Build the Plan vs. Test the Plan – Part 4, by T.R.

(Continued from Part 3.)

Later that morning/early afternoon, we sat down at the kitchen table (having brewed a pot of coffee on the spare camp stove from the basement according to our “A” plan) and talked through this. We needed a balance of water, fuel, gear/shelter, food and safety/security. Optimizing the mix of these five items (plus cash and valuables) and optimizing how to pack them efficiently with some degree of access to the right items in what order took significantly longer than either of us expected when a filter criteria of “not coming back” was inserted vs “we are leaving for a temporary camping trip”.

For example, we needed to talk through specific tradeoffs of how to optimize more gear vs. more food and/or more fuel for the truck. We had plastic gas cans from Walmart in the garage and our annual plan to rotate the gas (with stabilizer) has worked well to date. We had enough spare gas to totally fill up the vehicle (and then some) and we had a tow hitch style grate/rack that would enable us to bungee cord extra gas cans, a cooler and that 5-gallon blue water jug for our camp site use. It would have been nice to know ahead of time which gas cans and which coolers would fit nicely on that hitch rack. Turns out we had bigger 6-gallon tan water jug that didn’t drip as much when pouring and would dog down better on the rack being the same shape/size as the gas jugs.

At our table top debrief (before we actually left for Colorado and Wyoming) we decided to assume that we would have the ability to somewhat replace our water (we each had life straws in our EDC packs along with larger water filter style liter bottles in each EDC pack, water treatment tablets in the 72 hour bag and a dollar store sized bottle of no scent Bleach); we packed our usual camping 5 gallon water jug with a spigot that we park on a picnic table for the family inside the car, and added the 6 gallon tan water jug (full) on the tow hitch rack/grate as well.

While I threw myself under the proverbial bus relative to sharing my attempts at meal planning and food selection, we both laughed hard and then decided to eat pancakes home cooked on our Viking range, my husband articulated a new plan that involved storing our trailer hitch grate flat on the floor with the cooler (empty), the red gas cans (full with stabilizer) on the back floor of the garage actually in position on the rack itself, the bungee cords and packing straps laid neatly on top (but not dogged down or tied) storing them just loose so that he could tongue the rack into the truck, with one tan/khaki rubberized dry bag sized to match the rest of the cargo. He could then load gear quickly knowing that it would fit neatly and not block the license plate visually and have confidence that all of it would be fit for purpose to drive 1,000+ miles in terms of highway safety.

We also made a note of which gear would block the license plate vertically if so desired. Charles made a hand sketch of where each item fit into the rack in both configurations and then taped it to the wall above the rack. Previous iterations had gear that was not entirely 100% waterproof on the hitch rack, so this was a much better iteration as well. We felt satisfied by this major time saver and more importantly, around the quality of the tradeoff choices having more thought backing up the logic of choices. Later, in Wyoming, we would roll the tarp and wedge it behind the canisters so mud could flake off outside but also to keep the jugs from squeaking or rubbing against the tailgate.

We Learned Something New

Each day during the trip we learned something but ironically, we learned the most before we left our driveway: How to pack, what to pack, what to leave behind (and where to leave it), pre-staging measured units of gear and food set up in blocks or modules that could be packed quickly without manually selecting individual items was the answer for us. Manually selecting a food menu and gear off storage racks is simply not acceptable for the time constraints and performance measure against which we hoped to perform. Period.

Over the course of the next 4-to-6 weeks, we both made step changes in terms of which gear was stored where and each time, we got more efficient. Later, since our supplies dwindled over time, it was particularly useful to have flexible dry bags which could be rolled up and wedged for storage.

However, before leaving home, it was now time for my second iteration for foodstuffs hoping to make a step change in terms of process improvement on my ownership of meal planning and cooking: I used “food canisters” (flat beige wheat color hard shell plastic container with a flat bottom and a large canted opening, sold at Costco for either animal feed or grain storage) with a gasketed wheel shaped lid. In past camping trips, I had brought the mandatory “bear canister” which while effective for bear control, was slippery to hold, unstable to fill since it was tall and cylindrical, and had a very narrow fill neck along with a coin type screw lock that rattled. Food for previous trips was stowed in canvas boat bags plus coolers plus two bear canisters — but this trip was 3x as long in duration and we were driving twice as far distance wise.

By comparison to the bear canisters, the Costco feed canister has a wider base, a large neck opening and an equally air tight (and odor tight) lid requiring quite a few rotations to seal or open and thus beyond the motor control skills of a Bear. They stack neatly and when filled completely almost get to my max weight of being able to carry them for a long walk down a camp trail. My husband decided to test the canister and drop it (filled); it did well but I was glad that none of the containers inside were glass and similarly appreciative of the double bagging for the plastic bottle of honey.

Three canisters were sorted by: drinks, breakfast types, and finally lunches/dinners were grouped. All of the breakfast items were pre-packed into a canister with a hand-written inventory list (took a phone screen shot of contents for later), then I spun the wheel lid tight. I made a meal estimate (# of days) and tried to split the food mix between no cook, light cook and longtime cook items for variation depending on weather and energy levels coupled with chores or other requirements in camp that compete with meal prep demands. After taking most items out of their retail cardboard boxes to save. I then stuffed flattened boxes near the spare tire and under the back seat car mats to use as fire starters, later.)

Selected Foods

We included: steel cut oatmeal, instant oatmeal to complement that, bags of pre-mix paleo pancake mix left over from my effort last year to eat healthier, a large tub of honey, salt, brown sugar, cans of corned beef hash, pop tarts for no cook snacks, boxes of Clif Bars in breakfast flavors like blueberry, granola bars, blueberry and raspberry fig bars, bags of granola inside double locked zip lock gallon bags, #10 can of Mountain House breakfast skillet, Quaker oats, Frosted shredded wheat, a few cartons of sealed almond milk left over from my daughter’s last visit, canned carnation milk, a sack of powdered milk in a plastic mini bucket, several plastic containers of coffee mate, a zip lock bag of fast food condiments like ketchup and sugar, Tabasco sauce, vinegar based hot sauce from the fridge door went into a zip lock sandwich bag, almonds, dried apricots, a bottle of olive oil, a large tub of peanut butter, jelly from the pantry closet, and Maxwell House coffee packs (which are filters pre-filled with coffee typically used for drip machines but can be tossed into a saucepan with boiling water and steeped for a great 4-6 cup batch of coffee), two smaller cartons of cherry juice and pineapple juice, a few cans of pineapple chunks and a double zip lock bag of powdered milk.

As a reference point, the food canister for breakfast is basically an 18” blocky cube shape. This covered about one month of breakfast for us, including 2 dozen egg count we put into the cooler when we finally pulled out of the driveway to head West. We always keep wheat tortilla wraps in large quantities at home, and I packed the remaining ¾ loaf of wheat bread. Once the bread and wraps were gone, we used Triscuit crackers and a variety of other hard tack from my snack bag. It was interesting, later, to reflect on the density of Red Mill oatmeal and grains in terms of number of servings versus other items; more on that later.

Relative to packing the cooler, we routinely use frozen bottles of water (or Gatorade) to fill empty space in our freezer and flex new unfrozen bottles into place when we eat something out of the freezer or take frozen bottles out when we need more space. These frozen bottles lined the cooler and doubled as drinking water for the first half of the trip. Once things thawed, we did not have ice obviously, but we did anchor a dry bag in a cold stream at times in camp to make our canteen drinks colder (mostly for fun rather than this being a requirement).

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 5.)


  1. Eggs in the cooler… If you are able to get fresh eggs that have not been rinsed off, you can keep them in a regular container and not have to keep them cool. Much easier for transporting when cooler space is tight and they still last a long time.

    1. But during a crisis, it may be feasible. I submit we are in a low level crisis now. Even in a rural county like ours, violent crimes are increasing, theft and burglary are increasing. Drug use and accompanying mental incapacity are increasing, the socialist cities and states continue to increase in increase of third world disease outbreaks of typhus, measles, and other socialist policy-amplified diseases. Good time for getting out and working your load-out plan.

  2. Thanks for the details and your thought process. Thinking about what EXACTLY to bring and how to pack it is a great idea! FYI for people that don’t have trailers, harbor freight has one for less than $100 that folds up when not in use. Just needs plywood for a base, and a few cheap upgrades to make it better.

    1. StandardOps, just be cautious with those trailers. They come with 12-inch tires. You may not want to go 2,000 miles down the freeway at 70 mph or through rough terrain with them, unless you’re carrying a couple sets of spares.

      1. Along with some better tires (and maybe a tubeless plug kit and Slime tire sealer in the tires) pack some extra wheel bearings (and grease) along with an inexpensive bearing puller in your tool kit ($10+-). I personally have had to replace bearings on a boat trailer w/ 13″ tires more than once on the road side. It only takes 30 minutes or less, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never own a trailer with (axial weight supporting) less than 15″ tires / rims. I’d rather have a trailer that is too much, than one that is too small. (I’m talking about small to medium cargo trailers)

  3. Great article, enjoying as a Cracker too. You should also include feminine products (washables) and birth control items. Take up small amt. of space but vital. (Not a good time to become pregnant.)

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