This is a long article, however, it is worth the time to read. If you have to read it in multiple viewings it is worth the time. Folks often ask me about testing plans. This is a great example of testing your plans.
From Survival Blog - by T.R.
My goal in this article is to detail how to "build the plan" versus "test the plan" for bugout, while having fun.
We regularly read SurvivalBlog and enjoy it immensely. We've also read and studied a lot of great books including Lights Out and Patriots. However, a few years ago we realized our learning curve was too slow for the fast-moving risk profile of a civil society becoming more frazzled (coupled with having moved to a hurricane-prone state after my husband's retirement). We brainstormed how to compress the time required around implementing many of the great ideas from SurvivalBlog and associated books and articles.
Our first thought to accelerate our preparedness path was to better balance table top planning with actual field testing of our plans. We have the checklist of all checklists and we spend time camping but had we really combined the best of both planning and test? Before this latest trip and this essay, the answer was: "Not really." After our trip and composing this essay, we feel more confident of our survival skills and eager to further improve.
We agreed on a testing scope during a longer than usual personal vacation. We crafted this to mimic certain attributes of off road living we wished to pursue (and in some ways, certain chapters of the novel Patriots written by JWR, but without the dose of civil unrest portion).
Previously, Hurricane Irma gave us a real dose of evacuation reality testing within a year of moving to Florida. That hurricane happened early relative to our really getting settled, thus it was a perfect "real" stress test of our conceptual plan. However, we reflected that if we did everything we wanted to prepare in serial order, we would never get done and quite frankly, we'd be chasing an elusive goal. Neither of us wanted to wish for another Hurricane to see how we did. But we always wanted to visit more National Parks and eventually visit the majority of them having already spent time walking through museums in Rome and trying to stay awake. We were tired of international travel and liked the idea of spending our discretionary dollars in the USA.
A few years back, we built a multiyear plan covering basic scenario around where we are at a given time and what resources we have to avail ourselves at those locations; most of this article covers testing one specific scenario. (One of our four likely scenarios covering the vast majority of our time).
As background, our multiyear plan, in turn, shaped a few thought-provoking principles relative to where we were leaning previously to our self-assessment.
1. We want to be surrounded sparsely by like-minded people and our move to semi-rural Florida from the Northeast facilitated that.
2. We did not happen to become familiar with the benefits of Idaho, for example before we moved to Florida, just getting that out there in advance. It's possible that we might try something out West but for now, our location works pretty well.
3. We have limited time, like all of us humans. Only 24 hours in a day. But we realized that if we treat our vacations and a majority of our weekends like a training mission or weekend drill (and somehow enjoy that at same time), that we could both have fun and practice our craft of being prepared and learning new things to boot. I continue to have a job which I enjoy. Although my husband is retired military, for now, we have certain time constraints. That being said, we do assert that time constraints should not be obstacles to preparedness if we deem that to be of prime importance for our family.
4. We did not see the merits of waiting until we fully retired via the so called "when we have the time" plan. Hence, we crafted the first several drafts of our survival plans in our early 50's; we are now 5-to-6 years into various editions of those first plans. We changed our priorities to "find that time now" or at least a large block of that time at frequent intervals during each year.
5. We enjoy family and friends very much. However we decided instead of eating out, rushed birthday celebrations that might land during the week and/or habitually attending frequent but short social gatherings filled with inconsequential conversations (either because of interlopers present, or due to time constraints, or both), we decided we would be better off vacationing without distractions and/or spending discretionary weekend time with friends over less frequent but longer blocks of time at one stint and doing this in the form of a serious camping trip or other training type of event with friends and family. These longer time blocks made the conversations and social interactions more meaningful as well.
Redeeming Some Wasted Time
At a family meeting we discussed that if each person spends screen time of two hours a day, that yields a wasted two months a year that can be potentially repurposed. We measured most of our time as a baseline; all of us in the family (husband, grown children and their significant others) came up well over that two-hour cut off line (per 24-hour day) which converts to the corresponding two months per year. Ultimately, we hashed out a one-hour screen time limit (to research worthy items, keep up with current events, read history and useful fiction, pay bills and required admin all fit into that one-hour time clock.)
We agreed this other "one month of saved time" could be much better spent intellectually and physically and economically by improving our preparedness and health while having more fun to boot. We conceptually agreed that reading a real book albeit in electronic form (such as a personal device) would not count towards "screen time"; as a side note, this exception made it harder to track screen time and control it. That being said, we were striving for awareness and improvement of time allocations rather than brute enforcement of a concept. To summarize, combining the screen time limit and dual purposing our social time along with using our vacations as field testing over the past three years has given us way more than enough "time" to significantly accelerate our preparedness, and advance our ability to measure our performance using logs and some manual tools to document what worked or did not work.
Relative to our field test, for this year we decided to test our planning whilst taking a longer than usual vacation; essentially, mirroring a small part of Patriots in our own way albeit without the civil strife part of things and with sharp focus on the daily living part of things (packing, cooking, cleaning, wilderness craftwork, clothing, fitness and hiking as the basics). This essay is about that one part of our planning and what we learned. A few of the lessons learned included are for humor, mostly to poke fun of myself and to thank my husband for his patience. Some of the sentences are for illustrative purposes more than a declarative preference such as "oatmeal versus pancakes".
A Desired Level of Conversation
We took even the smallest decisions and applied a technical filter of attributes to determine which approach or choice was better for us. I won't advocate that this is better for everyone, rather it's the principle which we espouse. Oatmeal seems to stick to our ribs more and last longer before another meal. Pancakes seemed to generate hunger quickly afterwards, although blueberry pancakes always sounded better. Oatmeal always sounded bland to our camping friends until we served it with chopped walnuts, raisins and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Oatmeal can be made in a large communal pot and has one pot clean up plus serving mugs. For us, pancakes take a more exacting grill surface, use more fuel to cook, aren't as scalable for larger groups of people and get cold faster once they come off the griddle especially at high altitude. Oatmeal in our eating mug stays hotter longer, and also lends itself to being customized by adding toppings (coconut, almonds, honey). It's that level of conversation we were hoping to pursue; consider "oatmeal versus pancakes" as a metaphor for much harder topics around your choice of a hunting gauge gun or what you might keep in your EDC bag versus what gets added into your 72-hour bag. It's all of these details and more that we were hoping to pursue in this combined field test and summer vacation.
Four Basic Types of Plans
So, here's our starting point. We have our bug out bag(s) packed, and our family style rubric covering four basic types of plans:
(A) We are home with our car but no power for an extended period of time combined with limited expectation of law enforcement protection in the area due to whatever caused the situation in the first place;
(B) We are away from home, with our car/truck, in a very similar to the situation in Patriots where folks trigger "Get Out of Dodge!" and drive to their undisclosed location of a ranch or farm or relatively safer place;
(C) We are on foot without our car, perhaps the car is nearby via walking distance, we have a limited EDC (every day carry pack) such a visiting friends or going to church and may complement the EDC with certain items in the car to cover us for 72 hours such as an extra change of clothes, water and safety gear etc.; or
(D) We are away from our home entirely and without our car - typically meaning an airplane type of business travel or vacation since otherwise we would have our car or be at home or both.
During 2018, I made a dot chart counting how many days fit into each category A, B, C and D in terms of readiness and then converted the "dots" into a percentage of time for the year. As a corollary, if things are leaning environmentally towards TEOTWAWKI, then we would already be limiting our "D" types of trips away from home and/or starting to pursue our exit via our "B" plan scenario. If things look particularly grim but quasi-temporary, then we would limit our "C" scenarios to avoid leaving home for long blocks of time and leaning towards staying home at night altogether.
Regardless, our "A plan" (we are at home, with car stocked with a basic bug out bag in the trunk and miscellaneous winter gear for an emergency) represents our most outfitted and overstocked scenario, had already been tested multiple times from local power grid outages (Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Irma or other ice storms) and been a major focus of our efforts over the last few years. Furthermore, we have a food rotation plan with a paper log book coupled with a large propane tank for stove top cooking, fireplace heat and a water supply. Whilst we can always make improvements, this "A" plan of "stay at home" is the strongest and most resilient of our four-pronged flowchart. We add gear, test new ideas and share them with our grown kids on camping trips each year and then back-feed those ideas into each plan. However, not all of the gear could fit into a vehicle for the "B" plan for Get-out-of-Dodge, not even close.
Around Easter/spring, we typically begin refrain from buying new groceries until we draw down some of our non-perishable food rotation to keep it fresh/cycle the stock and also because that eats down the pantry and fridge somewhat before we go on vacation to save a little money. I test a few new recipes for weekend gatherings, and we rate them for gourmet quality and ease of preparation. Since my husband does most of clean up while I do the bulk of provisioning and cooking, we added ease of clean up as a sorting criterion as well.
Before readers get ahead of themselves, we have historically put quite a bit of effort into shaping meals that are easy to prepare, easy to clean up afterwards, taste great and have a complement of fats/proteins/carbs depending our preferences at the time. I have been capturing these meal variations on a crib sheet on my computer and then printed in tiny font stuffed into the bottom of my dry storage can that houses our cook kit. Two years ago (because we switch houses with an off-the-grid cottage for a summer month, for example), I decided to create food trunks. Each location has a Walmart hard plastic trunk (which can double as a "bear canister" in camp and we can run a light cable through the lid lip to lock it as needed). The trunk has an assortment of canned goods, spices, staples like salt/pepper, coffee mate. I was tired of finding expired food in the pantry and wanted a more time effective solution for making meals and having some of those staples move with us when we left for vacation.
Another trunk contains mostly ready-to-eat snacks like Clif bars, ziplock bags of hard candy, containers of mixed nuts or dry roasted peanuts for fast energy, peanut butter (and a plastic knife), and triscuit crackers which seem to hold their freshness better and have more fiber and taste. After the last hurricane, I added Frosted Shredded wheat (taken out of the box but left in a sealed pouch) as a breakfast snack that is cost effective, and a few other items. Your trunk (or lock box) can be as small or large as you want; for us, at home we just leave the trunk with the lid open in the pantry hall and use it for snacking when we are going about our daily/weekly roles.
Looking at our "D" plan (away from home, no car coupled with very limited EDC bag and minimal equipment) was a revelation of how exposed that scenario presented risk for us and the weakness of same. To further sharpen this point, our "D" plan is logistically hard to improve upon (for example, when flying to visit friends or family for a long weekend, how much actual survival gear can we bring with us for that duration?).
My "dot chart" analysis shows that more than 60-70% of the time we are home ("A" plan) or have our car/truck ("B" plan). Logically, if the "B" plan conditions are harder vs. the "A" plan scenario (presumably involving less gear and lower comfort levels), but we can make the "B" plan functionally successful, then it will also be a solution for the "A" scenario. For us, it made more sense to test drive this leaner and more challenging scenario. As a reminder, in our "B" plan, for whatever reason, we are leaving our home in our truck or my husband's woodworking project minivan, with only the gear that we can add/pack into the vehicle within a short trigger time (e.g. pack and go in 3-4 hours) with stock on hand whilst assuming that gas stations and local stores are already closed to test out the plan via realistic field conditions as a simulation).
> If situational awareness enabled a longer lead time, and we hope that our monitoring of news and the like would help, then that much the better. However, our base case Get-out-of-Dodge test presumed a short trigger with "items on hand" and assumed some sense of urgency to leave due to the specifics of the situation. The "B" plan also rang true personally since we had recently evacuated from Hurricane Irma and had a few lessons learned from that. As hurricane preparedness, we had pre-planned to switch houses with long time family friends and vice versa. As it turned out, despite hundreds of miles between our respective locations, both of us evacuated North much earlier than required but with less wear and tear than most.
Ready to Get Real?
Yet we asked ourselves, are we ready for a real problem and extended power outage and challenging situation well beyond our experience of an ice storm in Washington DC (losing power for 8 days) or Hurricane Irma aftermath which created some wobbles for about 10-12 days? We loved reading Patriots for the 3rd time and 4th time, but how would we really do in the fictional Todd Gray's situation or similar challenge? To amp things up, we wanted to see how we would do for 30-45 days in a row (that was the time bracket we had to be off the grid away from my job entirely) and fully test out scenario B - away from home but with our car, limited gas constraints, remote mountain location, reasonably cold weather (hovering around freezing or below for half of the nights and milder weather by day), no power and finally zero ability to augment/supplement our gear buying at a store and therefore living off the food we brought with us. Finding a place worth visiting with wildlife or hunting or nature or some combination might make our field test more fun along the way as well, obviously, so we picked Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone.
As engineers, we looked at the array of learnings from our readings and a few observations from camping trips in the past - and realized that we can't "test" everything at once. Our test scope comprised: getting out of dodge, tailoring our packing list and inventory to perfection, testing out menus and food preparation for ease and quality (including taste and calorie heavy for expected large workloads as well as minutes of preparation and fuel consumption or cold prep only); fitness testing our backpacking gear for back country hiking at distance for stamina and strength around a fully loaded backpack vs. our routine of an EDC pack. And then finally on completion, calibrating which items were heavily used or lightly used (but needed) to refine our readiness plan for next time.
Faking It, On Fuel
Out of necessity, we did allow ourselves commercial gas station trips to actually get to Yellowstone, for example. In a real crisis, our mobility would have been hindered with stopped traffic, disabled cars, and likely a radius of 400 miles defined by an always-initially-full-gas tank supplemented by spare jugs and whatever gas stations were open (if any) during our initial exodus to extend the radius. We can't test everything at once; I simply note the limitations of this drill/test for purposes of accuracy and to remind myself around other elements to test for next time.
Some background: I still work almost full time, but portions of the year are full throttle 60+ hour weeks and other blocks are much lighter, with my husband retired from the military. We wanted a vacation in terms of scenery and wildlife and we wanted to test our plans across a number of elements.
Some background: I still work almost full time, but portions of the year are full throttle 60+ hour weeks and other blocks are much lighter, with my husband retired from the military. We wanted a vacation in terms of scenery and wildlife and we wanted to test our plans across a number of elements.
To appropriately field test our plans with a degree of stress testing that would replicate a certain amount of tension present in real threat condition whilst isolating certain elements one at a time to calibrate parts of our plan in a systematic way, we tried to set a few parameters that would shape the testing conditions: 1. Pack the car and get out of dodge quickly, with the hope to leave in less than 4-6 hours; 2. Be on the road with gasoline services to get as far as possible and then artificially cut ourselves off from stores, gas and retail purchase power for some period of time. 3. Deal with weather/climate and test shelter, security/safety, water, food, health/fitness and personal fulfillment (wildlife, nature and reading) for a 30 consecutive day period of time.
For those of us without 30 days in a row available (which was us for most of our lives working until very recently), one could test Colorado (or like location) as one 10-day chunk of time and then Wyoming as a separate 20-day test of time. In the past, when we did not have these large consecutive blocks of time, we would avoid restocking for our 2nd vacation week and see how well we did running down on leftovers. That wasn't really much fun in terms of enjoying our vacation nor did those part camping outings really have enough documentation and controls (e.g. inventory of what we brought, field notes of what worked and what didn't) to be a true mastery of our goals.
However, building on last summer's camping trip to the Everglades which was a completely different climate of hot, humid and wetlands vs. this summer with mountains and colder temperatures was a good variation. In retrospect, we were thrilled at our test location(s) - we saw wildlife, nature, met amazing people at a few national parks and we also went far backcountry with surprisingly few people but that's not the topic of this essay.
So here goes. We park our truck out front of the garage and go to bed. We agree that the next morning we will pack the vehicle and then let it sit - allowing us a cushion of a couple days to set up a mail hold and tell our grown kids how to reach out, check in with my parents etc. and for my husband to sort out a few gear related questions as well as cleaning out the fridge and cutting the grass.
An Unrealistic Time Goal
We expected to complete vehicle packing by lunch time; on that account, as a preview, we failed miserably mostly because in our previous lens (e.g. camping) we were planning on returning to our house whilst in this more realistic test, for simulation purposes, we were not (necessarily) returning to our house. That one criterion made packing very different from anything in the past. Adding to that, this trip plan was double or triple the length of time of previous trips and farther West than past trips with cold climate and a place my husband had not visited before. If the situation had been stressful, that would have likely made decision harder.
The next morning, my husband heads for the garage and I walk downstairs to the basement where much of our gear is fully stocked along with Bill's Bags (those great dry bags mentioned in the novel Patriots), Cabela's dry duffels and stuff sacks, plenty of food stocks and our camping gear and backpacking gear, cots, water jugs and the like. Our internal frame packs are hanging neatly on hooks airing out from miscellaneous Boy Scout trips of the past with a few mothballs hanging in mesh bags along the rafters, separate racks for canned food stuffs or trunks of food sorted into categories and a separate rack for non-edible and non-wearable gear.
We had a gasket-sealed trunk of hiking only gear. The "hiking trunk" held leg gaiters, metal crampons from winter trips here and there, extra wool socks, a zip lock bag of extra boot laces, headlamps and spare batteries, whetstone and knife oil in a small wooden box from my Dad but this was mixed in with random camping gear (not particularly useful since it was overly time consuming to organize and pick out useful items from discarded gear).
Grabbing Some Grub
A large rack of food in a rotation for freshness reasons (a mix of regular food with backpacking food) stands in the coldest and driest corner of the lower level next to a root cellar. Our food is organized in groupings of like items based on rack heights or can heights rather than organized in sets of meals that go together. Some humor here. Already, my mind starts wandering looking at 10# cans of Mountain House Breakfast Skillet (my husband's favorite) vs. Peanut Butter and Jelly which I hadn't eaten in a long time and which also sounded good. We keep a nice stock of dry just-add-water pancake sacks and a few cans of steel cut oatmeal. Tins of anchovies and tuna fish were mixed in with other proteins. I started thinking of steel cut oatmeal and brown sugar (vs pancakes) and went back up to the kitchen to toss the brown sugar on the "go pile" for the oatmeal.
We had a loaf of wheat bread and a stack of tortilla wraps in the kitchen pantry, I took both as we had agreed that we would not, per se, "go shopping at Costco" right before our field test. Realizing that we were timing this on a stop watch from my iPhone, I took an assortment of canned goods and backpacking food and then grabbed my "Cook kit" ammo can that was pre-packed from last summer's camping trip to the Everglades (already packed with a multi-fuel stove and filled, funnel, spare filled fuel bottle, flint, extra matches in a Rx bottle and then in a zip lock bag, cooking kit of utensils/bowls/plates/small pot/pot lid and small saucepan plus spares with a scrubby, dish soap and a dishtowel to keep things from rattling inside).
Which Sleeping Bags?
I got mentally sidetracked trying to decide whether to bring the medium weight warm sleeping bags which compress smaller or the long versions for colder weather or the lighter versions for backpacking. Should I bring heavier folding cots (which allow under-the-cot tent storage and keep things neater, drier and more organized) or Light speed self-inflating air mattresses which were much lighter (but if the tent took in any moisture offered less temperature protection) or just a foam bedroll that we toss on the truck bed in a flat format that was slightly better than a yoga mat but would actually work for backpacking vs. car camping? This was harder than oatmeal vs. pancakes as a decision point, indeed.
Next to one of our canned good racks, we had a stack of squeaky clean blue plastic buckets left over from the neighbor's pool chlorine tablets which every time he throws them out, I squirrel them away. Should I bring 0, 1 or 2 of these stacked buckets? Then I remember. we store large sacks of rice in the same type of bucket so maybe I need one less bucket? Some humor at my expense. Several hours later, I had barely managed to start a large pile of objects that would ultimately need to go in a pack or dry bag, let alone sorted and organized into any semblance of order that my husband could actually pack into the car. Obviously, in a real crisis, I would have made choices quicker however, the point of this exercise was to make great choices fast, not average choices slowly.
Grade: D- or F
Our self-assessment "dry run" grade of just packing the truck/minivan was a grade of D- or F. Understanding that we had plenty of time to get ready for what was really a vacation with advance notice, it took us basically 2+ days to pack the car in a manner that offered a systematic approach towards packed items getting to a precise level of decision making such that we took the items we wanted and left items which either would not fit into the car or were not needed.
This was a great lesson and parallels the books Lights Out and Patriots at several junctures. Despite having camped for 40 years, packing the truck knowing (e.g. pretending) that I was perhaps not returning with the constraint of living with what I packed and only that for an extended period of time - and being limited to not purchasing more - was quite a lesson. Yes, I'm sure there are many readers who are well beyond this state of readiness, but I would argue that some folks are worse off than us by far. The more people who read this and get prepared, then the less chaos for the rest of us to address.
Later that morning/early afternoon, we sat down at the kitchen table (having brewed a pot of coffee on the spare camp stove from the basement according to our "A" plan) and talked through this. We needed a balance of water, fuel, gear/shelter, food and safety/security. Optimizing the mix of these five items (plus cash and valuables) and optimizing how to pack them efficiently with some degree of access to the right items in what order took significantly longer than either of us expected when a filter criteria of "not coming back" was inserted vs "we are leaving for a temporary camping trip".
For example, we needed to talk through specific tradeoffs of how to optimize more gear vs. more food and/or more fuel for the truck. We had plastic gas cans from Walmart in the garage and our annual plan to rotate the gas (with stabilizer) has worked well to date. We had enough spare gas to totally fill up the vehicle (and then some) and we had a tow hitch style grate/rack that would enable us to bungee cord extra gas cans, a cooler and that 5-gallon blue water jug for our camp site use. It would have been nice to know ahead of time which gas cans and which coolers would fit nicely on that hitch rack. Turns out we had bigger 6-gallon tan water jug that didn't drip as much when pouring and would dog down better on the rack being the same shape/size as the gas jugs.
At our table top debrief (before we actually left for Colorado and Wyoming) we decided to assume that we would have the ability to somewhat replace our water (we each had life straws in our EDC packs along with larger water filter style liter bottles in each EDC pack, water treatment tablets in the 72 hour bag and a dollar store sized bottle of no scent Bleach); we packed our usual camping 5 gallon water jug with a spigot that we park on a picnic table for the family inside the car, and added the 6 gallon tan water jug (full) on the tow hitch rack/grate as well.
While I threw myself under the proverbial bus relative to sharing my attempts at meal planning and food selection, we both laughed hard and then decided to eat pancakes home cooked on our Viking range, my husband articulated a new plan that involved storing our trailer hitch grate flat on the floor with the cooler (empty), the red gas cans (full with stabilizer) on the back floor of the garage actually in position on the rack itself, the bungee cords and packing straps laid neatly on top (but not dogged down or tied) storing them just loose so that he could tongue the rack into the truck, with one tan/khaki rubberized dry bag sized to match the rest of the cargo. He could then load gear quickly knowing that it would fit neatly and not block the license plate visually and have confidence that all of it would be fit for purpose to drive 1,000+ miles in terms of highway safety.
We also made a note of which gear would block the license plate vertically if so desired. Charles made a hand sketch of where each item fit into the rack in both configurations and then taped it to the wall above the rack. Previous iterations had gear that was not entirely 100% waterproof on the hitch rack, so this was a much better iteration as well. We felt satisfied by this major time saver and more importantly, around the quality of the tradeoff choices having more thought backing up the logic of choices. Later, in Wyoming, we would roll the tarp and wedge it behind the canisters so mud could flake off outside but also to keep the jugs from squeaking or rubbing against the tailgate.
We Learned Something New
Each day during the trip we learned something but ironically, we learned the most before we left our driveway: How to pack, what to pack, what to leave behind (and where to leave it), pre-staging measured units of gear and food set up in blocks or modules that could be packed quickly without manually selecting individual items was the answer for us. Manually selecting a food menu and gear off storage racks is simply not acceptable for the time constraints and performance measure against which we hoped to perform. Period.
Over the course of the next 4-to-6 weeks, we both made step changes in terms of which gear was stored where and each time, we got more efficient. Later, since our supplies dwindled over time, it was particularly useful to have flexible dry bags which could be rolled up and wedged for storage.
However, before leaving home, it was now time for my second iteration for foodstuffs hoping to make a step change in terms of process improvement on my ownership of meal planning and cooking: I used "food canisters" (flat beige wheat color hard shell plastic container with a flat bottom and a large canted opening, sold at Costco for either animal feed or grain storage) with a gasketed wheel shaped lid. In past camping trips, I had brought the mandatory "bear canister" which while effective for bear control, was slippery to hold, unstable to fill since it was tall and cylindrical, and had a very narrow fill neck along with a coin type screw lock that rattled. Food for previous trips was stowed in canvas boat bags plus coolers plus two bear canisters - but this trip was 3x as long in duration and we were driving twice as far distance wise.
By comparison to the bear canisters, the Costco feed canister has a wider base, a large neck opening and an equally air tight (and odor tight) lid requiring quite a few rotations to seal or open and thus beyond the motor control skills of a Bear. They stack neatly and when filled completely almost get to my max weight of being able to carry them for a long walk down a camp trail. My husband decided to test the canister and drop it (filled); it did well but I was glad that none of the containers inside were glass and similarly appreciative of the double bagging for the plastic bottle of honey.
Three canisters were sorted by: drinks, breakfast types, and finally lunches/dinners were grouped. All of the breakfast items were pre-packed into a canister with a hand-written inventory list (took a phone screen shot of contents for later), then I spun the wheel lid tight. I made a meal estimate (# of days) and tried to split the food mix between no cook, light cook and longtime cook items for variation depending on weather and energy levels coupled with chores or other requirements in camp that compete with meal prep demands. After taking most items out of their retail cardboard boxes to save. I then stuffed flattened boxes near the spare tire and under the back seat car mats to use as fire starters, later.)
We included: steel cut oatmeal, instant oatmeal to complement that, bags of pre-mix paleo pancake mix left over from my effort last year to eat healthier, a large tub of honey, salt, brown sugar, cans of corned beef hash, pop tarts for no cook snacks, boxes of Clif Bars in breakfast flavors like blueberry, granola bars, blueberry and raspberry fig bars, bags of granola inside double locked zip lock gallon bags, #10 can of Mountain House breakfast skillet, Quaker oats, Frosted shredded wheat, a few cartons of sealed almond milk left over from my daughter's last visit, canned carnation milk, a sack of powdered milk in a plastic mini bucket, several plastic containers of coffee mate, a zip lock bag of fast food condiments like ketchup and sugar, Tabasco sauce, vinegar based hot sauce from the fridge door went into a zip lock sandwich bag, almonds, dried apricots, a bottle of olive oil, a large tub of peanut butter, jelly from the pantry closet, and Maxwell House coffee packs (which are filters pre-filled with coffee typically used for drip machines but can be tossed into a saucepan with boiling water and steeped for a great 4-6 cup batch of coffee), two smaller cartons of cherry juice and pineapple juice, a few cans of pineapple chunks and a double zip lock bag of powdered milk.
As a reference point, the food canister for breakfast is basically an 18" blocky cube shape. This covered about one month of breakfast for us, including 2 dozen egg count we put into the cooler when we finally pulled out of the driveway to head West. We always keep wheat tortilla wraps in large quantities at home, and I packed the remaining ¾ loaf of wheat bread. Once the bread and wraps were gone, we used Triscuit crackers and a variety of other hard tack from my snack bag. It was interesting, later, to reflect on the density of Red Mill oatmeal and grains in terms of number of servings versus other items; more on that later.
Relative to packing the cooler, we routinely use frozen bottles of water (or Gatorade) to fill empty space in our freezer and flex new unfrozen bottles into place when we eat something out of the freezer or take frozen bottles out when we need more space. These frozen bottles lined the cooler and doubled as drinking water for the first half of the trip. Once things thawed, we did not have ice obviously, but we did anchor a dry bag in a cold stream at times in camp to make our canteen drinks colder (mostly for fun rather than this being a requirement).
Moving on to drinks as a subject, I prepared a similar smaller “cube” container for drinks and soups. More coffee filter packs, zip lock bags of tea taken out of their cardboard retail packaging, hot cocoa, more honey, powdered lemonade tubs, powdered ice tea, Tang for astronauts or space aliens we might meet (just kidding) that I found in the pantry, instant coffee, another jar of coffee mate, a red plastic Folger’s coffee tub of ground coffee, a few boxes of flavored Emergen-C powders that give you 1000mg of Vitamin C and make flavor choices for plain water to spice things up (took those out of the box and put the little envelopes into zip lock bags), more instant oatmeal, a large bottle of Almond flavored coffee syrup got tossed in from the kitchen counter along with jars of beef bouillon and chicken bouillon.
In camp, when I make canned soup, assuming I don’t have water constraints, I typically double the soup batch by adding a bouillon cube or two to chicken noodle and keep extra bags of dry Egg Noodles in the food pantry. In a pinch, I can make a broth which adds warmth on a cold night or acts as a side dish or appetizer on occasion. I doubled up on Tylenol and Motrin and threw in two extra bottles of pain medicine to duplicate what I had in the first aid kit, added an extra can opener and a few bottles of multi vitamins from the bathroom closet.
By the time I was finished, we had a modular system of containers or carriers. This took almost an entire day, plus part of the next morning. Each one was sealed, with an inventory list tucked inside, and was organized based on the purpose/use and labeled. We had a breakfast canister, a drink canister, a lunch/dinner canister plus a snack bag of loose food & fruit on hand. Perishable food pulled into service that was on hand from our previous regular grocery buys got tossed into a canvas boat bag (to use first since it had a limited shelf life), a red Galls gear bag with a high quality first aid kit from last year’s project list, and then added a few cases of canned chili, canned baked beans, a sack of mixed dry beans which I can add to canned soup to double up their calorie count and pack protein punch, tuna fish, more canned soups, powdered soups (miso and Thai noodles), more peanut butter, Nutella left over from the kids last visit, and a sweep of pantry items from recent grocery trips plus a large sack of basmati rice which we keep in a sealed bucket. The bucket would pull double duty as a dish rinse or camp bucket.
Over time on the road, while there was still daylight, we would pack the canvas boat bag with the next day’s food to complement remaining perishable items and shove it into the car (out of the sight of bears). This forced us to daily eat down initial perishable items and also plan for the next day as well. That certainly helped for a few days where we awoke to pouring rain and thunder; made those days a little simpler and followed our general rule of “no reason to believe tomorrow will be easier, so let’s do what we can today”. On a few days, “tomorrow” actually ended up being much easier due to that planning and, on those days, we treated ourselves to long hikes to waterfalls, canyons, high alpine lakes or vistas with roaming buffaloes. We did bring a few canisters of bear spray; we keep an extra in with the kitchen gear box. I found that having a shallow plastic Hefty brand box from Home Depot worked great for cook gear and stowed fast either in the car or under the webbed cot frame worked great. Shallow plastic tubs that resemble drawer dimensions work way better for kitchen gear than deeper narrow storage bins.
Provisions for 30 Days?
Our field test protocol was trying to determine whether, in the context of evacuating (aka leaving for vacation), our car/truck capacity could hold enough gear and provisions to last 30+ days. Or could it last more than 30+ days? I’m still plowing through that analysis by hand, however, with future refinements, I think it would be possible to have a few well-planned food canisters plus perhaps one good sized trunk that would go well past 60 days. We have tested out MREs in the past, but my system prefers to make meals for two people by scratch using assembled components of my own much less expensively, with a better-quality product.
I won’t go into the same detail for our camping gear since we typically keep a master list of that on a paper check list which gets scaled up or down based on the season and target destination. However, we did make a few changes here too in terms of pre-staging. We typically camp with our family and kids’ spouses and/or friends. Our group size can range from the two of us all the way upwards to 10-12 or more. It is not feasible for us to escape with provisions for more than 2-3 of us (which is why JWR’s novel Patriots and other stories have pre-staging to a cabin or other location as a key principle).
One lesson learned was to use a silver or gold contrasting color Sharpie and mark each dry bag or container in cubic inches or liter capacity on a seam and then mark each sleeping bag with its’ temperature rating. To speed things up, I bought five Cabela’s magnum size duffel dry bags in khaki/tan colors and packed each of them into a modular set of camping gear for two people per duffel (two sleeping bags, sleeping mats, one tent, one tarp, bug spray, bear spray, recent toiletry kits from airlines in a zip lock bag, a few clothes pins to dry items either inside the tent or on a fly line, a few new toothbrushes, dental floss, a few old dorm quality wash cloths, a small clean beach towel that had seen better days and few men’s T-shirts that were borderline for dust rags but could also be used as camp pot holders or pressed into service if need be, a few old ball caps from little league (dark colors) and old but serviceable long underwear that had been replaced by new versions, an extra roll of duct tape to patch a tent in a pinch).
The Key: Using Dry Bags
Again, I made a list of what’s in each magnum duffel, rolled/buckled each bag closed tight and tossed it into a corner. A cornerstone of our new planning strategy relies on these rubberized Bill’s Bag type stowage, or these Cabela’s dry bags. They can be pre-packed with clean dry gear and mostly with spare clothes and socks that are our size or one size larger (basically, we usually wear a size M so most of our stage gear was a mix of size M and size L). Each of these magnum gear bags would outfit two people for a camp-type environment that would dovetail into a larger team unit (since that larger team unit would need to have the stove, cook gear and food/provisions). Making a list of shared items versus items that get ticked against a head-count person is very helpful. We can envision a situation where we leave gear for others to pick up later and my husband was able to hog tie up to six of these duffel bags on the vehicle roof.
Not having 100% confidence which type of vehicle we might have on hand, we decided to have gear bags staged as HIGH = required, Medium = space available, and Low = optional. That partially worked, but there are some items where we prefer duplication and then other situations where we simply can’t be towing around extras either for weight/space reasons.
My EMT/first aid bags are always packed, always red in color; we keep one in each car and a triplicate inside the house. We had a basic tool kit supplemented by a few items that had been needed on previous camp trips. We had a safety/security range bag stuffed into a non-descript black gym bag. The Cabela’s magnum duffels bag can be strapped onto the vehicle roof since they are waterproof. We had a Yakima Rocket box that is a clamshell like design we used for previous camp trips. Cabela’s dry bags or Bill’s Bags lashed to the roof were much better than the clamshell box in terms of odd sizes and space. Later, as we ate into our food stuffs and that storage requirement shrunk in size, we put some of the duffel bag gear inside the vehicle or rolled up an empty gear bag under the seat.
Second Try at Packing Strategy
I clipped color-coded carabiners on each bag to indicate Hi, Med, Low and then drew up a map of the basement gear corner. Now, with our tow hitch rack for water and spare gas all pre-staged, combined with the food modules and gear tiering, we tried our packing strategy for the second time. We put items that “were close but no cigar” into a laundry basket; these items did not make the cut by virtue of no space physically OR no room for additional weight OR not needed compared to other items that we deliberately chosen ahead of these picks. Any bag that had safety, security, tools or first aid gear had a color slash of duct tape on the outside. In one of the vehicle doors, we keep 2-3 rolls of duct tape in red, army green and black and each color meant something specific to us.
We were able to pack out faster with more gear and better choices. Overall, this was our best trip ever in terms of fun. Our meals were simple style but really good quality. Our breakfasts were heavy except for long hiking days, and our dinners trended lighter. We tended to graze for lunch or drink hot soup. Nuts and dried fruit were a key snack. Most days we would go hiking and alternate with our EDC packs vs. a full stack top loading backpack for some fitness tests. Staying mostly at National Park camp sites, we were on our “honor system” to not use electricity for any purpose. We took sun showers from lake water.
We did a few back-country overnights for 3-4 days at a time using the top-loading backpacks, Esbit stove and mostly Mountain House brand camp food or like. We alternated that with “car camping” like stints of 3-4 days. This was not a perfect simulation of a crisis, but we did test the elements we intended to test whilst also having our annual vacation. I used a small Goal Zero solar charger for my cell phone to take pictures of Elk, Bear, Bison, and birds of prey. I would fire up the cell phone and text our kids that we were fine every Friday (or Saturday if we were not in cell range); this was a test not a war game so no sense being silly about failure to communicate. I did not download emails or send outbound mail other than those family Friday relays for safety reasons and courtesy. We came home in better shape from the hiking.
When we returned home, we reviewed each item that we had not used and put them into a pile. We then compared those items to the “close but no cigar” laundry basket of gear. I would have brought a larger bottle of liquid Woolite laundry soap. My husband would have brought a small hand saw for taking down dead wood for camp fires vs. the wire pocket saw which was tedious and tiring. We would have brought a spare pair or two of leather gloves rather than sharing. And so on.
We took our EDC (every day carry bag) and our 72-hour bags and compared them in terms of overlap with our big trip gear list. In some cases, we valued the overlap and duplication of gear. In other cases, not required. Options are good. And we will continue to improve but we learned the most from packing before we ever left home.
Safe travels to you.
Bravo Echo Out