For the majority of my adult life– 34 years– I have taught, lived, worked, and recreated in wilderness settings. I appreciated JMS’s call for articles from single female preppers, as it has been a frustration of mine for many years. My early years were spent trying to prove that women can be effective and competent in a survival setting without having to become “one of the guys” or Rambo-esque. It took me a couple of tries before I found an organization to work for that shared this view. I spent the next 10 years working for Outward Bound, and I have loved the experience it brought. Both genders need to be able to step in and out of whatever role is needed, at any given time. I think it is a huge, possibly detrimental, mistake to get stuck in gender-driven roles.
So, one of my first pieces of advice I would give any woman is to lose the gender bias and develop an authentic “can-do” mindset. Notice I said “authentic”. Reading and gathering information isn’t it. Nor is a vacation into the wilderness. Granted, they are good starts, and you can learn a lot, but it is just that– a start. You need tons of practice in all sorts of conditions. You may have ten different ways of starting a fire, but can you start and sustain a fire after it has been raining for days? Can you set up a tarp or tent in windy and/or rainy weather? Can you navigate without electronic techno gadgets and gizmos? HoweverSo forth and so on. Go through all the different categories and ask yourself these type of questions. There have been a ton of books and articles written about all the various aspects of TEOTWAWKI and components of “surviving”, so I won’t rehash it here. I will try to provide some insight into the experience I have gained from being in survival situations and equipment my life has depended upon.
Over the years I have gleamed a lot of hands-on experience in “survival”. Sometimes I felt that I had too much experience because I saw myself becoming complacent in my abilities. A recent health “crisis” has caused me to go back and revamp a lot of my thinking in the area. Very unexpectedly, I landed in the hospital and underwent open heart surgery. I had to have an artificial mitral heart valve replacement surgery due to catching rheumatic fever in one of my bouts with strep as a child. I didn’t even know I had a heart problem until I went into heart and respiratory failure.
Fortunately, a person should be able to fully recover from this type of heart problem, but it has made me stop and rethink things. “It” can shake your sense of self confidence and cause you to reexamine your abilities. The recent health scare has taught me the importance of running all the “what if” scenarios. What if I don’t recover my previous strength, health, and abilities? What then? I still have A to Z in the equipment area and have tried to prep for all possible circumstances, regardless of whether I find myself at a nice safe retreat, trying to get to a retreat, bugging-in, or bugging out. Because I do not know the timing of TSHTF or the exact circumstance therein or what degree of health recovery I will be at, I started the process of going back through everything, which is always a good thing.
I found myself taking it one category at a time and using a scale to determine weight, size, and volume. I will use several of the categories to exemplify my thought process. I gathered up all my various ways of cooking over an open fire and started labeling each with their weight and volume. Over the years, I had accumulated various pieces in aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, copper, brass, and titanium. An important aspect is the melting point of each type of metal. The approximate melting point of aluminum is 1221 degrees F, stainless steel is 2440 degrees, copper is 1984, brass is 1700, cast iron is 2200 (depending upon thickness), and titanium is 3,034 degrees. Aluminum and titanium are the lightest, and most cast iron and brass are the heaviest. I don’t want to have to depend upon having a grill to set the cookware on, so a lot of my thinking revolves around putting the pot into the coals or next to it, so I look for a metal that can handle high temperatures.
I then tried to create a set for all the different possible scenarios of TSHTF. If I were at a retreat and cooking, I would go with the cast iron. If I were trying to get to a retreat and had a vehicle, I would take several sets in aluminum, stainless steel, copper, or titanium. If I was going to bug out with a pack, I would take the stainless steel and/or titanium. I would love to have everything in titanium, because it has the highest melting point and is the lightest, but for me it is cost prohibitive; so I only have a few pieces.
To further break down the process, I took these sub-categories and broke it into sets of heaviest to lightest with size in mind. An example is in the bug out cooking ware. Remembering the adage of one is none, two is one, three is two, and so forth, I found I have six different stainless steel combinations that I have used under various circumstances. They are:
- MSR (17.4 Oz/487 ml) SS pot and lid; weighs 9.4 ounces.
- Stanley SS cooker set, holds 24 Oz/708 ml. and weighs 7.9 ounces (no cups).
- MSR SS pot and lid (37 Oz/1100 ml.) and weighs 15.3 ounces.
- MSR SS (60 Oz/1650 ml.) and weighs 13.6 ounces.
- Klean SS bottle (64 Oz/1900 ml.) and weighs 11.5 ounces.
- Military SS canteen and cup (48 oz. combined) and weighs 15.1 ounces.
I no longer carry things like plates, bowls or cups. I can use the lid of a pot for a plate and my water bottle as a cup.
These items can then go into the different size bug out bags (packs) that I have. Again, I have multiples, depending upon the circumstances. The first three are various sizes of Mountainsmith lumbar (fanny) packs that can be added onto my packs or carried independently. They are the Knockabout that is 435 cubic inches and weighs 14 ounces. The second is 600 cu and weighs 1.3 lb. The third is the Tour pack that holds 824 cu and weighs 1.64 lb..
The next “pack” sub-category are the “day packs”. The first is a North Face Mako that holds 730 cu and weighs 1.9 lb. (26 Oz). The next is a Camelbak that holds 1200 cu and weighs 1.14 lb. (30 oz.). The next is a North Face Big shot that holds 2015 cu and weighs 2.9 lbs. If you combine any of the lumbar packs with a day pack, you have a wide array of combinations available to you.
You can then combine any of the lumbar or daypacks with a backpack and come up with even more possible combinations. Some of my favorite backpacks are the Gregory Z40, which holds 2441 cu (med.) and weighs 2.14 pounds. I also use The North Face Terra 30, which holds 1850 cu and weighs 3.8 lbs. Another favorite is the Kelty Moraine 3600; it holds 3600 cu and weighs 4.2 lbs. All my gear is based on weight, size, durability, and versatility. I would much rather have gear that is durable than an ultralight that has to have special attention paid to it. Some of the ultralight packs are not that durable and will get tears and holes in them if they are handled roughly, such as dropped on a sharp rock. Some of the new ultralight clothing used for layering do not hold up to heat and will melt if they get a spark from the fire on them.
Versatility is another important aspect when putting your gear together. Again, I have multiple combinations of sleeping systems and shelters that I can use separately or together to cover the wide possible range of environments and weather in which I may find myself. Some of the components that I can combine with a sleeping bag to increase its temperature rating are:
- a silk liner bag that adds 10-15 degrees of warmth and weighs 4.5 ounces,
- a Thermo lite bag liner, adding 15 degrees at 9 ounces,
- an extreme Thermo lite bag that adds 25 degrees and weighs 14 ounces,
- a fleece sleeping bag rated at 50 degrees and weighs 1.38 pounds, and
- a GTX Bivy bag to put your sleeping bag in that weighs 1.3 lb. and can add up to 20 degrees. (You could also use an all-weather blanket to wrap your bag in that weighs 12 ounces.)
I have three main sleeping bags that I have used for years and rely on. The first is high-end and pricey but well worth it. It is a Feathered Friends goose down, which is rated to -10 degrees and weighs 3.2 pounds. It has a Gore-Tex shell instead of the normal nylon type. I have slept out in the open with it and found myself warm and dry with several inches of snow on top of my bag in the past. The next is a North Face Cat’s Meow that is rated to 20 degrees and weighs 2.14 ounces. For wet or conditions where your gear might get wet ,such as traveling down a river, I use a synthetic bag. The North Face Bigfoot is an extremely durable bag with a rating of 15 degrees and weighs 3.10 ounces. If you add any of the above components with your sleeping bag you come up with a lot of combinations that should cover all your needs.
For shelters I have mainly used rip-stop nylon high quality tarps. An example of one of my favorites is a 6 X 8 that weighs two pounds. The others go up in size and weight from there. A super lightweight alternative is a military rip-stop nylon poncho that weighs in at 10 ounces. The above mentioned all-weather blanket can also be used as a tarp. I also have used, and depended upon, a Black Diamond mega mid, which is a floorless tarp shelter that can fit four people and only weighs 2.5 pounds. Additionally, I have a Kelty Noah’s tarp that is 9 X 9 and weighs 1.8 pounds and a Gore-Tex bivy tent that weighs around two pounds that is a good addition. There are numerous lightweight tents on the market, and I won’t go into them here. Some of the things you want to look for are lightweight and size. Also a must is one with a full fly that goes almost to the ground. Check the quality of stitching and pole strength.
You might be able to tell by now that I do not depend upon one type of anything but have tried to come up with a combination of a lot of something’s. If I were to give advice to people, it would be to have something in all the various categories, because it is a whole lot better than having nothing. One also needs to practice with what they have and gain the valuable experience of using it before you have to depend upon it in a survival situation. I also like gear that has multiple uses, such as the military nylon poncho that can be used as protection from the rain for you and your pack as well as a waterproof shelter. My 64-ounce Klean, uninsulated, stainless steel water bottle also doubles as a cooking pot. The all-weather emergency blanket can be a ground cloth, a wrap around bivy bag for your sleeping bag, and also a tarp.
Don’t get complacent in your current abilities, skills, health, tools, and assorted prepped stuff and allow yourself to stop thinking and reevaluating all aspects of surviving TSHTF. You never really know what is going to happen or what curve ball life might throw at you. You need to prepare yourself to be versatile and adaptable to whatever might happen. A strong, well-earned sense of confidence, know-how, and a can-do mindset can get you through the majority of circumstances. I never thought I would have a problem with my heart, and I always counted on being healthy and athletic. Life threw me a curve ball, and I found myself having to rethink things. When I went back through my gear, I found that I had prepped for a variety of circumstances and built a lot of combinations into the various categories. This has allowed me to regain some of the confidence I once had, now knowing that even if I don’t have all the physical strength I once had, I still have the experience and know-how that has sustained me for many years in less than ideal circumstances. So much of surviving is the mental aspect.
Take care. Keep your powder and socks dry.