36 Lessons Learned From Testing a 72-Hour Kit

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

36 Lessons From Testing a 72 Hour Kit via The Survival Mom

Testing a 72 Hour Kit…Why?

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 and 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 learn it’s not enough?  Testing your 72- hour kits and noting what you missed will help you make a better kit.  The output from this evaluation process is 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.

Testing builds self-confidence, which will inspire confidence in those around you, and that is pretty important. Click To Tweet

30+ lessons learned from my test

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 of “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.)

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. You may have better luck with firestarters with built-in ignition or this fire making system.

4.  A cell phone is a very poor clock.

If you are out of the digital service range, your phone will switch to the 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 4:30 am 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 the 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, dry 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.

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, but planning for these types of mishaps would be a good thing. They’re sure to occur.

9.  Solid fuel stoves will not heat a pint of water to a rolling boil in 8 minutes.

It will get pretty hot, though, almost to the boiling point. Your altitude will definitely affect this.

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 than a buck an ounce.

11.  Rolled up clothes do not make a comfortable pillow.

They are very hard. Nice idea but it doesn’t work well in reality. At least not in my reality!

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

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

14.  A folded shemagh

This can be used to protect your dromedary pack 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 critters out. Speaking of crawling, stinging things, you do keep your pack inside the tent, right? The last thing you want is to find a grumpy scorpion when you put on your pack.

16.  Water consumption will vary.

It can easily 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.

18.  Transpiration bags need to be large and secured with paracord.

The 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. Read more about the pros and cons of MREs.

20.  Newspaper has multiple uses.

Wrapping a full day of MRE’s in two sheets of newspaper gives you a 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. A Food Saver can be used to seal and waterproof multiple items for your pack, including ibuprofen tablets and other small items.

24.  Pack a change of underwear and an extra 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 $42 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 breastfeeding 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 gals) 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. Here is a 6-liter dromedary bag that is easier to carry.

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 as 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 mess kit 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.

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 well 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. 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 check 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.

Need a good checklist to get started building your own kit? Print out this one, “The Everyday Emergency Kit.” An important consideration when assembling your bug out bag is how it should be organized. Learn the best way to pack your BOB here.

36.  Pack your 72- hour 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 vehicle emergency 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.

37.  Add one or more of these 

Once your emergency kit is all packed, you might consider adding one or more of these additional bags to cover emergencies you may not have thought of:

1.  A nylon drawstring backpack or smaller nylon backpack

It can be very helpful to have a second, smaller backpack if your main bag gets too heavy to carry comfortably, its weight slows you down, or if you have a second person who can help carry your supplies. These smaller, lighter packs can be tightly rolled and secured with rubber bands so they take up very little space.

2.  A wet bag or wet sack

If you have a baby or toddler, you know how important it is to always have on hand a waterproof bag of some sort for wet clothing, dirty cloth diapers, etc.  If you find yourself trying to stay dry, these bags are a godsend for keeping important gear dry.

I have a few ZipLocs in my emergency kits as well, but a wet bag is far sturdier and more dependable.

Wet bags can be purchased in all sizes and colors and are machine washable.

3.  A “key chain tote”

These nylon totes collapse into a tiny, inner pocket that can be attached to just about anything. These bags come in different sizes; I think the duffle bag size is the handiest.

4.   Dog poop bags

Just one of these rolls contains 20 bags and each roll takes up only a tiny bit of space. And, they’re not just for poop. With so many bags in one roll, you’ll find many other uses for these “guaranteed not to leak” bags!  (Just tie a knot in the top of the bag to seal.)

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 YouTube 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.

If you have a child heading off to college, you will want to read here about the ultimate college student 72- hour kit.

Guest post by Varian Wrynn

36 Lessons From Testing a 72 Hour Kit via The Survival Mom

78 thoughts on “36 Lessons Learned From Testing a 72-Hour Kit”

  1. GoneWithTheWind

    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.

    1. 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.)

    2. 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.

    3. A lot of military men and women wear them in the field as well as at home now, so a lot of people are used to seeing these worn. At least here in Texas, many people associate these coverings with the military. I’m sure other areas that aren’t so full of military bases might react differently, but a lot of people understand what they are.

  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. 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.

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  7. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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. 🙂

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  12. 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.

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  14. 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.

    1. Hi Michelle, as a retired Professional Soldier (Male) I would like to comment on this.
      We would sometimes (often) be in the field Bush, Jungle, Desert or Mountains for months. WE considered knickers to be necessary for Health on Hygiene. Sometimes we could not even have a wipe (baby wipes are great) for days at a time. Our clothes would rot apart in armpit and crotch areas first. Try to picture a guy in the field with the crotch of his fatigues rotted out with no undies. NOT a pleasant sight in my opinion! and extremely uncomfortable. With the new fabrics available NOW, washed knickers can be dried very quickly in a mesh bag, hanging outside of pack OR being worn damp!
      No excuse for being smelly AND sore from crotch rot.
      Survival/prepping is NOT just about Beans and Bullets, one needs to remain healthy hence the band aids..
      Great site and lots of support.
      While on that subject, Guys need LOWER support, just like Women need Upper support. While I’m not hung like a horse, not wearing supportive undies is very tiring and uncomfortable long term. Might be fun to go commando, and swing in the breeze for short time, but not when active.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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…..

    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….

  18. Just read this. Very informative. I wish it was something I had read before I went to Philmont with my son and his troop. I may have practiced more. Since then I’ve been trying to get more exercise in and working on our family’s BOBs. There is something about going over a 10889 ft mountain with 40 lbs on your back. Though I think you need to add socks to your bag.

  19. My son learned a valuable lesson last time he went to Scout camp. SillyMom told him to pack extra socks. He thought he knew better. He came home with blisters and a fungal infection from wearing a single pair of dirty, wet socks for 4 days of hiking through the woods in the rain. I have multiple pairs in each of our BOBs to prevent that in the future.

  20. Looks like this one gets re-posted every so often…. I think it’s funny that there were so many posts about the shemagh… There are very few military members who have deployed to either Iraq or AFG that don’t own at least one, if not more… They work, and are a very versatile tool…
    It’s great to look through these posts and see how much has changed in the prepper world and what has stood the test of time….
    MREs – still a great foundation. I’ve lived on them for months at a time, and they are tried and true. I own zero MREs – I use all pre-made dehydrated foods now. Tastes better and is lighter – but that’s just me, don’t throw them out if you have them – unless the the little orange square on the case is mostly black, then you need to be careful eating them….
    MREs come with a heater if you bought them by the case. If you have ADHOC MREs, don’t forget, you can get them up to about 100 deg (F) by carrying them close to your body. Are you a bit fluffy? Load up everyone’s MREs, you are a walking (then resting, then walking a bit more, then resting) cookstove! Well, at least until you drop those love handles due to nice hikes!!!
    Fire starters – we preppers are still not packing a Bic lighter?… Shame, they work great.
    The water carry, in this case, the high desert, I thing it’s rated. I live in swamp lands, and can find water everywhere.
    Inflatable pillow – I have been a USMC grunt for 21 years – never leave home without one! Seriously, sleep is third only to food and water, why skimp???
    It would be great to have an update to this post by the author, to see what all has changed since the original posting…

  21. In Iraq and Afghanistan, shemaghs are NORMAL wear, like jeans here in the US, which is why seeing them in those places is nothing to mention. HERE, they would be! The skull patterns or something NOT associated with the Middle East would be best HERE. Fewer protests or fears, even though it might be slightly irrational for them in the first place, they would be to many people. Why LOOK for problems with others in a SHTF scenario? Just my two cents worth.

  22. To Michelle about packing the underwear. How about chaffing in wet/sweaty/dirty “panties”? The comment about the blisters should say it all. Maybe you have a solid cast iron pelvis, but most people don’t and having dry underwear may mean the difference between survival and death by painful movement. Just try walking with chafing sores in that area! They don’t need to be heavy, just something that will prevent skin on skin contact.

  23. Nice article, thanks for sharing!

    A nice silk scarf from the thrift store is one answer to shemaghs, but if you keep silk handkerchiefs in your pocket, crumpled lasts longer than folded as the folds tend to wear through.

  24. Two is one and one is none..

    Three of everything key and your free…


    Compasses should be real compasses not Electronic gadgets if you do not know how to use one …Learn..Become a Land Navigator and then you will be in Map Heaven… (I can’t stop)

    Map….S Get a National Geographic Map Package and print your own detailed maps … Get a MapCase and Use it. Stick backup copies is smooth Freezer Ziplock Bags.. Check out Alchohol pens.

    Knives..Pocket, Utility (Multitool), Fixed Blade.. Kukri or some other Bush Knife.. Not a “Rambo” anything

    Firestarters… Three threes….Military grade (not junk)… Oh and buy an extra and use it to light things BBQ FirePlace… until you can competently get it done.

    Ponchos.. I prefer a Poncho to goretex myself

    Buy a Milspec Poncho then Sew a Military Wool Blanket on the inside.. You will be a happy camper down into the 40s.

    Gloves… 2 pair Mechanics Gloves work reasonably well … and a pair of mittens.

    Now pretend your a Cavalry or Long Range Scout.. and tie every thing you can to your body.. Jump up and down and if you sound like a rattling can of rocks… Repack..

    Ok if you can get an externally framed ruck..Like the old ALICE System Go with it.. Much easier to carry..

    Go buy a couple single sheets.. Dye one to match your most common environment.. Cut it into a poncho configugration. Spray paint the other with some blotches for snow..

    Take a Pillow case (dye it as well) Fold it lengthwise in half Now sew it into a half pillow case.. Stuff the Sheets and your three pair of clean socks inside… Now you have a pillow.

    The above author is really right when he says ….test your gear and yourself.



  25. Great and informative article. On the MRE . Now I know everyone is different about how they pack. I usually pack for weight. MREs weigh between 18 to 26 Oz each. In the Corp. we used to open the package and remove anything we wouldn’t use. For my BOB I use food items like Mt House about 5 oz per pack. As for the cell phone. Not bad idea to have one if your even remotely close to urban areas. If you want to keep it charged used a good hand crank emergency radio with a USB port. Or a solar charger. For the price you can’t beat Casio g watches hell for that matter I would put a higher end Casio G around the 300 to 500 dollar range up against a Rolex dive master any day

  26. A surplus army poncho is very good. Spend a few more bucks and include an army poncho liner. That’s like putting a good sweater under the rain jacket.

  27. I too am disabled and cannot consider ‘bugging out’ unless its by car. I’ve done my best to prepare to hunker down on-site, but that’s all I can do.

    I fear I’ll be an early casualty in case SHTF.

    Regarding the Shemaghs…this makes me very sad. They are worn throughout Europe without problems. They are worn for a reason in the Middle East, and its not as a terrorism symbol, they are useful in dessert areas. They are not a piece of uniform.

    I think countering this piece of bigotry would be a more useful tactic than dismissing a useful, and attractive, piece of cloth.

  28. Just Plain Marie

    Interesting experiment. I sometimes wonder, now that we live in our “doomstead”, what I would want in a kit, and how I’d even use it. We’re too far away from the village to walk, especially with four young children, and, if I had wanted to bug out …. I now AM where I’d go. 🙂

    To me, cacti come in little pots. I’ve never seen one that anyone could burn for fire. 🙂 But I love my forest.

    My eldest, who is in Search and Rescue, wears a shemagh frequently. It’s funny – I associate them with him, not terrorists.

  29. This is the best article on preparedness I have read to date. Testing your kit and being in shape is vital to your survival when the shtf. Most articles just gloss over these important factors. Thanks for reinforcing the need to do this.

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  32. The idea of testing your Bug-out-bag in and of itself is great. I enjoy taking my family out towards our planned escape route and allowing each of them the opportunity to test out their equipment and their skills. I read your post originally and it made me question some of my fundamental ideas, so I had to try them again to check myself, and found that:
    #1 I still can’t stomach packing and taking MREs as my sole source of food. Living off them for six to nine months at a time in the Marines just soured me against them. An easy to create alternative is to create your own meals and use a vacuum sealer to pack them into manageable sizes.
    #3 I have a young daughter who can start a fire with flint and steel in about 7-9 seconds… and she’s the slowest of us. The trick I taught her was to take the lint out of her pocket and ignite that with dry moss or shavings, about ten small twigs or dried brush, and a bunch of sticks. Lint takes nearly no effort to catch, and the kindling catches pretty fast from there, which in turn lights the fuel for a roaring fire in about a minute.
    #9 I have never even thought about carrying solid fuel… that’s weight I won’t ever need to carry.
    #10 I usually make my own electrolyte mixes, and then fill up drinking straws with them. You can iron the ends to seal them, and you have much less expensive alternatives pretty quickly.
    #25 As Vic pointed out, learn to use a real compass. digital anything has the potential to go wrong in the event of a dead battery, breaking, an EMP, or any number of other things. Land Navigation has saved my family on a few occasions where the scenery changed overnight.
    #29 You’re right about never having to much water, but that’s half the weight of my 45lb pack… Finding and purifying water (even in AZ) is probably just as, if not more important than carrying an unsustainable weight.
    #30 erisgreendragon mentioned making a survival bracelet for the paracord. You can also make a number of “pretty” craft projects that shorten it to manageable lengths, and allow you to store it without risk of getting tangled. Another trick I’ve done, is replace my boot laces with paracord.
    #33-34 Thank you, many people skip these.
    #36 You’d think this was common sense… but I’m beginning to believe sense is not a common virtue.

  33. It’s so great to see someone actually testing out their emergency plans. You are right, you never know where the flaws are unless you test it.

  34. Thank you for this great post! I live in a cold climate but the priciple applies. I’ve got a kit but shudder at the thought of transporting it plus dogs and kids. Testing will make a big deference

    1. beingjennifer

      I was wondering about that. I’m also wondering how the strap is smaller than the paracord. What size strap and how long a piece is Varian packing? Would love to know.

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  36. Randall Riecke

    Fabulous review if you have a first time prepper….Love the humor mixed in when explaining on some things….

    1. Great Review!! (and kinda funny) I think that is the one major thing most people (myself included) they never do ….test the gear!

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  38. Good post. My BOB/GOOD bag and bushcraft kit are one and the same, so I get to test it a lot. However, I do have several items I reserve for an actual emergency, like a hand crank radio and others. But this made me realize I should at least take them out once or twice, and test them regularly.

      1. Awesome, we live south of Tucson. Thanks for the post, it made me check through my kit and I found some things I need to rotate.

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  40. As a cook/waitress I would recommend putting some shoe liners[dr. sholls] in your pack you never know how far you have to walk moles skin pads for the same reason. I would also put some Epsom salts an a large Ziploc bag [ to soak feet ] after a day of walking. Most people put in aspirin or Tylenol pills for pain but I would put in some muscle relaxant pills and cream for the day after soreness for those of us not used to hard ground walking or sleeping[ cant fit my serta mattress in my pack]. Living in Canada we get extreme heat and cold has any one got ideas how to keep water safe from freezing in a vehicle over night so you don’t have to bring it in every day [not safe to lug lots of water up and down stairs for me an dog every day ] it would have to be safe from heat in the summer as well, don’t want any toxins leaching into water. Are lighters safe to leave in vehicle at extreme temp. sorry not a smoker so I don’t no and don’t want to blow up my vehicle just to keep some fire starter in it {I do have matches but need backup]

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  42. I lived in the California desert, I worked year around outside. We wore what I would call American Shemagh’s, they are 100% cotton, they are very useful in keeping the fly’s and dust at bay. Flies are a huge problem in the California desert, you did not mention them in your post, it leaves me curious if they populate the Arizona desert as well. This is a very good post, interesting.

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  47. I think that you bring up a good point about testing a preparedness plan and making sure we will have everything. I don’t think in a disaster that we will have time to go over a checklist of things that we have or need. I would love to purchase a survival kit and then test it out to make sure my plan is foolproof.

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  49. Nonya Business

    I spent considerable time in Iraq and Afg. I own both a shemagh and pashmina (scarf). They functioned as a lightweight jacket, scarf to keep my head warm and hair contained, travel/airplane blanket, dust mask, etc. I still use a really good quality, very large wool and silk blend scarf but have replaced the shemagh with a cotton swaddle wrap that I purchased in the baby section at a big box store. Same functionality as a shemagh but without the controversy over the pattern. The same gauzy fabric could be purchased from the fabric store, of course, if you can do some hemming or use the iron on product (also found at the fabric store).

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