Monday, December 14, 2015

Gifts of Preparedness for the New Year

Need ideas for useful stocking stuffers? Need to go bigger but have no idea what the recipient wants or needs?

It would be a very rare person who could not benefit from thoughtfully chosen survival and preparedness gifts. Consider a flashlight for a common "emergency" of finding a lost earring, but one so tiny it's adorable and clips to a keychain or purse to be always at the ready. That same tiny light might be lifesaver if a power outage leaves the owner stranded in a dark, unfamiliar building.

You get the idea: gifts with "normal emergency" uses that could also be at home in a disaster "go-bag." Here's a list of ideas in modest price ranges and a few examples of extra things to create an impressive gift "bundle" with a theme.

Streamlight 73001 Nano Light Miniature Keychain LED Flashlight, Black (about $10) or similar

  • Other keychain tools/gadgets include things like the Gerber Shard, the DoohicKey Multi-Tool, the Swiss+Tech Utilii-Key 6-in-1 Tool, a cheap P38 can opener, or a mini-magnesium fire starter.

Paracord Bracelet to keep minimum 550 cordage at hand (or tuck it in or clip on to daypack or hiking fanny pack)

  • This can be paired with any number of knot-tying educational gifts like a deck of cards with knots illustrated on the backs or Brain Fitness Knot So Fast game.

Emergency Fire Starter ranging from a simple mini-Bic to waterproof matches in a cool container to a Swedish FireSteel to one of the newer quick-strike starters like the Lightning Strike by Holland

Lifestraw personal water filter or similar (no one can have too many of these but spend for certified name brands)
  • Pairs as a theme with a water bottle with purification tabs, a hiking canteen with stainless cup for boiling water, etc.

Survival whistle -- I"m partial to the SOL Rescue Howler Slim as it fits on a keychain, can be heard up to a mile away, has no "pea" to get lost or stuck, and is plastic (safer in freezing temps). Super cheap so put one in everyone's stocking.

Seat belt cutter and window punch / breaker (as low as $7) for that one time the slippery roads send the car into high water or a roll-over.
  • This pairs nicely with other car  emergency items like a warm blanket(s), first aid kit, flashlight, high-calorie emergency bars, etc.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Frugal Preparedness Gifts - More Time Than Money

In the last post, I talked about giving Christmas gifts that were a hands-on experience. You took the time to put needed items together for a particular experience and then either printed instructions on their use or worked with the recipient to show them how learn the skill.

Want other very frugal but valuable gift ideas that might one day help the recipient stay safe? Let's look at some thoughtful gifts that take only YOUR own time and YOUR knowledge to assemble. These should make you feel good to give if you know the recipient should have these emergency preparations but likely will never put forth the effort.

#1.  Maps for emergencies

When a disaster (tornado, flood, rail-car explosion, etc.) happens near your home or across your region, you need to know where to go and the best alternate routes to take to get there. Even if your giftee has a good GPS system, the device is not programmed to consider hazards to avoid, etc.

Let's start with a local map. Most chambers of commerce or some real estate agencies will provide one or two of these for free. Use your local knowledge to mark routes from your giftee's house that do not have to cross railroad tracks or notorious flood-prone areas. Use a different color of highlighter to mark hospitals and buildings that are designated emergency shelters. Say your friend or family member is out shopping on a hot August day and the tornado sirens go off. Would he or she know the nearest safe shelter when there is no time to drive home to the basement?

If your city is large enough to have an emergency management director, call that office to ask if they have maps with public shelters marked already. If not, ask if you can come by and have someone mark up a map with you. (You will be learning valuable information for yourself if you did not already know all of the locations to mark on the map.)

Of course, to mark alternate routes for each major direction, you need to know what larger highway system you want to hook up to. We've all seen the pictures of interstate highways clogged and not moving an inch. Secure a state map and examine reliable but alternate routes to highlight. Do you know where the recipient would choose to go if home was not inhabitable? Mark those spots and routes.

You might place these maps in plastic "sheet protectors" for durability. And perhaps include those in a binder you label as Emergency Info.

#2.  Emergency Contacts
This are sheets you create to provide phone numbers and email addresses for a variety of entities such as all local utility providers, poison control 800 numbers, Red Cross, etc.

If you know family members of the giftee or that person's close friends, you can start a hard copy of numbers to reach those people. Because Murphy's Law tells us just when you need to call Uncle Jake in Idaho, your cell phone is dead and you cannot find his number. (You could still call to say you are on your way for an emergency visit if you can borrow someone else's phone or use a land line once you are at a safe place.)

Put these lists in sheet protectors and add to the binder containing the maps.

#3. Other Emergency Printables
You can find another dozen (at least) helpful sheets to print out from online sources. After all, you have these sheets in YOUR emergency binder, don't you?  Review several versions of a list of documents to include and choose the best to print out for your giftee.

Don't forget things like a "Family Communications Sheet for Kids" from FEMA.

Here's a link to the FEMA site to print that out:

OR, here is a fold-able card from (an excellent source of further info) that has ID, contacts family emergency meet-up info:

If you have more money than time, the next post will provide ideas on survival gear you can afford at almost any level of spending. And how to create a "theme" survival gift.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Survival "Practice Kits" Make Fun Gifts

Random thoughts of Christmas (and birthday) gifts made me think of creating preparedness skill kits for others (or even yourself).

You know plenty of people, I'm sure, who say they have an interest in prepping or learning survival skills, but they never get beyond reading how-to's. Or, maybe you know a young person who would like to learn some bushcraft skills but lives in an urban area. So what if you could hand them the skill-building outdoor experience in a box or bag?

I can explain best, I think, by showing you some examples.

Let's take the idea of learning to find your direction if you are lost in the woods. All that's needed is a day that casts shadows, a couple of tall sticks and a couple of small rocks. You can bundle the sticks and rocks and tie on a tag with instructions. If you are able to perform the exercise with the young person or adult, all the better!

This is the experience of using the sun's shadow moving over a period of 15 minutes to show you an east-west directional line. Use this to orient yourself and check that you are traveling in the right direction if you lose or break your compass (you do carry at least a button compass when you hike, don't you?).  There are tons of examples with photos online and here is a link to one that is nicely done:

There is also the method of using a non-digital (analog) wrist watch. Here is a link to a good example of that:

You can print out an online illustration of this method and include it with the above practice kit or hand-write the instructions. Explain that if the person simply knows the time but has no analog watch, it is easy to create or imagine the positions of the hour hand and the 12. You can also include a small compass with instructions. Use the compass to show that the sun-and-sticks method shows the proper general directions.

Another idea for a practice kit is for fire building (yes, going for the basics here). If the recipient is of age to be truly careful with creating fire and can find an appropriate place to build a small fire, this practice kit could contain several examples of fire starting. Perhaps the easiest one will illustrate.

I am a BIG fan of cotton balls smeared heavily on the outside with petroleum jelly. You stuff several in an old photo film canister or tiny ziploc bag or such. Pull out one cotton ball and fluff it so that some of the drier inside is exposed and air can circulate in it a bit. Tuck it into the tinder bundle. Now, using the regular Bic lighter (or similar) that is part of the "practice kit" you've assembled, simply set it on fire. It will burn for a good while like a small candle. This gives time for the tinder bundle to catch well so the newbie can get the next layer of larger fuel to ignite. You will have put a variety of types of tinder in the kit box so experimentation can take place.

Of course, the fire preparedness kit can feature as many ways to make fire as your time and/or budget allows:  instructions and materials for creating char cloth, a fire steel, magnesium bar, windproof lighter, waterproof matches, etc. You can even include materials to create homemade waterproof matches.

I think these examples show that with some imagination, you can create a bushcraft experience and give it as a gift. Other basics could be filtering water, using a LifeStraw, making solar still, etc. Consider the person's age, interest level, physical environment, etc. Make it FUN and it will be a gift that gets used AND may encourage the recipient to get out and DO more to learn skills.

Soon, I'll have a post with gift ideas for gear purchases or even some free but valuable tools.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

FREE ebook Sunday & Monday, Aug. 23 & 24

I'm making the first novel in my Obliterated series FREE for Kindle** download on Sunday, August 23 and Monday, August 24. The full title is:  Obliterated - Would You Know How to Survive?

It is the tale of a worldwide apocalypse (sci-fi so I didn't have to get into politically questionable areas) and how a very small group of people survive. It is laced with real-world camping and survival tips and strategies.

This is a full-length novel --- not a teaser short novella. There are two sequel books, but a reader can enjoy each one independently.

The setting is Albuquerque, NM, and locations to the northwest of the city. For a post-apocalyptic book, it is (purposefully) family friendly such that most readers have no problem with older teens reading it (though you will want to evaluate that for your kids by reading it yourself).

If you enjoy the book, I hope you will leave a high star-rating Amazon review. Independent authors like me depend on achieving 4-star-and-above averages so that we can get noticed. So far, the entire series has four stars and above -- thank you wonderful readers!

**  The format is Amazon's Kindle ebook format. However, Amazon lets you download the Kindle app to almost any device:  computer, tablet, phone. So you do NOT need a Kindle e-reader to take advantage of this free offer. Just type in Kindle app on the Amazon search box and the site will guide you through the download and usage process. Takes only a few minutes.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Baking Soda & Vinegar for Hair -- Why?

It's easy to find lots of posts online about simplifying your hair care routine to baking soda and vinegar. Most are positive, but I have seen a few negative.

I switched to this method almost 4 years ago and would never go back to commercial shampoos and conditioners. The main reason is that my hair and scalp are in better condition since the switch than ever before. That right there is the only reason I need personally.

But, there are other advantages I'll lay out here that can be particularly good for preppers and those in the mobile (RV and vandwelling) lifestyle.

  • Environmentally sound. If you are washing your hair out in the boonies and do not want to have fragrances and chemicals around your bathing area, you can't get more basic and natural than baking soda and apple cider vinegar. Gray water is not contaminated if it is to be used for gardens, etc.
  • Frugal. The ingredients are pretty cheap and since you do not use much per washing/conditioning, you will save lots and lots of money over commercial concoctions.
  • Adjustable proportions so you can find the perfect balance for YOUR hair and scalp.

A huge side benefit for me -- with very curly, thick hair -- is that the vinegar is truly magic! All my life I've struggled with trying to comb my hair and with trying to get out knots and tangles after a washing/conditioning. My mother will attest to regular screams and "ouches" in my youngest years. Now, as soon as I pour on the apple cider vinegar rinse, I can comb it through my hair... tangles seem to fall out before the comb even touches them. Maybe more amazing, after my hair is dry and the curls are going gonzo, I can STILL run my fingers through my hair without snags. Unheard of for me me my entire life before this!

The basic recipe (and the proportions I generally use) is 1 tablespoon of baking soda to one cup of water. And the same for the vinegar:  1 tbsp apple cider vinegar in one cup of water.

I use two plastic (safety in the shower) re-usable water bottles to mix my two formulas. This allows me to shake the baking soda and water mixture to blend it well. The vinegar and water needs only a gentle shake or stirring just before use to make sure it has not separated. My bottles each hold enough for 2-3 uses.

I wet my hair, squirt the baking soda "shampoo" near my scalp and lightly "scrub" with my fingertips for just a minute or so. I rinse that out. I pour on the vinegar "conditioner," again trying to get the liquid mostly on the scalp -- it will coat the hair strands to the ends on its own as I comb the vinegar through my hair (many people don't bother with that step if it is not needed to get out tangles). Rinse the hair again and you're done. Don't worry, the vinegar smell will likely be completely gone by the time you use your towel and it will for sure be gone when hair is dry.

As stated above, an advantage of mixing your own is that you can adjust the concentrations. If I have been in a lot of dust or gotten pretty sweaty, I up the baking soda a bit. If my hair seems to be a bit dry (affected by weather), I will lessen the baking soda for a few washes. If I use too much vinegar in the rinse, I find my hair gets a bit heavy instead of staying fluffy. Your results will vary.

For a quicker than usual fast wash, I have been known to wet my hair, use a spray bottle of vinegar to apply the tangle magic, and then rinse thoroughly. This can leave my hair a bit "heavier" but it is actually smoothing during frizzy weather.


1/ Some folks find they have an adjustment period of a few weeks, especially if their scalp is used to lots of products. The scalp may be used to producing lots of sebum to counteract commercial shampoos. I had no adjustment period at all, but with this warning you may want to give yourself some time for your head to adjust.

2. A nice reader notified me that if you color your hair, this system will/may take out the color. Sorry, I didn't even think of that since I've never used hair color.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Know Best Defense for Predators & Other Deadlies

Campers and preppers have a special need to keep up on "best practice" recommendations for dealing with potentially deadly animals of the non-human kind.

As the encroachment of people into previously wild lands continues, some animal behaviors are changing. Even those camping in nice campgrounds in rural areas may find dangerous wildlife encounters are on the rise. Those who boondock and hike are certainly at greater risk of encounters.

Preppers have special needs for awareness in a bug-out location. They may be focused on getting there and establishing defenses against human intruders yet forget they are now in a new wildlife environment with different "rules" and risks.

For example, let's look at the mountain lion (aka cougar, panther, puma) that lives throughout the western US and has isolated populations in places like Florida and Michigan. Cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare. and death from a mountain lion attack happens much less than death by snakebite or even dog attacks. Many of the few recorded deaths from a cougar are small children who were not accompanied by an adult -- something for parents to keep in mind when in a seemingly friendly outdoor area.

If you encounter a mountain lion, the recommended advice is to look as large as you can. Open your jacket, wave your arms, shout, throw rocks or sticks, etc. (Though be careful about bending movements that make you look smaller.) If the cougar feels cornered, it will be much more dangerous, so back away but do so slowly. Any movement that looks like sudden retreat will trigger the cat's "chase" instinct. Likewise, completely freezing or playing dead may make the cat think you are injured and easy prey.

Have children stand right behind or beside you. If you need to pick up a small child, so so without bending.

If you are attacked, fight back! You will surely be injured but almost all who fight back survive. This leads to the next concern:  how far away is help for your bleeding wounds? This speaks to not being out alone or at least to having a large bandana and/or some bandaging in your hiking/survival pack. (A post for another time perhaps.)

Now, those who know what to do in case of a bear encounter will immediately realize the above is mostly the opposite of what one should do with a bear. And that is the point of this post. Know your wildlife threats for the places that you will be, and know both how to avoid and how to respond to the danger.

Avoiding danger such as from rattlesnakes includes not putting your hands or feet where you cannot SEE. If stepping over a log with debris around it, use a hiking stick to first poke at the area your foot will be feeling to find purchase.

Again, arm yourself with knowledge and aids accordingly. When you google something like "bear attacks," look for trusted sources such as a Forest Service or Fish & Wildlife site.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Don't Let Your Vehicle Be a Death Trap in an Emergency

Today on the forum for CheapRVLiving a moderator posted an article about a 72-year-old man and his dog dying in his hot car. The battery had died and he could not get the door locks nor windows to open. 

This was a very odd situation indeed, but it prompted me to recall what I know about escaping a vehicle in an emergency. (I'm not an expert, but I try remember what studies have shown and have a plan in mind for the unexpected.)

A very handy thing to remember when you are in almost any vehicle is that most headrests can be released and pulled from the seat back. One or both of the long metal rods can be used to create a concentrated point of impact on a car window and break it. Then use the headrest to clear away the shards of glass around the window. Aim for the center of the window if you are going to use a pointed object to batter it. 

If a car has integrated seat headrests, obviously another object would need to be found to do the job. Perhaps an umbrella, screwdriver, small hammer, or even the corner of your laptop.

What if your vehicle has left the roadway and is sinking in water or a crash has disabled your seat belt release and you need to get out fast? There are compact emergency tools such as  
that can both cut through seatbelt webbing with a razor and shatter a window with a steel point. It's a good prepping tool to have near enough to the driver's seat to grab in case of emergency. One good place to keep it is the driver's door pocket.

If the person trapped in a car does not have a disability that prevents it, another option is to turn sideways and lean back, put heels against the window and then give a sharp kick to break it. If kicking with your feet, aim for the front section of window, toward the hinges instead of the center of the window.