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The More You Know, the Less You Need: A Personal Example of

April 8, 2019

Coming into spring/summer, one of my normal activities annually, is to re-set gear layouts. Someone asked me the other day, “How would you pack a 72 hour pack, versus a week-long or 10-day pack?” As a guy who grew up with a Regimental SOP for the layout of rucksack and load-bearing equipment, even after I left the Ranger Regiment, I always stuck with the idea that, my BASIC LOAD, absent mission-specific and team gear, was the same, whether I was doing an assault that was projected to last 72 hours or less, or a long-term mission that required me to be in the field for weeks or months at a time, was the same. Outside of quantities in munitions, water, and food, the equipment requirements are fundamentally the same, whether I’m going to be out for 1 night, 10 nights, or 100 nights.

Granted, if I can look at the weather forecast tomorrow morning, I might be able to decide, “fuck it, the low is going to be in the fifties, and there’s a 2% chance of precipitation. I don’t need any kind of shelter, and I can sleep in my clothes!” As soon as you add in external modifiers to the equation though: enemy action, the possibility of something delaying my return-to-base, etc, that goes out the window. So, while I might pack just my fighting load and an assault pack for a quick raid that I am reasonably sure is going to last less than a couple hours (the small assault pack allows me to pack enough stuff to stay alive if I’m separated, or a quick raid turns into some sort of Battle of the Black Sea event), for anything that involves even a single over-night, without an easy, basically guaranteed RTB the next day (say, an overnight in the nearby forest with my kids), I’m packing the same basic load for a weekend trip as I would pack for a month-long trip. The only mitigation would be climactic/environmental conditions. In winter, my load is significantly different than in summer, because of the vagaries of cold, cold/wet, etc. Also, in my current environment, I’ll sleep on the ground, on a sleep pad, in late fall and winter, after first freeze, but because of venomous snakes and insect vermin, unless METT-TC dictates it an impossibility, I will always choose to use a hammock, to get up off the ground, in spring, summer, and early fall.

So, as I was going through my gear today, repacking my “Get Home Ruck,” I was also keeping in mind the fact that I have an upcoming training trip in a few weeks that is several hundred miles from home. With the current state of international affairs in the world, and the increased urgency with which the federal government seems to think it necessary to warn people of potential electric grid failures and the potential for EMP, in the back of my mind is the very real potential for having to walk home.

When I got my pack and fighting load gear done today, I jumped on the scale. My total equipment weight—ruck, plate carrier, war belt, and ammunition—without water, was 65#. That’s a REALLY light load, all things considered. But, I’ve gotten lazy in my dotage, and started thinking about the fact that I could travel a LOT faster if I reduced the weight even further. In the interest of doing so, I started breaking down my packing list, looking for things I could do without, things I could replace with an equally functional, but significantly lighter alternative, and which of those would still allow me to achieve what I needed to achieve…

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One of the interesting things about getting involved in sustainable/natural building and Permaculture, has been exposure to a small population of people that I otherwise wouldn’t have much involvement with. This includes what most readers would probably term “dirty smelly hippies.” These include people who are doing their damnedest to reduce their personal imprint on the environment. Regardless of what your personal beliefs are about environmentalism and environmentalists—and apparently, in some cases, environmentalism has become equated with a lack of basic personal hygiene, for extended periods of time—I’ve found, through my discussions with these folks that we actually have a lot in common. Many of them are “survivalists,” without using that term, and many of them have far more practiced expertise in basic survival and “off-grid/post-grid” living than the vast, vast majority of middle-class, overweight “preppers” do, with their secret bunkers full of gear.

This has been beneficial to me, personally, because it has helped to change my personal paradigm somewhat, reminding me in some ways, of things I had seen overseas, but never put into the proper frame-of-reference.

For instance, I’ve met a few people, in the context of “sustainable/natural building,” who have been “voluntary homeless,” for lengthy periods of time. Now, I’ve personally lived out of a rucksack, outside of the military, for months at a time, by choice, but I always had a rucksack full of pretty high-tech gear, and I always had a source of income to fall back on. If shit got too uncomfortable, I’d always had the option of getting a hotel room for a weekend, and eating in a restaurant. That’s not always been an option for some of these folks, for a host of reasons (and before some fuck-nugget jumps in bitching and whining about “losers,” or “EDPs,” I know several of these people with VERIFIED post-graduate degrees, who were extremely articulate, and simply chose this lifestyle based on their personally closely held values. I’m not judging them negatively for that, because they weren’t trying to force anyone else to adopt those values, and fuck you if you think they should have to change because you don’t like what they do).

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So, I was looking at my gear, and thinking about lightening it, and I took the METT-TC approach, as I am wont to do.

Mission: My mission, in the context of the upcoming trip, is to return, as quickly as possible, safely, to my family, at our farm.

Enemy: In the event that I am forced to use my ruck to live out of, in order to complete my mission, I can comfortably assume my “enemy” will be anything from hungry refugees from large urban areas to local bullies deciding that “WROL” means they can become whatever shithead they decide to be, to local, state, or federal LEO/authorities, trying to control movement of people to maintain control over a growing catastrophe. It could also include outlaw gangs, or whatever other fantasy drama adventure foe your imagination can come up with, but those are the three I was thinking of. In all three, my general plan for dealing with them would be the same: avoidance as much as possible, and contact only under my terms.

Troops: The friendly troops situation is better than normal, because I have three or four of my local clan traveling with me to the class. Outside of that, I only have a few contacts along the intended routes of travel, and I cannot be certain that, in such an emergency, they would even be where I would know to look for them. So, my friendly troops situation is limited to the four or five of us.

Terrain: The Terrain is the KEY factor here, in the context of this article. There are two minor mountain ranges I will need to cross, and two major navigable rivers. There are numerous small towns and a couple of major urban areas that will require crossing through or bypassing. We’ll come back to the terrain thing though, because the number of built-up areas actually turns out to be a boon, in this context.

Time: Time is an important factor. 1) If an emergency is serious enough that I need to WALK home, living out of my ruck, things are REALLY bad, and I don’t want to be away from my family and farm, let alone the rest of the clan, any longer than absolutely necessary. 2) The less weight I carry, the faster I can travel. Granted, the others with me are less experienced with long-distance travel with heavy rucks, and will slow me down, but this means that myself, and the one other traveling companion with significant experience can travel enough faster than the others to allow us to move around more, providing all-around security for the others as we move. 3) Because several of us have night vision capabilities, we can travel at night more securely, and/or extend our daytime travel into the hours of darkness, to reduce our time en route.

Civil Considerations: While, under the stated environmental conditions ANYONE could be a hostile, given the right motivation, most aren’t going to be. Most are, like my people, simply going to be interested in taking care of their own business. Avoiding offending those people, or picking a fight with them, will potentially be a critical element in our successful return home.

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So, in a nutshell, I need to be able to move fast, reduce the chances of drawing unwanted attention (and let’s face it, under those conditions, five or six dudes, all packing guns and rucks, and moving fast IS going to draw attention), while not scaring the shit out of some random farm wife along the way. All of this needs to be accomplished while still maintaining the basic ability to stay alive under field conditions.

What do we need, to stay alive under field conditions? SMOLES is the acronym I have used most of my adult life, and it is one I’ve written about in the past, both on this blog, and in The Reluctant Partisan, Volume One: The Guerrilla. It stands for Self-Defense, Medical, Optics/Observation, Land Navigation, Extreme Weather Conditions, and (Basic) Survival.

Self-Defense, in this context most likely means focusing on not drawing unwanted attention. That probably rules out the Crye MultiCam pajamas routine. While most people would probably expect to see people open-carrying weapons under those conditions, especially in the early days and weeks of an event, someone wearing full-on camouflage and LBE is going to be an anomaly, outside of the National Guard or LEO…who generally travel in larger groups, and will—probably—have vehicles, even if they are commandeering local privately-owned vehicles (which, to be clear, is far from out of the question for me too…but I’m worst-casing the scenario, and assuming I’ll have to be on foot). So, step one of my Self-Defense plan is normal looking, earth tone clothing: my normal every day attire in other words. Step Two is staying out of sight as much as possible. Step Three is a war belt that can be mostly concealed—at least at a distance—under the tails of a button down workshirt, with a magazine or two for rifle reloads, an IFAK/BOK, a pistol, and a general utility knife that can double as a last-ditch, “cut the fucker off me, because we’re wrestling over my pistol” weapon. Pretty basic. I’ll also add my “Underground Partisan” chest rig that I designed for Gadsden Dynamics, since it was specifically designed to be worn under a jacket or sweater or baggy shirt and disappear. With a decent work shirt over it, left unbuttoned, it still disappear until you’re basically within conversational distance, and then they’re going to see all my other gear as well anyway.

Really, in the event that weapons do need to be used in self-defense, in this context, it’s going to be in the context of a “break contact,” to get away. We’re not interested in taking control of other terrain. We’re interested in getting home and getting control of our own terrain. So, “self-defense” in this context literally means “self-defense,” and nothing more. I don’t need a LOT of ammunition or a whole pile of weapons. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ll be concealed carrying a pistol for the initial trip anyway, I’d probably not even bother including a pistol in this context.

Medical, I have largely minimized down to a wallet sized IFAK/BOK, thanks to some input from my buddy Allan Kay (of Alone, S1 fame). It’s the same as my EDC kit, and includes a tourniquet, a set of Fox Chest Seals, a package of compressed gauze, and a package of QuickClot, plus a nose hose and a chest dart. Bandage material I can improvise pretty much anywhere, and have done so, within the last year, in fact, in a case that involved a significant amount of hemorrhage. I don’t really carry a “boo-boo kit.” With the kids in tow, I do, but for me personally, I’ve found few boo-boos that I couldn’t ameliorate with a piece of 100mph tape.

Observation/Optics. I keep a pair of Steiner 10x binos in my ruck, and I have my PVS-14s in there as well. For this particular “mission,” I’m not worried about adding a spotting scope, although I might have one of our guys packing a thermal/IR scope as an item of team gear.

Land Navigation. Considering the distance to be traversed, carrying topo quad maps for the entire trip is impractical. Even with road maps, any maps small enough in scale to be useful would require too many to be practicable to carry. Instead, I will grab the road atlas out of my truck, rip out the three or four relevant pages, and use roads and towns as way points. By doing so, I don’t have to know exact azimuths. I can simply shoot “North” until I hit “Hillbilly Highway,” then I know I need to handrail that road until I hit the outskirts of “Farmerville.” When I get there, maybe I need to go NorthEast until I hit Interstate 666, then I can move across that, East, until I hit US Highway 999. When I get there, I cut North along it, until I come to “Hayseed City,” etc, etc, etc.

The biggest issue with that is the two navigable rivers I need to cross to get home. Neither one is going to be crossed by swimming, practically speaking. They will require crossing a bridge or begging, borrowing, or stealing some sort of watercraft to get across. In this case, fortunately, both myself and one other of the traveling crew have extensive small-boat experience in the military (he more than me, actually), so there are multiple options potentially available.

Extreme Weather Survival. While this trip will be happening in mid-March, and the weather in the traversed region can vary from sunny and in the 80s, to freezing rain and snow, there are few risks of it getting into single digit temperatures, and it PROBABLY won’t get over 90F. So, the biggest issue we face is cold/wet with freezing rain or sleet, or simple thunderstorms at just above freezing temperatures. In all of these cases, the best method available is going to be finding shelter out of the rain/sleet, to minimize our exposure to the wet. While everyone will have a sleeping bag in their ruck, I don’t need to pack a 3-Bag USGI arctic sleep system or anything spectacular like that. In fact, given that I have a tarp for a hooch, I could probably get away with nothing more than a decent wool blanket. My sleeping bag, in this case, will be a 0F rated civilian backpacking bag. It’s light, synthetic, and compresses small enough to fit into the sleeping bag pocket of my ruck, and only weighs about 3 pounds.

I could, in all seriousness, probably do away with the shelter and sleeping bag, given the context of the “mission.” In the case of an event that required me to walk home, there are a couple of options for shelter. Number one, all over this country right now—while things are still…mostly….”functioning,” there are deserted and abandoned buildings and houses, in various states of repair and disrepair. Holing up in one of those to escape inclement weather is a common practice among my “homeless” acquaintances, and would certainly be an option for 5-6 armed men with night vision and team work, even if it meant tossing other “squatters” out for the evening. Number two, most of what we will be traversing will be farm country, which means the opportunity to POLITELY ask for lodging in a hay barn or outbuilding is not out of the question (and yes, that still happens as well, although I would be leery of approaching an obviously occupied farm house in farm country, in the event of a “grid down” event. If I did, I would actually ditch my gear and weapons, for the initial approach, and simply rely on my guys for overwatch protection). In either of these cases, shelter would not be a concern, and as far as bedding, anything from an abandoned blanket, to a number of old tarps can be pulled over you to provide varying levels of insulative value. Finally, there is the old stand-by of shoving your clothing full of rolled up balls of newspaper or even straw or dry grass for insulation. There’s just not much risk of “extreme” weather, given the environment I am specifically looking at, in the time frame I’m looking at.

(Basic) Survival: Survival can be basically broken down by the Rule of Three: You can go Three Minutes without Oxygen, Three Hours without “shelter” (from the elements), Three Days without Water, and Three Weeks without Food (I stole a really good modification of this rule from my buddy Greg Hamilton recently, but that’s a subject for another article!).

Although the potential for HAZMAT exposure is mind-boggling high in this kind of potential event, outside of carrying a HAZMAT suit and/or at least a pro-mask, the only thing I can do to really deal with that threat is keep my eyes peeled, and look out for things that look suspicious, and bypass them. Even in the event I was carrying a pro-mask, I’m not going to wander around wearing it, so…

Three hours without shelter is about exposure to the elements. It doesn’t mean you need to knock out a poncho hooch every 2.5 hours or something ridiculous like that. My clothing is appropriate for the time of year, because even when I drive to town, it’s far enough away from the farm that, if something happened, we’re not going to make it home in less than a day or two (by myself, I could make it in three or four hours of walking. With the kids and wife in tow, I’m looking at a minimum of 3-5 days). So, outside of a sudden squall of rain catching me far away from any shelter, I’m not particularly worried about this. My basic addition to my kit is a stocking cap of wool, and a waterproof jacket. I hate Gore-Tex, and I don’t mind getting a LITTLE wet, absent cold, so my normal “wet weather” gear is simply a lightweight GoreTex jacket, sans waterproof trousers, and if I’m looking at THAT heavy a downpour, in this context, I’m going to build or look for shelter anyway.

This is really one of the key factors that too many people (myself included, far more often than I would like to admit…): an emergency “bug out,” or a “get home” scenario is NOT a combat patrol. You’re not doing a deliberate movement-to-contact, a raid, or an ambush. It’s akin to a reconnaissance patrol, but it’s not really even that. It’s really just similar to a backpacking trip in a really shitty Third-World country…where you have the ability to be well-armed.

Generally speaking, we tell people, in field conditions, to carry one spare, dry pair of clothing, for sleeping in. This is solid advice. I generally keep a single pair of wool long johns for sleeping in, and a pair of Ranger panties and a t-shirt. The temperature determines what I sleep in, but in actual tactical field conditions, such as the context for this article, I’m going to be sleeping in trousers, and shirt, and a boots, ready to roll out and run. If we were dealing with a more static position, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw my plate carrier on over a t-shirt and Ranger panties, and jump into a pair of slip-on boots or shoes, but there is nowhere between the class location and my home that I am interested in defending. Rolling out, grabbing my ruck, and running is the SOP Immediate Action Drill (In fact, I may call it the 3R Battle Drill. How fast can you go from in your fart sack, to grabbing your ruck, ripping out a mag dump on targets at, say 50-100 yards, and then run a 300 yard run? Obviously it wouldn’t be a straight 300 yard run, in this context. It would be a break contact drill, but still…).

Shelter can also encompass the ability to create/generate heat. This is obviously fire-starting, but I will include this under food, since it’s more applicable there, in the context of my forthcoming trip.

Water. You can go three days without water, but that is three days, in moderate weather, with little or no physical activity. Start humping even a light ruck in 60, 70, 80 degree weather, and that time frame drops precipitously. Further, even under those moderate weather conditions, and not doing anything, within a day or two, your physical and cognitive functions are going to start dropping precipitously. In my home environment, procuring water is simply not an issue. You can’t go a mile without tripping over a stream, a spring, a creek, a pond, or a lake. It’s simply a matter of having something to hold the water in, and some way of making it potable. I’ve got a really nice MSR pump type filter for my ruck, and I keep a Sawyer mini filter in my fighting load, with its little squeezable bladder. I long ago gave up on Camelback type bladders. I’ve simply seen too many of them explode, even under minimal stress. I went to metal one quart water bottles. I generally keep one insulated one, from HydroFlask, and one single-wall, uninsulated version, in my ruck. The epiphany I had today was that, my Sawyer is good for something like 100,000 gallons of water…and an empty 2-liter, plastic soda bottle, like my “hippie” acquaintances prefer to use for water bottles in the woods, is WAY the fuck lighter than even the single-wall metal bottle…

It’s not as robust as the metal container, but…those things are fucking EVERYWHERE! Hell, look out the window of your car, driving down a country road, and you’ll see 2-liter and 20-ounce soda bottles laying in the ditch. In even a small, rural community, people’s trash cans are full of them…so are the trash cans at gas stations, rest areas along the highways, truck stops, etc. And, the best part? The Sawyer Mini screws right onto the threaded mouth, so it doesn’t matter…generally…what was in them. If you find one in the garbage, and it’s still got some fluid in it that smells like flat soda, you can rinse it out with ditch water, fill it up with the same ditch water, screw on the Sawyer, and start drinking. So, if you pack a plastic water bottle, and it breaks? It’s an easy, free repair, found pretty much anywhere along your “bug out” or “get home” route.

The other potential drawback is that you can’t purify water by boiling it, in the container, like you can with the single-wall metal bottle. So what? If I have time to start a fire and boil water, I have a pot to boil it in, and if not, the other common item of detritus available in any trash heap is some form of metal soup or vegetable can that will hold water, and it can be cleaned by tossing it in the fire first for a few minutes.

So, step one was dumping my water bottles, and replacing them with two two-liter “soda” bottles. I get more water for less weight, and I can dump the bigger, heavier filter system, and just rely on the Sawyer mini.

If I’m going to crossing an area that I expect to not have any water sources, or I think I might not be able to stop for water, even long enough to just fill the bottles, I can also consider scavenging a one-gallon milk or juice jug (I really LIKE the one-gallon fruit juice jugs with the handles and the screw top lids). Again, these are easy to replace, out of pretty much any trash heap, for free, and they’re less expensive than purpose-built items.

You can go three weeks without food. Again, that’s under ideal conditions, with minimal physical exertion, but I can tell you, from personal experience, that even under minimal exertion, after a week of zero caloric intake, you’re not going to be able to do much except sit on your ass, and dream about eating food. Even a little bit of food will go a long way though.

I have eaten so many MREs in my past that I—quite literally—cannot eat them. When I try, I end up puking them back up before I’m halfway through the main entree. So, MREs are out for me. They’re heavier than they need to be also. I have a similar aversion to freeze-dried foods like Mountain House, that is almost as gut-wrenching. I’m not however, going to suggest you start digging through trash heaps for food—although that is far from an impractical solution, at least in the early days of a crisis, before everyone else gets desperate as well. I’ve talked to a number of experienced “dumpster divers” who swear they’ve made incredible finds of canned foods and dried goods, in addition to their “barely bruised” fresh food finds. I’m also not going to suggest foraging for wild edibles along the way. While that’s doable, to some degree, what most armchair survivalists don’t understand is that, a) wild foraging, among most “primitive” people is actually more along the lines of gathering foods from a cultivated “food forest.” They already know where the edible stuff is, and they’ve encouraged it to grow more easily in those places, and b) it is generally heavily supplemented with game meat and/or fish.

None of these are out of the question, and I’ve typically carried a set of a dozen purpose-built small game snares and some sort of small container of suitable bait (peanut butter is my go-to), as part of my SERE kit in my ruck. In the context of simply trying to get home though, I’m probably not going to rely on that either. Instead, what I’ve done is replaced all other foodstuffs with five things:

1) a couple pounds (dry weight) of jerked venison. I shot the deer from my front step, here on the farm, dressed it, and butchered it myself, before slicing up the meat, seasoning it, and drying it.

2) a pound of plain, white rice in a zip lock bag (I’ve considered replacing the rice with whole oats, for a number of years now, and still haven’t done it. The micronutrient ratio is significantly improved over white rice, and there’s an ancestral tie there, to the Highland Scots side of my ancestry…)

3) a pound of “bannock” bread mix. This is simply flour (in my case, I’ve mixed whole wheat flour, barley flour, and rye flour), some salt, and some baking powder. Add a dash of water to make a really thick dough, wrap it around a stick, and lean it close to a small fire, and in a few minutes you’ve got the equivalent of baking powder biscuits. It’s a traditional Scottish Highland food (although, I believe they used ground oat flour rather than wheat, typically), that was also very common among trappers and traders employed by the Hudson Bay Company, and has long been a mainstay among woodsmen in this country as well.

4) a small packet of various spices. Generally, I limit myself to chili powder, salt, pepper, a “seasoning salt” blend, and some bouillon powder.

5) a pound of rockahominy. This traditional backwoods meal could be—more so even than pemmican—said to be the fuel of exploration and settlement, especially in the Southern Highlands. This is simply parched corn, that is then ground together with some sugar, and stored in a bag or pouch. You can eat it dry, by the spoonful (seriously…DO NOT TRY AND EAT AN ENTIRE HANDFUL! In fact, I HIGHLY suggest you not eat more than one spoonful, the first time you try it, and then on an empty stomach, and wait several hours before you try eating more…trust me on this…or don’t…), or you can mix it with a bit of water and make a porridge out of it. This was the foodstuff of choice of the longhunters who explored Kentucky and Tennessee, in the 1700s. I’ve read accounts in original source literature, that claimed a handful of rockahominy, and a stick of dried venison would keep a man moving, with a load, for a week. I’ve not tested that myself, but this has become my go-to “emergency” ration. I keep a pound of it in the GP pouch on my fighting load, and I keep a pound of it in my ruck now as well. (Seriously, this stuff is amazing. It takes almost like popcorn. I mix some raw cane sugar in with mine when I grind the parched corn, and the stuff tastes like caramel corn.)

The only additions to this I would make normally would be in winter time, when I’ll add a pound of cheddar cheese, and a pound of peanut butter, simply for the fat calories.

Of course, in order to make the rice or the bannock edible, or at least palatable, you need to have some means of cooking it. My go-to for fire starting these days is a small ferro-rod and striker combination on a 550 cord lanyard that I wear around my neck. In our area, there is ample cedar growing to make tinder bundles that will ignite pretty easily, but I also recently saw a mind-blowingly good idea from Alan Kay that was so simply brilliant, I’m saddened to not be able to claim credit for it.

One of the best tinders available, as most people know, is petroleum jelly on cotton balls. What Alan did was take those cotton balls, and shove them into a length of plastic drinking straw, then heat sealed the ends closed. So, in a piece of straw about an inch long, you’ve got enough tinder to reliably start a decent fire, and the plastic in the straw means it burns slightly hotter and slightly longer, than just the cotton ball and petroleum jelly combination. Best of all, I can carry four or five of those in my wallet, and forget they are there. Three drinking straws, from a drive-through soda, and you’ve got enough to start a fire every day for a month or more. That’s a month of fires for basically less than a dollar (I can buy a 100 count of cotton balls at the Dollar Store for $1, and I can buy a tub of petroleum jelly, at the same store, for another $1. Hell, if I paid another dollar, for a pack of 100 straws, and divvied it up, I BET I could get a year’s worth of tinder for $3. In fact, I may try that!), and it will take up less room in your pack than most other types of tinder would for a week’s worth of fires.

My traditional go-to answer for field cooking has been either a MSR Whisperlight 600 Internationale, or the MSR XGK multifuel stoves. I chose those options, many winters ago, because I could find fuel for them anywhere in the world. Even on deployments to the least modern places in the world, I could always find something like kerosene or diesel or aviation fuel to fuel them. The drawback to them both, of course, is that they basically sound like a jet engine in use. Unless you’re sitting in a Mission Support Site (MSS—think Objective Rally Point for a surveillance mission), at 9000 feet above sea level, somewhere in the Hindu Kush, with 90mph winds blowing, to mask the roar, you’re not being very “tactical” when you’re cooking with either stove type.

For SERE of course, we’ve long taught the use of the Dakota Fire Hole, when a cooking or heating fire is necessary, and that is certainly an option, if time is not a major factor. For my money however, given the context we’re talking about—bugging out in a grid-down system in a mostly inhabited region—the way to go is a simple twig fire stove. There’s a pile of them out there (and I don’t even remember who made mine) that collapse down into a flat package about 6×6 inches, and they all work basically the same, and they all work off burning small twigs, so you’re not spending a lot of time gathering a pile of firewood. I can heat a cup of water to boiling in about two minutes when I get mine going full bore.

Fire of course, has a pretty noticeable visual signature, between the light created, and the smoke, but these stoves do a good job of minimizing both. By using small twigs, they get hot enough, fast enough, that they really don’t produce much smoke, if any, and between the body of the stove, and the fact that you’re building a really, really small fire, the light signature is almost nonexistent to the naked eye. In the dark it WILL be visible if someone is looking, but that can be countered by using it inside a structure of some sort (remember earlier, when we were talking about the number of uninhabited/abandoned buildings around…?). Best of all, if you don’t want to pony up the money for it, or you need to replace it, you can use a large metal can to do exactly that, although it won’t be collapsible and flat-packed, unless you bust out the tin snips and put more effort into it than it is probably worth.

Finally, you need something to cook the rice/oats in. I’ve carried a one-quart stainless MSR pot for years, and I’ve carried a couple of stainless nesting cups that fit the bottom of my 1-quart water bottles, much like a canteen cup. I’ve liked the ability to cook a quart of food (which usually overstuffs me anyway), AND brew a mug of tea or hot cocoa at the same time. But…in this context, I’m looking at getting home in a hurry, not having a leisurely meal every day, along the way. So, I dumped the MSR pot, and one of the mugs. I have done training courses where all I had for cooking was the cup, and it was not particularly limiting. A small handful of rice, a couple pieces of jerky cut up into the rice, fill the cup with water, and set it in the coils. In ten or fifteen minutes, you’ve got a meat-and-rice dish that tastes good enough, and is reasonably filling, with enough calories to keep you warm overnight, even in the snow country.

Again, if the cup is lost or damaged, or you simply decide you need an extra? Grab a small vegetable can out of the trash heap, fire cleanse it, and put it into service. When you’re done? Toss it back on the trash heap. Now, you’ve not only made use of it, but you’ve left “no trace” for the tracking element to follow you. How do they determine if YOU used that can in the fire, or if it was just some random homeless dude?

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We get really wrapped around the axle about gear in the preparedness community. I’m as guilty as many people. I’ve relied on “software over hardware,” but I’ve always tried to take advantage of my physical fitness to allow me to leverage more gear to apply that software. When I really started thinking about it though, it occurred to me that I could, in the context of a “Get Home” situation, really dump a significant portion of my gear, and still survive well enough to return hale and hearty.

The more you know, the less you need, but you need to actually KNOW, not just have watched a couple YouTube videos, or read some blog articles.

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19 Comments
  1. I was having a very similar conversation last week. A buddy and I were discussing walking home, and the benefits (or not) of being high profile or low profile. I have a very low profile belt, and the Underground Partisan chest rig. But I’ve also got Mayflower chest rigs and 2 PCs, both MC and “wolf” grey.

    If you have your PC in the rig, would you leave it behind you reduce your profile? Wear it? Carry it in the ruck? Do your options all integrate? In other words, would you choose between the PC and chest rig? Or wear the chest rig over the PC? (I have both options)

    I can’t decide. But I feel like I have 2 separate possible missions, a low profile sneak home, and a high profile gunfight.

    • It’s all METT-TC, dude. How far am I walking? How bad is the situation? How many urban areas do I HAVE to traverse, instead of being able to skirt around and stay out of sight? I’ve got a plate carrier set up as a truck rig, with a fighting load attached, and I have a slick plate carrier, that I can throw a RACK chest rig over. On the other hand, in the South, in summer….I’m gonna be pissed about having to walk any great distance carrying even just the RACK, so adding the PC might be a bad idea…

      For around the farm and mountain stuff, I’ve got a belt kit, with suspenders, and 3-6 mags on it, plus a couple quarts of water, a BOK/IFAK, and a buttpack, for “Oh, shit, I’m not making it back to the house tonight” situations.

    • Ultimately, the low-profile sneak home is THE mission. The high profile gunfight is the “Oh shit!” and as soon as you can, you would want to go back to low-pro….So, if your default is “break contact,” then how much do you need to break contact effectively, given the likely environment, and likely enemy forces situation? Multiply that x2-3, depending on distances involved, and keep one on your Fighting Load, and store the rest in your ruck, as part of your Existence/Sustainment Load.

      • Mick permalink

        Great article. What ruck are you using with the battle belt? Are using a hip belt on the ruck?
        Thanks

  2. anonymous permalink

    This post was awesome – Thank you for writing and posting it. Some reality injected material is needed. We all can’t afford the latest mylar wrapped nitrogen packaged foods and camping materials don’t have to be the latest greatest. Stay out of the wet and cold and feed yourself. Right down to the basics.

    Bugging out is not hunting people, its avoiding others to get to your destination. Its been said in the past and well worth repeating.

    • anonymous permalink

      I’m trying to pare down my BO load. Am considering changing to a folding chair bag to make a civil war blanket roll. Wrapping my poncho or cover around this forces me to reduce my load.. Necessities – onlly the bare necessities.

  3. Diz permalink

    This kind of stuff is holy grail to a lot of “preppers”. They gob on endlessly about their load outs, trying to out-do each other with trick kit. And then they are the gear queers who love to collect all sorts of shit. Mosby’s writings are always a swift kick in the nuts to remind us of what’s really important, and how to accomplish it, without a lot of Gucci gear. I’m just as guilty as anyone else, of falling into this trap, but trying hard to changer my evil ways.

    Yes the hippie types have T,T,Ps to offer; I have often said, the marriage of hippies to produce food with rangers to protect it, would probably be a good marriage of convenience for a lot of folks. Ideally you would want warrior farmers that could do the whole deal, but in this day and age, they are few and far between. Perhaps a few generations removed.

    The trick of analyzing your mil-spec load out and adapting that to your situation; that’s the deal. The trick of analyzing your situation and planning accordingly; that’s even better. Instead of mindlessly copying what the “big boys” are doing, using the templates to plug in actual variables and get your own courses of action. This is the crux of the issue.

    And make no mistake about it, there is a whole tac gear industry that works hard to encourage you to buy their stuff; and a lot of folks seem to think that having the right gear isn’t enough; you have to look cool wearing it. This is a symptom of modern society; style trumps function; image over competence. Breaking out takes effort, and is not popular. Mosby is not subsidized by all these guys for a reason; he is the antithesis to what they’re trying to sell you.

    Pick up any “survival” magazine and see what they are pimping out. Then take a look at what Mosby is using. The sad part is greater than 90% of the folks out there are falling for the marketing; only a small percentage are equipping wisely, not to mention putting in the training to use it.

  4. I think two of the most important tools you can have are knowledge and experience. An increase in knowledge and experience will often lead to a decrease in dependence upon gear.

    When I got out of the Army, I made myself a promise that I would be cold and wet only when I wanted to be cold and wet. Having had the experience of being cold and wet, I learned how to avoid it. Sometimes its nothing more than a trash bag in my pocket.

    When I put my kit together, I try to keep the weight down. I am not as young as I used to be and injuries are rearing their ugly heads. Two luxuries I allow myself are a cap (fleece) and a sleeping pad. Heat escapes the quickest through your head or your butt on cold damp ground.

    Survival is a thinking man’s game. Better to get all your thinking done before you need it. You cannot buy (gear) your way out of a survival situation.

    I enjoy your posts and books. Lot’s of good common sense.

  5. Theron Cooper permalink

    Excellent read. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  6. Dom Giampietro permalink

    Great article; lots of thoughts shared.

    I believe a lot of people put way too much stock (weight, money, time, and space) in sleeping really-good at night, when outside of a secure location.

    Portable water filters are worth every dime.

    Thanks,
    G

    • You cannot put enough emphasis on sleeping well, even in the field. People that don’t get adequate, restful sleep, do stupid shit like read a compass azimuth wrong, for several kilometers…or don’t notice target indicators, and walk into ambushes…or fall asleep when they are pulling security.

      The problem is, people are so used to sleeping on a mattress, they forget that it is possible to sleep soundly, and wake up refreshed and energized, with minimal equipment, out of doors. I sleep better–more soundly, and more restfully–outside, in a hammock, with just a poncho liner wrapped around me, than I do in the house in my bed, most of the time. In winter, if I wrap a 0F bag around me, I sleep even better.

  7. KJE permalink

    Ultra light backpackers have largely switched over to using 1 liter bottles made by the smart water. They are very light, durable, and they mate with the Sawyer mini.

    My get home bag kept at the job is designed to sustain me in one continuous 28 mile walk from work home. A change of shoes, a few pairs of socks, some cliff bars, rain gear, hat, a 12 pack of water and some moleskin. It’s a known route from an urban area to a rural area though, i have my choice of roads and the key consideration is putting on the miles and inconspicuously avoiding or moving through trouble along the route. Unless the communication system is down, if I truly had to abandon the job; I could also reasonably anticipate being able to walk the first 5-10 miles and meeting a ride for the rest of it.

    The get home bag in my car shares a lot more in common with an ultra light backpacker than a bushcraft or patrol ruck. A lot of the builds I see and read trend more towards a bushcraft or patrol or even assault ruck; and in my limited opinion, they wouldn’t do any of those individual functions well. But even that car kit would change If I was out of my two county area for a prolonged period of time.

    It’s a lot easier to make that overland build for myself and my son, or myself and my son and wife 2.0.

    If I had to count in both step daughters, I think we’d be well and truly fucked.

  8. Since you specifically mentioned Steiner 10x binos, I would be interested in the “why Steiner” if you care to share and also like to know what specific model(s) you recommend, as there’s a wide variety of choices cost-wise.

  9. Preppaaja permalink

    A lot of good points. Thanks.

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