Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Bug Out Bag - Introduction

Alright, it's not so much as a "bug out bag" as it is a 72 hour kit designed to get me home in the event of an emergency. I personally think that the term "bug out bag" is a bit of a misnomer because if something really did happen (earthquake, flood, volcanic activity, etc), where in the heck would I bug out to? Chances are, in the Puget Sound region, I'd "bug out" right into a traffic jam.

So, what shall we call it? I dunno, a 72 hour kit? Perhaps a hold out kit? Or what about just a backpack loaded with some survival gear and enough food to last me about 3-5 days so I can get home to assist my family when the shit hits the fan bag?  Sounds good!

Now, let's get serious for a second here. Much of my working life is spent away from the home, as yours probably is. I get up in the morning and commute to work. The problem is that instead of just parking my vehicle 25 miles from home, I'm usually asked to travel an additional 30-70 miles further in order to get to the job site I'll be working at for the day. That puts me anywhere between a minimum of 25 miles to a reasonably average maximum of 150 miles from home. That's a pretty broad range.

Since I spend upwards of 12 hours a day away from home, including travel to and from the shop as my normal commute. That means that for 5 days a week, I'm only home 1/2 of the time. Factor in that all of my survival gear, and not to mention all of my emergency preparedness stuff, is at home, I'm kind of screwed if I can't access it in an emergency.

What good is your gear if you can't use it?

It's good for nothing. That's the answer I have to that simple question. It's nothing more than a boat anchor for all I care. I need a solution. Enter the... eh, "bug out bag."

First off, this isn't a bag for my whole family. It is a solo bag, for me. My only concern for the bag is my own personal safety. It sounds selfish, but unless I can get home safely, then I'm no better than a boat anchor to my family. So, the mindset is that the bag is designed to give me the best possible chance of survival in the first critical hours and days after a major disaster/emergency so that I may be alive and well in order to be there for my family.

So, what makes up this "bug out bag?"

Food, mostly. People need energy reserves before they can expend it. Should I find myself 50 miles from home, stranded with no way to drive, I will be in for a bit of a walk. What could take only an hour driving could take 3 days walking. Hmm, 3 days = 72 hours. The "bug out bag" is a "kit" designed to last "72 hours"... 72 hour kit? Amazing coincidence, eh?

Along with food comes the ability to prepare it. Unless you plan to pack nothing but beef jerky, energy bars, and dehydrated fruit, you will need to find a way to cook it. You will also need a mess kit and basic utensils. Note that with food, you will need to keep it rotated to keep it fresh. I'd do it a minimum of every 6 months to avoid spoilage.

You will also need other gear: cordage, lighters, flint, fuel for your stove, flashlight, signal device, spare batteries, first aid kit, etc.

Let's talk about the first-aid kit. You won't be doing any major surgery on yourself, so leave the big-ass-mumbo-jumbo kit that you can buy at Costco at home. You need to be light and fast. Having a massive first-aid kit to slow you down does you no good if you drop dead from exhaustion. Save weight on the first-aid kit. Go minimal and use the weight savings to pack a water filter.

Water.  Seriously, water is essential to human life. You may survive days, or perhaps weeks, without food but unless you have water YOU WILL DIE... soon. Very soon. In fact, being thirsty is a sign that you are already dehydrated. At 2009 summer scout camp I saw a lot of cases of heat stroke and how it affects people. It's hard to store water effectively because believe it or not, it does go stale. If you have an opened container, or a nalgene bottle that you filled, the water will start to grow some weird stuff that you probably don't want to drink. I'd store enough bottled water to fill your hydration bladder, and then store the bladder dry and empty. Like I said above, keeping a water filter or purifier on hand will help you replenish your water supply on the go.

But why will I need a water filter? I can just walk into 7-11 and get some more. C'mon James. be reasonable!

I am being reasonable. Imagine if you will, a massive earthquake, the BIG ONE, rumbles through the Seattle Metropolitan area, and wipes out tons of buildings, knocks out bridges for 30 miles in every direction, and triggers a lahar on Mt Rainier. I guarantee you that every ounce of fresh water is going to be bought, sold, stolen and hoarded for the next 50 miles in every direction. People may be stupid, but they aren't so stupid that they will forsake an easy snatch of bottled water.

Anecdotal evidence here (touched on in my last blog post): During the big snow storm/ice storm that knocked out power for up to 5 weeks in places around here, people were frantic. There wasn't even an earthquake or major disturbance... except the power went out. After the first few hours, nobody thought much. Even my wife and I went out for dinner in an area that still had the power on. But after the next 24 hours, people went batshit crazy. First things to go were fuel and water. Interesting. I went to Fred Meyer and saw a Chinese guy hoarding so much water that his cart looked like it was going to collapse. When I reached for a storm candle, some jerk pushed me out of the way and grabbed it for himself. There wasn't a gallon of propane to be had for miles, and Lowes sold clean out of generators within 24 hours. It didn't do the proud new owners of said generators any good because by the time they got to the gas station with their brand new gas cans (labels still on them), they soon realized the pumps had run dry. They were back to square one. People were so desperate that a few savvy individuals bought generators and then waited in the parking lot for disappointed customers to come out and then sold them to them for twice the retail price!

Now, am I reasonable? You know I am.

When disasters happen, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. Until government agencies can come in and restore order and confidence, there will only be disorder and chaos. And before you give the government too much credit, remember FEMA during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the local governments that elected not to evacuate the citizens with all the hundreds of school buses that were PARKED at the bus barn, only to be buried under 15 feet of water, mud and alligators. I'm still being reasonable. I watched it all happen on CNN.

For your kit, you must pack only what you need and nothing else. Your i-Pod must go. Your cellphone is probably essential, but will be useless in the first 18 hours after an emergency because "all circuits are busy". Turn it off and save the battery. Your best friend will be a good pack, your gear, and a good knife.

It's amazing how much you can do with a good knife. I carry a knife everywhere I go. I find I use it for so many things that I feel naked without it. Now, don't go packing some knife you will never see again until you need it. Pack the same knife you use frequently. My knife is a Kershaw Needs Work1820GRY. It is a locking folder with assisted spring opening. It has a flat blade with a thick spine to give more leverage when cutting or peeling. It isn't a fighting knife. it is a utility knife designed for doing what I do with it - work. However, it does have a sharp pointy tip that would really ruin someones day if need be. Plus, the blade is razor sharp. I prefer not to carry expensive knives because I break them just as fast as a cheap one. Knives are consumables. Their blades are finite and you can only keep the edge sharp for so long until the blade wears away. I'm not saying that you can't keep a knife sharp for years. I have a Cold Steel Kobun that has seen zero use in the time I've owned it and I'll be willing to bet that the blade is as sharp as the day I bought it, almost 6 years ago. The problem with the Kobun is that it is a fixed blade knife, a fighting knife.  I don't get into knife fights much, so, it doesn't see nearly as much action as my utility knife. Use what you pack. Pack what you use. That's my motto.

What about the pack? That is highly subjective and will be what you are comfortable carrying. If all you can handle is a small Jansport backpack, then that's what you carry. If you feel comfortable with an army issue ruck, then that's what you carry. Just don't go out and buy something expensive and never use it. Break it in and find out how it works for you. Your pack should be comfortable, supportive, and reasonably sized for 3 days worth of rations and gear. I have an Osprey pack, but it is for excursion type backpacking - not 3 day survival. Don't get me wrong, if I needed to "bug out" while at home, I'd pack it to the hilt. But I think that for something to toss in my vehicle, I can get away with something much more basic and low profile. A good used pack, military grade, is something I would put into my kit. Whatever you chose, be sure to take it on a few backpacking trips to find out what works, what doesn't, or even if this relationship between you and your pack is going to be a healthy one.

One more thing about packs: Don't store them loaded. I know, I know. It kind of defeats the purpose of a bag you just grab and run like hell with. But c'mon. If something is coming at you that fast, you're already in deep shit. Get a good box to store in your vehicle. Arrange your gear neatly inside so it doesn't rattle around or spill. Make it so you can easily inventory, assess, and modify as needed. Then place your pack loosely over it and cover with the box lid. For an added measure, I'd toss a few desiccant packs for moisture abatement. Why all of this? Well, for one, if you need to rotate stock, you don't want to have to unpack and pack your backpack every time. Additionally, you don't want to store your pack under stress. Keeping it loaded, almost bursting at the seams, does not help your pack's longevity. Storing the pack relaxed takes tension off draw cords, straps, seams, and the material itself. It takes but a few minutes to pack your gear into your backpack. And trust me, if you survive the disaster in the first place, you will have nothing but time (in most instances). Additionally, it allows you to pack other things in your kit that you normally wouldn't stow in your pack. Good boots, for instance, are something that you would wear rather than pack. Instead of taking up space in the pack, they sit in the box, ready for you to put on. Different clothes, a belt, a multi-tool, etc are all things that you would wear rather than pack. In the wintertime, you can also add more to the box, like a blanket, or shovel, more food, or even a gun.

This all helps you to do another thing: slow down. It gives you time to assess and reflect on your situation. Where are you in relation to your home and family and guns and food? What's the best route home? Where is the damage? Can I drive around and bypass the disaster and get a little closer before I have to hoof it? If your pack was loaded and you could just head off, you might not take time to listen to the radio and find out some critical details pertaining to the emergency at and. This could put your life and safety at risk, rendering you a boat anchor to your family.

-James

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