A few years ago two different activities came into the life of my family. First, we started prepping. We began the process of preparing ourselves, physically and mentally, for whatever potential disaster we might face in the future. Second, we purchased a camper and started taking regular weekend camping trips during the summer. Sometimes these trips were three-day weekends, and a couple times per year these trips are extended to four-day weekends or an entire week vacation. The topic of “practicing your plan” and being familiar with your supplies and equipment has been covered many times. It occurred to me that we were doing exactly that, just by doing our normal camping activities. This is a breakdown of some of those activities and how they can be helpful to overall preparedness.
At first, I wondered why more people weren’t looking at RV’s as a prepping tool. My first view of the camper was as a self-contained, short-term living quarters in case of emergency. Whether this be due to the loss of primary housing from fire or natural disaster or the result of one willingly abandoning the domicile or “bugging out”. Our camper stays full of supplies necessary for survival. The on-board water tank holds 60 gallons of fresh water, and we store additional bottles of water. We store plenty of food of the non-perishable variety that requires no immediate rotating for freshness. Tools, spare parts, and outdoor tools are kept ready for wood cutting and other necessary work. Solar panels keep the 12-volt batteries charged and ready for use. If needed, we could get in at any time and be ready for a weekend trip or to live for a couple weeks, with no additional supplies needed. This would be seen as a temporary survival tactic, due to the RV’s light skin being less than optimal for defensive purposes and also its small size making it a challenge to live in for any extended length of time.
However, during our weekend trips, I really started seeing the benefit of our camping activities. We were exercising skills and learning things that fit right into our preparedness mentality. Once this became apparent, I started making a conscious effort to pick activities that would bolster our preparedness and help everyone in the family practice these skills, even if they weren’t aware of it at the time.
We prefer to choose sites that are rural, wooded, and somewhat secluded. Being in the woods gives us a chance to practice skills such as wood gathering and fire starting. No matter where we camp there is a fire pit that allows us the opportunity to try different methods of fire starting and fire building. We can build a fire for cooking, or we can work on the technique of building a fire that will last all night. If you have different tools for fire starting in your bag or supplies, this is a good time to get them out and make yourself familiar with their operation. Hiking through the woods is a great physical activity that helps with cardio fitness and gives us a chance to wear our packs to get a feel for the balance and location of items attached to the pack. If you’ve never done any activity carrying an extra 20 or 50 pounds on your back, it will be a shock to your body just how strenuous it actually is. A simple hike up hill from one area to another suddenly becomes a breath-taking, back-breaking trek, but you’ll be better equipped physically if you ever need to carry everything you own on your back. Hiking also presents an opportunity for land navigation skills, such as map and compass reading. We enjoy not having a cell phone and teaching the kids how to use a compass for direction and navigation. Even the most basic skills of being able to travel in a general direction without traveling in circles is beneficial. We also try to use this time to work at being able to identify different plants and trees. Once we are able to identify different plants, we can then learn about their benefits in the wild. We learn which ones are edible and which ones are poisonous. It’s good to know what tree in our area is best for making a shelter and which one can provide vines that could be used as thrashings or bindings.
I always take a day, during our trips, to get out my Bug Out Bag and sort through the contents and familiarize myself with their location and use. My primary bag stays with us at all times. The contents of the bag, along with some of the different tools that I keep available in our vehicle or in the camper, are items that need to be used, so that when we “really” need them we will be familiar with how to use them efficiently. This gives me the opportunity to make notes about items that I need to add to the bag, items that need to be replaced or removed, and prioritizing items when I reach the point that nothing else will fit. A couple of times per year I need to change the contents of the bag that are season specific. If SHTF comes during the summer and it’s 100 degrees outside, it won’t be very beneficial to discover that your bag contains heavy winter gloves and a heavy weight balaclava; conversely, if you’re bugging out during the winter months, finding insect repellent, mosquito netting, and sun screen in your supplies would be frustrating too. I would recommend getting a note pad to keep notes of needed supplies or just ideas for future additions or activities. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had an idea that seemed important at the time, only to not be able to remember what it was after the trip. It seems that once the wheels start turning and the juices start flowing that the ideas seem to come in multiples, or maybe it is just a “guy thing”, like my wife has claimed all along. I have found the notepad invaluable in keeping up with our needs for the RV and our prepping supplies in general.
A good knowledge of basic mechanical skills will be helpful for many situations, whether it be working on a vehicle, trailer, motorcycle, or any other mechanical device. It seems like there is always something that presents itself as an opportunity to practice these skills, whether it be electrical wiring or to change a flat tire. If you have an electrical system, such as solar or a mechanical generator, you’ll need a working knowledge of the system to be able to keep it operational in case of a mishap. Frequently, we take trips with another couple or maybe a few families. It seems that during each trip there has been an opportunity to work on something. We’ve re-wired trailers, changed oil, added or removed accessories to vehicles and campers, built a small wood shed from scrap wood, and tons of other hands-on jobs. With hands-on activities often comes the opportunity to practice first aid. Whether one of the kids falls and needs a wound cleansed and dressed, or it’s something more serious, like a cut, head injury, or extremity injury, being outdoors will inevitably present a chance to practice these skills. My wife and I are both licensed healthcare workers, so this is our opportunity to share our skills and knowledge with others.
We have found another fun activity in knife sharpening. If you are good at this invaluable skill, then congratulations! However, I’ve spent a lot of time practicing this important skill and find it very challenging. To make sure we can take care of our needs in this regard, we keep an assortment of sharpening tools from the basic whet rocks and stones to some of the pre-set angle holding sharpening tools. I really think this is a skill that could be invaluable and what better way to spend some time around the camp fire than teaching the kids how to use a stone or having a friendly competition with a buddy.
When possible, we also try to get some trigger time and do some firearm training and shooting. We have to be careful, as some states have government-owned or funded parks that do not allow firearms. However, many of the places that we visit have outdoor ranges within short driving distance. I find it helpful to practice shooting in as many different environments as possible. Going to the same range all the time and shooting from the same bench won’t help at all if you are forced to shoot to defend yourself. You won’t be able to set up at the range to defend your family. If we can’t go shoot, then going over gun maintenance or practicing field stripping different guns can be a fun activity. Depending on the time of the year, we can also go get a little hunting in on nearby Forestry Department land. If we happen to score a couple of tree rats, then we’ve practiced hiking, shooting, land navigation, game cleaning, and then cooking, so it provides for a large range of skills. If it is not practical to shoot a firearm, then we try to get some archery practice. Sometimes this can be done in areas where a gun can’t be shot.
Speaking of cooking, camping is ALL about having great meals. We eat better and with fresher ingredients when we are out camping than we do at home. Have you practiced cooking with your food stores at home or at your bug out location? If your food stores consist entirely of canned food and longer shelf items that you use as a rotating pantry, then these are items that you are used to cooking with every day. However if your emergency supplies consist of a supply of dehydrated food or bulk stored staples, it is imperative to learn how to use these items. Learning how to grind wheat when you are suddenly dependent on figuring it out or going hungry isn’t the best time to learn. We have used these items to come up with some tasty recipes that everyone in the family likes. For us, personally, we have found rice to be our favorite staple. We can mix it with other food or flavor it as a stand-alone dish. Learning how to use what you have on hand and then figuring out how to incorporate other ingredients that might become available will keep a fresh look and taste to your nutritional requirements.
Being able to camp with other families always gives us the chance to learn from others. Being able to share information learned and glean tips and tricks from someone who is more of a veteran outdoorsman is fun and invaluable. It is truly the definition of getting what you can’t learn from a book. Being with other like-minded people is beneficial, also if they are part of your group or your long-term plan, if the SHTF. You can’t expect everyone to be on the same page, if you only see someone two or three times a year. You can place all the importance on being self-sufficient and learning every skill you can, but nothing can compare to the knowledge of the collective.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive of skills that can be practiced while camping or RV’ing, and each topic could (and has) had entire books or articles written about them, I hope you see the connection. If you are someone who likes to camp or has an RV, I hope that you use that time, as we do, to better prepare yourself. If you have been thinking about getting a RV, maybe you will now have a different perspective of the skills that can be learned and the benefits of having a mobile bug out home.