Dec52010

25 Comments

36 Lessons Learned From Testing a 72-Hour Kit

Guest post by Varian Wrynn

image by kevindooley

Over the last two months, on two separate occasions, I had the opportunity to test my 72-hour kit.  Yes, these tests were intentional…

Why Test?

My background is one of preparedness.  In the military, we made casualty response plans, then tested those plans.  We called them “drills.”  Now, in my post-military life, I’m CERT-trained, and FEMA IS-22 certified – both deal extensively with emergency response and preparation.

I’ve noticed many web sites that promote preparedness do not discuss testing preparedness plans.  What if you create a wonderful evacuation plan, but forget some critical component, like toilet paper? Or you include something, but not enough.  Testing your kits and noting what you missed will help you make a better kit.  This output from this evaluation process are your lessons learned.  It is impossible to conduct a test and have no lessons learned – at the minimum you will learn that you are well-prepared.

The lessons presented below come directly from these two exercises.  Some may be obvious, some may not.

30+ Lessons Learned

1.  MRE’s are good.  Meals Ready to Eat have improved dramatically over the last few years.  Today’s MRE’s are actually good.  The Chili with Beans MRE is some of the best chili I’ve ever had.  I have to fight my kids for the Pulled Chicken in Buffalo Sauce.  Ignore the serving suggestions: main course plus side dish plus desert.  I found one main course filled me up completely.

2.  A rock works as a hammer – good thing! We have lots of rocks in the Sonoran Desert.  By using a natural hammer, I saved a pound in my backpack.  Make sure you find a smooth rock as the rough rocks have a tendency to scratch up aluminum tent pegs.  (Using aluminum tent pegs in the hard desert soil might be a lesson also.)

image by fatskiier

3.  Emergency fire starters are not fast fire starters.  I tried out the magnesium block with flint that is available from many stores.  You know the ones – use your knife to shave off some metal shavings, then use your knife on the flint to create sparks to ignite the shavings/dust.  This takes some time to get going.

4.  A cell phone is a very poor clock.  If you are out of digital service range, your phone will switch to analog mode and drain the battery faster.  Since Murphy is with you (“What can go wrong will”), when you are out of digital service range, the battery will deplete at 4:30am and your phone will start beeping to tell you that it’s low on battery.  4:30 is too early to get up.  Best bet is to turn it off and use it when necessary.  Use your Casio G-Shock watch for your alarm.

5.  Bring required medicines.  On my first trip, I forgot my allergy medicines.  Since I’m allergic to dust this made the weekend of desert living rather miserable.  I brought the medicine on the second trip and life was good.

6.  A dead cactus makes a bad cooking fire.  It burns too fast so the fire must be constantly fed.  I used up about 1/2 of the cactus to prepare 4 meals.

image by erix!

7.  Gloves are important.  Even the $2 gloves from Harbor Freight are useful, but they don’t last very long.  I use the gloves to sheath my scissors (see next lesson) and to protect my hands from wood splinters.

8.  Redundant cutting tools are important.  I lost my Leatherman, but had my skinning knife and scissors.  I later found the Leatherman, and on a subsequent desert hiking trip, lost the skinning knife.  Since I had the Leatherman, life was still good.

9.  Solid fuel stoves will not heat a pint of water to a rolling boil in 8 minutes despite the claims by the manufacturer.  It will get pretty hot though (almost boiling).

10.  Powdered Gatorade is wonderful for quenching thirst and restoring energy.  So are the MRE powdered drinks.  1 oz Gatorade packets are pretty expensive – a large container can be subdivided for a lot less then a buck an ounce.

11.  Rolled up clothes do not make a comfortable pillow – they are very hard.

12.  A shemagh is a great pillow case (for my new inflatable pillow).

13.  Shemaghs help keep you warm at night and cool in the day.

14.  A folded shemagh can be used to protect your dromedary from any sharp items (scissors) in your pack.

15.  Two person tents aren’t – unless both people are small.  My two person tent is barely big enough for me and my backpack.  However, it is light and works well in the desert to keep the crawling, stinging things out.  Speaking of crawling, stinging things, you do keep your pack inside the tent, right?  Last thing you want is to find a grumpy scorpion when you put on your pack.

16.  Water consumption will approach 2 gallons per day in the desert in the sun, but can be as low as 3 liters per day in the winter, even with the same activity level.

17.  A 16 oz wide-mouth plastic bottle is very useful for mixing Gatorade.  It also accommodates the SteriPEN FitsALL Filter.

image by Dany et Maryse

18.  Transpiration bags need to be large and secured with paracord.  Tape will release in the sun and you will lose your collected water.

19.  MRE‘s heat quickly (10-15 minutes) in full sunlight but not on cloudy days.  They heat well in the coals of a small fire, but not very fast on the rocks surrounding the fire.  Warning: MRE’s are packaged in propylene bags and care must be exercised not to let them melt or burn.  Spring-loaded document clips (those black paper clips made from spring steel that have handles can be used to clip an MRE on your backpack so it can absorb sunlight and heat up.

20.  Wrapping a full day of MRE’s in two sheets of newspaper gives you fire starter and segregates your food into thoughtful daily selections.  (Hint: You need to prepare all your MRE’s this way ahead of time.)  Wrap the newspaper with a rubber band.  I used duct tape the first time, but this creates waste that cannot be burned.

21.  Ensure your scissors and knives are sharp before you leave.  Dull knives are irritating and dangerous.

22.  Setting up camp takes longer than you think unless you’ve done it several times.  Add an hour or two if this is your first time.  Allow ample time to find a suitable place to pitch your tent.  Pitching your tent in a wash is double stupid – they are cooler and attract animals, and are subject to flash floods.

23.  Instant coffee and hot chocolate can be pre-mixed and vacuum sealed using a FoodSaver.  Heat a bowl of water and add in your coffee/chocolate mix for your morning mocha.

24.  Pack a change of underwear and a long-sleeve shirt.  The first is obvious.  The shirt can be used for extra warmth on cold days.

25.  Casio makes a watch that has a built in digital compass.  It’s not one of those cheap little compasses on the watchband either – it provides a reading accurate to one-degree on the face of the watch.  Not bad for a $44 watch.

26.  Bring small tubes of sunblock and Lansinoh.  Sunblock prevents burns and the Lansinoh is used to treat rashes and blisters.  The Lansinoh company promotes HPA Lanolin as a breast-feeding aid, but it works well on chafed skin.  A floppy hat protects the scalp and ears.

image by mrbill

27.  MOLLE packs may be slightly less comfortable than a $200-300 backpack, but it is infinitely more configurable and can be put together from parts on Ebay for 1/4 to 1/3 the price.  MOLLE M-16 ammo pouches can hold small items, such as sunblock, Lansinoh, MRE snacks, portable lights, toilet paper, etc.  Grenade pouches can hold your backup compass and paracord.  9mm clip pouches can hold flashlights.  When shopping on Ebay, don’t get in a rush – the prices for this stuff vary from ludicrous to unbelievably cheap.

28.  Pack an army surplus poncho.  360 days of sunshine, and I was out in the rain on one of the 5 days it rains in Arizona.  Glad I had my poncho.  The poncho will keep you mostly dry but is like a windbreaker for warmth.

29.  After much reading and deliberating, I purchased a 10 liter (2.5 gal) Dromedary.  It weighs 21 pounds when filled.  I also tied it up as high as it would go in the pack.  Two lessons here – put the heavy stuff as high in the pack as it can go, and you can never have too much water.

30.  There is a trick to storing paracord and rope.  Most people roll it up and when it is deployed, it usually tangles.  Electricians tie their electric cords using a series of slip-knots – this uses up lots of material and keeps the cords from tangling.  The trick with paracord is to fold it in half, then tie the folded end into a loop.  Pull the cord through the loop into a slip-knot, repeat until all cord is consumed in a series of slip-knots.  A hiking supply store should be able to help you with this.

31.  Speaking of rope, don’t carry 50 feet of rope like many sites suggest.  Use nylon strap – it’s much smaller and has the same load capacity.  I have 25′ of strap knotted up (see above) and stored in my bowl.

32.  Minimize your cooking utensils.  I have a pair of chopsticks, a spoon, and my Leatherman/skinning knife.  I also have my bowl and the handle for it when it’s hot.  REI sells lots of neat mess kits – most of them are superfluous and just add weight to your pack.  Ditch the extras and keep it simple.

image by Oakley Originals

33.  Test your medical kit.  I recently had to remove my son’s toenail after it broke and ripped half off.  I found I was missing hydrogen peroxide.  The Leatherman (yeah – I found it again) worked pretty good for pulling off the nail.  This also illustrates the need to carry alcohol swabs, Neosporin, gauze, tape and pain relievers.  My medical kit is my 4th heaviest item in my pack after the tent, sleeping bag and air mattress.  The contents of my medical kit are covered in another article.

34.  You need to build your stamina and cardiac condition on a daily basis to survive an evacuation.  Walk/hike with a fully loaded pack.  This form of preparation ensures you can carry your pack and survive.  In case of a disaster, FEMA will not even make a decision to assist for several days and once they decide to move, it will take a few more days before you will see their personnel.  CERT/FEMA advertise that delay is likely to be 7 days.  Arizona has its own emergency management agency, but that will take a while to get boots on the street.  Count on being on your own for at least 3 days, hence the name “72-hour kit.”

The medical benefits of daily exercise are measurable: I lowered my blood pressure and heart rate dramatically after just three months of hiking and strength training.

Most people think I’m whacked hiking the desert with a 50+ pound pack, but the results are irrefutable.  I’m whacked and in great physical shape.

35.  Periodically test your BOB (Bug Out Bag) and your GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) kits.  This is a good way to rotate your food and water.  MRE’s have a shelf-life that drops quickly as their storage temperature rises – clearly a disadvantage for those of us in the desert.  Some MRE’s have a 5 year shelf-life under best-case storage conditions.

36.  Pack your kit for the most probable mission/scenario.  Evaluate the most likely scenarios that would require the BOB and GOOD kits.  For example, I live 27 miles from work and spend about 25% of my time away from home.  Most likely events (based on historical occurrence) happen in the daytime, so if there was an event, chances are close to 75% that I will be away from home and my 72-hour kit.  This means I need to have a kit in my car, much like The Survival Mom who travels with her HUGE kit.  So my car kit has everything I need to get me from work to home with the worst-case assumption I may have to walk.

I learned quite a bit during the first test of my 72 Hour Kit, so my second test went pretty smoothly.  The key here is to actually test your kits.  You can read government preparedness literature, other preparedness websites (like this one), and watch preparedness You Tube videos.  However, without actually getting out there and testing your kits, you won’t know what you’re forgetting and you won’t know how to use your equipment.  Testing builds self-confidence, which will inspire confidence in those around you, and that is pretty important.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

(25) Readers Comments

  1. Good review/test. I have mixed feeling about a Shemagh. For Westerners they have a negative connotation especially the pattern that Arafat wore when he was still alive. If you meet strangers it sends the wrong message. Just as I would avoid camouflage I would avoid a Shemagh. There are alternative, a wide fleece scarf perhaps.

    • When my wife saw the shemagh she wanted to know why I had a terrorist mask. Give it a few more years and it will be accepted – now that the US has adopted them. I met a kid at Appleseed that had a black/white shemagh with a skull pattern – it looked less offensive than the normal drab desert colors. I don't have any camo (except the MOLLE and the elbow/knee pads – no choice there) and most people just see me as a hiker with a bigass army pack. (Put on the shemagh and I'm sure the police would get a call – that's why it stays inside and protects my Dromedary from the rest of the pack contents.)

    • Women can get very pretty large scarfs that do not make others fearful. I would never buy one those shemaughs in North America. It is a good idea to keep chemicals/dust out of lungs!
      And as to trying out your 72 hour bag – I did and had forgotten many items – and I had used a list too… So, do go away for a weekend with just your bag and see how you do. Good luck everyone! God be with us all.

  2. Thanks for sharing all of the lessons you learned from doing your own test! I confess that testing the emergency kits never occurred to me. I will definitely do it now. I think your lessons will help iron out some of the would be kinks in our own kits! Thanks!!

  3. Darn right MRE's are yummy! I love them – beef stew is my favorite. Rule of thumb about MRE's, they do not look or smell yummy but they are.

    Adding this to my list of things to look at when packing my BOB.

  4. Darn right MRE's are yummy! I love them – beef stew is my favorite. Rule of thumb about MRE's, they do not look or smell yummy but they are.

  5. You could also try a survival bracelet for the rope. Granted most of the bracelets only hold 6-8 feet but it still frees up room in your BOB or your GOOD. Here are directions on making the bracelets if anyone is interested. http://www.instructables.com/id/Survival-Bracelet

    • Awesome idea! Nothing says you can't make several of them, or make one using 16 ft and coil it in a figure 8. Love the idea.

  6. Outstanding! Lots of practical info. The Doan Machinery fire starting tool or military aviator's spark-lite kit will readily light cotton balls infused with petroleum jelly. You can carry a bunch of these in a 35mm film can or pill bottle and they burn along time. An altoids tin full of them makes a good expedient fuel to use with your Natick cooker and canteen cup which WILL boil water. The alcohol-based hand sanitizers also double as fire starter and can be sparked to life. A carbon steel blade kicks up more sparks off ther ferro rod than stainless will. A military VS-17 panel besides making a good ground to air signal makes an expedient ground cloth or poncho and is highly visible to traffic if draped over your disabled car on the highway shoulder.

    • Excellent fire starting ideas! Thanks!

  7. Pingback: 36 lekcji z testów zestawu ucieczkowego | Domowy Survival

  8. Good grief. I've just started thinking about gathering extra food supplies and what you've chronicled here is…just too much. I don't like to camp anymore, have chronic pain & fatigue, and can't imagine doing what you're talking about. Whew.

    • I couldn't imagine it six months ago either, but now I have my pack and carry it in my car or hike with it. I have a health coach at work, and she's helped me with encouragement and with setting realistic goals. I started off small and worked up to the 50+ lbs and now I can hike several miles with it. One trick is having the proper weight distribution – get the weight up high and make sure the waist belt (which is rather large and padded on a MOLLE pack) carries the pack weight. Don't put much (if any) weight on your shoulders.

    • What was the point of posting that?

      • Bree, don’t worry it is easy to get overwhelmed and just do nothing. Please don’t give up. I am 50 yrs old, plump and have hereditery degerative arthritis and Fibro, so I understand the pain and all, oh too well! Just remember baby steps, we live out in the country and some days its all I can do to walk to the mailbox, but just keep moving. Start slow, work up and maybe try a water aerobic class or a dvd about
        Yoga for Arthritis, and find a support group online.

        Varian, thank you for posting helpful info for those of us w/ health issues. The support and advice we give one another is awesome! So thank you both!

  9. Great info and another nudge about trying to get some health back. I am very overweight, 56 years old and have some health problems. I wouldn't do well out in the wild, but since I have a 90 year old aunt with severe dementia and multiple pets with me, I'm not going anywhere anyway. But I did think to mention carry-on type luggage on wheels. This might be a better option for children and older people than backpacks. They hold a lot and it is much less strenuous to pull one than to carry the same weight on your back. Also, you can attach other smaller bags on the top. When I have traveled, I was able to pull a lot of stuff around with me with no problem.

  10. Hi Ladies! So, I’ve been testing certain ideas and the best thing I have learned is that bacon grease soaked paper towels (do it while the grease is still hot) work incredibly well as fire starters, one small sheet burned well for 20 minutes and smoldered for another 20 minutes. As well, Bobby Hughes from Hollow Point Firearms is incredibly smart when it comes to defense of all of your survival gear. He does YouTube videos on everything from home food storage to making wax slugs for shotguns. Every lady needs a .22 to defend the hard work they have put into prepping, others are not prepping and will be looking for everything you have if trouble arises. Some people don’t ask for help they TAKE it.

  11. Glad I found this one, hubs and I were just discussing this tonight. He never goes camping with me & the kids to the campground because he wants to hike out into the woods. Something no one in my family is physically ready for right now. He still scoffs at me for some of my prepping but he was happy to get another shot gun and several hundred more rounds of ammo.
    Our talk boiled down to an agreement that we will hike with him to camp provided he agrees that our family of six take nothing more than what I keep in our bug out bags, unless he wants to personally haul it through the woods. That means the 16 man tent and queen size air mattress is out two things he insisted on for camping. I’m pretty sure I’m going to win this one and he will realize our BOBs are worth it and so is the occasional weekend in a campground. :)

  12. Pingback: Lessons Learned From Testing a 72-Hour Kit » SHTF Preparedness

  13. For those that have difficulty using commercially made fire-starters…you can make a small kit of waterproof matches and cotton balls saturated in Vaseline stored in film canister. They light very easy. Fritos (chips) also work as fire starters, but take longer to catch. Both burn long enough to get your tinder started.

  14. Pingback: 36 Lessons from Testing a 72-Hour Kit | Sweet Sagacity

  15. I’m not sure what you did in the military, but underwear is something I’ve never heard of anyone packing in the 22 years I’ve been married to it and I do a lot of backpacking myself…I don’t see why you would pack that in a survival situation or for the field. It gets nasty fast, you really do not know how long you will be without so why pack something that takes up extra space and you aren’t taking laundry soap…seriously what purpose do panties have?
    A quick dry good quality sports bra is good to have though if you need it. And yes, everyone who backpacks and or has a BOB needs the army “wooby” those ponchos are worth every penny.

  16. The electrician’s cord-looping technique is basically crocheting. If you know how to do a single row of crochet, you know how to loop cord like a professional.

  17. I never was one to mince words, so I’ll say my piece and move on…

    1) about you receiving a commision on the links you post…
    I think you SHOULD get a commission….I’d be willing to wager that nobody put a gun to your head & forced you to brag on this product or that product….enough said on that.

    2) You actually went into the desert & tested this stuff? you have more backbone than I have…but then again, I know very little about survival in the desert….drop me in a forested area with all the wild animals around & not only will I survive, I will thrive in that environment. sorry…got side tracked.

    3) Lastly, I fail to find the words to properly thank you for taking the time & effort to test this stuff….
    write a review as well as you have done, & then have the backbone to post it for the public to see…too many others, male & female alike, would not have taken the time you took to write this as well as it is.
    Merci Beaucoup Mademoiselle.

  18. One thing I forgot to mention, there was another reader who posted about a bracelt made from paracord….

    in case you are unaware, there is almost no limit to what you can make from paracord that would save you space & weight within a backpack…..

    Examples:
    necklaces
    belts of just about ANY configuration….from ones that hold up your pants to those that make carrying things easier…
    key fobs…no idea what you would need keys for in the desert but maybe something else can be hung from it & then hung on the outside of your MOLLE Pack….
    Boot Laces…paracord is far stronger than any bootlace…IF, if it will fit through the eyes of the boot.

    All these items can be untied & used as needed in a survival/emergency situation.
    I have 3 spools of the stuff, 2 spools are still unopened & have about 1100 feet of cord per spool. Like the American Green Card, don’t leave home without it.

    Another thought….
    many hunting knives as well as the Leatherman Type tools, will often have a ring or a hole in the handle to where you can attach a lanyard cord….keep you from losing an important piece of equipment…just a thought.

    TY again for this this you do….
    peace

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