Understanding and Improving Credit

For many people, their credit scores are truly a survival priority. No, a great score with TransUnion isn’t going to matter when you’re dealing with a wildfire or flood, much less an EMP. But, keep in mind, our daily lives are impacted by our credit scores. Your score can determine whether you qualify for a bank loan and, if so, the interest rate you’ll receive. It may also affect your ability to rent a home or apartment, the rate you pay for auto insurance, and whether you can get a decent credit card to use for emergencies.

What follows is an excerpt from Prepper’s Financial Guide. I’m not a banker nor a financial consultant. However, what follows is advice and information based upon what I’ve learned from repairing my own credit failures years ago. Read through and have a good understanding of these concepts before deciding to pay any sort of “credit repair” business. Many of them are scams and you can do yourself just about anything they promise to do for you.

Credit Score

In the banking world, you are, for all intents and purposes, your credit score. That number represents your reliability when it comes to debt repayment as well as an indicator of your overall responsibility. It affects many areas of your life, from determining whether you qualify for a loan to the loan terms you might receive, even your rates for insurance. The higher your credit score, the better the rates and terms you’ll receive.

There are three credit bureaus in the United States–Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Each of them have a file with your name all over it, whether you like it or not. This file, called a credit report, is supposed to contain an accurate documentation of your repayment history. I say it is supposed to because they aren’t always 100% correct.

Now, persons far smarter than I have attempted to determine exactly how a credit score is generated. We know, for example, that late payments tend to decrease your score and being responsible with your debt load increases your score. However, when it comes to calculating the exact number, well, it is sort of a mystery.

Credit scores range from 300-850, again the higher the better. There are gray areas when it comes to deciding what is “good” credit versus merely acceptable. Lenders have their own guidelines. However, as a general rule of thumb, a score of 740 and up is considered excellent and those individuals usually enjoy the most favorable rates and terms. A score of 680-740 is still considered pretty good. The rates extended won’t be quite as awesome as those in the upper bracket but lenders aren’t going to try and bend you over a barrel, either. The next level down, 620-680, is the lowest rung still considered acceptable by most lenders. You’ll still likely get approved, all other factors being equal, but the terms aren’t going to be all that stellar. The further down you go from there, the less likely you’ll even be approved for credit, let alone see terms that are even close to acceptable.

Again, those ranges are merely ballpark figures. Every lender is slightly different in terms of what they consider good versus average credit scores.

Credit reports vs. credit scores
Obtaining a copy of your credit report is a fairly straightforward process. Getting your own credit score, though, is a whole other ball game. See, the score won’t be printed on the credit report. The credit bureaus keep those scores locked up tighter than a clam with lockjaw. You can request a copy of your credit score from each of the three bureaus, but they’ll charge you a fee for providing it.

There are some credit card companies that have the means in place to provide their customers with their own credit scores. This is a great option for many people, provided you can be responsible with the credit card itself. As this is an option that sort of comes and goes with different companies, you’ll have to do your own research to find which ones currently offer it.

Credit Reports

It is important to review your credit report on a regular basis. This might be the only way you’ll ever learn of errors on it as well as see indications of fraud or identity theft. Fortunately, getting a copy of your credit report is very easy. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the three credit bureaus to provide, upon request, one copy of their credit report, free of charge, to each consumer once a year. The report may be ordered via one of three ways:

Online: Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/. Be wary of lookalike websites with similar domain names. This one is the only one set up as a result of the FCRA. There are a lot of scam sites out there that will either charge you or just outright steal your information. Ordering your report online grants you immediate access to it.

Mail: There is a form entitled Annual Credit Report Request that must be filled out, then mailed to:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Response time is about two weeks from when the request is received.

Telephone: Call 1-877-322-8228 and order your report. As with mailing, it will take about two weeks to get your report.

It is important to rely upon one of these methods, rather than contacting the credit bureaus directly. The website, mailing address, and phone number listed above are the only ways to obtain your free copy each calendar year. The credit bureaus are likely going to charge you if you go directly through them.

You are entitled to one copy from each bureau every 12 months. Rather than ordering all three at once, I suggest you stagger the requests and order one from a different bureau every four months. This allows you to react quicker in the event you do see something amiss on the report.

Reporting Inaccuracies

Go through each credit report line by line, even including your name, your address, and all of your other identifying information. The balances listed for each account will probably not be accurate right down to the penny as there is a lag between when you make a payment and when that payment is reported to the credit bureau. However, look for accounts that are listed as open, even though you closed them years ago, or accounts that are listed as delinquent even though you’re up to date on all payments.

Be sure to check for any accounts you weren’t aware of as these are indicators of possible fraud. Bear in mind, though, that the names listed as account holders may differ slightly from the ones which are familiar to you. Banks change names from time to time.

Should you find something amiss on your credit report, you need to get it handled as soon as possible. These things take time so the faster you act, the sooner it can get fixed. Every credit report will have instructions on how to report possible errors, which will need to be reported in writing directly to the credit bureau. They have 30 days or so to investigate the matter and respond back to you. Typically, what will happen is the credit bureau will contact the person or entity (both are considered to be Credit Reporting Agencies, or CRAs) that originally reported the information. The bureau will notify them of the dispute and pass along the information you’ve provided on the matter. The CRA must conduct an investigation and report the findings back to the credit bureau.

If the CRA provides documentation that the information is valid and correct, it stays on your credit report. However, if they are unable to provide that documentation, the information is changed or deleted on your credit report.

Of course, you could also skip the credit bureau and contact the CRA directly about your dispute. Depending upon the circumstances, this may or may not speed up the process. It is one thing if you are dealing with a large company that likely has processes in place for dealing with disputes and knows how to handle such matters efficiently. Another thing entirely if you’re dealing with a landlord or some other relatively small-time operation.

Credit Score Management

While we might not know how to calculate our own credit scores precisely, we do know of several factors that come into play with increasing the number.

Payment history

First and foremost, strive to make all of your payments on time, every time. Every late payment counts against you and payments that are completely missed count even more. Pay close attention to due dates and remember that even just paying the minimum is far better than not paying anything at all.

I would venture a guess that the vast majority of bills you have each month can be paid online. Plus, a lot of companies today allow you to schedule payments ahead of time. This can be a great option, provided you are certain the funds will be in your account when the payment is due.

For those who, whether by necessity or preference, still wish to mail checks, here’s a system we used successfully for years. Once a week, sit down with all of the bills that came in the mail. Write out the checks and get the payment ready to mail for each one, sealing the envelope and everything. On the outside of the envelope, where your return address goes, write in the date by which the payment must be mailed, being sure to allow plenty of time for it to arrive before the deadline. Keep all of these payments clipped together on the fridge in the order they must be mailed, the soonest one on top. Check the stack every day or so and mail out the payments as needed, covering your written “mail by” date with a return address label.

Sometimes, we get into trouble because we have several accounts that all require payment at nearly the same time each month. If that’s the case for you, call your credit card companies and see if you can adjust the due date for your account. I’m not talking about a one time deal but permanently. If you have a bunch of stuff that is always due on or near the 20th of the month, maybe get one or two of them moved to the 10th or something to help space things out.

Payment amounts

Whenever possible, pay your balance due in full each month. Doing so not only avoids you having to pay interest charges but it indicates you know how to manage debt responsibly, which increases your credit score. If you have fallen behind a bit and can’t pay the entire balance on a credit card, try to at least pay off any new charges plus the interest fee for the month. This will prevent your balance from growing each month and help you to get a better handle on the account.

Always pay as much as you can afford on each account every month. Sometimes that won’t be a whole lot, I know, but do what you can to pay off balances quickly.

Historical accounts

Sometimes, when we finally pay off an account, we’re tempted to close it completely so as to avoid getting into further trouble. That’s not the worst idea in the world. But, consider keeping at least one old account open. Use it from time to time, making small purchases and paying the balance in full when the bill arrives. This helps you to build a positive history of debt management.

Diversify your debt

Creditors like to see that you know how to handle different types of debt. As situations warrant, diversify your debts so as to include installment loans, credit cards, and a mortgage. I’m not suggesting you run out and buy a new set of furniture for the sole purpose of trying to increase your credit score! But, if given the option of using a credit card or an installment loan, go with the one that not only gives you the most favorable terms but is one you might not have used in the last few years.

Debt ratio

Ideally, your credit debt should be around 30% of your net income. This figure does not include mortgage payments. Debt ratios are a key figure in determining whether you’ll get approved for a loan or line of credit. Creditors want to see that you not only have the necessary income to pay the loan but that enough of that income is free to be used for the payments.

Credit management

Avoid ever maxing out a credit card as this is a big red flag for creditors. Keep the balances low if you can’t pay them off each month. At the same time, though, and I know this sounds counter-intuitive, you need to use credit to build up your credit score. Paying cash for everything and never using a credit card or installment loan doesn’t provide any positive information to the credit bureaus. If you’re nothing but a blank slate to them, you aren’t going to enjoy any sort of stellar credit score and should the time come you need to open a line of credit, you won’t qualify for the most favorable terms.

Examine monthly statements

It should go without saying but go through each billing statement every month and make sure everything is accurate. On top of checking for errors, be sure you understand what each charge is for, especially when it comes to utility accounts like cell phones and internet services. Those companies in particular are notorious for adding fees and charges for services you didn’t order or that just plain don’t apply to your account. Should you find something you don’t understand or you believe to be an error, contact the company immediately to get it handled.

Along these same lines, any time you experience a service outage with your Internet or phone, you should notify the provider as soon as possible. Most of them will, if asked, credit your account for the outage. While this might only turn out to be a buck or two, that’s still money that stays in your pocket.

The takeaway here is that you need to pay attention to your credit and how it affects other areas of your life. Having the means to pay your typical living expenses in cash each month is great but consider the fact that at some point down the road, whether you like it or not, you may just need to apply for a loan. Managing credit effectively will go a long way toward improving your overall financial existence.

TeamNewt Charity Auction

Newton “Newt” Martin is many things. A world class knife maker. A military veteran. A son.

And now, a leukemia patient.

The diagnosis came as quite a shock to Newt and his family. By all accounts, Newt is responding well to the treatment but leukemia isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. On top of the physical toll is the missed work and the medical expenses. Bad enough to have to deal with the illness but adding financial stress to the mix makes things so much worse. We can’t do much to alleviate pain and discomfort but for damn sure we can help with the financial end of things.

One thing that I’ve found to be true in the knife/outdoor/survival community is that we watch out for one another. Regular visitors to this site as well as my Facebook pages know I’m fond of saying, “We’re all in this together.” This is where we show what that truly means.

#TeamNewt has put together a charity auction to raise money for Newt and his family. What follows are the different prizes. You’ll find custom knives, one of a kinds, book sets, DVD sets, and package deals with all sorts of gear. The auction officially begins on Monday, May 23, at 9AM Central. Any bids received prior to that time stamp will be deleted. The bidding concludes at 10:00PM Central, Friday, May 27. The highest bids posted by that time will win the auction prizes. We will contact the winners directly to obtain shipping information.

To place a bid, simply comment below. Each bid must include the Lot Number on which you are bidding as well as the dollar amount of your bid. Be sure to use a valid email address, too, as that is how we’ll contact you at the conclusion of the raffle. If you don’t see your bid appear immediately, be patient. Occasionally, comments are delayed due to spam filters. The time stamp of your bid is what matters.

Prizes will be shipped once payment has been made and verified. Payment via Paypal is preferred. Payments made by money order or cashier’s check will significantly delay shipping of the prize. Payment must be sent no later than Tuesday, May 31.

Bid high, bid often, share this page far and wide. Let’s do all we can to help Newt and his family through their time of need. If you’re the praying sort, a knee mail or two wouldn’t hurt.

For direct donations

If you’d rather just send a buck or two and not monkey around with auctions, you can do so via PayPal. Please send all funds to: newton@martinknives.com. Thanks!

Lot #1 – Palmetto Bubba

  • 1095 high carbon steel
  • Stainless steel pin and lanyard tube
  • Blue/black textured G10 scales
  • 5 5/8″ overall length, 2 7/8″ blade
  • Black leather pocket sheath.

Lot #2 – Make Ready to Survive DVD set

Set of 13 DVDs from the Make Ready to Survive series produced by Panteao Productions. More info on each title in the series may be found here.

Lot #3 – CRKT Saker

 

  • 1075 carbon steel
  • 9.19 inches overall with a 4.53 inch blade.
  • Scandi grind.
  • Leather sheath.
  • Walnut scales.
  • Generously donated by CRKT.

 

Lot #4 – Deer Creek Forge American Trade Knife

  • 1095 high carbon steel.
  • 10 inches overall with a 5 3/8 inch blade.
  • Scandi grind
  • Brass pins and lanyard tube.
  • Leather dangler sheath.

Lot #5 – Martin Knives MCF Fighter

  • The MCF is the flagship blade for Martin Knives. This one is a custom model crafted of 440C stainless steel.Blade length is 7 inches and the top clip is sharpened. Comes with a leather sheath (the sheath on the right in the photo). 

Lot #6 – Ver Steeg Blades Imp

  • Custom Imp by Ver Steeg Blades
  • 4.25″ overall with a 2″ blade
  • O1 tool steel
  • Winning bidder will work directly with Ver Steeg Blades to choose handle material
  • Generously donated by Ver Steeg Blades.

 

Lot #7 – Forest II Red Maple Burl

  • A2 Tool Steel.
  • Overall length is 9.775 inches with a blade of 5 inches.
  • Generously donated by American Knife Company.

Lot #8 – LTWK Genesis

  • Genesis generously donated by LT Wright Handcrafted Knives.
  • Flat ground blade 4.25 inches long, overall length 9 inches.
  • A2 steel.
  • Black micarta scales.

Lot #9 – Denali Natural Canvas Micarta

  • Overall length of 13.875 inches
  • A2 tool steel blade of 8.5 inches long.
  • Generously donated by American Knife Company.

Lot #10 – Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit

The Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit by GoalZero comes with a Nomad 7 Solar Panel, Guide 10 Plus rechargeable battery pack, a USB cable, a 12v adapter, 4 AA rechargeable batteries, and a AAA battery adapter. This kit has been generously donated by Survival Resources.

Lot #11 – The Last Chance by Ed Martin

  • Overall length is 12″ with a 6.5″ blade.
  • This knife is a prototype and is the only one of its kind in existence.

Lot #12 – Cooking Bundle

Cooking Gone Wild Seasoning bundle generously donated by Starla’s Seasonings. Prepper’s Cookbook and Meals in a Jar courtesy of Ulysses Press.

Lot #13 – Echo 7 Knife by Dogwood Custom Knives

  • 8.5 inches overall with a 4 inch blade
  • O1 tool steel.
  • Comes with a custom made sheath from Reliance Leather Works.
  • Generously donated by Dogwood Custom Knives.

Lot #14 – Scorpion by the Jones Brothers

Scorpion by the Jones Brothers.
–Overall length: 7.5”
–Blade length: 3.25”
–Steel: ATS-34 with Paul Bos heat treat
–Flat ground, sharp on both edges
–Removable carbon fiber scales with stainless hardware
–Kydex sheath with large Tec-Loc

Lot #15 – Ulysses Press book collection

Ulysses Press will select a collection of 20 books from their catalog in the prepper/survivalist/outdoors genres. Collection will contain both newest releases as well as bestsellers.

Lot #16 – Custom ESEE 5

ESEE 5 knife customized by Bark River Knives. The spine has been squared off, the powder coat was removed and the knife polished. A convex grind was done as well.

Lot #17 – Attleboro Knife

“The Attleboro”is designed to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice made by Army Special Forces MSG William B. Hunt and to honor all the military members involved in Operation Attleboro during the Vietnam War.
–Steel: CPM S35VN
–Black phenolic laminated handle

Lot #18 – Martin Knives Kephart

Kephart by Martin Knives. No longer produced. Handle is osage.

Lot #19 – Hedgehog leatherworks.Right Hand, Advanced model Kabar sheath

Extremely high quality sheath for a full size KA-BAR knife. Note: this is only the sheath, the knife shown is not included. It does, however, include the ferro rod.

Lot #20 – Gossman Knives Nessmuk

This is a custom Nessmuk knife, courtesy of Gossman Knives.

  • 8 3/4″ overall with a 4 1/4″ blade
  • 4″ cutting edge
  • .140″ thick by 1 1/2″ wide
  • CPM 154 steel.
  • Scales are brown canvas micarta.
  • Leather sheath.

The Three Most Important Survival Skills

This is just a quick, drive by, sort of blog post. A little less than two months ago, I was approached by the editor of Ballistic Magazine and asked to contribute to a round table discussion sort of article. The topic was to identify what I felt were the top three most important survival skills one should learn and explain my reasoning. Unfortunately, Ballistic Magazine was one of the ones that went defunct when Harris Publications went belly up. That being the case, I thought I’d post my response here for your entertainment and discussion.

Let me say this, though, before we get into my answer. The situation dictates the skills needed to survive. If I’m lost in the southwestern US, I’m likely to be more concerned with getting under some sort of shelter and finding water than I’m going to be looking for fire building materials. That said, I feel the following skill sets are imperative for every survivalist to learn and foster.

Question:
Which top three skill sets do you think would be the most important for your safety and survival?

Situational awareness
Making fire
Foraging

Why? Often, we think of situational awareness as applying primarily to detecting interpersonal threats. However, the reality is that being aware of your surroundings and keeping your head on a swivel will do far more than just alert you to a potential mugger. You’re more likely to see the snake before you step on it. You’ll take note of the tree limb that looks like it could come crashing down on your bedroll. You’ll notice the gopher hole that is waiting to twist your ankle. Survival is a matter of mitigating the little risks far more than it is reliant upon heroic efforts.

Skill with making fire under a variety of conditions is extremely important. Fire keeps us warm, dries us out, cooks our food, and disinfects our water. Not only will fire keep the critters, both real and imagined, away at night, making fire is an incredible boost to one’s self-confidence. Survival is just as much psychological as it is physical. Making fire is tremendously effective in that regard.

Foraging isn’t just about finding wild edibles. Being able to locate natural tinder, good things to eat, and plants and other substances that will help heal, all of that and more fall under the foraging umbrella. As I often tell people, get into the habit of finding what you need before you need it. When you take a break from hiking, look around you. Squirrel away a handful of dried grass or plant fluff in case you need it for tinder later. In an urban area, look for things like cordage and small containers that could be useful. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

The Disaster Binder

Stress can do some funny things to people. When they get frazzled, even tasks that have been very routine can suddenly be confusing. Want to see it in action? Try to put on and tie a pair of shoes while someone is screaming at you and banging pots and pans together a few feet away from your head. You’ll probably be able to pull it off but it’ll take you longer and your hands may be shaking when you’re done. And that’s when you know there’s no danger and it is just a bunch of loud noises.

The disaster binder, like a bug out bag, should be unique to the person or family. No two binders will be identical. It all depends on what you feel you need.

Start with determining what exactly you want to keep in your binder. I’ll go over several possible sections for your binder. Decide which one(s) are right for you and your family.

Important documents

This section should include copies of documents and print outs from online accounts that will allow you to recover from the disaster as quickly as possible. As more than one homeowner has discovered in the wake of a disaster, the insurance wheels turn a lot faster when you can provide a policy number and identification.

The documentation should include:

Copies of all insurance policies, including policy numbers and the name of your insurance agent. These policies would include homeowner or renter insurance as well as vehicle insurance.

Health insurance cards or policy information.

Copies (front and back) of identification cards (driver license, state ID, school ID).

Proof of ownership for vehicles. For vehicles, your license registration should suffice. You want to make sure, though, that the full Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) appears on the document.

Bank statements (one per account), including retirement, investment, and other related financial accounts. The statements need not be as recent as the previous month but rotate them out at least a couple of times a year. The idea behind having them is you’ll have your account numbers as well as the contact info for each bank.

A photocopy, front and bank, of every credit card in your wallet. In case the cards are lost or stolen, you’ll have all you need right there to report the missing cards, get them canceled, and get new ones in your hand.

A complete list of any life-preserving medications family members take regularly.

A full and complete copy of each pet’s vaccination record.

These documents obviously contain sensitive and private information. The disaster binder isn’t something you’ll want to just leave laying around somewhere.

Now, I know someone is going to bring up the idea of keeping all of this information on a password protected thumb drive. That is truly an excellent idea and one I support 100%. However, I believe in redundancy and suggest that having a hard copy might be beneficial if the thumb drive is lost or damaged.

Many people keep a set of these documents in their bug out bag, which is not a bad idea at all. Again, though, redundancy is a key element of disaster planning. The idea behind including these documents in your disaster binder is to have one set of hard copies all in one place, ready to reference as needed or to grab on your way out the door.

Contact Lists

Today, it seems like fewer and fewer people actually know phone numbers by heart. Instead, they rely upon the contact list in their cell phone. That’s all well and good but what if that phone dies or is lost/stolen/damaged? Take the time now to put together a comprehensive contact list. Include:

Family members you may need to contact after a disaster.

Close friends who you may be able to rely upon for assistance.

The name, number, and address for several motels in the area, including ones along the way to your intended bug out destination. If you’ll have pets with you, check with those motels now to make sure they’ll not give you grief about them. I realize that rules might be bent, or even broken, in extreme situations. However, you’ll be far better off if you know ahead of time that the Super 8 a few towns over will let you keep Fido in the room with you, rather than finding out when you arrive that not only are pets verboten, the managers will kick you to the curb in a heartbeat if they so much as catch a whiff of dog food.

Name, number, and address for family physician as well as the pharmacy you normally use (they’ll have records of your meds in case you need them).

Name and number of your family attorney (if you have one).

Name and number of your insurance agent(s).

Evacuation Lists

Here’s a somewhat novel idea. And admittedly this isn’t workable in every disaster but bear with me a moment. Let’s say an officer or deputy knocked on your door and told you there was a mandatory evacuation order. You have 30 minutes to be out of your home and on the road. That’s pretty much what happened to about 80,000 people in Canada recently, when the wildfires in Alberta really ramped up.

Now, being prudent preppers and survivalists, you already have your bug out bags in your vehicle or at least in the front closet ready to go, right? In addition to those bags, though, what would you grab? Would you remember everything you want when push comes to shove? Why not make a list now so you have it when the time comes?

What I suggest is you go room by room and make a list of what you would grab if you had time before evacuating. For example, we have a portable hard drive that stores copies of all family photos. We use this drive for other things as well so we can’t just store it in a bug out bag. Given the opportunity, I would want to grab it before leaving the house in an evacuation.

Other possibilities would include extra clothes for each family member, heirloom jewelry, extra firearms/ammunition, prescription medications, and maybe even cremated remains of family members if they’re in your possession. Obviously, none of this stuff is life-sustaining. Nothing here is going to keep you alive in a disaster. But, if there’s a good chance you’re going to lose everything and you have time to salvage a bit of it, wouldn’t you want to do so?

You might go so far as to print each room’s list on a different sheet of paper. Then, you can assign family members to each room and give them each a list to help save time. Consider including information as to what the stuff should be packed in, such as grabbing duffel bags from the garage or something.

Instruction Manuals

Does every family member know how to start the generator and properly hook it up to the transfer switch? Are you confident they’ll be able to do it right under stress?

How about troubleshooting the well pump? Turning off the natural gas to the house? Turning off the water?

Each of us has certain tasks that need to be done during an emergency and all family members need to know how to do them. But, hedge your bets by laying out step by step instructions they can follow if needed. Remember, if you’re away from home when disaster hits, they won’t have you as a resource to hold their hand through the process.

Include in this section any actual instruction manuals for major equipment, such as generators. If you don’t have the original manual, you can likely find it online and print it out. Exploded view diagrams are especially useful in the event a repair needs to be made to the equipment.

Assembling the disaster binder

Once you’ve decided what you want to include in the disaster binder, start getting everything together. For most families, a 2” binder will probably suffice. I suggest using page protectors rather than just punching holes in your sheets of paper. Page dividers will help with organizing the binder, too. If you figure you’ll need to print or photocopy a lot of the pages for the binder, you might want to pick up an extra ink cartridge for your printer. Trust me, if you don’t and you end up running out of ink, you’ll never go back to finish the binder. It’ll be too easy to just keep putting it off.

I’m not gonna lie to you, it takes a while to get the binder all set up. Gathering all of the documents and such seems like a daunting task all by itself, let alone making copies and then organizing everything. But, like so many other non-sexy areas of prepping like stocking up on hygiene products and counting rolls of paper towel, it still needs to be done.

Also, don’t think of this binder as replacing drills and regular practice, either. There is no substitute for real life experience. Instead, look at the disaster binder as a tool to be used in a crisis.

PPE for the BOB

I’ve been casually following the events in Alberta, Canada and the wildfire there. One thing that has been made clear to me is the need for PPE in every bug out bag. PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. These are the items that will assist when dealing with disasters that include lots of smoke and dust in the air as well as debris and rubble on the ground.

When I think back to 9/11, one of the many images that will always stick with me is seeing groups of people covered head to toe in dust as they flee the area. There was so much grit and such in the air, visibility was extremely low in many areas. Not to mention, I can’t imagine what it was like trying just to breathe with all that crap floating around.

First on the PPE list is some sort of particulate mask. This will filter out most or all of the dust floating in the air. It will not, however, filter out poisonous gasses. Realistically, the only way you’re going to accomplish that is with a full-blown gas mask and that just isn’t feasible for most bug out bags. Here, we’re far more concerned about keeping smoke and such out of our lungs. To understand how these masks are rated, we look to the CDC’s website:

Respirator filters that collect at least 95% of the challenge aerosol are given a 95 rating. Those that collect at least 99% receive a “99” rating. And those that collect at least 99.97% (essentially 100%) receive a “100” rating. Respirator filters are rated as N, R, or P for their level of protection against oil aerosols. This rating is important in industry because some industrial oils can remove electrostatic charges from the filter media, thereby degrading (reducing) the filter efficiency performance. Respirators are rated “N” if they are not resistant to oil, “R” if somewhat resistant to oil, and “P” if strongly resistant (oil proof).

I recommend a minimum rating of N95. Comfort is an important consideration with masks as if they are awkward or ill-fitting, you won’t want to wear them. I like the 3M model 8511 N95 masks shown here. They have a nice balance between function, comfort, and price.

Next up is eye protection. Eye injuries can bring your bug out to a screeching halt. It is awfully hard to get to where you’re going if you can’t see the path ahead of you. Not to mention, it can be absolutely terrifying to be blinded, even temporarily. Safety glasses are a good idea but goggles are even better. Either way, you want something that will wrap around your eyes to protect them from the side. If you wear prescription glasses, look for goggles that will allow you to wear your glasses under them at the same time.

I like goggles that have soft rubber or foam that will contour to the face. This seals out almost all dust and such that could seep in. Again, though, it may not protect you against poisonous gasses. Other features to look for include anti-fogging lenses and UV protection. I like these Dewalt safety goggles as they give me enough room to wear prescription glasses at the same time.

Some sort of foot protection is a given. Many disaster scenarios will involve broken glass, rubble, and other debris that will not feel very good when traveling in bare feet or even sandals. There are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to what to wear on your feet when bugging out. On the one hand, durable boots will provide the highest level of protection. However, they are heavy and many people instead prefer to go with a lightweight hiking shoe or something similar. Anything is better than nothing, of course, and I find myself waffling between the two options. My daily footwear is a pair of Skechers Verdict boots. I’ve been wearing this brand and model boot for upwards of ten years. I’m currently on my 3rd pair. They do take a little time to break in, as do any pair of boots. But, once they’re broken in, they are very comfortable. They have thick soles that will provide great traction in just about any conditions and the boots are waterproof.

To round out the PPE for the BOB, let’s look at gloves. Again, disasters often mean debris and dealing with downed branches, broken bricks, and such can lead to scrapes and cuts to the hands and fingers. I very much like the Mechanix line of gloves and currently own three pair:

Original
Insulated
Tactical M-Pact

They are long-lasting and do the job nicely. That said, you might want a more robust pair of leather work gloves. As with the other elements of PPE, comfort is very important. Gloves should not just be tried on once for fit, either, but broken in so they aren’t stiff and awkward. That takes time and effort. Don’t just buy a pair and toss them into your BOB without trying them out first.

In addition to work gloves, you may want to have at least a few pair of nitrile gloves for when providing medical care. They are so small and lightweight you’ll never notice them in your bag until you need them.

Personal protective equipment is an important asset in a disaster. One of the most basic tenets of emergency response is to protect yourself first. A disaster is bad enough without adding avoidable injuries to the mix.

Hot Weather Preps

While it sure doesn’t seem like it around here in the upper Midwest, we are approaching summer. With it will come high temperatures and sticky humidity in much of the country. Hyperthermia, which is the medical term for when your body temperature gets too high and won’t come down, can be quite dangerous. Fortunately, there are a few common sense things you can do to help prevent it.

First, avoid doing physical work during the hottest part of the day. Typically, it is the time frame from around 2PM-5PM that is the worst, though that will vary from location to location. Get up early and get as many outside chores done as possible before the heat gets unbearable. Use the afternoon hours to rest or work inside if your home is air conditioned or at least cooler than the outside. Finish up the outdoor stuff after the sun goes down.

If you’re working outside, take advantage of shaded areas. If nothing else, consider rigging up an umbrella where you’re working. The idea here is to keep the sun from shining directly on you. Wearing a wide brimmed hat will help quite a bit, too.

Wear sunscreen. I can’t stress that enough. Sunburn is not only painful, it can lead to serious skin damage.

It is important to stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, more than you think you need. Avoid coffee, tea, and soda when working outside as all of them are diuretics, meaning they’ll just make you pee more often and thus you’ll lose hydration. Pay attention to the color of your urine. The darker it is, the more dehydrated you are.

Remember that evaporation is a cooling process. That’s why we sweat. The moisture on our skin evaporates and cools us down. That’s the plan, anyway. You can help this along by wearing loose fitting clothing made of a breathable material like cotton. Light colors are best as they will reflect some of the sun’s energy, rather than soaking it in like dark colors.

A bandana soaked in water and draped around your neck will help cool you off. As the water evaporates, it cools the blood flowing through your neck, which circulates through your body. You can get a similar effect by dampening your inner wrists and letting the water evaporate.

Watch for warning signs of hyperthermia. These include:

Dark urine
Headache
Cramps or aching muscles
Nausea or vomiting
Confusion
Seizures

If you see these symptoms, act quickly. Move the person into a cooler area, even if the best you can do is putting them in the shade. As best you can, have them sip water. Don’t let them just down the whole water bottle in a single gulp as that will just make them sick. Slow and easy is best. Dampen their head, neck, and wrists to help cool them down. Don’t use ice, just cool water will work fine.

Pay attention to your body. It will tell you when something is amiss. Keep cool this summer and enjoy the nice weather when you can.

Looking at an Actual Bug Out

At the time of this writing, there is a horrific wildfire sweeping through Alberta in Canada. Fort McMurray is an oil town smack dab in the middle of the disaster. Over 80,000 people, the entire population of the town, are under mandatory evacuation orders. Other towns in the area are taking those folks into their homes and setting up emergency shelters in schools and recreation centers.

I always advocate that hunkering down at home is the best plan in most situations but you should consider the possibility that you’ll need to evacuate for your own safety. Obviously, this wildfire is a prime example of the latter. In some neighborhoods of Fort McMurray over 80% of the homes have been destroyed.

One thing I’ve found rather interesting is how many of those affected are utilizing social media to stay in touch as well as gather information. This group on Facebook is one example. People are able to use the group to connect with available resources. I’ve seen posts from campground owners who are offering open RV stalls at no charge as well as from people who have a spare room or two in their homes. People in need of specific supplies are being taken care of rather quickly, too, from what I’m reading.

I’ve talked until I’m blue in the face about the importance of being realistic with your bug out planning. I’ve talked about Lone Wolf Syndrome as well as the Living Off the Land Fallacy time and time again. Something I just can’t stress enough is to reconsider any plans you may have for heading off to the woods to hunt, trap, and fish until the crisis passes. Listen, this isn’t Red Dawn, this is real life. Odds are extremely high that whatever the disaster is that forces you from your home will also probably affect your ability to live off the land in the forest. Think about it – what disasters are most likely to cause you to evacuate? How many of them won’t affect the surrounding area?

Hunting and trapping while living in a small cabin sounds great unless the forest around you is a blazing inferno, one that even Hollywood CGI artists look at and say, “Damn….”

Another consideration is timing. The number of evacuees is about 80,000. Let’s say there’s an average of four people to a car, that’s 20,000 vehicles hitting the road. All it takes is one relatively minor accident or a stalled car and that line of vehicles comes to a halt. Here’s one image of the evacuation, posted by radio station CAOS91.1.

Wildfires can move fast but odds are pretty good that there was time for these folks to hightail it out of town prior to this mandatory evacuation order. I have to wonder how many did decide to beat feet ahead of the crowd. This is where situational awareness comes into play. SA isn’t just about keeping your head on a swivel while walking down the street. It is about being conscious of the world around you. Which do you think is the better option?

1) Spending the night in a motel a few towns away from home and have it turn out to be for nothing.

2) Being trapped on a highway that is now a parking lot because you waited too long to evacuate, while a wildfire nips at your heels.

Bugging out is never a desirable option. You’re leaving behind the bulk of your supplies as well as the safety and security of your home. But, there are situations where you won’t have a choice and you’ll need to hit the road. Plan accordingly and be realistic.

P.S. There is a special part of Hell for those con artists who take advantage of tragedies like this and set up fake charities and such. Before donating money or goods, please do your homework and ensure the organization is legit.

7 Common Household Supplies Useful for Survival

If you’re just starting out on your prepper journey, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff you think you need. The good news is that even if you live in a studio apartment in the middle of the city, odds are pretty good you already have some items on hand that will be useful in an emergency.

Garbage bags

These are incredibly useful. They work well as makeshift rain ponchos, of course, as anyone who’s been caught in a downpour at the county or state fair can attest. Naturally, they can be used to hold things, such as scrounged food found either in the wild or down at the already-been-looted Gas n Sip.

If you or a family member have an injury that absolutely must be kept dry, the plastic garbage bag can be cut into sections and wrapped around the wound. Don’t keep it on there forever, though, as most injuries benefit from some fresh air.

Black garbage bags will soak up heat. Fill one with water and keep it in the sun for a bit to heat water for bathing.

Tape bags over the inside of your windows to keep out prying eyes.

If the plumbing isn’t working right, line your toilet bowl with a trash bag. After a few uses, tie the bag closed and replace with a new one. Sprinkle baking soda or powdered laundry detergent after each use to help cut down on odors.

Hand sanitizer

If water is limited or nonexistent, use hand sanitizer after each visit to the bathroom. It can be very drying to the hands, though, so I suggest you keep some type of hand moisturizer nearby as well. Because it is alcohol based, it also makes for a pretty good fire starter. Just squeeze a bit where you’re building your fire and light it up.

Matches/lighters

Even non-smokers usually have some matches or lighters kicking around. How else do you light candles when you want to be romantic or celebrate a birthday? You’ll be able to use them to light your campfire or patio fire pit for cooking when the stove and microwave aren’t feasible options.

Bleach

We typically keep this on hand to help with stain removal in the laundry. In an emergency, we’ll use it to disinfect water for drinking. This is a simple process. You need to start with clear water, though, so filter out any floating sediment and debris by pouring the water through a coffee filter, clean T-shirt, or other material. Then, add 2 drops for each quart or liter of water. If you have a gallon, that’s 4 quarts, which means 8 drops of bleach. After adding the bleach, wait 30 minutes for it to work.

It is important, though, that you check labels. Sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient. Your bleach should contain 4-6% of this ingredient. If not, find one that does. Also, don’t use scented bleach or anything else fancy like that. You want just straight bleach.

If you don’t have an eyedropper and thus lack an easy way to measure drops, don’t panic. Take a square of toilet paper and roll it into a tube shape. Take the cap off the bleach bottle, turn it upside down, and put the toilet paper into it so one end of the tube overhangs the rim. Carefully pour a little bleach into the cap. After a bit, the bleach will soak through the toilet paper and drip from the end. Big thanks to my friend Creek Stewart for that tip. http://willowhavenoutdoor.com/featured-wilderness-survival-blog-entries/how-to-purify-water-with-household-bleach/

Knives

Just about every kitchen has a few knives in it. A survival knife is truly whatever knife you have available in a survival situation. While it’d be great if you had a sturdy fixed blade knife set aside for emergencies, a decent quality kitchen knife will do just about everything you’d need a knife for during a crisis. Personally, I don’t much care for serrated blades unless I’m cutting cordage. If you feel the same, make sure you have one or two kitchen knives that are non-serrated. You should also make sure you know how to sharpen those blades and have the requisite supplies on hand. A dull knife is far more dangerous to the user than a sharp one.

Dental floss

Flossing is an important part of dental hygiene, thus most of us have a package or two sitting in a bathroom drawer. In an emergency, there are many uses for cordage, such as lashing, repairing clothing, snares, even fishing. Dental floss is rather strong, despite how thin it is. While I wouldn’t want to put a lot of weight on it, floss will do the job in many situations.

Baggies

Many of us use small plastic bags when packing our lunch every day. You do pack a lunch, right? As opposed to eating fast food or, even worse, risking a sandwich from the Wheel of Death in the break room. A packed lunch will likely be healthier and for darn sure it’ll be cheaper. Anyway, the point is, most of us have a box or two of plastic bags in a cabinet or drawer. I use these all the time for organizing supplies in survival kits. They’ll keep the contents nice and dry, even if the pack itself gets soaked. I like to have a variety of sizes on hand, from the little snack ones all the way to the gallon freezer bags.

Obviously, as you continue on the path of emergency preparedness, you’ll start to amass supplies and gear specifically for emergencies. That said, get into the habit of thinking outside the box and coming up with alternative uses for common items. Not only is that great brain exercise, that creativity just might come in handy someday.

4 Common Prepping Mistakes

Prepping is like any other worthwhile endeavor – there are going to be a few stumbles along the way. Fortunately, you can avoid some of them by learning from the mistakes of others. The important thing is to not lose sight of your goal or just toss your hands in the air and give up. Stay focused and you’ll get through it.

Common Prepper Mistake #1 – Too much, too fast

Those of us who’ve been at this for a while see this all the time. Someone finally comes to their senses and decides prepping is a good idea. Suddenly, they go into overdrive and are trying to read 87 different books at once, going through an ink cartridge a day as they print out a bazillion different BOB content lists, and put together shopping lists that may close down every warehouse store in the state.

It doesn’t take long before they are burnt out on the whole idea and they go back to “normal” life.

Look, you can’t do it all, not all at once. I understand that when “prepping fever” strikes, you feel as though you are running out of time. I get that, I really do. But, reality check – you’re human and there are only so many hours in a day. On top of that, you still have a life to lead, one that probably doesn’t have a whole lot of free time to begin with, right?

Solution – Slow down and take your time. Tackle one issue and resolve it before moving to the next. Start small. If you are just starting out, build your bug out bag. No, it won’t be perfect, far from it. But, it gets you moving in the right direction. From there, look at food and water storage. Do one thing every day that moves you forward and don’t rush around trying to do it all.

Common Prepper Mistake #2 – Accumulating stuff without forethought

No matter how we look at it, prepping will involve accumulating some amount of gear and supplies. There’s just no way around it. However, all too often we see people buying stuff just for the sake of buying it, with little to no planning or forethought as to whether the item is actually needed or wanted.

I see this a lot with food storage. People will go out and buy entire pallets of freeze dried vittles and call it good. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more involved with food storage. Or, there should be more involved. See, a sudden diet change to those freeze dried foods can lead to some rather serious digestive issues. That’s just for starters. On top of that is the need for an increase in your water storage as you’ll need that H2O to rehydrate all that food. But, the person feels better about their situation because they’ve done “something” to prepare.

Solution – Start by making lists of what you think you need. Base this on research you’ve done as well as common sense. Don’t buy due to panic or a sense of obligation. Every family is different and their needs are unique. Build a plan that is best suited for you and yours and let others worry about their own situations.

Common Prepper Mistake #3 – Spending money on junk

This is often tied in with Mistake #2, of course, but I felt it still needed a separate entry. Let’s face facts, there is an awful lot of sheer and utter crap out there. Knives that look pretty but wouldn’t cut through pudding. Packs that have seams that will split the first time you load so much as a teddy bear inside. Flashlights that turn off if they are nudged or jostled.

Prepping is big business today. Many companies are taking advantage of the popularity of emergency preparedness and sending off to market cheap knock offs that are really all but worthless. And people are buying this garbage by the truckload, all in an effort to be prepared but without realizing just how unsafe a lot of that stuff is.

Solution – If you’re going to rely on a product to save your life, you owe it to yourself to make sure it is up to the task. Don’t spend money on something just because it is shiny or because some quasi-celebrity on TV endorses it. Do your homework. Read reviews and seek out video reviews as well. Learn what to look for when it comes to knives, packs, flashlights, and other gear. Over time, you should be able to recognize good from bad, at least most of the time. As a general rule, you get what you pay for. An inexpensive widget probably isn’t going to be as rugged and well-made as a more expensive one. That’s not always the case, of course. There is some pretty high priced crap out there, just as there are deals to be had. Case in point with the latter is the Condor Bushlore knife. For under $40, you can have a very good quality blade, complete with a really well made leather sheath. I’d put the Bushlore up against just about any similar sized high-end knife on the market. http://amzn.to/1TgCjMh

Common Prepper Mistake #4 – Not testing your gear

This may well be the biggest mistake I’ve seen, at least in recent years. People go out and buy the things they think they need and put it all on a shelf or in a pack, sometimes without even taking the items out of the packages.

Now, I know some of you buy at least some of your gear in pairs or sets. One of the item is used regularly and the other is kept in storage. That’s fine, no problem there. Obviously, this section isn’t for you.

For the rest of you, listen up. If you aren’t getting your gear dirty, which means taking it out of the box and actually using it, you are doing yourself a disservice. You need to have a full understanding of how the item works. Make sure all of the pieces are there and test out the product to see if it does what is supposed to do. It is vital that you know what the item can and cannot do before you need to rely upon it for survival.

Solution – Get in some dirt time. Take new items out and play with them. Let your family members test things out, too. Make sure everyone knows how the stuff is supposed to work and that each person can assemble or disassemble items as needed. Make actual meals on emergency stoves. Use water filters to drink collected rainwater. Load up packs and take them for a test hike for a few hours. This is truly the only way you’re going to know if you can rely on your gear when times get tough.

Choosing a Bug Out Location

Regular readers of mine know that I strongly advise sheltering in place at home until or unless home is not safe. Generally speaking, home is where you’ll have the bulk of your gear and supplies. Packing all of that stuff up and transporting it to a separate bug out location would be no one’s idea of a good time.

That said, we survivalists want to try and plan for as many contingencies as possible, just in case. Setting up one or more bug out locations is part of that planning.

Before we go any further, let’s define bug out location (BOL) so we’re all on the same page. For the purposes of our discussion here, a bug out location is a place away from home where you can hunker down and ride out the disaster and aftermath. It need not necessarily be 1000 acres of wilderness where you figure on living off the land for decades to come. It could just as easily be the home of a family member or trusted friend. The basic idea is to have one or more places you can go if disaster hits your area, rather than end up roaming the highways and byways like some sort of rambling drifter.

Ideally, I recommend arranging for a minimum of three potential BOLs, all in different directions from home. For example, one to the north, one to the east, and one to the southwest. Why? Because we have no way to know for certain what the future holds. If you were to only have one bug out location, say to the north, what are you going to do if the disaster itself prevents you from traveling in that direction? Sure, you hopefully you’d be able to detour around it but life might be easier if you had an alternate location or two.

So, what factors should be considered when choosing a bug out location?

Distance from home

Bear in mind there is a distinct possibility you may have to complete all or part of your journey on foot, depending upon the nature of the calamity. Therefore, reaching a bug out location that is several hundred miles from home might not be realistic. This isn’t a novel nor a movie, folks. In real life, most people probably wouldn’t survive a journey of, say, 600 miles on foot through possibly hostile areas.

Even if you are able to use your car or truck, gas stations might not be open so you’d have to rely on whatever fuel you have in your vehicle at the time of the disaster. It is a common rule of thumb with preppers to not allow any vehicle to dip below ½ tank of gas. If we use that as a guideline, knowing that the average vehicle on the roads today can probably make 300-400 miles on a full tank of gas, we can ballpark a range of about 150-200 miles without needing to refuel. Yes, we could certainly bring a few gas cans with us and we should plan to do so, if possible. But, you should always plan for things to go awry and figure on not being able to top off the gas tank at some point.

Even 100 miles might be pushing it for a hike for many people but it is certainly more realistic than 600 miles. Keep in mind, you may only average a few miles a day if you’re on foot. While long-distance hikers routinely do 20+ miles a day, that may not be realistic for you, especially given the likely societal breakdown that will be happening around you.

The maximum distance your bug out location should be from home is roughly 150 miles or so. Grab a map and use the distance scale and a ruler or compass to draw a circle that far out from home.

Do you have any family members or close friends who live within that circle? Those would be my first choices for BOLs. Next on the list would be public land, such as state parks and such. Third would be hotels or motels, ones that allow pets if that’s going to be a concern for your family. However, keep in mind that hotels and motels are largely first come, first served. In the event of a big disaster, they’re going to fill up quick.

Routes

Are there any major potential obstructions in that circled area? For example, you’re going to want to avoid any major cities. Rivers can be problematic if bridges are damaged or jammed with traffic. In fact, you’ll want to stay away from any expected high traffic areas as they will likely be nothing but impassable parking lots. If you’re on foot, the traffic snarls won’t be as much of a problem as all of those people – frustrated, angry, scared – may be.

Your chosen BOLs should take into account these potential problem area. Steer clear of them if at all possible.

Amenities

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, we can’t foresee the future and accurately predict what will cause us to need to bug out. It may very well not be a true end of the world scenario, one that would force you to live off the land in some remote wilderness area. Instead, it could be flooding or something along those lines that forces you to vacate your home for a limited time.

With that in mind, many of us would prefer to hunker down in the home of a family member or trusted friend, at least until things settled down a bit and we could plan our next move. Someplace we could feel safe and secure and, hopefully, that has hot water and indoor plumbing. Don’t get me wrong, primitive camping has quite an appeal for many people. What I’m saying, though, is that it might be less stressful on the family if you’re able to sleep in real beds and use online sources to gather information as to what’s happening in the affected area.

If feasible and practical, give thought to stashing some gear and supplies at the BOL. While you’d hopefully have your trusty bug out bag with you, what if you lost it along the way? Ideas for what to store include:

  • Extra clothes (2-3 days for each member of your family)
  • Copies of important documents (insurance policies, identification, etc.)
  • Cash
  • Toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. for each member of your family)

Again, we’re not necessarily looking at a total end of the world situation here. Instead, we’re looking to hunker down and ride it out for a while.

Choosing a BOL takes time and planning. It isn’t something you will want to do at the drop of a hat. Take advantage of the fact that disaster hasn’t hit you yet and make the appropriate plans.