Ostriches, Preppers — And Those in the Middle

A simple Web search yesterday yielded a rabbit-hole diversion that lasted nearly three hours. The subject? Essential hiking gear. The detour? The Prepper subculture.

OK, so right off — I have no problems with Preppers. Although some of them sound like they fear the Black Helicopters, many are simply establishing a Plan B for when the fecal material hits the rotating blades. The latter group seems sensible enough; their concern isn’t an alien invasion or a fascist takeover of “Amerika” but rather medium-term survival in case of a natural disaster. Like, say, the 19th coming of Hurricane Katrina (or Sandy, or Andrew, or …).

The Preppers differ markedly from many of my friends, who may well be considered Ostriches. Not only have they prepared not a whit for a natural disaster, they haven’t even prepared for the inconvenience of getting a flat tire on a rural road in the middle of a Michigan winter. Heaven forfend if they got in trouble in a cellular dead zone; we may not find them until the blowflies lead us to their bloated corpses a few days after the spring thaw.

Interesting ideas, those Preppers advocate.

From the “interesting in academic sense but I’m not going there” file:

  • You should carry a firearm at all times and (importantly) know how to use it. As in aiming, firing with intent and field cleaning. Pistols are OK (and Glocks, FTW) but a shotgun is even better and a semi-auto hunting rifle is best.
  • You should know how to trap animals and field-dress a deer or small woodland creature.
  • You need detailed evacuation plans — preferably to your own camoflaged hideout in the mountains.
  • You should know how to survive a nuclear, chemical or biological attack.

From the “abundance of caution that everyone ought to follow” file:

  • You should know basic bushcraft — how to erect an emergency wilderness shelter, how to purify water in the backcountry, how to start a rescue fire, how to navigate with a map and compass, how to identify safe foods.
  • You should maintain a “bug-out bag” to keep you safe and healthy for a minimum of 72 hours in case disaster strikes and you need to evacuate your home on little or no notice. Disaster in this sense is usually natural — hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis — but could include mass civil disobedience (riots) or terrorism. The BOB includes purified water, food, changes of clothes, and essential survival gear like a hunting knife, fire starters, a first-aid kit, a tent or tarp, a water purification system, a cooking system, flashlights, a radio, a signal whistle, etc.
  • You should maintain a “get-home bag” of the stuff you’d need to get back to home base if you run into trouble. Note that trouble could be something as simple as driving off the road along a sparsely traveled highway. If it’s 15 F and blowing hard during January in Michigan — as it happens to be doing as of this writing — then getting caught unprepared could very well result in injury or death. So a basic GHB includes a poncho, emergency blanket (the mylar kind), fire-starting tools, a basic first-aid kit, a flashlight, a Swiss Army knife, etc.
  • Master the mantra: “Two is one and one is none.” Meaning, if you rely on one thing for survival, it’s as if you have nothing at all. That’s why you shouldn’t just carry a lighter, but also matches or a flint-and-tinder for starting a fire; if your lighter breaks or you drop your matches into the river, then without a backup all you have left is hypothermia.

I took stock of my hiking gear and segregated some redundant material to fashion my own GHB. If I need a BOB, I’ll just shove my hiking gear into my backpack and I’m good to go — my hiking hit was developed for week-long backcountry excursions, so it’s more than adequate for a 72-hour emergency.

My GHB, stored in a rugged Marmot waist pack and kept in my Jimmy, includes:

  • A first-aid kit with adhesive bandages, sterile pads, a short roll of gauze, triple-antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, alcohol wipes and eye drops.
  • A sanitation kit including alchohol-based degermer and a travel pack of tissue.
  • A Swiss Army knife and a small, inexpensive pliers-based multitool.
  • A “tactical flashlight” — LED-based and >50 lumens. With two spare battery changes.
  • A small spiral notepad and mechanical pencil.
  • Eight separate Katadyn Micropur tablets (chlorine dioxide) for purification of up to 8L of additional water.
  • A coil of 30′ of paracord and a 10′ coil of thin-gauge brass wire.
  • A purse-sized emergency sewing kit with thread, needles and pins.
  • Shelter, in the form of a light-duty hooded rain poncho and a 5’x6′ emergency blanket.
  • Firestarting gear including a Bic lighter, waterproofed matches, fluffed cotton for tinder and a tea-lamp candle.
  • A decent hiking compass and field whistle with small signal mirror.
  • A bandana and a pair of padded, fingerless work gloves.
  • Clipped to the pack’s strap, a carabiner with an industrial-grade 1L water bottle attached.
  • Passed through the strap, a 6-inch, fixed-blade Gerber knife with locking sheath.

This kit, with all items, weighs only a few pounds and clips securely around the waist with adjustable webbing for ease of transport. I put it on last night to see how it felt and it seemed just fine — not a problem to carry if I needed to hike 10 miles to civilization.

Besides my GHB, I always have on my person my cell phone and almost always, my 5-Watt handheld ham radio.

I don’t consider myself a Prepper in the lifestyle sense of the term. Nor am I an Ostrich. Rather, I see myself as someone who’s taken basic precaution to minimize my relative risk in case I happen to find myself in a survival situation.

Natural disasters would be less stressful if others took similar steps. Even in Michigan, where hurricanes and earthquakes are non-existent and recovery from tornadoes takes hours, not months, it pays to be ready. An ounce of prevention, and all that.