Once you’ve established your food supplies and survival kit, the most important thing you can do is to protect it from the elements and Mother Nature’s other surprises. There’s no point in building up the perfect kit to get you through the apocalypse if you risk losing it all in the first bad storm or pest infestation.
Mice are a particularly annoying problem to have to deal with. They can squeeze into the tiniest of spaces and once they’re there, it’s extremely hard to get them to leave.
On top of eating through your well-thought out survival kit, mice can also spread serious diseases such as salmonella and hantavirus. For all of these reasons, your primary strategy should be to keep mice away from your survival site, and food in particular.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Sonic mouse repellents, while quite effective, are unlikely to work in a post-apocalypse situation with limited electricity. The battery operated ones will take up valuable space in your survival kit. A more low-tech option is to get a cat (preferably a good mouser, but the scent of any cat should do a decent job of keeping mice at bay).
Peppermint oil is also a good option – mouse can’t stand the smell of the stuff. Soak some cotton balls in the oil and place it near your food stores and in strategic locations around your survival site. You may end up smelling like a candy cane but it’s a small price to pay for keeping mice away.
The more likely scenario is that a mouse (or five) will cross your path at some point. To prepare for this scenario, it is critical to ensure that all of your gear – food in particular – is well-protected and properly stored. Food should be kept in containers so that mice can’t chew through boxes or other packaging. Plastic is clearly preferable to glass given the weight differential. As discussed in a previous post, coffee cans also make an excellent storage option and they can later be converted into mini stoves if required.
If you are using resealable plastic bags to protect your kit, again food in particular, I highly recommend double-bagging everything. This will ensure that you have a steady supply of plastic baggies for future use, and will significantly reduce the chances of mice smelling your precious food store (they are shockingly good at chewing through a single layer of plastic).
Once you discover that you have mice, thoroughly clean out the contaminated area. This should be done carefully to avoid any potential exposure to hantavirus, which can be spread in mouse urine and droppings. Once you’ve cleaned the area, add some peppermint oil-soaked cotton balls to remove the scent trails and deter the mice from coming back. You should also conduct a through search of the structure for holes, but don’t expect to find them all – mice are able to squeeze through ridiculously tight spaces. As a last resort you may want to invest in mouse/rat poison, although this is not recommended if you expect to have small children or other animals in your survival group.
While it’s not pleasant to think about, prepping for pests will go a long way to improving your survival odds (and it’s a very useful skill for this world as well).
It turns out that one of the most useful survival skills may be hiding in your purse or pocket. Daily Infographic provides a great guide (below) on how to transform pieces and parts of your smartphone into a survival kit. In addition to starting fires and signaling for help, you can also use it to create a substitute knife or primitive hunting materials. Who wouldn’t want to make an arrowhead out of their circuit board?
Ever prepper knows the staples for his or her own post-apocalyptic pantry. Depending on your strategy and taste, this many include freeze-dried meals, canned food, and dried goods amongst other things.
However, some very useful foods may be easily overlooked once you’ve set up your survival plan. Once you’ve selected your staples, it’s easy to focus on gathering the quantity required for your plan, and overlooking other options that could be useful or add variety to your meals.
A few of my favorite survival foods are discussed below. These may not be suitable for all tastes or plans, but I’d encourage you to take the opportunity to double check your pantry and see if you can expand its contents. Your taste buds will thank you.
I’ve recently discovered the brilliant strategy of substituting orzo for rice. While the textures are far from identical, I’ve found orzo to be a suitable substitute in many dishes. As this strategy was born from sheer laziness – orzo takes 9 minutes to cook, as opposed to 20 for rice – it also has the added benefit of being fuel-efficient. If your survival plan includes a lot of rice and beans, consider taking a look at orzo to prevent things from getting to repetitive.
Lentils will allow you to add a huge depth to your survival cooking repertoire. Although they take a while to cook, you can make everything from salads to grain dishes to soups by keeping these in your pantry. They also come with an added nutritional bonus of being high in protein, which could be very helpful if game is difficult to come across (or hunting makes you squeamish).
In addition to adding way more flavor to food than sugar, honey is an incredibly flexible ingredient and can be used in countless dishes. It’s great as a sweetener in baking (i.e. if you have to make your own bread), makes a nice addition to a vinagerette, and adds significant flavor to oatmeal (see oats below).
Even if you don’t plan on using honey for any of these foods, I highly recommend it for its antibacterial properties, which make it a very useful addition to any prepper’s first aid kit.
In my opinion, oats are a highly underrated grain. They cook quickly and are full of fiber, so you can go for a long time on a small amount. They are also incredibly flexible and can be flavored by anything you happen to have on hand. Finally, oats can be used to make everything from bread to muffins to pancakes, which will make your flour store go a lot further.
The apocalypse is going to be stressful enough without having to deal with a lack of my comfort food. I can also get away with claiming this under the “health” category, as dark chocolate is very high in antioxidants. Provided you keep it dry, chocolate is easy to store and should last for quite a while. If you’re not a chocoholic, substitute with your own guilty pleasure.
What’s in your survival pantry?
Now that you’ve prepared your fire materials and your box drill kit you’re ready to make a friction fire.
Begin by setting up your bow drill kit as you did to create the notch in your base plank. Wrap the drill one around with the cord of your bow, ensuring that, when held in place, the string will spin the drill freely. Next, holding the drill so it doesn’t snap out of the bow, position it into the base plank and hold in place using your hand-hold. With your free hand – you can let go of the bow – position your transfer bark underneath the notch you caved in the base plank to catch the ashes you create. Also, make sure your tinder bundle is nearby so you can easily transfer your coal into it. Grip your bow with your dominant hand and prepare to saw the bow back and forth to create friction fire.
Before you begin sawing however, ensure you’re in the optimal position to take advantage of your body strength. Settle into a comfortable lunge position with the leg corresponding to your dominant hand – if you’re right handed, then your right leg – stretched out on the ground behind you. Your other leg should be bent at a sub-90 degree angle with the drill positioned just inside the knee. This position will allow you to use your upper body strength and a good portion of your weight to more easily push down on the drill and thus generate more friction than sawing alone.
Once you’re fairly comfortable begin to saw the bow back and forth in front of your body, spinning the drill in it’s notches. Be sure to use the full length of the bow to maximize efforts. As you get into a rhythm begin to saw faster until you start generating smoke – this is a good sign but it most certainly does not mean you’re there. In order to start a fire your coal needs to be at least 800 degrees and glowing so the trick with this is perseverance – keep sawing long after you “think” you’ve gotten it – cause you haven’t.
Concentrate on sawing long, fast strokes and on watching the coal accumulating on your transfer bark. When you start to see some orange on the bark through the heavy smoke then you’ve done it – you have a coal! For a first-timer this process can take anywhere from just 20 minutes to 3 hours. It took me 2 hours my first time. It just depends on the ease of your technique, how much additional pressure you can put on the drill, and luck. Keep working at it if you don’t get it right away and don’t be afraid to carve new notches in your base board if you bore through it at your original point. This will slow the process, but your perseverance will pay off.
Once you do have a growing, red, ember of a coal quickly set down your bow and drill and carefully use your transfer bark – blowing softly on the coal all the while to feed it – to drop the coal into your nearby tinder bundle. Once in the tinder bundle, continue to blow softly and steadily – no large gusts – onto your coal. The tinder bundle should be in your hands, while you do this with the bulk of the bundle cupped to protect your hands from the heat. While you blow inch toward your fire pit – you’ll want to be close when the tinder bundle ignites.
Steady blowing for a few seconds to a minute should cause your tinder bundle to ignite. When it does, quickly transfer it to the center of your tiny kindling tipi and continue to blow, coaxing the small fire to catch the tiny twigs you’ve set out for it. As the flame licks the twigs, begin to add more layers as discussed previously – first from the piles of smaller sticks, adding larger and larger pieces in a tipi formation as the fire catches.
And that’s it! You made a friction fire!
Hopefully all of us will have prepared enough to have practiced this before we need it and to have multiple ways to create fire on hand at the onset of the apocalypse including a friction fire skill, a handful of lighters, and a flint and steel – the more the merrier. Now go practice. And check out this amazing video tutorial by Alderleaf Wilderness College for more information.
Now that you’ve built your fire and collected sufficient fuel it’s time to actually make fire. Knowing how to make a friction fire is a difficult though life-saving skill and the bow-drill is the easiest.
Set aside the tinder bundle and piece of transfer bark you prepared in the previous step for later – you’ll need both once you get started. Now, find a lightly curved stick – similar in curvature to a bow – that’s roughly 1-2 inches in circumference and the length of your forearm. Make sure the stick is sturdy and made of a hard wood. This will serve as the base of your “bow.” Next find a thick stick, roughly 1 inch in circumference and about 6 inches long. This will be the “drill.”
Next, find two pieces of wood and carve or cut them into roughly the size and shape of a two-by-four. Make one plank out a hard wood such as maple or cherry and the other out of soft, dry wood such as cedar. The hard wood plank will be your hand grip so carve it to a size that fits comfortably in your palm. The soft wood plank is you base and should be 6 to 8 inches long.
The final component is the bow-string. You can use shoelaces if you have them, para-cord, twine, or natural cordage (that’s a post for a different day).
Starting with your bow, tie one end of the string snuggly around each end of the stick you gathered for your bow. The string should be snug, with just enough give to wrap around the girth of the drill. Set your bow aside.
Moving on to the drill, use a knife to remove all bark and smooth it down. Carve each end to a round point – sort of like a double stake and then set aside. Now for the two planks. Beginning with your hand grip, use your knife to pick out a divot in the center of one side of your stick. This will help it to grip.
The base plank is the hard part. Begin by making a divot, similar to that in your grip plank roughly a thumb’s width from the end of the base plank along the length of the board. Now, grab your bow and wrap the string once around the drill – this should be tight and difficult to do. You won’t be able to let go of the drill without it snapping out. Next, place one piked end of the frill into each divot you created,using your least dominant hand to hold the drill upright with the grip-plank. Begin to saw your bow back and forth slowly with your dominant hand.
Your goal is to make the divot in the base plank larger by wearing away the wood. Don’t stop until it’s nearly the circumference of the drill. You may need to stop regularly to re-tie your string if your bow doesn’t have a fork on the end or a notch to help hold the string in place.
Once the hole in your base plank is large enough, set everything except your base plank aside. Using your knife, cut a wedge into the center of your divot that is not quite as wide as the divot itself. Think of the shape of skeleton key hole – the wedge tapers toward the center of the circle. Carve this carefully because, if you make the wedge too large you risk the drill slipping out as you try to build your coal.
This is what your bow-drill kit should look like when you’re finished (including transfer bark):
Now you’re ready to make fire using the bow drill kit you’ve prepared. Look for how-tos, tips and tricks, and a video demonstration in my next post.
Before you get into actually creating fire by friction you need to prepare the materials that will form the base of your fire.
As always, be sure to adhere to fire safety rules by building a fire pit. At your new found home, chose the site where you will be keeping your fire. Now dig it out, removing any vegetation so all that’s left is hard ground. Be sure to clear an area roughly twice the size of your intended fire pit. Now, go collect a bunch of rocks roughly the size of your fist – you’ll be using these to line the edge of your fire pit. Once you have enough rocks to fully enclose your fire pit it’s time to move on to fire building materials.
To start a fiction fire you’re actually going to need a lot of fire-catching materials. Let’s start with the very basics – a coal catcher and tinder bundle. A coal catcher is a piece of bark that you’ll use to transfer the coal you produce into your tinder bundle. The bark needs to be sufficiently thick and sturdy to hold and move a coal. I typically recommend cedar or a similarly textured evergreen bark.
A tinder bundle is a little more complicated. You want to create a nest, roughly the size of your fist and the density of a hefty knot in your hair (girls, you know what I mean). The bundle should be made of ultra thin, soft, and puffy fibers – cedar again is one of the best materials for this. Strip a piece of cedar bark from a tree and flip it so what was the under side is facing up. Use your knife – please tell me you have a knife – to scrape at the underside of the bark, fluffing up fibers. Begin balling these together as you work to make a nice round nest. Once you have enough material literally shape it like a nest – with a little divot in the center where you could place a small egg – this is where you’ll be putting your coal once it’s produced.
Next you need to build the actual fire. Consider the shape of a typical flame – fatter near the source of energy – the log – and thinner as it reaches up, eventually tapering off. You should build your fire structure with this shape in mind. Begin by gathering a bunch of wood that you’ll be able to hew into different sizes. Ensure it is relatively dry – the drier the better – and that it’s not such a hard wood it will be hard to work with (no maple). First create and set aside little sticks of kindling that are roughly the length and width of your longest finger and only a few millimeters thick. You can usually break these off of dry down logs with your hands. You’ll need roughly 10 such pieces to get your fire started.
Next, prepare and set a second pile of sticks, these one incrementally larger in every direction. Do this three more times for a total of five piles – each larger than the last until your prepared wood in the final pile is roughly the size of a standard fire log – as long as your fore-arm and you should be able to fit your hands around it.
Starting with the first pile, take half of your smallest kindling and build an upright tipi – remember, bigger at the bottom, tapering toward the top – just like fire itself. Then, using a few pieces of kindling from the second pile add to the pyramid, making it larger but being sure to leave a sizable gap so you can squeeze the tinder bundle in once it’s alight. Think of this as the door to your tipi.
Once you actually get a coal and light the tinder bundle you’ll need to be able to get low to the ground so you can blow on the fire, making sure it has the oxygen it needs to catch the tipi so I recommend moving a few of the stones – on the same side of the fire pit as the door – while you’re working. Once you have fire (which I’ll cover in the next post) you just want to keep adding layers to your tipi, using all of each pile from smallest to largest until all you’re adding to the tipi is standard-sized logs. You’ll want to do this slowly so as not to knock over the pyramid and inadvertently smother the fire.
Even just the process of preparing the materials for your first fire in the wild can take a couple of hours however, if you’re good at banking your fire this may be the first and last time you have to go through the full fire starting process.
Yes, it’s the long awaited return of how to survive the apocalypse using materials that are probably lying around your house right now.
First up: vinegar.
Vinegar has a seemingly endless amount of uses, from cleaning and pickling, down to being a science fair volcano ingredient. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
- Cleaning. The standard white vinegar you can buy in the supermarket kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of germs. It’s also safe enough to spray on pretty much any surface, and won’t harm any mini-preppers in your family.
- Laundry. Vinegar is fantastic for removing stains and freshening up a load once the Tide has run out.
- Keeping the bugs away. Place a small bowl of apple cider and a few drops of soap in your food storage area to draw out any bugs that may be hiding there.
I could write an entire post on vinegar and still not cover all of its amazing uses. Thankfully Reader’s Digest has been kind enough to document 150 ways to use vinegar here.
Everyone knows you can’t have vinegar without baking soda. Almost as versatile as vinegar, baking soda can be used as a body scrub, toothpaste, deodorant, and various cleaning purposes. Baking soda is also a useful addition to your first aid kit, as it can be used to sooth skin irritated by rashes, bug bites, and poison ivy.
My personal favorite use – which is particularly appropriate for preppers with a large stash of legumes – is adding baking soda to the water for soaking dried beans. This will help your beans cook better and allow your body to digest them more easily.
Our last item of the day is a coffee can. Here I’m referring to the super-family-sized cans that you can buy at Costco. These are great for storing any kind of food and are perfect for organizing your post-apocalyptic pantry, as they will keep your food dry and are easy to stack.
Once you’ve emptied out a can, you can turn in into a small, portable stove that is particularly useful for bugging out. First, cut a small piece out of the side of the top of the can. This will allow oxygen to feed your fire. Make a small fire, place the can over it, and use the top surface to cook your food. Alternatively, if you have a pot that will sit on the can, you can cut the bottom out and settle your pot directly on the flames as pictured above. Both of these methods will provide you with an efficient stove that is easy to construct (I made my first one as a girl scout!).
If you have any other ideas for using everyday household items in the apocalypse, leave a comment below.