Tuesday, June 6, 2023

A few more thoughts on emergency preparedness


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)

CRKT Chanceinhell machete ($48)

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.



Anonymous said...

I saw a note from Rawles at SurvivalBlog that Iron Edison, one of the battery manufacturers and light and power generation systems, will soon be closing its doors for good.

For machetes, the Central American manufacturers Tramontina and Gavilon furnish inexpensive but good quality machetes for not much $$$. I would recommend Cold Steel as well, but it has been a while since I purchased one of their machetes and I don't know if they are still the bargain they used to be.

For hatchets and small axes, the nearly all steel Estwing are very good, and when found at garage sales are often priced a quarter of what they bring in a store. No handle to break.

Thank you for writing this topic Bayou Renaissance - it is definitely relevant. The clock is ticking and preparing for what may happens is paramount.

Anonymous said...

Non-rechargeble batteries all self discharge while being stored. You can reduce this dramatically by keeping the batteries in your fridge (but not in the freezer!). The 9 volt batteries are the worst in this regard but all batteries benefit by keeping them cool while stored.


Maniac said...

Portable non-electric cooking is essential too in case the Ruskies knock out the power.

I have emergency food stored up for my Dad and I, but it'll be useless without NEC.

Eaton Rapids Joe said...

I like the Ontario Knife Company machetes (https://www.forestry-suppliers.com/p/33613/17602/ontario-military-issue-machetes-hand-guard?utm_medium=cpc&key=BS2&msclkid=9dc3d8abd98817a81b53bcd4c1abd056&utm_source=bing&utm_campaign=LMG_New%2520Products_2023&utm_term=4585581971424634&utm_content=Ad%2520group%2520%25231) as a sturdy, easy to use tool.

Ontario also makes a line of carbon-steel (SAE 1095) kitchen knives which can sometimes be purchased in wholesale lots on eBay.

With regard to lights, there is a multitude of oil-lamps available. Some are solely ornamental. Others are useful. Some claim to repel mosquitoes when citranella oils is burned in them. YMWV

Anonymous said...

1. Investigate now how to supply essential electrics by lead/acid batteries using converters....crocodile clips and car cigarette lighter-usb gadgets are wonderful.
2. Forget the parrying nonsense. Your block should be an attack, so your beloved edc knife should be capable of both penetrating a ribcage under winter clothing more than once, and slashing an attacker's arm to the bone from wrist to earlobe. Investigate traditional cold steel tools and methods.

Stefan v.

Anonymous said...

We really like Bluecorn Beeswax for candles and Feuerhand kerosene lanterns. Anything with a flame will be dangerous. Kerosene is rarely available in the summer but big box stores have in quantity for construction heaters in the winter.
Another fueled lantern is the good old Coleman; hard to beat but hard to find the classic one unless at a garage sale. Parts are still available and extra mantle are a must.
Boat Guy

coyoteken48 said...

A couple of good Deitz lanterns for outside use and the 3/4" or round wick oil lamps for inside are far better and more reliable and will last longer than you are the best choice. Get kerosene, or if unavailable, No. 1 fuel oil in bulk, a 250 gallon tank is a good start. You can also burn it in heaters that are cheap and readily available. DO NOT use lamp oil with paraffin. Forget candles they are worthless. ---ken

Jennifer said...

Yes, Peter, we need to be doing everything we can to prepare for what's coming.

As far as candles go, there are ways to make them last longer.

First off, the rate of candle burn depends largely on the type of wax involved.

Paraffin, which is obtained from petroleum or mineral oil, is cheapest and burns the fastest.

Soy- or vegetable oil-based candles come next.

Beeswax candles are the most expensive and longest-lasting, with about double the burn time of paraffin. (Some sources claim a much longer burn time.) However, beeswax averages about 10 times the cost of paraffin. (Note that there is little regulation when it comes to listing candle ingredients. A candle can be called a “beeswax” candle when it contains barely any beeswax at all. If using beeswax is important to you, look for candles labeled 100% pure beeswax.)

No-brainer tip for making candles last longer:

Keep candles out of drafts. A draft is going to make that candle flicker against the sides and burn wax much more quickly.

Commonly known tip: Freezing candles. Unfortunately, this is not a one-and-done kind of thing. You can’t freeze the candles, pull them out of the freezer and pack them away in storage, and expect that they will burn longer. The candle has to be recently (as in, within the last hour or so) removed from the freezer to burn longer. Tapers only need to be in the freezer for an hour or so to double their burn time; pillars and jarred candles need 8-24 hours, depending on size. Unfortunately, most of us do not have excess room in the freezer for storing candles. We really need that space for food. But in colder climate areas, keeping a few candles outside during the winter may do the job handily.

Less-commonly known tips:

Trim the wick. The ideal wick length is from 1/8 to 1/4”. Longer wicks burn more wax and create smoke and soot. They’re also a bit more hazardous.

Prevent tunneling (where the candle burns down without melting the sides and thus wasting that wax). For the first burn of a new candle, keep it lit for 2-3 hours initially, or whatever time it takes for the top layer of wax to burn all the way across the diameter of the candle. Subsequent burns should last 3-4 hours. No candle should be allowed to burn longer than 4 hours at a time. (Candles that burn longer apparently increase the risk of fire as the wax and scent oils reach their flash point. Not sure I believe that, but that’s what most sources—all unscientific—say.)

Add 1/16 to 1/4 teaspoon salt, depending on the diameter of the candle, to the melted wax, mixing it in carefully with a toothpick. Do this following each burn of the candle, before the wax hardens.

A couple of other candle tips:

Be sure to store non-paraffin candles securely. Mice and other rodents will eat plant and animal-based candles.

Round candles are the most efficient because the edges are all the same distance from the wick; the wax melts evenly and there is no waste.

Taken from the Prep School Daily blog, link on the right.

tsquared said...

Matches are a good backup. I have a box of strike anywhere matches that has had the tips dipped in hot wax. This seals the match head making it water resistant.

I keep a small butane torch and a refill canister in my prep supplies. That is my primary source of fire.

Anonymous said...

Just adding there is also a tea light lantern (so you can use that sweet deal on the bulk tea lights).

Since my url skills are lacking.. the Amazon SKU is B08WDB3N94

ChrisJ said...

Another vote for kerosene lanterns here. I have something like 12-14 of them... Running some quick numbers using $5/gal. kerosene, a Dietz #8 Air Pilot will run 27 hours on 31 oz. of fuel. That comes out to about 4.6 cents per hour of burn. far more than the tea lights, but the Air Pilot will yield 14 candle power and quite a bit of heat, if heat is needed.

I'm a fan of Tramontina, Imacasa and Bellotto machetes. Like you, I favor machetes over hatchets. I find them far more flexible in terms of how they can be used. Bellotto "Cocoa" machetes run about 20% thicker than others, IF you can find them.

I don't have experience with the other camp knives you listed, but I do have the Kershaw. I love the design, but the steel on my example is a bit too soft. I've had the edge roll while chopping cottonwood limbs. I returned it to Kershaw for inspection, noting the problem, and received it back, sharpened. I still have the same issue with it.

Matches are great, lighters and butane torches are better. ;o)

Sherm said...

One under appreciated source of light are solar landscape lights. Put them out during the day, bring them in at night. Brighter than a candle. You just need to have something to hold them indoors.

Beans said...

Second on the Estwing hatchets and small axes. Don't forget a pickaxe for trenching/digging, along with a good shovel (with preferably a non-wooden handle, go with fiberglass.)

As to lights, also second on the use of oil lamps. Burn kerosene and the fuel will last pretty much forever. You can find wall-hanging oil lamps or table lamps at garage sales and old school hardware stores, or off the interwebs. Lehmans is a good supplier.

You can also still find Coleman kerosene/white gas lamps. Still worth it, easy to use any high-octane fuel, provides a lot of heat and light for the value. Easy to use. Easy to recondition if found used. Keep a couple packs of mantles and a can or two of the fuel (and a fuel filter funnel) and you're set for a week or two of very bright light. Double good is you can find small stoves that still burn white gas.

And... propane. A good propane light can last for a long time. Either using the small cylinders (which can be refilled with the proper equipment) or using some sort of hose hookup from a larger propane tank. Also useful for cooking, of course. I recommend for cooking getting a decent heavy duty propane cook-top. And make yourself a wind screen (4x8 sheet of plywood, cut 2 2x4 sections, 4 hinges, hook the 2x4 sections onto either side of the 4x4 section with the hinges.) as nothing robs the efficiency of a camp stove like wind.)

For better use of the gas lanterns, get an aluminum pie or pizza pan and fit it over the top to redirect more light down. Have some sort of hook from the ceiling to hang it from, with a short section of chain to adjust the height. Lanterns like this can also be used for night fishing, hang them over water and fish will come.

Good points/bad points about oil and gas lamps is they produce a lot of heat. A decent Coleman gas or propane lamp can heat a 10x10 room quite well while providing lots of light. And it's a dry heat, too, so very nice when wet and cold. By the way, most old-order Amish use propane lamps in their houses, just saying. Amish are the epitomy of preppers. Now combine Amish with the Mormon 'must have 1 year's food supply' and some guns and you're set...

And... don't forget your wood stove or fireplace as a source of cooking and illumination or heat. You can get a good fireplace cooking set at a good 'old-time' camping supplier, like... Lehmans.

Of course, anything not electric requires more care and maintenance than a plug-in lamp. But it's always good to have multiple levels of preps.

tweell said...

I'm a fan of lithium powered LED headlamps. The price has come down considerably since they came out, hands free is always a good thing, and so far I haven't had any issues with them. LHKNL at Amazon sells two-packs for $20.
For charging when the power is out, I have a backpacking 21w solar panel and a 10Ah lithium battery. If more charging is needed, I have a Jackery 240w along with a 60w solar panel for it.
Yeah, I have spent a bit of money for lighting, but it's better than finding that the Duracells in your Maglite have puked (again) and it's one solid mass of corrosion.

Anonymous said...

On that note, we have several of these around:


Lightweight (like a few ounces), deflate to about 1/2" thick, and a full charge will last a couple nights. Provides a surprising amount of light. Thought it was stupid as hell when my wife got in on the kickstarter, used it once camping and have bought three more since then. Only downside was I had to admit my wife was right lol

Well that, and the larger models start getting a bit spendy. Upside is the larger ones can charge via USB as well as solar if you have power (or are bugging out in a vehicle)

Leave them on a windowsill or on a car dash to charge and you're good to go. Can have them charging on top of your pack in a on-foot bug out situation as well.

RHT447 said...

An affordable field knife. I only picked this listing because it shows the included sheath.


Anonymous said...

I also have a couple of solar rechargeable camping lanterns. No heat, but recharge almost anywhere and give light for a lengthy amount of time. We use them when the power goes out from time to time.
Southern NH

Hightecrebel said...

I've been buying assorted different solar lighting, including the solar 'patio' lighting that hangs like a chandelier. It's not going to replace a few 100w-equivalent outdoor bulbs, but it's comparable to a soft 60w bulb, and I've used it inside a few times when the power went out to light up the living room or the kitchen table. Honestly a cheap solar set up is almost mandatory up here in rural Maine (seriously, a 100w folding panel, pwm charge controller, 300w inverter, a deep cycle lead-acid battery, small power strip, and a few drop lights with cheap LED bulbs has lighting covered for a good three days of little to no sun, and recharges pretty quick once there is).

Will said...

Avoid Duracell like the plague. They are absolute trash, and have been for a decade now. They puke their guts very randomly time-wise. Unless you have lots of disposable flashlites and other electronic items you don't care about, and their use is not critical, don't waste your resources.

BobF said...

Batteries: I also prefer Eneloop for their as-advertised ratings and their long life. Long life is becoming more and more common, however, and I have found that EBL brand batteries are suitable, also. My entire supply is a mix of the two brands. I have read comments that EBL were not up to their ratings, but my charger has said otherwise on every one I have bought.

Candles: If you have some old CDs or DVDs gathering dust, wipe them off and use them as excellent mirrors to spread and/or direct the light of candles or LED lamps. Above. below, or beside, 2 with edges cut flat and glued at an angle or 90 degrees -- however you place them they work well and are free. No reason you can't watch/listen, either, as long as you don't let wax drip onto them. They don't HAVE to be old.

Natural gas: Ever since I read the article about our natural gas distribution system stupidly relying on ELECTRICAL power, my assumption of availability has changed. I have just last week completed my ability to replace our natural gas in an emergency. No reliance on propane, either, though I have some. I have a good supply of hardwood pellets broken down into 5# mylar bags and vacuum packed for long term storage. Intention is hot water and cooking; in Central Florida winter heating is a minor issue for us. One of the few things I store in the attic here, too.

Machetes: I agree, excellent multi-functional tools. I have two that actually were used in the Louisiana cane fields back in the 1950s, actually. Both hold an edge vey well. A caution, however, in that the long one tires me quickly as it is a heavy tool best used with arms AND torso; advantage is that it will dissect almost anything it strikes. Those cane field workers were a VERY hardy bunch! The shorter more squarish one has less swinging leverage, but I can use it a lot longer. Something to consider if buying one for the first time.

RSR said...

Ukraine BPS are really nice budget knives for what you get. Schrade chinesium are also pretty decent and often available in stainless. Not much more than non-sale scrade are Czech mikov though. But yeah, of consumer chinesium, cold Steel, kershaw, Schrade, and crkt are probably the best i'm aware of and in that order.

I agree on duracell -- at this point, when I account for value of what alkaline (primarily duracell) has ruined, it's far cheaper to go eneloop, even though their prices have significantly increased in recent years (and beware fakes).
Costco's Kirkland batteries are cheaper than duracell and with minimal leaks, relatively.
Try to only use alkaline in disposable items these days though.

Streamlight Enduro pro is my current favorite headlamp. Weak point is the hinge. Main thing with headlamps is to ensure that light doesn't cast down on your nose/brow. Energizers are terrible on that front.

Aluminum foil is also a great light reflector and framed mirrors as wall decorations also help to move/bounce light.

Landscape lights -- dissassemble and figure out battery type and buy extra. Cheapest possible batteries are their weakness, that and fire ants.

Beware of steel or fiberglass handles on striking instruments. Cut down a tree with wood or those side by side. Night and day, especially if you have persistent injuries to your arms/arm joints.
Cutting through in one strike vs into repeatedly also makes a difference.

Harbinger62 said...

I've gone to enloop batteries for everything except 9V and coin batteries. Mostly it's to keep from ruining electronics with leaking once use batteries like duracell. I have a few of the AA to C and AA to D conversion shells that come with some of the enloop packs. They work well so I can still use the LED D and C cell maglight flashlights.

The illuminated scope for the AR-15s is a vortex prism scope. The markings are still visible even when the illumination is not on. With illumination I have much more rapid target acquisition but if I have no battery power I can still get on target.

Anonymous said...

Get some brass candle followers like they use at Mass.

These are heavy brass collars (which don't conduct heat) that will let the candle wax melt evenly, prevent drips, and slow the final burn rate. the weight lets them settle as the wax melts and the shape keeps the melted wax available to the wick, rather than running down the side.

Your candle will probably last another 50 percent more than without.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the other stuff, but brass most definitely *does* conduct heat.