Preparing for the needs of your home in a power-down or survival situation is critically important, for reasons too obvious to state here. However an often overlooked issue is preparation for traveling. I was working over thoughts today for my planned post about “Vacation Day 3” when it occurred to me that I had a good post topic easily at hand. How many people travel every day and by sheer dumb luck haven’t ever been stranded anywhere? I promise it usually only happens to someone ONE time. After that event they’re always prepared ever after.
My wife travels up to about 30 miles from home on a daily basis, on roads she knows and to locations with multiple routes home. Her job dictates she has a four-wheel-drive truck fully stocked with external AC power as well as a water pump and 80 gallon water tank, refrigerator, and a variety of other supplies the average housewife doesn’t have. I think most would agree her EDC bag is sufficient for most any need she has. With space being at a premium inside the vet truck, and carrying a technician with her all the time, there aren’t a lot of options for extra gear anyway. Suffice it to say, I’m happy with her odds in most any given situation that she’s presented with. Chances are she’s good to go.
Now let’s talk about me. I travel for my job as an IT consultant and installer. Sometimes I’m 100 miles from home. Other times I’m 1,000 miles from home. I have to do this kind of work in all seasons and because of the distance I travel it is likely I could experience a variety of weather conditions throughout that kind of journey. Again, I think you’d probably agree my EDC bag just won’t cut it for me.
Somewhere between those two extremes lies most of the rest of you. If you’re reading this, you either have an interesting in being prepared, or just want to read another’s thoughts on preparedness to compare them to your own pre-existing plans.
I got a very nice message from a reader the other day in response to one of the survival videos. It basically said “Thanks for actually sharing information with us instead of just making a video on how cool your personal crap is. I actually got some ideas from it.”
That meant a lot. (Thanks Jim!) With that as a goal I’m going to try to deliver this information in the same vein – what should you consider, and how did I handle that hurdle myself in my own preparations; the latter being an offering of a solution if you choose to use it. Feel free to deliver your own advice in the comments. Maybe you’ve considered something I haven’t that I’d like to know. I’m always learning… that’s the key. NEVER be over-confident in your knowledge. Cockiness can get you killed.
There are a few considerations I would like to put in your noggin when you’re thinking about travel.
- Does your vehicle have any major mechanical problems?
- Is your battery in good condition?
- Are your tires in good condition?
- Can it do the job you want it to do or is it a “beater” just making do for now? If so, do you have a plan for a future replacement?
- How much can it fit with respect to people, and supplies for that amount of people?
- Does your vehicle have four-wheel drive?
Let’s cover some of the basic stuff to get it out of the way first, so I can enjoy the meat of the discussion.
Basic Vehicle Maintenance:
Assuming you want to plan to keep your chances as high as possible of getting home in one piece on a GOOD day, there are a few basic things you should keep in mind. Foremost among those are batteries and tires. If you can’t start it reliably in good weather, it will likely leave you stranded on a bad day. Murphy is a bastard and he likes to show up at the most inopportune times.
Batteries are easy. If you don’t know how to test your battery, or have no idea how to tell what kind of condition it’s in, ask someone. Places like Advance Auto and AutoZone will do a free battery inspection for anyone anytime. You can use some common sense things to determine the overall health of your battery and to prolong it.
How fast does your vehicle start after you turn the key? If your battery is in good shape then minus any other issues such as starters or poor fuel injection, it should pretty much crank smoothly and respond quickly to a turn of the key. Does it sound like its cranking harder in cold weather than it does in warm weather? That’s a sign of a battery that needs attention or replacement. Does it make that slow rrr-rrr-rrr sound before catching? That means your battery isn’t able to deliver the amperage the vehicle is asking of it to crank.
I budget for everything, based on my needs. It’s the only way I don’t go broke. One option is to do the same thing yourself. If you have multiple vehicles in your family, at least ONE of them needs to be designated the primary one, based on your family’s needs and emergency plans. You can put cheap $65 batteries in every other car you own… but don’t skimp on that vehicle’s battery. Get a good battery with a good warranty. I know a good battery for my truck costs me about $150. I expect that I’ll probably buy one every three years based on the fact that my usage is pretty hard on batteries. That means batteries cost me $4.16 per month. I should budget at least $50 a year then. Check!
There are two kinds of vehicles in my personal opinion (and I know people are going to argue with me on this one. That’s ok.) There are vehicles that need an oil change every 3,000 miles and then there are people who think theirs is fine for 7,000 because that’s what the guy at Walmart said their oil is good for and they want to save money. My truck gets an oil change every 3,000 like clockwork. My jeep… pfft.. who knows. It’s not my primary vehicle so I don’t pay attention to it except to be sure it’s done a couple times a year. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m running 5W30 synthetic, Amzoil, or 10w40 Havoline… the oil in our primary bug-out vehicle is still getting changed every three thousand miles. That costs about $50 a month for me (because I can rarely go thirty days without going 3,000 miles.) Crap, now I need another $50 a month budgeted for oil and filters.
This is the one people skimp on more often than not most of the time I think. Tires always become a nuisance because no one ever plans to replace them. Then they get pissed when Murphy shows up and creates urinary showers all over their celebratory forward-moving-crowd-gathering. I think most people see tires and think they’ll just last the life of the vehicle, or they can replace them one at a time as needed. I love conversations that start with “Walmart has a special on….” No. Just. No.
Keep in mind that all of this conversation is geared around your PRIMARY vehicle, unless you both travel a lot in which case BOTH vehicles need to be treated fairly well. I’m not suggesting that you go out and drop $800 on your Honda Civic’s tires. They’re useless extended-range vehicles. More on that later.
Anyway, when it comes to the tires on your vehicle, consider the worst terrain within 100 miles of you that you drive on regularly, and plan as if you had to drive on that all the time. Then buy accordingly. I drive a GMC Sierra 1500 Z71. That comes stock with a decent tire for most work, but not one I’d like to have to travel long distances over rough terrain with. I asked for +2 steps in aggressive tread pattern, +1 inch in height, and +1 inch wider – for better grip if I had to crawl at all in my truck. That would up being a Nitto P285/85/R16 tire and they hit me for $750. Ouch! And I know VERY well that they go up from there, but this was an affordable tire for me at the time and didn’t involve compromise. They’re also a popular tire… so I’m likely to encounter them on the road on other vehicles. (Yes, I had in the back of my mind the thought that I might one day have to beg/borrow a tire from another stranded vehicle so I wanted maximum efficiency with some degree of compatibility.) Of course we have to deal with budgeting. Not many of us can afford $750 at the drop of a hat. Me either. I’ve been saving for a few months with the idea in mind that I had to purchase new ones soon. Now that I know the cost, I can plan accordingly. My tires will likely last me two years on the outside. I’m good for between 40-50K miles a year, so that’s 750 every two years. I need to plan on $32.15 a month if I don’t want to get surprised with an unexpected bill.
That’s 50 a month for oil, 32.15 a month for tires, 4.50 a month for batteries. That’s 86.65 a month in maintenance, even if nothing goes wrong. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? It is, but you’re likely to spend it whether you want to or not, though of course your costs will vary depending on duration of your tires, times between mileage oil changes, etc. But it would behoove you to figure out an automotive budget and then try to set it aside.
Your vehicle cost will vary greatly and could be as low as $20 a month to $200 a month to properly maintain your car or truck, but knowing that actual value is an important part of properly planning how you can address problems.
What to Carry In Your Vehicle
Again, I’m going to tell you what I carry when I go on the road and why I carry it. I have x amount of space. You might have y amount of space. Maybe you can fit more. Maybe you can fit less. Either way there are some things you could carry with you to maximize your chances of being able to get through a bad situation.
Spare Gas: I carry a 5-gallon military gas can chained in the bed of my truck. I use chain because I don’t want it stolen. I also use chain because… it’s chain, and could come in handy! There are lots of reasons to carry a gas can. My truck has a 26.5 gallon tank if it’s completely empty and running on farts alone, but you might as well say 25 gallons. Five gallons of extra fuel adds an extra 20% to my run-time and or range. Here’s a little factoid. Most vehicles are manufactured to run between 350-450 miles on a tank. If your car gets 50 miles to the gallon, you probably only have about an 8 gallon tank. If your car gets 15 to the gallon, then you’ve probably got a 30-gallon tank or so. Whatever the size of your tank or your mileage per gallon, any significant amount of extra fuel can serve to increase your range. Even a 1 gallon can to get you out of an emergency in some situations.
From the survivalist standpoint, you can carry the conversation forward to a lot of other scenarios, most specifically the golden horde scenario, but that’s too much to delve into here. I’ll do a post on that later if people want to know enough about the topic. Let’s just say that there would likely be times in a power-down scenario or natural disaster scenario that having enough fuel to move a car out of the way would be nice to have.
Rope and or Chain: I always carry 100′ of 3/4″ tow rope rolled up and put in a place where moisture won’t degrade the rope. In my case that’s under the back passenger bench in my truck. In a pinch you can pull something off the road, pull a fellow traveler back onto the road if they’re stuck, use it to haul a broken down vehicle, pull a tree out of the path if it’s fallen, and of course a lot of other non-vehicular uses.
I also carry ratchet-straps. They’re small, serve a variety of purposes, and can be used to cinch things that rope and pure elbow-grease aren’t strong enough to accomplish. Chains serve the same purpose. I have a few short chains in the bed of the truck varying between 6 to 20 feet in length. I added to that a few of those open-side clips that you can unscrew and put around a chain, to extend one, join them in a harness formation, etc. They’re a couple dollars and come in handy for work sometimes as well.
My last item in this collection is a cheap gym bag recycled from some prior purpose that holds scrap rope pieces. If its longer than 3′ or so, I’ll keep it and toss it in the rope bag. These are scraps I can give away when needed, use to tie something up that I don’t mind cutting later, or if the need arises I could simply throw them out if I needed more room for something else. They’re totally ancillary but have come in handy quite often over the years.
All of this lies in the bed of my truck under my toolbox and it all fits in one corner out of the way. If you have an SUV, you might could utilize the space under the spare tire inside the back hatch, or one of those side pouches in the trunk of your car. It’s just not bad to have this stuff and remember, if you’re in a situation that you have to bug out, or make some tough decisions, you can always simply toss it out. You can NOT however go back and get it if you forgot it.
Water: Water serves a variety of purposes for me. I stop from time to time and pick up a $3.00 case of 24 bottles of water and toss them in the back of the truck. When you’re traveling in the heat of the summer, especially in older or high-mileage vehicles, excessive summer temperatures mixed with stop and go traffic can form a bad combination. Hundreds of cars overheat in this situation every day. If my truck overheats I’ve got a few gallons of water in those bottles I can use to refill the radiator. I’ve got water I can drink if needed. I’ve got water I can pass out to a stranded motorist if I’m helping someone and they need it. Just last year I was coming through Georgia on my way home and there was a red sedan with two ladies in it and a young child. They had called for help but it hadn’t arrived. Ever stood on highway asphalt in the middle of a Georgia summer? Its hot. Those ladies were grateful to meet a stranger with a few spare bottles of water until their help arrived. Again, if I had to leave the truck or make it on my own with just the supplies I have in the truck water becomes critical for survival. Resupplying it takes a few dollars from time to time.
And in case you’re about to bring up the comment that drinking water that has gotten too hot in plastic bottles can cause cancer, or this, or that; let me stop you. You’d be wrong. If you disagree, then check with the American Cancer Society’s website. You might not believe me, but you really can’t but help accept their position on it unless you’re just a total douche. So, drinking water from plastic bottles that have been in the sun is perfectly fine. Sure, it’s hot, but it will hydrate you.
As far as storage or how much you want to carry, I’d always make it a point to have at least one liter per adult in the vehicle. If worse came to worse you could survive with only water for a significant amount of time.
Flashlights(s): How many cheesy flashlights have you acquired over time? Do you keep them all in a closet in your house? Well, put a few in your vehicle. I’ve got one in my EDC bag, one in my bug-out-bag, but those don’t count. I’ve got any assorted variety of them floating around my vehicle on any given day. I can loan them to someone without caring if I get them back. I can use them and dispose of them without relying on my “good” flashlights if needed. I can bogart the batteries for something else that could use the same size, etc. If you have a lot of them floating around and more than one car, put the AA ones in one car and the AAA ones in another car… so the batteries are interchangeable with others in the same car or truck.
Binoculars: Do these really need explanation? Here’s a scenario. I was in Greenville, SC last year in the middle of winter, riding with one of my installer team. We were hours from home, riding at almost dark, in the snow, on icy roads, and there was a traffic jam coming up. Just having good pair of optics allowed him to scope the situation ahead much better than I could with the naked eye and helped him scout us a way out.
Solar Charger:There are a variety of solar chargers out there on the market, designed for a variety of tasks. Truthfully a solar charger should already be in either your bug out bag or your EDC bag, but having a charger specifically designed to charge batteries, not devices, is a good thing. I have one that is solar powered or can provide a charging cycle to AA/AAA batteries using the car’s lighter adapter by plugging the mini-usb connector into a phone charger. Its great that your phone is charged, but if that did you any good then let’s face it – you wouldn’t be in a situation that required you to use AA batteries. If you ARE in that situation, such as needing flashlight or emergency radio, draining your cell phone’s precious charge for use as a flashlight could be a costly mistake if you were forced to leave your car and unable to plug it back into the lighter port, or worse the car’s battery was dead.
Spare Jacket: Have a spare coat appropriate for whatever seasons or climate you’re driving in. If its summer and I know I don’t want my medium duty coat, I still make sure it stays jammed under the back seat, just in case.
Wool Blanket: It can protect you from the cold if its freezing out and your car stalls. It can provide protection if you need to work on the engine of your car but the engine is too warm to touch without protection. Lay it over the engine parts you need to lean against to do your work. It can keep you semi-clean if you have to kneel on the ground to change a tire in muddy or dirty conditions. It makes a nice, ok, decent, ok.. scratchy pillow if you’re stuck sleeping in your car on the road. It can be set fire to if you need fire-starter and it serves no other purpose for you whatsoever. It can be used to crawl over a chain link or barbed wire fence if you need to. Yeah, ok, I realize that last one sounds like you’re up to nefarious shenanigans, but the need HAS arisen before for me! Of course I was younger and she was.. well, never mind that.
Basic Tools: I almost forgot this one; simply because I carry tools as a part of my job so it’s second nature for me. I have to have them so it would never occur to me to travel without them. Not everyone does though. Let’s cover a list of the basic tool supplies you might need.
- Large and small phillips and flat head screwdriver set. Somethings on an engine often require a #3 phillips or flat head. That’s the big one. Most things in the rest of your life can be accomplished with a standard #2 set. You can buy a whole set for $5 at the discount rack in a variety of stores. Toss them in the trunk.
- Needlenose pliers. Lots of places can’t be reached or can’t be manipulated without something small. Get a rubber-covered set and they usually include wire-cutters built in.
- Crescent/Adjustable Wrench – this should be a no-brainer. They don’t require hand-pressure to be held tight so people with less hand strength can use them pretty easily. They can also serve the same purpose as a socket set in some instances.
- Hacksaw Blade: Don’t worry about the whole hacksaw. Spend $2 and get a 3-pack of blades. You can use them for ALL kinds of things but nothing else will replace a hacksaw if you have to cut metal for any reason.
- Electrical tape – for small adhesive needs, sealing joints, sealing wires, etc.
- Duct tape – for a TON of uses, some obvious and others not so much but I can promise you this: No one has ever said “Damnit, I hate having duct tape around. It’s such a pain in the butt.”
- Pliers – you should know the difference between pliers and a crescent wrench, right? Good.
- A small bag to put these in: Use anything you have lying around; a gym bag, old shaving bag, tool bag, even an old sock will work in a pinch.
- Bolt Cutters. Really? Yeah, I know I jumped from small and convenient to DANG DUDE, whiskey tango, over? Seriously though. In a power-down or evacuation scenario there are times you might have to go around or through things you normally wouldn’t. You might need to cut through a fence to get somewhere, help someone else out, whatever. Bolt cutters are about the most non-standard item on the list I know… but they’re the ONLY tool that will do their job. Nothing else will fit the bill if you need bolt cutters. No other tool can serve double duty. You know those forest service roads and powerline roads that run between towns or between highways? Yeah they’re almost always chained. Having a way to get through those can mean you can go somewhere the other guy can’t – giving you options others don’t have.
- Lighter – whether you smoke or not. One more lighter is NEVER a bad thing.
- Glow sticks – This is another thing you should have in your bag, but extras in the car or truck don’t hurt. If you have kids, this gives them enough light to provide comfort in a dark situation without being a drain on your batteries. At night, they’re different enough to cause someone to stop and ask what’s wrong. After all, how many people do you see waving glow-sticks on the side of the road unless you just left a rave or it happens to be Halloween?
- Pen and paper.
My final thoughts on a small tool set: don’t go out and purchase one of those “all-in-one” tool kits for $9. Those are for weekend warriors and 12 year old kids for projects. You’re probably looking at spending $50 on that list I just made, maybe even $75, but having tools of at least a decent quality might save your bacon if the situation arises.
Final Thoughts on Preparedness
You might be thinking that you already have all these things and you’re already prepared. Here’s the test then. Go out to your car RIGHT NOW and see how many are actually in there? When did you last put some of this stuff in your car? Has your spouse or friend borrowed one or more of them without you knowing? Are those flashlight batteries dead or do they still have a good charge?
As a person that has the misfortune to have to unpack and repack my truck often depending on the job I’m doing that week I can tell you; its NOT a fast process and things can get overlooked or forgotten, and carrying this much stuff takes both practice and experimentation. I pack my truck like an astronaut headed for a mission on the surface of Mars facing no re-supply. Everything I’ve mentioned in this list has saved my bacon or someone else’s prize pork rump more than once in my years on the road. At the very least it’s funny to watch your friend’s say “Dang. I wish I had a piece of _____” only to be surprised when I say “I’ve got one in the truck.”
Did I forget something? You think of something else I needed to mention? Let me know in the comments!
Note: if you’re still seeing this note, then this is still my initial draft. I’m going to update this post with imagery and links from Amazon for those that aren’t sure what some of these items mean.