There are many useful survival/preparedness lists out there. All have the usual items and practices in common (survival knives, fire starting materials, food storage methods, etc.), but over the years I’ve also noticed several gaps in common. These tend to be of the nasty “I wish I’d realized I would need this item before” variety. This is especially alarming as these gaps could be remedied in most cases very inexpensively or even just with a little forethought.
1. Bleach. No, it’s not a substitute for a proper water filtration system, but in a pinch it does just fine and it’s incredibly cheap. Bearing in mind that where survival gear is concerned, “two is one, and one is none,” what do you have as a backup in case that fancy $250 water filter breaks or is lost? A little bottle of plain, non-scented 5-6% hypochlorite bleach will go a long way to ensuring you have potable water. I’m still saving up for a top-of-the-line filter system, but you can bet I have plenty of bleach stored in the meantime! And if you are looking for the most valuable thing to store for charitable purposes in a crisis, pound for pound it’s bleach. Just ounces given in charity will purify many gallons of water for needy groups of people who might otherwise die without it.
2. Sunscreen. I’ve never seen this on a “bug out bag” list, and in my opinion, omitting it is a big mistake. When TSHTF, in most cases you’re going to be spending a lot more time being active out-of-doors than is usual. (Even if you plan to hole up in a shelter, you’ll probably have to travel to get to it.) This means sun exposure. It’s dangerous because you’ll probably be focusing on other things (such as survival!) and won’t think about your level of sun exposure until it’s too late. If you’re one of those lucky folks with enough naturally-occurring melanin in your skin to shrug off solar radiation, great! However, if you live in North America or Europe, odds are that you’re light-skinned, and therefore exceedingly vulnerable. As little as a few unprotected hours in direct sunlight will sap your strength and can cause debilitating burns. Northern latitudes won’t save you, either; six hours of sun in northern Idaho this April knocked me out of commission for a full day, and I’m from California! My brother, a licensed dermatologist, recommends sun block (not “suntan lotion”) rated SPF 30 or higher.
3. Antibacterial Soap/Disinfectant Hand Rub. Washing our hands routinely is something we all take for granted. In a crisis situation, luxuriously bathing your hands in hot soapy solution won’t be an option. Just a couple of drops of a travelers’ disinfectant hand rub solution lets you clean your hands without water. And for more extensive cleaning, for just a few dollars you can purchase a 64-ounce jug of antibacterial soap. It would have been worth its weight in gold to hurricane victims….
4. Toothbrush/Dental Floss. That these items are missing from most “bug out bag” lists I’ve seen makes me worry about the dental health of some survivalists. All the stored food in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t eat it due to tooth pain from a cavity. While you’re thinking about it, get your teeth fixed now. Where There Is No Dentist is a great book, but the smart survivalist will have obtained a clean bill of health from her dentist before TSHTF.
5. Eyewear. Everybody needs at least one pair of sunglasses, preferably two. (You’re going to be outdoors sometimes, remember? See point 2, above.) If you wear prescription glasses or contacts, store spares. Get Lasik or other vision-correction surgery, if you’re so inclined and can afford it. And if your vision’s already 20/20, then shouldn’t you protect those vulnerable eyeballs? ANSI-rated safety glasses (clear shooters’ glasses are fine) are great in this regard and can be had for as little as $10.
6. Measure Your Distances. You could use measuring tape, an odometer, or another measuring device, such as string. It depends on the application. The point is not so much to have a measuring device as to have used it beforehand – because, if all of a sudden you need to know a distance, you probably won’t be able to measure it at that particular moment. Concrete examples: what good is it for me to know the pattern of my defensive shotgun load at 20 yards if I don’t know how many yards it is to my back fence? I’ve zeroed my rifle at 300 yards, but if my bug out vehicle dies and I’m stuck in my home against an advancing mob of looters, it would be good to know that the other end of the street is 200 yards away so I can adjust the sights. Similarly, traveling my preplanned bug out route, it may become critical to know the width of a city street in yards, the length of a city block, or the distance between two way points. Take note of these beforehand!
7. Test Everything. How many of us assemble our survival gear, and then store it in a closet against the day it’s needed, instead of using it as often as possible? Camping is a great way to test most or all of your survival supplies at the same time, but most people don’t go camping more than once or twice a year. You can get more dividends by using some of your gear on a daily basis wherever you can. Be creative! You can discern some important truths that would be costly to learn later. For example, it’s better to learn now that you need to add dietary fiber supplements to your food stocks than to suffer a bout of diarrhea in the midst of a crisis. Want to find out for sure? Declare a “stored food week” and eat nothing but stored food all week. How about nonfood items, such as sun block? Ever measured how much sun block you actually use on a typical day out-of-doors? That information could keep you from storing too little. And consider that “bug out bag” sitting in the trunk of your car. Ever actually lugged it more than a few yards? Better to take a weekend hike and find out now that it’s 30 pounds overweight before you try to hike to shelter in an emergency and have to ditch it because it’s too heavy. Or, you might decide to lose 30 pounds from around your middle instead. I’m reminded of an account of a recent tactical shotgun shoot. Participants agreed that shotgun shell bandoliers were awkward and unwieldy, except for one fellow. He had successfully secured his bandolier between his beer belly and his man-breasts! Well, he may have a lot of firepower, but in a crisis he’ll probably have a heart attack before his ammo is used up. There are, sadly, more than a few survivalists who are penny-wise and (literally) pound-foolish in this regard. Get in shape, folks! But that’s the subject of another article.