Fire for heat and cooking can also be very important to survival. Enter the USB-rechargeable cigarette lighter. Note there are two versions of an electronic lighter: one which is an “arc” lighter that generates a small electric current and requires the material to be lit be passed through the beam and is loud like a tazer (definitely try these first before buying) and another which is a resistance-coil version that requires the item to be lit to be pressed into the hot coil. While the author feels a good old-fashioned firesteel is more reliable in the wilderness, sometimes you just don’t have twenty minutes to fumble around with kindling and firebuilding. In non-wilderness situations, you may not have the option to start a full-on fire, and situations where you might want to light something quickly can be easily conceived even by non-smokers. Finally, this source can last far beyond the fuel found in disposable butane lighters, doesn’t get used up as a firesteel does, and is at least as quiet and sometimes even more quiet than the alternatives. They’re available online for prices ranging from a few bucks to what you would expect to pay for deluxe windproof versions of anything. There’s even one that is combined with an electronic shaver. That one might belong more in the hygiene area below, but consider its potential utility as a medical item that can help with sterilization, shaving the area around a wound, and even small cauterizations.
Drinkable water is also important in a crisis situation. The SteriPEN water purifier is a small, light (4.8 oz.) handheld device that uses ultraviolet light to kill all viruses and bacteria in clear water. There are numerous tests and testimonials online, and this author has used his repeatedly with no ill effects at all. There is an important caveat: the water must be relatively clear and sediment-free for the UV light to penetrate. If you filter out the sediment first or allow it to settle and then decant into a different container, it should work well. Alternatively, they sell a water bottle pre-filter with the SteriPEN merchandise or you can use cloth or a coffee filter, whatever is readily available. It is USB chargeable, has its own timer so you know when it has completed the cycle, and is generally a really handy device. It is rated for 50 treatments per charge and 300 cycles for over 15,000 liters of water, and the battery is replaceable if you ever treat that much water. Online complaints were noted as to the durability of the light globe itself in the past. This has allegedly been fixed in the latest USB version, and the author has never had a problem with his. If it is stored correctly, it is hard to see how it could suffer damage.
Food, Drink, and Oddities
There are a number of USB-powered devices shown on various sources online that may (or may not) cook food, refrigerate small items, or even make coffee. Some of these can be perused on the food republic website and in this CBS news report. Yes, they include a George Forman grill, a fondue set, and even an eyelash curler. No, these haven’t been tested by the author as of the date of this article, but they are pointed out just to demonstrate the wide range of items that can be worked from a mobile charging system.
So far we have covered light, heat, and water (and possibly hot food and drink). What about communications? Well, as long as cell phones and cell towers are up and running, those will probably remain the preferred means of communicating with friends and family despite their lack of security and data mining of your activities. What many people fail to realize is that there are good survival tools such as compasses, ballistic calculators, and navigation guides, such as sextants available on phones. Cell phones also permit access to an enormous amount of survival information on demand, but that is dependent upon as the towers and providers working and the government refraining from any authoritarian actions. A prudent prepper would certainly have already bought all of the information sets and stored them on a micro-SD card like a SanDisk Ultra, because SD cards are shockproof, magnet proof, temperature proof, x-ray proof, and waterproof. They probably have that chip in their phone so that up to 256 gigabytyes of data (depending on phone and chip capacity) can be accessed wherever they were, right? The same is true for maps of the area, firearms manuals for all of your weapons, homesteading information, nutrition information, and a lot more too, because 256 gigabytes is a lot of information. If one has to evacuate away from ones’ home, however, which is the most likely place where such information is normally stored and accessed, or the grid is actually down, then the information could become unavailable or inaccessible. Having that information stored locally on a SD card, on an electronic device or e-reader is important. Old cell phones, meaning ones that worked perfectly fine before you got the next newest best thing and threw the old one into a drawer somewhere, may be ideal for such a survival reader. Knowledge really is power, and in this case power can give you knowledge.
Speaking of knowledge, obtaining information in a crisis can be extremely difficult. Consider adding a small, portable AM/FM/shortwave/NOAA radio to the stack. There are a plethora of them available, some with additional features. C Cranes tend to have nice additional features, like Ham band, air traffic band, and so on, and they have an analog radio too for people who don’t favor digital. Some are rechargeable using USB and NiCad batteries, but read the fine print before buying one, so you can be sure they will continue to be useful with direct or dynamo charging.
If one wanted to go to the extreme and have absolute assurance of communications during a widespread crisis, most satellite phones have prepaid cards that will allow you to communicate and download data even when local cell towers or service is down. It’s a hefty price to pay, but as an absolute fallback something like the Iridium 9555 comes in its own crushproof Peli case with a stack of accessories and a 200-minute prepaid card. The card can be activated at any time by texting Orbital Satcom Corp. whereupon the phone will be activated to handle voice, fax, data, and SMS (text) functions from around the globe in its water-, shock-, and dust-resistant housing. It is easy to see how bypassing a region’s communications and data limitations could be useful; however, it is up to the prepper to determine whether the potential need is worth the hefty price.
If and when cell communication fails, there are also a large number of USB-rechargeable two-way radios available from well-known manufacturers like Motorola or Cobra. The Cobra CXT545 models are particularly interesting because they are waterproof and use Nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries from a USB-charging base. They also have the ability to take standard batteries, if one should so choose, and have “privacy codes” that filter out transmissions from people other than those with the code. The manufacturer claims that this creates 3,124 channel combinations and, in the event that there are a lot of transmissions, which one would expect in a crisis, the user can choose to hear transmissions only from their particular group. Note, this should not be confused with “secure” transmissions. Other people will hear the broadcasts in that channel. The Cobra unit just filters out irrelevant transmissions by non-group members. While I will miss my old TriSquare two-ways with their ten billion combinations of band-skipping encrypted voice and text communications, Trisquare is gone and not coming back, so they won’t be putting USB into their units (although there’s probably a market for that, as Trisquares are still selling for a couple of hundred bucks online). Ah, well, onward and upward!
Hygiene was a huge problem historically, and there is no reason to think that a societal breakdown would improve the problem. USB shavers and toothbrushes can be very helpful. The Philips Sonicare DiamondClean, for example, comes with a travel case that has (you guessed it!) a USB charger built into it, thereby providing protection and charging that lasts up to three weeks on one charge. Yes, toothbrush heads will wear and fail eventually, but you could always stock more, and until that point why not enjoy a fresh and clean feeling and avoid primitive dental surgery by non-dentists whose idea of an anesthetic consists of a surprise blow to your head?
Some clever souls have also designed Lithium-ion battery, USB-rechargeable portable bidets that are available on Amazon in a variety of styles and prices. Why a bidet, you may ask? Well, if society has broken down, nobody’s making any more toilet paper, but as long as you have USB power and water, this handy gadget will clean your nether regions over and over again without nearly the discomfort of improvised TP. Good health and energy makes it easier to weather any storm, so consider using USB devices to maintain cleanliness and good personal hygiene.
Finally, one of the most significant effects mobile power and electronics can have for a small group, in addition to the light, heat, clean water, communications, knowledge, and good hygiene is morale. It may be something as simple as charging a phone so that a depressed member can see a picture of a loved one or play a favorite song, or it may be more important to have information about other groups, relief efforts, or local dangers. Even if the information isn’t terribly positive, concrete information allows planning and action, which is almost always better than fear of the unknown, leading to passivity and inaction. If action is to be taken, confidence levels will be higher if the group has communications, fallback, or support positions and they know they can call for help if they need it, they have good health, clean water, light, and heat. All of these elements combine to increase morale and effectiveness of a group. That’s a pretty big contribution from a set of small devices.