Tactical Technology for TEOTWAWKI – Part 1, by J.M.

[Editor’s Introductory Note:  This lengthy and detailed article will be serialized into six parts.]

I’ll admit it: I’m a techno-geek. Ever since I programmed my first computer in BASIC using punched paper tape many (many) years ago I’ve been fascinated by computers and electronics, and I’m always finding ways to leverage technology to improve various aspects of my life. I use RFID chips on many of my preps so I can locate them quickly, I’ve created an extensive database of all of my preps that includes type, quantity, location, storage bin, expiration/rotation date and lots more, and I’ve created a centralized home security system using Python running on a couple of Raspberry Pis with a boatload of sensors and cameras. Yes, I also make sure I have hardcopy and analog backups and alternatives for everything in case something goes wrong, but I’ve found that by taking advantage of technology I can significantly improve many aspects of my preparations.

One of the crossovers of my interest in technology and my military background is that I’ve always been fascinated by the ways the military applies technology to support field operations. Programs like the US Army Land Warrior and SOCOM’s Hyper Enabled Operator provide some interesting ideas for how troops can use technology to support combat operations, and devices like the FLIR Black Hornet drone show how the technology can be applied today. Unfortunately, unless you have a friend in military procurement and $80K to spare, you probably won’t be able to get hold of a Black Hornet drone; however, there are a lot of affordable alternatives available that you can use to improve your operations when you’re out in the field. This article will focus on ideas and solutions for applying technology when you’re mobile in tactical situations.

I know there are folks that believe that digital technology won’t have any place in post-SHTF environments, but I would argue that a lot of the technology I’ll be discussing is just as useful in both pre- and post-SHTF situations as red-dot sights, night vision devices and radios. Most of it can last years if properly cared for, and the low-cost devices I’m focusing on will enable most people to stock up on spares and replacement parts. I’m also not advocating digital solutions as a total replacement for any single item; rather, they can extend or complement other analog or manual solutions.

One other common concern is what happens to the electronics if there’s an EMP event. The good news is that you can fit a decent electronics field kit into a single .50 caliber ammo can converted into a Faraday box. The only thing that may not fit would be a power generation system (discussed later), so you may need a separate way to protect that. I also use several small Silent Pocket Faraday bags to carry individual devices when I travel with them.

I had a couple of goals for the solutions I’ll be discussing:

  • Relatively low cost
  • Lightweight
  • Small size
  • Rechargeable/powered via USB or standard AA/AAA batteries

I’ve tried to provide Amazon links for most of what I’ll be covering in the article, but you may be able to find the same or equivalent items for less money on places like DealExtreme, AliExpress, BangGood or other China direct sites (assuming you’re willing to wait a month or two for delivery). Also, please note that I wrote this article over a period of months, which is several lifetimes in the consumer electronics space, and some of the items may have been upgraded or replaced with newer models by the time you read this, so do some research.

I’m going to start by going over a number of factors that are common for most of the devices I’ll be discussing later on – power, wireless communications, weatherproofing and heat management.

More Power, Scotty!

Every piece of electronic equipment runs on electricity (and maybe magic smoke), so you’ll need to make sure you have some way to charge and run your devices when you’re mobile. If you’re only heading out on a 1- or 2-day movement you may be able to get by with just charging everything before you leave, but having some way to recharge things while you’re away from your home base for an extended period of time can significantly enhance the usefulness of your devices. Since I’m focusing mostly on devices that charge or operate via USB power (5V) that’s what I’ll concentrate on here.

The most obvious way to generate power in the field is a portable solar charger. Some good options are the Nekteck 21W (2W/port, 2 ports, 3W max total) and the RAVPower 24W (2.4W/port, 3 ports, 4.8W max total) portable solar chargers. Both are relatively small and lightweight and provide a good amount of power if the sun’s shining, and both provide multiple USB ports for charging devices. If I’m out on a multi-day hike I’ll usually attach my open solar panel to the back of my backpack, but if you’re operating from a base camp you could set it up in some trees to charge things while you’re out and about during the day. The downside of solar is that you obviously can’t charge things when you stop for the night or when there’s no sun due to clouds.

If you’re operating in an area that has fast-moving streams or rivers, you may want to consider getting a Water Lily generator. I don’t have any actual experience with it, but it’s gotten a bunch of good reviews on Amazon, YouTube and other sites. One big advantage to the Water Lily is that you can set it up and let it run overnight to charge things while you sleep.

If you plan on using bicycles to move around you can use bicycle hub dynamo to generate power while you’re riding, paired with a dynamo USB charger to give you 5V power via a USB port. You’ll have to replace the hub in your front wheel with the dynamo, and most of them require that you maintain a certain minimum speed to get decent charging, so this may not always be a viable option, depending on your skill and fitness level. There are also chain-driven generators available along with a number of various DIY bicycle-USB power projects on the web.

If you’re in a scenario where there are lots of abandoned vehicles around, you could use any power remaining in their batteries to charge your devices. I carry a car USB charger plugged into a cigarette lighter socket with some alligator clips as part of my GHB, since vehicles are most likely to be abandoned due to running out of gas, not because of a dead battery. You could connect it up to charge things overnight while you camp nearby, or, if you need the exercise, you can remove the battery and carry it with you to your campsite. I’d also recommend getting a simple 12V battery tester/meter so you don’t have to keep connecting to different batteries to find one with power.

Thermoelectric power generation is another option – generating power using heat. The most well-known option for this is the Biolite series of charging stoves. I tried their first generation of devices and I wasn’t very impressed with the amount of power it produced, but their second generation is supposed to have some significant improvements.

Two other potential sources of power generation are kinetic and wind. Kinetic involves generating power by harnessing movement, but despite several attempts there aren’t many viable options currently available on the market. One kinetic option that is available is a hand-cranked generator – it’s got some decent reviews on Amazon and YouTube, but I’m not completely convinced that a hand-cranked generator is going to be able to produce any significant amount of power. On the plus side, you’ll get some great exercise charging up your devices. Portable wind power is in a similar state – there are some promising concepts out there, but the only thing that’s currently available for pre-order is the Wind Lily (the same company that makes the Water Lily that I mentioned), and that hasn’t shipped as of this writing.

Regardless of how you plan on generating power, when you’re out in the field my recommendation is to treat power like drinking water – fill it up every chance you get.

Depending on your generator source, there may be situations where the power available from any single USB port on your generator isn’t charging things fast enough. For example, if it’s overcast your solar panel might only be producing 1A from each of the USB ports. One other item I always carry is a 2 USB male to 1 USB female adapter cable – it allows you to combine the power from two USB ports into a single port, which is like hooking two batteries up in parallel (positive to positive and negative to negative). Note that most devices can only draw power at a certain rate when charging or operating, so combining two ports may not make a difference. I recommend that you use a USB power meter to determine how much power each of your devices consumes while operating or charging, and how much power your generator source is producing per USB port while in the field.

Most of the devices I’ll be discussing operate on a built-in rechargeable battery, but many of them can also run for extended periods of time if they’re plugged into an external battery. It’s also easier to charge a single larger USB battery from your power generation source and use that to charge individual devices than it is to change each item separately. For these reasons I usually carry one or more rechargeable USB battery packs. How big of a battery you should carry depends on how long you’ll be out in the field, how much power you think you’ll need and how much weight you’re willing to carry. Each device’s battery has a power rating, usually in milliamp-hours (mAh) that indicates how much power it can store; a typical cell phone usually has around a 3000mAh battery, and most of the other devices I’ll be discussing have internal batteries that range from 250mAh to 1800mAh. For an outing of 2-to-3 days I’ll usually carry a small 10,000mAh USB battery pack, which fits into the palm of your hand and weighs around 6ozs.  For longer outings, I’ll being a larger 26,800mAh pack. I also carry several smaller credit-card-sized battery packs that I’ve collected over the years – these are useful for plugging into various devices to extend their operating life while in use.

If you plan on regularly using technology in the field I highly recommend creating a power inventory for your devices. For each device, you should document the size of its internal battery (assuming it has one), the maximum power it can draw when charging (this determines how long it takes to recharge – use the USB power meter I previously mentioned), and, if the device doesn’t have its own battery or you plan on using an external battery to extend its operation, how much power it consumes while operating. This will allow you to understand how much power you may require based on projected use scenarios.

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)




29 Comments

      1. Agree 100% on the candles, and I have a couple of hundred in my preps, but the focus of the article is that using technology to supplement/complement analog preps has its place. For example, I have a bunch of LuminAID solar rechargeable PackLites, which can run up to 24 hours at the low setting on a single charge, and I’ve been using one for several years and it’s still going strong. I’d estimate that it’s done the work of hundreds of candles at a fraction of the cost, with no associated fire hazard, plus it works well outdoors in inclement weather.

        1. John, agreed! I have a large assortment of equipment including the Goal Zero stuff, 12V solar, oil and rechargeable lanterns, etc. It’s good to diversify and in quantity. During a one week power outage disaster in the 1980’s my friends and relatives borrowed a variety of items including a flashlight and buckets of hand pumped well water. (I could have sold a lot of water that week).

  1. @MattinOklahoma

    1) I don’t know of many low tech solutions for repelling human wave night attacks on a home base. You need to turn on high illumination out to at least 200 yards and the only low tech solution I know of is a 30- second marine parachute flare carried aloft on a rocket. But you can go through a ton of those costly flares in just one night — and resupply won’t be working if you are under siege. Ask a Vietnam Veteran.

    Otherwise you are restricted to hiding in a cave with a campfire continually burning at the entrance.

    2) Whereas a deep cycle marine battery charged by a 100 watt solar panel can run several high lum LED floodlights. A very cheap solution compared trying to outfit everyone with high end night vision goggles. $300 vs $800,000 ($4000 x 20)

    Plus you can also use the 100 watt solar array to charge batteries salvaged from cars and use the batteries to run the LED floodlights or improv floodlights made from headlamps also salvaged from cars.

    You don’t want those floodlights on continually — just when you detect an approaching enemy. Either by your dog warning you or by having one sentry equipped with a night vision scope. Which can be the cheaper model since it doesn’t need to be mounted on a rifle with heavy recoil.

    3) Plus the need for shortwave radios and police scanners to gain intel outside the range of your patrols has been known for decades — Mel Tappan was arguing for it back in 1980. Plus your scouts need radios to warn home base of an approaching threat. All of these radios can be charged off the deep cell batteries as well.

  2. Reading this is motivating. I let my goal zero personal size PV cell and battery go into disrepair. Battery was first gen and broke while backpacking. Their new stuff is much more solid. Need to get that and get my mobile setup back up and running!

  3. “Magic Smoke” When that escapes only real “Pixie Dust” can make something work again or so I understand??? LOL
    Enjoying your article immensely! The numerous links are thought provoking as to how to incorporate an idea/technology in to our preps.
    I’m a bit reluctant to use USB connectors as they are so fragile and easily damaged and so we went with Anderson Power Pole connectors to adapters for most everything else. We also stuck with 12 VDC outputs from our solar panels to the Andersons for numerous adapter outputs, including car battery charging and for our 12 Volt AA/C/D/CR123 battery chargers. There are many different ways to achieve one’s goals and these ideas promote the thought processes! Thanks!

  4. With the advent of Lithium Ion storage, man-portable charging/storage systems have become way more practical. I can run things on a single 18650 for days that used to take 4 or more D-Cell alkalines and still didn’t last as long. I remember hodding around serious lighting systems for spelunking events deep underground and what a grind that was. That, coupled with LED technology, has made some serious differences in our illumination capabilities. It took a pretty big technological step to overcome the practicality of carbide lamps, but we did it.

    1. benjammin, I have been looking into carbide lamps recently. I wonder if they are a reliable alternate source of light when SHTF.

      Is the fuel readily available? Are they safe?

      Carry on in grace

      1. Hello Once a Marine,

        I used carbide lamps quite a bit in my younger years exploring old mines. They worked well.

        Currently, carbide is a bit difficult to find probably due to lack of demand and shipping issues. I sometimes see new carbide lamps for sale but most are cheap Chinese knock-offs that are unreliable.

        On EBAY old USA lamps and repair parts are available. But my recommendation is to use them only as a novelty. I have a brand new in box Justrite model sitting on my workbench and there it will stay (it provides nice memories). I recommend modern LED lighting.

        My best to you

  5. Currently putting together an SDR package running on Raspberry Pi 3B+ and RSPdx. I recently added a 12V gel cell battery that seems to easily handle the current draw of the Pi thru a cheap 12v – 5V micro-usb buck converter that doesn’t add EMI to the reception in the lower HF radio bands. I have a 10.1 inch monitor being delivered today that uses a 12V DC @ 600 mA input. I’m hoping to eventually get this all assembled when I’m happy with my components into an enclosure that would be EMP resistant. My idea is to have an enclosure with a folding lid to expose the screen and useful USB ports with a mouse and keypad and then fold the whole thing up and store or travel with as needed. Battery power is a big deal so I’m hoping my little gel cell can run awhile. This article is intriguing since power consumption is such a big part of a project like mine. I’ve also recently added a 30W solar panel and cheap PWM solar charge to my components that seems to be working quite well.

    BTW, I also have collected quite the candle collection. I have a few large totes full stored in my crawlspace for power outages and emergency situations. Goodwill and local garage sales can be a goldmine if you need to store some. A lot of mine are scented or quite the ugly variety, but they’ll all give me enough light to paly board games around the kitchen table and light up a bathroom to do the necessities.

    Looking forward to part II

  6. If I had more time and money I’d go high tech, but as it is, most of the effort is focused on solving practical problems using as little money as possible. I do have a few low cost gadgets that are multi-purpose. The problem of a light weight power supply for a man pack mobile radio was solved by using an existing lithium battery for a Makita drill, and variable power supply that adjusts a 19vdc 3AH lithium battery to 13.8vdc for a small mobile radio using this: https://www.amazon.com/UCTRONICS-Adjustable-Converter-Stabilized-Regulator/dp/B07ZSGKTX5/ref=pd_rhf_ee_s_rp_c_0_13?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B07ZSGKTX5&pd_rd_r=72d965f5-fc03-4bd0-9b00-4f3aa042a11f&pd_rd_w=YFvSx&pd_rd_wg=dIN7U&pf_rd_p=9ef72827-1bad-4c91-aa97-65cf3e340d20&pf_rd_r=J0B465TN2XJ5HCJX918A&psc=1&refRID=J0B465TN2XJ5HCJX918A

    Any DC power source, including laptop batteries can be made useful. The Ultronics device is also used to be a very high grade of colloidal silver. It can control the voltage and limit the current. This means just about any device that consumes DC voltage can be operated.

    1. I should add that the variable power supply that is the Ultronics device can also be used to charge batteries of any voltage, and even be used to step down voltage from a small solar panel no greater than 75 watts, or a panel that produces no more than 4 amps. Several expensive folding PV panels can be carried out into the field, but given the reliability of solar conditions in the state of Montana, it is probably best to carry as many light weight lithium batteries as possible, and carry a small panel that provides only enough power that the radio needs on standby, or about 250ma to 500ma needed to ‘listen’.

      For a poor man’s rig to be used at an OP some distance away, I might use an old mobile radio that sips power and program it for only 1 or 2 watts on the it’s lowest setting, or low power setting. A handheld could be used as well, but the mobile can push out up to 70 watts if need be, if there is battery to support it. Take both. 1 watt out of a directional antenna, a folding Moxon, or a tape measure yagi is very lightweight and compact and cheap and easy to build. The signal will travel surprisingly far, at least 20 miles if 1,500 feet AGL. Or if a directional antenna is not available, or an omni directional antenna is called for, then use a mobile for 10 watts and more, and an omni directional antenna.

      So a very light weight and very inexpensive package is a any larger capacity lithium battery available, the Ultronics device, a handheld and a mobile radio and portable directional antenna. Of course if you can afford better, there are many 12vdc lithium batteries available at automotive parts stores that provide enough power to jump start vehicles. These are extraordinarily compact, light, and powerful. If I could afford the latest and greatest, I would. The Ultronics device will however allow one to source and use any DC battery in the field to power most devices that require 1 to 30 vdc, and up to 4 amps. It is only $19 on Amazon.

      1. Tunnel Rabbit would you please list links where I can find your recommendation for reloading powder (both sonic and subsonic), primers, slugs,, for a 300AAC Blackout?

        1. Hello Wheatley Fisher,

          I have no experience with .300 Blackout, but here is some on line reloading data that will help you select the powder for the different weight bullets you’d like to try.
          Nosler data is shaded a darker color for the most accurate powder, and an * is used next to the charge weight that produces the best accuracy.
          https://load-data.nosler.com/load-data/300-aac-blackout/

          For subsonic loads choose the heaviest weight bullets such as 190 to 220 grains, and for standard loads, I would go with 110/125 grain soft points that would be more potent than the M1 Carbine, and have flatter trajectories. Do a search for reloading data for .300 Blackout on the AR15.com chat boards, and there you’ll find of wealth of information.

          I do have subsonic loads for bolt guns using Trailboss, that even without a suppressor are surprisingly quiet, but an AR is a completely different animal. Sounds like fun! For those interested, subsonic factory ammunition is available in 7.62×39 for less than .70 cents/rd, for .308 Winchester, and .300 Blackout.

  7. Interested in where this article leads. I’ve had a lot of interest in satellite communication, and have seen some potential solutions for this. Ignoring technology would be a terrible oversight. Recently I’ve been brainstorming more solutions. Why not have digital animal traps send a signal when triggered? You don’t want to lose your prey.

  8. My wifes telescope is gimbaled and microprocessored. I was just thinking about kitting a deep cycle battery into some sort of pelican case or container to make it clean and convenient.

    Right now we have a quiet kilowatt inverter generator and onboard alkaline battery backing that up. A deep cycle would be peaceful or opsec.

  9. Well, I have never thought about a total power loss. I’ve planned on our one generator to supply our needs. So now, presuming 2 is 1 and 1 is 0, I’ll wait for the last installment and then decide what to do.

    This is a great thought provoking start.

    1. Francis,

      Thank you. Be aware that I’m focusing on the use of mobile technology in the field in this article, so it may be of limited use for making any decisions regarding a home system.

  10. Mr McDonald,
    I’m preparing for a complete relocation, I’ll submit and article soon. I’m not looking for home station ideas.
    Your first installment has me thinking about a real power loss and/or loss of gasoline as we head for the hills.
    Thank you, I am looking to read the remaining 5 submissions.
    Francis

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