Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guide to Surviving Winter Kayaking (Guest Post)

                                          * * *   GUEST POST * * * 





"As the weather gets colder and winter approaches, many paddlers hang up their paddles until the water and air become more bearable in the spring. However, there are some paddling enthusiasts that consider winter a minor setback in their kayaking adventures. Depending on where you live, kayaking in the wintertime can be quite enjoyable, but it certainly poses some risks you may not encounter in warmer weather.

 
Before you put your kayak away for the season, take a look below at our tips for taking on winter kayaking.

How skilled are you?

Your kayaking skills play an important role in kayaking during the winter. You must be confident in your paddling. It’s important to be prepared on your course of action if you happen to fall out of your kayak. The chances of falling out of your kayak during winter paddling is not increased compared to any other season, but the consequences of it are much worse because of the cold temperatures of both the water and the air.
For those that use sit on top kayaks, this means being confident in your ability to climb back onto your kayak. For sit inside paddlers, this means developing a good bracing technique to keep your yak from flipping. Knowing a reliable roll technique is also important for worse case scenarios. Ideally, you’d want to perfect these techniques in warmer weather when your immersion doesn’t pose such a great risk. If you aren’t 100% confident in your abilities, seek help from experience kayaking friends, local instructors, or online resources.



Purchase Good Winter Gear

The purpose of winter kayaking gear should serve two purposes: to keep you warm and to keep you dry. Winter paddle gear is going to look completely different than your summer outing gear. You should be dressing for immersion in addition to dressing for general warmth in the chilly weather. It’s important to note that even if you don’t plan for a swim, it doesn’t mean you are not at risk of getting wet from splash or rain. Being prepared means a more enjoyable outing.
The exact items you need to wear for a wintertime water outing varies on several factors like personal comfort, water temperature, water conditions, and the type of water you are paddling in. Dressing in layers is a smart idea; if you get warm, you can easily remove a layer. Start with waterproof outer layers and warm inner layers.
In addition to dressing the part, it’s important to have emergency gear on you, no matter the season. Consider bringing along the following: extra set of warm clothing in a waterproof bag, emergency paddle, rescue stirrup, emergency blanket, fire starter, first aid kit, and a means of communication (cell phone, radio, etc.).



Put Safety First



The most important thing to remember while paddling in the wintertime is to always put your safety, and the safety of others, first. Don’t take any extra risks you don’t need to and always take precaution everywhere you go. Kayaking during the winter means there will be less people on the water, so you need to be able to rely on yourself and your paddling partner if something goes wrong. Tips to keep in mind are:

·         Always paddle with at least one partner

·         Make sure someone on land knows where you plan on kayaking and when you’re going out

·         Watch the weather forecasts for any unforeseen storms

·         While on the water, stay as close to the shoreline as you can to minimize the distance you would have to swim if something went awry.

·         ALWAYS wear a life jacket!



Winter kayaking definitely takes a lot of preparation and precaution, and is only recommended for advanced paddlers. There are plenty of resources and appropriate gear you can pick up at Austin Kayak!
 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Solar Panels -- Free Light and Power from the Sun

We all take advantage of free solar lighting every day.  In fact the whole world runs on solar power one way or anotherEven coal and petroleum originated from solar power millons of years ago.  But with solar panels or solar powered lights and good batteries we can extend free lighting options well after dark.  Many pieces of gear, like lanterns and other lights, are available with their own built in or attached solar panels, eliminating any installation issues.

Solar energy may be free, but the equipment to use it definitely isn't.  Solar lanterns, solar battery chargers, and solar panels for RVs will deliver lots of electrical power for free -- once you've made the initial investment in the technology.  Solar appliances are usually somewhat more expensive to buy than their simple battery powered counterparts, but you'll save money on batteries.  Also, you can recharge solar items anytime there is light so you don't need 12 volt or 120 volt power for recharging.  Most solar powered lights use LEDs which  means they use a lot less energy, making the solar charge last longer.

Solar powered lanterns are becoming more readily available, more affordable, and more popular with campers.  Solar power means you don't have to carry messy or volatile, dangerous fuels, pack extra batteries, or run down your vehicle batteries to have adequate lighting in camp.  Solar powered lanterns are especially handy for tent campers who won't have the luxury of 12 volt lighting of RVs but are still useful when camping in an RV.  Solar powered chargers might even be powerful enough to recharge your cell phone or even your laptop.

Solar panels are also becoming more common on RVs, collecting power to charge batteries during the day so you can use your RV lighting at night.  With a large solar panel system, a massive battery bank,and an inverter you may even be able to run some120 volt appliances without needing to fire up the generator.

Solar powered "garden" or walkway lights can be used to mark tent pegs and guy ropes to prevent people from tripping over them in the dark.  I've found small solar walkway lights at my local dollar store, so they don't have to be expensive.  Sometimes you can adapt these small walkway lights for more general purposes like tent lighting.  Remove the ground stake (it usually pulls out easily) and add a bail to hang it with or make a base for the spike on the light from an old coffee can or similar container filled with sand, rice, or beans.

Solar panels and the associated controllers and regulators for powering RV systems are still relatively expensive.  A basic solar system will likely cost $200-$300 plus installation.  A system capable of routinely running significant 120 volt appliances will be far more expensive -- plus the extra batteries you'll need to store your free solar energy.  An easy and inexpensive, though low power option, is a small solar panel that plugs into a cigarette lighter.  They're usually around $20-$30.  They won't provide enough power to run appliances, but they are usually enough to maintain batteries while the RV is in storage when there is no load on the electrical system.  They may be enough to recharge cell phones and other small battery powered appliances.  They won't being to keep up with power drain from lights or other 12-volt items in your RV.

Special solar battery chargers can be used to recharge any rechargable batteries.  This is a very versatile option since it can be used to recharge replaceable batteries for lanterns, flashlights, and many other battery powered devices.  For best results use only rechargeable batteries. Ordinary dry cell batteries are not designed to be recharged and attempting to do so may not be successful and may even be dangerous.  Non-rechargeable batteries may swell, leak, or even explode when you try to recharge them.  Fairly inexpensive solar powered chargers are also available to recharge cell phones, iPads, and notebook computers.

Solar powered lanterns are usually a little more costly than battery powered lanterns, but you will probably make up the difference fairly quickly in savings by not having to buy batteries again and again.  Rechargeable lanterns don't need new batteries regularly but they do need an outside source of power (12 volt or 120 volt) for periodic recharging.   With solar lights you will need to remember to put them out in direct light for a few hours every day to keep them charged.  Leaving them your tent or in a cabinet or closet in your RV will be very disappointing.  Sometimes the light inside a tent or vehicle is sufficient, but for faster and more complete charging, expose the solar panel to direct sunlight for several hours every day whenever possible.

Because LEDs are far more efficient than incandescent bulbs, solar lights usually use LEDs.  Incandescent bulbs have wattage ratings based on the resistance of the filament, which in turn determines how much light (and heat) they will produce.  A 100 watt bulb will put out more light than a 60 watt bulb.  Higher output for LED applications is usually created by using multiple LEDs, so a 17 LED lantern will be brighter than a 9 LED light.  I have a 17 LED battery powered lantern it the shape of an old school kerosene lantern that provides pretty good general illumination for camping and for power outages at home.  Unfortunately, it is not solar powered.  It runs on 3 "D" cell batteries. The LEDs  are so energy efficient that I once left the lantern on over night and it didn't run down the batteries.  On the other hand, a guest once left a single incandescent 12-volt light on in the bathroom of my motorhome and the house batteries (two deep cycle 12-volt batteries) were completely drained in just an afternoon.  Incandescent flashlights and lanterns that run on dry cell batteries will run the batteries down even faster.  It makes sense.  Think about it.  An incandescent bulb is basically a dead short between the positive and negative poles of your battery.  It is resistance creates light by super-heating the filament.

Keep your eye open for sales on solar lights.   That is one way to help keep the cost down.  I've seen solar walkway lights in my local dollar store.  These are perfect for marking tent pegs so you don't trip over them and with a little creative modification you can usually adapt them for more general use.  One simple adaptation is to make a holder for them using an old coffee can or similar sized container.  Make a hole in the top the size of the stake for the light, then fill the container with enough sand or other heavy material to hold the light securely.  Another option is removing the pegs or stakes and fashioning some kind of hook or bail to hang the lights.  I picked up a couple of small solar/LED lanterns at Family Dollar for $2 each.  They are just the right size for tent lights -- about 4" tall a 3" in diameter.

Remember to put your solar lights and other solar appliances out in the direct sun to keep them charged.  Some may get a little energy from artificial light sources, but for maximum benefit, put them in direct sunlight. A solar powered tent light is an ideal source of safe and economical illumination, but not if you leave it in the tent all the time!

Another handy solar application is a fan to cool the refrigerator coils.   It is really nice to to have to worry about running the batteries down running the fan all the time.  Since things generally cool off at night you don't have as much need of the fan when there is no sun to power it.  Solar fridge fans come an a variety of sizes and prices.  The larger, more expensive models cool better, but even a small fan improves air movement over the coils and helps to some extent.  The most convenient ones I've seen have the fan and solar panel built into a replacement refrigerator roof  vent making installation a snap.

Solar panels are becoming popular options for boondocking.   About the only deterent to using them is the rather high acquisition cost.  A solar system sufficient to maintain RV batteries will set you back several hundred dollars, but once you have it, you get free, quiet energy from the sun to run your RV electrical appliances.  Tie solar panels to a large battery bank and a high powered inverter and you can almost get by without running your on board generator.

If you like to park in the shade, you won't get full capacity out of your solar panels.  They work best in full sun and when oriented so they face the sun directly at right angles.  Properly installed solar panels should be adjustable so you can face them directly toward the sun regardless of vehicle position.

Light up for free!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Grab-and-Go or Bug Out Bags

Also known as a 72-hour kit, grab-and-go or bug out bags are designed to give you the resources you need to survive the first 3 days of a disaster.  You can buy ready made 72-hour kits, but most people build their own.  Building your own ensures you have what YOU will need, not just what someone else thinks you will need.  A commercial 72-hour kit is a good starting point, but you'll need to augment it with your personal prescriptions and any over the counter medications you might use routinely.

My primary bug out bag is on wheels.  I keep my motorhome stocked with food, clothing, and medication.  I call it my "DRV":  Disaster Recovery Vehicle.  During the summer I keep the fresh water tank full.  When I lived in southern California and didn't have to worry about freeze problems I kept the fresh water tank full year round.  But some disasters may make it impossible to use my motorhome in a bug out so I still try to keep a small 72-hour kit handy that I can grab-and-go.

A grab-and-go or bug out bag should be self contained and small enough that you can carry it with you if you have to evacuate on foot.  A back pack is a good format for a bug out bag.  It should contain everything you need to survive for at least 3 days:  food, water, first aid supplies, medications, extra clothing, sanitation items, gloves, some basic tools, a little emergency cash, and your bug out plan.  It isn't going to to you much good to have a bug out bag if you don't have someplace to bug out to.  You need to have a plan, know where you're going and how you're going to get there.  And you'll probably need alternate plans in case your primary route or destination is no longer functional.  You may be forced to evacuate to a FEMA emergency shelter and your bug out bag will ensure you will be more comfortable than folks who show up without anything but the clothes on their backs and what they have in their pockets.

Even if you are part of a government mandated and organized evacuation, having your own personal 72-hour kit can ensure you will be more comfortable than if you're simply hauled off to a FEMA camp or to the local high school gym and totally dependent on government emergency supplies.

Keep your RV or your camping gear ready to go at a moment's notice.  Not only will  you be prepared in case there is an emergency that requires you to evacuate your home, you will have things ready to go for spontaneous outings.  There are times we need to escape the stress of everyday life to keep our sanity.  Having things ready to go gives you a chance for an occasional weekend getaway when you need a "mental health day".  If you're a tent camper, keep all your camping gear and supplies together and well organized into tubs or bins so you can hit the road quickly.  If you favor RVs for your outings, keep them ready to go:  motor fuel, propane, and fresh water full, holding tanks empty, basic food on board, medicine cabinets fully stocked, and some extra clothing in the closet.  Even if evacuation isn't necessary, being able to move out of a damaged home and into an RV or tent on your own property gives you an option to being hauled away into a refugee camp.  Being able to stay near your home may allow you to protect your property and have access to stored supplies.

Exercising your grab-and-go kits is a good way to practice your emergency survival skills -- and give you a chance for some spontaneous outings each year.  Doing a practice run lets you discover deficiencies in your kit and your planning BEFORE your life may depend on it.  If you come up short on a practice run you may be able to immediately supplement your kit or, if worse comes to worse, abandon your exercise and return home and try it again another day after correcting the problems.  If you wait until you are facing a real emergency to uncover the holes in your plan, it will be too late.  And spending a weekend living off your 72-hour kit might be fun, especially if you're well equipped.  Just be sure to replenish anything you use during your exercise.  Doing a practice run will let you determine if you do indeed have what you need and give you a chance to augment it as necessary.  Using food and water will let you rotate your supply to keep it fresh. 

Evacuation plans should take into consideration whether roads will be viable and what you will do if they're not.  When I lived in southern California I counted 133 freeway bridges on my normal route between home and work.  I am sure at least some of those would collapse during an earthquake, making the roads to get home impassable.  Having alternate means of transportation may be critical during a disaster.  Some options you might want to consider may include 4WD vehicles, ATVs, dirt bikes, bicycles, horses, and even "shanks mares" (your own two feet).  Yes, you may have to walk or hike, so make sure your emergency plan includes sturdy shoes and become familiar with the neighborhoods you may have to walk through.  Some neighborhoods may be more dangerous to cross than others and may require special planning and prepartion.

What do you need in a bug-out bag?  Ultimately what you put in your bag will depend on your personal needs and preferences.  A friend of mine once said a single jar of peanut butter would last him a whole year -- because he hated peanut butter and wouldn't eat it.  However, here are some basic guidelines for you to use in building your bug out bag.  Consider your immediate needs:  food, water, clothing, and medical supplies.  Select foods you will eat, that have a long shelf life, and are compact.  Water is heavy so you may want to carry water filtration or purification systems in addition to a few pouches or bottles for immediate use.  Extra clothing may be essential as what you are wearing when disaster strikes may be inappropriate or inadequate for even a few days in survival mode.  Medical supplies should include a basic first aid kit and any special prescription drugs  you or someone in your family requires.  Beyond that, things like flashlights and extra batteries, fire starting tools (matches, lighters, flint and steel), a good knife or multi-tool will all come in very handy.  Here is a link to a FEMA guide for making your own 72-hour kit:  FEMA 72-hour kit.    

Once you have created a bug out bag for each member of your household, be sure to inspect it and review its contents at least once a year to be sure it is up to date.  You may have old batteries or out-dated prescriptions or maybe your bug out clothes no longer fit.

Bug out!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It's Almost March -- Still Bored With Winter?

Its late February.  Although much of North America is still experiencing snowy winter weather, some parts of the continent are showing signs of spring:  snow melting, trees starting to bud, some brave grass trying to turn green, a few robins showing up in the yard.


But even as the weather starts to warm, most climates in North America, February and March still isn't camping weather.  You won't want to dewinterize your RVs until all danger of freezing temperatures is past.  So what do you do if you've got the camping bug?  One option is to explore the possibilities of winter camping, but not everyone is up for being out in the cold and not RVs can be made winter friendly.  A friend of mine recently said the difference between camping in winter and camping in summer is that in winter you will be cold and wet -- and that if you prepare for that, winter camping is OK.  No one likes to be cold and wet so why would you CHOOSE an activity where you will be cold and wet?  It is not my intent to offend skiers and snowboarders, who routinely brave severe winter weather and are able to handle it well, but most campers will usually avoid nasty weather if they can.  However, if you have a proper shelter and dress appropriately, winter camping can be enjoyable.  So what constitutes proper shelter?  An RV with a furnace will obviously be warmer than a tent but even snow camping in a tent can be made fairly comfortable.  I've been snow camping in a tent on an 8' snow base in temperatures down into the low 20s F and have slept warm.  We started out with a heavy ground cloth underneath the tent, then put a second one inside.  I unzipped a couple of extra sleeping bags and laid one down on top of our sleeping pads, then used the second one like a quilt over the top of both our personal sleeping bags.  We stayed toasty warm all night.  Dressing appropriately in layers will keep you comfortable for daytime activities. Guard against over exertion and working up a sweat, because then you will get really cold.  My boys and I were once caught in a winter storm during a dirt bike ride.  It started off with drizzle that turned to rain, then sleet, then snow.  No doubt a raging campfire would have been a welcome sight when we got back to camp but being able to dash into a comfortable warm RV and trade our wet and frozen clothes for warm dry ones was heavenly!  A tent might have done the job, if it survived the storm.  I had a 10x14 tent I had set up as a garage for the dirt bikes but when we got back to camp it had blown flat in the storm and was holding several inches of cold rain water.  I was sure glad I didn't have to rescue the tent before we had shelter.

What to do if you just aren't in to winter camping or don't have the right equipment and clothing for it?  Not everyone is ready to brave severe weather when we can cozy up in front of the fire at home.  There are still lots of camping related things you can do.  For one thing, it is an excellent time to inspect your gear and clothing and make any necessary repairs.  If you have an RV, you can take your time going through cabinets, cupboards, closets, and drawers, sorting out the non-essentials and organizing the good stuff for your next season. If its cold you can warm things up with the furnace or bring in an electric heater to take the chill off.  Make a list of items that need to be repaired, replaced, or updated.  Pay special attention to items that might have an expiration date or may have deteriorated in storage. Spray lubricants and spray cleaners seem to be especially susceptible to failure when left alone for too long.   Test spray them to make sure they still work.  You may have to toss them out even if they still feel full if they won't spray anymore.  Sometimes the problem is in the spray nozzle and can be cleaned but often it is deeper with in the can where there is nothing you can do about it.  Research new destinations.  Talk to friends and other campers about their favorite spots and activities and look them up on the Internet for even more details.  Gather photos from last year's camping trips and organize them into a scrapbook that records your adventures to share with family and friends.  Be sure to jot down what you remember about each photo -- who is in it, where it was taken, when it was taken, and any interesting or amusing anecdotes.  Today's digital photography and electronic albums make organizing and preserving photos a snap.  Think back over last year's outings.  Which ones went well?  Which ones not so well?  What made the difference?  What do you need to do to make next year's outings even more successful?  Go over your checklists and update them as necessary.  You may find things you no longer need to do because your situation has changed (different vehicles or equipment, changes in family size, changes in planned activities and destinations).  You may also remember things you need to add to your checklist to ensure better experiences on each trip. While you're at it, go through each checklist and make sure everything is ready for the upcoming season.  By discovering items that need attention now you will have plenty of time to take care of them before your next trip.  And you will probably find that working on your camping stuff is kind of fun and helps satisfy those camping urges you are feeling.  I find it quite fun going through and organizing my stuff, knowing how easy it will be to find and use things when I need them next season.  Sometimes I come across things that have been buried in the bottom of a drawer or the back of a cabinet long enough that I've kind of forgotten they were even there.  Of course, these are prime candidates to be left out to lighten the load, but sometimes refreshing our memory of what we have will encourage us to take advantage of our resources more fully next year and add fun to many an outing.  It was surprising how much pleasure we got out of rediscovering and then using even some simple kitchen gadgets that had been squirreled away for too long.  More than once we've come across something and thought "Gee, I wish I had remembered I had that last summer!"  We originally acquired most of those arcane items for a good reason but they're of little value if you don't remember you have them or can't find them when you need them.  It is pretty easy to forget new things since you're not in the habit of using them.

If you have an RV that has been winterized, you might start working on preparing it for the new season.  You probably won't want to de-winterize the water systems just yet, but you can start on some of the other tasks.  Wait until all danger of freezing has past before restoring the water systems.   You can begin inspection of lights, tires, caulking, and appliances about any time.  You'll probably want to wait until the weather warms up a bit to give a good wash and polish.  Waxing and polishing a motorhome or trailer is a big job, but well worth the effort.  Your rig will look better and you will protect the surfaces to preserve paint and decals.  A good wax will make it easier to remove bugs and will minimize black streaks from runoff from roofs and awnings etc.  Now is also a good time to install new equipment or make any needed or wanted renovations and repairs.

In many places February is still too cold to work on or in your RV, but by March things are usually getting mild enough to start thinking of getting things ready. You can usually fire up the furnace or plug in an electric heater to warm it up enough inside for interior projects, but you'll want to wait for a warm, sunny day to wash and wax, even though you have to keep it in the shade to avoid streaking.  If you wait much longer than March, you're likely to keep postponing preparations until it is time for your first trip and then you'll rush through so you can hit the road.  Rushing usually results in things being skipped or missed or you end up with a lot of repairs to do or provisions to buy all at once.  Get started early so you can take your time and do it right!  Waiting until the last minute also results in lots to do and often means having to shell out a bunch of hard earned cash all at once for a bunch of repairs and/or provisions.  Getting an early start lets you spread out the load, both labor and out of pocket costs and gets the work out of the way before its time to go camping.

Arm chair camping.  You may be able to relive some of your favorite camping experiences from the comfort of you favorite chair.    Pull that chair up to a sizzling fire in the fireplace and pretend you're at your favorite campground.  Toast some S'mores over a fire in the fireplace or a BBQ on the patio or back porch for additional ambiance and flavor.  Have a favorite camping dinner?  Why not whip it up at home and "camp out" in the living room or family room and enjoy?

If the weather still prevents you from going tent camping you might set up your dome tent in your garage.  You will get a chance to renew your knowledge of how to set it up and a chance to check for any damage that needs to be repaired.  Sleeping on the concrete floor might not be the most comfortable place you've ever slept, but at least it will be flat and level.   And being in the garage you'll be free from wind and precipitation.

Make plans for the upcoming season.  Review the places you've been and would like to revisit.  Consider and research some new destinations.  If you don't already have a list of potential locations, talk to fellow campers and/or do some research on the Internet to find some tantalizing new sites.  Don't know where to start?  Try your local county, state, and federal parks.  Do you have an interest in a particular activity or bit of history or geology?  I'll bet you'll find more places listed on the Internet than you can possible visit.  You might find it interesting to research some of the places you've already been to find out more about the human and natural history of the area.  You can often learn the hidden history of landmarks you are used to seeing or learn of new micro-side trips to explore during your next visit.  I learned that the old rail road water tower that was a traditional landmark for many of our OHV rides marked the site of long gone little community that once serviced the famous 20 Mule Teams hauling borax out of death valley and that not far away, near some of our regular riding trails was a monument marking the site of an X-15 crash early in the US space program.  Nothing of the air/space craft remains, but an enrterprising Eagle scout erected a small monument on the site.  Another popular destination, the unusual and spectacular spires of the Trona Pinnacles have been used in many movies and were even part of the training program for the lunar landings.  One popular riding area we go to in Utah straddles the old Pony Express route and isn't far from Camp Floyd, a 19th century Army post that once housed about 1/3 of the U.S. Army prior to the Civil War.  Researching things like that add value to your next outing.

Make the most of March!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Practicing for Emergencies

Practice makes perfect.  You usually hear this from your music teacher or your athletic coach.  But it applies to camping and survival skills too.  In a survival situation you don't want to try to remember what you learned in class or on the Internet or from a book.  You just want to know what do do and how to do it.  To be sure you know, you have to practice.  Skills like building a shelter, starting a fire without matches, and flint knapping all require some practice if you're going to be proficient in an emergency situation.

Each camping trip is a chance to practice your survival and emergency preparedness skills.   Just setting up camp as often as you can will help you develop procedures and techniques that will expedite moving into your tent or RV if you have to in a disaster situation.

Every campfire is an opportunity to practice survival skills of building a fire without matches.  Hone your techniques for building a proper fire beginning with tinder, then kindling, the larger pieces of wood.  Practice creating cooking fires and cooking a variety foods over the campfire -- and hotdogs and marshmallows don't really count.  Learn how to bake bread on a campfire (ash cakes or bread twists).  Bake your potatoes in foil in the coals.  Practice heating water over your campfire and cooking on a grill or in a fry pan.  Learn how to do Dutch oven cooking.

Take advantage of every camping trip to inspect your equipment. It is far better to find and fix minor problems during a weekend outing than discover them when your comfort, or maybe even your life, may depend on your camping gear.  Lanterns, stoves, and sleeping bags will likely see major use during a disaster, even if you don't have to move out of your house.  Have a plan to test seldom used equipment.  Not only will it help you keep everything in working order, it can be fun!  An old adage says, "It it hasn't been tested, it doesn't work."

Tents may be useful even if  your residence isn't damaged to the point you have to move out.  In winter weather you might set up a dome tent inside your house so you have a smaller area to keep warm on cold nights.  Having the tent out of the wind and precipitation it will be warmer than it would be outside and keeping a tent warm with body heat or auxiliary indoor propane heaters like Buddy Heaters will be a lot easier and more efficient than trying to heat hundreds of cubic feet of living space.

Camp cooking is a good way to develop and hone skills you could use at home during an emergency.  If the power goes out your electric range will be useless.  Gas supplies may be interrupted during a local disaster.  You may have to resort to cooking on your portable BBQ, using your camp stove, or even building a cooking fire in your back yard.  One wintery night we had a power outage that lasted a couple of hours right around dinner time.  We just moved our cooking out to the BBQ grill in the back yard and though we were standing in the snow, it got the job done without having to miss dinner.

Sanitation is a major problem in most disaster situations.  If you're lucky enough to have an RV or even a porta-potti, you have a big advantage over people who may have nothing when utilities fail.  If you have experience with primitive tent camping and know how to build your own safe latrine, you won't be dependent on any kind of modern technology.  One of the biggest health problems in refugee camps is cholera, caused by poor sanitation.  During a disaster situation, a lot of people may not give a crap about sanitation, but they sure produce a lot of it and it can be deadly!  You may be able continue to use your residential toilet even if your water supply is disrupted -- if the sewer system is still in tact.  Just manually fill the toilet tank with buckets of water.  Even dirty water from a creek or pond will do.  Don't waste potable water for flushing your toilet!  You can make an emergency toilet from a 5-gallon bucket and a contractor trash bag.  For an even more pleasant and sanitary experience, buy some "wag bags".  These are heavy plastic bags will with a compound inside that forms gel around waste products, helping to avoid spills and control odors.

Hopefully you won't have many opportunities to practice emergency medical procedures so you may have to participate in regular drills -- or create your own -- so you can be ready in case of an emergency.  Joining your local C.E.R.T. program and attending refresher courses every  year to so is one good way to accomplish this.  Renewing  your first aid and CPR certification as required should go without saying.  Check the expiration on your card and try to get re-certified BEFORE it runs out!

Stay in practice!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sharpening Your Tools

Several tools commonly used for camping have sharp edges that require periodic maintenance and special protection.  These include your kitchen cutlery as well as axes, hatchets, and other knives.

Kitchen cutlery and other knives may be sharpened with a knife sharpener or a sharpening stone.   Some manual knife sharpeners only require you to drag the knife through a slot to put a new egde on the blade.  Electric knife sharpeners will probably be easier to use and more effective but they might take up too much room in an RV or camp kit.  A sharpening stone is small so you could take it anywhere, but you need some practice to be able to use it well.

Cutting edges should be protected for two reasons:  1) to keep the edge from being dulled by contact with other tools and 2) to avoid injuries to people, pets, or other items in storage. Axes,  hatchets, and saws should be fitted with blade guards.  Kitchen cutlery should be stored in a cutlery block or on a magnetic knife holder.   I recently saw an innovative solution. The RV owner had made thin blocks that attached to the side of the pantry in his RV.  The knives were stored in individual slots and when the door was closed they were prevented from falling out. The blocks were less than an inch thick so they stole very little room from the pantry shelves.  If you leave them just bumping into other utensils in the drawer they will get dull AND you're likely to cut yourself rummaging through the drawer when you are looking for something.  Be sure to store them with the sharp edge up so it doesn't rub on the block and get dull.  Hunting knives and other fixed blade cutting tools should be kept in their scabbards when not being used.  Folding knives should be kept closed.  Blades should be coated with a light oil or grease when put in storage for any significant length of time to prevent rust.

Some other tools, such as shovels, hoes, and saws, also need to be kept sharp.  While some people fear that sharp tools are dangerous, dull ones are actually more dangerous.  Dull tools require more effort, increasing the risk of losing control and are more apt to bounce or slide, also causing a loss of control and increasing the risk of injury.  Sharp tools are also more efficient to use, saving you time and energy.  Saws require some special tools to set the kerf (offset) of the teeth but most tools can be easily sharpened by hand using common tools like a file and a sharpening stone.  Chain saws require a rat tail file of a size specific to the teeth on the chain.  Axes and hatchets can be partially sharpened using a grinder but may require a more sensitive touch for final finishing.  Knives should not be sharpened on a grinding wheel because the wheel is likely to create too much heat and damage the thin blade.

Most camping activities are relatively sporadic and short term, even though most of us would like to be able to spend more time.  Unless you are planning an extended camping trip, you can probably just make sure all your tools are sharp before you leave home.  But if you expect to use your tools a lot -- or want to be prepared to maintain them during an unexpected extended emergency -- make sure you bring along proper tools with which to sharpen them.

Shovels, hoes, and similar tools should be sharpened using a file.  Avoid using a grinder because it will generate heat that diminishes the temper and weakens he blade.   Bent spots on shovels can be pounded flat using a hammer on an anvil before sharpening with a file.  Knives should be sharpened using sharpening stones.  You will probably need more than one stone with different levels of coarseness. Use a coarse stone for initial shaping and removing chips and progressively finer stones for finishing.  You can make your own set of sharpening stones from various grades of wet-and-dry sandpaper.  Glue strips of sandpaper about 4"x8" onto a piece of glass or other hard surface.  It may take some practice to get a feel for the right angle to hold the blade to get a good edge, so be patient and do a lot of practicing.  Start with the coarsest grit and work your way to finer grits to get a razor sharp edge.   When sharpening a shovel or hoe, start the file away from the edge and file toward the edge.  When sharpening a knife on a stone, slide the edge toward the stone as if you were shaving the stone.

Axes and hatchets, being made of heavier blocks of steel or iron, can be sharpened with a grinding wheel.  But you'll still want to exercise some caution to avoid over-heating and damaging the blade.  If the blade starts getting red hot in spots, it is overheating. Stop grinding and cool the blade before continuing.  If  you overheat the blade it may burn a nick in the edge.  If you see a dark bluish stain on the metal you have created a hot spot and probably ruined the blade or at least removed the temper  and weakened the blade in that spot.

Other hand tools that benefit from periodic sharpening include chisels and screwdrivers.  Most of us probably don't carry chisels with us when camping, but both wood and stone chisels work best when sharp.  Wood chisels require more refined sharpening than stone chisels and need a polished edge like a knife to be most effective.  Stone chisels can usually be sharpened on a grinding wheel, taking normal precautions against overheating. Flat screwdrivers, while not normally considered cutting tools, can become rounded and worn and may benefit from light sharpening to restore the flat surface and square edges.  About the only use I've found for worn out or damaged Phillips screwdrivers is to grind them into a point to be used as a punch or an awl.

Scissors require special sharpening techniques but some sharpeners designed for kitchen use have a scissors sharpening slot that makes it pretty easy.  If you have trouble sharpening your scissors, take them to a professional or replace them.  While scissors are often general purpose tools, there are variations designed for different tasks.  Kitchen shears are meant for cutting produce and may not be fine enough to cut paper cleanly.  Special snub-nosed scissors are used for cutting bandages so you don't poke your patient with the sharp point found on most scissors.  I've seen scissors advertised as being strong enough to cut a penny and found they lived up to their claims.

Be sharp!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Doing Laundry In Camp

Do Laundry in camp?  Yeah, right!  Most of us prefer to just bag it and take it home.  And that's all right for weekend outings.  But for longer trips you will have to make other arrangements.  Some high end RVs have washers and dryers, but using them while boondocking depletes your fresh water fast and fills your holding tanks quickly.  Some RV parks have washers and dryers or you may be able to find a nearby laundromat when traveling.

When you do have to do laundry in camp, your camping style and location will determine your options.  Recent surveys indicate a majority of RVers, perhaps as much as 3/4 or more, prefer camping in a full service RV park.  Some high end campgrounds have an on site coin op laundry.  In which case doing laundry means just packing it and taking to the laundromat.  But in more primitive situations you will have to make do with the resources you bring with you.  Regardless of what facilities may or may not be available and whether you'll try to do laundry in camp or take it home with you, you'll need to have a procedure for collecting and storing dirty clothes and linens.  If you're camping near a town you may be able to go to a laundromat if you run out of clean clothes before your trip is over.

Most RVs don't come with clothes hampers and tents never do so you'll need to bring along some laundry bags to collect and corral your dirty clothes.  I picked up some inexpensive mesh laundry bags in several colors at my local dollar store so everyone in our family has their own personal bag for dirty clothes.   More recently I found some small collapsible hampers that only take up about as much room as a saucer when they're empty.  Another option is to stuff your dirty clothes in a plastic garbage bag.  Using the mesh bags allows moisture to evaporate and discourage proliferation of odor-causing bacteria, but, depending on how dirty the clothes are and what kinds of soil are on them, they may allow odors to contaminate the space in which they sit.  Hanging bags of dirty clothes alongside the clean clothes in your closet isn't a good idea.  Plastic bags will contain the odors but may promote development of additional odors, mold, and mildew if kept tightly closed for too long, sometimes creating odors or stains that are difficult or impossible to remove.  One idea is to hang mesh bags in sunlight and fresh air to dry a few days to let nature control odors before you tuck them away in your RV or tow vehicle.  The UV in sunlight and the ozone in the air are pretty effective antibacterial and deodorizing agents.  Then find someplace to put them where they won't foul clean clothes or stink up your living space.

There are portable, table-top, human-powered clothes washers that can be used in RVs or even when tent camping.  They are relatively light weight and inexpensive, but they also have a limited capacity, take a lot of muscle power, and are not the best options for heavy duty tasks like washing dirty jeans.   But they might be worth checking out, especially if you find  yourself frequently running out of things like T-shirts or dish towels.  In a pinch you can use a 5 gallon bucket and an ordinary sink plunger.  It isn't an elegant solution,  but it beats banging your clothes on a rock and it works!

You can always resort to washing out your clothes a sink, tub,or dishpan.  It is tedious and time-consuming but will work in a pinch.  Then hang them out on a clothesline, trees, or bushes to dry.  There are several clothesline options for RVs, ranging from a simple coil of rope or cable to elaborate racks that attach to the trailer hitch.  If you're only rinsing out a couple of items you can probably hang them in the shower on rainy days, but hanging them outside will usually dry them faster and gives them a fresher scent from being in the sun and fresh air.  Of course, if you're camped next to a cattle feeding lot or other source of foul odors (like if you're stuck next to a latrine!) you might not want to hang them outside.

Avoid hanging lots of wet laundry inside your RV.   It will greatly increase the interior humidity and may contribute to mold and mildew in hidden places.  It a worst case scenario, it might even put enough moisture on the walls to loosen wall coverings.  High humidity might attract and convert dust to mud in curtains, carpet, upholstery, and bedding.  High humidity usually translates to uncomfortable

You will probably want to use the same detergent you usually use at home.  Switching detergents often leads to skin irritations and you sure don't need that when camping.  My personal preference for camping is a liquid detergent because it takes up less room than a big box.  Just make sure to keep the lid on tight! Camping is not a good time to experiment with a different detergent, so be sure to try it out a home a few times if you normally use a powered detergent.  Having some spot treatment can help you deal with unusually difficult stains you might get while camping.  A good mechanics hand cleaner like Goop or Go-Jo does double duty -- cleaning greasy hands and pre-treating nasty stains.  WD-40 will also work to pre-treat heavy grease stains that often result from working on vehicles.

Doing laundry in a survival situation is probably going to be fairly low on your priority list, but it isn't something  you should ignore entirely.  Keeping your clothing as clean as possible can help you avoid disease, make you  more comfortable, and more pleasant to be around if you have any companions with you.  It will also help you feel better too.  In a survival situation you aren't likely to have detergent and water will probably be scarce.  If you do have access to clean water, rinse your clothing out and hang it out to dry when it gets dirty.   You can use the old-fashioned method of pounding your clothing on a rock to loosen stubborn dirt, but take care that you don't damage your clothing or wear holes in them.  Take advantage of "wash day" to give yourself a good cleaning too.  Lacking enough water to wash your clothes, at least hang them out in the sunshine to dry and air out occasionally and give yourself an "air shower" or smoke shower at the same time.  Sunlight and fresh air will help to kill bacteria and freshen both  your body and your clothing. Sagebrush smoke is particularly good at killing bacteria on your body and in your clothes and leaves a pleasant scent of its own.

Avoid hanging wet clothing inside your tent to dry.  If you're stuck in rainy weather and have no other options, make sure the wet clothes don't drip onto your sleeping bag, pillow, back pack, or dry clothes and blankets.  Keep the windows open if you can to allow as much air circulation as possible.  Trapping a lot of damp air inside  your tent may encourage the grow of mold and mildew, which can be unhealthy as well as unpleasant.  The moisture from you breath is already enough that on cool days drops will condense on the inside of your tent.  The last thing you need is to add to the humidity by hanging a batch of wet laundry inside.  It might be a good way to create your own private rain shower inside your tent!

Clean up!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

RV Extended Service Plans

The Good Sam Club offers RV Extended Service Plans that are essentially repair insurance.  They are NOT extended warranties, but are a unique insurance plan to pay for covered repairs.  They are available for just about any kind of RV but there are age, mileage, and purchase price restrictions.  For more details see Good Sam ESP qualifications.

An Extended Service Plan could be of great value if you RV breaks down and you're far from home.  Major repairs can be very expensive.  We paid over $16,000 to have a rebuilt engine installed in our Class A Motorhome and I've seen transmission repairs on some rigs that cost about as much.  The premiums for these plans may seem kind of expensive, but considering the huge benefits they deliver, including peace of mind, they are probably well worth it if your rig qualifies and you can afford the premiums.

Keep in mind that insurance companies make money because their average payout is about half the average premiums they collect so statistically, you probably won't ever use an extended warranty or extended service plan.  But, just like medical insurance, its really nice to have when you need it!

Dealers often offer extended service plans with the purchase of one of their units.   The premiums and coverage of these plans can vary widely, so know what you're buying. Pay special attention to the specific coverage and the requirements for submitting a claim.  Many times you must have the work pre-approved or your claim will be denied.  Look carefully at ALL the restrictions.  Many policies exclude parts costing less than say $15 and you could be stuck with hundreds of dollars in labor if the failed part is below the minimum.  Given the high cost of many kinds of RV repairs, an extended service plan might be worth its costs.  I generally don't buy extended warranty coverage on anything unless it is really inexpensive.  I've found that too often I don't use it so its wasted money.  Only YOU can determine if it a plan is right for you.  

What can you do if your rig doesn't qualify?  Well, other than upgrading to a newer model that does qualify, about all you can do is be meticulous about performing regular maintenance and keeping your rig in good shape.  Regularly inspecting your rig can help you detect issues that could lead to expensive repairs before they get to that stage.  For example, engine failures are often caused by loss of oil. If you detect signs of an oil leak, get it fixed right away before it leads to engine failure.  Proper chassis and wheel bearing lubrication will prolong chassis life.  Automatic transmissions all too often tend to fall in the category of "out of sight, out of mind".  Check the fluid level and condition regularly.  The fluid should be dark red.  If it is brown or black or smells burned, the transmission has been overheating and needs attention.  Transmissions have internal filters that are not typically able to be changed by vehicle owners, but they still need to be maintained at designated intervals to protect the transmission.  It may be worth while to have a transmission temperature gauge installed so you can detect a pending failure before it becomes catastrophic.  Loss of coolant is another frequent cause of problems.  Often it may as simple as a radiator or heater hose clamp that needs tightening or a hose that needs to be replaced.  Leaking coolant will usually give off a distinctive odor, even if you don't see steam coming out of the engine compartment or green puddles under the rig when you stop.  By the way, not all antifreeze is green these days, although most of it still is.  Special high-mileage antifreeze might be orange and some of the supposedly environmentally safer stuff used in OHVS is blue.

Many drivers (and passengers) enjoy listening to the radio or other audio devices while on the road.  I have always preferred to listen to my vehicle so I can detect changes in how it sounds, hopefully before any serious damage can occur.  My dad was an auto mechanic and over the years I've learned to recognize a number of typical problems.  Valve clatter is often an early sign of serious loss of engine oil.   This is a fairly high-pitched rapid tapping sound in the engine that varies according to RPM.  Wheel bearings and universal joints make a distinct and usually constant whirring sound.  Worn differentials sing their own sad songs:  a worn front pinion bearing will whine or growl when coasting, the rear will complain under load.  Being able to hear and recognize changes in the sounds your vehicle makes can help you detect problems and correct them before they lead to catastrophic failure.  I once tried to ignore the tell-tale sound of a bad universal joint, hoping to limp my 35' Class A back home where I could make repairs.  I didn't make it.  The joint failed about 150 miles from home and the front most of three drive shaft segments dropped onto the freeway.  I had to replace the entire drive shaft segment to get the rig back on the road.  I was very lucky it didn't catch in something on the road and send my RV pole-vaulting!  Had I stopped to take care of the bad U-joint when I first heard it, I would only have had to replace the U-joint itself.  The entire segment of the drive shaft had to be replaced.  While you're at it, attune yourself to how your vehicle feels.  Be alert for unusual vibrations or strange "clunks" that may indicate drive train or suspension problems. Strange clunks are not always significant mechanical problems.  I read of a motorhome owner who spent tons of money on a "shotgun approach"  doing many random repairs to fixing an annoying clunk.  He finally decided to get rid of the vehicle and, while cleaning it out, discovered a full soda can under the driver's seat that turned out to be the cause of all the clunking.  Having invested so much in unnecessary repairs, he decided to keep the rig and get back some of his investment.  A loose piece of exterior trim once drove me crazy.  I thought the brakes or suspension was coming loose until I found the offending item.  Simply trimming off the loose end solved the problem before it did any serious damage to the finish.

Keep 'em running!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Recycling

Recycling is gaining more and more attention.  While collecting recyclables when we are camping is sometimes inconvenient, camping provides many opportunities for us to recycle goods and materials from home that would otherwise end up in land fills.  What better way to recycle kitchen utensils, tools, clothes, etc. than to put them in your camping kit!  Although the current recycling trend is often seen as the domain of environmentalist, the idea has actually been around a long time.  Growing up in a rural environment, we re-used almost everything.  My dad built our first house from lumber, bricks, and stones salvaged from an old house he bought to tear down for the materials.   I like the old saying:  "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without."  It is a much wiser and more efficient way of living than our current mostly disposable lifestyle.

Think recycling is something new?  I don't think so.  As mentioned above, here is an old adage "use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" I learned from my grandparents.  That is a really good concept to apply when camping, especially when boondocking.  When my dad built our first house (in the country) he bought an old house in town that was being torn down and dismantled it.  We salvaged wood and bricks and stone window sills and some of the fixtures.  The entire structure of our house was built from recycled lumber and the chimney and patio from used brick.  We had an antique bathtub before they became fashionable.

Buying a pre-owned RV or other used camping equipment is in itself a productive way of recycling.  It is a good way to both save money and "give stuff a second chance", as the billboards for some thrift stores say.  RVs and camping gear often get very little use so pre-owned equipment can be a excellent bargain.  I've even found brand new camping equipment in garage sales.  Owners either bought stuff or received gifts that they never got around to using. I find garage sales a good place to shop for gadgets I want to try out so I don't invest a lot of money at full price in case they don't work out. Even when you buy something new, it is only new the first time you use it, so why pay extra for that one first use?

You can recycle many household items as camping items instead of throwing them away when you upgrade.  The old 2-slice toaster that your family has outgrown is a handy addition to your RV.  It may take longer to make enough toast for everyone, but its small footprint and lower power consumption may be appropriate for camping.  You can create your own fire starters from old egg cartons, sawdust, and melted down candle stubs.  If you happen to enjoy a rural lifestyle where you have large animals to feed, you might recycle the twine from hay bales for camp use.  Old pots and pans and other kitchen utensils often find new life in your camp set, adding convenience to your camping at no cost.  Towels, sheets, blankets and other linens that may no longer be suitable for entertaining company at home are perfectly suited to enhancing your camping experience without the worry of damaging costly items.  Likewise, some old clothing is handy to have in your RV or camp kit.  It may not be as attractive or fashionable as you might like, but having clean, dry clothing has saved many an outing.  Organizing extra tools into a portable tool box can provide an attractive option to getting stranded by a motorhome, tow vehicle, or OHV breakdown and having to call for expensive towing or road service.

Recycling in camp or on the road will take some extra effort.  You'll probably need to separate your recyclables and commit some space to storing and transporting them and space is often a a premium.  It doesn't take a lot of effort or consume a lot of weight and space to stomp down your aluminum cans and bring them home and you can usually get paid a little bit for them.  Plastic and glass containers are usually somewhat more difficult to manage and usually don't produce payments.  You can recycle newspapers and paper towels by using them to wipe your plates before doing the the dishes, then using the crumpled papers to help start your campfire or charcoal BBQ.  Some plastics can be disposed of in the campfire, but always avoid breathing the fumes.  And remove the cap from bottles or they could heat up and explode, sending hot embers all over and perhaps into your hair or lap!  Hauling stuff home to be recycled can be messy and inconvenient but don't feel too bad about disposing of it in proper trash containers in camp since doing so might lighten your load and reduce fuel consumption on the way home.  Just don't leave it lying around to compromise the environment.  Besides that, about the only things being recycled that really make environmental and economic sense are lead acid batteries (car batteries) and aluminum cans.  The benefits of recycling paper, glass, and plastic are debatable.   At least one expert on recycling that I read recently suggested the only things that make good sense to recycle are those for which you get paid.  If there isn't enough money in recycling something to pay an incentive, the process is probably not economically nor environmentally sound.  Reading that made me feel a little better about tossing trash that was otherwise a nuisance to handle.

Recycling goods and materials from home is a good way to minimize your camping costs and reduce your environmental impact at the same time.  Recycling in camp helps keep our camping and staging areas clean.

Emergency Lighting

When most of us think of emergency lighting we probably think of flashlights, candles, and oil lamps.  These are all good things to have on hand, both at home and in camp.  Of course, your camp lanterns (gas or battery) are good sources of illumination during a power outage at home as well as in camp.  I like to have at least a couple of old-fashioned "hurricane" lights -- oil or kerosene lamps -- for indoor use at home when the power goes out.  They are attractive as well as effective.  If you don't like the smell of kerosene, use scented lamp oil or liquid paraffin (which has no smell).   Most of my oil lamps are made of glass and, of course, they all have a class chimney, so they are somewhat fragile so they might not be your best choice in earthquake country.  Old-fashioned kerosene lanterns, being made of metal, are a little sturdier and perhaps a better choice for camping.  At home I fill several oil lamps with citronella oil and use them on my patio tables to help keep the bugs away as well as adding pleasant ambiance to after dark gatherings.

For "routine" emergencies in camp, add emergency electric lighting to your RV or camp kit.   Most RVs come with at least one outside porchlight, but you will probably find it convenient to install additional lights at other locations.  I added one on the front of my enclosed motorcycle trailer to illuminate the hitch for nighttime hook ups.  I scrounged up a couple of very bright flood lights salvaged from on old ambulance and installed them on the curb side and rear of my trailer that give me excellent illumination for nighttime OHV repairs in camp.  I even put the rear light on an exterior 3-way switch so I can turn it on and off without having to go inside the trailer.  By the way, I wired all the trailer lights using residential light switches in convenient locations.  They are definitely overkill from an electrical standpoint, but sure make finding and using them easier.  Having some battery powered lanterns and plenty of extra batteries is always a good idea for both RV and tent campers.  They can also be used at home during power outages or other emergencies.  It is always good to have either battery or gas lanterns to help conserve your RV or vehicle batteries in camp.

Modern LED lanterns are a real boon for camping and emergencies.   They were quite expensive when they first came out but you can often find them for $10 or so these days.  Since LEDs use far less power than incandescent bulbs, the batteries (or solar charge) will last much longer.  I once inadvertently left a 17 LED lantern on overnight in my barn and it was still burning bright the next morning and still worked for months afterwards.  An incandescent light would have drained the batteries in just a couple of hours.  Rechargeable lanterns may be useful if you have access to power to recharge them, but I like to have at least some with replaceable batteries as a hedge against power outages and extended overcast days.  I prefer simple battery powered lanterns for emergencies.  They are usually less expensive and I can stock extra batteries to outlast a power outage and don't have to worry about them running down before the sun comes up  or comes out to recharge them.  Solar powered lanterns would be good for camping and home emergencies, but probably not for exploring caves and mines. 

But what if you are away from camp and find yourself in a survival situation?  What options do you have for emergency light then?  A campfire will provide general illumination for some routine tasks around camp.  Campfires provide comfort, make a good beacon to assist rescuers to locate you, and will help keep wild animals at bay.  But they are not very portable if you need to move around at night.  

Torches have been an historic source of light for centuries.  To make a torch you'll need a handle (a stick will do),  some kind of wick material (cloth, shredded bark, dry moss, etc), and fuel (wax, sap, petroleum, vegetable oil, animal fat).  In a survival situation where you have to make do with whatever is at hand, you may be able to make torch from shredded bark and tree sap.  Animal fat can also be a source of fuel.  You can make a simple candle by putting a wick in a stick or tub of butter or fat.  Most cooking oils are flammable enough to be used to make candles or torches.  If you have access to vehicle fuel like gasoline and diesel, you may be able to use that to power a torch, but exercise extreme caution since these fuels are highly volatile and could quickly get out of control.  They also burn fast so they don't last very long.  Gasoline fumes are extremely explosive, so don't work with gasoline in an enclosed space.  In a true emergency situation you could drain motor oil from an engine and use it to fuel your torches.  Motor oil will probably burn slower than gasoline torches, but it will also give off nasty, black smoke.  No matter what fuel you are using, take care to avoid spills, especially on your hands or your clothing.  The last thing you need is for your clothing to become the wick and YOU become the fuel!  Even skinny people have enough body fat to fuel a fire once it gets started.

Always test your torches outdoors before attempting to use them inside a cave or a structure.   Some fuels will burn fairly cleanly, others, like old motor oil, will produce a lot of nasty, black smoke.  Sometimes there will be a lot of nasty smoke initially but things may clear up a bit after the torch has burned for a while, warmed up, and gotten rid of excess fuel.  It  takes a little time for a wick to warm up and function properly, so be patient.

You can make an emergency candle from a tube of ordinary lip balm.  One of the easiest methods is to simple insert the bottom end of a wooden match into the tube and press it down until the flame, when you  light the match, it is close enough to draw up fuel from the wax in the contents.  I've also seen people make wicks from cotton balls or toilet paper by rubbing them between their hands until they form into a string and insert them in a hole pressed into the center of the tube.   Since the main fuel being burned is wax, there is usually little smoke so a lip balm candle can even be used in a tent if you take appropriate precautions to maintain safety.

Chemical light sticks. commonly know as "glow sticks" are sometimes useful in an emergency.   They are especially good for comfort lighting -- alleviating some of our natural fear of the dark -- but usually are not bright enough to be good work lights and might not be adequate to scare off wild animals.  The are light weight, have no risk of igniting nearby flammable materials, and are easy to store, transport, and use.  They do have a limited shelf life, so keep an eye on expiration dates.  However, it isn't like there is a magic switch inside that turns off when the expiration date is reached.  I still have viable glow sticks that were "retired" from a company emergency program that are now nearly 20 years out of date!  I have observed that if the sealed packets have gone flat, the glow sticks are dead but if they are still "puffy" there is good chance the lights will still work.  They may not last as long as fresh ones, but in an emergency they are certainly better than nothing.  I have found a variety of glow sticks at Dollar Tree, include some giant ones about 1 1/2' long, so they don't have to be expensive. They are also safe to use in enclosed spaces and won't cause an explosion if there is a gas leak.

You may come across  Internet articles on making glow sticks from Mountain Dew soda.  Sounds like fun but beware that these are pranks or hoaxes!  There are even YouTube videos that demonstrate the process, but all my research tells me they are faked.  Don't waste your time, energy, or a possible source of necessary hydration and sugar energy trying to make glow sticks from soda pop!  Drink the soda and go find some good material to make a torch.  BTW, the popular "myth" of turning a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke into a rocket using Mentos does work but that is, of course, irrelevant, except perhaps for entertainment value.

You can use an ordinary milk jug as a diffuser to turn a point-source of light like a flashlight or headlamp into effective area lighting.  Shine a flashlight or place a candle next to a milk jug filled with water.  The water and the translucent plastic jug will diffuse the light to provide pleasant area lighting.  A battery operated LED "tap light" can similarly be fastened to the lid of a mason jar to create good area lighting.

In a survival situation, you may be able to cannibalize your vehicle (car, truck, RV, boat, OHV) for lights.  This isn't something you would want to do unless it was a serious survival scenario since ripping out lights and wiring is pretty destructive and you probably won't have any way to recharge the batteries once you've run them down.  Speaking of batteries, you can use batteries and 0000 steel wool to start a fire.  Sometimes even a couple of flashlight batteries provide enough current and even a partially discharged car or motorcycle battery may still have enough juice left to light up the steel wool.  Steel wool doesn't make a good torch but it is excellent tinder to start your fire or light your torches.  I've seen demonstrations of using an ordinary D-cell flashlight to start a fire.  Carefully break the bulb to you don't damage the filament.  When the light is turned on, the filament will be hot enough to ignite well-prepared tinder.  Why would you destroy a good flashlight?  Well, you might need a fire for warmth or cooking or you may need torches that will last longer than the flashlight batteries.  Personally I'd probably save my flashlight and use it to look for other ways to start my fire.

Light up!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Twine

Ordinary binders twine is an excellent resource for many camping tasks.  It is inexpensive -- a ball of over 500 feet is around $4.00 at home and garden centers.  If you have livestock, save the twine from hay bales.  The uses for twine in camp are endless, from tying up bundles of wood to holding up your pants if your belt breaks.  You can use it to replace or repair broken ropes on tents.  You might use it to sew up tears in tents, awnings, packs, or clothing.  You can use it to lash pieces of wood together to make rustic or emergency camp furniture or shelter.  You can string it out to mark the limits of your camp site, something that is sometimes helpful for setting reasonable boundaries for your kids to roam freely or to discourage unwanted visitors.  You can use it to tie tarps together when you need a larger one and to anchor tarps to trees and vehicles to create canopies for shade or weather protection or just to secure them over equipment so they don't blow away.   You can use it for a temporary clothes line.  You can even twist strands of twine into larger ropes if you need something stronger.  Twine is inexpensive and takes up little room in your RV or camping boxes.  Even a small, softball sized ball of twine will be enough for many uses but it often comes in a soccer-sized ball that makes it very cost effective and will probably last you for years and years of camping.

                                                           

If you find yourself in a survival situation, you probably won't have a big ball of twine with you.  In this case it could be helpful if you know how to make your own emergency cordage.  Most of us don't have the knowledge, skill, or tools to spin our own yarn or ropes, but in an emergency you might make due with vines, weeds, or long grasses, which can be useful for tying sticks together to make a shelter.  It is possible to make string or rope from smaller fibers, but it is time consuming and not something most of us would be able to accomplish in a survival situation without a lot of practice beforehand. Here is a link for How To Make Your Own Rope.  They make it sound pretty easy, but I wouldn't want to bet my life on this skill without having practiced it first.  Having a ball of twine in my rig or my pack would be a LOT easier and faster!

You can use twine or other cordage to bind sticks together to make a shelter to create camp furniture.   You will also find it hand for tying up sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents, etc to keep them from unrolling.  You will probably use it for tying loose objects onto your pack or maybe just your belt when you need to keep them handy.

If you're going to be successful using twine or any other type of cordage, you'll need to have some knowledge and skill tying knots.  Most of the basic knots you will find useful are the same ones taught to Boy Scouts, so you could find information on how to tie them in a Boy Scout manual.  Or you can find lots of good instructions and videos on the web.  Here is a link to instructions for many popular Boy Scout knots.  You may be surprised by how many different kinds of knots there are -- way to many for me to delineate here.  There are different knots for different uses.  For example, you use a different kind of knot to connect two ropes together depending on whether they are the same or different diameters.  One of the most commonly used knots is the square knot.  It is easy to tie and holds very well.  Another very common knot is known as the "granny knot".  It is something a lot of novices end up tying when first trying to tie a square knot and do it wrong.  You want to avoid using a granny knot because they don't hold very well.  Take the time to learn the right way to tie knots and to learn some of the kinds of knots you may need to use.  If you are tent camping or using awnings where you need guy ropes, you will want to learn how to tie a taut line hitch.  This knot holds well but allows you to adjust the tension as needed to keep your tent or awning tight.  Taut line hitches or a variation called a "truckers haul" or "truckers knot" are useful for tying down OHVs, tents, awnings, tarps, etc.   It not only is easy to tie and untie and easy to adjust, it works a little like a block and tackle to give you a mechanical advantage to pull things tight.  I have seen variations of ways to tie this knot but they all yield the same results:  easy to tie and untie, secure, easy to adjust, and a good way to pull the rope tight.

Tie one on!