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Saturday, August 28, 2010

8 Steps to overcoming stress

Developing the preppers mindset can lead to over-reaction unless you are able to recognize stress for what it really. Stress is almost always bad for you. It can lead to a myriad of health problems to include trouble with your blood pressure and heart. In these unsure times of economic upheaval and political uncertainty alot of people are awakening to the reality that things just don’t seem right. This uncertainty almost always leads to stress in one form or another. Below you will find 8 steps that'll help you overcome the strangle hold that stress can have on you.

  1. Change your focus. When stress starts to set in, remove yourself from the offending environment for five to ten minutes. Turn off the news and/or close your web browser. Go outside and take a walk. The new setting can arouse your senses and replace your stress with more pleasing stimuli.
  2. Start exercising. Physical activity can give you a feeling of control and work off your negative energy. Breathing slowly and deeply also helps prevent stress from overwhelming you.
  3. Write it down. Records your thoughts about what's bothering you and help yourself put stress into perspective. The act of writing down your concerns helps you adopt an outlook of healthy detachment.
  4. Develop a sense of humor. Learn to Laugh out Loud at the bullshit as often as possible.
  5. Stop everything. When you start feeling stressed, stop what you're doing and spend just a few minutes breathing deeply.
  6. Say no to what you don't have time to do. Lowering the demands you put on yourself actually relieves stress. Sometimes saying no is necessary in taking care of yourself.
  7. Take care of of the hard stuff in the morning to get them out of the way. Usually in the morning when you are fresh and rested is the best time to take care of projects that require concentration. Look at large projects as a series of steps to complete one by one.
  8. Live for today. We prep in order to buy ourselves a sense of security. Learn to live in the moment. Prepare for worst but play and pray like there’s no tomorrow because you just never know.
Related Posts:
How to control fear during an emergency
Train yourself to be mentally tough
Surviving the Unexpected- Mentally

Bug Out Bags - Getting Started

One of the first things people do when the embrace prepping is assemble a bug out bag (BOB). This is intended to be a bag with supplies to enable the user to get through a tough time or travel some distance to a safer location. These bags end up with all sorts of names (Get Out Of Dodge, Get Home Bag, etc) but the mission is generally the same: contain the supplies you'll need in an easily transportable container.

Here are some things to consider when starting your first BOB. These are not exhaustive or The Gospel but are intended to be some food for thought.

1) Buy Quality: $20 bags from Cheaper Than Dirt are a waste of time. Someone will pipe up and say "I have one packed with 1,000lbs and it works great". Well, they are the lucky ones. Do you really want to trust your life and that of your families to the cheapest bag possible? Not saying you have to spend $5,000 but just going for cheap typically results in zippers that fall apart, buckles that crack, straps that fray and seems that rip out. If you are on a shoestring budget go to an army surplus store and pick up an old Alice pack. They aren't sexy but at least they are stout.

2) Your bag should be comfortable: Putting a 80lbs bag on your back and walking 50 miles isn't a real picnic. Having a bag that chafes, rubs and pokes you every step of the way isn't going to make it any easier. The bigger the bag the more padding and width the straps should have and the more important things like kidney pads, waist belts, chest straps, suspension systems, etc become.

3) Consider the mission: What is the bag for? Is it to grab in the event you have to evacuate the house due to a chemical spill or to travel overland for a year? Those are two different goals and as such the contents of your bag will differ accordingly. Consider what you want to accomplish with your bag and this will help you to determine what you put in your bag.

Also, don't forget that a BOB doesn't necessary have to be for playing Mad Max in the woods. Lets say you are in a wheelchair and there's no way in hell you are going overland. You may, however, have a plan to drive across town to your parents more rural home and set up camp there. Wouldn't it be nice to have some spare wheelchair parts handy? Put those in your bag. You can almost eliminate food and water from the bag (or at least only have some emergency rations) but then increase the amount of gear you pack to make life more comfortable at your parents house. The point is a BOB isn't always about hiking 400 miles Omega Man style.

3) Don't Pack the Kitchen Sink: The number one mistake people make with BOB's is to stuff it full of 127lbs of equipment, most of which isn't needed. Put together a list of everything you'll need for your intended mission. Then start going through it with the mantra of "weight kills". Start eliminating items. Start looking for items that can serve a dual purpose. Start looking for gadgets that will do 10 different things. Look for any way to eliminate items and reduce weight.

Example: Do you really need a 4 burner Coleman stove when an esbit stove with Trioxane tabs will do? Do you really need a full blown propane torch when one of those pencil jobs will do? You get the idea.

Point is, you want to get that pack as light as humanly and reasonably possible.

4) Organize: Remember, the time you actually use the pack will, by definition, be stressful. The LAST thing you need is to be digging around in a gigantic bottomless pit of gear. Classic example is an epi pen. If you need it to deal with an allergic reaction do you really want it lost in a pit of stuff while your daughters windpipe swells shut? (Hold on sweetie...I know it's in here somewhere!)

Put a lot of thought into what items you'll need to access frequently or quickly and have them easily accessible. Things like firstaid, emergency food, compass, radios, basic tools should likely be in outer/easy reach pockets.

Also, consider this maxim: detachable pouches have a tendency to detach. So don't put anything in a detachable pouch that you can't afford to have detached and lost. Also, secure those pouches so you aren't wasting time fiddling with semi-detached pouches when you should be making tracks. 550 or para cord is a personal favorite for this.

5) Test the pack out: Put the thing on. Walk around, do some jumping jacks, bend over, squat down and try to stand up. See what it feels like or if it's unbalanced. More desired is to actually go camping with the thing and wear it for three straight days to see how it really feels and performs. Modify what doesn't work. If you can't go camping, put it on and wear it around the house a couple of days while you do your normal chores.

Looking good sitting on the shelf doesn't mean squat compared to actually working on your back.

6) It's a work in progress: Know that once you complete your pack that it will likely morph over time. It's not uncommon for BOB's to be rebuilt 5 and 6 different times as needs change and/or wisdom is gained. In fact, the worst thing you can do is build a BOB, toss it in a dark place, let it sit for 10 years and then expect it to perform when needed. You should be checking on the contents every so often to make sure batteries haven't busted or the like. But more importantly, keep modifying the contents and their locations to suit your needs.

So there you go. Like I said, this isn't the exhaustive list of what to do, but it should be enough to get you started.

If you want a list of items to put in your bag check out this thread: Bug Out Bags - Pictures and Advice There are lots of great setups and supplies lists to help give you ideas.

If you are a certified GearWhore, like I am, you'll quickly realize that while the use of a BOB is deadly serious, building BOB's can be a lot of fun. Don't stress out over details. Use common sense. Build a bag that makes sense to you and your objectives. Don't get hyper-focused on playing GI Joe in the woods for 10 years.

Closing thought: There seems to be a lot of debate about what type of bag to get. Some say avoid military looking bags because you'll draw attention to yourself. You can get a plain old camping style bag and "blend in". My opinion (because I know you are sitting on pins and needles waiting for it)....don't get caught up in minutia. If you dashing out the house because of a chemical spill nobody cares what their bag looks like. If things have gotten so bad that you and the family are walking 200 miles to a Super-Secret Bat Cave what sort of pack you have is the least of your worries (not to mention, if things have gotten that bad people are going to attack you no matter what. They aren't going to turn away because you have a NorthFace bag instead of a Maxpedition).

I'd rather you spend your mental energy on determining what goes in the bag, or the location of the content so the bag can help save your life than loosing sleep over a minor detail like what the bag looks like.

Fire, The Flame of Life, by T.S.K.

One of the basic requirements for survival in any situation for any sustained amount of time is fire.  Fire and the ability to make and maintain it can be the difference between life and death.  Having the proper materials and possessing the skills required to use them is something that needs to be practiced and learned before you are depending on them for your life.
Why Fire is Important
Depending on the situation fire serves many purposes.  
In a short term survival situation (several hours to several days), fire provides both a physical and mental benefit.  Physically fire provides heat.  With heat you can keep warm, dry wet clothes and gear, boil water for purification, and use it to cook.  Mentally, a fire provides light, a sense of security and one of accomplishment.  Having a fire can mentally put you in the right mindset to plan and survive.  In a survival situation the light and smoke for a fire can be very beneficial as a signaling device for search and rescue if you desire to be found.  Basic items to start a fire are very light and small and should be included in any survival or bugout bag.
In a longer term situation (several days to months), fire provides all the benefits discussed above, but the focus will shift from immediate survival (water, warmth, rescue) to a more long term approach.  Fire will provide the basis to purify water and the means to cook and preserve food and create tools.  Fuel for the fire will become increasingly more important depending on your surroundings and the amount of fuel you are using daily.  Remember, the more fuel you burn the more fuel you have to gather, the more water and food you will need to survive.
In a long term or TEOTWAWKI situation fire will become a core part of survival like it was for the caveman.  There are many great commercial products out there for cooking, purifying water, etc. but as time goes on, most will run out of fuel or purification cartridges or break beyond repair, eventually leaving only good old fire.  As this happens fire will be used as the primary source to purify water, cook, bake and preserve food.  It will also be used for many other purposes some of which are:
  1. Fire kilns for brick and pottery, etc.
  2. Forges for melting, bending and shaping metal
  3. Lye from the ash will be used to make soap
  4. Burn to clear brush from gardens and promote natural seeds and grasses
  5. Light
Spark\Heat (Traditional and Commercial)
Now we have talked about why fire is important to survival, let’s talk about the different requirements to start and maintain a fire.  To start a fire you need three things: spark\heat, air and fuel.
There are multiple ways to get a spark or heat that will combine with air to ignite the tinder and start your fire.  I am going to talk about both the traditional methods and also the commercially available methods I have used and the pros and cons to each.  With all of these, the key is practice.  It is never good to be trying to start a fire with a method that is not tried and true when your life depends on it.
For sustained ability to make fire you need to learn to master the Bow and Drill or Fire Plow method as they depend only on resources you can get from nature.  My favorite way to get a spark is by using a commercial striker, but I have also mastered the Bow and Drill method as a backup.
Traditional Spark\Heat
  • Bow and Drill
    • Pro: Made with materials from nature.  Anything  broke or damaged can easily be replaced or repaired.
    • Con: Not a easy way to start a fire for a novice, practice is required in mastering and becoming proficient with this method
  • Fire Plow
    • Pro: Made with materials from nature.  Anything  broke or damaged can easily be replaced or repaired.
    • Con: Typically more human energy is required than the bow and drill method as you have to build friction for heat.  Like the bow and drill this is not an easy way to start a fire for a novice, practice is required in mastering and becoming proficient with this method
  • Flint and Steel or striker
    • Pro: Depending on the type, easy to spark and get a fire for most users, though practice is recommended.
    • Con:  Great fire started, but they will eventually wear out.
  • Matches
    • Pro: Easy for most anyone to light.
    • Con: Can get wet or damaged and when you are out of matches you are out of fire.
  • Lens
    • Pro: Fast fire with correct sun and lens.
    • Con: Requires direct sunlight and practice.  Lens can break.
  • Battery and Steel Wool
    • Pro: None, I don’t recommend this method, but will work in a pinch if you have all the needed materials.
    • Con: Won’t work with a dead or damaged battery and must have steel wool.
  • Gunpowder
    • Pro: None, but will work if it is all you have.
    • Con: Fast hot flame, must be quick with the tinder to capture flame.
  • Lighter
    • Pro: Like the match, most people know how to use one.
    • Con: Can malfunction or get damaged, once out of fuel no more flame, just a very small spark.
Commercial Spark\Heat (links provided in the References)
I have listed the commercially available strikers I have personally used ranked by my favorite to my least favorite.
    1. Blastmatch by Ultimate Survival Technologies
      • Pro: Can use one handed and throws a big shower of sparks, not effected by water
      • Con: eventually wear out (roughly 10,000 strikes)
    2. Swedish Fire Steel by Light My Fire
      • Pro: Simple and efficient
      • Con: eventually wear out (roughly 3000 strikes)
    3. Sparkie by Ultimate Survival Technologies
      • Pro: Light weight and small and can be used one handed
      • Con: eventually wear out (could not find a strike #)
    4. Spark-Lite by Spark-lite
      • Pro: Ultra lightweight (I carry this as my backup to my Blastmatch)
      • Con: eventually wear out (roughly 2,000)
    5. Magnesium bar and Striker (several different makes and models)
      • Pro: If you can get the magnesium to light very hot flame
      • Con: depending on the quality hard to get magnesium to light
    6. Other Strikers (various other no-name or cheaper flint and steal, from what I have found you get what you pay for.  They may work, but not as good and as easy as the ones listed above)
One you have heat or a spark you will need to transfer that to tinder to start a fire.  Again like the spark there are traditional\natural and non-traditional tinder.  Natural tinder various by region and you will have to experiment with the best type in your area.  Generally any dry fibrous material like inner bark from a tree, dead grass, dead evergreen needles, etc. make a great tinder.  If available, birch bark makes great tinder.  My favorite natural tinder is fatwood shavings.  Fatwood (pine with high amounts of resin\sap) is naturally occurring and can be easily found and processed in a pine forest.
Some examples of non-traditional\natural tinder are dryer lint, char cloth, wax paper, cotton ball and petroleum jelly, etc.  My favorite by far is the cotton ball mixed\covered in petroleum jelly.  It provides a nice hot flame, it easy and cheap to make and will burn when wet.  I have tried multiple types of commercial tinder, but always come back to the cotton ball and petroleum jelly.
Depending on the situation always evaluate and use the resources you have available.  Other ideas or things that make great fire starters\tinder are mosquito repellent, hairspray, anything with a high alcohol content.  The best survivalist is always someone who maximizes what they have available and ready at hand.
Types of Fires
Now that you have fire, let’s talk about a few of the different types of fires and the best use for each of these fires types:
  1. Traditional Fire:  This is your classic fire with stick\fuel crossed in the center.  This type of fire provides warmth, light, and also is great for cooking.  The downside to this type of fire is it isn’t very efficient and consumes more wood than other fire configurations.
  2. Upside Down Fire:  This type of fire is made by stacking the fuel very tightly together in a box or cube shape and then lighting the fire from the top.  This style of fire burns longer and requires less fuel overtime as it feeds itself as it burns down.  This type of fire also creates great coals for cooking once burned down.  The downside to this fire is that you need to have lots of fuel in the beginning to create your upside down fire.
  3. Dakota Fire Hole:  This type of fire is a great fire for cooking and is basically like the name describes a hole.  To build this type of fire you dig a whole 10 to 12 inches deep for the main fire and a vent hole 4 to 6 inches around that joins into the main hole from the side.  This fire has great benefits as it uses less fuel and typically burns hotter than traditional fires.
  4. Base Fire:  A base fire or base can be used with any fire style except the Dakota Fire Hole.  The idea or purpose of a base fire is to elevate the fire (keep it out of snow, water, etc).  You do this by building the fire on a base, typically wet or green fuel that won’t burn easily.
  5. Reflector Fire:  A reflective fire isn’t as much about the way the fuel is arranged, but more about the fire pit and the way the heat and light reflects.  The goal of a reflective fire it to maximize the amount of heat or light by reflecting off of a wall (made of dirt, stone, wood, etc.) towards the desired location.  This is a great fire for survival shelters to reflect the heat towards the shelter.
  6. Parallel Fire:  This type of fire is created between 2 large logs setup parallel to each other.  The fire is placed in the middle.  This type of fire is typically used for a cooking fire as you can use the log surfaces as a base for cooking.  It also provides a wind break on each side for the fire.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The key to anything survival related is practice, practice, practice.  No matter what your preferred method for fire starting is, you need to practice until you are proficient.  I also recommend that you practice and are proficient in multiple methods in case your primary method is not available or no longer works.  Without proficiency you will be unable to start a fire when you need it the most.
Ultimate Survival Technologies
Light My Fire

101 uses: Paracord 550

Samwise Gamgee ,from “The Lord of the Rings” said “No rope! And only last night you said to yourself: “Sam, what about a bit of rope? You'll want it, if you haven't got it: Well, I'll want it. I can't get it now.” Rope was a gift for him from the elves later on. Tom Hanks said “We need more rope!” to Wilson in Cast Away”. Connor, the Irish avenger in “The Boondock Saints” (excellent movie by the way) told his brother Murphy “You know what we need? Some rope.”
Even 5000 year old Otzi the Iceman had a stone knife, bow, quiver and some arrows, a very cool looking axe… and a 20-feet coil of rope.
Rope is just a practical thing to have during emergencies and outdoor activities, and it hardly gets more polyvalent than mil spec 550 Paracord, the one with the 7 strands in the core. These can be removed easily from the inside when you need thinner string.
Paracord 550 lbs Nylon Cord Rope- BLACK
Rothco 550Type III Paracord

Warning: 550 Paracord is rated to break at 550 pounds, that’s it breaking point not its practical use weight. This isn’t even close to climbing rope which has at least 10 times the resistance of Paracord. While it may hold your weight, as soon as you start moving the tension increases significantly and it will probably break. Other than a certain death, don’t try using these to climb down from any height.
Having said that, the uses for Paracord are countless:

Building shelters or rafts

Bow string, bolas and other primitive weapons

Shredding the fibers with a knife, it can be used as tinder

Fire bow drill string

Improvised gun sling or pants belt



Nice improvised knife handle


The inner strand can be used as a fishing line

You can build a fishing net or bird net for traps with enough patience

Some people make baskets and other containers with it

Cord 550LB NYLON 100 Ft / Safety Orange

While the OD green and black colors are nice, Orange Paracord makes for more visible lanyards in case your tools fall in high grass. Its more visible to anyone trying to rescue you so that’s the color I’d go for emergency kits. Better yet, get some of each color. It’s cheap enough an terrific stuff. Remember to burn the tips when you cut it so it doesn't come appart.
Final tip. Get the good stuff made in USA, dont try to save 70 cents and end up with poor quality cord that willlet you down when you need it the most.


Dehydrating Blueberries

This is one of those projects that was really so easy it shouldn't deserve its own post, but here it is anyway.  Dehydrating blueberries.

First, get some blueberries.  It really doesn't matter how many, but the more the merrier.  Wash them and pick out any that are squishy or bad.

Now get a pot of water boiling.  If you've got a collander that can fit into a pot, use that pot.  It doesn't have to be too big, but you'll have to dip the blueberries in and pull them out, so get a pot big enough to do that.  I only had a little collander that could go in the boiling water so it was a little awkward, but it worked.  I just did then a few at a time.  It would have been really quick if I could have dunked the whole bunch at once.  I put a hot pad on after this batch.

The blueberries need their skin cracked so the moisture can escape and they can dry.  You're going to crack the skin by dipping them in the boiling water for 15-30 seconds and then pulling them out.  It's easier than putting a little slice in each berry for sure.  The berries darken up in the water.

After the berries are out of the water, put them on your dehydrator trays, spread them out so they're not all piled on each other, and dry them.

In my Excalibur I dried them at 135 degrees until they were chewy but not soft.  It took overnight plus about 3 more hours the next morning--probably 16 hours total.

They can be used in pancakes, muffins, granola, etc. or just eaten plain.  I had to hide these because they kept getting eaten.  Yummy and super easy way to preserve blueberries.  Little wrinkled balls of goodness.

Enjoy your dehydrated blueberries as long as you can keep them hidden from the little snackers. :)