Note from JWR:

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Poll Results –What are the Best Items to Store for Barter and Charity?

Here is the first increment of responses to our barter/charity items poll. These have been received in just the first 24 hours of the poll. BTW, please keep them coming, and I will post subsequent increments in the days to come.  Many thanks!  There are some real gems here, so read closely:

B.A. suggests:
Sealed bags / canisters of handi-wipes
Matches / lighters
Knives [think Mora skinners here]
2-cycle oil and chainsaw files and chains
Kerosene and wicks
Watch-caps / stocking caps
New socks and underwear [especially for children]
Common caliber ammo [.22LR being tops]
Small bolt-action .22LR rifles [CZ Scout is great for younger shooters], as are the many different training rifles that are mil-surp now.
Shotgun shells
Hand lotions
Toilet paper, toilet paper, toilet paper
Fresh water
Conibear traps…if society turns to a more grain holding [storing corn, wheat, soybeans] and consuming society, I look for the rat population to explode in most areas.
Hard candy
Sewing needles and sturdy thread
Fishing lines / rod-reel combos
Plastic 5 gallon buckets
Leather gloves

M.O. suggests:
Hand tools, like shovel, drill, saw

J.K. in the PRK suggests:
12 gauge ammo

C.W. suggests:
Hoes and other gardening tools
Non-hybrid seeds
Chlorine to treat water
Shoe repair
Gun repair
Medical care

Outdoor Guy suggests:

“Col. Jack D. Ripper” suggests:

Grain alcohol (“Everclear” or equivalent 190 proof ethanol)
For salt, those of us with water softeners have hundreds of pounds of salt pellets on hand at a given time. Rub two together for flavoring food, dissolve for brining, etc.

C.R.Z. suggests:

Paperback books, novels, etc for entertainment
How-To Books (especially organic gardening manuals)
Primers (sealed in a ammo can)
Suture Needles
Knife sharpening stones
Medical Supplies (gauze, antibiotics, bandaging material, and BIRTHING SUPPLIES)

DKN suggests:
After an event like Katrina, some better items for charity might be:
Clothing: Shirts, hats, socks, shoes/boots (Dollar stores are great)
Personal items: Toothbrush/toothpaste, chapstick, soap, washcloth, handi-wipes, tampons, toilet paper, etc.
Containers: small bags with straps (book bags, etc), water bottles.
Maybe even maps of the area? When I worked for the Sheriff’s department, I as working a traffic accident (Southern California) We had an intersection closed in a residential area. I was so surprised at the amount of people who only knew ONE way to get to their house!

Steven in North Idaho suggests:
Condensed or dried Milk, Sugar, Flour, Tea, Coffee. Aspirin, children’s cold medicine, Antibiotics, (a parent will give their life to save their child’s life, at least I would.) Then comes larger food items. Then comes first aid stuff, including water purification. Then fire starting materials. Then ammo. I would never give a gun to anyone I don’t know. To much chance of it coming back on me later. A heck of a note to get shot with your own gun. In the mean time, I’ll just keep my powder dry.

L.H. suggests:


GySgt J.D. suggests:
CR-123 batteries for SureFire lights

Larry in Kansas suggests:
First aid items
Liquor- 1 pint bottles
Cigarettes and cigars- sealed in vacuum sealed bags
Canning lids- different sizes
Canning jars- different sizes(this can be a bulky item for storage)
.22 cal long rifle rimfire ammo
.177 cal pellets for air rifle(s)
Comfort foods-deserts
Coloring books
Small games( auto travel type)
Cooking spices
Salt packets
Pepper packets
Salt 1 pound containers
Fishing hooks
Fishing weights
Kitchen matches
Hurricane lamps
Hurricane lamp glass , wicks and wick holder
Oil for hurricane lamps

M.S. suggests:
shoe laces
can opener (manual)
medical supplies
hygiene supplies (toothpaste, soap, detergent, toothbrushes, shampoo, toilet paper, bleach)
lighter flints
lighter fluid
clothes pins
clothes line
playing cards
canning supplies
cold medications
Note: As a rule we have decided against trading ammunition as a security precaution. Another rule is that when bartering we will not do it at our home. We will find a neutral location where we can employ as much security as possible to prevent someone from finding out where we live.

S.W. suggests:
Chunks of magnesium, to help start fires.
Small bottles of iodine, to purify filtered water.
Small packets of fish hooks, one can dig worms anywhere and with some monofilament can fish practically anywhere. Also lures can be fabricated that will use your fish hooks. Today they are cheap, perhaps one day they will be valuable.
Cheap compasses. It can be used for navigating, also it is a morale booster.

“Mr. Whiskey” suggests:
My barter items are divided into two groups: 1) Short term / Charity for the early days probably out to 6 months after a disaster for immediate needs, goodwill and helping people stay alive for another day.  Then I have group 2) Long term / Profit potential (for me) traded with the folks who were smart or lucky enough to make it during the early days, and now have settled in a place (maybe even on my place), and really need some things that no one can make.

Group 1:
Canned foodstuffs (for the pervasive hunger).
Bar soap, wash cloths, toothpaste and brushes (everyone will want to feel clean again)
Toilet paper (a rare item to be found because everyone will know its utility)
Hand and face lotion (no one will be used to the harsh conditions).
Disposable razors and shaving cream (what would a man give to be clean shaven?).
Tampons (no one is quite ready yet for the old way alternatives).
Bibles, New Testaments (many potential converts in the age of disasters).
Dental floss (when you just can’t get that bit of ‘possum gristle out of the teeth).

Group 2:
Lotions and lip balms (everyone spends more time outside working now)
Fingernail and toenail clippers (who thought about packing these in the BOB?)
Warm gloves/hats (by now, everything is starting to wear out).
Long underwear (virtually no survivor from the cities will have this item).
Bar soap, laundry soap (people have settled in, and soap of all kind will be rare).
Fragrance (what a delight if you really, really stink).
Hasps and padlocks with multiple keys (people now realize the benefit of security)
Kid’s shoes (adults can wear theirs for many years, but a growing 10 year old will be in agony in short order, and you need all those younger kids to work pretty hard. We stock 3 steel barrels with 130 pair of leather work shoes and boots from kid’s sizes 3 thru adult size 13. Bought them at Goodwill over a period of several years, but they are all in very good shape, all of very good quality – though used – and not one pair cost more than $3.95).
AA batteries (their batteries will be long gone, but they will still hold on to the lights)
Survival Guides. I have pre-printed in mass quantities outlining basic how-to for people who really have no idea about the longer term survival they are in. Some of the topics covered are outhouse building, old way feminine hygiene, bartering techniques, herbal remedies, cooking over fire, maintaining your old clothing and shoes, pulling a tooth, setting a snare and so on.

Barter Services for any time:
Sock Darning
Charging service with a hand-cranked generator for all their rechargeables they will still have with them.
Heated shower (solar or wood) with privacy screens and secluded changing area.

Dr. A.L.O. suggests:
Used centerfire rifles chambered in .270, .30-30, .30.06, .308
Used rimfire guns chambered in .22
Pre-1965 silver coins
Small hand tools (Hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, etc.)
Small flashlights
Batteries (C&D sizes)

J.K. in Florida suggests:
Pri-G think of all the stale gasoline 1 year or 4 years into a battle and this stuff will take old gas in the bottom of cars, cans, gas stations and bring it to life. I understand (according to the Pri web site) that this can take 11 year old gasoline and restore it to factory specs. I will be getting a case of this.  OBTW, I also use Pri-D (for diesel fuel.)

Michael in Oz suggests:
Funny I was thinking about this and then you actually ask for items. With all the talk of gold and silver, and then tangibles for value and barter, I was thinking of Lead as an item to have a nice stock of.

It is cheap compared to gold and silver but still expensive enough to warrant some thought.
It stores well
Rolls of lead flashing other than flashing roofs etc can be used for
Sinkers, Projectiles,

Other items that come to mind to stock/store on a retreat– i.e. if you have room like a storage shed
Star pickets
Rolls of wire
OLD Picks, shovels, axes, hoes etc now nearly worthless from garage sale etc and with a bit of oil will store fine. These items will be vital post grid down.

Larry in Casper, Wyoming suggests:
Toilet paper

R.S. suggests:
Here are the rules for ideal barter supplies (adapted from Joel Skousen’s writings):
1. High demand. If no one wants it, no one wants it.
2. Difficult to manufacture on your own
3. Durable for long-term storage
4. Can be easily divided up into smaller quantities
5. Authenticity and quality is easily recognizable.
Here’s the list of supplies I have on hand for barter
(again, this list is taken from Joel Skousen’s 10 Packs for Survival):
• Liquid detergent
• Laundry detergent
• Rubbing alcohol
• Bleach
• Toothbrushes
• Razor blades
• Toilet paper
• Aluminum foil
• Writing paper, typing paper,
• Pens, Pencils, erasers
• Shoelaces, string, cord, rope
• Fishing line
• Insect repellent
• Water repellent
• Paint, varnish
• Matches
• Watches
• Tape
• Light bulbs
• Needles, thread, zippers, buttons
• Bolts, screws, nails
• Aspirin, vitamins, other drugs
• Seeds, grain, sugar,
• Coffee, liquor, cigarettes
• Antibiotics, burn ointments
• Safety pins
• Manual can opener
• Knives
• Canning jars, lids, rings
• Shoes, boots, socks, nylon stockings
• Underwear
• Winter clothes
• Coats
• Blankets
• Hand guns, rifles,ammunition, cleaning gear
• Fuels (all types)
• Quarts of multi-viscosity motor oil
• Antifreeze
• Wire
• Glues

“RF Burns” suggests:
.22 LR
#10 cans of sugar/salt
sugar substitutes (sweet n low, etc)
can openers
toilet paper
knives (hunting, skinning, functional knives)
sewing supplies


Dr. Sidney Zweibel suggests:

first aid supplies – bandages, etc.
water purification chemicals – especially iodine crystals (last forever)
inexpensive pocket knives, and small sharpening stones. I get them as giveaways at conferences and they go into a box for future need.
plastic containers of all sorts – Glad ziplock brand as an example
sheet music books
Coleman fuel, mantles, and other spare parts to fix these devices (as long as the tanks hold pressure, they can be fixed. There are replacement tanks, too)
mechanical fasteners – nails, screws (especially drywall), nuts, bolts, etc. – in large quantities they’re incredibly cheap to buy.
Other hardware items like chain, wire rope and fasteners, etc.
cheap tools – for example, I have ‘my tools’ in my rollaway tool chest. Then we have my wifes’ tools in her rollaway (Yes, she has her own.) Then we have the tools to loan to neighbors (decent quality and we expect to get them back), and finally the tools I let our kids play with, in decreasing order of quality.
Hand tools like saws, drills and bits, files, wire brushes, etc of all types
off the shelf reading glasses, protective eyewear like goggles,
dust masks (or N95 masks)
inexpensive ‘how to’ books, pamphlets, and guides – or the ability to print them as needed
light bulbs (12 and 120 v)
inexpensive cooking and eating ware and utensils
ripstop plastic tarps (the blue ones)
synthetic blankets
soap, hand, dish and laundry types, bleach, shampoo, etc.
toothpaste and toothbrushes, dental floss (quite useful in BOB’s too)
OTC medications – keep sealed in the refrigerator
old plastic bottles that water, fruit juices or soft drinks came in – can be canteens, glasses, containers for whatever
Canned shortening (Crisco)
razor blades, razors, single-edged razor blades (for box cutters, etc)
scissors of various types and qualities
fingernail clippers
knitting yarn (synthetic), needles, basic directions and patterns
paper products, including feminine hygiene products and infant products (cloth diapers, pins, ointments and unguents, powder, bottles, etc)
batteries – AA, D, AAA, C in that order, maybe cheap flashlights to use them. The batteries last quite a long time in the freezer.
candle wax, candle wicks, candle forms, candle making instructions
inexpensive leather work gloves
old (semi-worn out) shoes and boots (clean them, wax them and wrap them in plastic bags for storage)
dried spice related items – onion flakes, garlic, etc. Small bottles of flavorings (lemon extract, etc)
hand gardening tools – shovels, rakes, axes, hatchets, bow/limb saws, pry bars – buy by the pound at garage/farm sales
board games (Monopoly, Scrabble, etc)
paperback books of whatever type
small AM/FM radios, even if battery powered – wire for antennas
FRS/GMRS or CB radios, working of course
hand compasses (orienteering type), maps of everywhere
reference books like the almanac,
coffee and tea
coffee filters
coffee percolators (the old style kind)
plastic bags (even recycled they’re handy)
cardboard boxes
small tins (we save the tins that Altoids mints come in, when we buy them)
solar powered calculators
office supplies – all sorts, but especially things like ledger paper that have been replaced by computers, and permanent markers
hand powered can openers
canning supplies – jars, rings, lids (lots of lids, they’re the only part that can’t be reused), canners and pressure cookers (fix them up first)


Dr. November suggests:
Used centerfire rifles chambered in .270, .30-30, .30.06, .308
Used rimfire guns chambered in .22
Pre-1965 silver coins
Small hand tools (Hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, etc.)
Small flashlights
Batteries (C&D sizes)

Recommended Documentary: “The Next Plague” on The History Channel

One our readers recommended the documentary: The Next Plague, about the Asian Avian Flu threat. This show is currently in the repeat cycle on The History Channel. It features interviews with WHO officials and Dr. Michael Osterholm. You are probably already familiar with many of the details contained therein, but if noting else, it serves as media substantiation that the Asian Avian Flu threat is real.(Just in case you have any friends/neighbors/relatives that won’t believe what you say until they “see it on television.”

Letter Re: Retreat Manpower/Security Requirements

Hi Jim.
Your survival blog is wonderful! Reading it every day has already helped me become more constantly focused and working on preparedness. I have recently made some overtures about forming a retreat group to a few family members who are like minded with me on preparedness. One suggested topic for your survival blog that would be helpful to me, and probably many others, is a discussion on the number of people necessary to operate a retreat in a TEOTWAWKI situation. You did speak on that in Patriots, which was very helpful. Some questions are: (1) Is there a minimum, optimum, and maximum number of people? (2) What are the considerations that go into the decision as to the number of people? (3) What are the differences in the organizational requirements for the various sizes of retreat groups? (4) Are there differences in the necessary leadership style of the leader of a small group verses a large group? Thank you very much. – Joe.

JWR Replies:

(1) Is there a minimum, optimum, and maximum number of people?

That all depends on the situation!  If you are close to an urban area during a worst-case grid down situation, then it might take 50 or more people to defend a retreat. Under less demanding circumstances and in a more remote area that is well removed from likely lines of drift, then perhaps just two or three families occupying contiguous parcels (with mutually supporting fields of fire) might suffice.  But in general (given foreseeable TEOTWAWKI exigencies), if affordability of floor space at your retreat is not a constraint, then I would recommend a group with a minimum of six adults, an optimum of 10 adults, and a maximum of 30 adults. (Anything larger is likely to lose cohesiveness, especially with weak leadership/organization.) Keep in mind that manpower planning and limits are considerably different for a group that will be occupying a cluster of buildings (analogous to a tribal village) versus a group that is all living under one roof! 

(2) What are the considerations that go into the decision as to the number of people?

IMO, you should consider:

a.) Severity of circumstances that you anticipate. (Grid up versus grid down, level of lawlessness, and so forth)

b.) Duration of crisis. (Until order and commerce are restored, or in the event of Nuclear, Biological, or Chemical (NBC) events, when it will be safe to emerge)

c.) Geographic isolation of your retreat.  (The closer that you are to population centers and lines of drift, the larger your security contingent.)

d.) Floor space/accommodations of your retreat.(Cramped quarters are both unhealthy and stressful.)

d.) Climate. (Smaller groups are dictated in more severe climate zones with short growing seasons)

e.) Group homogeneity. (For example, groups composed of all members of the same church denomination might be more cohesive and capable of larger aggregations.)

f.) Financial resources of the group. (This relates to “depth of larder”–more wealthy groups can provide more ample food storage and hence more mouths to feed.)

g.) Acreage and water available for cultivation.  In northern climes, consider the available square footage of greenhouse space.

(3) What are the differences in the organizational requirements for the various sizes of retreat groups?

Unity of leadership (having one recognized leader or a “village council”) is essential, regardless of group size. In groups of 20 or more, it may be necessary to delegate authority and to specialize responsibilities. (In small groups, most members will wear “many hats”, whereas in larger groups some members will have nearly full time responsibilities–cook, logistician, armorer, security coordinator, and so forth)

(4) Are there differences in the necessary leadership style of the leader of a small group versus a large group?

IMO, the same principles and styles of leadership apply, regardless of group size. Some people have leadership talent, and some don’t. (If you’ve ever taken ROTC or OCS courses, then you’ll know what I mean.) Not surprisingly, many of the people who do well as leaders in “peacetime” (such as corporate managers and mayors) may not be able to cope mentally or emotionally WTSHTF. That is why I recommend that military combat veterans (commissioned officers or NCOs) be put in charge of retreat security. They’ve been forged in fire, and there are very few substitutes for that sort of real world on-the-job training.

Another Letter from John in Iraq–Re: RPGs and the Recent Iraqi Elections

Hi Sir,
Sorry I haven’t been writing much. Since the elections my schedule’s been a bit out of kilter.

Speaking of the elections… My platoon was guarding a polling place the week leading up to the big day. I hear it was a success elsewhere, but here in scenic Ar Ramadi it was a bust. My polling station received three voters, one of whom was disqualified as a raving lunatic who just wandered in. AFAIK ~200 people voted here, with ~190 of ’em being the Shiite poll workers who don’t live here. This city just loves Saddam. I hope they execute him soon; maybe they’d get the idea he isn’t coming back.

Did finally see a little action. Guy took a potshot at my truck with an RPG. Went about a foot and a half high. They use a technique called “turkey peeking” where they pop out from around a corner, shoot more or less without aiming, then de-*ss the AO as fast as they can. They’re far more concerned with getting away than with hitting us. Usually. The genius who took the poke at us stuck his head back around the corner and got a burst of .50 cal through the building for his trouble. I miss the ~1500 rounds we had with the 240, but Ma Deuce has her charms. Oh, and the M240G is a medium MG, not light as you indicated when I wrote in awhile back. The M249 SAW is the LMG of the family. [Sorry, that was my mistake. When you wrote M240 I was thinking M249. I just went back and corrected that.- JWR]

Getting behind on the Bible study I’ve been doing with my wife. Discouraging. On the plus side, I met another Christian! It’s funny, I found out he’s a believer after he saw the article I’m working on to submit to your writing contest. We got to talking; turns out he’s a survivalist too!

Better sign off for now. Haven’t been able to call the little woman for too long, and a phone just opened up. Keep up the good work, and God bless. – John

Letter from Daniel Ward in Afghanistan Re: Operation Christmas Stocking

Hi to all:
We at Camp Eggers are embarking on a bold mission for Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan (CFC-A), Office of Security Cooperation – Afghanistan (OSC-A), and Task Force Phoenix – all of which are located in the capital city of Kabul, Afghanistan.
  Please help us meet our goal to put a Christmas Stocking in the hands of each military service member and civilian attached to the military forces in Kabul, Afghanistan this Christmas. There are approximately 1,200 personnel in the three commands listed above. We are asking for small donations (money orders) to be sent by November 24th to allow us time to purchase Christmas goodies along with a Christmas card in every stocking. We think that the money could better be used to purchase the goodies in country rather than pay the additional cost to ship the goodies overseas. However, any goodies sent will help as well. Please get your neighbors, co-workers, churches, civic groups involved if you can. Thanks in advance. – Daniel Ward

Please send all correspondence to:

Daniel Ward
APO AE 09356

JWR Adds:  Daniel Ward is one of my regular “Any Soldier” support contacts. I can attest that this is a legitimate request from an actual soldier with “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan–not some Internet scammer. You can find Daniel Ward listed on www.AnySoldier.Com with current updates. Be sure to read the www.AnySoldier.Com FAQ before sending any cards, money orders, or packages. I realize that opinion is partly divided among readers about the efficacy of the current Iraq/Afghanistan administration policy, but nearly all of us agree that we should support our troops.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

“But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there.”  Deuteronomy 12:10-11 (KJV)

Poll: What are the Best Items to Store for Barter and Charity?

Everyone seems to have their own opinions about what are the best items to keep on hand for post-TEOTWAWKI bartering. I did mention a large variety of barter items in the Barter Faire chapter of my novel Patriots  (The chapter titled: “For an Ounce of Gold.”) Of course many of the same items are important to keep on hand to dispense as charity.

Since two heads are better than one, and by extension 5,000 heads are better than two, I’m taking a poll:  Please e-mail me your lists of preferred barter and charity items, and I will gladly post them.

My personal favorites are:
.22 Long Rifle rimfire ammo
1 oz. bottles of military rifle bore cleaner
Waterproof duffle bags (“dry bags”)
Thermal socks
Semi-waterproof matches (from military MRE rations)
Military web gear (lots of folks will *suddenly* need pistol belts, holsters, magazine pouches, et cetera.)
Pre-1965 U.S. silver dimes
1 gallon cans of kerosene
1 pound canisters of salt (may be worth plenty in inland areas)
Small bottles of two cycle gas mixing oil (for chainsaw fuel)
Rolls of olive drab parachute cord
Rolls of olive drab duct tape
Spools of monofilament fishing line
Rolls of 10 mil “Visqueen” sheet plastic (for replacing windows, etc.)

I also respect the opinion of one gentleman with whom I’ve corresponded, who recommended the following: Strike anywhere matches.
Playing cards.
Cooking spices.
Rope and string.
Sewing supplies.
Candle wax/wick.

Again, I would greatly appreciate seeing your barter and charity item lists.  Please e-mail me your lists and I will post them in the next few days.

Radiation Protection Factors for Dummies – by L.H.

When building a homemade fallout shelter in a basement, or on a cement slab inside the first floor, it is important to understand halving thickness and protection factors.
First of all, after a nuclear detonation, there will be light, heat, and a blast wave. This essay assumes that you will be out of that target area, with your home and roof intact. If you are close to targets, you may need better shelter than this improvised model. At the end of this essay I will list a few sources showing target maps, fallout maps, blast areas, etc.
Fallout is the mixture of the dirt and materials at the site of the blast, all mixed up with radioactive material. Every single piece is radioactive. Near the blast it can fall out like gravel, then farther away like rice grains, then like sand, and then like fine powder. And every fallout particle is sending out gamma rays.

You need to take almost immediate shelter for the gamma radiation from fallout. Gamma rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, like radio waves and X-rays and light. If you picture the fallout landing on trees and the ground being like tiny little light bulbs, you realize that even in a basement there will be dim, indirect light. If your basement walls stick up a couple feet above the ground level, there will be lots of little light bulbs all along the edge of the basement shining at you. As light and radio waves reflect off the atmosphere, in the same way the gamma rays scatter off the air. Little light bulbs will land on trees and the roof. You want to dim/block them as much as possible, on all four sides and overhead.

A halving thickness is the amount of material that will block half of the gamma rays passing through it. Any mass will block them, whether lead or feathers, sand or chocolate bars, as long as you have enough mass. You can use all of your survival foods and other items to add extra shielding.
Here is a list of materials and their approximate halving thicknesses. (References differ slightly when listing these figures.)

2.2” concrete
3.5” sand or dirt
4.4” water
8.8” wood
7” books or magazines
4”hollow concrete blocks
3.2” red bricks
5” broken anthracite coal
5” wet peat moss

Here is where many items you are storing up can contribute to shielding. [JWR Adds: If in sealed containers, these foodstuffs will still be safe to consume after shelter emergence if any residual fallout dust is first washed off of the exterior of the container.]
7” sugar
7” navy or soy beans
7” butter or oil
7” shelled corn
7” wheat
7” potatoes
7” rice
12” coffee beans
9” apples

Now, one layer of any item above will block half the gamma rays. That is 1/2, which is called a protection factor (PF) of 2 (read only the denominator of the fraction). 1/2 of the rays are hitting you, 1/2 are blocked. By adding one more halving thickness, you block half of the remaining gamma rays, so now 1/4 are hitting you. So you have a protection factor (PF) of 4. Another layer blocks 1/2 of that remaining 1/2 of the radiation, so that means only 1/8 of the original total outside radiation is hitting you, and you have a PF of 8.
A fourth layer of anything listed above blocks half of that 1/8 radiation still entering, so now we only have 1/16 of the outside gamma rays hitting our body. ( PF 16)
5 layers= PF 32
6 layers=PF 64
7 layers=PF 128
8 layers=PF 256
9 layers=PF 512
10 layers=PF 1024

Now, how much of a PF do you need? The answer involves how much gamma radiation, or rads/ Roentgens, are in the fallout outside your house. They are called “R”. The less R the better. 50 in one day is considered the most you can safely handle, or 10 a day for a week, or 100 over the course of two weeks. So your shelter must not let you get more than 100 R in two weeks. (It is far safer to get none or almost none.)

So, how many R will be outside after bombs, and how does PF relate?  The first question depends on where you are and where the bombs are, how big the bombs are, and where the wind is blowing. If you are 25 miles from a total of two megatons blowing your direction, during the course of two weeks there will about 4,500 R total outside. If 200 Russian bombs go off nationwide, the East coast can easily get 20,000 R outside during two weeks. If you are 25 miles from a target that might get four big bombs you could easily have 20,000 R outside. Suitcase nukes would produce much less fallout. You have to decide if you expect limited suitcase nukes, a limited Russian strike with MIRVs (several bombs on one target area equaling one megaton total), or a “real” nuclear war with perhaps hundreds of big bombs of two or more megatons each. Sources below show fallout possibility maps.
Now, how does PF relate to the R outside?
Remember that the bottom denominator of the fraction is the PF, telling you what fraction of the fallout (R) is hitting you. A PF of 2 means half of it is hitting you. A PF of 16 means 1/16 of it is hitting you. A PF of 100 means only 1/100 is hitting you.
If it is 20,000 R total outside during two weeks, you don’t want to get more than 100 R, so you need a PF of 200. Makes sense? Divide the R by the PF. 20,000 divided by 200=100. If one 2 megaton bomb detonates near you, and the R over two weeks is 4,000, what PF do you need to only get 100 R? 4,000 divide by what equals 100? Answer is 40.So, a shelter with a PF of only 40 can save your life. This is the FEMA minimum standard. PF 200 is much safer. The ideal is PF 1,000, which equals about 3 feet of dirt or sand, or 22” of cement. STRIVE TO GET AS CLOSETO A PF 1000 AS YOU CAN, OR AT THE VERY LEAST A PF 200.
Now the basement shelter should have a PF 1000 on all four sides. If you cover the exposed sides of the basement, outside, up and over the ceiling level, with ten layers of the halving thickness chart items (3 feet of sand or 4 feet of hollow concrete blocks) your basement will have an automatic PF of 10. That means 90% of the fallout is already blocked, and you need to only get a PF of 100 on the four inside walls and overhead for a total PF of 1000. That means seven layers of the materials listed above.
4 feet thick of old magazines and paper will work. Stagger some water barrels. You can get 5 gallon buckets of wheat and rice and beans, and stagger them so there is 4 feet total of wheat and beans on the sides. About 5 feet of wood works too. Personally, I think the 7 foot thick wall of coffee is a good idea.

The hardest part is the overhead shielding. A basement support with 10.5” of sand 3.5×3) has three halving thicknesses or a PF of 8. Add one more layer and you are up to PF 16. My first and second floor and roof are at least another halving thickness for a PF of 32.
(This is easily done with the steel shelving units at Home Depot that hold 2,000 lbs per each top shelf (20 cubic feet of sand): with two units that is a foot of sand over 40 square feet. [this was my method, but I don’t trust the specs and used more supports per cubic foot.] Or make your own supports with 4×4’s, or cinder blocks with 1/2 inch plywood. Try to get 4 layers ( PF 16) overhead, using sand, or maybe some cinder blocks with a waterbed on top of that. Hopefully the house floors and roof will then get you to PF 32.)
As soon as the bombs go off, you pile 7” of books and wheat and beans on the first floor directly overhead. That gives you a PF of 64. (The overhead PF of 32-64 will save your life if all four sides are PF 1000, even if fallout is severe.) Better to pile on more stuff though, another 7” of stuff- plenty of your cans and heavy items. Anything with mass. That gives you a PF of 128 just from last minute living room piles. This is for a worst case scenario. But if we have a limited strike, the fallout will be far less for most of us. Even one waterbed overhead on the first floor, with 9” of water, gives a PF of 4. That means you get 1/4 of the initial radiation. If it is 600 R overhead, with no shelter you will get severely ill and might die. Just using the waterbed over the basement with basement walls covered up outside all the way up, means that you get 150 R and will be basically OK.
So, the moral of this story is, start now and do what you can. Don’t feel like it is useless to only do a little, if you can’t do a perfect shelter. Do what you can now and build up the shielding as you get money. Start with a foot on all sides, and try and get to 18”. Then go for two feet next summer. Think about your stash of preps and books, and what can go overhead on the first floor. Mark off the first floor spot that will have last minute cans and buckets and books. Clear the basement area, and get the flashlights and bedding ready. Try really, really, hard to do something in the basement- overhead- now, even an old table you can lie down under covered with cans and buckets.

You can find lots of useful information here:, including a free download of Nuclear War Survival Skills, and all sorts of maps and diagrams.
Our favorite book for basement shelters is J Allan South’s “The Sense of Survival.” This wonderful little chart compares the mass of many items. Use sand and dirt as your standard for a halving thickness, and you can see how various things like beans and wheat and wood compare.

JWR Adds: I consider a home fallout shelter a must for anyone that is serious about preparedness.  The end of the Cold War–culminating with the breakup of the former Soviet Union–significantly increased the risk of the use of nuclear weapons. (Since traditional nation states are are much more responsible with their toys than are rogue states or terrorist groups.)  Two SurvivalBlog advertisers (Safe Castle and Ready Made Resources) offer prefabricated shelters as well as consulting on shelter construction and HEPA air filtration systems.  Also, be sure to read the extensive information on fallout shelter design, construction and ventilation available for free download at Dr. Arthur B. Robinson’s Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine web site.

Letter from “Fred the Valmet Meister” Re: Low Compression / Low RPM Stationary Engines

I just discovered these cool “Hit and Miss” gas engines made in the 1920s and 1930s by Maytag. They were used to power washing machines. Very simple engine; maybe one horsepower. You start it with a foot pedal that leverages a gear to spin the crankshaft to get it going. What a wonderful little engine for a remote location.  These could be used to power the washing machine or even run a small generator to charge up a bank of 12 volt batteries. I noticed that there are currently several for sale on eBay and they even have leather drive belts for them and water pumps. Could be used to fill up a water tank for gravity feed. – Fred

Letter Re: The Micro-Farm Tractor

In response to the excellent article, “The Micro-Farm Tractor”, I have to say my best bet for all-around small farm tool would be the diesel all terrain vehicle (ATV). ATVs have quickly infiltrated into many farms today, as haulers, sprayers, snowplows, transport, and so on. You can purchase many available farm accessories that make it into the equivalent of a mini-tractor, as well has many hunting related accessories, since they appeal to the hunter’s market as well, like gun racks, camo, storage, and essential noise-cutting mufflers (very effective units can be had at Cabela’s). I would suggest a diesel unit, since they are longer lasting, more reliable, and you can use stored (for several years with proper preservation) or improvised diesel (biodiesel.)  I was out elk hunting last year in foul weather and I immediately saw the advantage hunters had getting around in the muck with an ATV. If we had actually taken an elk, we would have had to spend all weekend hauling pieces of it out! (In a way we were glad we didn’t get one where we were hunting, seven miles down a mucky old road, with steep hills to the right and a steep ravine to the left). With an ATV, we could have gotten a whole animal out in one or two goes, with a lot less slogging in the muck. Just make sure you’ve got a winch, and maybe even a come-along. Also, many of the hunters were able to cruise with an ATV on trails that would (and have) gotten me stuck in the mud. To sum it up, I plan on purchasing one or two as soon as our move to a few acres of rural property in southern utah is completed early next year to use as my mini-tractor, hunting companion, snowplower, all-around hauler and 4 wheel drive short distance transport. – Dustin

JWR Replies:  In addition to biodiesel, you can also legally use home heating oil if operating off road. (The only significant differences between diesel and home heating oil are the “no tax cheating” added dye and the standard for ash content.) There are several options for diesel-powered ATVs. These include:

The Kawasaki Mule. See:


The John Deere Gator. See:

(The U.S. Army Special Forces uses John Deere Gators, but I’m not sure if that’s because they are the best ones made, or just because of a “Buy American”  contracting clause. Perhaps one of our SurvivalBlog readers in SOCOM can comment on their opinion of the Gators.

Note: Polaris also made a diesel quad back around 2002, but they were reportedly problematic, so they were quickly discontinued.

Letter from Mr. Lima Re: CONEX Containers

Per the letter from the Blog reader regarding CONEX containers- Yes they are a great way to store bulk supplies at your retreat. I’ve been using them for almost eight years now and have noticed several things when using them.

First, try to get one made of “COR-TEN” steel. My father has years of metalworking experience and pointed out one of ours that is made of COR-TEN. It reputedly holds up better. I’ve seen a noticeable difference in the one COR-TEN we have compared to several others not made of it.

You might want to weigh the difference in cost between finding one locally or buying one closer to the coast and preferably a major seaport where they will be cheaper. Shipping costs being the deciding factor, as well as condition of container. We’ve never paid more than $1,500 for a 40 foot container and you can find them for around $1,000. if you shop around. Keep in mind most places will just give you a general quote on the phone. You want to go to their yard and check one out for yourself, make sure the doors close and latch properly, climb up on the roof, and inspect closely for holes.

Figure out EXACTLY where you want it dropped, unless you have heavy equipment- and I don’t mean a small tractor- you will not be moving it from that position.

Go to the junkyard and get four to six old metal tire rims. Put them down on the corners below the container. It will help air circulate a little bit under it. We’ve had problems with moisture coming up from the ground in to two of the units. Doing this helped the problem immensely.

Readers should plan to ventilate the containers, as you mentioned, even if it’s just for storage. They get very hot. Might not be an issue up North, but it is here in the South.

Re: Use as a bunker or as hardened shelter, etc. Keep in mind that CONEX/SeaLand type containers have most of their strength in the floor and on the corners of the roof (which is probably why they can stack them a dozen high on ships). You absolutely MUST reinforce the insides if you plan on completely burying one. (Such as 6x6s or heavy timbers.)

Here is what [U.S. Army] FM 5-103 “Survivability” says about containers (page 4-31):
“Large metal shipping containers such as CONEX containers, are used to make effective shelters… …are easily converted into protective command posts, communications shelters, troop shelters, aid stations, and shelters for critical supplies. Because the CONEX container’s floor is stronger than it’s roof, it is inverted to resist more blast and provide some overhead cover. Although the shelter sometimes constructed above ground, it is easier to construct it below ground by placing the inverted CONEX container in a hole half it’s height and then covering the roof with earth.”

For our purposes, shipping containers make great storage facilities and can make use as initial entrances into shelter systems, housing for families, etc. They are fairly secure and can be used for pre-positioning of bulk supplies even at the “absentee owner” type retreat. Hope this helps. – Mr. Lima

Letter Re: Understanding Human Immune System Response to Infection

Hello! I just finished reading Patriots   for a third time – INCREDIBLE book. I’m also a good friend of “Dr. Buckaroo Banzai.” I have a master’s degree in immunology and teach in a nursing program at a local college. My comments are aimed at the general education of the readership of your blog. The immune system operates largely on the function of T-helper cells. There are two main T-helper varieties. One variety (T-h1) deals with intracellular pathogens (viruses, few bacteria) and the other (T-h2) deals with extra-cellular pathogens (majority of bacteria, protozoa, fungi).  What separates these two groups are the cytokines (chemicals which modulate immune response) that are released. T-h1 cytokines promote immunity to intracellular pathogens AND SUPRESS the function of T-h2 cells. What this means is that the body’s response to a viral infection WILL leave the patient more susceptible to a bacterial infection. The opposite is true as well – bacterial infections leave the body less prepared to deal with viral infections. Just thought you’d want some of the background here! Keep up the good work, keep your powder dry, and God bless! – Dr. Rocky J. Squirrel

Letter Re: Power Outage Alarms

Thanks for keeping up the good work. I have inadvertently discovered a great power outage alarm. We were bought a carbon monoxide detector a while back. Whenever the power is cut, or the unit is un-plugged, it WILL wake you up!   I don’t know how long it continues to go off because it is so loud, I get it stopped right away. This is an item we should all have, too, just to detect the carbon monoxide. – Sid