Build the Plan vs. Test the Plan – Part 2, by T.R.

(Continued From Part 1.)

During 2018, I made a dot chart counting how many days fit into each category A, B, C and D in terms of readiness and then converted the “dots” into a percentage of time for the year. As a corollary, if things are leaning environmentally towards TEOTWAWKI, then we would already be limiting our “D” types of trips away from home and/or starting to pursue our exit via our “B” plan scenario. If things look particularly grim but quasi-temporary, then we would limit our “C” scenarios to avoid leaving home for long blocks of time and leaning towards staying home at night altogether.

Regardless, our “A plan” (we are at home, with car stocked with a basic bug out bag in the trunk and miscellaneous winter gear for an emergency) represents our most outfitted and overstocked scenario, had already been tested multiple times from local power grid outages (Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Irma or other ice storms) and been a major focus of our efforts over the last few years. Furthermore, we have a food rotation plan with a paper log book coupled with a large propane tank for stove top cooking, fireplace heat and a water supply. Whilst we can always make improvements, this “A” plan of “stay at home” is the strongest and most resilient of our four-pronged flowchart. We add gear, test new ideas and share them with our grown kids on camping trips each year and then back-feed those ideas into each plan. However, not all of the gear could fit into a vehicle for the “B” plan for Get-out-of-Dodge, not even close.

Around Easter/spring, we typically begin refrain from buying new groceries until we draw down some of our non-perishable food rotation to keep it fresh/cycle the stock and also because that eats down the pantry and fridge somewhat before we go on vacation to save a little money. I test a few new recipes for weekend gatherings, and we rate them for gourmet quality and ease of preparation. Since my husband does most of clean up while I do the bulk of provisioning and cooking, we added ease of clean up as a sorting criterion as well.

Before readers get ahead of themselves, we have historically put quite a bit of effort into shaping meals that are easy to prepare, easy to clean up afterwards, taste great and have a complement of fats/proteins/carbs depending our preferences at the time. I have been capturing these meal variations on a crib sheet on my computer and then printed in tiny font stuffed into the bottom of my dry storage can that houses our cook kit. Two years ago (because we switch houses with an off-the-grid cottage for a summer month, for example), I decided to create food trunks. Each location has a Walmart hard plastic trunk (which can double as a “bear canister” in camp and we can run a light cable through the lid lip to lock it as needed). The trunk has an assortment of canned goods, spices, staples like salt/pepper, coffee mate. I was tired of finding expired food in the pantry and wanted a more time effective solution for making meals and having some of those staples move with us when we left for vacation.


Another trunk contains mostly ready-to-eat snacks like Clif bars, ziplock bags of hard candy, containers of mixed nuts or dry roasted peanuts for fast energy, peanut butter (and a plastic knife), and triscuit crackers which seem to hold their freshness better and have more fiber and taste. After the last hurricane, I added Frosted Shredded wheat (taken out of the box but left in a sealed pouch) as a breakfast snack that is cost effective, and a few other items. Your trunk (or lock box) can be as small or large as you want; for us, at home we just leave the trunk with the lid open in the pantry hall and use it for snacking when we are going about our daily/weekly roles.

Looking at our “D” plan (away from home, no car coupled with very limited EDC bag and minimal equipment) was a revelation of how exposed that scenario presented risk for us and the weakness of same. To further sharpen this point, our “D” plan is logistically hard to improve upon (for example, when flying to visit friends or family for a long weekend, how much actual survival gear can we bring with us for that duration?).

My “dot chart” analysis shows that more than 60-70% of the time we are home (“A” plan) or have our car/truck (“B” plan). Logically, if the “B” plan conditions are harder vs. the “A” plan scenario (presumably involving less gear and lower comfort levels), but we can make the “B” plan functionally successful, then it will also be a solution for the “A” scenario. For us, it made more sense to test drive this leaner and more challenging scenario. As a reminder, in our “B” plan, for whatever reason, we are leaving our home in our truck or my husband’s woodworking project minivan, with only the gear that we can add/pack into the vehicle within a short trigger time (e.g. pack and go in 3-4 hours) with stock on hand whilst assuming that gas stations and local stores are already closed to test out the plan via realistic field conditions as a simulation).

If situational awareness enabled a longer lead time, and we hope that our monitoring of news and the like would help, then that much the better. However, our base case Get-out-of-Dodge test presumed a short trigger with “items on hand” and assumed some sense of urgency to leave due to the specifics of the situation. The “B” plan also rang true personally since we had recently evacuated from Hurricane Irma and had a few lessons learned from that. As hurricane preparedness, we had pre-planned to switch houses with long time family friends and vice versa. As it turned out, despite hundreds of miles between our respective locations, both of us evacuated North much earlier than required but with less wear and tear than most.

Ready to Get Real?

Yet we asked ourselves…are we ready for a real problem and extended power outage and challenging situation well beyond our experience of an ice storm in Washington DC (losing power for 8 days) or Hurricane Irma aftermath which created some wobbles for about 10-12 days? We loved reading Patriots for the 3rd time and 4th time, but how would we really do in the fictional Todd Gray’s situation or similar challenge? To amp things up, we wanted to see how we would do for 30-45 days in a row (that was the time bracket we had to be off the grid away from my job entirely) and fully test out scenario B – away from home but with our car, limited gas constraints, remote mountain location, reasonably cold weather (hovering around freezing or below for half of the nights and milder weather by day), no power and finally zero ability to augment/supplement our gear buying at a store and therefore living off the food we brought with us. Finding a place worth visiting with wildlife or hunting or nature or some combination might make our field test more fun along the way as well, obviously, so we picked Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone.

As engineers, we looked at the array of learnings from our readings and a few observations from camping trips in the past – and realized that we can’t “test” everything at once. Our test scope comprised: getting out of dodge, tailoring our packing list and inventory to perfection, testing out menus and food preparation for ease and quality (including taste and calorie heavy for expected large workloads as well as minutes of preparation and fuel consumption or cold prep only); fitness testing our backpacking gear for back country hiking at distance for stamina and strength around a fully loaded backpack vs. our routine of an EDC pack. And then finally on completion, calibrating which items were heavily used or lightly used (but needed) to refine our readiness plan for next time.

Faking It, On Fuel

Out of necessity, we did allow ourselves commercial gas station trips to actually get to Yellowstone, for example. In a real crisis, our mobility would have been hindered with stopped traffic, disabled cars, and likely a radius of 400 miles defined by an always-initially-full-gas tank supplemented by spare jugs and whatever gas stations were open (if any) during our initial exodus to extend the radius. We can’t test everything at once; I simply note the limitations of this drill/test for purposes of accuracy and to remind myself around other elements to test for next time.

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 3.)


  1. I’m a very visual learner, 80% visual and 20% reading (Total Participant Involvement, an NRA instructor phrase). When you’re talking about the dot matrix

    “My “dot chart” analysis shows that more than 60-70% of the time we are home (“A” plan) or have our car/truck (“B” plan”

    I would find it greatly helpful to see what you have. Of course maybe you’re writing a book and don’t want to reveal that at this time?

    I’m liking what I’m reading because we both have analytical minds.

  2. I take great comfort in knowing there are others out there just as geeky as we. My husband keeps spreads sheets on the contents of the deep freezers & other stores. I graph garden production.

    Nice series. Looking forward to more.

  3. T.R.,
    I am one of those individuals who believe it is likely Mike Tyson was put on this earth for no other reason than to utter the words, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. It has been my experience that the more complex, structured, and minutiae-filled those plans are, the more likely it is that the participant involved will mentally disintegrate when they are forced to abandon those plans.
    I have read both of your installments separately and collectively, and while they are technically and analytically brilliant, if you can manage to keep your A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and dot charts together as civilized society crumbles around you, you have nothing to fear.
    If you are truly interested in discovering your mental and physical thresholds during a time of apocalyptic crisis, forgo the oatmeal and pancake camping trips and use your vacation to attend a true backwoods survival school or hike the AT for a month out of a backpack. Everyone’s a winner on paper and spreadsheet.
    Thanks for sharing and looking forward to the future installments.

    1. Thanks for reading and critically thinking DD. I think mike Tyson also took a bite out of another boxer’s ear one time too. You make a good point.

      Oatmeal vs pancakes is both a humorous actual preference and (at the same time) a metaphor for making decisions based on performance based attributes (eg complex carbs, paleo, etc).

      Yes agreed. Some of the choices articulated will certainly be overrun by the circumstances that dictate at the time.

    2. I kinda get this feeling as well. Plans are great until they are not. Pretty much anything short of a grid-down scenario will be short term and survivable, so I choose to focus on the worst-case scenario.

      If the grid goes down it won’t take long for most people to realize it and act accordingly. Getting out of the city is a given but country roads have their own dangers. Isolation, lawlessness, and roadblocks that will surely go up quickly.

      Travel at night will be out of the question so you will be hunkering down wherever you happen to be when the sun goes down…not a good situation. If someone disables your vehicle by causing flat tires you are also stuck in a hostile environment. Everything will be dependent on whether you are willing to bug out prior to the event or immediately after. If you lose 6 hours loading your vehicle, that gives you 6 hours less time to get away.

      Overplanning may lead to arguments, headaches, and missing potentially critical aspects of your needs if you are in a hurry. It can cause valuable time to be wasted and may hinder your escape.

      1. The converse is of course under-planning, which could result in leaving town with inappropriate supplies, or missing the safe window for departure entirely. I’m all in favor of having “go-bags” packed, and color-coded priority tags.

      2. Randy, yes. We have a different plan for “worst case” scenario. Meanwhile, we hope to get our “bug out” time wound tight with practice (not sure we can get to an hour/90 minutes but probably close in the next iteration). I think a key lesson from “Patriots” and “Survivors” is the timing of your departure has consequences. Stay well.

  4. I too have enjoyed this series and again it proves to me staying put in 80% of the time is the best strategy.

    The moment you leave your home in plan B or C, you have Abandon much of your primary gear. You are now a moving target with limited stores of fuel and water.

    1. Guy, agree, my husband loves your quote too. We expect that plan(s) will change dramatically based on the circumstances. Your point shapes a thesis that would suggest plan elements (or tools) that have optionality per unit of weight or cost should be strong decisions factors around gear and food since the plan does actually change.

      Some of my article was intended to illustrate iterative learning on how much time it takes to pack and then our efforts to cut that in half and then in half again, rather than telling any one else that they should do the same or not the same.

      1. Didn’t mean to sound critical.
        You’re posting some great stuff.
        That quote being valid, we still need to plan.
        I think I was inspired by the Mike Tyson quote.

        And this:
        “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

  5. So I am impressed that you guys are putting your plans under a stress test. I applaud you. I wish my wife was as into prepping as you seem to be. Looking forward to your next article.

  6. T.R.,

    My husband is from Central Florida and I have lived in South Florida. Therefore, we bought our retreat property in Texas, at the southern edge of the Panhandle. We are at least half an hour from the nearest towns and two hours from the nearest cities. Remote without being primitive.

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