Do you need body armor?

One question that I have gotten much more frequently in the last couple years is whether body armor is a good preparation. I think this has come more to the forefront because of the social violence we are seeing in many parts of the world.  A few years ago, I might have dissuaded someone from including this in their planning unless they had most other items covered and possibly had extenuating circumstances.  While I value the safely body armor can provide, I always hope most will need things like warm blankets more than it in a disaster.

With the current state of the world, I am now more of the mindset that some people may need to procure body armor. Visions of news footage from Bosnia in the early 1990s seem all too familiar when viewed alongside some of the violence that has happened in major U.S. cities recently.  This rampant violence can happen quickly and may mean you are caught in close proximity to it. This could happen when bugging out to a new location or when trying to get back to your home location from work. If the violence is widespread and long term, it could be needed to make runs for extra supplies. At any of these times you could be targeted or even just be caught in the crossfire. Which it is will not matter if you get shot.

The first thing that a potential buyer needs to do is understand how body armor is rated.  Not all body armor is the same level of protection.  The higher the number, the more powerful of a round it will protect you from.

  • Level IIA – Tested to stop 9mm and .40 S&W ammunition fired from short barrel handguns. No rife ammunition protection.
  • Level II – Tested to stop 9mm and .357 Magnum ammunition fired from short barrel handguns. No rife ammunition protection.
  • Level IIIA – Tested to stop .357 SIG and .44 Magnum ammunition fired from longer barrel handguns. No rifle ammunition protection.
  • Level III – Tested to stop 7.62mm FMJ lead core rife ammunition.
  • Level IV – Tested to stop .30 caliber steel core armor
    piercing rife ammunition.

There is no way for me to tell you what level of protection you need but there are some criteria I can offer to evaluate it. The first is obviously the calibers you want protection from. The first knee-jerk reaction would be to say all, but realistically most people will not be facing .30 caliber armor piercing rounds unless things have fully gone off the deep end. If you live in a typical suburb setting, you would probably be more likely to encounter pistol fire. In a rural setting that has a high population of big game hunters, you might encounter more deer rifle caliber fire.

The second criteria to look at is weight. The most common consumer armor is made up of steel plates. Extra protection generally means heavier plates. The average person is not some gung ho operator, so wearing an extra 25 pounds or more of armor is going to wear on them. This might be a reason to go for a lower level of protection or lighter armor as a compromise. There are other options besides steel plates for armor too. There are ceramic and soft body armor. These each have their own pros and cons. Ceramic armor is typically lighter and protects better, but can be damaged with rough handling. It also has a shorter suggested life span due to it possible degrading over time. Soft body armor is the lightest of all, but does not come in the higher protection levels. It also costs more than the same level steel plates.

The third criteria is cost. The better protection armor provides, generally the more it costs. That is understandable. Plus, the lighter options of the same protection level will cost more. Each person has to evaluate how much you can afford to budget to preparation as a whole and what subset of that can be put aside for body armor, if any. It may not serve you well if you have armor, but only a single day’s worth of food on hand.

Another thought to keep in mind when buying body armor is how you want to present yourself. Are you going for a gray man look where you can move about mostly unnoticed, or are you more worried about having your body armor set up with magazine pouches and such to assist you in a firefight? There is no right answer here, but it is a consideration. A fully loaded out set of body armor is not going to hide easily under even the largest coat. Plus, it is going to get you much more scrutiny from law enforcement in a middle level emergency.  In a full blown SHTF scenario though, it might be very useful. On the other hand, armor meant for concealment or even just a slimmer type that can be covered by a heavy sweatshirt or such, might allow you to go about your business without anyone batting an eye. Well, since the armor is not COMPLETELY invisible, your neighbors might ask if you have gained weight, but you can always tell them you are feeling cold.

So how do I evaluate who is more likely to need  body armor even in less that SHTF emergency? My thought process is a sliding scale based on population density. I feel that the denser the population where you live, the more chance you will need body armor. Why? Well this is simply based on the fact that you have a much higher possibility to encounter other people while moving around. Each  encounter raises your chance that one will involve violence toward you or others around you. It is about odds. I know that you might live in the middle of nowhere and only come across one person and still get shot at, but it is much less likely. Another part that increases your odds in a denser population is that you have many more people seeking resources and that can cause anger and desperation.  Angry and  desperate people often act irrationally. This mode of evaluation is by no means scientific, but I feel it is a good rule of thumb to go by.

I have just covered the tip of the iceberg in this post, but I hope it gives you the information to begin researching and making your own decisions about body armor.  While I hope you never need it, if you do, very little can be used in its place.

Special Note: When researching armor also please review the legality of body armor in your area. I am not a legal expert and laws vary widely across the U. S. and world. 

Learning from COVID19

The global pandemic of Covid19 has been a mixed blessing. Many have lost their lives or at least their health. but it has brought about a much wider understanding of how fragile our supply chains and support systems can be. I mean in no way to diminish the pain and suffering of those that have fought COVID19 or the loved ones that have buried those that lost the fight. I simply want to examine that in a sense we are “lucky” to have only experience this level of pandemic. I say that because it could have been MUCH worse. If COVID19 had shown its same infection rate but a fatality rate the same as, say Ebola, which is up to 90%, we would be in a very different outcome. So let us use this as a learning tool to help us not only reduce the risk of future pandemics, but also to improve the resilience of our supply chains and support systems such as hospitals.

In normal times Just-In-Time inventory works both for the business and the consumer. It allows the business to reduce the inventory cost on its books, lessen the chance of damage or spoilage while being warehoused, and reduce the cost of warehouse space. From the business side this is a very attractive way to do inventory. From the consumer side, again in normal times, it works well also. It helps to keep prices down and if you buy all the widgets the store has today, then more than likely they will have more tomorrow. So there is no need to worry. What we saw during COVID19 was that this system is easily broken and can take a very long time to recover.

There are 3 major factors that affected the inventory supply. The first is panic buying or hoarding. For a multitude of personal reasons people became afraid and bought items in large quantities. Some examples were toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes.  Some of this was purely psychological and based on seeing others buying large quantities of the same stuff. In some cases, people ended up with 3000 rolls of toilet paper, but only a few days of food, and possibly even less water.  This sudden bulk buying drained the store shelves and whatever small on-hand back stock they had. Since the panic buying lasted more than a few days, stores ramped up ordering from either their central warehouse or suppliers. In some causes the automated store inventory systems made these orders. All of those orders came into the warehouses and were filled from stock on hand there. Within a short time the warehouse stock, which is based on normal demand,  was depleted by all of the increased ordering.

These warehouses then reached out to the production facilities and requested more stock.  This is where the second factor comes in. Whereas stores having to order more stock might have delayed the shelves being stocked by a few days, this bottleneck caused a much longer delay. The production facility might be running near 100% production capability for its normal ordering quantities. Idle machines and workers cost money, so most facilities do not want them setting around. So the production could not be ramped up quickly to restock the warehouses. In fact, due to workers being out with COVID19, most actually fell to a lower production rate. Hiring fill in workers and adding machinery needed to up production takes time.

The third factor is the distance from the production site to the store shelves. Some of these goods are made in other parts of the world and then shipped, more than likely by container ship, to the U. S. The average shipping time via container ship from China to the U. S, is 20 to 30 days. This meant that any increased production that could be done would lag behind by 30 days. The same was true of the machinery needed by the production sites to increase the production.  Unfortunately, just like the manufacturing facilities, the shipping and dock sectors took a large hit due to worker illness. This lead to shipments sitting while they waited for a ship to transport them and ships full of containers waiting much longer than normal for their turn to dock and be unloaded.

Some of these same things worked against the medical sector as they tried to care for all the patients coming in with COVID19. Due to cost most hospitals are sized and staffed based on “normal” patient load.  Remember,  most hospitals are part of a for profit business, just like the widget factories. With the massive increase in inbound patients, they began to run out of beds, ventilators, or at least the staff to take care of those patients. They found that when they ordered more ventilators, beds, and supplies that they were stuck in the same production nightmare as everything else. So they saw lack of stock, a fixed production capacity, and long leads times to get the items to them. In addition to the supply issue, medical facilities saw a decrease in staff as some of them fell ill. Something different here is that due to the stress of the situation and fear for their own health, some additional staff simply quit. It is hard to blame them after all they see and are asked risk. Then you had those that took advantage of the situation and moved to other facilities that were paying incredible wages to attract more staff immediately just to keep their door open. In the end everywhere ended up with patients lining the halls and far too few staff on hand to care for them as usual. Honestly, most did their best to give every patient good care, but obviously it was a very strained existence at that point.

Taking a look back at what has happened, we can use these events to focus our planning. First, we can see that just having a plan and some supplies set back put us way ahead of many. Still, stuffing some ramen in the cabinet next to a bottle of water and aid first aid kit is not enough. We really must sit down and analyze what we use and what of that we need or want when things go bad. What gets used in an average week? That will give you a baseline to look at. Food, paper goods, hygiene items, and medications are a beginning. Having this evaluated we can know what we need instead of madly loading buggies down with toilet paper at the last minute.

Secondly, we need to evaluate what skills we have or can lean that can be put to use in bad times. I am not talking about gardening or blacksmithing at the moment. In the short term things like basic medical skills can be very helpful. At the height of COVID19, going to the emergency room was very risky and it could take hours to get care. So being able to deal with minor medical issues at home is very valuable. Things ranging from minor burns and simple cuts can be taken care of with minimal supplies and skill. I know most people can deal with the most minor ones, but evaluate if you could put in 3 stitches to close  up a cut. What about setting a broken bone? Know your limits and you can make a clear line in the sand as to when you need to look for outside care in troubled times. Unless all medical facilities are totally offline, there are things you are just not ever going to be equipped to handle adequately at home.

Third, evaluate the resources in your area so you know where to go in the event you do need last minute items or care. When panic buying started, pictures from Sam’s Clubs and Costcos across the U. S. showed huge crowds all rushing to clear out the shelves. While these might have been the place to buy the bulk packs of items, they were also the first places with bare shelves. So these places might have not been the best to use as a go to for topping off your pantry.  One personal example is that my household needed a few items we do not use a lot normally, but had ramped up since we were all home full time. Instead of rushing off to Sam’s Club, which was already reportedly empty, I stopped by the out of the way Dollar General in my area. Things that coworkers supposedly could not find, were on the shelf. No huge packages, but smaller ones, many with no limit. So take a look at the places that might have the supplies you need and make a list. Then think outside the box about places that are either off the beaten path or would be overlooked because their main business does not deal with what you are looking for. These places may just be where you find the items. For example, if paper towels were cleared out in most grocery stores, do you know Advance Auto Parts carries them? They just call them shop towels and they are blue. They are more expensive, but also are much better than the $1 rolls you might normally buy. The same thought can be applied to medical care. If you must go in, you might find the local ERs and large walk-in clinics packed to the gills. There may very well be small independent doctor’s offices in the area that would treat you. They might not be “in network” on your insurance, but in an emergency I would rather be treated in 30 minutes at a higher cost , than wait 5 hours just to get the budget rate. You also risk being exposed to other diseases in the larger setting.  Knowing these places ahead of time will allow you to get in and out before the crowds spill over to them.

So I hope you can see that we have lessons to learn that can better prepare us. So take a look at what plans you already have set forth. Does anything that has happened expose a weak point in them? Do you see supplies you need to add? If not, that is great, but I am betting you are in the minority.  I am not saying it is possible to cover EVERY contingency, but we may better cover for things we have never seen as issues before. So many things have happened in the last year that none of us have had to deal with in our lifetimes.

Stay safe out there and take the precautions seriously. Hopefully we will be out of all this sooner than later.

Happy Holidays!

Here is hoping that anyone that reads this is well prepared, safe, and happy in this holiday season.

We have snow which makes the first white Christmas in a long time. That adds an extra bit of cheer.

The overlooked blessing of light

In this modern age I feel there are many things we take for granted. One of the most significant in my eyes, aside from food, is light. For a large part of the world a simple flick of a switch will light your home all night.  This light is also constant and bright. If a bulb goes out, we just replace it and if we need more light, we just add another source like a lamp or buy higher wattage bulbs. This has not always been the case.

Throughout much of history civilization patterned its life around daylight. This is because having light was difficult or costly. The first campfire build by man much have been a glorious sight, Turning the darkness into light, providing warmth, deterring predators, and allowing food to be easily cooked. It probably took a short time for that fire builder to come to understand how hard it is to gather enough wood to keep the fire burning all night, If it rained, things became an even bigger deal. Light took work. Further through time people developed “better” ways to provide heat and light. One form would have been an oil lamp. Whether it was whale oil, olive oil, or later kerosene, these needed fuel. Again people found that they needed to work to gather that fuel or at least pay someone else to do it.  The light given off by these lamps was dim and smoke often accompanied it. All the way into the late 1800s many people were still limited by the need for this fuel if they wanted extra hours of light.

Jump to present day and you will find a significant portion of the world has access to reliable electricity which translates into light. Now, I fully understand that we still have electric bills and thus still pay someone for the “fuel” for our lights. The big difference now is that in reality a kilowatt of electricity is dirt cheap compared to the alternative fuels of the past. This has lead to many people depending entirely on electricity for light an heat. Aside from a flashlight or two, most people have no other way to provide light. They assume that they will rarely need an alternate source. Take a look at people that are long term residents of areas prone to power outages from snow, ice, hurricanes, or tornadoes and you will see something different.

These people that, for various reasons, understand that electricity is not a 24/7/365 guarantee have been forced into planning for lack of it. This planning means that, while it still may be a inconvenient, it is not an emergency. This is something that many people should learn from. Having alternate forms of light can prevent an extended outage from becoming a personal disaster. There is also a chance that the power outage could be a symptom of a much larger event that causes it to be much longer term. This makes it even more critical to have a secondary plan.

Planning for this does not have to mean a huge investment. A good beginning is to purchase either a battery or fuel based lantern. These provide area light and can be moved around. Battery ones are convenient, but propane or liquid fuel ones do not require battery upkeep. Here are a few options.

This one uses the same one pound propane bottles that the Coleman camp stoves do. If you have a stove, this might be a good option that can share fuel.

Coleman Gas Lantern

This is another Coleman type lantern but it runs on liquid Coleman fuel or unleaded gasoline. This gives you the option to use the fuel stored in your car if need be.

Coleman Premium Dual Fuel Lantern with Hard Carry Case

Coleman also makes a stove that is dual fuel like the lantern

Coleman Guide Series Dual-Fuel Camping Stove

This is a battery only lantern that is good if you prefer ntyo to use liquid or propane fuel. I suggest storing the batteries with it, btui not in it so that if they leak, they do not destroy the lantern. Also, swap the batteries out routinely.

Coleman 1000 Lumens LED Lantern with BatteryGuard

These are just a few of the options for providing light when electricity from the grid is not an option. Other options like solar panels with battery banks, generators, wind powered devices are also possible, but much more involved and expensive. So I advise getting the basic level covered before venturing into those.



DIY Improved Fire Starters

While there is lots of good gear that you can buy, I like to also have the option to improvise items that I might need. This can help if you are limited in the materials you can get or in the budget you have for it. It also means you can improvise them if stuck in a situation without your normal gear. One item that I do this with is fire starters.
It is well published that a cheap and easy fire starter consists of cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly. I have used this for years and have never had it fail. It can be lit with a lighter, a ferro rod, or flint and steel. I am sure even friction-based fire-starting methods could use it, but I have never tried. The one annoyance that I have with the normal form of these is that they are messy. When starting a fire far from a warm water sink, the petroleum jelly inevitably gets on your fingers and begins to collect all kinds if dirt. So, I began looking for a way to solve this. I wanted whatever way I chose to still be cheap, easy, and possibly improve the fire starters function.

I first started by melting the petroleum jelly in a double boiler made up of a soup can and a pot full of water. I found out adding weight to the bottom of the can helps or it will try to float. I began by adding the petroleum jelly and bringing the water to a boil. Once the petroleum jelly was melted, I slowly added the cotton balls one by one ensuring each was fully submerged. I gave it a few minutes for the cotton balls to fully saturate. I then turned off the heat and removed the can from the water. Using a fork, I pulled the cotton balls out one by one and laid them on a sheet of wax paper. Once all were on the sheet, I covered it with another sheet of wax paper. I chose wax paper because it would withstand the heat and also burn when I lit the cotton ball. After these cooled, I stored them in a zip lock bag. As I need them, I cut them out in squares and store them in my fire kits in some smaller zip lock bags that I have. I find there is some light oily residue that can soak through the wax paper if the weather is hot. The zip lock bag keeps it off the rest of the items in your kit.


Here is a shot of what the squares look like. They will not win any beauty contests, but they work and that is my real goal.


The way I use these squares is to slightly pull the layers of wax paper apart at one corner and press the whole thing down so it lays on the surface you want to use. Then you can direct your sparks onto the cotton ball in the center. This means that there is wax paper under the cotton ball in case there is dampness. A few strikes of a flint and steel or ferro rod and you will have a great start to a fire. Simply feed it kindling and you are ready to warm up or start dinner.

One bonus tip for fire kits is to carry some toothpicks. Toothpicks are a cheap and light way to have kindling that will boost your fire if the environment is wet. By breaking them, you can get a bit of a ragged edge that catches easily. This give you a real boost to get the other damp wood you may be using started.


I hope this is a tip that can be used to improve your fire kits. As with all things, I suggest you try it out and practice while you have the luxury. That will ensure that you can use it effectively when it counts.

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 4

Week 4 rounds out the month with the suggestion to ‘Teach Youth about Preparedness’. This a topic I have covered before (See Including your kids in the plan) but it is till a very important one to discuss.

While it may seem obvious that you want to teach your kids about the preparedness plans you have, it is not as simple as a family dinner discussion. Age of your children is one key factor. A 6 year old will have a very different role than a 16 year old. Take this into account when address certain scenarios.

One key to doing well with kids is to start early. Start with simple things, such as what to do if there is a fire or the smoke alarm goes off. Teach them how to get out safely and where to meet you outside. Use a honest but not frightening approach. Also keep it simple. 6 year olds will much more reliably follow instructions like “meet at the mailbox” than “get to safety”. This will hopefully help them to understand and not freeze up in fear. This also sets the tone when you broach larger subjects with them.

Give them a responsibility. For the youngest, it could be a backpack of their own containing comfort items such as colored pencils ( don’t melt or dry up), coloring books, a flashlight, and a favorite stuffed animal. This makes them feel a part of the plan. If everyone else has bags, they may feel disconnected and not invest in things. For older kids it may be helping to inventory food stores, assisting their younger siblings during drills, or loading certain things in the car in the event of evacuation (bugging out). This can help to give them some insight into why this is being done. Many in the terrible teens may not fathom what could happen without that. In addition, the helping hands older kids can lend may be welcome help when planning and when enacting that plan.

Additionally, you need to teach kids skills that they may need. While you may not plan to run off and live like Grizzly Adams, some basic woodcraft can be a life saver. Practice things such as water purification, fire starting. safe knife usage, firearm safety, and what to do if they end up lost alone (in the city or in the woods). This skills are much more than their individual ones, they can help to build an adaptability in kids that they can apply even as adults.

One last thing. When possible, keep things light. While kids need to understand the seriousness of some of these matters, they should not lie awake at night worrying about what disaster will happen. There is no reason to have them live in fear. Let them know that the reason you plan is to overcome those disasters. Kids have enough to worry about daily already. It is best if next weeks history test, who to ask to the school dance, or which college to go to are their biggest anxieties. They are only kids once. As parents, we do what we do to let them have that.

As with all planning, there is no rubber stamp method to do it. You, your kids, and your environment will dictate how you involve them. Remember also that by involving them now, you not only prepare them for your plans, but also how to make their own when they are adults.

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 3

The theme of week 3 of National Preparedness Month 2020 is “Prepare for Disasters”. This may seem like what you have been doing, but that is not what it means. A better way to phrase it is “Know your Disasters”. This means evaluating disasters that are the most likely to affect you.

One good example is tsunamis. If you live on the coast in relatively close proximity to the ocean, this is something you must take into your planning. If you live somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, it is not going to be necessary to plan for. If a tsunami hits you there, there is not a lot you can do to prepare.

This is a good time to employ the levels that I discuss. Nothing has to be exact, but you can use them to break down the possibilities. For example, you live in Minnesota and get a large amount of snow each year. The amount you get might be a huge disaster some places, but is only a blue level to you. This is because everyone is used to it. Municipalities will have a sufficient amount of equipment and chemical to remove the snow from the roads quickly. Normal home owners will own snow blowers or at least enough shovels to dig out. In addition, everyone will probably have supplies in case the power is interrupted. If it is, it will be off less time because the power providers are prepared for the yearly ritual. Lastly, people who must venture out will have the proper clothing and things like tire chains to protect them from becoming stranded. So basically the planning and preparation are a given.

A short term, say 24 to 48-hour, power outage might be a yellow level to many people. While it is a huge inconvenience, it is not bad enough to cause you to have to evacuate unless there are other factors. If you do not have extreme heat or cold in your area, then sitting tight and riding it out would be just fine if you have a few supplies and planning. These supplies might be as advanced as a generator tied into your home electrical system or as simple as flashlights, a dual fuel camp stove, and an alternate heat source if necessary. It greatly depends on your desired comfort level and budget.

Hurricanes are an example of what could be a orange level event for many. If you are in the direct path of a severe hurricane then evacuating is the safest bet. The flooding and destruction from high winds can cover a large area and be unpredictable. Being prepared to evacuate quickly with necessary supplies is a must for an orange level event. Since it covers a wide area and easily has the potential to totally destroy your home and anything left there, you may be left with only what you take with you. So, while this covers a large area and occurs multiple times a year in some areas, it may only significantly affect a small number of people in that area. It takes a heavy toll on those it does though.

A red level event is something that totally uproots large regions, whole countries, or more probably, the entire world. It is the worst-case scenario. This could be a massive global EMP., natural or otherwise, taking out all electrical devices. Or it could an asteroid strike of a level not seen since the dinosaurs. Alternately, it could be an entire social break down that brings on a time where there is no rule of law. It could even be a pandemic, but not like we have now. It would be one that has a mortality rate so high and spreads so fast that a significant portion of the population is gone in the blink of an eye. Heck, to cover everything it could even be some sort of zombie uprising. Whatever it is, it overshadows any other disaster in human history. This is the least likely, but most grave level of disaster. Preparing for it is to also hope that you or none of you family’s generations to come see it come to pass. While these are ones that would be deadly if not planned for, they also take so large of an investment of time, energy, and money that many simply cannot fully prepare for the full battery of possibilities. Whether you commit to preparing for this is a personal choice.

While thinking about these possible disasters can be stressful, it is necessary. Once you know what disasters could befall you, you can then logically begin steps to prepare. These preparations could be as simple as storing a plastic tote full of food and batteries or as drastic as moving to a different area to limit your chance of certain disasters. Each situation is drastically different and only you can decide how your plan is laid out to address it.