Sunday, January 27, 2008

4th Annual Winter BoB Exercise

Notional Scenario: An event has occurred forcing you to depart your perfect survival retreat and bug out to an alternate location hundreds of miles away. Enroute, your vehicle becomes inoperable – you must abandon it and the bulk of your supplies forever and continue onwards to your destination on foot with just the equipment you can carry.

And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. Mark 13:18


The Drill
Well the Fourth Annual Winter BoB Exercise was a great success. Some of the crew got together again this year to venture forth into the wilderness to test our gear and ourselves in a “winter environment” and to teach, learn, and practice a variety of skills. We do this every year around this time and we hope for coldest weather possible. For people from the Deep South it was cold. For folks in the Northern Tier it was just nice. Temperatures started out in the mid-twenties and fell to the teens the first day/night and then slightly warmed each following day. The folks who attended last year much preferred this year’s weather – no rain!

The Start
The adventure started out at oh-dark-thirty when part of the group conducted link up procedures in a cold, dark, lonely parking lot after which they convoyed several hours to a secondary link up sight where the rest of this year’s crew joined the party. We got to practice route planning, inter-vehicle communications, map reading and all of the stuff that goes with trying to move several vehicles down the road in some semblance of order. Whenever we stopped along the way we would maximize the opportunity to top off gas, get drinks/food, visit the restrooms and then get back on the road quickly.

Like a well oiled machine, several hours after starting out the entire crew linked up at the secondary location within a five minute window – this was pretty good considering we had folks coming from four different locations and many hundreds of miles apart. We then convoyed to the drop off point for the weekend. We parked our cars; some changed out of traveling clothing into more “woods friendly attire”, then grabbed our BoBs and started hiking through the moderately difficult terrain. Some learned two valuable lessons in the first fifteen minutes: Their BoBs were too heavy and they were wearing too much clothing.

The Lessons
I’ve seen folks with BoBs that were too heavy many times over the years. Heck, MY BoB feels too heavy to me at times. Adventures like this bring you out the living room and smack dab into reality. All of a sudden those really cool “must-have” high speed items of gear don’t seem so cool any more. You start thinking things like, “do I really need this whatchamacallit in my BoB?” The cool thing is, an exercise like this is where one can learn this lesson fairly painlessly.

When we started our hike it was around 25 degrees. Some were wearing two layers of long underwear, sweaters and the like. I told folks they might want to start out chilly but this is another one of those lessons one has to learn on one’s own. About 15 minutes into the hike we stopped so folks could remove layers. You don’t want to get sweaty in a cold environment.

The Basecamp
We moved into an area with plenty of firewood and good shelter areas. Many built lean-tos with tarps and incorporated stone reflectors for their individual camp fires. Most also built deep leaf beds under their sleeping pads. This combination is a good arrangement and makes a world of difference when trying to stay warm with minimal gear. We built a large group campfire up against a rock cliff and the heat that bounced off that rock and the large rocks in the area helped to create something of micro climate where we could sit around and be significantly warmer that just a few feet out into the dark woods.

The Activities
During the few days we spent in the timber we set traps for raccoon, fired a variety of weapons, hunted (unsuccessfully) coyotes, did land navigation, practiced general camp living and demonstrated and exchanged information about a variety of gear. We also solved all of the world’s problems around campfires at night. Talk ranged from the upcoming election to politics in general, to various aspects of Christianity, to survivalism, to UFOs, to gear, to wives and kids, to “ropes”, to dogs to…. You get the idea.

The Challenge
It was wonderful getting together with others of like mind, exchanging ideas, joking, discussing and just “getting away from it all.” The stated purpose of the National Winter BoB Exercise is to test our gear in a cold weather environment. We did that. We now know how our gear works, how it doesn’t, how to make ourselves more comfortable in the winter woods and we are just generally all the more comfortable with the equipment we carry. I encourage each and every one of you to join us next year for the Fifth Annual Winter BoB Exercise. The rules are simple – take your BoB and go camping around this time of year. You can only use what you can carry. Of course, you can have “extra stuff” in your vehicle – but using it should not feel good – it means you didn’t plan properly. That’s okay – learn from the mistake and resolve to do better next time.

And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. Revelation 12:6

See you out there.
If you have any comments I’d love to hear them.
If they really interest me, I may even post them.
You can reach me at

Prepared Americans for a Strong America

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

“We’ve got no power, Captain”

I can hear the Scottish lilt of Start Trek’s Scotty ringing in my ears. He could have been talking to me a couple weeks ago. Due to bad weather, bad tree trimming and a general lack of preventative maintenance at the County level – people in my area went without electrical power for several days. During this time the temperatures got down into the teens some nights and rarely rose above freezing during the day. At my house we lost power on a Tuesday morning and it did not come back on until Friday night. All in all, my family weathered the storm in a fine manner.

I thought I might describe our experiences to you, share some things we learned, and discuss some ideas we came up with based on the event.

Thanks to modern weather science (and the fact that we were paying attention) we suspected that this might happen and we readied a bunch of firewood for our wood stove. The stove is a small one with just an 18” firebox that a friend traded me for a box of .45 Long Colt shells (yeah, he gave it to me). It does a pretty good job of heating the house. Our firewood is in an untidy pile at the end of our driveway, uncovered and exposed to the elements. My wife spent a few days in advance of the storm splitting logs with a maul, wedges and sledge hammer. We have his and hers sledge hammers – mine is an eight pounder and hers weighs six. She considers this task her Crossfit workout for the day. She brought some wood into the house and covered more with tarps. It alternately snowed and iced over the next few days and it was good the wood was covered.

My wife and I were out when the power dumped and the kids called us to tell us the news and inform us they were firing up the wood stove. All of our house phones but one are cordless and require electricity to run. We have one old fashioned dial phone that we kept for just such emergencies – this is the one they used. We live so far out in the boonies that we don’t get cell phone service at home – but we all have cell phones to use when running around and that is what we answered when the kids called.

We have some bricks sitting around the house (we used them to raise a bed up a few inches one time) and we set those on top of the wood stove for more of a heat sink mass. The wood stove, like most others, is lined with fire bricks but the ones we set on top got hot and remained so for most of the night when we let the fire die down. We could have used them to warm the beds had that been necessary.

Going to bed early saved firewood as we didn’t need to heat the house as much. We have lots of quilts for the beds and we have sleeping bags as well – but we didn’t need them. The coldest it got in our house was 48 degrees one morning. A quick fire in the stove fixed that. The house was warm enough but not as warm as normal – we all wore long underwear and did just fine.

We returned home to find the kids had made soup and were attempting to grill cheese sandwiches on the wood stove. It wasn’t working real well. So I went out to the garage and got the Coleman gas stove. I like it – it is a two burner deal that takes “White Gas” or unleaded fuel and is uncomplicated. This is what we used to cook on for the next few days. We just set it on top of the electric range. I didn’t worry about carbon monoxide build up as we have several dogs that constantly go in and out – open and closing doors, fresh (cold) air in, stale air out.

We have a lot of windows and during the day light was not a problem. I have a bunch of oil lamps and a good bit of lamp oil and extra wicks. The problem is I could only find one lamp. We also have one battery powered fluorescent lamp that throws a lot of light. Additionally everyone has a flashlight next to their bed and we have a couple LED headlamps. These are the bomb – the put light right where you need it, allow free use of hands and are great for reading books. We also have a lot of candles that we set out – being very careful about fire. The fact was though, that when it got dark – it was DARK. We went to bed early most nights. My “neighbor” down the way has a generator. I think I may get one. If I do, you’ll read about it.

Getting around the area required 4WD – we were glad we had it. We were also glad we had some spare money to go out and eat a couple nights. It was a welcome respite to drive to an area that had electricity and sit down to a meal in a warmer, well-lit area. I have two friends with Pioneer Maid wood burning kitchen stoves. One of them is also on solar power – he doesn’t even notice when “the power goes out.” Something to think about.

We have a propane hot water heater and being able to take warm baths was really nice. I have friends with electric hot water heaters that were not so fortunate. We didn’t know it at the time but we have since told them if they need to, they can come to our house next time to bathe their kids and what not. We did contact two families that had no woodstoves and invite them over to “camp in our living room” but they soldiered on.

Final thoughts
Some areas that need work or things we are considering include:
Our wood stove is on the small side and not suitable for cooking.
I need to build a wood shed that keeps the firewood organized and out of the weather.
We should gather our wood and split it early (like in the summer)
A gas range would be nice – so would a generator.
We will find or buy more oil lamps and replace the oil we used (not too much). I will buy a couple more of those battery powered fluorescent lanterns also.
I may buy a couple 20 pound propane bottles and a “tree” with some heater and lamp attachments.

If you have any comments I’d love to hear them.
If they really interest me, I may even post them.
You can reach me at

Prepared Americans for a Strong America