102 Prepping choices I would change
It's been 102 days since I let out on my own, went off-grid and ended up living my SHTF bug-out scenario. I think we all envision what life might be like off-grid and without common amenities. The reality I have found, is not as expected. There are at least 100 things I would change about my plan, all detailed here for easy access and consideration. As the list is long, details are limited. I'm happy to elaborate on any points if asked. So, that said, here's how I changed or would change my original plan:
1. Bring only dark and neutral color clothing. White and light are a pain to clean by hand.
2. Non-digital clocks lost time or stopped altogether when cold, even with new batteries. Digital worked well.
3. I was using a 120V inverter for small appliances. Having converted to 12V, I use about half the power each day. The inverter runs only large appliances now.
4. I brought an indoor thermometer alone. I now have a digital indoor/outdoor and can more accurately record weather.
5. Record daily high and low temperatures on a calendar for SHTF planting, harvesting, etc.
6. Portion food in single servings. Large #10 tins get boring and the contents go bad if it is humid.
7. Practice fire-starting skills in poor weather BEFORE heading out.
8. Bring the wide umbrellas instead of the usual ones. You will remain drier.
9. Pack more warm clothing. Societal normal includes temperature management, nature doesn't.
10. Leave food canned in tins behind. It creates a lot of garbage and cannot be frozen. Per calorie, it is very heavy.
11. Bring towels and cloths that are just big enough for the job.
12. A dozen "world's best scrubbers" from Poland would last a lifetime. Nylon and wool scrubbies didn't work as well or last as long.
13. One is zero and two is one. This is not a universal rule. Use it only on vital items. I used it on all items and have too much crap.
14. Get inverters that have fuses, or install your own fuses to protect your electronics. I blew equipment that would have survived if fused.
15. Bring spare fuses of all sizes used in your appliances and power bricks.
16. Cook EVERY one of your SHTF recipes in advance to ensure you like it, and only then pack the supplies for it away.
17. Make recipe labels/cards and insert them in your mylar bags or dry canning jars with the required ingredients.
18. Avoid foods with wheat in your preps, or at least document which contain wheat. I lost $ thousands when I learned I couldn't eat the food I'd stored. I had a cast-iron stomach until 2008; I could eat anything. Now I can't. If you think it can't happen to you, think again. I appeared as unsucceptable as you think you are.
19. Open your curtains and/or let the outdoors in. Enclosed spaces lead to depression. Get outside at least once a day if it's not Sariavo in your front yard.
20. Own a hygrometer and only open large tins of food when humidity is normal or below.
21. Use heated bricks to warm your fridge for hot storage in winter and containers of cold water to cool it in summer (great if you are short on energy).
22. Get exercise every day. It's easy to become lethargic if you are inactive for even a short spell.
23. Forget bringing tea and coffee, which just use up space. Pine needle tea is as good as gourmet, available in most any forest.
24. 2L pop bottles are better for water storage than the 4 gallon containers. They take less work to fill, move, and use.
25. Don't drink from the jugs. The water will get rank because you transfer bacteria.
26. Use a down pillow to keep your ears warm when sleeping through cold nights. Foam and Dacron pillows don't work for this.
27. Use dish soap for showering. It lasts about 6 times as long by volume.
28. Bring stainless steel drinking containers, utensils, and dishes. They clean up easier and are less likely to break.
29. Bring music. It's a great means of remaining positive or improving your mood. Same goes for musical instruments.
30. You'll have no time for unproductive hobbies like puzzles. Establish functional hobbies instead. The idea of wasting time on hobbies that don't help you... well it's out the window in survival situations.
31. The library of knowledge was VERY helpful, but I would index it better.
32. Printed instruction came in handy. Should have printed on laser instead of inkjet though; water wrecked a few pages.
33. Keep your SHTF place clean. Even if it isn't the best of accommodation, keeping it clean will keep your mind fresh and your spirits up.
34. Don't count on rechargeable L-ion, NiMh, or NiCad batteries to perform in cold. Own at least a few alkaline and an alkaline recharger such as the Pure Energy.
35. Don't count on appliances that use battery packs to operate in cold. My laptop, MP3 player, and more would not operate on their internal batteries at cold temperatures. They would run off the external battery bank.
36. Build a food reference book for your area. Each time you find a wild edible, glue a sample to a page and dry it. Put it in a plastic sleeve next to a picture of it growing in its natural environment. Document the uses for the plant. This will improve your foraging skill tremendously.
37. Never eat ALL of a wild edible you harvest. Should you feel ill, you will need at least a small sample to figure out where you went wrong and what to do about it.
38. Read up on the predators in the area so you know how to respond if you encounter one.
39. Cheap rain ponchos are useless. Get a good rain suit like the road flaggers use. Also get a spare. Rain suits wear out.
40. Journal daily temperatures, weather conditions, animal sightings (with location), etc. Write the date on each new entry.
41. Expect nature to provide less green food than you anticipate. What you pick takes time to regrow. What seems an abundance is not. In my case, I have been here three months and could still not sustain myself on natural foliage. Living off the land Without my preps, I would hunt or I would starve.
42. Stainless steel cookware is useless over a wood fire. Get cast iron in standardized sizes (two of each size, large and medium for a family, medium and small for couples).
43. Get the type of cast iron where the lid can be flipped and used as a frying pan. Mine are rounded, so I effectively have half the cookware.
44. Expect roof leaks. Having roofing tar or some sort of patch material. RV shops sell clear roof tar if color matters.
45. Two Sleeps, as Misty suggested, are great for OPSEC. People are most likely to spot you using power if it's 1-2 hours after sunset, but not at 3 am. I've switched to this schedule and find it comfortable.
46. Portable fridges are not energy efficient by default, nor are 12V coolers. Get a thermostatic or timer control so you can control when power kicks in and out. You'll cut power consumption for refrigeration in half.
47. Buy good padlocks. American Lock makes very sound locks good for decades. I got three years from mine, and they were no cheaper.
48. To hide an outside key, use a keybox like realtors install. You can put one in an inconspicuous place and you will never be locked out.
49. Make furniture multi-purpose. For example, my side bench is also a dehydrator. This enables me to fit more into the same space without clutter.
50. Get dental and medical work done NOW! I have two cavities in back teeth. If it were SHTF now, I'd dread the idea of pulling them personally if it could have been avoided through diligence instead.
51. Bring treatments for common pests and know how to use them. I recommend flea shampoo, vinegar, and witch hazel.
52. Label anything you or your spouse might not remember. In my case, I cooked an inverter because I did not label odd power cables.
53. Know what your battery bank is at each day. Don't let it fall low, as poor weather can always set in unexpectedly.
54. Don't under-size your solar panels. I figured I over-sized my battery bank, but what I really did was get the right size battery bank and too few solar panels. As a result, I can tap my batteries if I don't watch. It takes a month at current charge/consumption rates to fill my batteries with surplus power. I'd like it to take half that.
55. Remember to adjust for power loss in the conversion to and from your battery bank. In my case, 100 watt hours put into my batteries will give me 80 watt hours out. 20% is lost in conversion for storage.
56. A wash pot is better than a wash basin. I just put the stainless steel wash pot over the fire and when the water is hot, take it off to clean dishes / laundry. When the water cools, put the pot back on the fire for another go. Easy as pie!
57. I was low on space, so I purchased and installed closet organizer hangers. Now I fit five articles in the place of one.
58. Test every appliance with your inverters/backup power. In a few instances, I had appliances which needed a pure-sine inverter to work. Pure-sine inverters are much less efficient. I ended up getting appliances that work with regular inverters and replaced a couple wall-warts.
59. Bring lots of extra socks! Also bring a darning needle and egg. I'm getting 1/4 the usual lifespan because of the extra activity and this more gritty environment.
60. Have a GOOD bag even when you are bugged out. I did not and realized that if something went wrong, I couldn't leave.
61. Pack in plastic bins instead of cardboard. The bins are reusable, whereas cardboard quickly fails.
62. It is easy to get putt off your hygiene routine. In my case, I could be more diligent about brushing teeth.
63. Test all your food preservation techniques in the natural environment. Do it all without modern conveniences you won't have it SHTF. In my case, I found many of my planned food preservation techniques did not transfer well to the wild.
64. I learned I can cook a full week on a pound of propane (if I am careful). I need to stock up. Three 20 lb cylinders could do for a full year. Given how much more forgiving propane is than wood, it makes sense to have propane to ease transition.
65. One lb propane cylinders are refillable. I need to buy the attachment for a 20 lb tank. One lb bottles are easy to get free at your local campgrounds. Just ask. Check the web for filling techniques.
66. Confirm your local resources. What do you have around that would be of use? I took too long to scout around; next time I'll be diligent.
67. Grocery bags are excellent for garbage, but also for toilet liners. If you haul your own water like me, they can save a lot of work. Put them in a stainless steel pot with a lid, and use it in your toilet bowl or as a chamber pot.
68. Water shoes make great sandals and are very cheap this time of year. Again, sandals wear out quickly in this environment. Stock up.
69. Shoes, shoes, shoes. Take a lesson from the women and get a few extra pairs. You'll wear them out much faster in the wild. Also learn how to sole your own shoes and give it a try.
70. Tanning hides is a learned skill. I never learned and I have yet to succeed. I intend to fix this once I'm licensed to hunt.
71. Rodents are a pain. The rat traps don't work on squirrels in my experience. Stainless snares do. They also take less space.
72. Tattler lids are a good choice for sustainability, but own some one-time use lids too. Swap the one-time lids in place of Tattler when you first open a jar of spice, or something else that will be used over a long period. It will save you having to deal with the seal every time you use the contents.
73. Bears, wildcats, and wild dogs do not like human urine. Spread some around your site to mark territory as animals do. Either do it daily, or replace it after rain.
74. Confirm you have all the tools you think you have. In my case, I was missing my drill! It's an essential tool. I had to buy a replacement, but what if I couldn't?
75. Do not underestimate the importance of space. Cutting the crap from my supplies, I doubled my living area. Nothing I lost was important... it was all 'maybe' stuff that, when I think about it, I don't need.
76. Have a pot to piss in. When it's dark outside and you hear noises, you might just prefer it to the outhouse.
77. Do you have digestion issues with certain foods? Figure them out now while its convenient. There's nothing worse than problems on the trail. If you have the trots for a few days, you can get quite dehydrated. If you get them a lot and don't know why, you may be Celiac. Cases of the disorder exploded in 2008 when wheat farmers started desiccating their crops with Round-up. That's when it hit me. Also check for dairy and other possibilities. You need to know NOW so you can be certain your food is compatible with the SHTF you, and that your ability to travel distances isn't hampered.
78. I stored a lot of spices, but should have mixed them in advance. It's a lot easier to pull out one jar tht says fajita seasoning rather than the six ingredients.
79. I have only a few types of seed. In hindsight, I should have 5-6 times the variety I do, and more quantity as well. Sown in the wild, plants tend to yield only 20% of the typical crop... and while I intend on taking good care of my plants, there are circumstances I do not control... weather, pests, grazing wildlife (if I don't spot them in time to get meat), etc.
80. Ever try making lye soap? I can and I will in a pinch, but I'm buying laundry soap in volume now. A $10 dollar supply is equal to two weeks of soap making effort. Yes I'm being literal. A full day of work produced about 8 ounces of weak soap. I burnt my skin on the lye and had a jolly good time. No, if I can purchase soap instead of making it, I will.
81. Laundry soap makes great dish detergent. I brought bottled dish soap, but learned that 2 Tbsp of laundry soap in a 750ml bottle topped with water is just as effective. That saves a lot of space too.
82. I have found my skills more important than stuff in 90% of scenarios, yet when we think of preps, we think of stuff. I think we invest too little in learning and doing in advance; I know I did. I'm changing that.
83. Deodorant is consumable and takes up much more space than a deodorant stone. Buy the rock.
84. Pack things to be accessible. If you cannot, at least make a written index of where everything is. You'll forget otherwise, and have to dig through everything... pain in the butt and waste of time.
85. Keep your ammo handy! Yes, this is my greatest error. My crossbow is easy to reach, but the bolts are buried. Lots of good they do there! Even if you think it's a short term bug out (I was supposed to be reestablished in a week), you never know. If you have to dig for hours to get to your ammo like I did, what good is it?
86. Spare glasses. I have only one pair. You can get replacement sets for as little as $15 online. I can function without my glasses, but not as well. I want to own at least 5, instead of the current one. With shipping, it would be less than $100 invested.
87. Knives - I think I have a fetish. I have over 100 knives right now. They are good to have, but some of that money could have been diverted to other preps and I think it would have been more useful.
88. I have about two dozen blankets, mostly wool and purchased for about $4 each at a thrift. They were the deal of a lifetime, but wool is scratchy. I should have gotten some soft oversheets to go with the wool. Flannel sheets would have been ideal.
89. My iPhone isn't holding a charge as it used to. I can fix it if I have the cell, but consider this... if SHTF, I would not. If SHTF, I would disable the radio on my iPhone and I use it for apps and portable documents. I should have a spare battery, as the device is known to go about 3 years on a cell. It was a given that the battery would weaken, but I didn't prepare for that. Same goes for other devices with proprietary batteries.
90. If SHTF, I will lose weight and so will you. I have clothes for my smaller size, but not coats. A loose fitting coat is not a warm coat.
91. Beware the weak nylon zipper! I have lost three coats in as many months due to poor zipper technology. I've also had a tent zipper fail. Best check all zippers on your clothing and equipment. Maybe even buy a couple good long zippers you can use for replacements. Zippers can always be shortened, but there's no lengthening them.
92. I brought enough fishing gear for a lifetime and then some... line and all... only to have the river flood out and the fish killed. Fishing was a very big part of my food plan. I needed to prepare for alternate options better. The same can happen with diseased game and other food sources. I was short diversification and will extend options.
93. Five gallon buckets with lids are a godsend. I only have six; I should have 60 or more. They are the best food storage and stacking system I think I've seen...now that I've used them. There is wasted space between, but the lids seal well and they handle heavy stacking much better than all other storage containers I've purchased.
94. Some stand-alone software doesn't work if you are disconnected from Internet for too long. I have Office 2010 Starter and I've learned it does NOT continue to work if it can't report back to MS. I'm changing software suites.
95. Similar to the above issue, some software cannot be installed without Internet or phone verification. This is another vulnerability I need to get rid of.
96. Frozen pencils seem more reliable than frozen pens.
97. I store my critical files on USB and SDHC cards. A couple cheap cards have failed. I have other backups, but could potentially have lost everything. I now keep two copies of each card. One is for use, and one is in an anti-static bag tucked away. Because the cards and bags are small, they should not need a Faraday cage, but it wouldn't hurt to use one.
98. I brought WAY too little comfort food. In hindsight, I should have probably tripled the amount. The smartest thing would be to make my own in the wild (smoked fish and jerky, etc) and I will, but I'd still triple what I bring in.
99. Rope is one of the most useful tools I have. I wish I'd brought more.
100. A few things I purchased were simply not durable. I have a jar of bungees for example... 100 within but they all have plastic hooks. Mistakes like that are unforgivable, but I think we all make them. In my case, I figured the price was right, but if they fail... was it really?
101. Money was trim, but supplies solid when I left. Now that I've seen all the wasted money I used to procure things I didn't need, I feel a bit of regret. I wish I'd been more smart about purchases when I had the coin. Then I'd have what I needed AND some extra cash. Things would be easier.
102. People talk a lot about the importance of O2 packs, but not desiccants. In my experience, I think moisture is the biggest threat to preps we make in the wild. I would buy a pack of 500 desiccants and use one in every post-SHTF dry can. They can be re-used after drying over a fire. Costs are ridiculously low, in fact, you could probably just start saving the ones in your case goods and you'd have a good stack in just a few months.
Well, those are the 102 things I have changed or would change about my strategy. Perhaps you have more right than I did, perhaps not. Undoubtedly there are a few gems in there for everyone. Enjoy! Feel free to ask any questions you like.