Portable Cooking Stoves

One of the most valuable pieces of equipment in your kit is your stove.  When you are traveling on foot, regardless of the circumstances, the ability to prepare a hot meal at the end of a days travel is very important.  Many light weight food choices today are dehydrated and require the ability to boil water for preparation.  There are several different ways to accomplish this task.  You can use a traditional camp fire, a compressed fuel stove,  solid fuel stove, portable wood stove or a DIY alcohol stove.  In this series of articles, we will examine several of these stoves and test their performance. We will use a variety of stainless steel and titanium pots to find which combination of stove/pot works best with each stove.

The traditional campfire has been used to cook food since early man discovered the use of fire.  In today’s world, building a fire in certain places can get one in serious trouble.  The on-going drought and wild fire threat  in the western United States has resulted  in campfires being restricted to established campgrounds.  A campfire is also more likely to attract unwanted attention during times when stealthy travel is desired.

Hopefully these tests and the information from them will assist you in deciding if you want to include one of them in your kit.  The weight savings of dehydrated food will be welcome when you are hiking or in your bug back or bug out bag.

Off The Grid Cooking

One of the most important necessities during an off-grid or extended power outage is the ability to cook  food and boil water.  There are several options for doing this including an open fire, a gas grill or a charcoal grill.  While each of these methods have advantages and disadvantages, none can not compare to the fuel efficiency and versatility  of an Eco-Zoom Versa stove.  (I am not associated with Eco-Zoom and am not receiving any compensation for this review.  I purchased my Versa from Amazon.com)

After researching various types of off the grid cooking stoves, I decided to try the Eco-Zoom Versa based on its apparent quality of build.  I was also impressed with the fact that you can cook with wood, bio mass materials and charcoal.  As an added benefit, Eco-Zoom donates a stove to people living in a third world country for every stove sold in the USA.

My Eco-Zoom Versa arrived  five business days from when I ordered it.  The quality of craftsmanship of the Versa was top-notch as expected.  I could not wait try it out.  Even though it is winter, I set the Versa up on my porch and decided to cook Texas chili.  I installed the additional charcoal grate and started it with six charcoal briquettes.  During the cooking time, I added an additional two briquettes.  I was able to cook the chili with  a total of eight charcoal briquettes.  Total cooking time was 30 minutes.  The Eco-Zoom Versa retained heat for awhile afterwards allowing an estimated 15-20 minutes of additional cooking time if needed. My initial impression of the Eco-Zoom Versa is very positive. I will update this posting when I use wood to fuel the stove.  I can say that anyone who decides on the Eco-Zoom Versa for their Off-Grid Cooking will be not be disappointed.

Open Source Software

Various versions of  Microsoft windows  dominate the computer operating systems market accounting for over 91% of sales .  Apple is in second with 7% while Linux and Unix based operating systems account for the remaining 2%.   You may be wondering what running  a Linux operating system or open source software on your home computer has to do with preparedness.  Amazon.com is currently selling Microsoft Office 2010 professional (Two PC/One user) for $398.38. Windows 8 is listed for$114.99. Various versions of the Linux operating system and well as the  Libre Office Suite or the Open Office Suite can  be downloaded and installed for free.  Both office suites are compatible with Microsoft office and are supported by the open source community.  You can donate money to help develop new versions and maintain the current versions.  The bottom line is you can have a fully functional office suite and save $398.38 to invest in other areas of your preparedness.

Instead of buying a new computer, you can install Linux and extend the life of your current machine by several years.  I am currently running Linux Mint  on a computer that is five years old.  Linux mint comes with all the software needed to complete your work including Libre Office and like other open source software can be downloaded for free.  When you download a “live” version of Linux mint, you can run it from a dvd disk without actually installing it on your hard drive.  This  allows you to ensure your hardware is compatible with the system prior to installation.  Once you install Linux mint, you can use the software manager or the Synaptic Package Manager to install everything from games to different web browsers.

While some people may not be interested in installing an alternative operating system or open source software, keep in mind that the option is there.  When you install an operating system that doesn’t require as much of your available  resources you can effectively extend the life of an older computer.  This allows the older machine to run current software programs without a drop in performance. Self sufficient living means making the most of your available resources and open source software allows you the luxury of  extending your time between computer purchases.

Watchman (Part VI) What to do during a wildfire or flood

When a wildfire is threatening your homestead, there are several actions you need to take before you evacuate. Stay informed about the location and direction of the fire.  Pay attention to weather reports for conditions that could cause the fire to change direction or intensity.  Arrange temporary housing with a friend or relative outside of the threatened area.  Prepare your car for the trip by packing your bug-out bag, extra water, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, a bucket, shovel and a rake.

If you have not been ordered to evacuate yet, close outside attic, eaves and basement vents. Close windows and doors(interior ones as well) to prevent a draft.  Shut off any fuel oil, natural gas or propane lines. Turn on sprinklers and place on the roof and beside any above ground fuel storage tanks.  Store any gasoline cans or propane tanks away from the house.  When an emergency evacuation order is given, be prepared to leave immediately.  Travel on a route that takes you away from the path of the fire.  Smoke in the air can create problems especially for anyone who has breathing condition.  Be sure to have disposable masks or a bandana to filter out the smoke.

It is important to keep your situational awareness level high.  By being prepared before the evacuation order, you will be able to avoid being caught in traffic jams.

The preparations taken during a flood are similar to an emergency evacuation for a wildfire.  When preparing your house before you evacuate, be sure to turn off your electric at the main breaker box and unplug all electrical appliances.  If time permits, bring in outdoor furniture and move essential items to a higher floor or attic.  Moving water can sweep you away quickly.  Do not walk through moving water and avoid driving through flooded areas.  If flood waters rise around your vehicle, abandon the vehicle and get to higher ground on foot.

Hopefully you will incorporate these ideas into your own plan.  It is important that you customize a plan for your needs and then practice it.  Knowing the actions you will take allows you to act quickly during an emergency.

Happy New Year!

I would like to take this opportunity to wish each and everyone a Happy New Year.  The number of posts planned for the survivalwatchman.com is going to be reduced to one per week.  This has been made necessary due to the requirements at work.  I have a two-hour commute each way and the amount of mandatory overtime has limited the amount of time I have to blog.

Remember, preparedness is an ongoing life style. The skills you need to survive in hard times are perishable.  I would like to challenge you  during the coming year to learn a new skill or practice a current skill at least once a month. Practice starting a fire using at least three different methods.  Then to further challenge yourself, start with fuel of wood that is wet.  Set up an improvised shelter and cook a meal.  These are the basic skills you need and practicing them under normal circumstances will ensure your proficiency during emergencies.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and above all keep the faith!

Watchman (Part V) What to do during an Earthquake

During an earthquake,  the most important thing to do is to drop to the ground, take cover under a desk or heavy table and hold on to it until the shaking has stopped.  If there isn’t a desk or table near you, then cover your head and face with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.  Most injuries that occur during an earthquake are from falling objects. Avoid glass, windows, outside doors and walls of the building and anything that can fall such as lighting fixtures.  If you are in bed when an earthquake hits, remain there, hold on and cover your head with a pillow, unless you have a heavy light fixture or ceiling fan above your bed.  Then you should move to the nearest safe place.  Inside doorways should be avoided unless you know it is a strongly supported, load bearing doorway that is close to you. Many inside doorways do not offer any protection.  Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside.  Before you move, evaluate the area surrounding you  for any hazards and plan your safest egress path.  Be aware that the electricity may be out and building sprinklers/fire alarms may turn on.

If you are outside when an earthquake hits, stay there.  Move away from trees, buildings, utility wires and streetlights.  Building walls may collapse and debris from the roofs can fall so keep your distance from them.  If you are in a moving vehicle, stop as quickly as you safely can and remain in the vehicle.  You do not want to stop near buildings, overpasses, utility wires or trees.  Once the earthquake has stopped, proceed with caution avoiding bridges, ramps or elevated roadways that may have been damaged by the earthquake.

Should you find that you are trapped by debris that has fallen, there are several things to consider.  Do not use a match or lighter.  Gas lines are often damaged during an earthquake and any spark could cause a fire.  Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or other cloth to prevent breathing in dust from walls that have collapsed.  Attempt to notify rescuers by tapping on a wall or pipe.  Shouting can cause you to breathe in dangerous amounts of dust and should only be used as a last resort.

As in any emergency situation, no one can guarantee your safety, but following these recommendations will greatly increase your chances of surviving.

Watchman (Part IV) Floods

There are very few places to live on earth where you will not be concerned with floods. If rain falls where you live, you will be vulnerable to floods.

Floods occur when water overflows land that is normally dry. Although this can happen in many ways, the most common is when rivers or creeks overflow their banks.  This can be caused by excessive rain, rapid snow melt in the mountains or from a dam breaking.  The land surrounding a river or stream that floods is called a floodplain.  Coastal flooding is when a storm or tsunami causes the ocean to surge inland.

Most floods take days or hours to develop giving you plenty of time to evacuate.  Some floods however can develop quickly and without warning.  These are called flash floods.  They can be very dangerous turning small streams or dry river beds into raging torrents of water that will sweep everything in its path downstream.  Moving flood waters have amazing destructive power.  Building, bridges, cars and trees are picked up and washed away.

While floods are a natural event and cannot be prevented, most damage is caused by human development in areas that were wetlands.  These wetlands were a natural buffer for floodwaters but developers have filled them in to build homes near the water. Since floods cannot be prevented, we will discuss in a later post, actions you can take if a flood is predicted in your area.

Watchman (Part III) Wildfires

Wildfires burn an average of five million acres every year in the United States.  The ongoing drought in the western part of the country has increased this to nine million acres in recent years.  These uncontrollable blazes are fueled by weather and dry conditions.  They can consume acres of land in mere minutes.  A wildfire will destroy anything in is path including brush, trees, animals, houses and humans.

Wildfires, like any fire, require three components to start: Fuel, Oxygen and a Heat or ignition source. The fuel source is trees, grass, underbrush, or any flammable material.  The oxygen is naturally supplied by the air and the heat source can be from a campfire, cigarette or lightning.  Another cause of wildfires are prescribed burns that get out of control.  Although eighty percent of wildfires are caused by humans, nature is more than willing to create the conditions that allow them to flourish.  Drought conditions turn green vegetation into a dry fuel source.  Hot weather with low humidity combined with strong winds and an ignition source and you have the ingredients for a wildfire.

Wildfires occur in all fifty states but usually are worse in the west where drought, heat and winds combine to create perfect wildfire conditions.  Firefighters fight wildfires by removing one of the components of the fire triangle.  This is done by using water or fire retardants to extinguish the fire.  Firebreaks are created by removing the vegetation or fuel source from the fire. This can help contain the spread of the fire.   Although wildfires are destructive to humans, they are natures way of revitalizing the forest.  By burning the underbrush and canopies, wildfires allow new seedlings to grow.

Later in this series of articles we will discuss preparations and actions  needed  to survive these  incidents.

Watchman (Part II) Earthquakes

According to the United States Geological Survey, there have been ten significant earthquakes world wide in the past thirty days.  Eight of the ten significant earthquakes were recorded in the Americas’.   Three of these were in the United States.  The United States has experienced 3836 earthquakes to date in 2012.  While most of these are relatively insignificant, twenty seven were between 5.0-5.9 and five were between 6.0-6.9.   These may not have caused the loss of life or economic impact of the 6.9 Loma Prieta (world series) earthquake but were still significant earthquakes.  We are fortunate that some of the large earthquakes have been in remote areas.

Another indication of a potential increase in seismic activity is the large sink holes showing up in the New Madrid fault area.  The Huffington Post reported on November 30, 2012 that a large sink hole near Dover Ohio was the size of four football fields.  WAFB channel 9 news from Baton Rouge Louisiana reports there is a 372-foot wide and 422-foot deep sinkhole in Assumption Parish Louisiana.  Both of these sinkholes are along the New Madid fault.  The New Madrid earthquakes occurred  in 1811-12.  The first earthquake, a M7.7 occurred on December 16,1811 in northeast Arkansas.  The second earthquake, a M7.5, occurred in Missouri on January 23, 1812.  The third earthquake M7.7 occurred on February 7,1812 in Missouri and Tennessee.  Further information about these quakes and the hundreds of aftershocks can be found at the USGS website by clicking on the following link: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/states/events/1811-1812.php

Although the New Madrid earthquakes occurred  just over one hundred years ago, the fault is still active.  An event on this scale today would cause unimaginable damage to the local area and effectively shut down most east/west vehicle traffic.  This would cause shortages of certain products in stores nation wide.

These are examples of how natural disasters can impact your life even if you do not live in the immediate area.  So when someone questions the wisdom of preparing and living a self-sufficient life, remember that disasters do happen and history repeats itself.  The actions you take now will better prepare you to handle these or similar events if and when they occur.