All Posts by Olivia Bedford

13 Reasons a Rural Retreat May Not Be the Safe Refuge You Might Think

Way back in 2007, when I first became aware of the need to prepare for an increasingly uncertain future, I was convinced that our family needed to move from the city to a hidey-hole or a cabin in the woods, commonly referred to as “rural survival retreats.” Preferably in Idaho.

Our retreat would be located at least 25 miles from the nearest interstate and 10 miles from the nearest town, which would have no more than 1000 residents. We would be safe from zombie biker gangs and hoards of desperate people leaving the big cities en masse.

Since then, I’ve given a lot of thought to survival retreats and have come to realize they aren’t the be all, end all when it comes to preparedness and survival. That’s not to say they will become hell-holes when everything hits the fan, but I’m concerned that too many trusting folks believe that once they get to their retreat, they’ll be safe and sound.

Here’s why a rural survival retreat may not be the safe refuge that everyone thinks.

1. Rural areas are hot spots that attract the self-reliant and libertarian leaning citizens

In case you haven’t noticed, self-reliance isn’t exactly a lifestyle encouraged by a federal government and many state governments intent on increasing the level of dependency of citizens. Incredibly, top politicians boast of the number of
Americans on food stamps and are actively working to increase those numbers!

Citizens wishing to decrease their level of government dependence are viewed with suspicion. Without a doubt, those living in rural areas will come under increasing scrutiny as their activities are viewed as oppositional to those of the federal government. You will be in their bulls eye in the form of punitive regulations and laws, at the very least.

2. In a word, drones

Recently it was reported that the federal government had some 30,000 spy drones it was willing to bequeath to law enforcement agencies across the country. Has your local police or sheriff’s department requested one of these? Is there any reason to believe it won’t be used to spy on the activities of innocent civilians, especially those who may show signs of uppity self-reliance activities?

In 2012 it was rumored that drones had been used by the EPA to keep track of the activities of independent farmers and ranchers. The rumors were denied, but I can’t think of a single reason why they won’t be used to check out “suspicious activities” of those living off the radar.

3. Google knows where your rural survival retreat is

Do you really think your survival retreat hasn’t been mapped by Google? Activate a drone, and a survival retreat is less of a
retreat, with survival questionable. And, Google has a very cozy relationship with the federal government.

4. Government entities with limitless money and power but no accountability

Here is just a sampling of stories that illustrate all too well how powerless a rural family is against the force of government.

“EPA power grab to regulate ditches, gullies on private property” and subsequently, “Feds sued over massive water-rule power grab

Keep in mind, though, that in the summer of 2015, the EPA brilliantly managed to release over 1 million gallons of highly toxic waste into the beautiful Animas River in Colorado. These are the same people who believe they have the right to regulate rivulets of water on private property.

EPA’s wood-burning stove ban has chilling consequences for many rural people

U.S. top court backs landowners, limits power of EPA” The Supreme Court did not say that the EPA’s methods ere unconstitutional, just that citizens have the right to sue after the fact.

It’s actually illegal in Colorado to collect the rain that falls on your home“[aweber-form]

“New labor rules threaten role of farm kids,” This idea was dropped but serves to illustrate the lengths that some in
government are willing to go in order to squelch those desiring and promoting self-reliance.

Supreme Court denies family farmers the right to self-defense from Monsanto lawsuits

How many rural families have the time and resources to fight unjust charges and policies such as these? Not many, and I haven’t even started on the I.R.S.!

5. The drought could spell big trouble for rural survival retreats

I’ve noticed that every crisis seems to cause some in government to react with reactionary speeches and usually unnecessary, burdensome policies.

The current drought has me worried because I can easily see it used as an excuse for government interference with the use of well water. How hard would it be for an agency to declare that one person or another was, “using more than their ‘fair share’ of water,” and regulating well water usage for everyone?

Read more: Already living in a drought? Learn these techniques to garden in a drought.

Of course there are also natural dangers that low levels of water bring to rural areas in the form of forest fires, animal starvation, and difficulty in growing crops.

6. Leave it to the United Nations to harass rural Americans

Has your local news media been covering Agenda 21? No? Thought not. Americans don’t even realize that the policies of this oppressive document are already being voluntarily implemented in many towns, cities, and states. The goals of Agenda 21 are shocking and when you read through them, it’s obvious they are becoming a threat to rural America in the form of various regulations put in place by people who mean well but don’t understand how easily they are signing away basic freedoms.

7. Why should your rural neighbors trust you?

How long does it take to establish trust?

How well would you have to know someone in order to leave your children with them for a week?

Would you tell your family members about your preps, what you have, and where they are stored?

Well-meaning folks who buy a rural retreat and attempt to become established there are sometimes shocked to discover that their neighbors may be polite but they are hardly welcoming. Some of these neighbors have lived in these small towns and outlying areas for decades, so I don’t blame them at all for looking at newcomers with a roll of their eyes.

You’ve moved out to the boonies, the neighbors don’t seem interested in  joining your “survival team”, so now what? How many years must you live there in order to become one of them and, in fairness, would you really want to? Just because they’re country folk doesn’t make them trustworthy or noble any more than coming from a city or the suburbs makes you shifty or irresponsible.

8.  Natural disasters know no borders

Mudslides, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and massive forest fires endanger everything from big city buildings to placid rural retreats. You may have found the perfect location for your bugging out but it’s not impervious to acts of God.

9. Squatters are a fact of life

One of the most memorable scenes in Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, is when one of the main characters, a self-made millionaire, finally reaches his survival hide-out only to discover that it’s already occupied by squatters. He doesn’t have the weapons, man-power, or tactics to remove them, so he continues on, hoping to survive without any of his supplies, gear, or shelter.

Book review: Here’s my video review of Lucifer’s Hammer.

Rural retreats are, well, rural. They’re out in the country, the boondocks, and unless you live there pretty much fulltime, they are vulnerable to squatters moving in, using your stuff, and staying there. How, exactly, will you prevent that and when you arrive at your now squatter-filled home, will you put up a fight or walk away? What if law enforcement isn’t available or they just don’t care?

10. Harsh weather conditions are a rural reality

When you look at a map of the United States, there’s a reason why vast areas remain virtually unpopulated. Those areas encompass enormous deserts with few, if any, water sources and tracts of forests that cover steep mountainsides and difficult-to-access valleys.

These areas aren’t just rugged terrain but they also experience some of the harshest weather conditions, such as extreme drought or multiple winter blizzards. Throughout history, people have built their civilizations in areas that enjoyed milder climates and reliable water sources. Sure, the lure of a peaceful retreat may be calling, but make sure you visit that location in different seasons so you know what to expect.

11. Criminal elements

I’ve always said, “People who live far from other people, do so for a reason.” Sometimes it’s because they truly want to be one with nature and enjoy the solitude, but for many it’s because they want to avoid the law and law-abiding citizens.

When we were house shopping in Texas, we checked out a number of homes miles from town and on acreage. One local friend said, “Be sure to find out where the meth houses are,” and he wasn’t kidding.

No, not everyone who loves country living is a criminal, but you can’t deny that the hinterlands have a certain allure for people who have something to hide.

12. Road conditions can be nonexistent

Thousands of words have been written about bug out vehicles, with long debates about which make and model is best. The fact is, though, that the vehicle is less important than the road conditions to your retreat. There are some routes that are completely impassable during long periods of time in the winter. If the S hits the fan during December or January, you may be completely out of luck due to something as mundane as road conditions and will have to go to Plan B — hunkering down at home.

I have multiple copies of the DeLorme atlas, which is very detailed, but in certain weather conditions, having multiple routes planned still won’t get me to where I need to be, no matter how urgent the cause.

13. Isolation can work against you

I love getting away from it all and leaving the sounds of traffic and people far behind, but in a survival scenario, being alone and isolated can work against you and, in fact, could be deadly.

Health and physical safety are very fragile. Accidents happen, a common cold or flu can take the turn for the much worse overnight, and you’ll find that your First Aid class and copy of a survival medical handbook just aren’t going to do the trick. If an urgent trip to the hospital becomes a matter of life or death, can you make it there in time?

Sometimes the problem won’t be a health issue but, instead, a bad-guy issue. Living away from everyone else has its risks but for the criminal, it also has its opportunities.

Fernando Aguirre, author of Surviving the Economic Collapse, lived through Argentina’s multiple collapses and has this to say about surviving in a rural area:

I don’t think an isolated homestead or farm is the best place to be in, and it certainly isn’t when crime becomes a real problem all across the country. In people’s minds, in their novels and fantasies things may always work out just the way they want. It also helps that none of the things speculated in these fictional scenarios have ever occurred, at least not yet. A person can be so easily fooled into thinking that his retreat or homestead in any given US state is safe from looters and criminals because this or that “expert” claims so, the real reason why it´s been working well for any given period of time is that you’ve never actually had it put to test by your environment. Argentina puts you to test and that’s where suppositions, theories and wishful thinking crash against the cold hard reality.

…a friend of mine suffered an attack to his farm in just a couple days ago. He’s smart, successful, experienced, and a true survivalist in my opinion. You might remember the home invasion attempt my dentist suffered a while back. This friend of mine wasn’t that lucky. During the afternoon five men approached the housekeeper’s home and took the family hostage. Dogs barked but they (the men) moved fast. They used ski masks and gloves, armed of course, communicated with radio and were very professional. Right after reducing the housekeepers they quickly moved to the main building and took control of the main house. My friend wasn’t there with his wife and kids, it was occupied by other family members that were visiting. Being the smart person he is, that’s not his main residence and prefers to live in a gated community.

Read Fernando’s entire article at this link.

In these different scenarios, how quickly will help, in the form of law enforcement, medical professionals, or fire fighters get to your location? If you don’t have reliable internet or a phone landline, how will people know that you need help?

I haven’t written these points to discourage anyone from establishing a retreat somewhere away from big cities, but I think it’s important to not over-estimate the level of security such a retreat might bring and to have a checklist of sorts for considering how quickly things can go sideways.

No, I don’t think cities are safer! They come with their own challenges and dangers, but at least preppers who are also city-dwellers are aware of their vulnerabilities. Too often, survival pros sell the concept of a “survival retreat” as a cloak of immunity from coming troubles, and that is what concerns me.


Could a Tiny House Be the Answer to Your Bug Out Dilemma?

I doubt there is a prepper topic more popular than “bugging out”. Search the term on Google and you’ll end up with nearly 2 million results! Add “bug out bags“, “bug out vehicle” and “bug out location” to the mix and you’ll be overwhelmed with information — reading material for a lifetime.

It’s relatively simple to come up with items for a bug out bag and a bug out vehicle could be an old Ford pick up truck you pick up for a couple thousand dollars. The priciest bug out item, by far, is a bug out location, that is, if you want something more secure and sturdy than a tent or a lean-to.

This is where a “tiny house” might fit in with your plans for bugging out.

When I first heard of tiny houses, I knew it wasn’t for me. Not so much because of the small size but because those espousing the beauty of tiny houses were hipsters, cool singles with no messy kids or the need for a home office. Yes, they looked mighty cool sitting on their tiny porch in front of their tiny house, but as any mom will tell you, put 4 or 5 people in 200 square feet for more than an hour or two, and someone won’t be walking out alive.

I couldn’t get the idea of a tiny house out of my head, though. I even started following a couple of tiny house Pinterest boards and was intrigued enough to check out a few online floor plans — and that’s when it hit me. A tiny house could be the perfect answer for the biggest bugging out dilemma of all, and that is, “Where do we bug out to?”

What the heck is a tiny house?

In order to be considered an official “tiny house”, a dwelling should be less than 400 square feet. Considering that the average master bedroom in a typical home runs right around 300 square feet, a tiny house is stinkin’ tiny!

Only about 1% of all real estate transactions involve tiny homes, so it’s not like this is a huge and growing trend. Rather, it’s a housing option that fills specific needs for certain people.

Advantages of a tiny house

For the purpose as a bug out location, a tiny house has many advantages. In fact, I’ve almost convinced my husband to buy a few acres and begin building a tiny house on it — first, one for us and then one for each of our kids!

Tiny houses are an affordable option because fewer square feet obviously requires less expense for building materials and labor. Now, some of these tiny houses are virtual works of art made of expensive woods, with beautiful, intricate detail work, but a bug out location only needs to be secure and sturdy. The smaller size also allows for a quick build, and no need for advanced construction skills. In fact, this college student built his own tiny house in response to his frustration to high college housing costs.

As a very small shelter, not a whole lot of land is needed. Even on a rather small lot, say 1/2 an acre, a tiny house leaves a good deal of land available for a very large garden, chickens, beehives, and an outbuilding or a second tiny house. Half an acre is very budget-friendly in a world of survival experts who recommend many times more than that.

In fact, with the money saved, maybe you can afford more easily to buy a tract of land in a prime location or spend the money saved on fencing, which is quite expensive, or farming equipment, or a second tiny home right next door!

TIP: For the most realistic piece of information I’ve ever read on the realities of rural living and that enormous bug out piece of property touted by the survival experts, read this ebook by my friend, Patrice Lewis. It’s worth every penny of its $1.99 price tag.

Once you’ve built your first tiny home, it will be easier to build a second, and then a third. Why might you want multiple tiny houses?

  • A bug out location for your grown children and grand kids
  • A separate home office
  • Use as a guest house
  • Storage
  • Homeschool classroom

In fact, a large family (or survival) group could easily build a survival community without the need for a large amount of land. Having close relatives and friends nearby is a huge advantage. If we ever do build our own tiny house, you can bet that we have 2 more planned — one for each kid![aweber-form]

A few more advantages to consider:

  • Blueprints can be found online. Some are free, others are fairly inexpensive.
  • Tiny house designs are well-planned and make good use of every square foot.
  • It’s likely you’ll be able to build your tiny house using cash — no need for a loan or mortgage.
  • A tiny house could come in handy for families in danger of losing their home. 400 square feet is way better than a homeless shelter or living out of your car.
  • Some building materials can be found for free or are very inexpensive. Check to see if a Habitat for Humanity ReStore is located near you.
  • A well-insulated tiny house will be inexpensive and easy to keep warm or cool.
  • A tiny house would be easy to conceal in a wooded area.
  • These can be built indoors (a large garage, outbuilding, or even a storage unit), completely or in part, and then transported to your property.
  • Each house can be upgraded over time and as needed, with a porch, an additional room, improved fixtures, etc.
  • Depending on where the tiny house is located, you can utilize the outdoors for laundry, cooking, and entertainment. Build a patio, add a barbecue, a fire pit, etc.!
  • Far less maintenance, easy to keep clean as long as you resist the urge to keep only the items you absolutely need. Less time spent cleaning means more time available for all kinds of homesteading activities, online work, developing a home based business, etc.
  • Once built and situated on land, your tiny house becomes an inexpensive getaway on weekends and vacations.

It’s not the answer for everyone

This past summer, my family spent a week in a tiny house. At just around 500 square feet, it was plenty tiny for 2 adults and 2 adult-sized teenagers! We were fortunate that it overlooked a beautiful, lonely beach, but we were actually in the house only to sleep, cook, and to use the shower/toilet.

We spent hours outside on the small porch or down at the beach. I felt that the very small single room that housed a kitchen sink, tiny oven, tiny refrigerator, and virtually no counter space was designed for preparing only a quick meal like a sandwich or to heat up some soup. The fire pit outside was far more practical for cooking something in a cast iron pot.

This tiny beach house had a few windows but, overall, the house was dark and even during the day we needed to use the overhead light. This particular house had no storage at all, other than a single shelf above the toilet and one small cabinet in the kitchen. For sure, much better use could have been made of the space available.

Fortunately for us, the weather was beautiful and there was no need to stay cooped up inside the tiny house all day and night. That would not be true in colder weather or in parts of the country that experience a lot of rain and snow. In that case, I’m not so sure our family would have been on speaking terms after a week!

A tiny house may be perfect for one person, perhaps two, but humans need some privacy, some alone time, and that’s hard to come by in a couple hundred square feet. One woman wrote about staying in a cute tiny house with her mother and pointed out that when it came time to use the restroom, the entire tiny house was the restroom!

There’s also the consideration for a few basics of living:

  • Cooking — What type of stove/oven will you use and how will it be powered?
  • Sanitation — Planning to use an outhouse or outdoor shower is all fine and good when the weather cooperates, but what about at night? During the winter?
  • Adding babies, toddlers, young kids to the mix can turn a much larger home with every creature comfort into total chaos. Imagine what it could do to 200 square feet!
  • How will pets fit into your tiny house plans? In extreme weather conditions, how will your farm animals survive?
  • Security issues — Tiny houses have been known to be stolen! Yes, the entire house! Consider how  you will keep that from happening and the steps you’ll take to make your home and property as secure as possible.
  • Noise! — If you’re alone, you won’t have to listen to the chatter of other people but add just one more person and some bad weather, and not being able to have silence might drive you nuts.
  • Most tiny house designs have just a single room with no separate spaces designated for sleeping, eating, studying, etc. This makes it difficult to stay organized.

And then, there is the ever-present government, at various levels, with zoning regulations and building codes. Even on your own land, you may not be allowed to park, or build, your tiny house.

You may very well love the concept of a tiny house as a bug out location or for something more permanent, but make sure you and everyone in the family has realistic expectations.

A few design tips for your tiny house

Lack of privacy is a concern, so consider adding a room divider and a tiny, separated toilet/shower area.

Counter tops that are hinged to the wall can be lowered when a workspace is needed and than raised back up to create more floor space.

Be creative with furnishings and choose those that provide storage space. Have strict rules about adding more stuff. When your home is 300 square feet, it won’t take much to turn a tiny house into a hoarder’s paradise.

A tiny house doesn’t necessarily need a foundation unless you plan on keeping it one spot permanently. Many tiny house owners keep their homes on a trailer with wheels, ready to move it somewhere else when the mood strikes. In fact, for some, a tiny house on wheels has become their alternative to an RV.

For energy, add solar panels, use propane tanks, or possibly connect the house’s small electric system to a windmill or even a generator powered by natural gas. More importantly, plan on living a lifestyle that requires little or no reliance on electricity, especially the power grid.

A composting toilet and an outside well will provide your tiny house with the basics for sanitation. It won’t make for an easy lifestyle but for a bug out location, especially in the midst of a major crisis, hauling in a few gallons of water per day will seem like a small inconvenience.

Continue to apply common sense. Have one or two fire extinguishers in the tiny house and ask your insurance agent about coverage for the contents of your house. The house itself is unlikely to qualify for coverage, but that could depend on your insurance company and state regulations.

So, could a tiny house be the answer to your bug out dilemma?

A tiny house will provide an inexpensive shelter, far more secure than a tent. It can be built inexpensively, placed just about anywhere, and is portable, depending on its size.

Compared with the far less practical bug out location recommended on most all survival sites, this is one you can actually afford to build, own, and maintain. A tiny house isn’t the answer for everyone, but for some, it will be a perfect fit.

VIDEO: A few more thoughts…


* Can You Run for Your Life? A prepper’s plan for getting physically fit

Three mornings a week I meet with a few friends to walk in the wooded area around our neighborhood. We typically walk about four miles, enjoying each other’s company and getting some exercise. Thankfully, it’s finally warming up and coats and wool caps are no longer required. But warmer weather also means the bees are back.

For most people it’s not an issue, but I’m highly allergic. One day when the bees were flying around, I mentioned that I really should start carrying my Epi-pens on our walks again.

This prompted a discussion about what we would do if I was stung right then. Someone would have to run to my house, get my medication, and run back to me. It got me thinking.

If one of my friends, or my husband or children, needed me to run to save their life, could I do it?

Could I run for my life? Can you run for your life?

In an emergency situation

I’m not the skinny teenager I used to be. At size 14, I’m not “too big” either. The real problem is that I’m not as fit as I once was. In my busy day-to-day life I can function perfectly well and accomplish what I need to without trouble. What happens, though, when there’s an emergency?

Most of us have felt an adrenaline rush before, and we’ve all heard the story about the mom who lifted a car off her child to save him from being crushed. My first response to the question about running to save my child was, “If I had to do it for real, I could. The adrenaline and the will to do it would push me.”

That might be true, but it’s also an excuse.

I shouldn’t be hoping that adrenaline gets me through. I should be improving myself to guarantee success.

Too many preppers, myself included, dismiss the fitness issue, assuming that we will simply do what we must in an emergency. What if the situation requires bugging out and walking for a dozen or more miles a day for several days?

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s the same thing I thought… “Oh, well, I might not be able to do it today, but if I was forced to, I could manage.”

The problem is, we might not be able to “manage.” At best, it would result in some very uncomfortable days and nights with hurting bodies. At worst, it could mean failing to achieve an objective that could quite literally be the difference between life and death. 

As a prepper, I’ve stored food, supplies, gadgets, and tools. I’ve learned new skills like building a fire, suturing a laceration, cooking with a solar oven, purifying water, and so much more. I’ve even made a specific effort to increase my resiliency by improving my mental and spiritual preparedness.

But what have I done to improve myself physically? Unless you count my brisk, but social, walk in the woods three times a week… nothing. That’s about to change.

Physical Preparedness

I decided to jot down a few things I felt I needed to accomplish in order to call myself “physically prepared.” This list is unique to me, but I hope you’ll find some inspiration to make your own.

Start Running

Problem: I can’t run to save my life.

I’ve completed several 5K races and multiple triathlons but I’ve never considered myself a “runner.” I’ve always finished miserable and in

pain and at the back of the pack after a lot of walking.

But really, whether I’m running to get help or running away from the bad guys, is the back of the pack in a survival situation where I want to be?

Solution: Three days a week, in addition to the walk with my girls, I will be training with the “Zombies, Run!” app on my phone. It combines the traditional “Couch to 5K”  training plan with an immersive zombie story where the runner plays a main character. It tells you when to walk and run, and when to speed up because the zombies are about to catch you! It tracks your time and distance, and connects to an online game if you choose. Plus you can use your own music.

Gain Flexibility

Problem: The best marksmen are flexible. I’m not

I’ve embarked on a quest to improve my rifle marksmanship by attending weekend long clinics that teach me to shoot from prone, standing, and sitting positions. I’m at the threshold of achieving an expert “Rifleman” score but one of the things holding me back is a lack of flexibility to get my body into a stable sitting position. I’m close, but instead of being relaxed and focused on the target, my body is fighting me.

Solution: Complete a general stretching and flexibility routine several times a week. Also, since there is a specific sitting position I want to be in to shoot my rifle… I need to sit in that exact position every day. My body will begin to learn what I want it to do, muscles will form a memory, and it will become easier and easier.

Increase Strength

Problem: Strong of mind, weak of body

During our family’s first camping trip this spring, I had to walk about a third of a mile carrying a 12-inch Lodge dutch oven that weighs about 20 pounds. As I struggled, I told myself it was hot, the path was uneven, and the thin handle was awkward. All of those things were true of course, but the reality was… it was heavy and I wasn’t strong enough.

I did it because I had to at the moment, but it was proof that just because I could, didn’t mean it was in any way easy. And my arms paid for it for a couple days. I imagined other times I might need strength in an emergency. Carrying a bug-out bag or my child long distances (or both – see image above).  Moving debris. Wielding an axe to chop firewood.

Solution: Add strength training to my workouts. My husband regularly uses the equipment in our garage. I have no excuse not to join him.

Weight Loss

Problem: A 30 pound cushion

Losing weight may be the very best thing we can do for ourselves physically. There are medical reasons, of course, (heart and joint health, improve or even reverse medical conditions like high blood pressure, some forms of diabetes, etc.), but here’s why we should lighten up from a preparedness perspective.

  • Some preppers announce that if times get really tough, they’ll just live off of their body fat. Hello, that’s called starvation! They’ll just end up feeling miserable and not be of much use to anybody. Don’t look at a TEOTWAWKI event as a viable weight loss option!
  • Most survival educators recommend that a bug-out bag be no more than about 30 pounds. An extra 30 pounds is just like carrying a heavy bug-out bag around all the time, but without being useful.
  • The next time you’re at the grocery store, head down the pet food aisle. Hoist a twenty pound bag of dog food onto your shoulder and really feel what twenty pounds feels like. Put it back on the shelf. See how much lighter you feel? Imagine taking twenty pounds (or more!) off your body and not having to carry it around anymore!
  • The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to need medication. Some of these medications become unnecessary once the weight comes off. Dependence on medication during a TEOTWAWKI situation is its own disaster waiting to happen.

Solution: Practice a great deal more moderation in my eating. Add more fresh foods and remove more processed foods. Increase water consumption. This, combined with the above fitness goals will help me drop the pounds.

How will you fare? Can you run for your life?

We’ve all met preppers who seem to have it all together… Food and water storage, finely tuned  skills, tactical plans for every scenario, and books and books worth of knowledge.

And they are in terrible physical condition.

Are you that prepper? I am. But now I have specific steps to remedy this deficiency in my preparedness plan.

If TEOTWAWKI happened tomorrow, how would you cope physically? Can you run for your life? What can you do today that will help you be physically ready for an emergency?

Herbal First Aid for the Family: Every day and Post-Disaster

As the founder and director of a survival and herbalism school, I combine the two worlds very often into practical plant medicine for households in the case of disaster. Much like my own entry into the world of medicine as a U.S. Special Forces (aka Green Beret) medic, I have always felt that if you can learn to take care of the worst-case scenarios first, the rest is a piece of cake.

For this reason, my “niche” in herbalism has been largely focused on dealing with medical situations that would be largely encountered after a disaster or social breakdown.  This is herbalism that is highly practical and works very well at home in everyday situations as well – for the home or even neighborhood clinic.

This attitude applies for the family that is serious about being prepared for disaster, in the sense that medicine (much like food and water) is one of the first luxuries of the 1st world society we live in, that will likely vanish as a resource following a major disaster of local (e.g. Hurricane Katrina) or certainly any disaster event of regional, national or global proportions.  Looking at the history both in the USA and around the world, during any extended disaster, we see that hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and even veterinarian clinics become open-season supply sources for people to loot and raid.  Hospitals often become killing zones in fact, in more ways than one.

No matter how much you store orthodox, pharmaceutical medicine (antibiotics, steroids, etc.) you will still be in “ration mode” any time you want to use these types of medicine.  Should you break open a vial of antibiotics or not?  Is this someone you planned on having to help medically when you were storing these medications?  Are they expired?  If so, do you know how much to use or are you going to potentiate a super-infection? Were they stored in the correct temperature?

Do you have the proper medical training to use these pharmaceuticals and more importantly recognize if an illness or infection is not responding the way it should to the use of this kind of medicine? Do you know how to deal with a severe allergic reaction and how to differentiate between that and the severity of the illness or infection you are trying to treat? These are just a few of the issues and questions you have to face with pharmaceutical medicine in a post-disaster situation.

So in a nutshell, not only are you forced to ration and affect every medical decision you make (assuming you have the training and experience to use it), but you also are using tools that you don’t have the training and experience to use competently, unless you are a doctor, PA, nurse practitioner, nurse, etc.  Medical professionals in our current orthodox, pharmaceutical medical world spend 1000’s of hours working, studying, interning and learning about the conditions they are faced with and the proper use of the pharmaceuticals they are using.

Add to this the massive increase of infection and illness from lack of sanitation, open sewage, corpses, water borne diseases, vector-borne diseases, etc. and you have an environment that even trained medical professionals are going to have difficulty coping with, using the tools and drugs they are used to – assuming they have enough of either, and they never will.  There are rarely enough pharmaceuticals available for everyone in a post-disaster situation.

So what are the reasons to turn toward plant medicine for yourself, your family and even your neighborhood or community?  There are many.  Here are a few:

  • Plant medicine works, and works quite well when used correctly.  While more difficult to work with severe bacterial infections than the correct dosage of the correct antibiotic (assuming it is on hand and you are aware of what that is), herbal medicine is still highly (and completely) effective in most cases of chronic and acute illness, to include parasitic infections (e.g. flatworm, roundworm), protozoal infections (e.g. giardia, cryptosporidium), many bacterial infections – especially of the gut, viral infections (e.g. dengue fever, influenza) and other acute conditions that could be common in a post-disaster situation.
  • Plant medicine is something that you can begin learning and working with immediately in your own home.  You do not have to be a medical professional.  You have to only be willing to learn, study and understand your limitations as you slowly expand beyond them.
  • Plant medicine is generally speaking more gentle in its effect, yet is every bit as effective because it assists your body at doing what it does best:  Healing and finding balance.  Every plant contains thousands of constituent as opposed to a single constituent in a pharmaceutical.  These constituents have combined effects and work in a different manner than we are accustomed to with the single-constituent or single-chemical model of modern pharmaceuticals.
  • Plant medicine is a sustainable resource – potentially never-ending.  There is no need to ration – at least not to the same extent as you must ration pharmaceuticals post-disaster.  You can grow very effective medicinal herbs (and should grow it) in your garden, your greenhouse, your kitchen and more.  You can wildcraft medicinal herbs from your local ecosystem.  For now (although not in a post-disaster) you can buy medicinal herbs online and then prepare and store them.
  • Plant medicine can store for longer than most pharmaceutical medicines if prepared correctly.
  • Learning plant medicine is a skill.  Unlike a resources, once you have started learning herbalism, you can’t lose it, and the resources for it are all around you.  There is no limitation to how much you can learn (believe me, you will never even come close to learning all there is to know even if you did nothing else for an entire lifetime), and your skill lives and grows everywhere you live and breathe as well.

Bear in mind that this is a skill you must continue to learn and practice.  This isn’t something you can read one time and think you have all that you need.  You must learn to identify, prepare and use a specific plant, and along with that, you must change (slightly) how you think about medicine.  You can’t just substitute a plant for a pharmaceutical.  It is necessary to change the way in which you understand how our physiology responds to disease and health – as represented by the bio-medicine that a plant offers.

By Sam Coffman 

* 5 Ways to Build Endurance Before SHTF

As we prepare for emergencies of all levels, many of us stockpile water, food, first aid supplies and more.  What happens should those supplies run out?  What happens if the garden needs tilling and access to fuel machinery is limited or completely gone?

As Amy said in her post about running for our lives, many of us think we’ll do it what needs to be done, because, well, it now suddenly needs to be done. I believe that’s true, but I also believe many of us underestimate just how difficult that will be.

Building endurance now will make handling potential future emergencies in the future so much easier, and is so much healthier for our bodies anyway.

Endurance is more than just physical. We need to build up our mental toughness as well.  Many of us, myself included, are spoiled, and maybe a little soft, because of all our modern conveniences.

Here are 5 ways to build endurance before SHTF.  None of these will take tons of time from your busy schedule but all might be more than a little helpful in the long run.

1. Do Hard Labor

Use a rake and a wheelbarrow to haul leaves to the compost pile. Don’t ride the lawn tractor or use the leaf blower.  Split wood with a maul instead of a gas-powered wood-splitter. Walk to the grocery store and carry your groceries home in a backpack or haul them home in a wagon. Mend clothing by hand or with a treadle machine instead of your electric one.

We all think we can do things if we have too, but they’re generally harder than we think. Building muscle, and muscle memory, now will help later and keep us healthier now. It’s much easier to stay healthy and fit than it is to become fit. Hard labor is just that, hard. However, it gets us out of our comfort zone which is important, not only for our physical endurance but our mental endurance as well.

2. Get Uncomfortable

Turn the air-conditioning off. Feel the heat and find ways to deal with it. Don’t burn a fire on a borderline chilly day. Let’s feel, really feel, like we need to preserve our precious resources more and put on an extra layer of clothes until the sun naturally warms up the house. Skip that extra cookie.  I’m not for total deprivation, but remember that the extra cookie is a bonus, not a right.

It’s one thing to think we can handle any situation, it’s a completely different thing to experience it. Often, this particular step will help build our mental toughness as us much as our physical endurance. Take some time and get uncomfortable. And while you’re there…

3. Push Yourself

“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up.  It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired. You’ve always got to make the mind take over and keep going.”  – George Patton

Pull another row of weeds. Walk or run the extra quarter mile. Put on an extra layer of clothing and go for a short walk on the extra cold, windy day. Make your body do it. 

Don’t push until the point of injury but do realize your body is capable of a lot and that we just need to make our brains say so. There’s a giant sense of accomplishment that comes from doing this, from making our bodies do something that feels impossible or, at the very least, difficult. That sense of accomplishment builds upon itself and leads to all kinds of new ways in which we can physically and mentally handle hard labor and difficult times.

4. Rest Well

Truly rest at the end of the day. Most of us don’t do this. We’re all trying to fit in one more thing in all of our modern busy schedules. We’re racing to sports or trying to catch up on work or putting the final touches on homework.

However, rest is important for building endurance. No matter what an athlete is training for, they understand the importance of rest days, and I maintain, that’s just as important for those of us prepping.

We need to not only give our bodies rest but our minds as well. We should use time to rest our bodies and rejuvenate with our families in the evenings. Time spent reading, playing games, working on crafts, or simply just being together instead of working more. This rests the body and the mind, and helps us…

5. Find Gratitude

Many of us confuse hard work with drudgery. It’s hard to be grateful for drudgery. However, we can almost find gratitude in a job well done. We can find gratitude for the fact that our bodies can rake leaves and those leaves will turn into amazing compost that will feed our families.

Take time to cultivate this attitude of gratitude. Keep a journal (The Gratitude Habit: A 365 Day Journal), talk about gratitude over dinner with family, make it a part of every day and before you know it, thinking any other way will be hard to fathom.

By no means is this an exhaustive or all-inclusive way to build endurance but it is a good start for many of us.  Do you have a preferred method for building endurance?  If not, are you going to start now?

Be a Lean, Mean Survival Mom Machine

Picture this.  You’re with your kids or grand-kids in a COSTCO or Wal-Mart, when you hear gunshots and screams coming from across the store.  From the terrifying sounds you know you only have a few seconds to get to safety, and an EXIT door is about thirty yards away.

Do you have the physical conditioning, stamina, otherwise known as survival fitness, to grab the kids, pick them up if necessary, and run fast enough to escape with your lives?  Or, would those extra pounds and flabby muscles slow you down to make a quick escape impossible? Are you a lean, mean Survival Mom machine?

I’m the first to admit that a quick sprint across the store would be pretty difficult for me.  I could do it, but it sure wouldn’t be impressive in terms of speed or style.  I’ve missed way too many work-outs at the gym and have enjoyed far too many meals at the drive-through lately.  I’m typical of millions of Americans, yet as someone who has preparedness as a top goal, I know that someday my survival may depend on being physically fit.

The necessity of getting shape and building up my physical strength has been a big pill for me to swallow.  I can’t tell you how much I hate exercising and every minute on the treadmill is torment.  Even so, I’ve been working on improving my physical fitness.  I’m not a runner, far from it, but I’ve been making a point of walking or bicyling as many days of the week as I can and doing a series of strength-building calisthenics (floor exercises).

Simple lean, mean Survival Mom machine tips!

When I feel like turning on the TV or plopping down with the latest Daniel Silva book, here’s what I tell myself.

  • Upper body strength will help improve my target shooting.
  • I’m setting a good example for the kids.  They love physical activity, and I want them to keep that attitude.
  • Stronger leg muscles are more attractive and much better for running from a dangerous situation.  And also for kicking bad guys in the groin.
  • As I build up my cardio-vascular system, my overall health improves, hopefully keeping me healthy for many, many years to come.  Who knows what our health care system will look like in a few years, and I’d just as soon stay healthy and limit my dependence on the medical system.
  • I am so vain it’s embarrassing.  Heck, I just want to look cuter in my jeans!

How about you?  Could you depend on your fitness level to run fast and far if your life, and the lives of your children, depended on it?  Building up our bodies to be as strong as possible and losing some of the pounds that slow us down is a survival and preparedness must.  No, it’s not an easy step, and there are hundreds of excuses to procrastinate, most of them printed on restaurant menus!  However, there’s a very powerful reason for Survival Moms to start today:  our children.

If you’re already in shape, let us know how you do it.  If you’re on the journey toward physical fitness and being a lean, mean survival machine, hey, we’re on it together!  I’d love to hear about  your plans for becoming the leanest and strongest Survival Mom you possibly can be!

Prepping with Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes — also called Juvenile Diabetes — shook our prepping plans to their foundations. While I was stockpiling food, learning to make cheese, and writing the occasional post for the Survival Mom, my 9 year-old daughter’s body was attacking itself and she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Just a short time later I found myself trying to find answers for prepping with Type 1 Diabetes.

A T1D diagnosis is a life sentence of finger pokes and insulin administration. And because it’s genetic, we now know our other children are at risk.

What’s a survival mom to do? I didn’t even wait for the shock to wear off before I took to the internet seeking advice from the preparedness community…and was extremely disappointed with the meager information available. (I’ve included the links to those I found even a little bit helpful to save you time.) Even expert Mormon preppers who have so much information and resources had little to offer.

NOTE: This post is specific to Type 1 Diabetes, NOT Type 2. Please keep the differences in mind when you post comments and suggestions. Finding ways to prepare for a serious disease like this is scary. Suggestions that simple adjustments, like changing the food we have stored, as if we wouldn’t have already done that if it would resolve the issue, are more hurtful than helpful.

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, attorney, engineer, moralist, spiritual adviser, survivalist, or millionaire. Use the attached links and their information at your own risk. I’ve simply put together what’s on the internet and what I’ve personally experienced. The rest is up to you.

Some Background

For clarity’s sake, please understand that T1D is very different from Type 2 Diabetes. The bodies of Type 2 patients still make insulin, but their bodies have trouble using it to get carbohydrate energy from the blood into the cells for use. Diet, exercise, and some drugs can help them do that.


The body of a Type 1 patient makes no insulin, the vehicle that unlocks cells so that energy can enter and be metabolized. The immune system has attacked the pancreas and shut down the good guys that make insulin. No diet, exercise, or drugs on the market will turn those cells on again. And that was my initial frustration.

Lots of good-hearted folks had tips for keeping blood sugar down, but those suggestions will lead to starvation and/or death for a kid who can’t get energy from any type of food. Remember Atkins and low-carb diets? It’s the same idea. When the body can’t get energy from carbohydrates, it burns the body’s fat reserves. When that’s depleted, the body uses muscle for energy. A kid who eats bowls and bowls of pasta but can’t use any of its energy will still burn fat and muscles until there’s nothing left. Having supplies and insulin at all times is essential to survival.

Getting Started: Short-term Emergency Preparedness

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in 2013 advised diabetics to keep a filled medical bag after Superstorm Sandy hit in October 2012. Doctors were concerned that, gasp!, some of their diabetic patients weren’t prepared to go a couple of weeks without visiting a regular pharmacy! One woman didn’t have a regular pharmacy for 5 months following Sandy.

Put together a supply bag

A bag that holds basic supplies for the diabetic is a smart first-step. The JDRF checklist might be helpful in packing that first bag. After some experimentation, I keep a tiny first aid box filled with pen needles in our everyday carry bag. And while you’re in the travel aisle, grab a tiny pill holder with a screw-on lid for sharps disposal. Mine can hold 3 used pen needles, enough to dose for each meal without worrying where to put used needles.

Carry snacks for emergencies

We keep a high-sugar snack for emergencies, as well as no-carb snacks that can curb hunger in the everyday carry bag. A case of water bottles in the trunk makes sense, too, as diabetics need to drink continuously. We keep even more snacks in a lunch bag in the car, along with 5 more days’ of supplies in case we wind up stranded somewhere.

Stocking up on Insulin and supplies

The problem with stocking up on diabetic supplies  is that they are expensive and insurance companies make it difficult to buy more than is needed for a short period of time. As with most prescriptions, many insurance companies will only pay for 1-3 months of refills at a time, and will only allow refills once supplies dwindle to a few days’ worth of reserves. That’s cutting it way too close for this prepared mama. If you’re new to diabetes or to prepping and have been worried about this, take heart. I’ve done some of the legwork for you.

If you are getting prescriptions one month at a time at a local pharmacy, you may be able to get a few extra days of supplies every month by going on the first day you can get a refill. That will leave you with  about six days of supplies at home. Over time, that can add up. However, many insurance companies are now requiring patients with “chronic conditions” to order their supplies through the mail after the first three months. Mail ordered supplies are sent automatically and make it virtually impossible to stock up in this way.

Most states require a prescription to purchase insulin, making stockpiling trickier for Americans. It may be possible to buy insulin from other countries, and you may have wondered about the legality of buying insulin from Canada if you are an American. Since there is recent legislation on the table to make it legal for US citizens, this is good information to keep in mind if it does become legal in the future.

Another way to add to your stash of insulin may work if your loved one uses a pump but is very active. With a doctor’s approval, they might consider switching to a pen for at least part of the year. Some high school wrestlers with T1D are on a pump most of the year but switch to insulin injection pens during wrestling season for safety. Because there’s some overlap in refills, they will end up with a few extra pens tucked away as backup. Switching to pens for the summer might make sense if your self-conscious preteen is swimming, boating, canoeing, and cruising the pool. It might even be necessary if their pump can’t be immersed and they will be around water for longer than they can go without it.

How much insulin should you store? From my experience with food storage, I recommend you use the same guidelines as you would for food. If your canned tomatoes keep for a year, store a year’s worth and rotate. Refrigerated insulin will keep for up to two years, or 30 days once opened and kept at room temperature.

While it is prudent to follow the “store what you use and use what you store” philosophy, pump users might want to skip down to the “Grid-down” section before putting all their insulin “eggs” in the “pump supplies” basket. Either way, request that all your prescription supplies automatically refill as soon as your insurance company will allow. If you can choose a couple of days a week to reduce carb intake and thus reduce insulin use, autofill can eventually get you a little bit of cushion.

Stocking up on Testing Supplies

Stocking up on diabetes testing supplies is easy, compared to stockpiling insulin.

It is simple to buy diabetes test strips, pen needles, etc. from Canada at a fraction of the cost. Price check all your options to get the lowest combined price, and be sure to take shipping into consideration. Remember to check eBay and Amazon as well. We found both to be only slightly less expensive than the pharmacy, but you can luck into great deals on eBay.

Diabetic specialty websites like Glucomart carry hit-or-miss supplies and run daily updates. You have to check back pretty often, or use your email address to request notification when the products you need are in stock.

Testing on-the-go is much easier with alcohol swabs. I pick up a 2-pack (400 total) for less than $4 every time I go to the store. Even in bulk, I can’t find them cheaper than at Walmart. At home, we use a giant bottle of alcohol and cotton balls, available at dollar stores everywhere.

While I personally haven’t tried it, you may also be able to find unopened testing supplies at an estate sale, just as you might find other non-prescription medical supplies such bed pans, surgical gloves, or dressings. In estate sales, you might even find a new or lightly-used testing machine to go along with the supplies.

With second-hand supplies in particular (estate sales and eBay), be certain to check the expiration date, and (obviously) that they are compatible with your machine. They may be cheap because they are close to their expiration date. Use those right away and save the ones with later expiration dates.

I’ve created a spreadsheet to help me keep track of our supplies, their expiration dates, and how much of each I need to stock up on in order to be prepared for 3 months, 6 months, and one year.

Stocking up on Other Essentials


Immune support is crucial for T1D patients. In fact, contracting a common cold or flu virus is often what pushes an overactive immune system into overdrive and coincides with T1D onset. Endocrine changes due to illness wreak havoc on blood glucose levels. Avoid sickness and support immunity whenever possible.

Vitamin D is also shown to assist with glucose control. It’s equally important for our other children to get vitamin D, as a deficiency is linked to increased risk of developing the disease for those with family history.

Low-carb alternatives

In an emergency, you may want to reduce carbohydrate intake to make insulin stockpiles last longer. Our medical team says kids need a MINIMUM of 130 carbs per day for growth and development. Basing insulin stockpiles on current needs should give you some wiggle room.

Maybe now is the time to learn to cook with almond flour or develop a taste for coconut milk. (Both are shelf-stable, by the way!) We already had a HUGE stockpile of beans, rice, noodles, and other starchy foods that could be a nightmare for glucose control. Energy rich, but nutrient sparse.

We still have and use those foods, but we’re replacing some of them with alternatives that make sugar control a little easier. Brown rice has a shorter shelf life, but more nutrients and the complex carbs are much slower to enter the blood. Similarly, a packet of Splenda or Stevia might make lots of ho-hum dishes more palatable, the way sugar does for the rest of us.

As a replacement for milk, Peak powdered milk  has 8 carbs per cup, versus 12 for regular powdered milk and fresh 2% milk. LC milk powder has only 1 carb per cup, but it requires mixing with water and heavy cream. Canned coconut cream doesn’t work, as the consistency is too solid. Table cream yields a better result.

Rationing diabetic supplies


I’ve read comments from diabetics who still change a lancet after every finger prick, and from those who guesstimate it gets changed every couple of months. I was not able to find a link to specific guidelines, but the American Association of Diabetes Educators acknowledges that reusable lancets for a single patient are completely safe. The recommendation at the time of your initial diagnosis may have changed. Our medical team insisted a once-a-day change had been studied and was proven safe, provided the skin is cleansed with alcohol before each finger prick (as of December of 2014).

Pen needles or syringes

This scares the heck out of me. The Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that it would be okay to reuse syringes or pen needles without complications. I don’t think I’d do it in normal times, but in dire circumstances it’s nice to know about the AMA’s approval. The article specifically talks about 3-4 uses per needle, which would equal a once-a-day change.

Off-Grid Considerations

Loss of electricity could prevent recharging your meter. Any number of solar phone chargers with USB plugs can be used as a backup option. Plus, you’ll have it to charge your phone!

When stockpiling, strongly consider the possibility that electronic equipment may fail due to a natural or man-made EMP event. Pump users should consider stocking insulin pens for backup, as an EMP could fry the pump’s circuitry. Pens are not vulnerable to EMP. We purchased an identical meter (half price on eBay!) and stashed it, unopened, in a Faraday cage as a backup.

If monitors are inoperable despite all these preparations, another backup option exists, urine test strips for glucose. They are less accurate than blood glucose meters since it takes much more sugar to register on a urine strip. These were used in the U.S. through the 1970s and 1980s, we just don’t have much of a market for them here anymore.

However, patients in third world countries without electricity use them, so they could be a viable alternative in a grid-down emergency. We plan to periodically compare the urine test results to the meter reading just to see how they compare.

Refrigerating insulin is key to prolonging its shelf life. Consider a solar refrigerator, or build a solar panel strong enough to run a small, dorm-room-size refrigerator.

The Frio Insulin Cooling Case is a water activated product designed to keep insulin cool during travel that has been getting some attention on the web. I haven’t tried it yet, but may post an update. With exposure to air, the bag keeps insulin room temperature, which is much better than hot, but it doesn’t even come close to refrigeration temperature.

Another option is a refrigerator that runs on 12 volt (as well as 110), apparently designed for campers and long-haul truckers. Since they can run off of car batteries, you just need to add a few extra car batteries to your preps – hardly an exotic item! If you make sure they are the kind your family cars need, you are even prepared for one more every-day disaster. If you have other ideas, I hope you’ll add a comment below.

In a grid-down scenario, Dr. Bones of “Doom and Bloom” fame gives some options for preventing ketoacidosis here.  If you’ve stockpiled enough supplies, you shouldn’t have to worry about that for a long while.

First Steps

If you’re new to prepping or T1D, I know this is really overwhelming. Take some deep breaths and then some baby steps. Figure out what your child or grandchild needs to get through a single day, calculate, and start. Just, start. Don’t worry that you are starting with “the wrong thing.” You will need it all, eventually.

A good initial goal is to have a 3-month supply of EVERYTHING, but if that is overwhelming, you can start even smaller. Get the testing supplies since they are relatively easy, or one extra week or month of insulin. Research some backup options and get those next. But start…somewhere. Anywhere! Don’t let yourself get paralyzed to the point that you do nothing.

Once you have a 3 month supply, move on to a 6-month supply. When that is done, consider how you’ll maximize your insulin without electricity. Then keep adding to your supply. And don’t forget to rotate!

Final Thoughts

I KNOW prepping for Type 1 Diabetes is expensive because I share your pain in paying for it. I know building a stockpile probably means buying supplies outright without help from your insurance company—probably while you’re still paying off that hospital bill from the initial diagnosis. Trust me, I know it’s overwhelming.

Normally I would say to do what you can as you are able to do it. But for your diabetic loved one, this is truly a life-or-death proposition. A 5-year supply of food does your loved one no good when his 4-week insulin supply runs out. So in this situation, I say do what you have to do. Tap into your savings account. Sell some of your silver stash. If I had to, I’d consider allowing myself a little credit card debt.

I can’t think of any earthly consideration more important than the welfare of my children. They rely on me, and now I have a T1D kiddo who relies on insulin, meters, lancets, and test strips for SURVIVAL. I refuse to let her down.

Foot Care, or You’ll Never Escape the Zombies With Blisters on Your Feet

OW. Just, seriously…OW. I spent last week at Scout Camp with my son, which was fun, except for my feet.

I know good quality, properly fit shoes are important. I know new or poor fitting shoes can cause blisters and other problems. I know wet shoes / feet are Very Bad, and summer camp can be both rainy and hot. I planned for all of this.

Before camping, I wore my hiking sneakers and sandals, both good brands, enough to be certain they wouldn’t cause blisters. I bought athletic sandals, the kind with closed, protected toes, for when it was really hot. I had a combination of good quality athletic socks and wool socks.

So why OW?

I didn’t notice my new sandals lacked built in arch support. And while the hiking sneakers were fine for a day, they were not comfortable enough for an entire week. After all, I did plan on alternating them with my sandals (the ones with no arch support). And it’s a universally known fact that something will be left by the front door when anyone leaves for a trip. In this case, it was my hiking boots.

The very first day, I injured one foot. I wasn’t carrying much weight in my backpack – little beyond water, sunscreen, and bug spray – and we were just walking on packed-dirt roads. No running, no extreme sports. After a week, I’m pretty sure I need to see a podiatrist and it will probably be weeks or even months until it is fully healed.

Can you imagine the damage that being unprepared, walking long distances, and carrying a heavy pack in a SHTF situation could inflict?

Basic Foot Care – SHTF or normal life

In a SHTF situation, you will almost certainly be hiking long distances carrying a heavy backpack. The guidelines for backpacking foot care are more stringent than for every day life since the distances walked and amount carried are so much greater, but following the basics of these guidelines every day definitely can’t hurt.

Backpacking foot care isn’t rocket science. Feet need to be warm, dry, and supported. Your shoes (and socks) need to fit and be appropriate for the task.

Prepare your feet for activity. If you wear dress shoes to work every day and flip flops or sandals on the weekend, don’t expect to just slip a pair of hiking boots on over your dress socks / nylons and start walking. At the very least, you must make sure your toe nails are clipped (but don’t risk an ingrown toenail) and pack a small foot first aid kit in a waterproof container such as a Ziploc baggie.

Foot First Aid Kit

  • Moleskin and tiny scissors, or duct tape (wrapped around a pencil)
  • Alcohol pads
  • Safety pin
  • Lubricant (such as Bag Balm) or powder
  • Benzoin swabs
  • Corn pads
  • Gauze pads and tape

Choosing good socks

Good socks are easy to overlook. It seems kind of weird, but there really are special purpose socks. Clearly, some are thicker than others. Liner socks are thin like dress socks and are worn under thicker socks to help prevent blisters. Some hiking socks are designed so they function like a sock and sock liner combined.

Athletic socks of today are not the tube socks of yore. They have wicking fibers, areas designed to provide more (or less) support and breathability, and more. In addition to cotton (not the best hiking choice) and wool, there are nylon, hybrid, and high tech fibers. They also come in a variety of heights from low cut to knee socks. Make sure your socks are higher than the top edge of your shoes to prevent chaffing and rubbing.

Once you choose good socks, make sure to wear them when you try on your new hiking shoes. Socks really do affect the way they fit.

Choosing good shoes

One site I looked at said “properly fitted shoes don’t need to be broken in.” Well, yeah, sure…but. Depending on what you normally wear, a “properly fitted” pair of trail shoes may feel entirely wrongIt can take a little time to adjust to how they are meant to feel.

My hiking boots are considerably more snug than the slip on shoes I normally wear running errands, for example. I bought one pair of athletic sandals that were very comfortable in the store, but I later realized were too loose for their intended use. (They stretched out to much for continued use within two days of camping / hiking.)

But don’t – do not – buy a pair that hurts or doesn’t fit quite right thinking that will improve with time and wear. It won’t. Think about the last pair of shoes you bought that “almost” fit. Did that ever change? No? They still hurt or you got rid of them? Do you really think the result will be any different with hiking shoes? So, save the pain and money and take the time to find a pair that truly fit.

Then take the time to break them in. Think about any good boots or shoes you have owned. As you wear them, creases develop where your body bends, such as the balls of your feet and your ankles. Other areas stretch to fit your feet. When you wear the shoes for a little while, they are simply more comfortable.

Note: Many people can use low cut trail sneakers or shoes instead of hiking boots that provide ankle support, but ankle support is good for beginners, for longer trails / heavier packs, and for anyone with weak ankles.

On the trail

Dirty, wet feet are not happy feet. Sometimes conditions conspire so you end up with wet feet, and dirty feet are almost impossible to avoid. But that doesn’t mean your feet have to stay wet, or filthy.

Simple steps to fight wet feet on the trail include having a change of socks and letting wet ones dry on the outside of  your backpack. Wearing “camp shoes” instead of “trail shoes” when you stop for a break or the night is another way to let your shoes, socks, and feet all air dry a bit. (Camp shoes can also come in handy for crossing creeks and similar water hazards.)

Note: Going barefoot in camp or wading in a creek is appealing, but hidden rocks, roots, and other hazards can easily lead to cuts, scrapes, and infections.

In addition, any time you stop, even for just a few minutes, take the chance to empty rocks, sand, etc. out of your boots before the rubbing causes damage. If you can feel something in your shoe, take the time to stop and fix it before it gets worse. Unless there is actually a zombie on your heels, it’s better to spend two minutes removing, emptying, and relacing your boots instead of having an injury slow you down for hours or days later.

If you start to have trouble and can get out to a store to buy supplies to fix it, take the time to do so. I took an hour out of camp to buy a cheap pair of sneakers and a set of gel arch supports. Without them, I probably would have had to leave camp for medical reasons by the end of the second day.

Every Day

I think it’s fairly easy to see how this could be as helpful for a day shopping at a mega-outlet-mall or chaperoning a school field trip as it is for an SHTF situation. So do your feet a favor. Take a few minutes to pamper them. They support you every day.

By Liz Long

Stomach “Bugs”: An Herbal Back-Up Plan


So perhaps it’s that time of year, and stomach “bugs” are starting to make the rounds at school and work. Or, perhaps you’ve had a run in with a mild bout of food poisoning. There are plenty of OTC drugs available (Imodium, Pepto and the like), but let’s take a look at some alternatives in the event that OTC meds aren’t available for whatever reason.

Basic Care for Stomach Bugs

There are many other herbs with a history of use for digestive support, but these five are especially easy to grow and identify, so I think they are particularly well suited for emergency preparedness scenarios where OTCs might be in short supply or unavailable. Combined with a commonsense care approach focusing on food and fluid intake, they should provide a decent family or community back-up plan.

First, regardless of what else is available, food and fluid are going to be key in keeping the situation from getting out of hand. Fluid loss from diarrhea and vomiting are especially dangerous for children and the elderly, so pay close attention to what is going in, not just what’s coming out.

Bland, soft foods are important so that the digestive system isn’t stressed further, so stay away from offering spicy or greasy foods. Make sure the foods still have nutritional value. Sugary gelatin and pudding really aren’t the best idea here. Some nutrient dense but bland foods include oatmeal and other whole grain porridge, meat and veggie broths, yogurt, and plain fruit and vegetables that are cooked until soft.

Maintaining electrolyte and fluid balance is even more important.  Make sure they drink plenty of water, diluted fruit juice, and herbal teas. Stay away from sugary drinks and anything with caffeine. An electrolyte formula can be used if the fluid loss is especially severe, and is a good idea for children and the elderly.

If you don’t have access to Pedialyte, the World Health Organization recommends ORS (Oral Rehydrating Solution) which is 5 liters of water, 6 level teaspoons of sugar, and ½ level tsp of salt. The solution is good for 24hrs, after that you will need to make a fresh batch. It can be used by alternating with other fluids.

Beyond that, these five herbs have a tradition of use for digestive upset. I’ve included some information on the growth habits of the plants as well as how they are used, and hope that will be useful for my readers interested in growing their own herbs and being less reliant on outsourcing their dried herbs.

Herbs for Vomiting

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

This plant is soothing for the stomach and the throat when there is a lot of vomiting and the stomach acid leaves the throat feeling raw. Marshmallow has a high level of mucilage, which makes the tea take on a distinctive “slippery” texture.

The best way to use marshmallow as a tea is actually by allowing the dried root to soak in room temperature or cool water- not brewing it with hot water as is common with most herbs. Leave it overnight for best results, but it can be used anytime after it has soaked for thirty minutes.

Marshmallow is traditionally understood to coat and soothe inflamed tissues of the digestive tract. It is one of my go-to herbs for the aftermath of food poisoning. Marshmallow is native to Africa but it is not a fussy plant and is usually happy to grow in rich garden soil as long as it gets enough water. It is a perennial that is hardy across most zones and prefers consistently moist soil.

Ginger (zingiber oficinale)

The root of this herb can help settle a stomach, and is traditionally used for nausea and improving digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Tea from fresh ginger root is best, but dried will also help. Some health food stores carry candied ginger root, which is convenient and palatable to most people. I enjoy adding it to trail mix, too, so I usually keep plenty on hand.

Ginger is a tropical plant, so for most parts of the US it will do best if grown in pots that can be brought inside during winter and placed in a sunny window.

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

The bark of slippery elm is traditionally used as a thin porridge – a gruel – or added to porridge such as oatmeal. Like marshmallow, slippery elm is helpful for coating the stomach. The main difference between the two is that slippery elm is considered to be more nutritive and was used during convalescence as a food. It was often turned to when the sick person couldn’t seem to keep any food down.

Some good flavorings for a gruel that uses slippery elm are ginger or cinnamon, for an extra boost of stomach settling goodness, and honey as a sweetener. To make a slippery elm porridge, start with a bowl of oatmeal or other whole grains, and stir in a tablespoon of slippery elm powder.

To make a slippery elm gruel, place a tablespoon of slippery elm powder into a bowl, and add one cup of hot water. Add cinnamon or ginger, if desired, and allow to cool to a safe temperature for drinking.  It will thicken as it stands, so if it becomes thicker than you want, add more water.

Sometimes, herbalists mix honey and slippery elm powder to form a dough, and then roll the dough into bite sized pieces This can be eaten a few pieces at a time, rather than making a gruel.

Native to central, eastern and southern US and parts of Canada, this tree is an excellent addition to the landscape as a shade tree. Harvesting is a little trickier for trees than for other herbs. It is usually done in the spring, when the rising sap makes the bark easier to peel from the tree. It’s best to learn how to do this from someone who has had experience. “Girdling”, or stripping the bark all the way around the tree, can kill it.

These herbs are especially good if there is vomiting. But what if the problem is at the, ahem, other end?


Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)

Blackberry is the old-timey standby for diarrhea. The leaves were favored by traditional European herbalists, while the Native tribes in the US favored the roots. In the US, blackberry plants are grown domestically and it is also a common wild plant.

The leaf is easier to harvest, and usually easier to find commercially than the root.  Leaves from raspberry (a close relative of blackberry) can be used as well, and both are best prepared as a hot tea. If you are making use of blackberry leaves from your own plants, harvest them as the plant is beginning to bloom and arrange them on screens or hang in bunches to dry until you need them.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

The go to herb for end-of-meal digestive support, peppermint is also excellent for stomach bugs that leave you feeling gassy and bloated. Try hot peppermint tea with a little honey for best results.

In the garden, I always recommend planting peppermint in containers; if you plant it directly in the ground be aware that it spreads by runners and rootlets and is vigorous enough to kill other, more mild mannered, plants by crowding them out. I have also commonly found peppermint growing wild around old home sites and damp fields. It’s quite hardy and spreads freely.

As always, be aware that although many herbs have a long record of safe use, they can interact with prescription and OTC medications, so be sure to check with your doctor for potential problems before you use an herb for the first time.

* 3 Types of Herbal First Aid Kits

Herbal first aid is a great skill to have in your preparedness tool kit, and although I’m going to go over some of the contents of 3 types of herbal first aid kits with you in this article, it’s important to remember that herbal first aid is also a set of skills. You need to learn the correct doses, how to prepare herbs into usable form, plus all of the regular first aid (and wilderness first aid) skills to go with them.

Being an herbalist in general is a pretty good background for survival skills- you already know many herbs and the basics of how the body works- but I’ve taken classes with The Human Path, led by a former Green Beret medic and herbalist, Sam Coffman, to up my survival herbalism game. You can read an article Sam wrote for Survival Mom about the benefits of learning herbalism for disaster preparedness here.

Based on what I’ve been learning, I now have three types of herbal first aid kits. My everyday carry kit is small — I can fit it in a purse or tuck it into a backpack with no problem. I’ve even heard of people making their EDC (EveryDay Carry) herbal kits small enough to fit into a cargo pants pocket for times when they want to take it to a sporting event or other venue that doesn’t allow bags. My home first aid kit is much larger, with a wider variety and larger quantities of things for everyday comfort. The field kit/evacuation kit covers the herbs I would want to have on hand during a natural disaster or pandemic, but works equally well for rounding out my home first aid kit or as an organized bug-in supply.

Here’s a little more about each type and what I’ve included.

Herbal First Aid Kits: Everyday Carry

For everyday carry, small and durable is good. The idea is to keep a few things on hand that help make your life easier until you can get home. For example, use 1 ounce nalgene bottles, or make single serving packets out of drinking straws (I like this tutorial.) You can use a fanny pack, the kind of travel pouches used to organize a carry on or suitcase, or a makeup bag to hold your herbal EDC. A ziploc bag that goes in and out of different bags also works well. Don’t leave your herbal EDC in the car, though, because herbs and tinctures are heat sensitive and lose potency quickly in a hot car.

Some things that I’ve included in mine:

  • Meadowsweet extract — This herb can be useful for indigestion and pain.
  • Rose/Hawthorn/Albizzia extract (equal parts each) — An uplifting nervine, tis is my go-to for clearer thinking and feeling calmer after an emotional shock to the system.
  • Cayenne — Cayenne has several first aid uses. Dr. John Christopher spoke highly of it for hemorrhaging and for heart attacks, as it appears to equalize the circulation. It’s also very handy during cold and flu season for clearing the sinuses. A little cayenne is also my secret ingredient for sore throats, along with honey and lemon. In a pinch, you can get a wedge of lemon, a cup of hot water and a packet of honey at a restaurant. Mix the honey into the water and squeeze the lemon into the cup. Add a little cayenne and sip slowly.  
  • Black Cohosh/Jamaican Dogwood/ Cramp Bark extract (equal parts) — I learned about this blend from Dr. Aviva Romm’s website, and love it. This is a really potent blend. Helps provide comfort when dealing with pretty much any kind of pain — headaches, injuries, menstrual cramps, etc.
  • Plantain salve — My favorite salve blend is bright green and has plantain, chaparral, goldenseal, and bloodroot, among other things, but use whatever herbal salve you like the best.
  • Witch hazel extract — This is handy when cleaning up cuts and scrapes. I like to keep a travel size bottle in my EDC

Home First Aid

Personally, I have a full fledged home apothecary, but then again I’m a die hard herbalist, and constantly work with new recipes and other personal experiments. If you like, you can take a peek at my apothecary. Maintaining a home apothecary is a skill all of its own — things need to be rotated in and out, records kept, resources managed. I find it highly rewarding, but if you want a smaller home first aid kit (completely understandable), I talk about some of my must-have herbs in An Herbalist’s First Aid Kit: What I Use and Why. It covers 12 versatile herbs you might want to consider, and some ideas for preparations like eyewash, liniment, and an herbal spray for sore throat.

Important herbal categories for the home first aid kit can also include:

  • Digestive wellness: Include herbs that soothe the digestive tract like marshmallow root and meadowsweet; or astringents like blackberry root and sumac that are traditionally used to dry up bouts of diarrhea.
  • Herbal comfort for aches and pains: Black cohosh, jamaican dogwood, corydalis, valerian, passionflower, cramp bark, and willow can make good choices here.
  • Immunity and lymphatic support: Herbs that help the body during a viral or bacterial challenge like cleavers, violet leaves, and red clover for the lymphatic system; herbs that support the immune system more directly like elderberry and eleuthero.

You will want to keep your home first aid kit in an area that is easily accessible, but also out of direct sunlight and away from dampness. The basement and the bathroom are probably not good choices, because the higher humidity in these areas can take a toll on your supplies. A hallway closet or spare kitchen cabinet are good locations.

Herbal Field Kit/Evacuation Kit

A field kit or evacuation kit is probably going to be the most technical type of herbal first aid kit that you put together. For durability, use nalgene bottles. My field and evacuation kit focuses mainly on worst case scenarios — the kind of scenario where higher medical care is unavailable for short or long term. It’s heavy on the herbs I would want to have during a natural disaster or pandemic. It’s a much better idea to focus on a selection of formulas for this kit, rather than single herbs. That level of detail is a little beyond what I can cover in this post, so I’ve added a brief list of some of my favorite herbs that can be used for each category below, as a place for you to start with your own research.

  • Wound care/physical trauma — angelica, albizzia, St. John’s wort, arnica, yarrow
  • Lung support in case of smoke or dust, respiratory problems — lobelia, elecampane, horehound, licorice, marshmallow
  • Digestive tract — sumac, black walnut, marshmallow, blackberry root, Oregon grape, digestive bitters
  • Herbal antibiotics and antivirals — bidens, sida, artemisia, isatis (You will notice there’s not a lot on this list. Read The Truth About Herbal Antibiotics to find out why.)
  • Lymphatic herbs that support the immune system — cleavers and red root
  • Adaptogens that maximize overall resiliency and wellness– eleuthero, rhodiola
  • Nervines that offer strong support during shock, trauma, grief, and depression– angelica, calamus, albizia, valerian, holy basil

It’s also a good idea to tuck in a few herbal and first aid references.

Of course, this is just a glimpse at the botanical portions of my first aid kits. You will also need other basic to advanced first aid supplies like bandages and sutures (and the skills to use them).  Remember to review the contents of your herbal kits frequently, at least once a month, to check for leaks and to stay familiar with the way your kit is packed. Like all of your prep kits, it’s really helpful to pack your kit the same way every time, so that you can easily find what you need, when you need it. Feel free to use the herbs I’ve suggested as a guideline. Chances are, you will begin to develop your own tastes and preferences the more you work with herbs, and that’s a good thing! I wish you the best of health as you work on your herbal preps!

By Agatha Noveille, herbalist