Friday, November 30, 2012

Cotton vs. Wool Insulation

Oh no! Not another insulation comparison test! That’s right, it’s another one. This time it features the material that we keep being told is just about the worst insulator for the outdoors. How many times have we heard “Cotton Kills!”. Well, I figured I would run it through some tests to confirm that.

The method for testing is the same I have used for wool, merino wool, and fleece so far. You can click on each material to view the results and the testing method used.

So, how did cotton stack up? For the test I used a cotton sweater similar in thickness to the wool watch caps and the 200 weight fleece shirt used in the previous tests. First, I measured the temperature loss when a heated container was wrapped with cotton insulation. I then compared it to the results when no insulation was used. Here is the resulting graph.

Dry Cotton

For ease of comparison, I have added here the results from dry wool and dry fleece insulation.

graph (1)

Dry Fleece

While it is hard to compare the materials head to head, as despite my efforts to pick materials of equal thickness and make, there will be inevitable differences, we can still see a more pronounced dip in temperatures with the cotton insulation than with the other two. I think it is a noticeable difference between the materials.

Now, I repeated the test with the cotton insulation being initially wet. Here is the resulting heat loss.

Wet Cotton

And again, for comparison purposes, the wet wool and wet fleece tests.

graph (4)

Wet Fleece

So…I don’t know what to say. I expected much more significant differences. We could certainly conclude that cotton is not as good of an insulator as the other two materials, both when wet and when dry, but I am finding it very hard to say that “cotton kills”. The numbers are just not that different. The unavoidable fact is that all of the tested materials lose significant insulation when wet. I don’t think any of them can be said to keep you warm when wet, and I certainly don’t think any one of them is so significantly worse than the others as to make it deadly.

Now, I should note that the cotton sweater was the slowest drying material so far, taking almost three days (about 65 hours) to dry. However, wool seems to dry extremely slowly as well, so the difference there is not that extreme.

It is often said that cotton is a poor insulator when wet because the fibers collapse when they get wet, eliminating the dead air space which provides the insulation. I think however, and this is just my opinion, that the type of knit used to make the fabric will make a difference in that respect. While the fibers collapsing certainly sounds true for something like a cotton t-shirt, a thickly knit sweater will likely retain quite a bit of dead air space, which is what might have happened in the above test. I don’t know; that is just my theory.

To give credit where credit is due, a fellow blogger (Perkle’s Blog) has been saying for years now that in his home country of Finland people have both traditionally worn and currently wear cotton clothing in the woods without a problem. The above test seems to indicate that this practice is not as insane as the internet sound bites would indicate. While we may conclude that cotton is not as good of an insulator as other materials, it appears you will be just as cold in any of them if you get them wet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fleece vs. Wool Insulation

So, you guys know that I am skeptical about most things that I can’t confirm through personal experience, so I have been doing some testing with different types of clothing. Last year I wore only wool clothing as insulation all year round, and became skeptical about its alleged properties as a result of my experiences. You may remember I put together a small test to see how well wool retains its insulation when wet. You can see the test here.

In the test, I measured the heat loss from a container with hot water, when no insulation was used, when dry wool insulation was used, when continuously wet (1) wool insulation was used, and when only initially wet (2) wool insulation was sued. The results showed that the claim that wool retains its insulation when wet were far from true. The heat source wrapped in wet wool lost more heat than when the container had no insulation at all, and lost significantly more heat than the dry wool insulation.

A few days ago I posted the same experiment repeated with Merino wool. The results were virtually identical, and you can see them here. Please note that the significant measurement here is the difference in insulation between the fabrics when wet and dry. While in this experiment the two articles of wool clothing were almost the same, we should try to avoid direct head to head comparisons unless the materials were produced to identical specifications for purposes of the test. A thin material will certainly lose more heat than a thick one.

Well, as you know, I was without power for a few days, without much to do, so it gave me time to do some more of these time consuming and very boring tests. The material I chose to tests was fleece insulation, and answer the corresponding question, does fleece keep you warm when wet? For the test I chose a regular 200 weight Polartec fleece top because it was similar in thickness to the wool caps used in the previous tests. The test was performed in the exact same way as the one outlined for the wool clothing, except that for the wet material, only an initial wetting test (2) was done to save time.

Before starting each of the tests, I performed a control test without any insulation. Since the measured temperatures were very similar to the ones shown in the earlier wool tests, I have used the original “no insulation” numbers to make comparison easier.

As expected, the test using dry fleece insulation showed a clear decrease of heat loss.

Dry Fleece

Just for ease of reference, here is the old graph of the “dry” results from the wool insulation.

graph (1)

Despite the fact that we should not make direct comparison between the two materials because there are too many variables, it is hard to ignore that the lines look almost identical. It would appear that 200 weight fleece has about the same insulating power as a knitted wool watch cap when dry.

When the fleece insulation was wet, its ability to retain heat decreased as expected. Here you can see the chart showing the dry and wet fleece test results.

Wet Fleece 

Again, for ease of reference, here is the old chart showing wet wool insulation (when only initially wet).

graph (4)

The results again seem very similar. Both wool and fleece lost significant amounts of insulation when wet, and in fact provided less insulation when wet than the try container with no insulation at all. As the material dried over time, the insulation improved. I don’t think we can say that either material keeps you warm when wet. If you are thermally regulated with the clothing you have on, such a significant drop in insulation will get you in trouble if the temperatures are low.

Equally noteworthy however is the fact that the two materials performed in very similar manners both when dry and wet. Assertions about wool keeping you warm when wet while “synthetics” not doing so, appear to be unsupported.

Another important part of the test, although not one that I initially set out to test was the drying time of the pieces of clothing. For the wool cap it tool almost two day (nearly 45 hours) to dry. The merino wool cap took close to 50 hours to dry. The fleece shirt on the other hand was dry after about 5 hours. The drying time was just incredibly faster. Of course, that is to be expected as fleece fibers do not absorb any water, while wool fibers can absorb close to 30% of their weight in water.

This additional aspect of the fabrics however raises a question about the above heat loss registered in the tests. It is often postulated that the faster drying time of synthetic materials is what causes them to “make you cold”. After all, if you have two materials that have absorbed an identical amount of water, and one dries in half the time, then all of the energy lost in the evaporation process would have been expanded in half the time, i.e. higher heat loss. So, why isn’t the fleece test showing  faster heat loss even though the fleece dried faster? Well, if we look closely enough, it is. You will see a larger initial dip in temperature with the fleece insulation than with the wool one, although the fleece caught up by the end of the test. Of course the difference seems small when compared to the overall decrease of insulation in both wet fabrics, but it is there none the less.

Keeping this in mind though, I think there are two things to consider here.

The first is that the evaporation of water from a material is only part of the cause for heat loss. There are several aspects, including the loss of dead air space due to water occupying the area, and collapse of the fabric material due to the added weight. Rate of evaporation will not effect these aspects, except in that the faster water evaporates (is removed) from the material, the better the insulation will get.

The second is that all materials do not absorb the same amount of water. While the same amount of water may be poured on a material, with something like fleece, where the fibers themselves absorb virtually no water, much of that water will simply drip out rather than evaporate. I think this is perhaps the greatest factor in explaining how a material can dry faster than another without any appreciably increase in the heat loss. 

The faster evaporation rate will probably become more noticeable when we are dealing with very thin materials such as base layers, that have become damp due to sweat. The synthetic material will dry faster, which initially cools it down more quickly, making it feel “clammy”. Over time however, as the materials dry, the synthetic fabric will gain its insulating ability back much faster. As the materials increase in thickness, their water retention will increase exponentially, giving us the results we see above.

In conclusion, I suppose it is not surprising that the two materials, wool and fleece, tested very similarly when dry and when wet. After all, fleece was designed as an artificial substitute for wool. If I had to offer an interpretation of the data, I would say that both materials loose significant insulation when wet. Your best betfor staying warm, as always, is to stay dry. Fleece dries much faster than wool (in this thickness), and as a result loses heat faster upfront, although then it regains it faster than wool over time. If you think you may get wet and will be in the woods for a short period of time, wool would be a good choice. Since it dries slowly, it will lose slightly less heat than fleece when initially wet. If you can get indoors to dry it out fairly soon after getting wet, it would be a good choice. On the other hand, if you will be in the woods for an extended period of time, the faster drying time of fleece will give you better overall insulation because It regains its full insulating ability much faster than wool. Anyway, all of these interpretations are rather academic. Your time is better spent figuring out how to stay dry than worrying about which fabric to wear. If you get wet, you will be cold in either one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Trip Report: Blades and Bushcraft Meeting 11/17/12 – 11/18/12

This past weekend some of the New York members of Blades and Bushcraft had out third bushcraft gathering. We are counting the Van Wyck airplane crash site trip as our second meeting.

For this one we decided to keep it simple. We would stay on trail the whole time, and pick a route that was not too exhausting, but at the same time would keep us active for a good part of the day since the temperatures were not particularly high. There were five of us: Beanbag, Son O’ Beanbag, Mibuwulf, Wood Trekker (Me) and our newest member, Terahz. Brother O’ Mibuwulf was supposed to be with us as well, but at the last moment he had to drive around a visiting family member, so he jumped on that grenade, allowing Mibuwulf to come.

The weather was supposed to be great. No rain was expected, and the temperatures weren’t too low, although they were in that annoying range where they keep going above and below freezing. When we started out it was a brisk 27F (-3C).


We gathered at the trail, and headed up the mountain. Two of us brought our dogs along for the trip. I brought Rhea, who is camouflaged in the picture below. She looks like a toy dog, but I have been taking her into the woods with me since she was a few months old, so she does great.

Copy of 044

Mibuwulf brought along Roxie, his hunting dog.


There was some scrambling to be done right off the bat, but the dogs kept up well.


The great thing about this area is that while the elevations are not high, there are some wonderful views because you can climb above tree line very quickly.


Here we had our first opportunity for a group photo, although the harsh sunlight is not a friend of the camera.

Copy of 027

The hurricane had done some damage to the area, although all the snow we had last week had completely melted.

Copy of 035

While we were still within the tree line, we decided to stop and have lunch.


After a short stop, we got back on the road and proceeded up the mountain. From that point on the trip was all above the tree line, where the wind picked up sharply. Luckily it was relatively warm in the sun, especially when we were moving.




We managed to spot a few deer as well. Later in camp we saw an eight point buck (according to Mubuwulf who said he was counting) running up the side of the mountain, but there was no time for pictures. We did get a few pictures of a smaller doe who seemed to pay little attention to us.


Along the way we passed by a rock outcrop called “ship rock”. We tried to climb it. Most of us made it to the same spot up the side of the rock before losing our nerve. You can see Son O’ Beanbag giving it a try here.


The only one of the group who managed to reach the top was Terahz, who has rock climbing experience.


After some more hiking up the mountain, we reached the area where we had planned to camp. We decided to go down the mountain into a small valley below the tree line. We hoped to find water there and some flat terrain sheltered from the winds. We lucked out and found exactly that.


It was getting late, and the temperatures were starting to drop. I pulled out my heavier jacket, the Patagonia DAS parka.


Rhea was also wearing her coat. She is pretty good with the cold, but I don’t want her to be shaking the whole time.


I was using the winter set up for the Shangri-La 3 just for practice. It includes additional lines to the side of the tent for added wind and snow load resistance. I recently started using these figure nine tightening mechanisms, which have been working well and allow me to use thinner line than if I was using friction knots.


The rest of the evening was spent gathering fire wood. After that we settled down around the fire, ate dinner, and exchanges stories. Some of the guys were waiting for a meteor shower that was supposed to start at midnight, but I only lasted till 10pm before going to bed. That was much better that my usual going to sleep at sundown routine.


The smartest person in the group was Terahz, who brought a lightweight chair to sit in. I brought a piece of closed cell foam that I use as a seat during cold weather.

The night was not too bad. The lowest temperature for the area was 24F (-4C). The biggest issue was a pack a coyotes that kept howling all night. We were not sure how close they were, but it wasn’t far. We were more worried about the dogs. If they decided to chase the coyotes, they would certainly be killed. Fortunately, the night passed without incident.

In the morning we made breakfast. On an unrelated issue, everyone was very amused by my pee bottle (a folding 48oz Nalgene bottle). I find it to be essential during colder weather. The guys didn’t see it that way.


All of the gear performed well. I was happy with the Shangri-La 3 as well as the Kovea Spider stove. I also filtered some water in the morning with my Sawyer Squeeze filter. I kept it in the sleeping bag over night to keep it from freezing. I can’t wait until we get enough snow for me to start melting and leave the filter home.


After packing up, it was time for a group photo, and we were on our way.


On the way back, we encountered some more deer. This time Roxie took off after them. It was quite some time before she came back, so we had to wait. Upon her return she had to wear the leash of shame.


We also ran across several old 19th century mines. Most of them were just cuts in the rock. One of them seemed much more elaborate.


Around noon we stopped for lunch. We found a nice spot near a lake. The wind however was very strong, making us glad that we found that small valley the previous night.



After lunch we followed the trail out, completing the loop. Here is what it looked like from the GPS recording.



It was a good trip with good friends. It was exactly what we wanted it to be. It wasn’t too stressful, but at the same time kept us working for most of the time. I’m sure the next one will be just as much fun.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dual Survival New Host Announced

Those of you who have been following the show already know that Dave Canterbury is no longer one of the hosts of Dual Survival. Discovery has been very secretive about the new host, but filming of the third season has been progressing.

According to Cody Lundin, the remaining original host, Discovery will officially announce the new host after Thanksgiving. The news however has leaked out. From what I hear, the new host of season three of Dual Survival will be Joseph Teti.


You can find the details about Joseph Teti online, but in brief, he is a US Marine Vet, Army Special Forces, director of International Security Consultants, and looks to be the real deal.

Season three of Dual Survival is supposed to start airing in January.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Merino Wool vs. Regular Wool Insulation

Some time ago I did a post where I tested the insulation value of dry and wet wool. The results as I interpret them are that wool does not keep you warm when wet, and in fact loses more heat than if though you were not wearing any insulation at all. Contrary to the popular assertion that wool keeps you warm when wet, wet wool clearly underperformed when compared to dry wool in a significant way. You can see the results of that test here.

In this test I wanted to compare Merino wool and regular wool along the same lines. First, I want to see if there is any difference in terms of insulation between the two, and second, I want to do some more wool tests to confirm my initial results. Most significantly, I wanted to test if merino wool keeps you warm when wet.

I found a merino wool cap that was just about identical to the regular wool one I used in the initial experiment. I decided to compare the two head to head. Because of how similar the two caps were in design and thickness, it allowed me to judge not only the comparative rate of heat loss, but also the comparative overall insulation both when dry and wet.

Regular Wool Cap


Merino Wool Cap


Earlier I outlined a test method for measuring the heat loss through an insulating material. In it I compared dry and wet wool. You can see the procedure in the post to which I linked above. In this test I repeated the same procedure with the merino wool cap under the exact same conditions.

In the graph below you will see five lines. The middle green line shows the heat loss from the container without the use of any insulation. The top two lines show the heat loss when dry wool (purple) and dry merino wool (orange) are used as insulators. The bottom two lines show heat loss when wet wool (red) and wet merino wool (blue) are used as insulators. The wet insulation shows data when the material was continuously kept wet throughout the experiment.

graph (6)

The top two lines are hard to distinguish from each other because the dry wool and dry merino wool seem to offer identical insulation.

Similarly, the bottom two lines are almost identical (I’m not sure the higher temperature for merino wool is statistically significant) because wet wool and wet merino wool seem to offer similar level of insulation.

Of course, both the wool and the merino wool show significant decrease in insulation, and therefore higher rate of heat loss when wet as compared to when they were dry. Neither fabric can be said to keep you warm when wet. In fact, heat retention seems better for a dry person not wearing the clothing than for one wearing the wet wool clothing.

The results are very similar, when we repeat the experiment without continuously wetting the insulating fabric. Here both the wool and merino wool were gotten wet prior to the test, but no water was added after the test began.

graph (7)

Wet merino wool (blue) seems to recover its insulating ability a little faster than wet wool (red), but I am not sure that difference is statistically significant. Both materials show an increase in insulating ability as time passes and water drains/dries from the material.

Interestingly, merino wool retained a lot more water. When completely wet, the merino wool cap was several ounces heavier than the regular wool cap, even though they had the same starting weight when dry. I am not sure why.

Anyway, not a particularly interesting experiment, and the results are more or less expected, but it’s good to confirm the initial findings.

Lastly, I want to take the opportunity to address a few questions/assertions that were brought up in the comment section during the last test:

The results would be different when you use a human body because it doesn’t cool off, but rather continues to produce heat at the same level.

The results would be different only to the extent that the shape of the lines would be different. We wouldn’t see a continuous drop in temperature until the body runs out of energy, so the lines would be more horizontal. However, the result would be exactly the same with respect to the rate of heat loss. You would still see the same gap between the line showing the insulation of the dry wool and that of the wet wool. The wet wool would still lose heat at a much higher rate than dry wool.

You are using completely wet wool rather than just wet wool.

Yes, this assumes that the clothing is completely wet. It assumes a scenario where you have fallen in a river, or have been caught by rain. The less wet your clothing is, the more insulation it will provide, just like with every other insulative material.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Early 20th Century Mountaineering

Well, winter is on its way. My mind has been drifting towards cold weather pursuits. I have a new ice axe coming in today, and have been eyeing a new set of Black Diamond crampons, which I am trying to resist very hard.

Whenever I start thinking along those lines, I can’t help but admire the people who pioneered the techniques we use today, and marvel at what they managed to achieve with inadequate equipment, but with an abundant supply of willpower.

Recently I ran across a few pictures I thought were worth sharing. They don’t actually date to the early 20th century. Unfortunately good pictures of mountaineering are hard to find from those early years, let alone from the 19th century. The images are of Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding, during their attempt to climb Mount Everest in replica clothing, worn by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine during their fatal attempt to climb the peak in 1924.

Wildest Dream 2

For those not familiar with the events, in 1924 (following two failed attempts in 1921 and 1922) George Mallory, with Andrew Irvine as partner, attempted to be the first men climb Mount Everest. They managed to reach their final camp, and the following day set out for the summit. They didn’t make it back. In 1999, Conrad Anker found Mallory’s body on the slope of the mountain. It appeared that he died while on his way back from the peak. It is still debated whether Mallory and Irvine actually reached the summit of Mt. Everest before dying on their way back.

Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding attempted to see if the climb could have been done with the clothing and equipment of the time. They set out in exact replica clothing and gear as that used by Mallory and Irvine. More importantly, they had to see if the second step (a steep piece of cliff near the summit on the north side of the mountain) could have been free climbed. Up till that time, the second step had only been climbed with a ladder and by a team of people who had to stand on each other’s shoulders to make it up.

Wilderst Dream 3

The attempt to climb in 1924 clothing and gear was soon abandoned, as it was found to be dangerously inadequate. However, Conrad Anker did manage to free climb the second step, showing that it was at least possible that Mallory and Irvine could have done it.

Anyway. Winter is on its way. We’ve already had our first few inches of snow. It is time to pull out the warm clothing and get out there.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Review

Earlier I reviewed the Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar charger. It is comprised of two solar panels which can be used to charge your electronic devises. But, what if the sun is not shining? Well, there is a supplemental component to the Nomad 7, which allows for more continued charging. That devise is the Guide 10 Plus rechargeable battery pack. It was provided to me by Omaha Knife for testing, and it was very useful during the recent hurricane.


The Guide 10 Plus is designed to work in combination with the Nomad 7. In fact, the Nomad 7 comes with the extension cord necessary to connect the Guide 10 Plus to the solar panel. The guide 10 Plus comes with four AA rechargeable batteries.

The dimensions of the Guide 10 Plus are 4 inches x 2.5 inches x 0.75 inches. The case itself weighs 2.1 oz and 6.2 oz together with the batteries. The cable that connects the Guide 10 Plus to the Nomad 7 weighs an additional 0.7 oz. The Guide 10 Plus battery pack retails for about $40.00. Keep in mind that very often it is sold as a kit with the Nomad 7.

On their website, Goal Zero states that using the Nomad 7 solar panel, the Guide 10 Plus battery pack can be charged in about 6-8 hours, while using a USB source, it takes about 8-10 hours. I have to say, I have no idea where they got these numbers. While the charging speed from the Nomad 7 sounds about right, I was able to charge the battery pack through the USB port by both plugging it into my laptop and to a wall outlet in under 2 hours. To charge the battery pack, the cable is inserted in one end, and the other end of the cable plugs into a USB port or the Nomad 7. This port can be a computer, or if you have an adapter (my cell phone came with one) a wall outlet. Keep in mind that inside the pack, there is a small piece of plastic that keeps one of the batteries from touching the pack. You have to pull it out before you can use the pack. The tab is there to keep the batteries from being active while the devise waits to be sold, but it will not work unless you take it out.


To use the battery pack, you just have to plug your device into it. The Guide 10 Plus has a USB port into which you can plug devices you wish to charge. Alternatively, you can just use the batteries themselves in your devices (headlamp, etc).


When it comes to charging speed, it is similar to if you have your devise plugged into your computer. It is about the same speed as if plugged into the outlet. I was able to charge my phone (Droid X, and now Galaxy SIII) twice on one charge of the Guide 10 Plus. I get about 10% charge every 10 minutes.

The Goal Zero Nomad 7 and the Guide 10 Plus battery pack are clearly designed to work together. The intent is that when there is sun you can use the solar panel to charge your devises and the battery pack. When sunlight is not available, you can use the Guide 10 Plus battery pack to power your devises.

Again, the usefulness of the system will depend on your circumstances. I can not see an instance where I would need it when backpacking, but for trips requiring more electronics, or bugout bags, I think this is a great tool. It was incredibly useful in the recent hurricane. My phone was one of the most important things I needed to charge, and the battery pack gave me that capability. This is not in the instructions, so I don’t know exactly what impact it would have on the device, but I was able to use regular batteries to charge my phone by just putting them into the Guide 10 Plus cartage.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Preparedness and Surviving Urban Natural Disasters

So, as many of you know if you have been watching the news, we got hit pretty hard here on the northeastern coast by hurricane Sandy. Some areas fared better than others. For those of you who are not familiar with the area, the southern part of NY, where the storm hit is comprised of a set of islands. Next to them is the NJ coast. While most of NY state is sheltered in the mainland, this southern tip, as well as the coast of NJ are very exposed.


Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island are part of NY State. I have separated them in the above map because they are often referred to by name in the news. Long Island is where I live.

In the days before the hurricane hit, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for a number of the lower elevation areas. I know that at least in Long Island, the National Guard cleared out certain area. I think that is a large part of why casualties from the storm were relatively low.

When the hurricane hit, the areas at lower elevations were flooded immediately.

sandy_flood (1) 


The New Jersey and Long Island power grids were hit particularly hard. I think they estimate that about 90% of both areas were left without power.


Even Manhattan, which is relatively sheltered, and which has underground utility lines which are protected from the winds, lost power. The lower third of the island was left in the dark.



In this area, most people commute into the city for work. Some travel by subway from the surrounding boroughs like Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. Others like me travel by railroad from Long Island, New Jersey, Staten Island and the upper parts of New York State. Almost all of those trains enter the city through tunnels, which were completely flooded by the storm. That stopped almost all service in and around the area.


The above picture shows a subway station a few days after the storm. The rails above ground were obstructed by fallen trees.


It is now two weeks later, and a lot of areas are still without power. Gasoline immediately became a scarce commodity. The tankers that deliver the fuel were not able to dock because of the storm damage, and supply was cut very short.

From a personal stand point, I was not in an evacuation area. Even though I am close to the coast, I am higher up in elevation, so I did not get any flooding. I did however immediately loose power. I was without electricity, heat, or hot water for about two weeks, about November 9, 2012. It was another few days until I got back my internet and phone service, so I can make this post. I was lucky that there was no physical damage to the building where I live, even though my area was hit pretty hard.

Now, I usually don’t post much about prepping, even though I know I have a good number of readers who are interested in that sort of thing. The reason why I do not write about it, or participate in similar forums is that I find that most prepping that is done is not in touch with reality. Prepping seems to immediately elicit concerns about world ending events, collapse of the government, or a zombie apocalypse. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with preparing for the absolute worse, I think quite often the preparations made are so extreme that they become inapplicable in the most likely scenarios for which you would be needed.

Another reason why I don’t write much about prepping is that I apparently take for granted a certain degree of prepping, which has recently become clear to me other people do not do. I grew up in Eastern Europe. Not having services is not something that shocks me. Not having heat, electricity, hot water, or even water for that matter, is not unusual to me. Neither are lines for food, fuel, and everything else. I guess, I always have that in the back of my mind, so I am minimally prepared both with provisions, as well as psychologically.

So, what did I do for the storm? Well, I tend to keep a lot of dry food at my place. If I am careful, I can stretch it for at least a few weeks. I also usually have about ten (10) litters of water that I store in case the water shuts off. I am also lucky to currently live close to a lake from which I can filter water. I have the usual supply of candles, flashlights and batteries for when the power goes out. I also have sufficient clothing and blankets to keep warm. I think people preoccupy themselves too much with heating their house. You will be surprised how well you can survive at low temperatures as long as you have a good routine going. In case my cooking gas goes out a have a while gas stove, with fuel for a few weeks. It also runs on gasoline if need be. The only thing I had to do before the hurricane was fill up on gas.

Now, I don’t actually consider that prepping. I don’t even particularly organize any of my things in any “kit” form. I just know where things are, and what I need to take if I have to evacuate. If I had to leave, the main gear that would come with me would be my backpacking gear, plus a few other items.

What I did once the power went out was to get into a routine, just like you would on a long camping trip. You keep everything organized, you don’t waste resources, and you make sure that what needs to get done each day actually gets done. Since I didn’t lose my cold water supply nor my cooking gas, I was in very good shape. The biggest problem became the boredom. There just wasn’t enough to do.

Keeping the above background info in mind, there were a few things that I found very useful. Some of them I have reviewed here, other I have not.

The first thing was a lighter/matches. Of course you need them to light candles, but also, most gas stoves use an electric spark to ignite the gas. Without electricity, you need to use a lighter or a match to light the gas much like you would a camping stove. Make sure you do not let out too much gas before striking the match.


Had my gas been out as well, I would have relied heavily on my white gas stove, a MSR Whisperlite International. I have a good supply of white gas, but it can also run on gasoline and other fuels. If you are forced to use gasoline, select the one with the lowest possible octane.


The next thing was a large candle. It is a good way to save your batteries. I have one of those candles that come in a jar. I would light it when the sun went down, and use it for light. It is not bright enough to do any work by, but it provides a good amount of background light so you don’t bump into things.


Along with that a good head lamp is extremely useful. I was given one by Omaha Knife for testing purposes before the storm, the Fenix HL30 R5. It is a serious headlamp. While a little on the heavy side for an occasional backpacking headlamp, it did great in this role. It has a maximum output of 200 lumens, which is enough to light up just about anything. It also has a computer chip which regulates the battery use. This gives it a much longer battery life than a regular headlamp of flashlight.


Warm clothing was also very useful. The temperatures weren’t too bad, but even so, being well dressed kept me warm. An extra thick blanket or two will also be of great help. In cold weather, much like when camping, you need a routine, and you need to know exactly what you are doing and my so you don’t waste heat. When you get out of bed, and what clothing goes on and when has to be thought out and done systematically. If you do that, you can live perfectly fine at relatively low temperatures.


I also found great use for two other items, which I did not expect. They were the Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar charger and the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus rechargeable battery pack. They were both on loan to me from Omaha Knife for testing. They were instrumental in keeping my phone charged (phone these days incorporating GPS, internet, email, etc). I didn’t expect that because this was a whole set of issue that I did not foresee. There were no smart phones when I was younger in the old country.


For when I had power back, but no internet access, an app for my phone (Android) called Easy Tether Pro allowed me to get internet access on my computer through my phone. It is an easy way to eat up your data plan, but it is a good capability to have. It allows you to tether both wifi and 3/4G.


There were however some things that I did not have that I wished I did.
The first was a few jerry cans. It would have been great to be able to fill up with some extra gas so I don’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately, I did not expect that gas will be in short supply for such a long period of time.


Another thing was a small radio. It would have been good to be able to listen to the news to see what’s going on. This is definitely something I should have had, but didn’t.


I could have also used a good detailed map of the area. I am so used to using my phone for navigation when driving, that I was not prepared having to do it without my phone. A good map would have been very handy. I was okay this time, but I need to get one.


And that’s about it. As I mentioned before, the rest was just boredom. When power went out, I started eating the food I had in order of what would go bad first. Deciding what to cook any particular day became the highlight of the evening. The rest of the time during the day was split up between chores and trying to recharge my phone so I have some means of communication and information.

Earlier I mentioned that one reason I don’t talk about prepping is that I think a lot of prepping is so extreme that it is not applicable to “normal” disasters. Even though most of the region was without power for between one and three weeks (and more in some smaller areas), I did not have to defend my food supplies from roaming gangs of armed mercenaries /zombies. As bad as things got, civilization did not fall apart. I have seen things get much, much worse in Eastern Europe, and civilization still didn’t collapse. In fact, it is the need to participate in civilized society during disasters that requires the greatest preparation. I think that is what I didn’t expect myself. I knew I would be fine living in my building until things were back to normal. I never had any worries about that, and was prepared accordingly. It was the need to keep in communication, follow the news, find out if and which trains are running, that caught me off guard. If it wasn’t for the fact that I accidentally had the Goal Zero Nomad 7 and the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus with me, things would have been much harder. With those devises, supplemented by my car charger, I was able to keep my smart phone operational, which gave me access to news, communication, navigation, etc, at least in theory.

As much as the side of us which likes to prepare wants us to think in terms of us living either in this society, or in some Mad Max post apocalyptic alternative, the more tangible reality is that disasters will happen, and a week later your boss will expect you to make your way to the office. Your car will get swept away by a flood, and your worry will be how to contact GEICO for the insurance check. The world moves on, and being prepared to do so after or during a disaster is the hardest and I think most important thing for which to prepare.

Anyway, that was just my experience in this one particular situation. I had it pretty easy, so there isn’t much I can tell you in terms of how to survive. Others have written much more on the issue and are more qualified to speak on the subject.

I want to thank all of those who have been trying to get in touch with me. I appreciate your concern and support.