured, and have limited mobility.

Think about this when you are putting your gear together. Try to make things as ergonomically efficient and as simple as possible. Test yourself, and your ability to use what you have. Try to simulate adverse conditions to use what you have available. Try building a fire blindfolded, or with one arm behind your back. Try setting up camp in a downpour, or bathing outside in sub freezing temperatures. Put your gear, and yourself to the test, and adjust accordingly. You will likely find yourself way short on waterproofing, and your once organized pack may seem like a tangle of unrecognizable junk, too complex for your compromised mind to figure out. Keep it simple!

5.) Proper clothing can be had for small change at thrift stores, yard sales, and army surplus stores. You can often find very high quality items for a fraction of their retail cost. Army surplus stores often offer a much higher grade of outdoor gear than is available on the consumer market for very little cash. Second hand sweat pants and shirts are an inexpensive alternative to expensive base layer clothing. As far as winter clothing goes, wool is unsurpassed. Wool sweaters, shirts pants, and socks will retain their insulating properties even when wet, unlike down and some other fabrics. I have found cashmere sweaters for $5 that new would have cost upwards of $150. I have gotten backpacks for $3 or $4, and even heavy coats, and wool blankets for very little. The only things I insist on buying new are socks, underwear, and shoes. There is no room for compromise when it comes to footwear. Warm, dry, and well fitting are vital. I stress again that American made boots and shoes are far better than imports, and even though they are pricey, they are worth the cost. No matter where or when you are stranded, you may have to walk many miles, or endure extremes of cold or heat.

6.) Invest in a good warm hat, wool socks, and warm gloves, or mittens. These can be found cheap at most army surplus stores. You may look like a geek, but you will be warm, alive, and probably even comfortable. We lose most of our body heat through our head, so we want to keep that warm. We also want to keep the air we breath as warm as we can by using a balaclava, or scarf to cover our neck and face.

7.) Stay in shape. Make working out a part of your daily activities. You don’t have to invest in a gym membership, or expensive equipment and clothing. Take daily walks during your breaks at work. Use stairs instead of the elevator. Carry things that have some weight to them. Try push ups, pull ups, sit ups, etc. Start slow, and add one rep each day. You will be surprised at how fast they add up. Be sure to stretch every day before you exercise, and maintain a healthy diet in the process. One thing that I recommend that may cost a bit of money, is a good martial arts class. This gives you a good background in self defense, brings self discipline, and pushes your limits physically, and mentally. I would seek one that addresses real issues, and disciplines rather than those that are competition, or sport oriented. They give a more realistic view of the deeper nature of ourselves. The way of life that comes from a good martial art goes far in preparing you for difficult situations in life.

8.) Visit your local nature sanctuary, arboretum, and natural history museum where you can learn to identify wild plants, primitive tools, and ways of life. There you can participate in nature walks, educational activities, and many other offerings, often for free, or a small donation. It is a good idea to learn a few edible plants, and try them out in a comfortable setting, before you need them. This also holds true for your skills. Work on them daily so you will have them when you need them.

9.) Learn a few ways of purifying and collecting water. Boiling is probably the best method at hand, if you are able to generate a good enough heat source. It is a good idea to learn several different methods, and to have the supplies on hand to provide drinking water in an emergency. You could invest hundreds of dollars in a high tech water purifier, or find inexpensive ways to chemically treat your water with iodine, or some such thing. (An entire article on water is necessary to cover this topic completely.) A thorough investigation into water purification would be of great value. At the very least, you want to have two containers for water, one to collect untreated water, and one for purified water. Never allow cross contamination. Getting sick from bad water is dangerous, and debilitating. Pay close attention to hygiene, and keeping healthy.

10.) Keep a package of baby wipes in your basic kit. They rank right up there with toilet paper, and have more uses than I can begin to list. Experience will show you just how valuable these are.

This short list is by no means comprehensive but it should get you headed in the right direction, if you aren’t already there. And may give you a few ideas you might not have thought of before. There are many things left out of this list, such as first aid, navigation, advanced shelters, and much more. I look forward to posting more ideas as time goes on. In the meantime, use your imagination, improvise, practice the skills you have at hand, and pursue new ones on a daily basis. Remember, every day has its challenges, and somewhere there is always a survival situation going on. Keep on keeping on.