Learning Barter Skills from Makers

A lot of individuals that wanting to prepare for the worst case scenarios do not have a group to support and teach them when they begin. Online resources are great to help you become proficient at basic skills such as fire-making if you put in the practice time.  On the other hand, skills that I mentioned in a past post titled Barter Skills are much harder to work out than the basic ones. Some advanced ones may actually require you to attend college type classes if you really want to be an expert.

Some of the skills that lean more towards trade skills such as blacksmithing, leather craft,  woodworking, and even food canning seem harder to find. Sometimes you can find individuals that are willing to teach you, but due to the “stay under the radar” mentality of many, it can be hard.  The upswing in desire to study these has caused a surge in places teaching these though. This has created some valuable resources for those restricted by location or accommodations. Lots of these places are refereed to as “Maker Shops” and many of them began as purely electronic hobby groups.  These places have grown and expanded into spaces such as old warehouses. With this growth they have also expanded their subject matter and many now teach everything from computer programming to stained glass making. The teaching is not the only benefit though. Almost all of them offer  paid memberships. This membership allows you access to the space and its communal tools and materials. This opens up a whole spectrum of possibilities for those who may be limited by space, such as in an apartment. It also allowed access to tools that may be prohibitively expensive for a novice. Normally the membership price is reasonably affordable and some spaces are even 24 hours. In addition to the workspace, this can also be a great place to meet with people that may share the same mindset.

In your planning you will find that having access to other individuals to share information with, trade with, and learn from will be a great help. There is the normal need to screen those you share with, but that should be done for anything you do. After you establish a group of family and friends that you can trust you will find that it allows you to make more reasonable and solid plans for every situation. Whether it be a couch to crash on when a flood blocks your house, additional  help with guard shifts during social upheaval, or strength in numbers in a complete TEOTWAWKI situation, it is always easier with help.

If you have trouble finding a local maker space, consult the directory link below. Most listings link to the space’s website where you can see their offered services. Some of these spaces will be heavily electronics based, but their site should reflect that.



Prepping used to be “Normal”

For lots of people, the word “prepping” is a relatively new trend. They think it maybe goes back to the Y2K scare or possibly as far back as Cold War nuclear threats. Lots have images of the crazy hermit hunkered down in his bunker full of MREs and guns. In reality, the labels may be new, but “prepping” is nothing new. The confusion  comes from something that is new though. It all seems new because of the current mindset of just-in-time deliveries, fast food joint dinners, and stores on every corner.

In the past, what we would call prepping, was known as day to day life. Families could not turn to the corner convenience store when they ran out of something during a snow storm. Unless you lived in a very urban environment, you were responsible for growing or gathering almost all the food you needed on a daily basis. If you needed food or supplies that you could not make yourself, you were forced to travel what could be long distances to trade for those items. In addition to the daily struggles, you had to be ever mindful to “prep” for winter. While summer and fall might give you a bounty of crops and wild game, the winter months ground that to a halt. Due to the risk of exposure or difficult weather, hunting might not even be feasible. In these months families turned to the root cellar where they had stored vegetables (canned or otherwise preserved) and preserved meats (salt cured or dried) to keep them fed. The lessons they learned in food preservation became common knowledge for generations.

These common sense rules applied as you traveled too. If you wanted or needed it, you carried it. There were trading posts and inns in certain places and different times over the years. These were no guarantee though. What you had on your back, in your saddle bags, or in your wagon had to keep you until you reached point B of the journey. A knife on your belt and maybe an ax in your bag was standard equipment. All this was part of life until the urban environment began to expand.

As families became more urban and industrialized the skills and mindset to live this type of life fell out of favor. Why salt cure hams when you can run to the local grocery store and pick up a nicely packaged and pre-sliced deli ham? Even the ones that might desire to keep these traditions alive found it difficult as they moved from farms into suburbs. In the end, the majority of the population came to assume that those stores would always be open  and freshly stocked.  Even the farmers began to rely on regular and frequent deliveries of things like feed for their animals. The days of the self reliant farm was gone. Specialization became the norm and it leaves a wide open door for disaster.

Now in the present the push to “prep” has returned. It has been fueled by seemingly more frequent natural disasters, terror attacks, and the breakdown of community cooperation. No longer do people assume their neighbor is there to help them in a crisis or are willing to help others themselves. Many people are looking for ways to ensure that they and their loved ones are safe from whatever disaster they may think is the best to focus on. They see that relying on someone to save them is a naive idea. With this the desire to have common self-reliance skills has grown. The skills from yesteryear to forage for food, raise crops, raise livestock, preserve excess food for future use, and to raise your level of self-reliance are all getting focused on. This movement is also not limited to “crazy” conspiriousy theorists or hardcore off-grid types. It is made up of single moms, grandparents, urban families, as well as rural families. It also cuts across a lot of segments of social, economic, and racial backgrounds.

In the end, people making preparations against threats to their family may still be in the minority now. Hopefully though it signals that people are realizing that being prepared is a personal responsibility. One that they may not be able to afford to ignore. Like those previous generations, we might find that one day we are the only resource we have to make it to the next day,

Practice Makes Perfect

It has been stated here before that just having equipment stowed in a pack is not enough. Skill is involved in using most of the equipment you may be preparing. Repetitive use of these items will allow you to operate them during stressful times.

Despite what most online sources will tell you, you don’t need to trek into the wilderness to practice. While that is ideal, it is far from where to begin. There are many chances in your daily life to practice your skills. Fire starting is a good one to look at. The next time you need to start your charcoal grill or burn some yard waste you can practice. Hold off on the disposable lighter and pull out your ferrous rod. Given a few strikes and some dry tinder you should be good to go. If you find that too easy, you can always wet your tinder or introduce other complications to simulate harsher conditions. The picture below is of a relaxing fire started with a ferrous rod. It is intended to burn out a stump that is in the way, but gave several opportunities to practice.

Another skill that can be practiced easily in your backyard is water purification. Practice can be as simple as setting out some buckets to collect rain water.  This will give you a chance to experience using different water filters, water purification tablets, and boiling. It can also give you insight into how your body will react to this water. Even though it is perfectly safe, some people can still have varying degrees of adverse reaction to water treated by these means. It is better to find out now than after you are stuck in a survival situation far from modern facilities.

On a daily basis you can also practice your first aid. Practicing applying tourniquets, splints, and compression wraps. It takes a bit more work to practice this, but can be a helpful skill even before a S. H. T. F. scenario. Any practice with usage will vastly improve your skills. It will also let you determine what equipment works best for you.

So take some time to sit down at your kitchen table, on your porch, in your backyard, or wherever and work on important skills. It does not take long. You just have to repeat it for it to become ingrained. In the end it can pay high dividends in return when you need these skills. By all means though, if a chance arises to practice these far from civilization, take it and enjoy.

“Survival” Guns 101

Guns are a very hot topic on both sides of the fence.  If you decide not to own and use one that is your decision, but in a true survival scenario they could make the difference. Whether it be for defense, hunting, or, in the worst case, offense, they are a tool like any other. Also like a tool, there is no one perfect one for every problem. For example, a screwdriver might take the place of a hammer, but is a very poor substitute. In the same way the wrong gun may work based on what situation you face, but it may leave less than desirable outcomes.

To start at the beginning, there are 3 basic categories of guns. There are handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Each of these has its advantages and its disadvantages. For the sake of this post, we will only cover typical types of guns. There are many odd types of guns out there, but they do not really fit our needs. Also, aside from a total end of society scenario, machine guns are not going to be an option like the movies want to depict. They are available, but expensive, hard to obtain, and come with many restrictions.

Handguns are normally the smallest size of the three types. They can be semi-automatic with detachable magazines or be a revolver with a re-loadable attached cylinder. The detachable magazines can make them fast to reload, but generally they use a smaller size bullet that is less powerful that a rifle. Handguns can be good for shorter distance defense but rapidly loose effectiveness beyond a certain distance. This distance varies based on the caliber of the bullet. Most handguns are not suited for hunting except in a pinch. The effective range and smaller caliber can make it harder for larger game. For smaller game like squirrels or rabbits, smaller calibers can be used, but the shorter barrel will make it harder to be accurate even at moderate distances. As with the screwdriver/hammer example, they can be used, but will not perform as well as other options. In all reality, handguns are best suited to the role of self-protection. They can be concealed easily and weigh less than a rifle or shotgun.

Rifles come in various lengths and calibers.  They can be single shot, semi-automatic, bolt action, or pump. They can have detachable magazines, affixed tube magazines, or non-removable internal magazines. The longer length makes them more accurate over longer distances than handguns. The wide variety of calibers means that you can find one to deal with anything from small game to large predators (both 2 and 4 legged variety). These still do have the issue that normally each can only fire one caliber. So at times you might find that that caliber is too small or too large for you intended prey. It is almost impossible to conceal a rifle on your person unless you want to wear a parka or trenchcoat. This can create issues in a chaotic environment. Law enforcement may be trying to confiscate guns to help keep order or devious individuals may see an opportunity to further arm themselves by waylaying you. Rifles range from older military surplus like bolt action Mosin Nagants, to hunting rifles, to semiautomatic AR-15s and AK47s.

Shotguns are also longer than pistols. They can be single shot, semi-automatic, bolt action, or pump. Normally, unless single shot, they have a tube magazine connected below the barrel, but a few do have detachable magazines. Shotguns can have different barrel setups to make them more accurate over longer ranges, but their range is still much shorter than a rifle. In contrast though, shotguns can use many types of shells. These can range from a bunch of shot in increasingly larger sizes up to a solid lead slug, The shot size can be chosen to match the prey you are hunting. This allows you to hunt a much larger range of prey by simple swapping the type of shell. Smaller size shot can be used for small game like rabbits and then the largest size shot (call buckshot) or slugs can be used for larger prey like deer. There are different sizes of shotguns called gauges with the lowest number being the biggest gun. 12ga is the largest common size and is on the larger end of the sizes. One downfall of a shotgun is that it does have a significant recoil that you will have to train to deal with. If a 12ga is too much you can move down to a 20ga or even a .410 (caliber not gauge, too long a story to cover here) which is the smallest size. Each of the smaller sizes still can use various types of shells.

Which gun you chose has to be a person choice.  It must be based you your abilities and the scenarios you feel you will face. Overall, there is no ‘perfect’ survival gun. If you plan for survival in the middle of an urban environment you may be more worried about keeping a low profile and defending yourself than hunting large game. A handgun or shorter shotgun can be better concealed and used more easily inside buildings than a long barrel rifle. If you plan to hold up deep in the wilderness, a rifle might allow you to hunt larger game or defend from invaders at a distance. If the terrain there limits distance, a longer barrel shotgun can also be used effectively.

One good way to start making a choice is to visit a professional shooting range. Many of them have guns for rent and are knowledgeable about your areas laws. You can rent some types and sizes to test out for a fairly nominal fee. This will be money well invested in helping you decide on not only a type of gun, but a caliber and model you can be comfortable with. A gun you cannot effectively use can be more of a hindrance than a help. Like all equipment, you need to practice routinely to ensure you and the gun are both ready for action.

Since every scenario cannot be covered by one type of gun, just like your standard tool box, multiple types may be the best answer. It is easier to cover all your needs with a couple of different guns. A combination of one or more will allow you to respond to the disaster you prepared for much more effectively. So take a serious look at your planning. If you are truly honest, some type of gun and proper training could be vital in anything beyond your lowest level of disaster.

Redefining your EDC when you fly

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you already have a set of E.D.C. (Every Day Carry) items or are putting a set together. On most normal days what you carry within reason is up to you, If you have the correct permit you can even carry a handgun in most instances. There are those times when you travel where you are forced to leave a lot of your items at home. This can be because of a flight, or your final destination.

These scenarios  can seriously limit your options. If you fly commercial, things like  knives, pepper spray, lighters, and multi-tools will be prohibited.  So unless you can fly via private plane, these have to stay home. That does not mean you have to be totally unprepared on the other end. Unless you will be somewhere that limits this for the majority of your stay, you can take steps to stay prepared.  If you truly want to have your preferred tools and have enough lead time, you can ship them to where you will be staying.  For a small investment in shipping each way you can have anything you might normally carry except restricted items such as a firearm. There are even ways to legally ship the firearm, but laws vary wildly on that. Check before you do.

Another way to have a kit in hand is to build a disposable kit when you arrive. This can be done if you have access to transportation and stores that can supply what you need. If you want low cost, you can build a kit at a dollar store like was detailed in “It’s Only a Dollar Kit” post. This can be carried and used while there and then either trashed or given away when you leave.  If cost is not a problem or you prefer higher quality tools, you can do the same ranging anywhere from Wal-Mart items to high end sporting good store products. In some cases, you might even be able to build a kit at a thrift store, but that can be very hit or miss. Similarly, all of these items can be disposed of one way or another at the end of the trip.

Lastly, if your travel takes you somewhere that you will not have transportation or access to stores you have to be more creative. A recent business trip required a flight and no time or transportation to assemble a kit on the other end. In this case, a 25 foot section of para-cord, some zip ties, a sturdy pen, a pen light, a roll of electrical tape, and a small sewing kit were placed in a checked bag. All of these were disposable if necessary and most also easily explained based on my occupation. After arriving in the evening, I sought out a good steak at the hotel’s restaurant. This supplied dinner and allowed me to “borrow” a steak knife. In the privacy of my room, I used some paperboard and electrical tape to fashion a sheath for it. This rode in my sock for the rest of the trip. I could have made a belt attachment, but it would have been very out of place at this event. At the end, I trashed the homemade sheath and left the knife in my room. I am sure they simply thought it was left behind from a room service order. You could take a similar approach to other items such as matches which can still be picked up at some bars and hotels. All these surrogate items did not match the complete kit I carry on a normal day, but gave me the basics to be ahead of the game if the need arose.

Here are pictures of my carry knife for that week. While not ideal, it would have been invaluable if things had gone sideways.

So in preparation for a future trip keeps these options in mind. It will let you stay prepared for whatever may arise. Just be sure to check local laws to ensure the legality of some items. Different states and countries may have much different rules than your home turf.

Friday the 13th – Luck: Good and Bad

On this Friday the 13th many people find themselves expecting bad luck and looking for ways to ward it off. While not everyone believes in this superstition,  it is hard to deny that luck seems to exist. Sometimes despite all odds, people pull off the craziest things.

Some people seem to want to depend on luck instead of planning though. While that may work out, it may not. A quote attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca says “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” So in the case of survival, being ready to take advantage of that lucky break may make all the difference.

Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying “I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” This is a good way to remember that by planning well and building your skills, you improve your own luck. In the end it is good to be lucky, but better to be good.

Why do you need to prepare?

There are a lot of positive and negative views related to disaster preparedness. A lot of people feel that it is completely unnecessary and that anyone doing it is a crazy “prepper.” Others see it as putting a little back “for a rainy day.” Between these is a lot of middle ground filled with people wanting to protect and provide for their families both in good and bad times.

While there are people that take it to the extreme, having the right stuff to secure yourself and your family in troubling times is a part of being responsible. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” In the end, you are the one that needs to control your outcome, not the government, Red Cross, or the military. Some people feel like it is their right for these groups to show up and take care of them no matter what.

The problem with people feeling that someone will “come save them” is that the severity of the disaster is inversely related to how quickly help can get to you. Have a power outage in your neighborhood and you will have a power company employee out there fixing it within a few hours. Have a widespread outage due to an ice storm and you can count on it taking much longer. Ramp the disaster up to a full blown society ending event and no one is ever coming to help. While our planning levels say the latter is much less likely, you can still end up somewhere in the middle that strands you helplessly in a sea of refugees.

One example that is burned into everyone’s recent memory in the United States is the issues that resulted from Hurricane Katrina.  Estimates state that 400,000 people were displaced by the resulting floods and damage. The relief agencies that sprang to help were, at best, overwhelmed and, at worst, horribly mismanaged. People were stranded without clean water, food, and basic sanitation. Unfortunately most of these people had no plan. That left them at the mercy of this situation.

While your specific reasons for preparing are varied and personal, overall it comes down to taking responsibility for yourself and your family. Some peoples’ idea is that  they have the right to be taken care of. History shows that in the worst of times taking care of yourself is the only thing you have control of.

Be Realistic!

If you read about survival planning on the internet it will not take you very long to run across someone who is going to fight off a zombie hoard single handedly while climbing up a building with a 200 pound pack on their back. While sitting in their recliner typing on your laptop, everything seems possible. While that person may have a stockpile of supplies and gear, they do not have a real plan.

When planning it is important step back and take a realistic look at what you have planned and yourself. If you are a 25 year old triathlon athlete, you can plan different than a 45 year old insurance agent who gets winded after 2 flights of stairs. Take a long look at your health and physical condition. This is not to say that that insurance agent can’t survive, but he will have to plan to carry less and move slower than the 25 year old. Acknowledging this now will give you a chance to adjust your plan and/or improve your physical health beforehand.

Another component to examine is the equipment you choose. Do you regularly practice your skills in a real world situation so that you CAN make fire with 2 sticks? If not, you need to know that having only a pack of beef jerky and a knife is not a real plan. If you do not have regularly tested skills, you may need to supplement that with additional equipment. Leave the bowdrill behind and pack a disposable lighter, ferro rod, and tinder. The plan is not about being the biggest bad ass, it is about surviving. There is no “cheating” in using an easier method.

Surviving is also a lot of work. There is security, meal acquisition/preparation, clean up, and maintaining the fire overnight. Can you do it all alone? It may be easier to assemble a team. If you can get a group of trusted people to work together then these tasks can be split up. Also, more can be accomplished in the same time. People can gather firewood or water while you get the fire going. At the same time, someone can be standing guard against any uninvited 2 or 4 legged guests. There are only 24 hours in a day and you will soon find that those pass too quickly when you have important tasks to complete.

Planning and stockpiling can be costly too. Deciding to use the level you can really afford will help you out. There are some great pieces of equipment out there, but if you are still saving for it when SHTF, it will do you no good. Also, trading off stocking other items in favor of getting the best knife, water filter, pack, or tent may end up biting you in the long term. It may be best to cover all the necessities first. You can then upgrade or add equipment as budgets allow. Remember that in a lot of cases, especially for the upper levels, you are planning for something you hope never happens. Don’t go broke today trying to prepare for the maybe cases. No one can prepare for all eventualities. It is more important to have a solid base plan to build off of.

So take a look at your plan with realistic eyes every so often and keep it updated as to your situation. Honesty is really the best policy when thinking about your abilities. We all have limitations in one way or another, but admitting those is the first step in planning to overcome them.


Can you save everyone?

Recently a scenario was put forth by someone asking for help in planning. In this scenario the author had family members that he was struggling to plan for. The big obstacle focused on was how to gather them to his chosen bug out location. Geography was one issue because they were in the opposite direction as the B.O.L. and several population centers existed on the route to them. In explanation of the problems he elaborated that several of these people had a variety of addictions and severe character flaws. On top of this, there was a lot of strife between him and them. This brings up a very good point related to your planning.

When planning for the team that will share your bug out location, you need to take more than blood relation into account.  The people you have there will be depending on you, but you also should be able to depend on them. While addiction is a medical issue, it may very well be a symptom of an underlying flaw. The last thing you need while fighting everything on the outside to survive, is to have to fight those on the inside. Take a clear look at what that person can bring to the team. Do they have specialized knowledge or skills? In addition does their skill set fill in a hole in the team? Those with engineering, medical, or farming skills can be a big help in making a long term go of it. Also take a look at that person’s negatives too though. Does their personality and methodology conflict with yours? You do not need a group of yes men, but if their core philosophy is 180 degrees different than yours, you will have problem.

There are exceptions to this though. Obviously close family members such as children and spouses get a pass on skills. Despite all the calculated planning, there are those you include because your plan is to protect them. The trick is to strike a balance between cold hearted efficiency and taking the flood of humanity in.

So when planning know that unless you have unlimited resources, you have to pick and choose. The longer the disaster, the harder the choices may be. Even giving resources to someone and turning them away may set you up for an attack. Also, groups may use emotional plays to infiltrate your refuge. It is not uncommon to hear of kids being used. During war they gain entrance to places where they either sabotage things or or open the doors to their marauding team mates. So do not forsake your humanity, but in the end, you can’t save everyone.

Survivor Mindset

Having the right gear and supplies will go a long way towards helping you survive. That is if you have the will to use them in the worst conditions. Skills will also help you to survive easier. That is if you have the determination to use them. Surviving is not only about the preparation, but the fortitude to say “I will survive” despite all the forces at work against you.

There are many stories throughout history of people that did not survive despite having what they needed to survive. They simply gave up. Maybe they did not see it as a choice, but if you are still breathing, you have a choice. There are also plenty of examples of people that were in the absolute worse scenarios with seemingly no hope but still survived. These people determined that they would dig deep and do whatever it took. They worked with whatever they had and overcame whatever obstacles they faced.

This mindset is one that must foster in yourself to ensure that your preparation is not meaningless. This though is the hardest part to prepare. Take a look at why you are preparing, Is it for yourself, your family, your possible future children? What ever it may be, establish what this is and it will give you a reason to dig into yourself to endure whatever hardships come.

To survive it is often necessary to fight and to fight you have to dirty yourself.
 – George Orwell