Guns and Gear

Got Comms?? Be sure you have the right ones!

Today I wanted to cover an often overlooked topic in modern survival.  In these modern times, most of us rely on cell phones as our primary form of communication.  Some of us rely on them as our only source.  It’s easy to see why when you look at plans that offer unlimited calls to other cell phones across a very secure and reliable communication network.  I’m not going to bash on cell phones as a communication means at all, I have one myself and feel crippled when I’m in an area with bad network reception or when I make a call and get that dreaded “network busy” flashing across the screen.  It doesn’t happen often, but it should have us thinking about having a backup plan in case we need to get that important call out.  During a large scale emergency or disaster, we can expect to see this magical service stressed to its limit.  The limitations aren’t reached often, but if you look back to the terrorist attack on New York on that awful September morning, a lot of people couldn’t get calls in or out of the area for a while.  Even major sporting events push infrastructure to the limit.  I used to live within a mile of the Texas Motor Speedway.  During a NASCAR race, there would be upwards of 250,000 additional people in my quiet little area of north Texas.  Major cell service providers would set up trailer mounted towers to accommodate the additional service needs. A bit of advice when you can’t get a call to go through… Try sending a text message.  Texts messages require a lot less network resources to get out and will often work when a voice call won’t.   With these limitations in mind, we need to look to other means of communicating with others.  This article will not be a in depth technical manual on radio theory, but hopefully it will give you enough information to get you started on setting up a personal communication plan if life doesn’t go exactly as we plan. I won’t be able to cover every form of communication available to us, since that could turn into a year long series on communication where I would have to bring in true experts in the field.  I also hope to dispel some of the myths with radio communications that seem to have a stronghold in the minds of a lot of people.

 

HAM Radio

HAM, or amateur radio, is probably the first thing a lot of people think of when we talk about radio communications.  During a disaster, HAM operators are instrumental in getting information in and out of an affected area.  A lot of radio clubs are partnered with local and state government emergency management agencies.  These partnerships allow small agencies access to people with radio equipment and expertise they could never dream of having a budget for.  This actually drives a lot of people to get their license to operate within these bands.  I personally got my HAM license just so I could participate in a group called ARES, which handled the local SKYWARN storm spotters for the National Weather Service.  Even if this isn’t an interest for you, HAM makes for a great communication method.  It does require a license to operate within these frequency bands, but the basic license, called a Technician class, is easy to obtain.  All you need to do is pass a written test administered by local HAM radio clubs.  This would get you started in HAM radio at a basic level.  There are two higher level licenses called the General and Extra class.  Each of these requires an additional written test that covers more in depth information about radio theory and FCC regulation.  In turn, you are granted privileges to more frequencies.  At the end of this article, I will post links to a lot of HAM radio resources so you can doo your own research and see if HAM would work for you and your situation.  I would like to bring up some of the limitations of HAM radio (and all radio comms for that matter).  Despite what we see in movies and have heard from people all our lives, HAM radio will not allow you to talk to anyone in the world in any reliable way.  Sure, a lot of operators carry on conversations with folks from Japan or Antarctica or Great Britain, but this is all subject to a concept known as propagation.  Propagation is basically the way radio waves travel.  That guy you talk to in Japan today might not be heard again.  It is dependent on weather conditions, solar activity, antenna design and countless other variables.  Also, if you can reach as far as Japan, then you most likely wouldn’t be able to talk to someone  in the next town on the same frequency and antenna setup.  Sometimes, solar activity can block out entire frequency bands.  When I discovered that I couldn’t just get my license and a transceiver and start talking to people all over the world, I was a little disappointed.  Even with these limitations, HAM has a lot to offer for backup communication.  I personally use the 2 Meter band (144-148MHz) quite a bit.  In the north Texas area, there are a ton of repeaters that let me talk to people 30 or 40 miles away with a $100 radio.  Not too shabby for a frequency that works line of sight.  Of course, these repeaters could be brought down by widespread power outages, but barring that communication is pretty easy across a wide area.

 

FRS/GMRS Radios

These radios are what most people turn to when they want something to communicate with friends or family over short distances.  They serve well for a group of hunters that need to talk across a deer lease or a family at the amusement park that needs to be able to coordinate with each other.  One of the biggest thing these radios have going for them is cost and ease of use.  You can pick up a pair at any big box store for $20 and get started.  Of course, you get what you pay for in that case and the radios will have very basic features.  I spent around $70 on a pair that are feature loaded and offer pretty good range.  I won’t go into great detail on those radios as I plan to cover them in a review article soon.  A couple of things to be aware of when purchasing these little radios are range and legal issues.  A lot of them will say on the package that they offer a range of 18 miles or 23 miles or 36 miles.  This is complete crap and you can never expect that kind of range in daily use.  They operate line of site and no further.  If you have someone standing at the top of a mountain talking to someone in town 20 miles away, they MIGHT get that far.  There have been reports of these radios going as far as 70 miles, but that required perfect conditions that included line of site, no obstructions, and perfect weather.  In all honesty a reasonable expectation is a couple of miles.  The other thing to be aware of is that they operate on two separate frequencies.  FRS is free for anyone to use, but offers lower transmit power.  GMRS will let you operate at higher power, but it does require a license from the FCC.  There is no test required, but there is an $80 fee to get it.  Using the GMRS frequencies is as easy as changing the channel on the radio, but it is up to each individual user to ensure their compliance with FCC regulation and licensing requirements.  I’ve never heard of the FCC cracking down on unlicensed use of GMRS frequencies, but I don’t want one of my readers to be the first.

 

 

CB Radio

CB, which is short for Citizen Band, is a high frequency radio that works similar to some HAM frequencies with much lower power limitations.  These are the radios found in just about every tractor trailer in the country.  They offer good range, in the area of 2 to 5 miles.  There is usually a lot of activity on CB frequencies, especially channel 19, which is known as the Trucker Channel.  Channel 9 is reserved for emergency use only, so makes sure not to transmit on this channel unless there is a legitimate emergency.  Because of their popularity, you should have zero expectations of privacy.  This form of communication is excellent for communication between vehicles if you are traveling with a group with multiple vehicles.
A lot of times, you will hear of people getting incredible ranges out of the radios.  Some of this is from perfect propagation, and some of it is from people operating at power levels way beyond what is legal.  I’ve heard conversations between people that were 80 miles apart.  These guys were probably operating at 10 times the legal power levels.  Surviving Modern Life never condones illegal activities, so if you were to ever engage in this activity, you are on your own.

 

There are a lot of other options available for backup communication, but I’ll stop here today.  A bit later we can cover some of the other methods.  A quick word about legal issues with communications.  The FCC has complete control of all radio frequencies.  Their power is pretty much unlimited in allocating, assigning, and banning use of radio devices and frequencies.  It’s generally uncommon for the FCC to nail someone for abusing regulations unless you are illegally broadcasting to the public or you are causing harmful interference to lawful use of a frequency.  That is not to say that you are immune from prosecution is you do break the law.  There is one regulation I agree with completely, and it is in regards to true emergency situations.  If there is an immediate threat to person or property, you can use any means to call for help or sound a warning.  In these situations, you could broadcast with more power than the biggest AM radio stations to call for help if you have the means.  I believe the wording of the law is “any available means”.

 

Links:

ARRL – American Radio Relay League.  This private organization works closely with the FCC to administer the HAM bands and protects    frequencies from being reassigned by the FCC.

Practice Tests and Study Guides – This website has everything you need to prepare for taking HAM radio exams.

FCC – The FCC website contains all the info you need to remain compliant with laws and regulations.

GMRS License Page – Here’s everything you need to know to apply for a GMRS license.

CB Radio – Some basic information about CB Radios

Lights are out?? No Problem!!

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another.  You’re sitting on the couch watching the weather reports about storms moving into your area, and poof!, the lights are out.  If your luck is like mine it will already be pitch black outside.  Now what?  For anyone of the preparedness mindset, it isn’t a big deal at all.  For those that are really REALLY prepared, they notice a flash, a few seconds of darkness, then the lights are right back on because the backup generator has fired up and a transfer switch is routing power from the generator to the main electrical feed for the house.  Most of us aren’t nearly that prepared.  Maybe some of us haven’t invested that kind of money, but we still have a portable generator we can drag out, crank up, and run an extension cord or two into the house (Please tell me you know NOT to run a generator in the house!).  This will work to get some lights and the TV back on, plug in the laptop, and keep the freezer running.  What about the rest of us that either can’t afford or can’t practically keep a generator?  For us, there is the Blackout Kit.  It works well with a Blackout Plan.  We’ll be covering both in this article.

A Blackout Kit is simply that, a kit with stuff in it to break out when the lights go out.  Some folks find it handy to keep all of this stuff together in a box or bag somewhere in the house and some of us have items strategically placed around the house.  Either system will work well if you know where everything is.  I lean more to the strategic placement philosophy myself.  A Blackout Plan is just as self explanatory.  This is just a plan on what to do if the power goes out.  It can be as simple or complex as you want to make it, but having it put together can save a little stress.

The basics of a Blackout Kit are means of providing light.  There are countless ways to get this done, but each has unique properties that make it suitable for some needs and horrible for others.  I’ll break the common light sources down and show the pros and cons of each.  I’ll also point out safety concerns as they arise.

1. Flashlights.
This one should be the obvious first item to go into a kit.  Flashlights are designed to provide light for moving around and seeing in the dark.  I like to have them placed throughout the house so one is handy no matter where I am when the power goes out.  Flashlights are usually small and easy to use, and are perfect for seeing well enough to get the rest of your kit from wherever you might keep it.  Modern technology has made awesome advances in these little guys.  For cheap, you can now have LED lights that are far brighter and run longer than their incandescent predecessors.  The major drawbacks to flashlights are they fact that no matter how efficient, they still require batteries to work.  If your batteries run out and you don’t have replacements, your light just became useless.  There are some lights that are hand crank which eliminates the need for batteries, but they rarely produce much light.  Another drawback is that the light produced is very focused in nature.  Using a flashlight to light a room or large area will really show off this drawback.   You know exactly what I mean if you’ve ever tried to use a flashlight for room lighting.  For best results, you can point the light directly at the ceiling, but even then the light is hardly sufficient compared to other light sources.

2. Lanterns.
Lanterns really fill the role of lighting a large area.  When you want to light up a room to allow life to go on as normal as possible, this is the way to go.   There are two common types of lanterns available, fuel burning and battery powered.  Fuel lanterns and lamps usually put out more light, but at the expense of a lot of generated heat and the emission of gases from combustion.  With a small kerosene lanterns and lamps the heat and gases aren’t much.  White gas or “Coleman Fuel” lanterns are probably the brightest large area light sources out there, but they produce a LOT of heat.  Also, burning any sort of fuel indoors can lead to carbon monoxide which can be fatal in high enough concentrations.  Be sure to use in a ventilated area if you need to use one indoors.  There is also a substantial risk of fire when using fuel lanterns.  Make sure they are on a flat stable surface that isn’t flammable.
Battery powered lanterns can avoid these pitfalls.  They produce a lot of light with little to no heat and no carbon monoxide or fire risk.  Their main drawback is the battery power.  They usually use fluorescent bulbs that are pretty efficient, but even so, the larger ones can drain large C or D cell batteries in a few hours.  If you plan on needing to use one for very long, have some batteries on hand.

3. Candles.
Candles really don’t need much in the way of description.  It seems that it is mandatory that if a female resides there, candles will too.  Candles come in every shape, size, scent, and material imaginable. The biggest benefit of candles are the price.  I’ve bought tea lights for as little as 6 cents a piece when I bought 100.  With enough of them, you can make a room bright enough to read.  Like lanterns, candles pose the risk of fire.  Lit candles should always be placed in an area away from anything flammable and should never be left unattended.  It’s also a good idea to use caution with candles as hot wax can cause some pretty uncomfortable burns.

4. Emergency Lights.
Emergency lights are more common in larger buildings, but can work well in the home.  There are some residential versions that simply plug into a wall outlet that constantly keep charged, but switch on if power is lost.  They can be unplugged and moved around if needed.  Larger commercial types mount to a wall and need to be wired directly to the house wiring.  It’s a bit of work to install these type, but they provide a lot of light and for a long time.  I can’t find any downside to the smaller outlet type lights.  The commercial versions have a couple of drawbacks.  First is the price, and second is the fact they are a little unsightly hanging up on the wall.

Most of us will have a mix of these types of lighting available during power outages, as each serves a different purpose.  You will need to make sure that each is up to the task and ready to go at all times.  Regularly check batteries in flashlights and have plenty of spares on hand.  The same goes for battery powered lanterns.  If you use fuel lamps or lanterns, have them fueled up if safe to do so and know where more fuel is.  Candles are pretty easy to have ready.  The only candle related thoughts I have is that you have to have a source of fire to light them, so know where you keep a lighter or matches.  Also, a candle wick that has been lit before will be easier to light.

Blackout plans.
Planning for a blackout can save a lot of hassle when the lights go out unexpectedly.  At the least plan can just involve knowing where your kit is.  A few other things that are worth considering are items that require electricity to be maintained.  First and foremost is the freezer and/or fridge.  If the power outage only lasts a little bit, this isn’t much of a concern.  If power goes out because of storm damage or ice, then it might be off for a while.  If you are in this situation, you might need to guess at how long the power might be out.  If you think it might be several hours, there is not need to worry.  Freezers will keep foods frozen for a long time if they aren’t opened.  If you are concerned about the freezer you can wrap it up in a couple of comforters or blankets to add additional insulation.  Keeping bottles of water in empty space in the freezer will reduce its electricity usage all the time and keep things frozen a lot longer if the power goes out.  If ice is the culprit for the loss of power, that means it is freezing outside.  If that’s the case, you can transport the frozen items outside and put them somewhere out of sunlight and out of reach of any critters and not have to worry about thawing.
Cooking is another area that can be affected by power loss.  A lot of homes use electricity for stoves and ovens.  If this is the case in your house, you’ll have to have other means.  If you need to cook while the lights are out, look outside to your grill.  Propane or charcoal grill don’t require electrical power and most of us are well versed in cooking on the grill.  Camp stoves are another means of cooking.  If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace you are set.  People have been using fireplaces for light, heat, and cooking for centuries.

Another important thing to have as part of the kit and plan is a contact number for your electric company.  When the power goes out, always call to report it to the electric company.  Chances are they already know, but if everyone assumes that someone else has already called in then they may not know about the outage.  You might also want to keep the number for hotels in a neighboring town in case power will be out for more than a few hours in extreme temperatures.

You will have to assess how self reliant you can be without electricity to determine how long you can go without.  A few hours is enough to have some people looking for refuge with family or friends.  Some of us can go indefinitely without.  Some determining factors are who all will be affected.  If you have a baby in the house and inside temperatures will drop into the 40s, then you might need to go somewhere else until power is restored.  If you have someone elderly living with you and inside temperature can get over 90, it will be necessary to get them to somewhere there is air conditioning.

Being prepared can be as simple as a few candles and a good flashlight, but can go a long way in making a power outage a lot more enjoyable.  I’ve found that if the lights go out for a few hours, I see it as nothing more than a chance to test my preps to see what is lacking.  With knowledge gained from these short duration issues, I’m much more confident in my ability to handle prolonged outages.

Be careful, it’s sharp!

Right out of the gate I would like to apologize for the delay in getting a post made.  Life got hectic as it can do sometimes.  I’ve decided to go ahead and share another product review.  I’m always on the lookout for great deals with gear or supplies.  I might not always buy the brand name gear, but quality and value are my first priority.  There is a lot of great gear available for a lot less money than the big name providers.  You have to be wary though, as there is a lot of junk out there as well.  I know this because I’ve bought some and wished I would have spent a little more.  This time is not one of those situations.

I’ve always had an infatuation with knives.  I’m not like some folks that collect the biggest, weirdest knives I can find.  I like the nondescript functional knives.  I’ve never seen the need for an 18 inch bowie or a miniature samurai sword.   Solid design and good materials are more to my liking.  I have countless knives ranging from a few bucks to well over 100.  All of them have served me well, but I seem to favor the ones that don’t cost as much.  Years ago you had to pay good money to get good steel, but this has changed for the better.  With new alloys and cheaper machining methods, even the inexpensive knives can be made durable and to keep an edge.  For years I’ve heard about the legendary knives from Sweden that were incredibly well made, incredibly sharp, and incredibly under 20 bucks.  After talking with Jeff from P3Gear, I noticed he had some in his store.  I place the order and receive 2 Mora knives a few days later.  I bought two because I plan on one going in my BOB, and one to go in Sarah’s.

 

As I opened the box to get them out, the first thing I noticed was the unique design of the molded plastic sheath.  It reminds me of a Glock factory pistol holster.  It has a belt hook that looks like it would be impossible to pull it off by accident.  The knife slides in and clicks into place, much like a passive retention holster.  The bottom of the sheath has a small drain hole in case you need to submerge yourself or the knife.
The knife itself has a polymer handle with a black rubber grip.  It feels natural in the hand, and the grip is a perfect texture and material for a solid, slip free grip.  The blade a shiny stainless steel and measures just a touch under 4 inches.  It features a Scandinavian grind, which refers to the way the blade is ground.  Most knives have an angle that tapers down to the edge, while the actual cutting edge is a sharper angle.  The Scandinavian is a consistent tapered angle all the way to the cutting edge.  This is supposed to offer a stronger blade and should keep an edge better.  I haven’t abused it enough yet to test the theory, but it sounds reasonable.  A word of caution… from the factory, this knife is the sharpest I’ve ever seen.  I’m used to having to tweak the edge on a new knife, but this one is impressive.  We all have knives that are sharp enough to shave with, but this thing shaves as close as a Mach 3 razor.  You could shave your face with it, but I won’t be.  One slip and you’ll need to refer back to my article about stopping a severe hemorrhage.

Like I said earlier, I haven’t had a chance to really abuse the Mora knife, but I have run it through some of my non scientific tests.  I like to test a blade’s ability to hold an edge by cutting some common items that are notorious for dulling a blade.  Leather and cardboard are my favorite test media.  It glides right through both with almost no effort.  It’s rare for me to find a knife that can handle thick cowhide without binding up or requiring a lot of force.  This particular knife cut without a raged edge to be found.  I’ll probably end up using it to cut out patterns when I’m doing my leatherwork.
On the cardboard, it has the same effect.  It’s like slicing butter.  I reduced a box to a few dozen pieces and rechecked the sharpness.  There is no hair on the back of my hand, even after hacking up the box.  For practical purposes, we’re safe in saying this little knife will hold an edge.  It would be a pleasure to use it for normal tasks ranging from camp duties to kitchen use to field dressing a critter for dinner.

In closing, I’ll have to say that this knife is one of the best values in cutlery I’ve seen in a long time.  It might just be the best value period.  I’m happy to have it with me on this trek to survive modern life.  Here is a link to where I bought mine.

 

You’re ready for a disaster! Even in your car??

We put a lot of thought in our preparations for emergency and disaster.  A lot of us keep food on hand, have a flashlight handy, and know where our first aid kit is.  Hopefully we feel ready to tackle any problems that life throws at us. Do we have that same feeling in our vehicle when we’re driving around or commuting to work?  A basic car kit can go a long way toward gaining that same feeling of security.

I find myself in a position that’s different from what I’m used to.  For years I’ve driven a big diesel pickup everywhere I go.  If you know anything about diesel pickups, you know they can carry a lot of stuff.  When I’m in my truck I feel comfortable to face situations ranging from having to overnight on the side of the road to heading into the woods and starting society over from scratch.  You might think I’m joking, but I really do carry a LOT of stuff in my truck.  I literally have the equipment and tools to do major motor work, hunt large game, build a log cabin, and communicate with the outside world by a host of different means.  I even have solar battery charging capabilities.  My truck truly is a rolling bugout location.  The only downside…  it’s not my daily driver any more.  When I took a job 45 miles away, the price of fuel was draining my budget.  I opted to buy a little used car that gets excellent mileage.  I now spend 10 times less on fuel, but at the cost of that peace of mind I have in my truck.  I’ve really started to put a lot of thought into what the perfect car kit for emergencies would be and I’m starting to put this kit together.

 

One of the most important aspects to consider is what you might need this kit to do and what situations you might face.  Some of these will be unique to your circumstances, but some items will be universal to all vehicles.  The first, and most likely scenario I prepare for is being stranded.  There can be a few reasons why I might get stranded, but the result is the same.  I might be there for a while, and want to make the best of the situation.

We know that we have basic needs in any survival situation.  I could go as basic as possible and say that the most important is air, but unless you drive your car into a lake, that shouldn’t be a problem.  Water, as basic as it sounds, is very important.  The old standby advice is one gallon per person per day.  Generally, we won’t need to store a lot of water since we aren’t planning on multiple days in the car.  One gallon per person should be more than enough.  I personally keep a few 20 ounce bottles of water in my little car.  Having water in the car saved me from a major inconvenience just recently.  I didn’t need the water to survive, but when my car decided to spring a leak in a hose I was able to repair the leak on the side of the road and top the radiator off with some of my storage water.

Another consideration is protection from the elements.  It rarely gets really cold here in Texas, but we do see some cold winter weather.  Cold isn’t really an issue when we can keep the car running and the heater on full blast, but if we can’t for some reason, that cold can become a serious problem.  Every year when we get ice on the roads, there are people that skid off in the ditch and can’t get back on the road. And it seems to happen at night more often that not.  Some will probably be waiting hours for help to come get them.  In a situation like this, running out of gas can make for a very uncomfortable night.  It might even be fatal.  A simple solution would be a blanket of some sort.  Wool blankets are pretty inexpensive and will help you stay warm in some pretty low temperatures.  Emergency blankets work too, but they aren’t very comfortable and you have to cocoon into them for them to work well.  If this breakdown is in the Summer here in Texas, there’s not much that can be done.  It’s going to be hot.  Be glad for that water!

After the initial stress of ending up in this predicament fades, you might start to get a little hungry.  Some snack foods might come in handy to make the time go by a little easier.  I know I certainly function better when I’m not focusing on an empty stomach.  Any non perishable food will work for the vehicle, but you have to apply common sense.  What works in the house for food storage might not work well in the vehicle.  Temperature is one of the biggest concerns.  Where I live and drive the most, temperatures can range from 5 degrees in my vehicle all the way up to close to 200 degrees in the truck or passenger cabin.  Freezing or extreme heat can break glass containers, and the heat can certainly turn an aluminum or tin can into a food grenade (ask me how I know!)  Plenty of options are available that will handle these temperatures.  Cookies and crackers come to mind first.  Beef jerky is another.  I know these aren’t the healthiest choices, but we’re in a survival situation that hopefully won’t be lasting too long.  Besides, you can go weeks without food before you die.  These are here as a comfort item more than anything.

Now that we can make sure we aren’t going to be miserable or die from lacking basic needs, we can look at other items.  Sanitation needs might want to be covered.  If you are stranded on the side of the road away from everything when nature calls, a roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag is about to become your best friend.  Keeping it in a ziplock bag will keep it clean and dry while it rides shotgun with you waiting for that moment of need.  Some basic hygiene items tossed in might round out the package and come in handy even if you aren’t forced to stay in your car.  There has been more than one occasion where I’ve stayed the night somewhere unexpectedly and having a few items in my car saved a trip to the store so I could brush my teeth and apply deodorant.

Once these needs are all met, lets figure out how to get ourselves out of the situation.  Communication is key.  Most all of us have cell phones these days, and they make life more convenient than ever when they work.  Its a good idea to make sure you have a way to keep it charged in the car.  A dead battery makes the smartest of phone as useful as a rock in no time.  For most situations, a working phone will get word out and get help on the way.  But in true prepper fashion, I like to have redundancy.  CB radios and other two way radios can get word out in emergencies, and they don’t rely on the wireless network that cell phones depend on.  Handheld CB radios can be had for almost nothing and make an excellent source for secondary communication.  Remember, channel 9 on the CB band is for emergency use only.  Channel 19 is known as the “trucker channel” and generally has a lot of traffic, especially near major highways.  I go a step further and add HAM radio to my arsenal, but this isn’t practical for everyone.  For one, its a licensed band, meaning you have to take a test and get your license to transmit.  This rule doesn’t apply in an emergency.  In a true emergency, you can use any band or frequency available to call for help.  Make sure it is a real emergency (defined as threat to life or property).

Now on to the stuff every car should have before it ever gets on the road.  A lot of these will seem obvious, but I’m shocked at the people that don’t have any of them.  Make sure your vehicle has a spare tire.  Make sure it’s aired up!  Even if you aren’t much of a mechanic, you should keep a basic tool kit in your car.  It will come in handy for minor repairs. If you can’t perform the repairs, that good Samaritan that stops to help might be able to if only he hadn’t forgotten his toolbox.  You can fix that at least!  We all forget to turn off the lights or we leave something plugged into the cigarette lighter.  Then we have a dead battery.  Its much easier to get someone to give you a jump start if you have your own jumper cables.  Most people are willing to help their fellow man, but no one seems prepared to these days.  If you want to go all out in being prepared, there are power packs available that allow you to jump start your own vehicle.  Here are some examples. 12 volt air compressors can be had on the cheap and will save your bacon in case of a flat.  I bought one in new condition at a flea market for $7 and its paid for itself a dozen times over.   All of us understand the need for a good first aid kit.  Have a better one in your car at all times.  You never know when you might be the first to respond to an accident or need to use it for yourself.  Having a good flashlight really comes into play if you are stranded after dark.  Not being able to see might have you believe you are stuck when you really aren’t.  It will also help with those minor repairs and avoiding that rattlesnake if you need to use that toilet paper.

I could continue this article for pages about other survival items you might need; like matches and lighters, signal mirrors, emergency whistles, etc.  Those are items you will have to decide if they are worth keeping in you car.  Look at your bug out bag and see if there are items that would serve you well if duplicated in your vehicle.  I didn’t really cover much about vehicle safety in this article because I’m planning in covering that in a separate article in the near future.  In the meantime, use your head and practice common sense around traffic and vehicles.  Also, stay tuned for articles about vehicle self defense, and bugging out in your vehicle.

 

 

UltraFire Flashlight Review

I’ll preface by saying I’ve developed a flashlight addiction over the past couple of years.  I love knowing there is a light handy wherever I am that can turn night into day.  I especially love lights that are really bright that I didn’t have to spend a ton of money on.  There are some incredible lights on the market from some very reputable companies, but they can quickly get crazy on price.  I would love to have a top end Streamlight or Surefire in every vehicle and all over the house.  Spending thousands on flashlights just isn’t going to happen though!  I’ve found a few good LED lights that have found a home in my preps, but this new one from UltraFire (model WF-606A) is quickly becoming my favorite.  When you pick it up, you can tell its well built and strong without being too heavy.  This thing is metal and glass.  I may be old fashioned, but I like things built from materials known for strength and durability.  The LED module is made Cree, which is an industry leader in LED technology.  The light also has o-ring seals where it should.  I don’t know how waterproof it is, but I’m comfortable calling it very water resistant.  Another feature (that I’m sure was unintended by the designers) is that the body of the light will fit right into MOLLE webbing on your pack, bag, or vest.  The only drawback I see is that the rear clicky push button is not recessed.  This could lead to the light being turn on by accident, but I haven’t had this happen yet.

One of the coolest features is its’ multiple settings.  It burns at 230 lumen on full power, but has 4 other settings.

1. Full power (230 lumen)

2. Medium power (150 lumen)

3. Low power (60 lumen)

4. Strobe at full intensity

5. S.O.S at full intensity

I’ve had it out at night and to say its bright is an understatement.  It has a narrow beam so it can really reach out and illuminate things at a distance, but it throws enough light out to light up a good portion of the front yard.  There are some cottonwood trees down the road several hundred yards.  You can make out individual branches with this light.  Even on low power, there is plenty of light to see well enough to walk around or work on something after dark. I was told to expect an hour of battery life at full power, so the lower power settings will probably get used quite a bit.  The strobe is a feature I probably won’t use much other than for showing off or playing around.  Some self defense experts say that it can be useful to disorient a would-be attacker, but I would much prefer to hit them with pepper spray or employ a firearm in extreme situations rather than hoping for disorientation to save my life or that of a loved one.  The SOS is a neat little feature that could have a very practical application.  I’m sure the light could be seen for a long way at night and having the light automatically key out an SOS signal means it could be pointed in whatever direction you wanted to signal and let it signal for help while my attention is on the emergency.

I purchased mine from a gentleman running a flashlight table at a local gun show, but they are available online in the $20-25 price range.  My take is that you won’t find a better light for even double the money.  I plan on picking up enough to have one on the nightstand, in the BOB, and one for each vehicle.

The very real need for the BOB

For some, this will be preaching to the choir.  For others, it will be a rehash of what you hear from other sources.  The reality is that no one can refute the need to have a bag ready to grab and go in case of an emergency.  It used to be the realm of the die hard preppers and survivalists, but its quickly becoming mainstream.  Even the government puts out information on how to put together a GO bag or Bug Out bag (commonly known as a BOB).  BOB is the name I use because its easy to say, and on the blog, its certainly a lot easier to type!

There are so many great information resources available that I won’t give step by step instructions on how to put one together.  I’ll include a few links at the end of the post you can check out.  I do want to share some of my thoughts on the subject, and a few things I’ve learned.

 

It would be easy to list a hundred reasons on why you should have a basic bag put together, but one obvious one is being realized all over the state of Texas right now.  We are in the midst of a horrible fire season, and it seems to be getting worse.  The town of Bastrop is going up in flames with over 500 homes destroyed and countless others in the path.  Every one of these homes contained people and their possessions.  The people are out and safe for the most part, but everything they owned is now gone.  Some only have the clothes on their back.  I saw his firsthand when my grandparents lost their house to a wildfire many years ago.  The had just a few minutes to run through and grab what they could.  In the panic, not much was saved.  Heirlooms, pictures, and documents and several pets were lost forever.  I’m not saying that having a BOB will save all of your possessions, but having access to documents after a fire is important.  Being able to save the most important pictures is invaluable.

A lot of the info on how to put a BOB together covers the basics of survival.  Every list is going to include:  A change of clothes, 3 days of food and water, firemaking supplies, flashlight, batteries, portable radio, communications, etc.  Most lists include everything you would need to survive for 3 or more days in the wilderness.  That’s all good, but in reality most of us won’t be in a situation that requires surviving in the wilds of Montana or the deserts of the southwest.  Its probably more realistic that a disaster won’t be so widespread that we are going to have to take to the woods and wait it out.  The fires in Texas, while huge, only impact a small area.  Tornadoes are ruthless in their destruction, but don’t wipe out entire states.  If you are forced to leave, you’ll most likely be heading to a shelter, hotel, or a family member’s house.  Once the acute effects of the disaster are over, you’ll be going back in to start rebuilding what was destroyed.  A few items that make this stressful situation a little easier are good items to have with you.

1. Copies of document (or originals), including birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, insurance policy information, and important contact information.  These can be digitized and stored on a CD, DVD, or thumb drive.

2. Important family photos.  These can be digitized and stored on electronic media as well.  Photos are impossible to replace if lost.  Having them backed up in multiple locations is cheap and easy.

3. Cash. I know some people will say that they keep credit or debit cards, but those don’t always work if the power is out. Cash will spend, even in the dark.  You don’t have to have thousands, but having enough for a couple of days including lodging and meals is always a good idea.

4. Cell phone or PDA chargers.  An extra charger for your communication is invaluable.  In a disaster, letting loved ones know you are well will put their mind at ease.  A dead cell phone is a paperweight.  Having a spare battery might not be such a bad idea either.

5. Some form of entertainment.  This is especially important if you have kids with you.  A couple of small toys, a deck of cards, or even a few crayons with some paper can keep the little ones entertained.  This will be really important during stressful situations.  Your kids know when your stressed, and it stresses them out too. A paperback novel will go a long way in passing time if you need a distraction yourself.

6. Small heirlooms.  Anything small that can’t be replaced should find a spot in the BOB.  Nothing would be more heartbreaking that frantically searching through the rubble looking for that ring your grandma gave you before she died, or that watch that your dad gave you the day you graduated high school.

7. Personal toiletries. A familiar tasting toothpaste and your normal deodorant will maintain some level of normalcy.  We can be very picky about the brands we use, and having that with us will do wonders for our morale.

The point is to not only survive a disaster, but to come out the other side with some semblance of our sanity and dignity.  I would much rather end up staying in a hotel and going through a few heirlooms and pictures while the kids play a game of Old Maid than be sitting on a cot in a school gym hoping someone will donate some clean underwear before morning comes.

 

Here are some links to help you get started.

Here is a good list, but leans toward being prepared for all out collapse.

This is a very thorough list.

One of the better articles I’ve seen on BOBs

FEMA has some thoughts on how to prepare.

Zombie defense on the cheap!

Sarah and I made the trip over to Fort Worth for a gun show this weekend to check prices on a couple of things, and just see what was going on in the wide world of weapons.  Wow, the place was packed!  Not quite like the month before the last presidential election, but pretty close.  We were walking the aisles looking at all of the wares being peddled, and I had an old wish come back to mind.  I’ve always wanted a pistol cartridge carbine chambered in 9mm.  So I start looking around and find a few that are way out of my price range.  Really, 900 bucks for something that shoots 9mm???  No thanks, for that cash I would have a sweet ass rifle that could send a lot of .308 rounds downrange!    I originally wanted the Kel-Tec Sub2000, but after handling it again, and seeing the $80 price increase, I wanted to shop around some more.  Enter the friendly fellow under the HiPoint banner.  Yeah, I vaguely remember handling the HiPoint carbine at one time.  It was cumbersome and the stock looked like it was designed by a student of Picasso.  Surely I couldn’t like something like that…

I was pleased to learn that HiPoint realized their gun looked like a joke (and had that reputation in the market), and redesigned it to look better. Much, MUCH better.  Reintroduced as the 995TS (TS means target stock), the 9mm carbine now looks sweet.  Sweet in that, “I’m gonna bust the hell out of some zombies while wearing full tactical gear” way.  I was pretty shocked looking at it there on the rack.  I ask the guy to handle it and pick it up.  It has some real weight to it.  I like that in a gun.  I shoulder it and look down the sights.  Now I’m really starting to get interested.  Check the price tag.  Sold.  I want this bastard in my arsenal!!  Sarah was picking up on this and recommended walking around for a bit to avoid an impulse buy.  It was weird, the further I walked away, the more it called out to me. “Pick me up again, take me home!  I’m a zombie slayer!!”  Now I’m not one to refuse on that!  We walk back over, and its time to fill out the wonderful 4473 form and pay the man his money. This gun is going home with me, and for way less than MSRP. Damn I love a good deal!

I’m sure by now you want to know the nuts and bolts, and probably ask me one question…  “A HiPoint?  Are you on crack? Those things are made of plastic and will break the second you shoot it!”   Yeah, so I’ve heard from a thousand people that have never shot one.  The folks that have them love them, so I have to go with experience on this one.

 

 

This all American made gun features a 16.5″ barrel and 31″ overall length, which makes it pretty handy to handle and move around with.  Its covered in Picatinny rails for mounting scopes, lasers, lights, pistol grips, toasters, you name it.  Mine probably won’t get much, but its nice having options!  The biggest drawback is the ten round magazine capacity.  There are aftermarket 15 rounders I’ll try, but for now I guess I’ll actually have to aim and place each shot to make those ten count.  Speaking of aiming, this thing has a peep sight that is easy on the eye, and taking a few shots to check the point of impact verify its dead on at 25 yards from the factory.  The trigger was much better than I expected as well.  I was shooting at dusk, so I noticed a dark target with blued metal sights isn’t exactly easy to acquire, but that is easily fixed with some tritium paint or a dab of white metal paint on the front sight.  Even in the poor lighting this thing puts the bullets right where you tell it too.  I didn’t set up to shoot 5 shot groups, but there is time for that later.  Its safe to say its more than accurate enough for carbine ranges.

I look forward to really putting this thing through the ringer in the coming days and weeks, but for now I’m extremely happy with the results I’ve gotten.  If you are on a budget but still want to be able to drive back a small hoard of the living dead, I can’t recommend this little gun enough.  From general plinking to serious power for home defense, you can’t go wrong here.