Build the Plan vs. Test the Plan – Part 5, by T.R.

(Continued from Part 4. This part concludes the article series.)

Moving on to drinks as a subject, I prepared a similar smaller “cube” container for drinks and soups. More coffee filter packs, zip lock bags of tea taken out of their cardboard retail packaging, hot cocoa, more honey, powdered lemonade tubs, powdered ice tea, Tang for astronauts or space aliens we might meet (just kidding) that I found in the pantry, instant coffee, another jar of coffee mate, a red plastic Folger’s coffee tub of ground coffee, a few boxes of flavored Emergen-C powders that give you 1000mg of Vitamin C and make flavor choices for plain water to spice things up (took those out of the box and put the little envelopes into zip lock bags), more instant oatmeal, a large bottle of Almond flavored coffee syrup got tossed in from the kitchen counter along with jars of beef bouillon and chicken bouillon.

In camp, when I make canned soup, assuming I don’t have water constraints, I typically double the soup batch by adding a bouillon cube or two to chicken noodle and keep extra bags of dry Egg Noodles in the food pantry. In a pinch, I can make a broth which adds warmth on a cold night or acts as a side dish or appetizer on occasion. I doubled up on Tylenol and Motrin and threw in two extra bottles of pain medicine to duplicate what I had in the first aid kit, added an extra can opener and a few bottles of multi vitamins from the bathroom closet.

By the time I was finished, we had a modular system of containers or carriers. This took almost an entire day, plus part of the next morning. Each one was sealed, with an inventory list tucked inside, and was organized based on the purpose/use and labeled. We had a breakfast canister, a drink canister, a lunch/dinner canister plus a snack bag of loose food & fruit on hand. Perishable food pulled into service that was on hand from our previous regular grocery buys got tossed into a canvas boat bag (to use first since it had a limited shelf life), a red Galls gear bag with a high quality first aid kit from last year’s project list, and then added a few cases of canned chili, canned baked beans, a sack of mixed dry beans which I can add to canned soup to double up their calorie count and pack protein punch, tuna fish, more canned soups, powdered soups (miso and Thai noodles), more peanut butter, Nutella left over from the kids last visit, and a sweep of pantry items from recent grocery trips plus a large sack of basmati rice which we keep in a sealed bucket. The bucket would pull double duty as a dish rinse or camp bucket.

Over time on the road, while there was still daylight, we would pack the canvas boat bag with the next day’s food to complement remaining perishable items and shove it into the car (out of the sight of bears). This forced us to daily eat down initial perishable items and also plan for the next day as well. That certainly helped for a few days where we awoke to pouring rain and thunder; made those days a little simpler and followed our general rule of “no reason to believe tomorrow will be easier, so let’s do what we can today”. On a few days, “tomorrow” actually ended up being much easier due to that planning and, on those days, we treated ourselves to long hikes to waterfalls, canyons, high alpine lakes or vistas with roaming buffaloes. We did bring a few canisters of bear spray; we keep an extra in with the kitchen gear box. I found that having a shallow plastic Hefty brand box from Home Depot worked great for cook gear and stowed fast either in the car or under the webbed cot frame worked great. Shallow plastic tubs that resemble drawer dimensions work way better for kitchen gear than deeper narrow storage bins.

Provisions for 30 Days?

Our field test protocol was trying to determine whether, in the context of evacuating (aka leaving for vacation), our car/truck capacity could hold enough gear and provisions to last 30+ days. Or could it last more than 30+ days? I’m still plowing through that analysis by hand, however, with future refinements, I think it would be possible to have a few well-planned food canisters plus perhaps one good sized trunk that would go well past 60 days. We have tested out MREs in the past, but my system prefers to make meals for two people by scratch using assembled components of my own much less expensively, with a better-quality product.

I won’t go into the same detail for our camping gear since we typically keep a master list of that on a paper check list which gets scaled up or down based on the season and target destination. However, we did make a few changes here too in terms of pre-staging. We typically camp with our family and kids’ spouses and/or friends. Our group size can range from the two of us all the way upwards to 10-12 or more. It is not feasible for us to escape with provisions for more than 2-3 of us (which is why JWR’s novel Patriots and other stories have pre-staging to a cabin or other location as a key principle).

One lesson learned was to use a silver or gold contrasting color Sharpie and mark each dry bag or container in cubic inches or liter capacity on a seam and then mark each sleeping bag with its’ temperature rating. To speed things up, I bought five Cabela’s magnum size duffel dry bags in khaki/tan colors and packed each of them into a modular set of camping gear for two people per duffel (two sleeping bags, sleeping mats, one tent, one tarp, bug spray, bear spray, recent toiletry kits from airlines in a zip lock bag, a few clothes pins to dry items either inside the tent or on a fly line, a few new toothbrushes, dental floss, a few old dorm quality wash cloths, a small clean beach towel that had seen better days and few men’s T-shirts that were borderline for dust rags but could also be used as camp pot holders or pressed into service if need be, a few old ball caps from little league (dark colors) and old but serviceable long underwear that had been replaced by new versions, an extra roll of duct tape to patch a tent in a pinch).

The Key: Using Dry Bags

Again, I made a list of what’s in each magnum duffel, rolled/buckled each bag closed tight and tossed it into a corner. A cornerstone of our new planning strategy relies on these rubberized Bill’s Bag type stowage, or these Cabela’s dry bags. They can be pre-packed with clean dry gear and mostly with spare clothes and socks that are our size or one size larger (basically, we usually wear a size M so most of our stage gear was a mix of size M and size L). Each of these magnum gear bags would outfit two people for a camp-type environment that would dovetail into a larger team unit (since that larger team unit would need to have the stove, cook gear and food/provisions). Making a list of shared items versus items that get ticked against a head-count person is very helpful. We can envision a situation where we leave gear for others to pick up later and my husband was able to hog tie up to six of these duffel bags on the vehicle roof.

Not having 100% confidence which type of vehicle we might have on hand, we decided to have gear bags staged as HIGH = required, Medium = space available, and Low = optional. That partially worked, but there are some items where we prefer duplication and then other situations where we simply can’t be towing around extras either for weight/space reasons.

My EMT/first aid bags are always packed, always red in color; we keep one in each car and a triplicate inside the house. We had a basic tool kit supplemented by a few items that had been needed on previous camp trips. We had a safety/security range bag stuffed into a non-descript black gym bag. The Cabela’s magnum duffels bag can be strapped onto the vehicle roof since they are waterproof. We had a Yakima Rocket box that is a clamshell like design we used for previous camp trips. Cabela’s dry bags or Bill’s Bags lashed to the roof were much better than the clamshell box in terms of odd sizes and space. Later, as we ate into our food stuffs and that storage requirement shrunk in size, we put some of the duffel bag gear inside the vehicle or rolled up an empty gear bag under the seat.

Second Try at Packing Strategy

I clipped color-coded carabiners on each bag to indicate Hi, Med, Low and then drew up a map of the basement gear corner. Now, with our tow hitch rack for water and spare gas all pre-staged, combined with the food modules and gear tiering, we tried our packing strategy for the second time. We put items that “were close but no cigar” into a laundry basket; these items did not make the cut by virtue of no space physically OR no room for additional weight OR not needed compared to other items that we deliberately chosen ahead of these picks. Any bag that had safety, security, tools or first aid gear had a color slash of duct tape on the outside. In one of the vehicle doors, we keep 2-3 rolls of duct tape in red, army green and black and each color meant something specific to us.

We were able to pack out faster with more gear and better choices. Overall, this was our best trip ever in terms of fun. Our meals were simple style but really good quality. Our breakfasts were heavy except for long hiking days, and our dinners trended lighter. We tended to graze for lunch or drink hot soup. Nuts and dried fruit were a key snack. Most days we would go hiking and alternate with our EDC packs vs. a full stack top loading backpack for some fitness tests. Staying mostly at National Park camp sites, we were on our “honor system” to not use electricity for any purpose. We took sun showers from lake water.

We did a few back-country overnights for 3-4 days at a time using the top-loading backpacks, Esbit stove and mostly Mountain House brand camp food or like. We alternated that with “car camping” like stints of 3-4 days. This was not a perfect simulation of a crisis, but we did test the elements we intended to test whilst also having our annual vacation. I used a small Goal Zero solar charger for my cell phone to take pictures of Elk, Bear, Bison, and birds of prey. I would fire up the cell phone and text our kids that we were fine every Friday (or Saturday if we were not in cell range); this was a test not a war game so no sense being silly about failure to communicate. I did not download emails or send outbound mail other than those family Friday relays for safety reasons and courtesy. We came home in better shape from the hiking.

When we returned home, we reviewed each item that we had not used and put them into a pile. We then compared those items to the “close but no cigar” laundry basket of gear. I would have brought a larger bottle of liquid Woolite laundry soap. My husband would have brought a small hand saw for taking down dead wood for camp fires vs. the wire pocket saw which was tedious and tiring. We would have brought a spare pair or two of leather gloves rather than sharing. And so on.

We took our EDC (every day carry bag) and our 72-hour bags and compared them in terms of overlap with our big trip gear list. In some cases, we valued the overlap and duplication of gear. In other cases, not required. Options are good. And we will continue to improve but we learned the most from packing before we ever left home.

Safe travels to you.


  1. I am a tree guy. I love my Silky hand saws. They make a few folders of which I have one for camping. These are super high quality. You pay for quality, but you will not be disappointed. Buy nice or buy twice. Don’t go cheap.

  2. I have enjoyed reading this article, thank you so much for sharing the incredible details and thought processes that went in to this experiment. I tend to think like the author; analytical and strategic. For years my mind was occupied with planning and mental packing, evaluating best routes out of the city, strategizing where to cache supplies along the route, figuring out what would be the signal that it was finally time to bug out.

    I’m glad I did all that as there is so much to consider, but the best decision I made was to just move to the redoubt. Now I don’t have to figure out how to transport myself and all my preps in apocalyptic times, ducking and weaving my way north to an uncertain location.

    I realize there are many people who may be in a situation where they quite literally have no option to move, but I also know a lot of people, friends of mine, who are simply delaying the decision. Yes, you may have to compromise on your income level, yes it may be a huge hassle to figure out how to sell your house and move, and yes your kids may whine and cry about leaving their school/friends. Most people resist change, and fear the unknown.

    But please don’t get stranded out there; you may have noticed our society is spiraling downward at breakneck pace and the global economy seems to be teetering more every day. If you’ve been thinking about getting out of Dodge for years, what really is stopping you? Better a year early than a day late….

    1. DiDi, TR here (the author). Really like your thinking via reply and tend to agree. This experiment proved out our exit strategy and would, conceptually, get us to our back up location within 30 days even we had to bicycle to get there (eg 400 miles, a reasonable week bike ride for me, faster for my husband but we would stick together). But your points around the spiral are sticking in my mind.

      If you can say in genera terms, where did you pick as your final locale, perhaps a state quadrant ? We feel good about hunkering down in place at one of our two main locations (one of which has extensive water choices and one that doesn’t). Thoughts ?

      1. I researched and prayed for literally years before I selected northern Idaho. I could not be happier that I made this choice. It has everything I was looking for in terms of location, resources, timber, water, climate, #2A friendliness, and as an added bonus, the best caliber of people ever! The letter at the link reveals the heart of the local population:

        This spring we had a storm with over three foot snowfall. After the first 12″, I heard my neighbor out front using his snowblower to clear off my driveway. By the end of the evening another foot had fallen, and I heard my neighbor on the other side out front snowblowing my driveway. Next morning at first light another 12″ of snow had fallen and the first neighbor was out again clearing my driveway.

        The thing is, neither of them even bothered to ask, they just knew I had no one else to help me so they did the normal thing people do around here, they stepped up and helped me. I moved 1,200 miles to be around this kind of people, and I’m grateful every day.

  3. TR , Your 5 part really hit home, been there and doing it. Never give up, every day is learning. LESS is more if you have to carry ruck style. Would like to private message to exchange information if you are open to. Good article and good luck.

  4. I have been reading this series, but now starting to skim read it, and while I admire the organizational mind and the effort required, since I’m somewhat OCD myself, I haven’t seen anything (yet) about vehicle prep. Ie) armoring up and off road run flat tires, winch, etc whatever else might be thought of. I hate the idea of going to all this effort and then have the vehicle shot to pieces a few miles down the road from your driveway.

  5. I agree with jima that a properly equipped vehicle is not a luxury but critical equipment.
    The idea of run flat tires is excellent plus some bullet proofing for engine and vehicle compartment.
    Also having a long range tanks plus 5 gallon Jeep cans would improve range.

  6. I thought a lot about this series and while it does cover most everything except the unknown, like roadblocks, shootouts, an injury while traveling to the BO location and other intangibles it seems like a lot of work that could, for the most part, be avoided.

    It just seems to me that the best way to approach this situation is to have the majority of your preps already at your BO location. That way, you can literally hop in your vehicle and leave. Caching necessities along the way in the event you get sidetracked and the majority of your preps waiting for you just seems to make more sense to me.

    Hopefully, you are not planning to go too far since the further you go the earlier start you will need and the more potential for problems along the way.

  7. Excellent article; people have to give some thought to evacuating their home during an emergency. … There was an article on the Internet about Hurricane Ike in Texas, which caused great damage.

    “The storm had come ashore hours before daybreak with 110-mph (175 km/h) winds and towering waves, pushing boats ashore, smashing many houses, flooding thousands of homes, knocking out windows in Houston’s skyscrapers, uprooting trees, and cutting electric power to millions of customers (estimates range from 2.8 million to 4.5 million customers) for weeks or months.
    …….. Some people survived by punching holes in attics, climbing to rooftops or trees, using nearby boats, or floating on debris until reaching solid ground.
    …….. Afterward, an estimated 100,000 homes had been flooded in Texas, and numerous boats washed ashore. Galveston was declared uninhabitable, and Houston imposed a week-long nighttime curfew due to limited electric power.” [Wikipedia]

    A lot of people didn’t evacuate or evacuated late, because of previous ‘false predictions’ about the hurricanes. … The man that wrote the article on the Internet didn’t do much planning, for himself and his family. He called his father for the evacuation trip. (He left his own car in Galveston. The car was lost)

    The article said the man’s father worked as a salesman for Farm and Ranch products. The father knew every back-road and squirrel path around the Houston area. They were able to avoid the gridlock of cars, and the potentially dangerous situation.

    Similar knowledge can be acquired by simply planning beforehand. SurvivalBlog recommends several alternative routes out of an area. It would be easy to turn a weekend, into simply taking a pleasant drive out of town on various routes. Any potential choke points good be noted.
    ……. SurvivalBlog has numerous articles about evacuation route planning.

  8. TR… Thank you so very much for the detailed well written experience. Now, if only I could get my wife to even agree to carry an EDC with her.

    With that being said, I too agree with Jima. Maybe some how affix a second fuel tank in the vehicle in case those pesky road blocks or unGodly humans help themselves to your fuel, just a thought.

    I also appreciate everyone’s replies with additional information. I know I am on the right track, just will take time and money to get there.

    Blessings to you all

    1. I have a trailer hitch rack,be sure the hitch is appropriate and properly installed(proper class and installed with grade 5 or better hardware to solid frame). When loading be sure to balance weight with heaviest centered. A extra fuel idea might be a 10-13 gallon marine type tank(low profile)that would allow light items to stack on top. I have used this set up to fuel projects without carrying fuel inside vehicle(always a bad idea).

  9. Thanks for the article, T.R.; excellent summary of a complex plan (and ain’t all survival plans complex?)

    RE: trailer hitch carriers & packing. I’m no longer there, but having lived in hurricane country for decades, one learns “pre-bugout” procedure – staging supplies for “quick load&leave.” Fortunately, hurricanes give days of warning so “pre-bugout” is easily possible, and it’s always better to leave 2 days too early than 20 minutes too late. The “last day” traffic north from Houston when hurricane Rita threatened was described as “epic.”

    I happen to have a pallet jack (extremely handy tool, bought used years ago for moving heavy stuff like table saws, etc. around the garage/shop), the hitch basket is placed on the jack rails and loaded. The basket is truck-width and with the attachment arm extended will still fit under the truck if the jack is all the way down so I can back in and park over it if I didn’t load the basket too high. (5 filled NATO gas cans flat on the bottom, basket-size waterproof zipper bag filled with bug-out “important stuff”, mostly outdoor camping equipment (I keep the propane cylinders for the small camp stove and the white gas fuel bottles in the hitch bag, outside the truck), each “important item” in a waterproof dry bag or Food Saver bag if it can be damaged by water, everything strapped to the basket with tie-downs). Even though it’s quite securely strapped to the basket, because it will be exposed on the hitch basket nothing in the hitch bag is a “super critical essential” which we could not operate without. One concern is an inattentive driver running into us from behind, damaging or destroying the hitch basket beyond usefulness.

    If “it’s time to go” the tailgate is dropped, two piano-hinged-together 61″ x 48″ sheets of 3/4 plywood go on the floor of the covered bed sideways and 8 Plano 56 qt labeled and numbered storage tubs (I have the Marine version, with gasketed lid (“highly water resistant” not “waterproof”), which Plano may not make anymore, but the plain 56 quart tubs are available at Amazon and sporting goods stores) are put in the bed. They’re filled with bug-out necessities, each loaded and labeled by equipment type and kept to no more than 50 lbs each. They’re numbered to make it easier to make sure we have all 8. The plywood is to make a sleeping platform on top of the 8 tubs if weather or security issues require keeping them inside the truck, and the tubs are just tall enough that the sleeping platform will go over the wheel well lumps; a couple lengths of pool noodle cut in half lengthwise cushion the platform where it will flex down onto the wheel wells. The tubs stack interlocked so they sit in 2 stacks in the garage when not in the truck. The American coastal south has 2 seasons: “hurricane season” and “not hurricane season,” each 6 months long. “Not hurricane season” is the prep time for “hurricane season” and the box contents are inspected and adjusted, upgraded or replaced during “not hurricane season.” The tubs with consumables (MREs, protein bars, etc.) are so labeled and always placed on top of the stacks for easy access (consumables aren’t kept in the garage tubs, but stored inside in the air conditioning and are “checklist items” to make sure they aren’t missed at the last minute). During “hurricane season” gas tanks are kept 3/4 full or higher, the NATO cans are kept full and used to top off the cars and refilled as they’re emptied.

    A 9th tub is indoors and if disaster looms (hurricanes, fortunately, give days of warning) it’s loaded with the heirlooms, the critical documents package, money, limited quantities of ammunition, etc. and set by the door. It goes inside the extended cab in the back seat. Sandwiches and water are removed from the fridge and placed in a cooler which also goes in the back seat. Rifles (2) go in soft cases on the floor between the front and back seat. We’re already carrying our sidearms.

    The truck is pulled out several feet, the pallet jack raised (pump the handle), lengths of 6X6 and 4X6 (saved for such uses during a few fence projects) placed under the basket (pallet jacks only lift about 5-7″), the jack dropped, 6X6s put on the jack rails, repeat until the basket is high enough for a pump or two (or bleed) allows insertion of the basket attachment arm into the hitch and pinned. The truck is pulled into the driveway and the garage door closed and internally braced.

    House doors are locked, water and all circuit breakers except the fridge and freezer are turned off, yard gates are pinned (1/2″ L-shaped rod pushed through gate frames into the posts on either side – hurricane winds will push gates through latches and tear them off hinges), one last walk-around to make sure everything is secured (lawn furniture goes into the swimming pool the night before), and we’re done.

    We’ve done this a few times over the years and have it down to 30-35 minutes, and did it once in 20 minutes as a test. If we had to do it “cold” – railroad tanker spill, forest fire, etc, – it’s 45-60 minutes, most of that consumed by “inside tasks” with loading Box #9 and preparing “trip food.” Fortunately, in all the times we’ve gotten ready to bugout it’s been necessary to actually do it only once. The secret is planning plus compartmentalization – don’t move individual items, move containers, and move them with equipment if possible. Have checklists, do the planning up front, test the plan, revise the plan, re-test the plan. A month doesn’t go by that we don’t think of something to add, replace or upgrade or a procedure to improve. The plan is to be completely self sufficient for 2 weeks, and that could be stretched. I’ll gratefully accept all the assistance I’m offered, but much prefer to be in the position of not needing much, or any, if possible.

    If – very big word, “if” – I had the means to put all bugout equipment on pallets AND lift the pallets into the truck I’d do it that way and reserve the hitch basket for gas cans and flammables (I’ve been looking for a hand-crank light duty forklift but so far nothing in my price range has presented itself). Pro Tip: A plastic-covered security cable and a very secure padlock is a very good idea for the gas cans; NATO cans are very expensive and hard to get so I lock them to the basket; otherwise, anyone with a knife to cut the straps securing the basket bag could lift the cans out of the basket in seconds. I don’t use a locking pin to secure the basket to the hitch but I do have a length of “trucker’s chain” and a padlock to secure it to a trailer safety chain bracket on the hitch. I also use a 4′ length of plastic covered security cable and a padlock to secure the truck: turn the steering wheel to full lock, loop the cable around the steering wheel spokes (one cable eye through the other) and padlock it to the brake pedal arm. If someone tries to steal the whole, loaded truck they’ll have to either cut the cable – difficult, but possible – pick the lock on the brake pedal arm (same thing) or just drive in circles. Pro Tip: If you secure things with keyed padlocks, keyed-alike locks save huge amounts of frustration (I’ve not found combination padlocks that offer the same security and resistance to cutting/breaking that high security keyed padlocks do; the high security ones WILL be expensive but I think they’re worth it. )

    1. Nosmo, this is great. We will comb through your reply when have our next family meeting and bake in as many of your ideas into the next iteration. Relative to Randy’s point, basically this exercise yielded both good news and a wake up call. Relative to good news, our “truck camping” and provisioning/food array was good and healthy and more than met our needs (and would be scaled back in real crisis vs. the way we actually ate to enjoy our vacation). Other good news was that our back country hiking stints provided proof points for our gear list. The soft underbelly, so to speak, is any travel away from our primary or secondary location (which are both stocked) will have all of the unrest risks delineated by readers and colleagues on this chat. Totally agree. Thanks for such a thorough volley back. T.R.

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