Score! A situational awareness exercise

Situational awareness is a popular topic in the prepper and survival community. Basically, situational awareness refers to keeping your head up, your eyes open, and paying attention to the world around you.

I like to think of situational awareness as being present in your life. Rather than just going through the motions, you’re actively engaged, even if only mentally, in your world.

The idea is to be able to better react to threats by seeing them before they are up close and personal. Keep in mind, too, that we’re not just talking about threats that move about on two legs. For example, if you’re out hiking in the great beyond, odds are you probably aren’t going to need to worry too much about a mugger, right? But, you still need to be aware of potential threats like stepping on a snake, camping under a widow maker, and traversing uneven or unstable ground.

Around the house, situational awareness would include things like paying close attention to where you set up your ladder before climbing to the roof – make sure you’re not jostling a hornet nest and be certain the ladder is secure and the legs aren’t going to slip out from under you. In cold weather, take second look at the wet sidewalk and driveway to make sure it isn’t just a sheet of ice.

Teaching situational awareness can be problematic, though, especially with children. Where do you start? One approach is to quiz the student from time to time, asking them to close their eyes and describe what’s going on around them. That method works but for some people it is just frustrating, especially when they are just starting out.

Here’s a game we play with the kids when we’re on the road. My wife came up with the idea some time ago and while the original intent was just a game to pass the time, I’ve found it really does work to get everyone engaged and paying attention. We never named the game but for our purposes here we’ll just call it Score. The objective is to find yellow vehicles and be the first to yell Score! You must then identify where the vehicle is, either verbally or by pointing. Any passenger vehicle counts, including cars, trucks, semis, and buses (though we limit it to one Score when there’s a fleet of school buses). We do not count construction vehicles, golf carts, or anything else that you typically won’t see used on the road.

Why yellow? Because it is a rather uncommon color for cars and trucks. Not incredibly rare, of course, but not nearly as common as blue or red. Granted, we don’t play this game in urban areas so we’re not overwhelmed with taxis running here and there. If cities are your area of operation, you might want to come up with a different approach.

We usually don’t keep track of points. However, if your family is the competitive sort, have at it. The winner gets an ice cream when you reach your destination.

At first, you’ll only hear Score when you see a school bus or a big semi hauling a trailer. Over time, though, they’ll get more observant. You’ll hear Score and they’ll point out a car in a subdivision you can hardly see from the Interstate.

You’re not teaching them to just notice yellow cars, of course. Over time, you’ll find they are paying closer attention to their world. They’re noticing other things during drives, like people in the cars around them, deer and other animals running through fields, junk people have left sitting at the end of driveways or on the side of roads. Gradually, you’re expanding their horizons and they’ll see that there’s far more to the world than what they’re seeing on their phone or tablet.

Self-Storage Facilities – The Ultimate Cache?

The idea of setting up one or more caches is a popular one among preppers and survivalists. A cache is a collection of gear and supplies that is positioned for later use when you are away from home or perhaps on your way to your bug out location (BOL). Basically, a cache is a resupply point, intended to give you a boost in supplies as you make your way to your final destination.

By the way, the word cache is pronounced like cash, not cash-ay. Sorry, pet peeve.

The PVC tube type of cache is typically buried and left in place until needed. There are a few things to keep in mind, of course, such as making sure you’ll be able to find it again and, once found, that you’ll be able to open the PVC and get at the goodies inside. That will usually mean having a saw to cut off the end of the tube. I can’t imagine many things more frustrating than going to all the work of digging up your cache tube while tired and starving, only to find you have no way to open the tube and get to the contents inside.

Self-storage facilities have been around since the late 1950s but they really became popular in the 90s. They are largely an American phenomenon, which actually makes sense. There are few cultures outside the U.S. that place such a high value on stuff more than Americans.

Even if you’ve never used a self-storage facility before, you’re familiar with the basic concept. You’re renting what amounts to a small room or perhaps just a large closet in which you can store the overflow from your home. Usually this consists of household goods such as furniture, old clothes, dishes, and such. The facility itself is usually block construction and often outfitted with at least some sort of climate control. Decent ones are dry and the contents are as secure as the lock the user affixes to the door.

The most common size seems to be 10’ x 10’, though there are other sizes usually available, from 5’ x 10’ all the way to 20’ x 20’ or larger. Of course, this will vary from facility to facility, as will the rates. Locally, the smaller units run about $70 per month and the 10’ x 10’ ones are about $100 a month.

That’s a lot to pay just for a cache, obviously. However, if you’re considering renting a storage unit anyway, due to remodeling, moving, downsizing, death in the family, whatever, consider looking at it as an opportunity to set up a survival cache and select the facility with that in mind.

While many self-storage facilities are located in urban areas, and often not in the greatest parts of the city, there are numerous facilities out in the sticks. From where I’m sitting in my office in the middle of a city of about 30,000, I know of at least three different self-storage businesses far enough outside the city limits that I’d be comfortable going there at any time of day or night and not worry about who I might run across while I’m there.

Another consideration is whether you’ll be able to access the facility if the power goes out. Many of them utilize some sort of gate that is opened by key card or keypad. While all three facilities I referenced above are surrounded by fencing and use gated access, two of them have fences short enough that I’d easily be able to get over them in an emergency.

One argument often made against using self-storage facilities as emergency cache locations is the idea that they will be targeted by looters. Personally, I don’t see that happening, at least not until long after the store shelves and such have been wiped clean. See, people operate on a risk versus reward basis. There would be considerable effort involved with breaking into a self-storage facility, including just making the trip a few miles or more out of town to get to it. And for what? The vast majority of the units will have nothing more than long out of fashion couches and boxes of clothes the owners will never fit into again. Unless someone has a good reason to believe there is food or valuables kept inside the facility, odds are they’ll pass and look for an easier target.

That said, you could hedge your bet, so to speak, by hiding your supplies within the unit. Simply label boxes as “Grandma’s clothes” or “Christmas decorations” and put your supplies inside. You might even go so far as to camouflage your items by putting old clothes or whatever on top of your supplies before closing the box.

If the unit is large enough, I could easily see it being used as a temporary shelter while you’re on your way to a BOL. Stash a cot and blanket at the back of the unit and you’re good to go.

All other things being equal, choose a self-storage facility that is located along or near your primary bug out route. Select one that is out in the sticks so you won’t be dealing with crowds. Make sure you’ll be able to access your unit during a power outage.

Again, I’m not suggesting you run out and drop $1,200 a year or more just to maintain a survival cache. What I am saying is that if you’re going to be spending money on a storage unit anyway, choose the location using a prepper perspective and outfit it with some supplies and gear, just in case.

Extreme Wilderness Survival by Craig Caudill

I don’t review very many books these days. There are a few different reasons for that. Honestly, I don’t have much time lately to do read a whole lot, recreational or otherwise. On top of that, I’ve gotten to know so many authors and instructors in the last several years that I fear a good review will just be seen as nepotism and a bad review seen as me trying to bad mouth a competitor. Neither are ever the case, whether we’re talking about books or gear. I like what I like and I dislike what doesn’t work for me, simple as that.

Extreme Wilderness Survival by Craig Caudill works. It works really, really well.

Here’s what I can tell you about Craig. He’s been there and done that. He knows what works and what doesn’t, having learned from practical experience. He is the founder of Nature Reliance School as well as its chief instructor. Craig has taught survival and tracking to members of the military as well as law enforcement officers from federal, state, and local agencies. On top of all that, he’s a damn fine human being. Simply put, he’ll do to ride the river with.

One thing I really appreciate about Craig is his intelligence and that really comes through in this book. He is able to take very complex subjects and break them down in a way that is easy to comprehend, which is a sign of a truly gifted instructor.

The title, Extreme Wilderness Survival, is actually sort of misleading. Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of wilderness survival information here. But, there’s far more here than just how to build a fire and keep warm.

The book really gets started at page 11, with the previous pages being used for the Table of Contents and such. From page 11 through page 43 is absolutely essential reading on the survival mindset. Seriously folks, those 32 pages alone are worth the price of admission. This is an area that is often either glossed over or missed entirely in many survival manuals.

In this part of the book, Craig discusses a few training aids to help with situational awareness, memory, and observation skills, all of which are important for survival. Personally, I love the “Sit Spot” exercise and highly recommend it. Basically, this involves choosing a location out in the field and visiting it as often as possible over the course of a month or so. Just sit and observe the world around you. Write down things you notice and make sketches. The drawings don’t need to be art studio quality. The idea is that sketching will help you remember details better. Over time, you’ll start to learn patterns to things, such as when certain critters are most active. Plus, there is something peaceful and centering about just sitting out in nature for a while.

From there, he goes into personal safety. In this section, Craig covers everything from basic first aid to map reading to self-defense. While these topics are obviously very complex, he breaks them down into manageable chunks. Naturally, this single volume isn’t going to cover everything you’d ever need to know on any of those subjects but there is quite a bit of practical, actionable information shared in just a few pages.

Craig then uses the next several chapters to go into detail on the survival basics – shelter, fire, water, and food. In each chapter, he goes into detail on what works and what doesn’t. Again, practicality reigns throughout. Craig will show you how to make and use a bow drill but he’s also the first to tell you that if Daniel Boone could have carried a lighter with him, he’d have done so.

In the chapter on shelter, Craig goes into great detail on how to maintain your core temperature, sharing excellent information on layering, building shelters, and using tarps. Again, he goes a step beyond the standard survival manuals by suggesting you actually get outside and test out your skills by doing an overnight.

For food and water, he explains different methods for locating and procuring what you need. I love the table he includes in the water chapter, showing the effectiveness of various water filtration methods compared to one another. Very valuable information to have when deciding what to invest in when you’re putting together your own survival gear.

In the food chapter, Craig mentions another little tidbit that is often overlooked. The mere process of eating and digesting food will burn calories. Many people don’t realize that it takes far more calories to consume meat than it does to consume plants. When you are running a calorie deficit, this is important information to know.

The third section of the book is focused on tactics. This is a broad section that includes topics such as forming a group, deciding to hunker down or bug out, patrolling and movement with weapons, and tracking. That last one is probably my favorite chapter in the book. See, among Craig’s varied talents and skills is that he is an extremely capable tracker. This is an area I hope to learn much more soon and this chapter is an excellent primer on the subject.

The last section is on gear. It covers selection, methods of carry, weapons, and concludes with a reality check. Again, that last is something frequently missing from most survival manuals. As with the rest of the book, there is little to no fluff here. Just practical information on each and every page.

There are a ton of survival manuals on the market today. I can and do recommend Extreme Wilderness Survival without reservation. Find it here on Amazon. The book is scheduled for release on March 21, 2017.

Build a BOB: Useful Odds and Ends

On top of the mistakes listed above, there are a few things that I notice are missing from many if not most bug out bag content lists. While these items may not be utterly crucial to survival, they can sure make life a bit easier in an already stressful situation.

Knife sharpener
Knives and other blades are a no brainer for a bug out bag but few people think to toss in a small sharpener. A dull knife is far more dangerous to you than a sharp one.

Empty plastic bags
While many preppers pack their gear in plastic bags, which is an excellent idea, keeping several empty ones in your pack adds virtually no weight or bulk. The empty bags will come in handy for packing goodies you may find your travels, such as edible plants, tinder, or even water.

Hygiene supplies
Being able to clean up a bit is a great boost to morale as well as a way to stay healthy. Survival Resources has a great little hygiene kit for bug out bags. Or, make your own by tossing travel size toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss) and a couple of washcloths into a ziploc bag.

Lip balm
Yeah, I know, it sounds so metrosexual but bugging out generally means you’ll be outdoors, exposed to the sun and wind, which leads to chapped lips. This can actually be a rather painful condition. Lip balm takes up almost no space in your bug out bag. Plus, if it is petroleum based, it can double as a way to help get a fire going.

Notepad and pencils

Whether it is used for trying to keep track of where you are and where you’ve been or for just collecting your thoughts, being able to jot down notes is an excellent, and again a low weight, addition to the bug out bag.

Sewing kit
A few needles and a spool or two of good thread will be very welcome after you’ve ripped out a pocket on your pants or torn a hole in your shirt. Duct tape works, too.

Zip ties
As far as I’m concerned, these are almost as handy as duct tape. They have a wide range of uses in a survival situation. I keep a bunch in different sizes in each of my packs.

Cash and coins
We often think of bugging out as running off to the woods. Odds are, though, that at least some of your journey will be through civilized portions of the country. It makes sense to have some cash on hand to make purchases, should the need and opportunity arise. Think about it like this – it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Pack enough cash to get you a room at a midrange motel, someplace clean and that doesn’t charge by the hour. Add in a little more cover a meal or two and you should be good to go. Stick with small bills, nothing larger than a ten or twenty. Don’t forget a few dollars in change for vending machines.

Get caught up on the other installments in this series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Common Mistakes

Build a BOB: Common Mistakes

If you ask twenty different preppers what to have in a bug out bag, you’ll get twenty slightly different answers. That’s as it should be, because bug out bags need to be customized to suit individual needs. That said, in reviewing hundreds, if not thousands, of bug out bag lists and such, I see several mistakes happening again and again. Go through the following list and see if you’ve inadvertently fallen into one or more of these gaffes and learn what to do about it.

#1 — Overpacking

I’ve seen entirely too many bug out bags that are just massive. These monstrosities have everything up to and sometimes including the kitchen sink. The whole idea behind a bug out bag is to have a PORTABLE assemblage of gear and supplies. The absolute only way to determine if the bug out bag is the right size for you is to strap it on and walk around for at least a few hours. A couple of circuits around the living room just isn’t going to be a valid test. When, and I mean not if but when, you determine your bug out bag is too heavy to be comfortable for long periods of time, ditch everything but the absolute necessities, then build up from there.

#2 — Too Much Food

While we need calories to keep moving, many of us are already packing substantial calories around our waists. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pack any food. What I’m saying is that you can’t expect to lug around enough food to provide five course meals three times a day for every day you’re on the move. For the most part, your food should be the ready-to-eat variety. Stuff you can just unwrap and toss into your cake hole. A hot meal at the end of the day might be appreciated but it certainly isn’t a necessity. Toss in a few dehydrated or freeze-dried meals (brands and variety should be stuff you’ve tried previously and liked) along with the bare minimum for cooking and eating utensils. Learn how to forage so you can supplement your packed food while you travel.

#3 — Buying The Bag First

This is a bad approach, picking out a snazzy camo pack before deciding what it needs to hold. The problem is that many people pick out a bag that is much larger than they really need. This leads them to feel compelled to fill it to the brim, which of course circles back to #1 on our list here. Use logic and common sense here. Start by collecting all of the supplies you feel you’ll need in your bug out bag, then choosing a pack that is sized appropriately.

#4 — Not Enough Water Containers

Water is essential, we all know this. Yet, time and again I see bug out bags with nothing more than a single water bottle. While water is indeed heavy, you should have the means to transport at least two liters of water at any given time. Keep at least two separate containers for water in your bug out bag. This gives you options. For example, by having two steel water bottles, you can boil water in one (to disinfect it) while still being able to drink from the other one.

#5 — Cheaply Made Gear

Look, I’m all about prepping on a budget but if I’m staking my life on a piece of gear, I don’t want to rely on piece of junk that is shoddily made and might not work. Stick with reliable, well-known brand names when and where you can. Dollar store multi-tools just aren’t likely to hold up very well, know what I mean?

#6 — Untested Gear

You need to thoroughly test each and every item you are putting into your bug out bag. Know exactly how it works, what its capabilities are, and how to maintain it. Too many people buy stuff and just toss it into the bag without thinking twice. A bug out is not the best time to pull out the instructions and try and figure out how to assemble that nifty little camp stove…only to discover the guy at the factory was having an off day and forgot to include the bag of bolts you need.

#7 — Lack Of Foot Protection

If you are bugging out, odds are you will be on foot for part if not all of your journey. Walking long distances while wearing thin socks and dress shoes, or even worse, flip flops, can be murder on your feet. What I recommend is keeping a good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots (with socks rolled up inside) alongside your bug out bag. Grab them at the same time you grab the bag, then change your footwear at your earliest opportunity. Ditch the dress shoes or heels and move on down the road. In your bug out bag, keep at least two extra pair of thick socks as well. On top of that, add moleskin to your first aid kit to help with any blisters that may develop. Foot powder might not be a bad idea as well.

#8 — Over-Reliance on Multi-Purpose Items

Having items that can pull double or triple duty is a great way to cut down on the bulk in a bug out bag but I’ve always felt you should use the right tool for the right job. In other words, while it is great to have a 5-in-1 tool that has a whistle, compass, ferro rod, match case, whatever, recognize that it is dubious that it will do each of those jobs as well as items specifically made for those purposes. While you should always have at least 3 ways to accomplish basic tasks, such as fire lighting, try to stick with tools and equipment made for the purpose.

Get caught up on all installments in this series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Common Mistakes
Useful Odds and Ends


Build a BOB: Choosing the Pack or Container

Okay, so you’ve invested countless hours researching and carefully selecting the contents of your BOB. Now what? Well, you need something to carry all of it, right? There are a few different solutions to consider.

Before we get into them, though, you need to take a real good look at your BOB contents. Take all of your treasures and plunk them in a pile on the bed or the floor. Odds are, it’ll be a pretty sizeable collection of goodies. Remember, the whole point of a BOB is that it is a portable collection of gear and supplies. Regardless of the pack or container you choose, will you realistically be able to carry all of the stuff you’ve collected? If not, start paring it down now.

Keeping the issue of portability firmly in mind, let’s look at some carry options.


A backpack is more or less the traditional carry option for a BOB. For most people, a backpack is likely the best option. Provided you find a pack that works for you, it will be comfortable, sturdy, and it will allow you to keep your hands free as you walk. This is rather important as you may need to react quickly to a threat or even just a stumble and if one or both hands are full, you could have trouble.

One question you need to answer before you begin searching for a pack is whether you want to go with one that is military surplus (or at least looks like mil-surp) or a more civilian looking model. Personally, I tend to lean toward the latter, though really there isn’t a right or wrong answer here. It is just a matter of personal preference. I feel that a civilian pack might be seen as less likely to contain truly awesome supplies and gear and therefore not be as much of a target to someone else.

While military grade packs are typically very durable, that doesn’t always translate to comfort. Honestly, choosing a pack is something best done in person. Head to a decent sporting goods store, one that has a large camping section, and try out a few packs. Even if you don’t buy one there, you’ll hopefully come away with some idea of what you like and what you don’t like in a pack.

One thing I look for is compartmentalization. I want several pockets inside and outside the pack to help me keep things organized. Having all the gear with you is great but being able to find what you need when you need it is even better.

I like thickly padded shoulder straps as well as a chest strap and possibly one at the waist. The idea is to keep the pack from sliding all over the place as you walk. When you try packs on for size, be sure to do up all the straps and adjust them for a proper fit. The store staff should be able to assist in that regard, which is another reason to stick with actual sporting goods stores and not just the couple of aisles of camp gear you find at other big box retailers.

You want a pack that is large enough to fit all of your gear and not much bigger. Why? Because I can all but guarantee that when you fill your pack and start testing it out, you’re going to find you’ve overpacked and you’ll start cutting down on gear. A little empty space in your pack is great. Having it only a third full means you should get a smaller pack.

My personal favorite backpack is the Vertx EDC Gamut Plus. I’ve carried one daily for well over a year now and find it very comfortable. It is large enough to carry all I need without looking like I’m packing for an African safari.

Duffel Bag

Duffel bags can be used for BOBs as well. You can find duffels with all sorts of pockets to allow for organizing your gear, which is great. The problem, though, is they can be uncomfortable to carry for long periods of time, especially if they have significant weight inside. The shoulder strap will help, of course, but you might find that to be downright painful after several miles.

If you don’t use the shoulder strap, you’ll constantly have one hand occupied. This can lead to problems on the trail as well as discomfort. I’m not saying duffel bags make horrible BOBs. Well, actually, yeah, I am saying that duffels make horrible BOBs.

Wheeled Suitcase

I’ve seen some people packing wheeled suitcases to use for BOBs. You know the type I’m talking about, the suitcases people tend to use for overnight trips. They have a slide out handle and you pull them along. Here’s the thing with these bags. Those wheels work great on nice, even, flat terrain like concrete and carpet. You get them off the pavement, though, and they don’t roll very well.

On top of that, these suitcases are bulky and aren’t the lightest things in the world even when empty. They are difficult and problematic to carry for long periods of time if they won’t roll. I’d avoid them.

Shoulder Bag

These are different than duffel bags. This type of pack is designed to fit comfortably over one shoulder. This model by UTG is a good example. These can be comfortable, even over long distances. But, they don’t have a lot of space so you are very limited in what you can carry. As the saying goes, the more you know the less you need to carry but I think even very experienced survivalists might want something a bit larger than this for a long-distance bug out.

Once you’ve purchased your pack or bag, take it home and fill it up with your gear. Strap it on and walk around for a while. A couple of circuits of your living room isn’t going to be enough. Get outside and go for a walk. See how the pack or bag rides on your body. Make adjustments to the straps or the contents until you get everything situated where you want it.

As you organize the contents, keep things you’ll need frequently in readily accessible locations, such as outer pockets. For example, keep your ferro rod and other primary fire making supplies easy to reach as one of the first things you’ll usually do when setting up camp is get a fire started. First aid kit should also be easy to locate as if there is a medical emergency you won’t want to waste time dumping out the entire pack to find what you need.

I like to use small pouches and watertight boxes to keep my supplies and gear separate and organized. Even pencil pouches found on the cheap during back to school season work well to keep things easy to find in your BOB.

Care and Feeding of Your BOB

Unpack and inspect the contents regularly to ensure nothing is broken or leaking. I suggest once every three months, at a minimum, to completely empty and repack the BOB. Give it a visual inspection about once a month where you just peek in and make sure everything is still there.

Rotate out the perishable supplies, such as food and batteries, regularly so they get used before they expire.

Adjust the contents of the BOB to reflect the season as needed. I keep a knit hat, wool socks, and thick gloves in my BOB year round but I’ll add in other cold weather gear in the fall. Come spring, I take that stuff out and pack it away in the house.

Your BOB is a personal thing. It should reflect your needs, your skill sets, and your experience level. Don’t be afraid to adjust the contents of the BOB as you learn new skills or invest in additional gear.

Get caught up on all installments in this series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Common Mistakes
Useful Odds and Ends


Build a BOB: Tools

The ability to make and use tools is sometimes seen as an indicator of the intelligence of a species. While humans aren’t the only animals on the planet that makes tools, we are the only ones that will go into debt to buy new shiny stuff. I mean, when was the last time you saw a crow whip out a Visa card?

Once upon a time, all of the tools we used were fashioned by hand from natural materials. Rocks with sharp edges were cutting tools. Grass or sinew was twisted and woven into cordage. Animal bones were made into needles and other implements. While the skill and knowledge to do those sorts of things is still valuable and could certainly be of use, most of us tend to lean more toward carrying a few manufactured tools. In a true crisis, having a hank of paracord or bank line beats the hell out of trying to find appropriate natural materials and spending time twisting your own cordage.

Tools can be problematic, though. If we’re bugging out with a vehicle, weight and bulk of our tools is largely a non-issue. However, if we end up on foot, that’s a whole different matter. While you’re welcome to pack an entire workshop full of tools in the back of your truck, that’s not all going to fit into your BOB should you have to resort to shank’s mare.

With that in mind, here are the tools many would agree are must-haves in your BOB.


A good knife is going to be one of your best friends in a bug out scenario. A million and one uses as they used to say on late night TV. While even a simple kitchen paring knife is better than no knife at all, something a little more robust might be worth the investment. Here are several recommendations, based on budget constraints:

Bare bones – Mora Companion
At the time of this writing, under $11 on Amazon

Low to mid range – Condor Bushlore
At the time of this writing, around $36 on Amazon

Pretty nice and still under $100 – Schrade 42D Frontier
At the time of this writing, about $45 on Amazon

Willing to spend a bit more for something that will truly last – Bark River Gunny
$150 and up, depending on handle material and other options

Got some money to invest in something nice – LT Wright GNS
Currently, $180 or so.

To go into all the details you should consider when choosing a knife would take far more space than we have here. That said, here are just a few pointers:

You probably don’t need a huge Rambo style knife. You want something you can easily control. Shoot for a blade length of 4” to 5” or so.

A carbon steel blade is usually desired as it holds a great edge without being a bear to sharpen. However, they tend to rust if unprotected so be sure to oil the blade. If you’ll be spending time near saltwater or in very wet environments, consider stainless steel.

Don’t overlook the importance of a secure sheath. Most of them today are either leather, kydex, or nylon. Of the three, I personally favor leather but I’m also something of a traditionalist. Kydex is a great option that is largely unaffected by temperatures or water.

One more thing about knives. Don’t forget to pack a sharpener. A dull blade is far more dangerous to you than a sharp one. With a dull blade, you’ll have to force the cut with more pressure, which could cause you to slip and hurt yourself or someone else.


As I said at the outset, it is certainly possible to craft your own cordage in the field but doing so is time-consuming. Quite often, if you need cordage, you need it NOW, not an hour or more from now. You’ll use it to build shelters, repair clothing, lash things to your pack, set snares, and dozens of other ways.

The two primary types of cordage used by preppers and survivalists are paracord and bank line. For those unfamiliar, paracord is about as thick as an athletic shoelace and extremely strong. It is often referred to as 550 cord because genuine paracord will support up to 550lbs. It is constructed of a nylon sheath with several thin cords inside. What this means is you can remove one or more of those thin strands if needed. For example, paracord is too thick to mend a tear in a pack but you could use one of those thin strands could do the trick.

Tarred bank line is a nylon twine covered in a layer of tar. This isn’t a messy as it sounds, don’t worry. It comes in different thicknesses. #18 bank line is pretty thin, perfect for snares and such. #36 is about double the thickness but also double the strength. One great thing about tarred bank line is that it sticks to itself so knots don’t come undone.

One great way to store cordage in your bug out bag so it doesn’t get all tangled is to wrap it around an old gift card. You can find the full instructions here.

I like to have both paracord and bank line in my BOB. Cordage is light and it is easy to pack a lot of it in a small space.

Another type of cordage I keep on hand is braided fishing line. I prefer this over the monofilament kind, even though it is a bit more expensive. Braided fishing line is great for making clothing repairs as well as landing dinner. Grab a sewing bobbin and wrap your fishing line around it for safe keeping. Or, you could put together the world’s smallest fishing kit, found here.

Duct tape could be lumped in with cordage, too, I reckon. Duct tape is indispensable and, like the other types of cordage, is lightweight and easily stored. Wrap it around a gift card or a pencil stub and you’re good to go. Word to the wise, duct tape is very flammable and could work as tinder in a pinch.


If you get a tear in your pants or your pack, a needle is a necessity for making repairs. It weighs virtually nothing and needles are very cheap. Get a few and stash them throughout your BOB. Cover them in duct tape or something so you don’t get poked.


Multi-tools are like knives in that you need to find one you feel is comfortable to hold and use. The size of your hand is a factor here. Multi-tools are one of those things, too, that can quickly add noticeable weight to your BOB. The Gerber Dime is about the smallest multi-tool I’d suggest and, really, it’ll probably do just about anything you’d need a multi-tool to accomplish. See, here’s the thing about multi-tools. Like most gear that is designed for multiple purposes, it can do a lot of stuff but it can’t do a lot of stuff well. Meaning, it’ll work in a pinch to loosen a screw or strip a wire but you’d not want to try doing any major repairs with one. A needle-nose pliers is not a great tool for loosening or tightening bolts and nuts.


A small folding saw will do just about anything you’d use the hatchet for when bugging out. A Silky Pocketboy will meet your needs well, I reckon. Lightweight, yet will cut a ton. Personally, I say pass on the hatchet. The point of bugging out is to get to your bug out location as quickly and efficiently as possible. You’re not going to be building any large, made-to-last shelters. You can use your knife to baton and/or your saw to process firewood. I’m just not a fan of swinging a sharp blade around if I don’t have to, especially when I’m already tired after a long day of travel. A hatchet adds weight that you really don’t need.


A flashlight or headlamp will be a treasured item in your BOB. I recommend both. My favorite flashlight is the Streamlight ProTac 1AAA. It is small and very powerful. Be sure to pack an extra battery, too. As for a headlamp, I’m partial to this one by Coast. Extremely bright and very comfortable to wear. It is kind of pricey, though. A headlamp is important because it allows you to keep both hands free to work. But, I don’t like wearing one for long periods of time and find a small flashlight just plain handy to have.

Pry Bar

I go back and forth with whether to pack a pry bar. To me, it depends upon your typical area of operation. I would think a pry bar would get far more use in an urban environment than out in the sticks. In the city, you may need to open a door or window and a pry bar would be great to have in that regard. Give it some thought and decide whether it is worth the weight and bulk to carry one. If you decide to have one in your BOB, stick with something small, like this one.

Plastic Bags

While I don’t know that you could really call plastic bags tools, they are very handy. Toss in a few sandwich bags, the kind that zip closed. They are great for keeping tinder or foraged food dry and protected. As you travel, you’ll no doubt find little odds and ends you’ll want to keep for later use. Plastic bags can help in that regard.

When building your BOB, select your tools carefully. You want quality and durability, not just an inexpensive price. Remember, you may very well be betting your life on the tools you pack.

Get caught up on all installments in this series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Common Mistakes
Useful Odds and Ends


Build a BOB: Signaling and Communication

At first, you might wonder why you’d want signaling gear in your BOB. After all, isn’t the point of bugging out to get away from most other people? Well, sure, but consider that we have no idea what the future holds. First of all, many people take their BOB with them everywhere they go. After all, what’s the point of assembling all this great stuff if you don’t have it with you when you need it, right? Let’s say, for example, you take your BOB with you on a day hike. Things go awry and you find yourself in desperate need of assistance. Thankfully you took a moment to stash a few signal tools in your BOB, just in case.

Even in an actual bug out situation, there may be instances where you need to send a message to someone and radio or phone might not be viable options.

Fortunately, the tools I recommend for signaling are small, lightweight, and easy to use. You could add several options to your BOB without appreciably increasing the weight or bulk of the pack.


The first is a good quality, very loud whistle. A whistle is far louder than your voice, even at full “eldest child just ran the car into the side of the garage” volume. Plus, blowing a whistle isn’t going to strain your vocal cords and make you even more miserable.

Look for plastic whistles rather than metal. The latter tends to cause issues in very cold weather. Remember the flagpole incident in A Christmas Story?

Whistles come in two basic types. The traditional type of whistle has a small ball, called a pea, inside. The more modern type lacks this pea. It is easy enough to determine which is which. Shake the whistle and if you hear something rattling around inside, that’s going to be the pea. Opt for a pea-less whistle. In cold conditions, the moisture in your breath could end up freezing the pea to the side of the whistle, making the whole thing rather worthless.

I recommend a minimum of two whistles. One should be on a breakaway lanyard around your neck every time you head off into the wild. The other is your backup and should be in your BOB. Three short blasts is the universal signal for help.

Signal mirror

Next on the list is a signal mirror. To use, you hold the mirror out and angle it in such a way that it catches the sun’s rays. Hold your other arm outstretched with your palm facing outward. Line up the reflection coming from the mirror so you can see it on the back of your outstretched hand. Make the peace sign with the first two fingers of your hand and turn the mirror slightly back and forth so the reflection falls between your fingers. Line that V up with your target and you’re good to go.

In a pinch, a CD or DVD can serve as a signal mirror.

Glow stick

Of course, the signal mirror is only going to be effective during the day and even then only when you have strong sunlight. At night, you can use a glow stick (also known as cyalume snap sticks) and some cordage to reach out for help. Tie the glow stick to the end of a hank of paracord or bank line, maybe 2-3 feet long. Snap the glow stick and shake to activate it. Then, twirl it in front of you, making a large glowing circle. This can be seen for quite a ways off.

Rescue laser

A rescue laser is more than a little different from the laser pointers you may have used to torment your cat. The rescue laser is designed to grab the attention of both search and rescue on the ground as well as in the air. The way it works is it shoots out a laser in the shape of an expanding fan, rather than a single dot. At 8 miles away, that fan is 3,000 feet wide! You use it somewhat like you do a signal mirror. Shine the laser on your outstretched hand, then line it up through a V you make with your fingers. Sight your target through the V and press the button.

Rescue lasers are a bit more expensive than signal mirrors or whistles but they are definitely effective.


If you will be bugging out as a family or small group, the means to communicate with one another is critical. Plans change and sometimes those changes will happen on the fly and, as a result, will need to be communicated down the line so everyone is on the same page.

Cell phones

Cell phones may or may not be viable options. All depends on the catastrophe at hand. You can probably count on voice calls being off the table, so to speak. Cell networks quickly become overloaded in a crisis. Sometimes, though not always, text messages can get through even when voice calls cannot.

If you’re able to get online, you could use Facebook, Twitter, or another social media’s private message features to communicate with each other. But again, that’s an iffy thing.

CB Radio

CB radio is an option. They are easy to install in vehicles and there are handheld models as well. However, they are far from private and the range is somewhat limited. Figure about five miles or so, maybe more if the terrain is rather flat.


FRS and GMRS handheld radios are another way to go. FRS stands for Family Radio Service and GMRS stands for General Mobile Radio Service. They work in similar manners and are very much like the walkie-talkies you may have played with as a child, though more powerful. While the range won’t be anywhere near what the package claims, they work well for short distances of a couple of miles, depending on terrain.

Ham Radio

Ham radio is something to seriously consider. Handheld radios like the ever-popular Baofeng UV-5R work great. However, the use of ham radios to transmit is subject to licensure. While the FCC might not be cracking down on unlicensed operators during a true emergency, you might find other operators less than helpful if they learn you are unlicensed. Further, you need the license to practice using your equipment ahead of the catastrophe.

At the very least, consider adding a small crank radio to your BOB. While you won’t be able to use it for two-way communication, you can use it to gather information on the situation. The more information you have, the better off you’ll be when it comes to making decisions.

With any powered communication tool, you’ll need extra batteries as well as a way to charge batteries when they get low. I highly recommend the Greenivative saltwater battery charger as one option. Another is to invest in a small portable solar panel like those offered by Goal Zero.

Get caught up on all installments in this series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Common Mistakes
Useful Odds and Ends


Build a BOB: Navigation

The goal of bugging out is to reach a safe location, such as your predetermined bug out location (BOL) as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible. That could be considerably hampered should you end up lost along the way.

Part of bug out planning involves selecting primary and alternate routes to reach your destination. Those routes should be practiced, too, on a regular basis. Travel them during the day and at night, in all four seasons, so you can recognize landmarks and such easily. For many people, they already know the BOL area intimately as it is the neighborhood where they grew up or perhaps it is a favorite family vacation spot. Assuming the normal roads are available, they’ll have no problem finding their way there.

Ah, but therein lies the rub, as they say. That’s a mighty big assumption. Could be the roads are impassible due to damage resulting from the event itself. Could be vehicles aren’t working because of EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) or CME (Coronal Mass Eruption). Could be no one is moving any time soon due to traffic. Granted, the hope is that you’ll get out ahead of the crowd, owing to your increased awareness of world events and such. But, even the best laid plans of mice and men and all that, y’know?

However it happens, it is not out of the realm of possibility that you’ll find yourself in an unfamiliar area and unsure where to go from there. When you get right down to it, there are essentially only three different navigation tools to consider: maps, compass, and GPS.


Honestly, there is no excuse to not have maps of the applicable areas in your BOB. They are fairly cheap, some are even free. Heck, you could print some off on your computer, too. There are two different kinds of maps, at least as far as we’re concerned. Street maps are the ones pretty much everyone has used at one point or another. As the name would suggest, the street map details the highways and byways of a given area. Depending upon the map’s scale, it may include landmarks and such as well.

The other type is topographic. Instead of streets and roads, this type of map will detail rivers, hills, and other terrain. Topo maps will indicate elevation of the land features. In general, topo maps are more detailed than street maps but both are useful when bugging out. In my experience, topo maps tend to give people more difficulty than street maps, if only because of a lack of familiarity.

Map reading has become something of a lost art in today’s world of GPS and other computer aids. Heck, back in my day, map reading was still taught in school (cue the old man shaking his cane and hollering at the kids to get off his lawn). Nowadays, folks just haul out their cell phones, plug in an address, and listen to the turn by turn directions they’re given.

The hardest part of map reading can be figuring out where you are on said map. Once you determine that and your end point, everything else sort of falls into place. Quite literally, it is just a matter of connecting the dots. Of course, everything looks easier on paper. Translating that route to the road in front of you can be troublesome until you’ve gained some experience in doing so.

There are many who would suggest that drawing or highlighting the different routes to your BOL is a bad idea, just in case the map were to be lost or taken from you. There is some logic in that thought process. You want to keep your BOL as secure as possible and that would include not broadcasting its location in this manner. I guess the way I look at it, you should be familiar and comfortable enough with your maps that you can easily find your BOL on them without needing a highlighter, push pin, or marker.

Once you know your start and end points, figure out the best route to connect the two. Today, depending upon the distance, that route will likely involve highways and possibly interstates. Post-collapse, you’ll want to avoid those as much as possible. Your bug out routes should take you around the larger concentrations of people, which will include those major arteries of our traffic system.

This is why topo maps are important. At least some of your journey may be overland, cutting through fields, parks, forests, and such. A topo maps will help you stay on track. Worth mentioning, of course, is the risk you take setting foot on someone else’s property. Depending on the circumstances, this could be extremely dangerous. If you must then you must, but travel as quickly and quietly as possible.

Obtain maps of your local area as well as the areas through which you will likely travel on your way to your BOL. The more detailed the maps, the better. Don’t just rely on an old road atlas. Either buy them laminated or laminate them yourself. They’ll hold up a lot longer that way.

Maps will always have a compass rose on it. This is the symbol that shows you which direction the map is north. Of course, that’s really only useful information if you can determine which way is north in the real world as you’re standing there with the map in your hand.


There are two ways to use a compass – alone or in conjunction with a map. I know that sounds kind of obvious but I bring it up because the way in which the compass is going to be used will determine the type of compass you should have in your bug out bag.

The basic purpose of a compass is to tell you which way is north. If you know one compass direction, you can easily find the others, right? If you are facing directly north and stretch out your arms, your right hand is pointing east, your left hand is pointing west, and south is staring at your butt.

Now, before we go any further, we need to talk a little bit about magnetic north versus map north. Almost all maps are laid out such that the top of the map is north. That’s all well and good for consistency but your compass isn’t going to point directly north as indicated on those maps. This can cause an issue if you’re trying to closely follow a map to your destination and counting on your compass to keep you on track. The difference between map north and true magnetic north is called declination. Determining your declination allows you to adjust your compass reading so you stay on track.

Adjusting your compass for declination and related topics are well beyond the scope of our discussion here. What I suggest is you grab a snack and sit down to watch several of the great videos done by John McCann from Survival Resources. He’s very well-versed in orienteering and you’ll learn a ton in a short time with his videos. You can find them here:

Survival Resources Navigation Articles and Videos

There are several types of compasses but there are only two styles that I would recommend for your bug out bag. The first is the button compass. This is the cheapest, smallest, most no frills type of compass you’ll find. It consists of a small, liquid filled disk with the needle and indicators inside. Button compasses are measured in millimeters, with 14mm and 20mm among the most common sizes. This is the measurement from side to side. A button compass is rather thin, too.

You can find button compasses as standalone products but they are also often incorporated into things like zipper pulls for jackets or watchbands.

A button compass is really only useful for giving you a general idea of direction. They are not precision instruments at all. Basically, the button compass is a great tool if you already pretty much know where you are and in what direction you need to move. For example, you were out hiking in a state park and got turned around. You know there is a highway that runs along the entire western boundary of the park. You can use the button compass to keep you moving in a westerly direction until you hit pavement.

There have been some reports here and there of button compasses not working at all or pointing in an entirely wrong direction. For this reason, be sure to check your button compass and make sure it is working properly before putting it into your kit.

The second type of compass I recommend is called an orienteering compass. A good one will not only have a clear base to allow for easy map reading but it will have a small magnifying glass in the base and a hinged lid with a mirror. The magnifying glass not only helps with reading the small print on a map but it can be used to focus the sun’s rays to start a fire in a pinch. The mirror is used to assist with sighting as you plot your course.

Again, you’ll need far more knowledge that I can impart in this limited space when it comes to orienteering and such. Watch John McCann’s videos linked above and seek out additional resources to learn this critical skill.


GPS stands for Global Positioning System. We tend to take GPS for granted these days. I mean, we hop in the car, fire up our Garmin or whatever, and within a few minutes we have a voice guiding us from doorstep to doorstep. Of course, we don’t need the vehicle’s GPS as Google Maps and other apps are right there on our phones. There are also moderately priced standalone GPS units designed for use out in the bush. These don’t work in quite the same way your vehicle or phone does, though. You’ll need to get out there and do some practicing to get the hang of them.

GPS is fun to play with and if you’ve never gone geocaching, you must give it a try. It combines GPS based orienteering with hiking into a scavenger hunt of sorts. It is a great way to get outdoors and practice using your GPS unit.

Depending upon the nature of the catastrophe, GPS may or may not be a viable navigation option. EMP, for example, could render your cell phone and your GPS unit(s) inoperative. On top of that, some would say there are concerns about groups or entities using your GPS against you, using the technology to track you. Of course, there is also the question of powering your unit. Do you want to lug extra batteries around?

Here’s my suggestion. GPS is a great tool and can be a wonderful convenience. However, don’t rely on GPS alone. Be sure to invest the time and energy into learning how to properly navigate with a map and compass. Pick up a decent Silva or Suunto brand compass from Survival Resources while you’re there learning what you can about orienteering. Then, get outside and spend some serious time practicing.

Being able to navigate from point A to point B is an important survival skill. There’s a lot involved with this skill set. You can’t expect to just grab a map and compass and be successful on a long trip without some practice, at least not if traveling by foot over land as opposed to following streets and highways. You’ll get there, though, if you stick with it and devote the time.

Get caught up on all installments in this series here:
First aid / Hygiene
Signaling and Communication
Choosing the Pack or Container
Common Mistakes
Useful Odds and Ends

#HorrorShow100 Podcast Telethon

Scares that Care is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that provides assistance for families dealing with childhood illness, burns, or breast cancer. It is truly a wonderful group of people doing some great work. I know a few people involved with the organization. One of them, author Brian Keene, is running an online telethon of sorts later this week. They will be broadcasting live for 24 hours straight, with the goal being to raise at least $10,000 for Scares that Care. You can tune in to the shenanigans here.

I’d really like to help them hit that goal so here’s the deal. I’m going to run a little giveaway contest in conjunction with their fundraising efforts. The prize? A custom fire kit made by yours truly. It will include, at the minimum:

–A ferro rod and striker
–Wet Fire Cubes
–Char cloth and a tin for making more
–Other homemade fire starters
–Small knife
–Other goodies I find and toss in.
–All contained in a nice belt pouch.
–Because it is me, I’ll probably toss in a book or two as well.

Here’s how to win. Visit the Scares that Care website and send them a donation. Take a screenshot that shows the donation. Feel free to black out or otherwise obscure any personal information. All I need to see is your name and proof you donated something. Any amount is acceptable. Donate any time between now and Saturday night (11:59PM Central, Jan 28). Send me the screenshot via email ( no later than Monday, Jan 30, 12:00 noon. I’ll draw one winner at random from all qualifying entries. Winner will be contacted via email. Good luck!