Layering: A Practical Approach Survival and Preparedness, by J.C.

We are all survivors.  I can prove it.  If you are reading this, then you are alive and surviving.  We all survive every day.  Our home is our shelter.  We use cars for transportation.  We barter our skills in a workplace in exchange for money.  That money is then used for supplies.  And so on and so on.  Our lives are comfortable.  So what happens when that comfort is disrupted?   Chaos, insecurity, fear, anxiety, despair, alcoholism, etc…not a pretty picture.

To prevail in an unfortunate situation, I believe the most important skill one must possess is the ability to adapt.  This is accomplished by knowledge, experience, and preparation.  The focus of this article is on being prepared.  Three things in my life have made me a prepared individual:

  1. My time in the Boy Scouts.  The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared”.  I’ve learned and practiced outdoor skills and survival.  I have carried this over to my adult life in my outdoor adventures.
  2. My military service.  Discipline and teamwork are stressed.  Weapon and tactics training were learned.  It has contributed to my overall survival mindset.
  3. My career as a Service Technician in communications and electronics.  If it’s broke, I fix it.  A lot of thinking outside the box and adaptability is required, many times with no outside help.

So, what does it take to be prepared and survive the unexpected?  I feel one must be mobile or capable of instant mobility to survive.  This leaves the options open.  You should also layer your supplies as to minimize unexpected losses which increases your adaptability.  “Wear plenty of layers.”  I’m sure you’ve heard that as a child.  Your mother said this so you would stay warm.  This was so you could adjust your insulation according to temperature and activity level, to adapt to the temperature.  I am going to discuss how to apply the layering principle to your personal survival.

There are three layered levels in our lives:

1.  The contents of our home or other permanent shelter.  This could also be a stocked survival retreat.

  1. The sustainment gear we can carry with us in a backpack, Bug out Bag, vehicle, bicycle, etc.
  2. What we can carry on our person every day – Every Day Carry.

In the military, we had line gear.  Line 1 was what we had in our pockets.  Line 2 was our fighting or web gear.  Line 3 was our sustainment gear or rucksack.  So let’s start with the basics:

Seven Cs
Food Fire Carrying container  – canteen, water bottle, hydration bladder
Water Hunting / Gathering Cooking container – canteen cup, cook pot, coffee can
Shelter Evasion Cutter – knife, axe, machete, glass shard
Security Signaling Combustion – Bic lighter, flint & steel, matches, road flare
Health Navigation Cordage – Paracord, string, twine, tape, dental floss
Communications Fieldcraft Cover – poncho, tarp, emergency blanket


Food:  Even though humans can go 3 weeks without food and stay alive, mental and physical capacity will diminish within a couple of days.  You should have food with you that requires no preparation on your person such as Power Bars, Gorp, MREs, Spam, jerky, canned stew, etc.  Your transport or backpack can have more sustainable food.  Don’t forget something to cook in.  Anything that cannot be cooked in a pot can be cooked on a stick over a fire.

Water:  This is more important than food especially in arid environments.  Also don’t eat if you do not have water.  It takes water to digest food.  Have a way to purify water.  A portable water filter, iodine, or chlorine tablets will work but boiling is best.  Carry bottled water in your vehicle.

Shelter:  Depending on the conditions, shelter may be more important than food and water.  You can’t eat if you are frozen to death.  Learn how to make field expedient shelters, debris huts, etc.  Carry a bivy and sleeping bag in your Bug Out Bag.  Clothing is also shelter.

Security:  What good is it to have a large stash of supplies just to have someone take it from you?  Security comes in many forms…staying hidden from others, blending in, weapons, or just keeping your mouth shut.  Fire will keep animals at bay.  Don’t carry a gun unless you know how and are willing to use it.

Health:  This includes hygiene, sanitation, and first aid.  For example, don’t use the knife that you just field dressed a squirrel with to cut up your cooked meat.  Either wash it thoroughly or use a separate knife.  You do have soap don’t you?  I’m amazed at how many people don’t include soap in their Bug Out Bags.   Don’t drink untreated water.  Treat cuts and scrapes.  Use toilet paper if you have it.  Brush your teeth.

Communication:  People are social beings.  If alone, have a portable radio to listen to surrounding news.  I have an AM/FM/SW radio that is just a little larger than a deck of cards.  It is analog so it has a long battery life.  A shortwave radio allows me more options.  Sometimes news from other countries may be the only form of information due to an EMP or communications blackout.  By the way, I put a label on all of my electronics indicating their battery life and every device uses the same size battery.  A police scanner is very useful.  2-way radios can be very valuable to groups or used as a barter item.

Fire:  Have multiple ways to start a fire.  Fire starting and building is your most important skill.  It will purify your water, cook your food, heat your shelter, keep predators at bay, and signal for help.  Bic lighters are king.  Carry a flint and steel set on your person at all times.  Magnesium works well in wet conditions.  Backpacking stoves work great for quick meals and draw less attention than fires.  Keep one in your car.

Hunting / Gathering:  Snares and traps can be left unattended allowing you to do other tasks.  Learn a few edible wild plants.  Fishing gear is small and very useful – just some string and a few hooks is all you need.

Evasion / Signaling:  Grizzly bear on your trail?  Just stumble across a meth lab on a hike?  Government out to get you?  Ok, this is a little extreme but if there is a major disaster staying away from others might be the desirable thing to do.  Those that are unprepared may want to take what you have.  People also spread disease.  The flip side to this is signaling.  If you are just lost you need to be found.  A whistle, signal mirror, or smoke from a fire are your best options.

Navigation:  You just bugged out.  Where are you going?  Learn to use a map and compass.  Don’t rely too much on GPS.  They can break, batteries die, and the satellites can be re-tasked for military operations.  Have paper maps covering where you are all the way to where you are going.  What if the roads are clogged with traffic escaping from a hazmat spill?  Do you have bike trail maps?  Do you have a bike?  You need multiple routes of escape and methods of transportation.

The Seven Cs:  These items are the most basic necessities needed to survive.  They will directly contribute to keeping your ass alive more than anything else.  The first four are the most important – Canteen, cup, knife, fire starter. 

Staging equipment is critical.  It must be secure yet accessible.  If your permanent shelter is compromised or unavailable then you become mobile.  Your mobile layer is your second layer.  It may be a Get Home Bag or a complete BOB inside your Bug Out Vehicle.  Your vehicle may be your new home.  A bicycle or scooter is a good backup to have in your bug out vehicle (BOV).  So how do we stage and carry all this gear?

My Layered Bug Out System:

I am going to describe and comment on my system and you can decide if it works for you.  Take my ideas and use whatever you feel is beneficial to your situation.

I keep extra food and supplies at home as we all should.  My food stockpile is a mixture of long term grains sealed in mylar, canned goods, MREs, [freeze-dried] backpacker meals, and the like.  This allows for variety in terms of taste and nutrition.  I rotate my supplies and I do not store much more than can fit into my vehicle due to the possibility of needing to bug out.  Any structure can be penetrated.  If people want what you have, they will get it and you can’t keep watch 24 hours a day by yourself.

My 4×4 BOV is not my daily driver but is always maintained with a full tank of gasoline.  Most any vehicle nowadays will go at least 300 miles on a tank of fuel.  I have enough stabilized fuel stored to get me to any one of my Bug Out Location choices.  A cargo carrier attaches to my rear receiver and a bicycle carrier attaches to my front receiver.  The luggage rack rounds out its cargo capability.  I have opted to not use a trailer because of lack of maneuverability and off road ability.  I can live out of my vehicle in a stationary location with complete isolation for six months to a year.

In the event of an EMP, fuel shortage, martial law, etc. full sized motorized transportation may not be an option.  My BOV may break down or roads may not be passable.  My next layer is a bicycle.  One could even use a game cart, dolly, wagon, etc.  You can only carry a limited amount of gear on your back.  A bicycle is 3 times more efficient than walking and can carry much more weight.  Mine is set up with panniers and my gear is always packed.  I also carry a tractor tire inner tube, pump, rope, and climbing gear which allows me to transport myself and gear over almost any terrain.  The inner tube is for traversing water.  I can transport 200 lbs. + by walking beside and pushing the bicycle.

This leaves the final layer – what is on my person.  My personal carry gear is also broken down into layers.  My pockets have a Bug Out Altoids Tin B.O.A.T.)  A chest rig carries my Seven Cs with a sidearm and can be completely hidden by a sweatshirt.  On top of this would be web gear and rifle in appropriate circumstances.  The final layer is a rucksack.  Another option I have experimented with is a fanny pack strictly for survival.

The above is available for an extreme situation where bugging out may be required.  My normal everyday life doesn’t require these drastic measures.  If there is a major power outage during a snow storm, I’ll just stay home, listen to my portable radio, and cook on my butane stove.  Drastic measures aren’t always needed.

One more item to talk about is a Get Home Bag (GHB).  All of my gear is staged at home waiting if it is needed but I have to get there to use it.  My GHB is combined with my EDC.  Since I am in the service industry, I am required to travel at times in a company service vehicle.  This limits what I can always have at my disposal.  Along with my tools and test equipment I carry a very small day pack.  This holds my Seven Cs, some food, extra ammo, and a few work items.  It is always near me or in the vehicle I am traveling in.  I have a cocealed carry permit and carry every day.  I carry a flint striker on my key ring as fire is more important to me than a knife on my person.  I already carry enough stuff on my belt.

This completes the philosophy and application of my layering system.  Take from it what you will.  If you learn something from it, that’s great.  If it saves your life someday, that’s even better.

A Note on EMP:

Being in the communications business, I have witnessed what lightning can do to a communications tower site.  This is the closest thing I have seen to an EMP.  I also have access to high power radio equipment and have done experimentation with Faraday cages.  My conclusions show that non-continuous shielding (such as screen) will not stop all frequencies.  The only cheap and easy thing I have seen that will shield all radio frequency energy is properly wrapped multiple layers of aluminum foil.  I have had popcorn tins fail along with microwave ovens.  I also will not ground a Faraday cage due to what I have seen lightning do.  I wrap all of my electronic devices that go in my bug out bag.

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Lastly, don’t let the preparedness bug monopolize your life.  Have a preparation plan, carry it out, then relax and enjoy what you’ve accomplished.  If the world goes to pieces, you’re ready.  If not, then sit back and enjoy a cold one.