Monday, May 31, 2010

Mosquito Lantern

Buzz! I hate that sound when I know it comes from a mosquito sizing me up for lunch. And with the wet spring the country has experienced this year, leaving a lot of standing water where mosquitoes breed, experts are predicting an active mosquito season. As a precaution, one defense is to eliminate standing water on your property. These guys can breed in a very shallow stand of water, so it pays to do what you can to drain puddles, empty bird baths, etc. 

Over the years, a lot of mosquito-discouraging devices and potions have hit the market. Some work, some almost work. Now ThermaCELL ( 866-753-3837) offers a different approach to saving your skin — a butane-operated mosquito repellent that is built into an outdoor lantern. Multi-tasking, as it were, this unit provides illumination and protection against predatory bugs, all for a retail price of $29.99.

The lantern weighs 13-oz., features a convenient carry handle, and is operated on 4 AA batteries (not included). Illumination comes from 8 LED lights that can be set at two power levels. The mosquito repellent function operates on a single butane cartridge, in calm air creating a 15 x 15 foot zone of protection from mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums. Protection will vary, depending on the wind blowing the repellent around. 

Here’s how it works. A butane cartridge fits inside the unit and provides the heat necessary to operate the repellent system (batteries are not needed). Activating an “on” button on the side of the lantern allows gas to flow from the cartridge into the heat chamber. A “start” button ignites the gas inside the heat chamber, and the heat is directed upward to a metal plate that holds a mat that is saturated with Allethrin, a man-made copy of a naturally occurring insecticide found in chrysanthemum flowers. The heat vaporizes the repellent in the mat, and the vapors disburse into the air, creating (under optimum conditions) a 225 sq.-ft. mosquito-free-zone. The repellent is unpleasant to mosquitoes but, when used as directed, will not harm humans or pets. Each repellent mat provides up to four hours of protection and each butane cartridge provides up to 12 hours of operation. You can tell when the mat needs to be replaced because the color changes from blue to white. 

According to the company, ThermaCELL units become difficult to operate at altitudes above 4,500 ft. due to low air density. 

Admittedly, this lightweight, inexpensive, plastic unit isn't built for deployment in a combat zone. It's a bit bulky, but other than that it can be easily included with an emergency evacuation kit. In a compact survival kit, though, a small container of repellent is more practical. Although I didn't have a chance to test its effectiveness against mosquitoes (because they weren't in season yet), I did test the lantern aspect. Overall, the concept is appealing; a camp lantern and bug repellent all in one package. Pretty clever, and worth consideration for use around the patio or in camp.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Military vs Civilian

My first serious survival training came as a gift of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Fort Bragg was the venue, and the training staff did their best to kill us, both body and spirit — but that was their job. The first priority was to weed the garden by getting anyone who had any degree of "quit" in them to do just that. Psychological warfare, coupled with physical endurance tests were the tools of the day. And there is a very good reason for all of it. They were tasked with developing warriors, and the survival training was married to a concept known as E&E, which stands for escape and evasion. In a military operation, survival is not only a matter of getting food and water and shelter and fire — it's a matter of evading capture and/or torture and/or death at the hands of an enemy. When you're in E&E mode, you stay really quiet and invisible.

Contrast that with what is supposed to happen when civilians are in a survival situation. The last thing you want to be when you're stranded or lost is quiet and invisible. Nobody is out there trying to put a 7.62mm round through your brains, so you don't have to sneak around and avoid capture. In fact, you do the very opposite; in a clearing you lay out colorful items that can be seen from a great distance; you make noise; you flash a signal mirror; you start a smokey fire, you jump up and down and wave your arms; you do everything possible to be noticed.

That's one difference between military and civilian survival.

Another difference is that in a military operation, if you get subtracted from your team, the rest of them will come looking for you. "No man left behind," isn't just a trite saying. If you go missing, a lot of energy will be expended trying to get you back. They know where you were when you disappeared, what you were doing there, and when you were supposed to come back. Every breath of life is planned and regulated in a military operation, so if you find yourself in an unplanned AWOL situation, they'll come after you.

In a civilian setting, you might go missing for quite a while before anybody notices. It all depends on how you organize your lifestyle. If you're a single person who's kind of flaky, it might be a long time before anyone notices that you're not around anymore. And even if they do, they might not have a clue where you went or when you're planning on coming back. Civilian life is like that — you can come and go as you please and you generally don't have to ask for permission. You can wander through life, take side roads, pause to enjoy the scenery, get lost, fall down a mountainside, get swept off the rocks by a rogue wave, and hardly anybody will notice … for a while. Eventually, you'll be missed. But unless you've taken steps to make sure you're missed, folks won't know where to go to find you.

In civilian life, you must be proactive to get a search started when you get into trouble. You do that by filing a "flight plan" of sorts — letting trusted friends and loved-ones know exactly where you're going, when you plan on getting back, the purpose of your outing, the color of your gear, etc. By doing that simple thing, if you turn up overdue, those trusted friends can notify authorities that you're missing. Not only that but they can tell searchers where you went, what you are doing there (which might give them a clue about where to look — if you're fishing, they'll look near water, etc.), and all that stuff. The important thing to remember is that, if you decide to change your plans mid-stream, you must notify the people to whom you have give your flight plan. Otherwise, if a search is started, it will happen in the wrong place.

So that's another difference between military and civilian survival.

I'll just mention two more factors — equipment and training. The military is equipped with the best gear available. It's rugged, and purpose built. As for the training, military personnel get the good stuff. It's drilled into them. They go into the field to be tested. Civilians, on the other hand, are left to themselves to figure out what kind of equipment (if any) they want to carry. Often, they buy the cheapest thing they can find. And then they stuff it in a pack and never practice how to use it; hoping that if they ever get into trouble they can figure it out then.  As for training, most never bother to get any, figuring nothing bad is ever going to happen to them anyway. And if something does go wrong, they expect the government to come along and save them. I don't mean to sound too hard on civilians; I'm just being honest.

So, what's the point of all this? I'm not saying that you have to join some elite unit of the military in order to get good survival training. You can, if you want. But at least do something to get some training. There are schools and courses and workshops. Look up the ones in your area and go sign up. As for equipment, I don't necessarily recommend that you buy military spec gear. Again, you can if you want, but there is a lot of good equipment available on the civilian market. Some of it is even used by the military. My rule is this: If your life is going to depend on a piece of equipment, buy the best you can afford. More important than equipment, though, is knowing what to do with it. A trained individual without any equipment at all can survive better than a well-equipped ignoramus.

Here's my motto (actually, these are the final words in my book): "To be safe and confident in the outdoors, fill your head with the best information, fill your hands with skill, and fill your life with experience."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Surviving A Sudden Storm

Of all the forces of nature, the weather is among the most dangerous and unpredictable, because there are so many variables involved. A shift in temperature, humidity, or wind direction a hundred miles away can result in a violent storm surging through your area totally unannounced. When that happens, it can leave you neck deep in trouble in a hurry.

If bad weather were only an inconvenience, that would be one thing, but when Mother Nature has an unexpected foul attitude, it can cost your life. So, how do you protect yourself against the sudden and unexpected storm? The real key to survival is preparation.

Prepare before leaving home 

Check weather reports for the region. 
  • Pay particular attention to the long-range forecast to see what the jet stream is doing and if low-pressure systems are forming upstream that are expected to move into your area. 
  • Frontal systems ride low-pressure systems — cold fronts can arrive swiftly and violently, while warm fronts generally move more slowly and last longer but are not as violent. 
  • The change in pressure systems (high to low, or low to high) can bring powerful, damaging winds. 
  • East of the Rocky Mountains, be especially watchful for cool air moving down from the northwest and slamming into warm, moist air that is moving up from the Gulf of Mexico; along the boundary of these cool/dry and warm/moist air masses is where extremely violent storms and tornados form. 
Check your equipment. 
  • Make sure you have foul weather gear that will keep you dry and warm. 
  • Eliminate cotton clothing; wear wool or synthetics that don’t absorb moisture and maintain insulation ability even when wet. 
  • Carry extra clothing in a dry-sack or plastic bag. 
  • Being waterproof and breathable are two key characteristics for outer shell layers of clothing, boots, gloves, and tents. 
  • Sleeping bags should be rated for the coldest weather that might be expected in the region. 
  • Synthetic bag insulation resists soaking up moisture and continues to insulate when wet. 
  • If a down bag is used, it must be kept dry or it will lose its ability to protect you. 
  • Carry multiple fire-starting devices. 
  • Have a two-way radio, a cell phone, and a personal locator beacon so you can summon a rescue or at least let people know your location and condition. 
In camp 

Set up your camp in a protected area. 
  • Be particularly mindful that your chosen campsite isn’t vulnerable to avalanche, landslide, rock falls, flashflood, lightning strike, or widowmakers. All of those killers can be spawned by a sudden storm. 
  • Position yourself up out of the lowlands, because flashfloods can reach surprising depths. 
  • At the same time, avoid ridges or hilltops that leave you vulnerable to high winds and lightning. 
  • Stay far enough from large trees to minimize the widowmaker threat, as well as the risk of lightning strike. 
Caught away from camp 

If a sudden change in the weather catches you away from camp, take these steps:
  • Blizzard: Stop where you are; to keep moving risks injury and getting lost. The most important thing is to obtain shelter from the wind and cold. If the snow is deep enough, build a snow shelter. Otherwise, use natural materials such as a fallen tree and whatever is available to erect some protection from the wind. You might have to simply huddle in the lee of a large boulder, tree or clump of bushes. Cover your head and hands and inhale warm air from inside your jacket. Exhale outside the jacket to avoid creating condensation in your clothing. Stay dry. Avoid overexertion that causes you to perspire.
  • Flashflood: Seek high ground as quickly as possible. If you become caught in floodwaters, it might sweep you downstream. Try to keep your feet pointed downstream to absorb bashing into obstacles. Attempt to catch hold of trees or bushes along the edge of the flood and pull yourself out. 
  • Thunderstorm: The risk is lightning strike. If you are in the forest, avoid ridges, mountain tops and tall trees, and seek shelter under low bushes or among small trees. Out in the open field, seek a low spot of ground so you are not the tallest object. If you’re on the water, get to land as quickly as possible and seek shelter. If you feel your hair stand on end, squat down on your haunches with only the balls of your feet on the ground, and your feet together to minimize contact with the ground. Cover your ears with your hands and place your head between your knees to make yourself the smallest possible target. Do not lie flat on the ground, as that increases the risk. 
  • Tornado: Get to the lowest spot possible — a ditch is good. Lie face down on the ground and cover your head with your arms to protect against flying debris (which causes most injuries and fatalities). Avoid being under a bridge or overpass, as wind speed picks up when passing through the opening; you are safer on low, flat, open ground. 
It’s the weather, not falling off a mountain or getting shot by a hunting buddy that poses the greatest threat to your safety when outdoors. Before your next outing, prepare yourself with the knowledge and equipment that you need to be able to handle the worst that Mother Nature can throw at you — ‘cause someday she will.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Urban vs. Wilderness

There might be some who wonder if there's any correlation between urban survival and wilderness survival. I assure you there is. That's why the information you gather about wilderness survival will stand you in good stead if you ever find yourself in an urban survival situation.

Of course there are obvious difference between the two.
  • Wilderness survival usually involves only a small population, or maybe even just you alone.
  • Urban survival situations impact large populations, and those people all need help at the same time.
  • In a wilderness setting, a very minor danger might involve encounters with predatory or poisonous wildlife, but probably not.
  • In an urban setting, one of the most dangerous elements is the desperate or predatory human population.
  • Those who go into the wilderness and, for one reason or another, find themselves in a survival situation often (but not always) have some knowledge about how to stay alive.
  • Most urban dwellers have very limited knowledge about how to take care of themselves when a disaster shuts down all the normal services that society depends on. 
So, with so many differences between the two, why am I saying that knowledge of wilderness survival will be valuable to you in an urban survival incident? It's because, to a certain degree, survival is survival no matter where you are. 

Once you learn the broad concepts, you can apply them in any situation.
  • You learn how to assess the situation and determine what the real threats to life are. 
  • That helps you set priorities that will lead to your taking care of the most important issues first, while leaving matters of lesser importance for later. 
  • You keep yourself alive by addressing the most immediate dangers first, rather than scrambling around in a frenzy looking for your next meal. 
In the wilds, you wouldn't hunker down near the grizzly den, because you recognize the danger. You can take that same concept into the urban jungle and purposely stay away from the bad folks who might do you damage. 

Your wilderness training teaches you that shelter is vital, that you need clean water, the ability to maintain your body core temperature, that you need to watch your step so you don't end up injured. 

In very fact, the urban setting is only civilized until something bad happens; then it turns into a form of wilderness that requires all your skills in order to survive. The line separating urban from wilderness is only as wide as one earthquake, or one hurricane, or one tornado, or one infrastructure failure, or one chemical/biological/radiological disaster.  In a few heartbeats, civilization can descend into the dark ages where virtually nobody knows how to take care of themselves. 

Your mission (if you choose to accept it - to quote a famous movie line) is to become knowledgeable, trained, equipped and experienced in the arts and sciences of staying alive when the world runs amok. By doing so, you relieve the pressure on relief organizations, and you can reach out and help others who are not so capable themselves. 

Take every opportunity to learn more, and then to teach more to others. Spread the word, spread the knowledge, spread the hope that comes from realizing that you can make it through the tough times no matter whether its in a teeming city fallen into chaos or a lonely wilderness. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tin Can Stoves

I love propane-fueled camp stoves for their ease of operation and controllable burner temperature. But, one of the problems with this kind of stove in a long-term survival situation is limited fuel supply. Run out of propane and you’re done cooking.

An alternative is the use of natural fuels like wood. There is an interesting stove on the market called the Stratus TrailStove. It weighs less than a pound, is about the size of a hiking shoe, costs about twenty-five bucks and fuel is free forever. This little stove will burn twigs, small bits of wood, or charcoal. There are no moving parts to fail and the thing is dumb as a tin can, so you can hardly screw it up. To learn more about this stove, go to

If you don’t want to spend money for the commercial version, build your own tin can stove for next to nothing. By improvising, you can turn a piece of trash into a functional kitchen appliance. Here’s how to build one:
  • Start with a coffee can, cut out the top, dump the coffee into another container and let the lid fall to the bottom of the can. 
  • Turn the can over and, while holding the free lid tight against the bottom inside the can, take a punch-type can opener (the kind that makes triangular-shaped holes) and work it around the outside of the can adjacent to the bottom so you end up with 10 or 12 vent holes punched in the side. The metal that is punched into the can by the opener will hold the free lid in place. When the can is turned over, this will be a double top that serves as your cooking surface. The double layer of metal helps distribute the heat a little more evenly and slowly. 
  • At the wide-open end of the can, cut two slits up the side about four inches apart and three inches in length. This allows you to bend the “door” up so you can feed fuel into the stove, and so it can draw air inside. 
You can fuel this stove with pinecones, needles, twigs, small bits of wood, or whatever you can find. But you can also fuel it with a homemade “buddy burner” made from a discarded tuna can, a bit of corrugated cardboard and paraffin wax. 
  • Start with a clean, empty tuna can from which the lid has been removed, but save the lid. 
  • Cut long strips of corrugated cardboard that measure about an inch in width. 
  • Coil the cardboard inside the can so that it is completely stuffed, but not crammed too tightly. 
  • Melt paraffin wax into the can until it is full. 
  • A wick is useful, and can be made from an inch of wax-soaked string. 
To use the burner, light the wick and slide the burner through the door of the tin can stove. It will burn for about two hours before all the wax is consumed. If you use the saved lid to cover the burner and put the fire out when you’re through cooking, you can use the burner for several meals before it runs out of fuel. Replenish the fuel by melting more wax into the cardboard coil.

Using this type of stove allows you to carry lots of fuel safely in plastic baggies. No worries about explosions or running out of fuel. Do take precautions, however, to ensure that the ground beneath the stove is nothing but mineral soil or rock, so you don’t start the forest on fire.

When not in use, the stove is an empty cavity into which you can stuff whatever will fit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hostage in Your Own Home

A knock comes at the door. You open it and find yourself staring down the barrel of a gun, as a gang of thugs push their way into your house.

That's kind of what happened in Seattle a few weeks ago, as the "Craigslist Killers" forced their way into a home where the owners were advertising jewelry for sale on Craigslist, a popular internet site. The criminals had seen the ad, called the owners to set up an appointment to come and see the jewelry and possibly purchase it. When the knock came at the door, the owners were expecting these "buyers" and a calm transaction.

It was anything but that. The thieves push their way into the house, guns drawn, and tied up the man, his wife and their son. Then they ransacked the place, looking for the jewelry. When the dad tried to get loose to protect his family, the bad guys shot him dead.

The only good news in all this is that within days, all four individuals (3 guys and 1 girl) involved in the robbery/murder were rounded up and arrested. But the whole incident raises the question about how you can survive a hostage situation. Here are some tips — but be aware that there are no guarantees when you're face to face with armed robbers. You are dealing with people who are not normal, not thinking like rational individuals, so anything can happen.
  • If you are armed and of a disposition to instantly fight back, do so with explosive violence before the bad guys can get inside your house and take your wife and children hostage. It's best to make them turn and run, or at least keep them outside. Once they're inside, it gets sketchy real fast. In an ambush, sometimes the best strategy is to attack the ambush, because they won't be expecting that and it will derail their plans. If you can throw the attackers into chaos, perhaps you can keep them outside, get to a safe room, arm yourself and call 9-1-1. Those steps would be a good plan of action. 
  • If, as in the situation outlined above, you are overwhelmed or taken by surprise and captured, try to determine the motivation of your captors. If it's just a theft, give them whatever they want and hopefully they'll leave. If it's something else (maybe you're just in the wrong place at the wrong time and get caught up in a crime in progress), do your best to remain calm and attempt to establish a rapport with the abductor. Unless the guy is a sociopath, if you are able to build a relationship with your captor, he will generally be less likely to harm you. 
  • Be compliant. If the captor tells you not to look at him, don't look at him. Don't do anything that will irritate the man with the gun at your head. 
  • Maintain your dignity. Don't cry or beg or grovel or become hysterical, because this can signal your captor that you're not worthy of life. Be cooperative, but steady and rational. If your captor views you as a human being who is willing to help him, he might not harm you. 
  • Don't become obnoxious and indignant, because that might be viewed as a challenge — kind of like making eye contact with a growling dog might set him from merely snarling to trying to eat you. Don't call the guy names or disrespect him, no matter how much he deserves it. Don't talk politics, but general discussion of religion might be helpful. Remain sensitive to reactions to anything you say, so you can change the direction of conversation if necessary. 
  • Be a good listener. Empathize with your abductor, show sympathy without becoming patronizing and phony. If he feels like you understand his plight in life, that psychological connection might keep you alive. 
  • If you are certain that your captors are about to kill you, all bets are off and it's time to find a way to escape or to fight back. You can either sit quietly and be killed, or go down fighting … or maybe fight your way out of it and not go down at all. This becomes especially dicey when other family members are involved in the hostage taking. Heroics might get somebody killed. Before making your move, be sure other family members are not going to be exposed to an angry captor who now wants to teach you a lesson by taking out his rage on your family. If you're about to be killed, you might decide that your only chance for survival is to try to overwhelm the captor(s), even at the risk of your life — 'cause your life is at risk anyway. Your decision. 
  • In my world, if it came down to that, I would make sure the captor(s) could not possibly ever come back to retaliate. Read that any way you want. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Why "They" Can't Help You

There is a segment of our society that believes the government owes them a living, and that when disasters hit, the government will be right there to clean up the mess and put everything back in order.

No kidding. Some folks actually believe that. Even after Katrina. Go figure.

Now for a dose of reality. The latest news out of FEMA (that's the Federal Emergency Management Agency — the government organization assigned to save everyone from crisis) is that they are basically broke.

In a letter to Congress last month, FEMA Director W. Craig Fugate spelled out the financial reality that the agency's relief fund had dropped to $693 million as of April 7th. Continuing, he said that the agency still owed $645 million to 47 states to cover the cost of past disasters. And that doesn't include the $1.7 billion (with a B) that the agency owes to the Gulf Coast state and city governments to cover the cost of Katrina.

One definition of Bankrupt is: The condition of being unable to pay one's expenses, leading to indebtedness that also cannot be paid off. I think that pretty well sums up the situation at FEMA.

As a point of interest, the word bankrupt comes from the French banqueroute, which traces back to the Italian banca rotta, which means "bank broken." Get the picture?

So, where does that leave you? As a citizen, it leaves you holding the note for debts what will probably never be satisfied. In other words, you are part owner of a bankrupt government.

As the survivor of a catastrophe, hoping the government will step in and save you, you're probably out of luck. Even with all the money poured into the Katrina mess, it was still a mess that still has not be paid off, after all these years. And now the relief organization that's supposed to help everybody is broke. Yes, the feds can print more money to cover the debts, but that comes out of your pocket and will only leave everybody more broke.

Face it, the federal government has a poor record of being able to help save people from disaster. So, again I ask, where does that leave you? I hope I've been able to convince you to become prepared to handle a crisis on your own as much as possible. Learn as much as you can about personal protection, about emergency medical techniques, about nutrition, about wild foods, about water purification, about expedient shelter techniques, about making fire, about rendering assistance to others.

If you're not doing that, you're setting yourself up to be dependent on a broken system to rescue you from the rubble and chaos. You set yourself up to be the subject of an ancient saying that goes something like this — "If a man sits by the side of the road with his mouth open, waiting for a roast duck to fly in, he is a fool."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Is It Too Late?

Day after day, huge disasters take place somewhere around the world. And as long as they aren't in our back yard, we fool ourselves into thinking that we're not affected.

But with the recent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that is threatening to impact a large portion of the shoreline, and the marine environment offshore, there is no doubt that everyone in America is going to be affected by this spill. You might live in Michigan or Oregon or Maine, but that oil in the waters of the Gulf is going to have a detrimental impact on your life.

Let's start with a quote from the President Obama. "I think the American people are now aware - certainly the folks down in the Gulf are aware - that we're dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster. The oil that is still leaking from the well could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our Gulf states, and it could extend for a long time. It could jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of Americans who call this place home."

So how does this impact you, if you're not a Gulf resident? The truth is that we are all connected, economically. Let's say you own a business (or maybe you just work for one) somewhere in this country. Your business depends on a lively economy, because the only thing you have to offer is either products or services that you are hoping to entice other people to pay for. When a company goes out of business (no matter where it is), those employees lose their income and they are no longer able to purchase products and services from other companies. Maybe you think that won't impact you because those folks in the Gulf are so far away that they don't buy what you have to sell anyway. But hold on a minute — they used to be able to buy from somebody, and if they can't do that anymore, the companies they used to buy from are going to suffer. Trust me, eventually it trickles all the way down to you. And if your business slows down enough, you might be staring at a layoff notice before too long.

That's the horror of today's economic situation. And the economy was already bad enough without the huge hit this oil spill is going to smack us with. Then add the flooding in Tennessee, and the bomb scare in New York, and … well, just keep an eye on the headlines and you'll see there is no end to crises somewhere in the world that, now that we're all connected in a global economy, will have a direct affect on you. Things will cost more. Or they'll just not be available at all.

So, what can you do about all this? For certain, you cannot stop the disasters. Mother Nature, the government, and greedy individuals will make sure the headlines are never dull. If you are to avoid the damage at all, you're going to have to take charge of your life and get prepared to handle whatever comes next.
  • If you anticipate that within the next six months you are going to need (I said NEED, not WANT) things like new tires for your vehicle, shoes for the kids, office equipment, or other major purchases, make those purchases now. The nature of disasters is that it drives prices up, so buying now is better than buying later — but only if you can afford the items and really need them. 
  • Stock up on all the normal day-to-day commodities your family uses — toilet paper, canned foods, toiletries, medicines, etc. If you use it daily, have a 3-month supply on hand so you won't be caught short when some disaster suddenly halts either production or delivery. 
Sometimes I wonder, with all the crises happening simultaneously, if it's almost too late for folks who have made no effort yet to get prepared. One of these days it will be too late, but if you get started today I believe there's still time to get prepared. But I wouldn't wait any longer. Don't take this wrong — I don't deal in doom and gloom. I am absolutely an optimist. — but only because I am already prepared. And I'm still working on getting even better prepared.