Packing..and I don’t mean heat

In all of the planning discussions packs and bags are brought up a lot. The type of bag and the contents are discussed at length. Rarely though do you see a good discussion of PACKING the bag. Anyone that has carried a pack for any length of time can tell you that things needs to be organized in a particular way to carry it comfortably.

An often recommended way is to divide the pack into 3 sections. Gear should be packed based on weight, bulkiness, and how frequently it is used.

The Bottom Section

Bulky items that are needed less frequently should be placed here. Things like sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and extra layers for occasional use are some examples. These are light and can provide some cushion to carry the load of the heavier items.

The Middle Section

This section should be reserved for heavy gear that you do not need immediate access to.  Cooking kits, stove, fire kit, crank emergency radio, and your main food supply generally fall into this. If you have a larger store of water, it should go here too. Just wrap in in some soft items to prevent it from being damaged by other heavy gear. Placing the heavy items in the center helps to keep it from tipping back or sagging down on you. Either will cause you to have to work harder without a stable center of gravity.

The Top Section

This section should be reserved for items that you need quickly or more often. Rain gear, first-aid kit, water filter, and toilet paper.  For the most part it should be lighter items to keep the pack stable.


External pockets

These pockets should also be used for quick access items. They will be smaller items and based on pocket location should also follow the same weight pattern as the interior.  Items that fit this could be your compass, map, pack rain cover, sunglasses, headlamp/flashlight, water bottle, snacks, and hand sanitizer. Not only will this help you get to these items quicker, it will prevent them from being lost in the interior shuffle.

Lashing points

Many packs built for hiking or tactical use feature lashing points at different areas. These can be used to affix tent poles, hiking sticks, axes, or machetes. Some even have points at the bottom designed to be used for a sleeping bag or pad. Just be sure things are lashed so as to not swing around.

What not to pack iN your pack

There are some things I advise to not put in your pack. These would be personal documents, ID, at least part of your cash, your main knife, a flashlight, and basic fire kit. In addition if you carry a handgun it should not be buried in your pack. The reason these should not be packed, but on your person, is that a point could arise that you must ditch your pack. You may need to flee from danger, it might be taken from you, you may lose it in a water crossing, or many other scenarios. In these cases you need these very important items on you so that there is less chance of losing them completely.

It is important to test out the packing plan of your pack and how it carries. This will give you a chance to rearrange and perfect your load. Better to do it now than when your safety depends on it.


The list I thought I would never make

When I set out on designing Leveled Survival’s philosophy related to emergency planning, I wanted to emphasis how personal the plan should be. Everyone is different and their family and geographic location play a huge part in forming that plan.  In light of this I did not want to post any lists of items you “must have” in your bag. I have made a post listing the types of items with explanations and links to examples though. This list has lead to a lot of requests for me to offer a ready made shopping list of items. I have put this off for a while because I feel it is impossible to make a kit that is a good fit for everyone.

After talking to many people, I have come to realize though that  some people with very limited experience are looking for a starting point. Items to fill the major categories that they can use to improve their skills. Along the way they can specialize their kit by adding, removing, or swapping out items. In light of this I have put together a list with links to exact items that can be purchased. Whenever possible I have listed items I have exact experience with. If not, I have listed items that are as close to what I use as is reasonably available.

Suggested Buying List

I hope this list is helpful to novice and experienced planners alike. Feel free to comment or contact us with questions or comments.

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Making Due

Anyone reading this is obviously interested in being prepared at some level. The issue is that at times you may end up in a situation where either you cannot have your supplies with you or they are lost/damaged.  This is when the the real level of preparation you have done will come to light.

Preparation for almost anything is less about the items you have than the skills you gain and hone. Once a skill is learned, it cannot be lost or taken away. Sure it can get rusty, but the knowledge and experience are still there. One skill that is talked about a lot is adaptability. This post is going to focus on examples of how you can adapt and use nontraditional items to equip yourself with the basic items you may need to survive.

Lets set up a scenario where you might be without most, if not all, of your gear and supplies. This is a good exercise to generate constructive thinking about your surroundings. In this case, you have flown to distant city where you are staying in a hotel by yourself for work. Due to flight security and space you do not have anything except a few sets of clothes and toiletries. A large scale disaster (take your pick) strikes that prevents the emergency personnel from responding in the foreseeable future. You have little info beyond the total chaos you can see outside. You know that you need to try and evacuate the area to avoid danger. Hanging around in such a unknown densely populated area does not seem like a healthy idea.  You look around your hotel room for supplies to assist you in hopefully getting home or at least out of the danger zone. You hope that you can resupply with better supplies, but you want what you can get right now.

Items you could collect:

Shower curtain:  This can serve as a ground cover, makeshift tent, or  rain poncho depending on your needs. If available grab a few, they are light and not especially sturdy for the long term.

Bed Sheet/Blanket:  This can serve as a sleeping bag, cold weather poncho, bandages, slings, or be cut to strips for cordage. The sheet could also be tied into a hobo bundle to carry your items more easily that the standard luggage you came with.

Water Bottles:  Beyond the obvious use, these can be packed with cloth, charcoal, and sand as a basic water filter. the top could also be cut off to use as a container to use while foraging.

Soda Can:  Very easily these can be used to create a small alcohol stove to cook or boil water. A second can can act as a pot. They could also be used as a mirror signaling device. In a desperate situation these could be cut into a flat sheet and formed into a crude cutting tool.

Ice Bucket:  If this is the lighter plastic type you can use it to carry water, foraged food. If it has a lid you can use it to keep your tinder dry to help with fire making. While you are at it grab the plastic bag that is usually with it. Again it can hold or protect different items.

Mini Bar Items:  While most of us normally avoid these items due to the insane cost, they are not something to leave behind. The food is obvious, but also take the coffee, tea, sugar packets, and liquor. The tea and coffee will provide caffeine to help you keep moving. You may have a long trek before you feel safe enough to stop. Even just soaking a coffee or tea packet in water can accomplish this on the go. The liquor is best reserved for sterilization and other medical needs.

This list is not to say that you need ALL if these items. You may not have all of them at hand or may have better alternatives.

In addition, when you make it to the lobby, there may be some things you can scavenge.

Every major hotel has a breakfast of some kind. It might take a bit of force to get into the storage area. In a true disaster, you breaking in might be the least of anyone’s worries.

Food/Water:     You can gather a variety of food for short and longer term here. Fruit, baked items, and refrigerated items would be great for the short term. Items such as peanut butter packs, individual cereal boxes, and oatmeal packs would be safe for the longer term. Water bottles or at least a container of water will be stored there. Stock up to augment what you took from your room.

Knife:  Most of these food prep and storage areas would have some type of knife or box cutter. Having a cutting tool is a real necessity. It can be used to make tinder, cut cordage, and if desperate as a defensive tool. You can use cardboard and tape to make a improvised sheath. If no knife is there, scissor might be a good fallback.

Utensils:  While most of what hotel guest get is plastic, there would be a variety of metal utensils in this area for prep. A couple of them could be very helpful if you need to cook or boil water over an open fire.

Cookware: While there is not anything here that would pass for a full set of cooking pots and pans, there is something. Any metal container that you could use to boil water but is still small enough to not hinder your travel would work. Starting a file and boiling water takes time and effort, so it is best to do it in the largest volume possible.

Bleach:  Either in the food prep area or the laundry room you have a good chance of finding a bottle of bleach. Plain unscented bleach can be used to purify water.  It needs to not have any additional cleaners, colors, or anything in it. From 6 to 8 drops per gallon will purify the water depending on bleach concentration.

First Aid Kit: Normally safety procedures would warrant a first aid station in this area. If there is not a kit here, then the front desk is a good place to check also.

Lighter: A lot of these breakfast setups use Sterno to heat the containers they put eggs, sausage, or such in on the serving line. That means a lighter should be available. In addition if the Sterno is there, it would be a great option to use instead of a full blown fire.

As you can see, with a bit of creative thinking, you can supply yourself with some basic tools. They may not be best option given alternatives, but they may also make a difference in your survival. You do not know what you will have access to after you leave the hotel. Nothing stops you from swapping off for better equipment as you travel either.

While this scenario may be very contrived, it is to point out how those items around you can be put to use when you are a bit creative. Thinking and identifying potential items in your location that could help you in an emergency is a very good habit to build. It is very similar to people who, due to training, habitually identify exit points when entering a room. The time saved in ether of these cases could help you escape to a safer area ahead of the crowd.



Legality matters..until it doesn’t

Watch any good apocalyptic movie or television show and you will see “ordinary”  people running around with full auto guns, suppressors (often referred to as “silencers”), and explosives. While that makes for a good action flick, it is far from what I would expect to see if things really fell apart.  I very often see posts where people advocate ignoring current laws because they feel they need such equipment if things go wrong. This is a a very slippery slope that rarely ends well.

One thing that you must be cognizant about is the laws related to the plans and preparations you are making. Even in the worst case scenario, there will be a time period when law enforcement and the military will still attempt to enforce the laws. Being locked up or worse would put a real damper on your survival plans. In addition, some of these items come at a trade off as money is invested in them instead of other items.

While having some of the advanced hardware might help you after the world transitions to total chaos, it does comes with extra cost and risk. Legally you can apply and own a lot of full auto guns and suppressors, but they cost a pretty penny by the time you pay for permits. Without those permits, you risk hefty jail time and fines. The cost involved with these permits could be better spent on standard guns, ammo, and other supplies. On top of this, full automatic  guns tend to  burn through more ammo (read “money”) as you practice. One other factor is that more common guns such as handguns and hunting rifles will be in much larger supply if things totally deteriorate. This means more spare parts or replacement items will be available for something like a .30-06 hunting rifle than a fully automatic HK MP5.

Explosives such as grenades, refereed to as “destructive devices” by law enforcement, put you at even greater risk. No only can they cause legal issues, but they can be a physical danger unless you are trained to handle them.  So if you have visions of creating pipe bombs to ward off violent attackers, you had better rethink it. In today’s legal landscape stockpiling items for this is easily branded as terrorist no matter how loud you shout your good intentions.

Other items that you should thing carefully about as you plan  include alcohol production equipment and stockpiles of prescription drugs. I have seen many people discuss making alcohol as a trade item, medicinal use, or consumption. This is a highly regulated item and has limits on what you can produce without falling under additional guidelines. Beer is the least regulated as far as “home” production. As much as I see this a  potential benefit, I also see that it could draw undue attention. Also the necessary equipment is not extremely mobile. So not knowing the exact details of future emergencies, there is no way to know if you will have to abandon this in favor of mobility. Stockpiles of certain prescription drugs will also draw attention because normally this can be associated with intent to sell. Even if these are your own, it again is a risk if someone decides to falsify a report against you or they are found during some unrelated events.

So while you plan for all levels up to the worst, you must carefully navigate the laws that govern us whether you may agree with some of them or not. The consequences  of ignoring them can affect your family, friends, and ultimately your survival.

Thanksgiving – A Celebration of Survival

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U. S. there are lots of things that come to mind.  Fall leaf colors, family, turkey, football, and over eating are just a few. While this can be a great holiday for time with family and friends, we can look back at its origins for inspiration.

The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of survival. The Pilgrims had survived the voyage to the colony and the harsh winter that followed. Of the 102 that sat sail on the Mayflower, only 53 still survived at this point. They had managed to collect enough food to survive the coming second winter. This is a feat when you know that most of the Pilgrims were not farmers or woodsmen. Many came from the cities of England and carried with them more household goods than survival gear. In fact one passenger is  listed to have had 126 pairs of shoes in his luggage. While these were probably items to be sold or traded, there surely would have been many better items to bring. Part of the central issue is that few of them knew what to expect. They came from a specialized society dependent on having a wide range of different vocations to complete certain tasks. It is true that a tailor might be able to erect a palisade wall just fine, but by no means would he be as efficient as someone with experience. So starting from nothing to build homes, erect fortifications, and secure food was not something they had experienced before.

Most people today are at a very similar disadvantage. We specialize for the most part in a limited field. It is the way our society works. No one can know everything. We do have many advantages though. We have access to unprecedented amounts of information with almost no effort. If studying about something is not good enough, many places offer classes in survival training from first aid to total off the grid living.

So as you do whatever you prefer on Thanksgiving, remember where the holiday originated. Remember that despite the lack of planning and the hardships they endured, there were individuals that were determined to survive. Also, remember that even the most basic planning and provisioning can make sure you never end up in the same situation. That will be a reason to celebrate in itself.

Stay Safe this Winter

If you knew that you would end up stranded hip deep in snow late at night on a lonely back road, you would come dressed for it with supplies and a way to call for help. Sadly emergencies rarely send you a postcard ahead of time.  With winter just around the corner for the Northern hemisphere, it is time to update any kits that you may have in your car, at home, and at work.

At home, your kit may be less of an organized bag as just having certain things on hand. One important one in cold climates is an alternate heat source if you use a heat pump or electrical heating. In the event of a power outage these will no longer work.  For a small space, a portable propane heater that uses the camping style 16 ounce propane bottles is a good option. Here is an example, but there are several styles. Click the pictures for more info.

In addition to the heater, a good stock of warm blankets and clothes should be kept. These will help you conserve fuel and also conserve body heat while you sleep. This also conserves calories. Wool blankets are a much better choice than cotton. Since these are meant to stay at home, the extra weight over something like a space blanket is a better trade off for the extra warmth.. A wool blanket like this is a good fire resistant option.

You will also need light during this time. A few good flashlights and backup sets of batteries are a good choice. Candles can be used, but need to be secured in a safe way so to prevent the chance of fire.  A lantern style light like this one would be a better first option as long as you have batteries.

If you do need to use candles, tealights have a shorter burn time, but cannot be tipped over. They are cheap and easy to buy in quantity. They could also be used an improvised cooking flame if hard pressed. Here is a example of them.

Food will need to be reviewed also. The best is to have food that is ready to eat.  Canned foods are a good long term option since weight is not a factor. This can be soups, fruit, vegetables, or meat.  Saltine crackers are a good option to accompany these. Sealed they stay fresh a long time. The idea is to limit the need to cook because that requires extra equipment and fuel. It is also another potential fire hazard. Though if the power outage is long term more food options will help curb cabin fever. In that case a stove such as this one is compact and uses the same bottles as the heater above. As an added benefit, it can be used to boil water (or snow and ice) if you run out of clean stored water.

Foods such as “camper” meals can be stored long term and easily prepared using the stove above. The trade off is that they cost more than standard canned food. They have a great variety of food options and some come sealed in a container for even better storage.  They do require water, so be sure to keep a good storage of clean water. Mountain House is a popular brand of these meals. This bucket includes 6 different types of meal pouches.

In case things go beyond just sitting and waiting for the weather to clear, you need to have a way to make outside contact. Given the upgrade away from traditional copper line landlines, a cell phone is the most possible option. Those require power too. A compact option for that is a hand crank device. This one is a AM/FM, weather radio, flashlight, and power bank combo. These are nice because they not only help you communicate out, but can help you keep up on things going on around you based on news reports and weather alerts.  Also, unlike a traditional power bank, you do not need to remember to keep them charged. Either sit this out in the sun or hand crank it to fill the battery. Just be sure to have cables compatible with all your electronics that you want to keep charged.

Some of these items such as the blanket, flashlights, batteries,  and radio combo are also a good part of a winter car kit. In addition some candles and a lighter can provide light and enough warmth to make a difference in the small space of a vehicle. Just be sure to crack a window to compensate for the used oxygen. In case you get stuck and can possibly “self rescue’ a shovel and  salt/sand/cat litter can help to restore traction. If you need help and someone comes along, having booster cables and a tow rope or chain can ensure you have what they need to help you. You can also be the good Samaritan if the reverse situation arises.  Road flares and reflective signals will keep you from getting ran over (hopefully). In addition, a sturdy set of winter boots and a change of clothes including gloves and a warm hat need to be kept in the car. This is in case you are caught dressed inappropriately for walking in bad weather. Top the kit off with some ready to eat snacks that can stand temperature fluctuations in case you get stuck for an extended amount of time. Be sure to keep these in a kit so that they stay secure and organized in your car. A plastic tote can work in the trunk, but just be sure to include a backpack in case you need to load up supplies and leave the vehicle.

Since you also more than likely spend a significant amount of time at work, it can pay to store some items in a safe spot there.  If you do not have easy access to your vehicle and your work attire is not appropriate to walk in bad weather, a change of clothes should be stored here. Boots, a sweater or sweatshirt, warm pants, wool socks, and possibly even a  thermal base layer would be good to have. A good flashlight, a radio combo like above, and some snacks would also be a great idea. If you have storage room, a blanket would be very welcome if you get stranded at work overnight.

As you can see, none of the items included above should be terribly surprising. the problem is that on a day to day basis most are not needed, so people overlook them. This is where a clearly defined plan can help you to properly equip your kits to be there for you when they are needed. So, yearly you should review your winter planning, check for equipment that needs to be swapped, replace any supplies that were used, and add any new additions that have come to light. This small amount of planning will go a long way in keeping you safe until you can get to safety, have someone pick you up, or the emergency has ended.

Celebrating One Year

September celebrates one year of Leveled Survival being on the web. In that time I hope my posts and pages have help some to get to the level of planning they feel is necessary.

I have covered a lot of subjects in this year. If there is anything you feel I have missed or that you want deeper detail on, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Thanks for reading Leveled Survival!


September is National Preparedness Month

As with anything, over time, situations change. The plan that was right for you as a single 20 year old may not hold up as a 30 year old with a family.  In addition supplies or equipment may wear out or simply expire. It is important to look at this and September is a convenient time to do so. This is a great time for beginners and pros alike to re-evaluate your planning.

Take time to set down this month and review your plan. Look for updates based on family changes, location changes, or increased threat level. Review you supplies that may expire. Food, batteries, chem-lights, medications and fuel are just a few examples. Also, you need to reacquaint you entire family unit with the short and long term details of your plan. The passage of time dims details even for the youngest minds.

In the end having a plan if only a first step. Maintaining the items, relationships, knowledge, and fine details can take time. That is time well spent if it saves you and your loved ones from the perils of a disaster situation. My attitude is plan for the worst and hope for the best.




“Killing Time”

Now before anyone gets excited or agitated, this post is not about killing, it is about “killing time.” One thing that many people do not prepare for is the vast amounts of time you need to fill if you are displaced due to a disaster. Now I am not referring to worst case scenarios, but a mid-level disaster. This would be one that causes you to have to leave your home to shelter somewhere. In this instance you may very well have no electricity, cell service, and only the supplies you brought. You are not having to fend off violence, forage for food, or procure firewood. It is expected to be short enough that you can wait it out and return home though.

The true issue is the waiting. The hours we would normally devote to laundry, dishes, television, mobile devices, and the ‘normal’ day are now an empty void. This can lead to frustration, depression, and “cabin fever” in children and adults alike. This might be amplified by lack of sleep and cramped conditions. Thankfully with some forethought you can take simple and cheap steps to deal with this.

One great option is a few decks of cards. Whether it be Go Fish with your 6 year old, Solitare by yourself, or Poker with the entire family, it only take a few decks of cards. These are cheap and can be stashed in the car, emergency bag, or purse. A simple zipper lock sandwich bag will protect them if you end up getting wet. If you are not familiar with many card games, now is the time to learn, but you can also stick a sheet in with the cards that have rules for multiple games on it. Nothing difficult is required, just some so that playing GO Fish is not your only option.

While they can be bulkier, board games come in all age ranges and variety. Checkers, chess, Connect4, Backgammon, and Yahtzee are just a few. The smaller travel sized version do not take up a lot of room. In some cases, you could ditch the packaging and pack several into smaller containers. These would allow pair or group play and a rotation of games to avoid “burn out.’

The list of options is only limited by your imagination and storage space. Take a look at who you will be with, where you think you may be sheltering, and how long you might be gone. Having a few of these items with you may help everyone weather to disaster with a more positive attitude. That will be a benefit during and in the years after.

Some examples of games that might be useful:

Yahtzee to Go Travel Game

Hasbro Connect 4 Grab and Go Game (Travel Size)

Take ‘N’ Play Anywhere – Checkers


3 in 1 Travel Magnetic Chess, Checkers, Backgammon

Bicycle Playing Cards

Scrabble to Go Board Game

Hoyle’s Rules of Games

Including your kids in your plan

Many people struggle when they try to decide how to introduce their kids to planning, especially for the more serious levels. On one side, if they know what is going on, then they can cooperate accordingly. On the other side, it can be scary to think about situations that could change their life forever. Most sources agree that it is very important to share and explain key details to your children. Knowing the plan can help them to better follow instructions and reduce their stress in the moment. In addition, in the event that you are not present or are injured, it will give them steps to follow to seek aid, escape the danger, or implement other important plan steps.

It is important to make a plan for everyone in your house for multiple types of disasters. Sit down and discuss the plans for these disasters and allow children to assist with preparations where they can.  Ensure that younger children have an “emergency kit” aimed more at reducing their fear than simply carrying survival supplies. A stuffed animal, book, or blanket may make all the difference to them. This will also give them a sense of responsibility for the planning and their own items. Reiterate the plan frequently, especially with younger children. You can do this by discussing current news stories and how they would need to respond in those scenarios. Also post copies of plans for emergencies like a house fire, flood, or medical emergency in a easily accessible spot. This will give kids access to important meeting location information and emergency numbers.

The U. S. Centers for Disease Control feels so strongly about informing kids that it has developed a “Ready Wrigley” line of books that help to teach kids about dangers ranging from mosquito bites to hurricanes. These include information to help kids be part of your family emergency planning.

Center for Disease Control – Ready Wrigley Books

The CDC also provides advice and some downloadable forms at their “Make a Plan” page. These forms are a good way to not only record the plan, but important family member information.

Center for Disease Control – Make a Plan

The American Red Cross also has advice and planning tools to help you prepare your children for a wide range of emergencies and their aftermath.

American Red Cross – Disaster Safety for Children

Overall, for most children, you will find that being upfront and honest with them about what might happen will generate the reaction you need. This will allow them to help if they can in bad situations or at least stay calm and follow directions. It is one more step you can follow to get to the end result of the survival of your family.