Let me begin by saying that I am still relatively new to “prepping”. So you will have to forgive me if some of this is second nature to a lot of you folks. I have come across a few random articles that speak, in general, about ensuring that you know how to use your gear and periodically trying things on to make sure they still fit and so on. What I could not seem to find was something a little more specific on gear testing and, particularly, some ideas for those with time constraints. In the spirit of potentially helping others like myself, I decided to write something about my own experiences to date and maybe give others some ideas of how to better test their gear. The main limitation I found myself having was time. Since I could not always find the time to head out on a camping trip, I started coming up with ways to test things during the ordinary course of my day. I have done all of these tests while living in a suburban environment. Obviously, the following does not in any way, shape, or form, constitute the end all and be all of testing. See my previous comments about being a rookie!
Tents. Tent companies tell you to set up your tent a few times in optimal conditions. I agree! Do it in the backyard, and then sleep in it! Throw the kids in there, too. They will love the backyard adventure. Once you do this a few times, make it harder on yourself. Try setting up everything in sub-optimal conditions. Backyard camping is also a great time to test a bunch of other camping gear and all your other gear– sleeping bags, pads, lighting, food prep, fire starting, et cetera. I think it is a great idea to let the kids play with the gear, too. (Maybe everything is open to their play, minus the fire-starting tools and sharps until they get older.) Their little brains come up with the most creative uses for things.
Sleeping gear. Test out that sleeping gear, even if it is indoors. You will at least get a feel for the bag and how much padding your pads actually provide. You also find out how much work it takes to pump up your sleeping pad, if you have one of those. Get the kids involved, too. My daughter loves to break out the sleeping bags just because, and I make sure I have enough on hand for when her friends stay over. I do not make the kids use survival blankets, but I will try them out periodically.
Solar panels. I have a number of portable solar charged batteries that I play around with, along with different solar charging panels. I try different ways to hang panels, and I work on how best to orient and position them. I even found that with one particular small panel I own, that is primarily for charging small devices, it completely fails to charge when shade hits it. I have to wait for the sun to come back out and then plug and re-plug it into the device, until it starts charging again.
Fire-starting/Heating. Try starting a fire in your charcoal grill or outdoor fire pit with your fire starting tools. It may add some time to your outdoor grilling, but you will stay in practice. In colder weather, I try out my small propane heaters to make sure I can work them with gloves on and to see how sensitive they are to wind. On the really chilly walks to work from the train, I break open a few of those disposable warming packs. Some brands definitely work better than others.
Tools. I am sure most folks here probably carry and use a multi-tool on a daily basis. Try and use any other emergency type tools. I have a foldable entrenching tool that I use around the yard. My small, hand axes get tested when chopping up some wood for the fireplace/pit. The same goes for a machete that is used on some unruly weeds at our summer home.
Firearms. For those of you, like me, that have their primary home in suburbia, law enforcement probably frowns on testing firearms in the backyard. However, there is no reason you cannot perform normal cleaning/disassembly/assembly inside the house or garage and learn more about your firearms. I get a lot of this done while I am watching a game on TV.
Food. Prepare and eat those “easy to prepare” meals. Not only will you see if the food tastes good, but you will get a feel for actual preparation and clean up time. I quickly discovered the need to purchase one of those long spoons, if I wanted to eat right out of the package.
Food Preparation. I really enjoy testing food preparation gear in the backyard. You discover some interesting things. It turns out that the little strap handle on the cup included with a popular cooking system was not very sturdy, and I could not rely on it to support the cup when it was filled with boiling hot water. I found that a thin glove worked best when taking the cup on and off the burner.
Lighting. Crack some of those light sticks, and fire up those solar/battery/crank-powered lights. See how much light they actually throw and how long everything lasts. Tool around the darkest places in your home at night, and see how well your flashlights and everything else above works. I have a concrete floor storage crawl that works great for this. The power does not go out too often, but when it does I like to grab those survival candles and see how long they really burn.
Water. I have only had the opportunity to use my various water purification/filtration gear in the great outdoors a few times. However, keeping sharp with using them by using tap or rain water at home cannot hurt. I have found that it helps to stay familiar with any portable hand pumping type kits and the process of assembling/disassembling/cleaning them. Also, I learned a lot about what works best with my gear when it comes to transferring water from the source to a container (especially those lightweight collapsible ones). Finally, this is a perfect time to test out those various electrolyte and vitamin C tablets for taste.
Shower. The neighbors might give me odd looks if I shower in the yard, but I have tested my foot pump shower in my actual shower! I have also left it outside in the sun to see how well it warms up before trying it out indoors. In conjunction with testing the shower, I try to use my various lightweight, microfibre towels.
Medical. While I have not yet had occasion to use all of my medical gear, I try to take aged items and practice with them (OLAES bandages for example). I have used some of the smaller scale items to bandage the kids, and my minor bumps and bruises. I once even used my trauma shears to cut a onesie off of my littlest one, when it was beyond salvageable and could not be pulled over her head. That was a funny one! Additionally, reusable items like tourniquets are always easy to practice with. Try putting them on one handed or using your weak side hand.
GPS. While I do have a compass, I do not find it as useful around the primary house, but it is useful at the summer house. I try to stay up to date with my GPS when in the suburbs/city. I take it just about everywhere I go and make sure to use at least the basic features.
Clothing. This category of testing is easy. Just wear all that technologically wonderful clothing you spent your hard earned money on. I wear all that great gear just about every day. This past winter in the Midwest was a great testing time for all those cold weather layers, gloves, hats, and boots. Summer is a perfect time to see which wicking/lightweight/UPF claims actually hold up. When the bugs come out is great for testing all those permethrin impregnated garments. One item I never neglect any more is a great pair of socks. I had no idea how many different options there were until recently. My feet have never been happier!
“Tactical” Apparel. I have bins of chest rigs, drop leg panels, mag pouches, and so forth that I use in various configurations. Try everything on, and put what you think you would normally put in all the pouches (fully loaded magazines, IFAKs, filled water reservoir, et cetera). Then walk up and down some stairs. It was not until I tried this that I discovered how heavy those ceramic level IV plates really are. I learned quickly the meaning of “ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain”.
Weather conditions. In certain sections I talked about doing things in varying weather conditions, but this really applies to all testing. I have seen others write about testing yourself and your equipment under stress. Weather should be a big part of that mix, including hot, cold, windy, raining, and whatever else you might face. I am always interested in what does not work under certain conditions, and then I try to come up with something that does.
The Bottom Line. I have learned that incorporating testing into your daily life leads to getting more done than you actually realize. So, test away and have fun!