(Continued from Part 4. This installment concludes the article series.)
If you’re even further away you may need to consider how you can supplement your food supply as you travel. One obvious way to do that is to learn how to forage. Foraging can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, so take some training on how to recognize edible plants and what to avoid. If you’re going to be traveling to the same area frequently you should look into taking a local foraging class; they’re offered in most major locales. I also carry an edible plants reference card and a foraging guide with me, and I always do some research on regional plants whenever I travel to a new area. You could also bring a trotline and/or some snares with you and set them out while you’re sleeping. As with any wilderness skill, you should practice using both of them before you need them (check local laws governing fishing and trapping before attempting).
If you have food that needs to be heated or have boiling water added to it you’ll need some way to start a fire, and all of the common wisdom regarding lighters, ferro rods, tinder, etc. applies here. I carry a small Esbit-style folding stove in my travel kit along with various fire starters and tinder, and a 15-20 minute fire with twigs is usually enough to get a cup of water boiling. If you need something bigger to cook a fish or some wild game or warm up I’d recommend using a Dakota fire hole if possible to reduce the fire’s visibility. Remember that fire and cooking smells can carry for quite a distance, so you’ll be better off if you leave the area as soon as you’re done eating – don’t prepare meals in the same location you plan on sleeping.
When traveling in unknown conditions there’s always a chance you’ll get sick or injured, which could interrupt or even end your journey if you’re not prepared. In a post-SHTF world you most likely won’t be able to call an ambulance or stop by the local doc-in-a-box, so you’ll need to have a decent first-aid kit and the knowledge on how to use it. There are plenty of good articles on what should be in a first aid kit, but there are a few things that will be especially important for multi-day RTB travel:
- Moleskin/Leukotape P for the inevitable blisters
- Pain relievers for the inevitable aches and pains
- Instant cold & heat packs, for additional pain relief
- Electrolyte Replacement Tablets to replace what you sweat out
- Anti-Diarrheal tablets, since your diet will be going through radical changes and having the runs can result in serious issues
- Boiron Oscillococcinum for cold/flu symptoms (or a DayQuil equivalent)
- A full course (30 250mg pills) of antibiotics in case a cut or wound gets infected – I carry Amoxicillin, which you can buy as ‘FishMox’ online
The common wisdom is that you should get plenty of rest when you’re sick or injured, but if you’re desperate to get home to your family, curling up in a nice warm debris shelter for a couple of days probably isn’t an option. You’ll need to reduce your pace and rest more frequently and for longer, but staying in one place for too long may cause more problems than it solves.
Unless the event results in the world all of a sudden becoming a bastion of rainbows and unicorns you’ll most likely need some way to protect yourself from both two- as well as four-legged threats while moving through unknown terrain. Whenever I travel I always bring at least one firearm if I’m legally allowed to possess it at my destination; if you don’t have a firearm with you, obtaining one at your destination location after an event will be extremely difficult. I always try to meet people and make friends at local gun shops and gun ranges when I travel – there’s no guarantee, but knowing some people can increase the chance of you being able to acquire a firearm if a major world-changing event occurs. One alternative to firearms is an edged weapon – I always pack a Gerber Downrange Tomahawk in my suitcase – it makes a decent weapon with a long reach as well as providing chopping, hammering and prying capabilities. If all else fails a simple club made from a chair leg or piece of metal pipe might be your only option, or you can attach a knife to a long rod or sharpen a stick to make yourself a spear. None of these are ideal, but it’s better to have some weapons than none at all.
Another aspect of security is how you can protect yourself while you’re sleeping. Unless you’re traveling with a large enough group that you can have people on a rotating watch to keep an eye out for trouble, you’re going to need some form of alarm system. This can be as simple as a tripwire connected to a metal can with some rocks in it, or you can carry a personal alarm, attach it to a tree or post and connect a tripwire to the pull tab. One thing I carry with me when I travel with firearms is a motion sensor alarm with a remote control that I can put inside my gun case and turn on when I’m not around. The same alarm could be attached to one end of a tripwire looped over a branch or nail so the alarm moves when the tripwire is tripped, setting it off
Hygiene and sanitation are things you should also plan for. You’ll probably be getting dirty while traveling, and being dirty can lead to sores and infections. Using leaves for toilet paper may sound folksy, but it’s not something you want to do if you can avoid it. Grab the rolls of toilet paper from your hotel room and put them in a ziplock bag, and grab the little bars of soap for washing. If you can find a bottle of hand sanitizer you should grab that also. Compressed towel tablets are a good thing to carry, since they’re great for cleaning up and don’t take much room; individually wrapped pre-moistened wipes are another good option. You should also have a folding travel toothbrush and some toothpaste tablets with you to maintain good oral hygiene. Make a habit of cleaning up every time you stop before going to sleep.
Items like flashlights and radios will require power to operate, and if your journey will be more than a few days you’ll most likely need some way to recharge batteries. In my previous article I mentioned that I carry a foldable 15W solar panel that has a couple of USB ports, along with a small USB battery charger, and I use rechargeable batteries for everything. However, another alternative would be to use the batteries in abandoned vehicles along the way. I always have a 12V USB charger to use in rental cars, and I also bring a 12V lighter socket with wires and alligator clips soldered to it. Even with an EMP car batteries most likely won’t be impacted, so you can plug the charger in the socket, clip it to a car’s battery and recharge things.
Another potentially critical piece of kit is the ability to repair stuff. I covered this in my previous article, but for RTB travel you should pay special attention to being able to repair your shoes, clothing and load-bearing gear. Your repair kit should include some E6000 shoe glue, Tear-Aid Type A repair tape, some Gorilla tape, some heavy-duty thread and a heavy-duty needle at a minimum.
One somewhat unusual item I carry as part of my RTB kits is an 8” pair of bolt cutters. As I mentioned earlier I always walk or drive as much of the beginning of my RTB route as possible when I arrive at a destination, and one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that there are a lot of chain link fences around, especially on highways. If part of your route requires you to cross a highway or transition through any industrial/railroad areas there’s a really good chance you’ll run into one or more chain link fences, and if you don’t have the ability to cut through it you’ll either have to climb it (not easy with a pack) or go around, which may add considerable time. I’ve played around with cutting scrap chain link fencing with my Leatherman Wave Plus, and while it’s possible it would take a very long time and leave you exposed.
Hopefully this article has provided you with some food for thought when you’re planning your next trip. I realize that a lot of people think that the concept of traveling cross-country after a SHTF disaster is the stuff of post-apocalyptic fiction novels, and that you’d most likely never be able to pull it off, but if I’m separated from my home and family when a disaster strikes I know that I’m personally going to do everything I can to get home. While no one can guarantee that you’ll be able to make it home, I’m absolutely certain that if you don’t plan and prepare for it then the odds of you making it are a lot lower. I also realize that there are a lot more aspects to this discussion that I wasn’t able to cover, so I’m hoping that others will pick up the torch and fill in the blanks in future articles.
(This concludes a five-part series.)