Emergency Survival Guide

Survival guide and tips
Surviving a power outage in your home
May 21, 2010

This document also at:

Feel free to print this off and put it in a binder in a safe place. Then refer to it when necessary.

First I want to say

I thought I would share some ideas I have collected from the web and from personal experience. The power goes out here a couple times a year. Usually it is on within 12 hours, but there were times when I could go 5 nights without power, and almost always it was during cold weather (like ice storms).

This guide is intended to give you pointers on how to prepare for emergencies WHEN YOU STAY IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD. However, many of these tips can be used in the wilderness. It's better to be prepared than not. Here in Michigan we periodically have power outages, even in the big cities (where I live). Just Friday (April 2003) we had a bad ice storm and the power was out for 48 hours. Temps got to 19F at night. I only had a gas fireplace to keep the whole house warm and keep the pipes from freezing.

This guide references resources found in the USA, so prices are in US dollars.

First, one of the most important things to have a ready supply of, after water, food, and heat, is SOAP. If you can't stay clean you will be very weak from infections, whether it is infections of the skin, stomach, or intestine.

Jump to:

Mental Preparedness

When in any survival situation, whether the power goes out in a big city, or you are trapped in your car in the wilds, there are some general rules which will greatly help your survival.


If you panic, you make bad decisions, and that can lead to bigger problems down the road, like frost bite, infection, or worse. Find a way to stay calm, go to your happy places, think soothing thoughts, listen to music, meditate, or whatever floats your boat.

You could tell stories at night to entertain people. Try to tell funny stories to help relieve tension. During the day you can do chores, find water and food, wash dishes, or read by sunlight. Try to conserve candles and batteries. If you have a solar charger, use it to charge batteries during the day.


Check to see what items you have. Is it cold and do you have matches to start a fire? Do you have enough fuel to cook or will you have to eat cold beans? Can you go to a restaurant to eat? Do you have enough to drink? (Avoid drinking alcohol in a survival situation, it only dehydrates you.) I would also avoid all non-diet soda, since those are so high in corn syrup, they will also dehydrate you. Diet soda should be ok.


You can get more done if each person does the thing he is best at. Get your kids involved. Have them do things appropriate to their age. Make it a fun thing. Set up a tent in the living room, this will provide a new place for them to play, and provide another layer to conserve body heat if the heat in the house is out.


Some people become unreasonable or irritable when they get scared. Try to find a way to calm them down. You might just have to ask them, "What will help calm you down?" (See "Don't Panic" above.) Understand that this is just their reaction to the situation. However, if they continue to panic, it may be necessary for other measures, such as separating yourself from this destructive person. Panic can be contagious and you don't want more people in your group panicking.

The next sections will describe specific issues you might come across in a power outage situation.


You can only live without water for 7 days. I haven't seen any articles about how long you can be conscious, or walking around, or doing things for yourself, so this 7 days is probably a moot point. (Actually, some people say you should not go without water for more than 3-4 days.) You lose 2-3 quarts of water per day from body functions, and sweating. You need to drink a minimum of 2 quarts of water or liquids per day.


I have to make a note about boiling water. I have come across a few, very smart people, who do not know what boiling water is. They think when you put a pot of water on the stove and turn it on, the water is boiling. THIS MYTH CAN MAKE YOU VERY SICK, PUT YOU IN THE HOSPITAL, AND POSSIBLY CAUSE PERMANENT DAMAGE TO YOUR INTESTINES. I will describe the steps of water boiling below.

A note about water containers. You should ALWAYS designate one container for "dirty" unfiltered water, and another for "clean" filtered water. NEVER get dirty water inside a clean water container or from then on consider it a "dirty" container, and it must be decontaminated. Pathogens that can make you very sick can be in the tiny droplets of water left behind after you rinse a "clean" container which accidentally contained "dirty" water. Don't take the chance. Wash out the now dirty container with a bleach solution.

Get a 1 micron or smaller water filter to filter your own water from melted snow or a stream. Or store water for your family. A person needs a minimum of 2 quarts of water per day just for drinking. The best filters are NOT the pump kind. Think, if you're starving and you need to pump water for 20 minutes just to get a quart, it is not fun. (I've been there.) Get a gravity fed water filter, where the dirty water feeds down from the top, through a filter, into another container. That way, you dump water in the top, and go off and do other things while it filters itself. The better filters cost from $100-$300 and can filter 10,000-26,000 gallons of water before needing a new filter. (That's pretty cheap water!)

First, prefilter your water to get out the large junks of junk by passing it through a (clean) sock, nylon poncho, or coffee filter. This will greatly lengthen the life of your filter.

Some filters just filter out bacteria down to 1 micron (or whatever size your filter is). Others use iodine or some other technique of killing viruses and other smaller organisms. These are better filters. However, they will not filter out or neutralize chemically polluted water. This means you have to have a clean water source (not polluted with industrial chemicals) in the first place. Find one, or use fresh sesw in the winter. Some filters last for 100 gallons, others last for 1000 gallons. Look at how long they last, and how much they cost. I.e. how much does it cost to filter one gallon of water?

Ex: a filter alone costs $50 and filters 500 gallons of water. So it costs $.10 to filter a gallon of water. Also, some filters will last much longer if they are cleanable. Some are not cleanable. Example 2: a Berkefeld filter costs $200 but filters 10,000 gallons of water. That's $.02 per gallon. Very cheap for gravity filtered water!

Another way to purify water is to bring it to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. This will kill bacteria and viruses, but it will not get rid of chemical contaminents. Pressure cookers can be used to speed the boiling process. Solar cookers can be used but these are only useful in VERY sunny seasons or sunny climates. One solar cooker utilized black tubing with an automotive radiator valve at the "clean" end. The valve opened when the water was hot enough, and closed when cooler water got near the valve after the boiled water had emptied. (http://www.accessone.com/~sbcn/solarwat.htm, link seems dead now) (UPDATE: after my experiments with solar power and solar heat at latitude 44, I don't think this device would work anywhere in the US. However, it might work closer to the equator where a greater proportion of solar energy would be absorbed by the device.)

Yet another way is to use iodine tablets found in camping stores. 1 tablet will purify 1 quart of water usually. But this leaves a bad taste in the water and takes 30 minutes, more in cold weather.

UV Light. High doses of ultraviolet light energy at a wavelength of 254 nanometers destroys pathogenic microbes by disabling their reproductive process. Without the ability to reproduce, the microbe is harmless and considered dead. Microbes, sometimes, are not harmful in themselves. It's the poisons they make that harm the body. So a few non-reproducing microbes can be dealt with by the bodies immune system. But when they multiply to a certain level, that's when they make levels of those poisons which the body cannot deal with fast enough.

"Party" UV lights can be bought at larger general stores, but I don't know the wavelength of the light. (NOTE: "party" or blacklight lamps do not disable the germs because they do not use the correct wavelength. You must buy special lamps. These are also called "germicidal" UV lamps. Try hospital or barber shop supply houses. The commercial UV pen light for purifying water uses the correct wavelength.)

An activated charcoal filter can kill the bacteria, but not the spore-type pests (like Giardia) and not viruses. Activated charcoal can be bought at pet stores, if they sell fish supplies.

Bleach. To store water, add 5-8 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Use a container where the sun won't get in. The sun will cause algae to grow.
Available Chlorine Drops per gallon of clear water
1% chlorine in bleach...40 drops per gallon.
4 to 6% chlorine in bleach...8 drops per gallon.
7 to 10% chlorine in bleach...4 drops per gallon.
The treated water should be mixed thoroughly and allowed to stand for 30 minutes. If the water should have a slight chlorine odor, it is ok to drink. If not, repeat the dosage and allow the water to stand for an additional 15 minutes. If the treated water has too strong a chlorine taste, it can be made more pleasing by allowing the water to stand exposed to the air for a few hours or by transferring it from one clean container to another several times.

Granular Calcium Hypochlorite (chlorine treatment for pools). Add and dissolve one heaping teaspoon of high-test granular calcium hypochlorite (approximately 1/4 ounce) for each 2 gallons of water. The mixture will produce a stock chlorine solution of approximately 500 mg/L, since the calcium hypochlorite has an available chlorine equal to 70 percent of it's weight. To disinfect the water, add the chlorine solution in the ratio of one part of chlorine solution to each 100 parts of water to be treated. This is roughly equal to adding 1 pint (16 oz.) of stock chlorine to each 12.5 gallons of water to be disinfected. To remove any objectionable chlorine odor, aerate the water by transferring it from one clean container to another several times.

Chlorine Tablets. Chlorine Tablets containing the necessary dosage for drinking water disinfection can be purchased in a commercially prepared form. These tablets are available from drug and sporting goods stores and should be used as stated in the directions. When instructions are not available, use one tablet for each quart of water to be purified.

Prefiltering water. Be sure to prefilter your water before putting it through the water filter. This means using a fine mesh or cloth to filter out debris and sand. Then let the prefiltered water go through your good filter. This will make the good filter last longer and increase times between cleaning it. Items you can use for prefilters: nylon stockings, densly woven cotten cloth (tshirt or sweatshirt), coffee filter in a funnel.

Be careful of straw or bottle type water purifies. Make sure they say they kill or filter bacteria and virii. Some only take chlorine out of the water and do nothing for the bacteria.

For other drinkable water sources in your home in an emergency:

Update Sep 2005. Hurricane Katrina in Lousiana.

The hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi brought to light some very important problems when flooding occurs. Saltwater was washed inland into the bowl-shaped depression that is New Orleans. It mixed with fresh water, pesticides, herbicides, gasoline, oil, and many other chemicals from peoples' houses and refineries making a toxic soup. Not only was this water undrinkable with a good filter, if you touched it you got a real bad skin disease. Only time will tell how bad these skin disorders will become.

Therefore, if you are in a survival situation, you have to determine if there is any chance that chemicals, gas, or oil got into your raw water supply. Filters without activated charcoal will not filter out chemicals, only bacteria, and some remove spores and viruses. Filters with activated charcoal filter out SOME chemicals but it is unknown which ones. Do you feel lucky today?

Transpiration. Trees and other plants naturally give off water vapor as part of their process of photosynthesis. By tying a clear or translucent plastic bag around a bunch of branches, you can trap and condense the water vapor. Tie off the open end on the branch, and make a low spot using a 1/2 inch rock placed inside the bag. Cut a slit in the bottom of the low spot, then tie with string, or rubber band, or twist tie. Open the bag and drink when you want to.

One article says that rainwater collected for drinking should not be collected from roofs with asphalt shingles or lead flashing.


How will you store water? You can buy 5 gallon containers, or use lots of clean milk jugs. Water only stores this way for about 1 year, then you have to use it up. Will you have to lock it up from greedy or lazy neighbors who didn't prepare? Will you need to build a lockable storage area? Will you need to buy latches, locks? Water weighs 8.5 pounds per gallon in case you want to store some in your attic. Then just run a hose down to your kitchen area and you have a gravity fed water supply. Check with local building inspectors or builders to find out where in your attic the strongest point is, and how much water you can store up there! A general rule is, generally outside walls are load-bearing and are more sturdy, inside walls are not meant to bear loads of weight above them.

Sources of water filters

Flushing toilets

This is all fine for drinking water, but what if you have a power outage at home, how do you flush the toilets? In cities, water pressure is maintained by large water towers, but these are filled by electric pumps. When the pumps stop, a little water (which also means a little pressure) remains in the towers and you can use the water for a short time (1-2 days) after the power outage, depending on how many other people are scrambling to fill their water containers. Eventually the water in these towers will run out. In rural areas, water pumps are run by electricity, so they are useless as soon as the power goes out.

If you know about a storm coming, fill up your bathtubs with water and put a 5 gal bucket in the room with the toilet. The bath water can be put into the bucket to flush a toilet. You will need 3-4 gallons to flush a typical US toilet. In the winter, get two 5gal buckets filled with snow and put them in the bathroom. The snow will eventually melt, and you can use one, then while the first is filled with snow, the 2nd can be used later. Try to conserve water and only flush if someone goes "#2" (solid waste).

In the summer you can catch rainwater from the roof (from gutters if you have them) or get water from a stream or lake. You will not be drinking this water so it will be fine for flushing.

Note: water is heavy, 9 pounds per gallon, so a full 5 gal bucket weighs 45 lbs. Only the big people will be able to haul this amount of weight. So be nice to the big, meaty people! They always get stuck with the hard work.

You can hook a hose to a rain barrel with a "bulkhead fitting" with a 3/4" male screw part. This allows you to drill a hole into a plastic barrel near the bottom, then screw on your hose to the fitting. The fitting makes a watertight seal on both sides of the barrel.

Other sources of water, for flushing or washing:


A person can survive without food for about 2 weeks. Again, the info I've read didn't mention how long they would be conscious, walking about, or caring for themselves without food. Getting a supply of canned food is a good idea. Dried food is good too so get a good food dehydrator, perhaps 2. Use one for a backup. (NOTE: they usually use electricity and will be useless without it.) Dried food found at camping stores is very expensive ($3-10 for one meal for one person) so making your own dried food is a good alternative. Store dried food in heavy (freezer type) plastic bags, not the flimsy sandwich bags.

Food suggestions. Stock up on already dried foods like rice, pasta, raisins, dates, instant mashed potatoes and other dried foods. Food dryers work well -- if you have electricity. But they take 24-72 hours to dry one batch of food.

How will you cook your food or boil water if the electricity goes out? Do you have a gas stove and enough gas? Propane is easiest to use. "White gas" stoves can be difficult to start, especially outside on windy days.

Update: I bought an alcohol stove in 2005, it's just like a Trangia style. It works great! It is East German military surplus and I paid $7us plus shipping from www.cheaperthandirt.com. (2008: This kit is now $13us.) It uses Methyl Alcohol (aka Methanol, Methylated spirits, denatured alcohol, methyl hydrate) found in the paint thinner area of your hardware store. You cannot use rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) because that is only 70% alchol and it can leave soot on your pans. Anything that is 160 proof or more should also work. Anyway, in my first indoor test it boiled 3 cups of water in 7 minutes! In my first use during camping it boiled a can of Chunky soup (the tall can) in 3 minutes!

It comes with a deep pot, deep enough to cook for 2-3 people. Plus a more shallow pan, which is still fairly deep. It comes with an alcohol container, and wind shield. The wind shield acts as a support for the pot.

Identifying wild food. Here is that general rule for identifying berries: red is usually ok, black/blue = maybe ok, white = POISONOUS, don't eat. Don't eat wintergreen berries, which are small round red berries on the ground found in the late fall and early winter. The leaves of the plant, about 1-2 inches high, smell like wintergreen when broken. Avoid all fungi and mushrooms, it is EXTREMELY hard for beginners to identify the edible ones. Do not eat fish or water animals (crayfish, mollusks) in a city or if there is a factory upstream from where you caught them, as they concentrate pollutants in their tissues. If you are way out in the country these might be safe.

If you are desperate, insects, grubs and worms are edible, except for spiders and other poisonous insects (fire ants, wasps, bees, etc.). Cooking them kills the insect (so they don't bite back) and kills any bad bacteria inside them. Grasses and many weeds are edible, if they have not been sprayed with pesticides. Only certain parts of each plant are edible. On some plants, only the leaves are edible, on others, the leaves are poisonous, but the roots are edible. On others only the flowers are edible. Get an edible plant guide and practice identifying what weeds are edible. The following are also edible cooked or raw: garlic mustard, plantain, wild leeks, wild onions.


Again, is your family strong enough to survive rationing? Or will they break into food when you're not looking? Will you need to lock it up? I recommend storing 2 weeks of non-perishable food per person.

Starting a fire

You will be using fire for a variety of things: cooking, boiling water to drink, washing yourself, washing cooking utensils, keeping warm, etc. So it is VERY important you know how to start one. This is so important that I made a whole new section for it, as fire starting notes appear in several sections in this document.

To start a fire you need all of these:

  1. A spark or heat or flame
  2. Fluff to start the fire from the spark. Fluff is very light flammable material which will burn immediately when a spark or flame is put to it.
  3. Kindling: small sticks, from half the width of a pencil to the width of an adult thumb. Kindling is sometimes helped to combust by adding flammable things, like kerosene, hair spray, or other liquids.
  4. Fuel: fuel bigger than kindling, in ascending diameters, used to fuel the fire for a longer time (hours). You will be using up to log size, or about 6 inches in diameter. Larger logs should be split, or you can just start by burning one end of them. When the end is burned down, move the log into the fire some more. This requires much less energy than cutting and splitting the wood.
Note: Always site your fire so items on the ground (leaves, pine needles) will not catch fire. Also avoid putting your fire under trees, heat rises and tends to catch the trees on fire. Pine trees are especially flammable. Remove any flammable materials in a 5 foot radius from your fire and build your fire in a pit to contain coals.


  1. Matches (naturally, the first thing one would think of)
  2. A lighter. An empty lighter still creates sparks if the flint is intact. Place a cotton ball or other tinder right on the lighter where the flame normally exists. Spark the lighter and the cotton should ignite.
  3. Real flint and high carbon steel. Makes sparks, so make sure your tinder is very fluffy, like a cotton ball.
  4. Misch metal. This is a manufactured flint which is actually a mixture of several metals. It is the cylindrical striker sold in camp stores. Hint: after storing this for several months it gets a black oxide coating and will not makes sparks very well. Keep scraping until you find silvery metal, at which point the sparks will come easily.
  5. Magnesium shavings. Usually you have a bar of magnesium, then you shave off filings using a knife. Then you use a spark to light it. This stuff burns hot, but really fast. Not good for starting damp fires.
  6. Welding striker. This contains a metal cup in one end with a file inside. Squeeze the 2 handles to make a sparker create sparks. Put your tinder in the cup, prepare your fire, squeeze the handles. When your tinder in your cup lights, dump the mass into your prepped fire.

===Fluff (aka Tinder)

Ideas for fluff for building a fire.

  1. Frayed cotton material (from a shirt, towel, sock, rope, etc.)
  2. Milkweed fluff from the seed pods (should be very dry). Only available in fall.
  3. Cotton ball or Q-tip (cotton swab) plain or with vaseline or wax.
  4. Tampons. Tampons are usually made out of cotton which is packed densely. The UK military puts one in every survival kit for their special forces. USAF also uses one in their survival kit.
  5. Frayed wood stick. Use a knife to shave off thin shavings. Pine works best because it has flammable pitch.
  6. Dried pine needles work great, because they are full of flammable pitch (sap). Green pine needles will also work.
  7. Pine bark (again, has flammable pitch) or any dry bark, like the papery birch.
  8. Dried moss or lichen (works great). Get some in a sunny clearing in the woods.
  9. Paper or cardboard. From anything, like newspaper, cartons, wrappers, labels, junk mail, books, etc.
  10. Dried leaves or grasses.
  11. Dryer lint (from your clothes dryer).
  12. Joke birthday candles that don't blow out. (Thanks Ranger Rick!)
  13. Waxed paper from candy wrappers or food wrappers. Note: Most candy wrappers in the US are now made of mylar, a type of plastic. This may burn but do not burn it indoors.

Flammable agents to help get a fire started. Useful if you are a beginner or you can't find dry wood. Many of these agents burn quite fast, which is not what you want if you have wet conditions. Use slower burning items (oil, kerosene, wax, pine pitch) if tinder is wet.

  1. Hand sanitizer. It's a gel made from alcohol, it will burn slow and steady, just right for starting a fire. Not good for windy conditions. (My tests showed that this burned with a low flame for only a short while. Not an ideal solution.)
  2. Kerosene. Flammable but not explosive like gasoline.
  3. Gasoline (WARNING! gasoline does not burn REALLY fast, it EXLODES! Use with extreme caution! Use the longest possible match, and keep your body as far away from the gas as possible. Only use small amounts of gas at a time.) Cooking with gasoline will make your food taste like gas, don't do it. And it will leave tons of black soot on your pans. If you light a metal can of gas, it will burn slowly for hours. Not good for starting a fire with wet wood because it burns so fast.
  4. Wax. Drip this on paper or cardboard before using. Then light the paper or cardboard. Can be from crayons, wax paper, or waxed candy wrappers, like Tootsie rolls. How about from lip balm?
  5. Olive oil (will start slowly so it takes patience)
  6. Motor oil, used or new. I just found out this stuff is more flammable than olive oil. Who woulda thunk?
  7. WD40
  8. Hair spray
  9. Steel wool (yes really). You can use a match to start this or 2 wires connected to a 9v battery (you need at least 9 volts, so a 12v car battery would also work). Put one wire at one end of the steel wool, and another at the other end. The wool will immediately glow red and catch on fire. Make sure wool is below kindling when you do this. A 9v battery works well for this but auto batteries will also work. A single C, D, AA or AAA cell MIGHT also work. Run a wire from the negative terminal towards the positive terminal (top) but don't let them touch. Now press steel wool against both at the same time. Wait for it to catch fire, then put it in the kindling.
  10. Road flare. This will run hot for 20-30 minutes, but once it's done, it's done. Save these for starting fires with damp wood.
  11. Propane or butane torch.
  12. Short candle. This will burn a while and help get the fire started. Place it under the kindling, then remove when the fire has started, so you can use it again. Or wax from crayons, or any other source.
  13. Acetone (nail polish remover).
  14. Patches of rubber inner tube (or tire) work well to start a fire. They burn hot for a few minutes to light your tinder. However they create lots of black sooty smoke which stains the surrounding walls, fireplace, etc.
  15. Pine tree pitch/sap also works great to start a fire. Sap often collects in yellow lumps where a tree has been wounded, then slowly drips on everything.
  16. High proof booze. 150 proof might work, but try for 180 proof. 150 proof is 75% alcohol. 180 proof is 90% alcohol. Proof/2 = percent alcohol.
  17. Cardboard, especially waxed cardboard (often found in frozen food packaging.)
  18. Plastic. Anything plastic, hard plastic, like a fork, or soft plastic, like a blowup kiddie pool. Plastic is made from oil and makes a black sooty smoke. Use only outdoors.

Steps to build a fire outdoors

Finding fuel for a fire. The better fuel to use for a fire is hardwood: oak, maple, birch, ash, walnut. Hardwoods will burn longer before you have to add more wood to the fire. But softwoods will also work: pine, cedar, spruce. Try to get the driest wood available, by knocking down dead branches still on the tree.

Waterproofing matches. To effectively waterproof matches, you must coat the whole stick with wax. You see, with waterproof matches where only the head is coated, when you strike the match, the head burns in about 2 seconds, then the fire goes out when it hits the wet wood. You can dip the whole match in melted wax once, twice for the head, to waterproof them. When using the match, hold the head level or pointing down so hot wax does not drip on your hands, or use pliers or a notched stick to hold it.

Using wet wood. First, you cannot use wet wood to start a fire, but here is a method I just learned to make it drier. Shave off the outer layer of wood using a knife or sharp axe. You will shave off about 1/8 inch. The core of the wood will be mostly dry. Then use the wood normally to light a fire. Keep extra shaved wood covered so it does not get wet again.

Pile up the kindling.

First, build a fire pit if you do not have one. Dig it in the dirt so 3 sides protect against the wind (if there is one). If the wind is coming from many directions, average the directions and protect from that direction. In general do not place it under a tree at the base of the trunk. Dig the pit, and pile the dirt on 3 sides of the pit.

Get all your supplies next to the fire pit: your fluff, sparker/lighter/matches, kindling, and fuel wood.

Place 1" to 3" dia. sticks in a V-shape lying down in the bottom of the pit. This V shape forms the walls for your fire so the kindling will not be blown out by wind. The "walls" will also hold larger kindling on top to be lit by the fire below.

On top of the V shape, lay kindling to span the V, like a little roof. The V-shape will point away from you because you will put the burning fluff in the opening inside the V. Overlap the kindling so when the fire rises up from the fluff, the fire will cause the kindling to ignire. Remember, fire and heat RISE UP. Now, put larger kindling on top of the smaller.

Now put some small fuel (bigger than the largest kindling you have so far) on the kindling. Continue this until you have used up to 1.5 inch fuel. Find yourself a nice sturdy poker stick that is straight and long. This will allow you to adjust the logs as they burn.

Light the kindling pile.

You can start a fire with matches, or a regular lighter with fuel. If you do not have fuel in the lighter, fray out some cotton ball, place it next to the flint, and spark away. When the cotton is lit, place it carefully under some tinder.

Heating and cooking

First, a note about safety. An open flame should never be left burning when people are sleeping. 1) it may tip over and start a fire. 2) All petroleum-based fuels produce poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in various quantities. They are odorless gasses which can kill you. Symptoms of CO or CO2 poisoning include: feeling of "fuzziness", dizziness, nausea, trouble thinking or remembering (more trouble than usual), constant headache, shortness of breath, numbness in any part of the body especially extremities or head.

If you lose power and possibly other utilities, it could be cold here for those in the northern hemisphere, like the US. And that means you need heat. Here are some ideas for making heat, and making your own stoves and heating devices. As with any device which burns a substance, it will generate fumes harmful to you. Be sure to vent these fumes outside somehow. My propane heater recommends 24 square inches of a vent opening to the outside, for example. That means, a 12 inch wide window open 2 inches high. These ideas are in no particular order, but I prefer heating with propane. I think it has fewer risks associated with the benefits and cost.

Coffee Can Stove: Easier to make than an alcohol stove, fuel is easier to find and free.

2007: I have just finished making and testing a coffee can stove powered by pencil-thick sticks. It boiled about 10oz water in about 7 minutes. It works great! There are many coffee can stove designs out there. I chose the simplest design so beginners will like it.

My design has holes in the bottom to let air in, and a "door" in which to place long sticks. As the sticks burn, push them in all the way. 2 metal rods at the top help to keep small pots from falling in. You will need a drill. If you have no drill, a churchkey (makes triangular holes in canned juice) will work also. You will need tin snips to make the "door". My design uses an open top and closed bottom, and will make your pots black. The design below (Mother Earth News) uses a closed top (open bottom?) with vent holes in the top to release smoke, and should not blacken your pots.

See also these links:


More light links:

Storage, in general

5 gallon buckets

5 gallon buckets are great for all kinds of uses. Here are some sample uses. NOTE: when carrying 5 gallon buckets of water, they are quite heavy. Be sure to balance your load and carry one equally weighted bucket in each hand, so you don't hurt your back. Always try to balance your load when carrying heavy things. Or make a yoke, to balance 2 buckets on your shoulders.

Where do you get 5 gallon buckets? They hold pickles, paint, blacktop sealer, stain, drywall mud (aka joint compound), and more. Get them from restaurants, companies who seal asphalt, paint and drywall contractors. Hardware stores may have some empty ones. Don't store drinkable water or food (which will touch the bucket walls) in the ones that have been used for paint, asphalt sealer, etc. It may not wash out completely and will taint your water.

Does anyone else have novel uses for 5 gallon buckets? Write me at chuckr44 at gawab d0t c0m. (NEW email as of Sep 2005)

Power, electricity, other utilities

I think it's generally better to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

What to pack

There is some discussion about what you need to survive. Most agree you need the following: water, shelter, food, heat. But how do you get those things if there is no electricity, water going to your house, and the stores are sold out from a panic? Here's what I advise to pack:

Other stuff good to have around in a long-term situation

Most useful camping items

It is important when camping to minimize the number and weight of items you are carrying. Do you have a camping item that you have many uses for? What is the most useful camping item? We all know we need a: pocket knife, matches. What are other things you find that have many uses?

Reviews of products

You've heard of the products, know their features, but how well do they work in real life situations? This section will attempt to answer those questions by showing reviews of actual products I have used.

No battery flashlight. These are starting to be sold in many camping stores. You shake the flashlight to make it work. Actually, you shake it to charge a battery to make it work. So it is not really "no battery". It works on a rechargable battery, which, like any other battery, will eventually go bad. Do not expect more than 5 years of service from a rechargable battery. I own one but do not use it.

Update: some brands have a battery, which will eventually wear out. One brand (called Nitestar) has a large capacitor, much better than a battery because it will not wear out. The Nitestar also uses an LED bulb for conserving power. Here is the Shakelight. Can't tell if it uses a capacitor or battery.

LED flashlights. These are great. They last 100+ hours on one set of batteries and the lamp itself, an LED, is much more tougher than a standard flashlight lamp. Very much worth the price. I own several. Regarding the tiny LED flashlights that take button batteries: They work great, but you might pay $10 for the light, then new batteries will cost you $6-8. Be warned. Try getting batteries from www.cheapbatteries.com. Or get a flashlight that uses cheaper AA or AAA batteries. Avoid ones that use expensive CR123 batteries or button batteries.

Solar flashlights. My parents started laughing at me when I asked them for one. But it works great. However, you must have bright summer light to get a decent charge. And the charge will only last 2-3 hours at night, just enough to get to bed. Do not expect it to charge very well in the dim sunlight of winter. Basically unchargable in the winter. I own one.

Magnesium fire starter. I have not owned one, but they look like they would work well as magnesium burns very hot. Update: yes the shavings burn very hot, but fast. Not suitable in wet situations for making a fire.

Crank/Solar/AC/battery radio/flashlight. I have one of these of Chinese manufacture and it works great! It has a battery which can be charged via the sun, hand crank, or an AC adaptor which comes with it. It is an AM/FM radio and flashlight. It has a translucent blue plastic case with rounded edges. I've been using it for 3+ years and it has given us the news each time the power went out. Cost was about $15 on sale.


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I have been camping a lot as a kid, and spent every weekend outdoors from age 9 to 18, then college kept me busy. I still like the outdoors and trying different survival techniques. So I have actually tried some of the advice given to me in books and websites and found that many do not work at all, or there are a few critical details left out of the advice. Here I will dispel the myths, tell you what works and what doesn't, and why it works or why the advice is suspect.

- You can use any eyeglass lens to start a fire. FALSE.
Ok, in high school this is one me and my friends actually tried. 2 out of 3 eyeglasses failed. One managed to focus the beams of sunlight but didn't start a fire. What matters here is you need convex lenses. Some prescriptions are convex, some are concave. How do you know if the prescription is convex? I don't know. If it doesn't focus the sun's beams, it isn't convex. A stronger prescription with a convex lens will focus the sun's rays better than a weaker prescription.

- A charcoal filter made from burned wood will make any water drinkable without making you sick. FALSE.
Though many have claimed running any water source through burnt wood will make water potable, no one has explained why this is true. This advice is not good advice, but is to be used as a last resort. Burnt wood is NOT activated charcoal. Activated charcoal will make water taste better, but will not remove all chemical impurities (like toxins, pesticides, chemicals, etc), bacteria, viruses, or spores like cryptospiridium. The best way to make water drinkable is wait until the water is boiling, then boil for 10 minutes. Or use a 1 micron water filter. 1 micron will even filter out the crypto spores.

- Snares are the best way to trap animals for food. FALSE.
People who use snares every day can catch animals with them for food. Inexperienced people in a sudden survival situation cannot. There are very important details which must be just right in order to catch an animal in a snare. Some of those details are: location of snare, snare loop must be sized for type of prey, bait is different for each animal. Your best bet is to make a spear and catch fish or frogs and cook them well to kill any bacteria.

- Deadfalls can catch animals for food. FALSE.
This is one I have actually done. Remember any shows or websites showing you how to make a figure-4 trigger where a log or stone falls on the hapless squirrel or bird? I have actually done this along with making a box trap, and have seen that the animals move MUCH faster than the trap falls and the animals escape unharmed. Have you ever seen a survival video where the deadfall actually catches the animal? No. You see the person set it up, the next shot you see the dead animal under the deadfall. Modern photography can catch animals doing amazing things, but they can't film an animal getting caught in a deadfall. This should tell you something. Enough said. Don't waste your time.

- Aloe can help heal sunburn. TRUE.
Aloe has healing properties for the skin and is great for treating most skin disorders, like sunburn, but I'm not aware it has anti-bacterial properties. I have used it many times for sunburn and it works much better than anything else for sale.