I've had a lot to say in the past about preparing for emergencies (see the sidebar). With the rapidly deteriorating situation in the USA (economy in tatters, a mass invasion by illegal aliens aided and abetted by the present administration, surging crime figures, food shortages, etc.), I've been paying more attention to what is needful, and also answering questions from some of my correspondents. I thought you might like to hear about some of the topics of recent discussion.
First, emergency lighting. We've spoken about the advantages (huge!) of modern LED lights, be they flashlights, headlamps or small lanterns. I can't recommend too highly that you stock up a few of each, along with batteries for them. However, in the event of a genuine grid-down emergency or supply shortage, batteries are going to be few and far between. I suggest working out how many batteries of each size (AA, AAA, C or D cells, etc.) you need to fill every one of your battery-powered appliances, then multiply that by 10 to arrive at a minimum - I stress, MINIMUM - reserve supply for them. Bear in mind, too, that many batteries are now made in China to far lower quality levels than was the case in the past. (Example: Duracell batteries are now not reliable to store for more than one to two years at most. I find I have to toss all my reserve Duracell packs after that time, because they're oxidizing and their filling is oozing out all over the place.) Try to find reliable batteries that will last in medium- to long-term storage. Even those I'd replace after 5 years, just on principle.
Some point out that rechargeable batteries are more economical overall. I agree - but how are you going to charge them? If the power is out, you'll have to rely on generators and/or solar chargers; and fuel for the generators is likely to be expensive and/or in short supply. I have a few rechargeables (Eneloop is the only brand I trust for long-term reliability at this point), and would like more, but we're on a tight budget (as I'm sure are many of my readers). What's nice may not be what's affordable.
That brings us to a very economical emergency lighting alternative for domestic and camping use: candles. Be very cautious about what you buy here. Many of the emergency candles offered online are made of cheap paraffin wax, and won't burn for more than 5-6 hours. You can get tea lights for much less per item, that last just as long if not longer. Here's an example.
48 household candles, 6 hour burn time: $27.60 ($0.58 per candle).
200 tea lights, 8 hour burn time: $29.52 ($0.15 per tea light).
So, for the price of one candle burning for 6 hours, you can buy 4 tea lights that will burn collectively for 32 hours. Quite a difference in cost per light, no? Candle holders for tea lights are relatively cheap (I've bought some of these), certainly much cheaper than an equivalent number of candlesticks. You can stand them on tables, mantlepieces, etc. and get just as much use out of them as you would out of a larger candle. They also make great fire lighters: simply save them once they burn down to about half an hour's life left, then light one or two in the fireplace and cover with kindling and wood. It'll burn up a treat, even if your kindling and/or wood isn't completely dry (just reasonably so).
One area where bigger candles really are useful is in windproof camping lanterns. One caution here: candles made of paraffin wax tend to melt it all over the place, making a mess and sometimes causing difficulty in putting in a new candle. It's hard to scrape that stuff out of confined spaces. I have a couple of these candle lanterns, and I spent extra to get their beeswax candles rather than the cheaper paraffin wax ones. Much less mess, much less fuss, and easy to stand somewhere or hang from a support; and I can carry them around outside if necessary without the wind blowing them out. They also make a three-candle version that can take the edge off really cold temperatures in a tent or shed or small room.
(A lot of people aren't happy about the fire risk that comes with using open flames. Yes, there is that risk. It's real, and it can kill you. On the other hand, there may be no alternative. One just has to exercise due care and attention, and not get careless. That's the way it is.)
(Oh - and don't forget to lay in a supply of matches!)
Next, cutting and chopping gear. I've spoken before about how the machete is ubiquitous in Africa, far more common than the axe or hatchet. In North America, it's often the other way around, with axes and hatchets (and, to a certain extent, tomahawks) preferred by many. There are also so-called "camp knives", 10" to 12" long, fairly heavy in the blade, able to cut small twigs and branches or be batoned through larger ones. A number of correspondents have been discussing this with me. They can't decide which tool is best as a "one-size-fits-all" solution. Frankly, neither can I.
My own experience is heavily in favor of machetes - but not the light, flimsy variety you see offered at gardening stores or Harbor Freight. I'm used to the heavier-duty African variety, which weigh as much as an axe, and are made from much thicker, stronger metal (as we've discussed in these pages before). I find them every bit as useful as a small camping hatchet for preparing firewood. Therefore, if I want to carry an axe, I'll generally go for a larger one, something like a felling axe or a carpenter's axe. I find most tomahawks are too light and flimsy for sustained use to chop wood or perform other camping duties, and many are over-priced for what you get. Still, some are stronger than others, and therefore may stand up to the beating an axe has to take. So far, the only one I've liked enough to buy is Cold Steel's Recon Hawk, which has been well received by customers. I've added some hockey tape and silicone grip tape to the handle, to make it more user-friendly. I'm still experimenting with it, but so far, so good.
As for the so-called "camp knives", they tend to be neither fish nor fowl. They're mostly too big to be used to skin game or prepare food, but too small to serve as a really useful machete. As for those who insist they'll be great for self-defense . . . guys, think twice about that. Few if any such knives have cross-guards or quillons to protect your hand against an enemy's blade as you parry it. If you stop his knife from reaching your body, but its blade slides down yours and amputates a couple of your fingers, you haven't achieved much, have you?
That said, there are some pretty useful camp blades out there. I own and/or have tested the following, and can thus recommend them from personal experience. (There are, of course, many others that may be just as good or better; YMMV.)
Kershaw 10" camp knife ($55)
Ontario bowie knife ($52)
Flissa bolo machete ($30)
Ka-Bar kukri machete ($76)
Any or all of the above will serve you well. If you're on a tight budget, the Flissa bolo machete is outstanding value for money, IMHO. The Ka-Bar is good, but I think over-priced; they're trading on their brand name.
I hope some of this discussion has been useful for you. I'll bring up the topic again in future posts.