Hey there and welcome back. I hope you're having a great new year inspite the weird weather we've been having here on the east coast. Many of those in the South in particular have been having a rough time of it the past two weeks or so, and those in the North aren't doing all that much better. Some of my friends in the North tell me that on the worst nights their heat pumps were having trouble keeping their homes above 50 degrees! Let's face it. It's almost like Mother Nature has either developed a serious case of PMS, or she suddenly decided to hand her beer to God and said "Hey y'all, watch this!" So what does one do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during such conditions?
Let's be honest with ourselves. Most of us prefer to wait for warmer weather to go hiking, camping, and otherwise enjoying the great outdoors. And for those activities that do involve going out in winter weather; hunting, skiing, and ice skating just to name a few, most of us use cabins or ski lodges. And if you're a long time reader of my (admittedly irregular) rambles, then you probably have a store of food and water laid in in case of an emergency that leaves you home bound (or even cabin bound). But what happens if your vehicle breaks down or slides off the road while going to or from home?
First off, let's be honest with ourselves. You can be the best driver in the world, with tons of experience dealing with driving conditions of all descriptions; but the world is filled with idiots and you can never predict what they're going to do next. And even if there's not an idiot in sight, the unexpected can happen at any time. A patch of black ice on a blind curve, an animal suddenly darting in front of your car, a blow out due to a bad tire, or even just a bit of water in the gas line and you may be stuck out in the middle of nowhere with only what you have with you to keep you save and secure.
So what sort of things should you have on hand for such an emergency? And should you find yourself in such a situation, what should you do, or, perhaps more importantly, not do? First and foremost, shelter needs to be your primary concern. The biggest risk in winter survival is hypothermia, and it doesn't have to be below freezing for hypothermia to become a very real risk. Wind, moisture, quality of clothing, all of these and more can have a direct impact on the onset of hypothermia. Indeed, one can start to develope hypothermia in as little as 30 minutes in 40 degree weather. Get wet in a strong wind and below freezing weather, and severe hypothermia could set in in as little as 5 minutes!
So you leave your car and find shelter as fast as possible, right? Ummm, no. As cold as a car can get, it still offers shelter that may be better than anything else available. Besides, a vehicle, even one as small as a smart car, is a lot easier for searchers to spot than a person on foot. But keeping the car running might not be a great idea either. It isn't hard for snow to block the exhaust if you're in a ditch or a snow drift, in which case carbon monoxide levels inside the car can climb just as quickly as running a car in a closed garage. So the first thing to add to you emergency survival kit is a blanket of some kind.
When I was growing up, my father kept an old army blanket in each of the cars. It was brown wool, ugly as sin, scratchy and itchy, and just as uncomfortable as hell; but as long as it stayed dry it would keep you warm in even the coldest weather. Plus it was cheap, and since it was already ugly no-one really cared if it got stained from being kept in the trunk.
A more modern alternative is a so called "Space Blanket" or survival blanket. These things are light as a feather, and take up almost no room; but they're designed to reflect your body heat back at you. As a result they'll do a wonderful job of keeping you warm in all but the most extreme conditions. Admittedly you'll probably never get it folded up tightly enough to fit it back in the pouch it came in (or at least I never have), but you can still get it folded into an amazingly small package. And besides, they tend to be cheap enough that you can easily replace it if you can't.
Another possibility is to pick up a sleeping bag. They're bulky, and much more expensive; but you can get one designed to keep you warm even at 40 below. The choice is up to you of course, but if you live in a northern area then it might be the best idea yet.
The next thing every emergency kit needs is some way to signal that you're in trouble. The simplest way is to tie a rag to your antenna or hang one out the window, but a white rag would tend to disappear in snow. So most experts recommend something orange. Most auto parts stores have orange clothes specially designed for such an occasion, or you can buy orange triangles made to place on cars and roads.
Another more traditional method is to use flares. They burn bright enough to be seen at a distance even on the brightest day, and, as long as you keep them dry, they last for decades. The draw back is that they only burn for maybe 30 minutes or so, which means that you will have to keep getting out of your car or truck and lighting new ones every half hour until you're found. Not always a good thing when the wind chill hits 10 below.
Yet another thing you can do is to keep an emergency/survival lantern in the car similar to the Siege Compact Lantern I did a video on not too long ago. The Siege is compact (about the size of your fist), light, and has multiple settings from a 200 lumen white light that's too bright to look at, to a red light that can be set to flash. Admittedly, the S.O.S. setting, has they call the flashing red setting, is no where as bright as I might personally like; but it can last for 100's of hours as long as the batteries are good. And even at the highest setting, it can still last for 7 or 8 hours; and believe me, 200 lumens can be seen for quite a distance even at dusk, let alone at night.
So we've covered keeping warm and signaling that you're in trouble. What next? Well I'm assuming you have a cell phone with you, today's world being what it is; but you still need a way to keep it charged, and as I've already mentioned, keeping the car running might not be a good idea. So you should probably pick up a charging stick to keep your phone charged. One of my personal favorites is the Anker Astro E5. Rated at 16000 mAh, this thing can charge two devices at the same time, and can probably charge them at least 2 or 3 times each before it needs to be recharged. It's main drawback? It can take up to 10 hours to recharge it once it dies. Still, if you do as I do and buy two of them, then you can have one recharging at home while you take the other one with you and then the recharging time doesn't matter nearly as much.
There are a host of other things you should probably add to your emergency kit. Things like protein or energy bars in case you get hungry (staying warm takes more energy than you might think), and bottles of water to keep from getting dehydrated if you're stuck for an extended period of time; but once again this ramble is getting just a might bit long. So instead I'm going to talk about something that most of my Northern readers already know, but some of you here in the South might not. What's that you ask? Why, how to dress for cold weather.
Now let's be honest. How you dress can be as much a matter of personality as anything else, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you're not used to dealing with 20 degree and below weather. The most important thing is that the number of layers matter. Look, my dad got transferred to the Pittsburgh, PA area when I was just about to start high school; and the way I dressed used to drive him absolutely bonkers. I would walk to the bus stop wearing a thermal shirt under a t-shirt, and sometimes a flannel shirt with rolled up sleeves over that. I'd then put on a leather jacket and a cut off jean jacket vest over top of it. If it was really cold, say in the teens, I'd even add a pair of old socks that I had cut five finger holes in under my gloves. All in all, I definitely looked like a guy you'd never want your daughter hooking up with; but you know what? That biker/hoodlum look kept me much, much warmer than the fancy ski jackets my dad was always buying me. In fact, more than once I'd be standing there with my leather unzipped, completely comfortable, all the while kids wearing those fancy ski jackets would be huddled together and shivering from the cold. Sure, they may have looked down their noses at me and sneared at me behind my back, but that would have happened anyway since I was from the South and Roots had just recently come out; and I was as warm as a bug in a rug while they were freezing their asses off. And by the time we became seniors, a lot of them had figured that out and were starting to dress more like me.
Now look. I'm not saying you need to dress like you're from the wrong side of the tracks to keep warm. What I am saying is you don't need to go out and buy fancy ski clothes and parkas just to stay warm on the 2 or 3 days it gets really, really cold. Put on a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt under the shirt you'd normally wear, and then add a sweater or sweat shirt before putting on your jacket. Make sure your gloves are good quality, not thin pieces of crap that look good but couldn't keep an ice cube warm in the arctic. Wear socks that go up at least to calf height instead of ankle socks or no socks at all. And last but not least, get yourself a hat. Look. The rest of you except for your hands is covered, and good gloves will cover even them. Besides, you can always stick your hands in your pockets. But your head is going to exposed to all the elements. That's why the mountain folk used to say "If your feet get cold, put on your hat".
But for now I've used up all the time I had and more. So once again I'll wish you smooth sailing. May the wind always be at your back and the sun never in your eyes. And remember. If you're going to do something, no matter how trivial; if it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing with attitude!
And a Happy News Years to you! I'm glad you made it back. Let's see, last time we talked I had rambled about half way through the list of things one might need in an emergency, or bug out pack designed around my family's special needs keeping my autistic son and a mother who suffers from dementia in mind. So far we've covered water, medical supplies, and shelter and warmth. We've also established that due to my family's needs, I'm already up to 23 out of the 40 pound limit a reasonable pack should have when looking at the average American. So what else should be in the pack?
Well for me the most obvious thing to look at next is a source of light. Admittedly, a camp fire will give off a fair amount of light; but it's a bit difficult to carry around with you. True, you could try to make a torch; but believe you me, that's not anywhere as easy as adventure novels and movies make it out to be. First couple of times I tried I ended up with singed fingers! To make a short story long, in the end the best way to use torches for light is to make them up ahead of time and carry them with you and if you do that you'll quickly find that they weigh considerably more than a flash light does. But which flash light or camp latern to choose? And are we going to be okay with just one? Not that long ago I'd have recommended a combination latern with a radio built in so that you could keep up with important news announcements, but with modern cell phones that's not needed so much any more. What I personally chose for my kit is the Pika 3-in-1 Latern. It weighs in at just over 5 ounces, produces 150 lumens of light, can be used as either a latern or a flashlight, and also serves as a recharging unit for your phone. And yes, it is a product that I carry on the Cool Products pages of this web site; but that doesn't negate it's advatages to me as part of my bug out kit.
I also highly recomend what is commonly referred to as a headlamp. These can range in price from as little as $4.00 at a place like Harbor Freight to several hundreds at some specialty shops; but no matter how little or how much you spend, there's no denying the handiness of a light that rests on your head. It frees up your hands and turns with your head to shine where ever you might be looking, and that can be a huge advantage when you need both hands free to get through rough terrain or assist a family member over a rocky spot in the trail.
Next to be considered in my opinion is food. When you're bugging out by car, this isn't a huge problem since you can pack almost any can good you wish and stores are likely to be easily found. When you're hoofing it on the other hand food can become quite a headache, and when you're considering food for an emergency bug out kit the troubles can quickly multiply. Yes, you could consider can goods. They last for years, and even when using a camp fire or pocket stove, a can of soup is probably the easiest thing to prepare imaginable. But at the same time they weigh close to a pound a can and they're bulky. When you consider that at the best rate my mother could possibly make through rough terrain is a measley seven miles a day on a good day, it's pretty obvious that the amount of can goods I'd have to carry just to feed her and myself would quickly eat up four to six pounds of the 40 pounds I'm trying to limit myself to. Add in the fact that I've already used up 23 of those 40 pounds, and can goods go right out the window as a consideration.
So what should we consider? Actually there's quite a lot we could use. Peanut butter crackers can keep you going for a surprisingly long time, or you could put in a supply of protien bars. Two I'm particularly fond of are Balance Bars (they've got a mint chocalate bar that taste almost like a Girl Scout thin mint cookie) and Robert Irvine's Fit Crunch bars, but any quality protein bar will do as well. They typically have between 20 to 30 grams of protein per bar, a goodly percentage of the 50 grams a day that is recommended; and they have a ridiculously long shelf life as a general rule. Or we could chose a modern equivalent of the army's old standby, the MRE or Meals Ready to Eat. These can be found from a number of companies ranging from Wise Food Storage to Honeyville and can be purchase both on-line and at your local sporting goods store that specializes in hiking and camping supplies. They're light, easy to prepare, and surprisingly tasty compared to those of yesteryear.
Of course you could try to hunt while you're hoofing it out of danger; and a collapsable rifle similar to the old AR-7 that the Air Force used to place in airplanes in case the pilot had to bail out or the more modern Keltex Sub2000 wouldn't be a bad thing to have along any way, but I think that I'd find myself too busy trying to make tracks to spend any time trying to plinck small game like rabbits and squirrels. Besides, trying to get out of the way of a disaster would tend to make most people too anxious to be able to hunt successfully.
So we have food covered, as well as water and shelter plus warmth and light; but what are going to heat our meals in? Yeah, if we go with protein bars we don't really need to worry about cooking utensils, but it would still be nice to at least be able to make a cup of coffee or tea don't you think? Well cookware specially designed for hiking is easily found, of decent quality, and weighs in at well under a pound. Your local hiking store should have a nice collection, or just check out Amazon.com. So now we have food for a couple of days and cookware yet have only brought our total weight being carried up to 24 pounds, leaving us 15 to 16 pounds free.
So I guess it's time we talk about clothing, right? Well... actually no. If push comes to shove, we can get by with wearing the same clothes for a few days. Hell, we could actually go for almost a month for that matter, though I certainly wouldn't want to. What is actually more important in a way is personal hygiene, and not just because we don't want to offend someone by the way we smell! We are after all talking about having been forced to hoof it to escape some major catastrophe here, and in the natural course of such a hike small cuts, scrapes, and other boo-boos are going to happen no matter how skilled we are; and that can have major complications. Yes, we have a first aid kit to deal with such issues, and yes that will take care of the immediate problem. What it doesn't do however is take care of the long term effects that might arise from these minor little annoyances. Infections can breed like nobody's business in these kind of circumstances, and the best way to prevent them is good ole soap and water. Nor it is a good idea to ignore your teeth. It's absolutely amazing the number of people with heart problems that can trace their problems back to a bad tooth that was left alone too long. So by all means, use a pound or two of your 40 pounds to pack along some toiletries. Besides, when you get to where you're going to and you have to buy the things you couldn't carry with you, you don't really want to look any more like the wild child of Borneo than you have to do you?
So now we finally get to the last two considerations in making up our emergency bug out bag, clothes and cash. Why cash? Well if the disaster you're fleeing is big enough, nearby towns may find themselves cut off from the major hubs for a couple of days. If that is the case, then all your credit cards and debit cards are going to be just so much pretty plastic until communications can be restored. It won't matter if you have the wealth of a Rockafeller or a Mellon in that case, you will not be able to access anything in your bank, period, end of story. Cash on the other hand spends no matter what's going on with the utilities. So try to have at least $100.00 or so with you. I think you can leave the silver and gold in the safe however. I don't know about you, but I don't know a lot of merchants that will accept bullion as a form of payment.
So now we talk clothing. By now we're down to somewhere around 13 pounds available to pack clothes in, which isn't really very much; but then we don't need as much as you probably assume. At the top of the pack, or even beside it, I would have some good, tough, outdoorsy clothes; such as jeans, a tee shirt, hiking boots, and a good tough long sleave shirt. However these won't be staying in your pack for the trek, instead you'll be changing into them as soon as it's obvious that you're going to need to take off on foot. Why? Because you aren't going to last very long if you try going cross country wearing dress clothes or shorts and sandles. Next down should be a jacket or coat appropriate for the season and locale you're going to be trying to cross. Obviously if you're trying to make it through the wet lands around Charleston and Beauford in the summer you won't need a parka. On the other hand if you're hiking through the maple syrup regions of Vermont in January, a light weight windbreaker isn't going to do you a lot of good. Next down should be an assortment of good heavy socks, and then a couple of days worth of underwear. Why the socks first? Because when you're hoofing it through rough country, you need to take care of your feet above all else. Cold, wet feet can not only lead to athlete's foot (which can stop you dead in your tracks if it's allowed to get bad enough), but a host of other problems including blisters and, believe it or not, hypothermia. The underwear of course I shouldn't need to explain.
Next under all that, you'll probaly want a lighter weight shirt in case it gets too warm as well as a good sweatshirt or a sweater along the lines of the old paratrooper sweaters seen in old movies such as The Dirty Dozen in case it gets colder than you expected.
By now my pack is just over the 40 pound limit I had set myself, but not badly. Definately not heavy enough to be able to keep up with my mother who's age and dementia is going to set the pace for our group. Admittedly I'm not going to have a complete change of clothes for when we get to where ever we're heading, but I've got everything I need to make sure we can get there and I can always buy a new change of clothes once we get there, right? Well, on paper yes. In the real world? I may have everything we need, but if my family cannot make more than 7 miles a day under good conditions then there's no way in hell that we're going to survive any disaster bad enough to force us to try to hike out. It just ain't happening. So at least as long as mom is alive and living with us, we won't be visiting the Natahala Gorge again; which sucks. But the main point of this ramble was not what my family may or may not be able to do, but to get you thinking about what you and your family should do to prepare for a disaster such as Hurrican Matthew or the recent "California style" wild fires that raged through the Carolinas and parts of Tennessee. In that at least, I can only hope I've succeeded. Are there other things I could have included, or that you might want to consider? Well of course there are. For example, since my wife has severe asthma my kit also includes a box of N-95 respirators. I had considered buying a PAPR hood, but battery powered respirators such as a PAPR tend to only last for an hour, hour and a half max; and so my wife's pack would have had an extra 6 pounds of weight in it for something that wouldn't have lasted anywhere near long enough to be useful. You may find something that you need in your kit that I wouldn't even consider for mine
In the meantime, I hope I managed to give you an idea or two a mix all of my rambling. Until next we meet in this little corner of cyberspace, I wish you smooth sailing and sunny skies. And, as always, remember; if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!