All Posts by Lisa Bedford

The Mystery of the Meal-Stretcher

For many of us, buying food specifically for food storage is an additional expense that can, sometimes, become too burdensome. When money is tight, it’s hard enough to cover the groceries for our main meals, much less add another few day’s worths of food to the grocery cart. Stretching a meal to feed additional hungry mouths is the next best thing to a miracle.

Foods like rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, and other grains have always formed the core of most food storage plans. First, they are inexpensive foods, like these potato dices. Purchased either from the grocery store or in large multi-pound packages, it’s a lot of food that will go a long way in your meals. If you add just 1 cup of rice to a pot of soup, the expense is just a few cents. This is probably why some of my Nana’s recipes contained elbow macaroni. Just cook up a little ground beef, add some onion, a can of tomatoes, seasonings — and then double the amount of food in the pot with macaroni! During the Great Depression days, as I wrote about here, this was a common and necessary practice. Most of the macaroni in my pantry is in large #10 cans. The larger size provides lots of servings and the metal can provides an optimal storage container.

These meal stretchers also add a lot of calories. Now, for many of us, calories are something to be avoided but consider what life is like during a long-term power outage. Folks who have lived for days and weeks following a hurricane or Superstorm Sandy had to do without modern electrical conveniences that typically make our lives easier. We burn far fewer calories when machines do our laundry, wash our dishes, and help us in so many other ways. Without them, there’s more physical labor and stress. Thus the need for more calories.

I’ve heard stories of financially strapped moms learning that company is coming over and quickly adding a meal stretcher or two to their dinners. A scoop of homemade chili over a cup or two of white rice stretches the pot of chili at least another few servings. One Facebook reader recently told me how she cooked bulgur wheat with beef bouillon until it was tender and then added it to some of her soups and chili. She said it had a similar consistency to ground beef. Classic meal stretcher!

One other advantage to most meal stretchers is that they are easy to store and have long shelf lives, with the exception of pasta. Grains, rice, dehydrated or freeze-dried potatoes, and beans all have exceptionally long shelf lives, which means they retain most, if not all, of their flavor, nutrients, texture, and color over a long period of time. Stored in a cool, dark, and dry location, they will last for 20 or more years. Pasta, on the other hand, is a little more finicky when it comes to long-term storage, but still, we’re talking about a good 8-10 years or more shelf life and worthy of including in your food storage pantry.

Not just for homemade recipes

Although I use meal stretchers primarily in my from-scratch recipes, they can also be helpful with just-add-water meals. For example, a dry chick soup mix could easily be stretched with the addition of rice or small pasta. Canned or freeze-dried chili can be stretched with any number of stretchers — more beans, bulgar wheat, a can of diced tomatoes and/or macaroni for Chili Mac.

This is also a good strategy for increasing the number of calories. One complaint many of us have with “survival food” meals is that they usually don’t contain enough calories per serving. That is easily solved, again, with the magic of meal stretchers.

If you have pouches, cans, or buckets of instant meals, give some thought as to how you might stretch them if you ever really needed to make a 3-months-supply of food last 4 months or longer.

Some downsides to meal stretchers

There are just a few negative points about storing meal stretchers. First, they can attract insects. If you’re planning on storing them for many years, you’ll want to protect them by adding food safe diatomaceous earth to the container. Here’s some information about diatomaceous earth, if you haven’t heard of it before, and these instructions will help you know exactly how to add it to your food for pest control.

One other method for pest control is to put tightly sealed containers of food in the freezer for several days. This kills any microscopic insect eggs that could be present. I do this and also add the appropriate size of oxygen absorber, which deprives insects and their eggs of oxygen, insuring their doom.

Most store-bought packages of things like rice, beans, and pasta are made from very flimsy plastic or cardboard. In both cases,the foods will have to be repackaged to extend their shelf lives. It isn’t a complicated process. It just takes a little time.

A reality of modern American life is the prevalence of gluten sensitivities and other food allergies. If this applies to you or anyone in your family, then wheat and anything made from wheat will be on the “Do Not Buy!” list. Instead, stock up on varieties of beans and rice. Stocking up on large quantities of gluten-free pasta is probably not going to be practical.

Wheat and beans, in particular, can be rough on digestive systems that aren’t used to them, so in a crisis, be prepared to deal with tummy troubles for a few days.

Stocking up on meal stretchers is a very smart strategy for any family’s food storage pantry.

Why sea salt should be included in your food storage pantry

When we think about setting aside emergency supplies, most of us would agree that preserved food and purified water are the essentials and everything else is secondary to these. Some might even choose to incorporate things like a manual grain mill, a water purifier, a food dehydrator, a solar cookstove and so on.

But who would ever consider something as simple and humble as salt as an indispensable necessity and commodity in the tumultuous days ahead? I would even go so far as to say if sea salt is not a part of your survival provisions, it’s time to tuck away this invaluable, hidden treasure.

In fact, salt was once valued as a form of currency – it was that scarce, and considered a luxury of few. The ancient Greeks used salt to trade for slaves and Roman soldiers were paid in “salt money” or “salarium argentum” where we derive the English word, “salary”. Homer called it “Divine”. Jesus calls His followers (which I’m honored to say I am) the “salt of the earth”.

Wars have been fought and whole settlements turned into cities and nations over the pursuit of salt. Just as gold and silver have once again gained ground in this present economic meltdown, so also will sea salt be a valuable and tradable commodity, literally “worth its weight in gold.” It will be a supreme bartering tool.

Preserving Food with Sea Salt

Sea salt has a unique ability to draw out the flavor in food like no other seasoning, but this is secondary to yet another one of its amazing values. Salt has long been known for its ability to preserve foods. In the event of a societal and economic collapse, refrigeration may be a thing of the past. Unless you plan to consume what you pick immediately, depend on your air dehydrator or live off your food storage, you will need salt for preserving food.

During harvest time, there should be plenty of fresh food (assuming you thought ahead to plant a garden), but the long harsh winters will inevitably come and preserving food will be a crucial issue. Even hunting for game, chances are you will not be able to consume it all in one sitting – salt preservation will be key. And without power, your pressure canner or electric dehydrator will not get you very far, so salt can be the perfect alternate route.

Health Benefits

With salt’s same ability to retard spoilage, “mineral dense sea salt” also aids in disinfecting and healing wounds. A simple salt paste or soaking a wound in a salt/water solution several times a day should achieve positive results. Sea salt also rejuvenates the skin keeping a more youthful appearance while aiding in the healing of acne, psoriasis, eczema and other skin related problems.

Ever wonder why your skin felt so tight, free and clear of irritation or blemishes after spending a day at the beach? Sea salt has miracle healing properties that are often overlooked. In fact, the Blue Lagoon in Iceland is world renown for its hot salt springs that people flock to with skin conditions. Dead Sea salts are another sought-after skin commodity.

Which kind of sea salt?

But might I be quick to add that not just any salt will suffice when it comes to you and your loved ones, especially typical table salt (sodium chloride) and in some cases, certain brands of sea salt.Salt that is processed for vast human consumption – while meeting the public’s demand for a product that is cheap and convenient – sacrifices a lot of health benefits.

Table salt has been stripped of all but two of its 84 trace minerals through a chemical process, dried at extreme temperatures, and oftentimes – for the sake of appearance – anti-caking, free-flowing, or conditioning agents are added along with iodine. But buyer beware of even some brands of so-called sea salt: It may be mechanically harvested from dirt or concrete basins and piped through metal conduits; artificially processed; heated to extreme temperatures to break the molecular structure; stripped of its essential minerals and further adulterated by chemical additives. In essence, many highly acclaimed “sea salts” are no different than plain ole table salt.

So where do you find pure, unadulterated salt?

Dense with vital trace minerals along with its light grey hue from the pure clay sole it’s harvested from, Celtic Sea Salt® is unmistakable in old world flavor and nutritious. (And taste may mean everything with a bland diet of survival foods!)

Extracted from the natural evaporation of the sea and wind alone, the ocean brine is channeled from the sea to the pristine shallow clay ponds, surrounded by vegetation. It provides a natural habitat for the salt while the salt farmer gathers the dazzling white crystals with a long, shovel-like tool, then collects it daily by hand.[ii]

Other Benefits

Celtic Sea Salt can be a simple addition to any food storage plan that just makes sense. It not only stores indefinitely, it provides so many hidden health benefits to mention in this article, but here are just a few:

Supplying well over 80 (24 of which are essential to life) minerals needed for proper metabolic functions and the assimilation of necessary nutrients in the body, natural sea salt is also an excellent immune booster and helps keep the body alkaline.

It works synergistically with vitamins and other minerals for their bioavailability to the body. (Bioavailability: the extent to which a nutrient or medication can be used by the body.) For instance, we know that calcium needs both magnesium and Vitamin D3 to be absorbed; sodium and potassium need each other in the proper proportions to help maintain normal blood pressure and water distribution.

Since natural sea salt contains a balance of minerals including sodium and potassium, the body is able to safely eliminate any excess sodium without the complications of typical table salt. This is a huge benefit for those who have to monitor their salt intake.

“Seawater contains minerals such as ionized sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and selenium, plus many trace elements such as copper, iron, zinc, manganese, and chromium. The human body uses the minerals & trace elements in sea salt to create electrolytes, maintaining the “internal ocean” which is vital to the proper functioning of every system in the body.”

In an age of degenerative diseases and in the difficult times that may lie ahead, no doubt sea salt is and will be worth its weight in gold, in more ways than one. Not only essential for health and vitality, sea salt clearly carries a vast array of benefits.

A Final Note

The familiar round grocery store container of salt is always ground the same. That’s not true of the many varieties of sea salt. It can be anywhere from chunks the size of landscaping rocks to finely ground, which is what most Americans are used to seeing. The website Sea Salt has a lot more specific information on types, coarseness, history, etc. of sea salt.

7 Ways to Survive a Nuclear Incident

Surviving a nuclear incident, for example a dirty bomb, nuclear reactor accident, or nuclear explosion, seems to many people to be impossible. They assume it’s impossible to survive such an event, so they decide they will just give up and die. I have had many people tell me that they would prefer to die in a nuclear war than survive. While any type of nuclear incident would be horrific, with a bit of knowledge it is possible to survive and go on with life.

The most important survival tool that you need is knowledge. The following points are information you should study and learn.

1. First, there are two types of radiation associated with a nuclear explosion that you should know about. The first is the initial nuclear radiation from the blast. If you are exposed to this, you are probably dead.

However, the second type of radiation, Residual Nuclear Radiation, is different. This radiation is mostly from the radioactive fallout. This radiation comes from the weapon debris, fission products, and, in the case of a ground burst, irradiated soil.  There are over 300 different fission products that may result from a fission reaction. Many of these are radioactive with widely differing half-lives.  Some are very short, i.e., fractions of a second, while a few are long enough that the materials can be a hazard for months or years.  Their principal mode of decay is by the emission of beta particles and gamma radiation. The bombs dropped on Japan were airbursts and caused very few deaths from radiation.  Cancer deaths that occurred much later are for another discussion.

2. A ground burst will produce much more fallout than an air burst.  In a nuclear war, most countries would use airbursts; they create damage over a larger area, but minimize radioactive fallout. Terrorists would probably use a ground burst because they would want to cause radiation damage and fallout.

Burns visible on a woman in Hiroshima during the blast. Darker colors of her kimono at the time of detonation correspond to clearly visible burns on the skin which touched parts of the garment exposed to thermal radiation. Since kimonos are not form-fitting attire, some parts not directly touching her skin are visible as breaks in the pattern, and the tighter-fitting areas approaching the waistline have a much more well-defined pattern.

3. Avoid looking at a distant nuclear blast. Flash blindness is caused by the initial brilliant flash of light. More light energy is received on the retina than can be tolerated, but less than is required for irreversible injury. This results in temporary damage to the visual pigments of the eye, and temporary blindness for up to 40 minutes.  If you have the fireball directly in your field of vision, it is possible to get a retina burn that can permanently damage your vision up to and including blindness.

4. This same flash that can damage your eyes can cause thermal burns. When thermal radiation strikes an object, part will be reflected, part transmitted, and the rest absorbed. The fraction that is absorbed depends on the nature and color of the material.  A thin material may transmit a lot. A light colored object may reflect much of the radiation and thus escape damage, like anti-flash white paint.  The absorbed thermal radiation raises the temperature of the surface and results in scorching, charring, and burning of wood, paper, fabrics, etc.  If the material is a poor thermal conductor, the heat is confined to the surface of the material. Depending on your distance from the blast, it is possible that the flash can ignite fires.

5. Duck and cover – This has been made fun of in the media on many occasions, but in reality it is a good idea. Depending on your distance from the blast, it can protect you from possible blast damage. It also protects you from flash burns and blindness.  This is something that can save your life.

6. Learn how to find cover and what shelter factors protect you from the effects of radiation. The book Nuclear Warfare Survival Skills is an excellent reference on this subject.  It teaches the 7:10 rule. Assume that a 1 megaton bomb blast occurs and you are sheltered or far enough away to survive the blast if fallout of 1000 Rads arrives at your location 1 hour after the blast.  A 450 Rad accumulative dose can kill you, so one-half hour of unsheltered exposure can be fatal.  If you have shelter and are using the 7:10 rule, you will know that after seven hours the outside rate will drop to 100 Rads per hour.  In another 7 times 7, or forty-nine hours, it will have decayed down to 10 Rads per hour. Then using the rule of seven times forty-nine hours which equals approximately two weeks it will be down to one Rad per hour. You need to stay sheltered until it drops to one-half Rad per hour, and that takes about twenty-five days total.

If you are lucky and the Rate is only 10 Rads per hour in your area, then seven hours after the blast it is down to one rad.  Forty-nine hours after the rate is down to one tenth of a Rad and you can leave the shelter.

7. You and dirty bombs.  As you know, there has been a lot of concern about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear materials and setting off a dirty bomb. Studies have shown that members of the public are more likely to be harmed by the impact of the conventional explosives than that of the radioactive materials.  A dirty bomb would spread radioactive materials, contaminating the local area and any individuals in the nearby vicinity.  However, this contamination would be mostly external in nature, and if the attack was promptly identified as being radioactive, decontamination of individuals would be a relatively straightforward process.  The exposure time of anyone affected would be limited and the negative health effects mitigated.  There would be no nuclear explosion and the radiation would only be scattered within the blast radius.

Hopefully this will provide you with some information that will help you understand some of the ways in which you can mitigate the effects of a nuclear incident.  Take the time to study this problem and Build a Nuclear Go Bag for Fallout or Radioactive Incidents.

How to Pack a Nuclear Survival Bag

Are you one of millions of Americans who live near one of the many nuclear facilities that are scattered all over the country?  In reality, there are probably additional secret locations that we are unaware of. If you want to get up to speed with what you should know about nuclear events, you can read this article.

In the meantime, you may want to build yourself a nuclear survival bag. This is a bag that you would grab in addition to your bug out bag if you had to flee your home because of a dirty bomb, nuclear power plant accident, or some other nuclear incident. This bag should also contain most of the items you would need to survive if you have to shelter in place because of radiation. Keep in mind that location might be your home, but just as easily, your workplace, school, or vehicle.

These items are not listed in order of importance but should be in that bag:

  • A radiation detector – This can be something as simple as a homemade Kearny Fallout meter as shown in Nuclear Warfare Survival skills. You can also get personal radiation detectors such as the RADTriage, which is a U.S. Military-grade personal dosimeter. This detects radiation exposure in the event of a dirty bomb or a nuclear reactor accident, such as Fukushima and Chernobyl. This is a wallet size card that requires no batteries.  Personally, I have one of the Old Civil Defense Radiation Detectors sets that were made for the cold war. I was able to find it through connections with a volunteer fire department.
  • Potassium Iodide tablets to help protect your thyroid from radiation damage. This packet of 14 tablets covers the 130 mg recommended dosage. This will protect the thyroid for 24 hours, and usually, this is all that’s needed.
    • Dosage: (take as soon as radiation is detected or suspected)
      • Babies, newborn to 1 month                                 16 mg, one dose only
      • Babies between 1 month and 3years                      32 mg
      • Children between 3 and 18                                    65 mg
      • Children weighing more than 150 pounds              130 mg
      • Adults between 18-40                                          130 mg
      • Pregnant & breastfeeding women                         130 mg, one dose only

Adults over 40 should not take KI since they have the lowest chance of developing thyroid cancer and are more likely to have allergic reactions.If your radiation detector indicates continued exposure, children and adults should take an additional dose.

Do NOT give additional doses to newborns or pregnant and breastfeeding women.

  • A good quality gas mask with extra filters for every member of your family. Spend some time in researching these. You need masks that will prevent radioactive particles from entering your lungs. Some gas masks have filters that are only good for less than an hour, once activated. This might be fine for Israeli citizens rushing to a nearby bomb shelter, but for Americans, it probably wouldn’t be enough. Have one or two backup filters for each mask.
  • A good rain suit consisting of a waterproof hooded jacket, pants and boots plus gloves. This one is nothing fancy but would get the job done of protecting you. You need one for every member of you family.
  • A good size sheet of plastic to help you seal opening into a room in a building to help keep radioactive particles out. A roll of heavy duty black plastic will be much more effective than black trash bags. Get it at a Lowe’s or Home Depot.
  • Duct tape, lots of it, if for some reason you have to go outside in a fallout area, you can use it around the openings in your rain suite to help keep dust out. It can also be of use if you have to seal a room.
  • N95 particulate masks will help to keep you from inhaling fallout particles. Spend some time wearing a mask like this, just to get used to the sensation. Some people describe feeling suffocated if they aren’t used to wearing a face mask. Also, adjust the mask to fit your face.
  • Soap, sponges and/or a bristled brush (vegetable scrubbing brush) for decontaminating family members.
  • Knowledge – this may be the most important thing. The items that are listed above are no good if you don’t know what to do with them.  Here is a link you may want to read, Rules on Nuclear Fallout, but the best book is Nuclear War Survival Skills, put it in your bag
  • A good bag to store everything in.

Every item on this list, with the exception of the radiation detector and potassium iodide tablets, have multiple uses in many different scenarios, so the expense in putting this kit together is justifiable.

Take a bit of time and put this nuclear go bag together. If a nuclear emergency occurs, these items will help you whether you shelter in place or bug out.

Master the 16-Second Survival Breath

When I think about it, I still get a queasy feeling in my stomach.  It was a sunny day in Baltimore, and I was returning home from a business trip.  I had passed through security with flying colors, of course, and was browsing the selection of breakfast sandwiches at a kiosk when I heard the unfamiliar and sudden sound of blaring sirens.  In less than a moment, a dozen or more security personnel appeared out of nowhere, jumping up from cafe tables, riding into view on Segways, all of them racing toward the security checkpoint.  At the same time they were yelling, “Everybody freeze!  Stop where you are.”

In a matter of minutes, every single passenger in the terminal, including me, had been herded into a large group.  None of us knew what was going on, and my winter coat, purse, and carry-on bag were becoming heavier by the minute.  Some of my fellow passengers looked panicked, a few kids were crying, and I knew that memories of 9-11 were passing through more than just a few minds.

While I stood waiting, I felt myself becoming more and more tense.  No information was given to us, other than being told to stand here, stay there, now go outside and wait.  By happenchance, I had been reading Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why. I remembered her description of, what I call, survival breathing.  It’s a simple technique that forces you to concentrate on your breathing while allowing your body to remain calm.  In an emergency, the worst response is panic, yet it’s also the most natural.

Here are the simple directions for this breathing technique.

  1. Take four seconds, 1, 2, 3, 4, to inhale, taking a slow, deep breath.
  2. Hold that breath for four seconds, 1, 2, 3, 4.
  3. Exhale to the count of four, 1, 2, 3, 4.
  4. Relax for four seconds before taking the next breath.

This technique helped me remain calm even though the sirens and alarms continued to blare and others around me reacted with confusion, irritation, and fear.

In survival situations and emergencies, our bodies usually react in a way that is exactly opposite of how we want to react and know we need to react!   It’s easy to say that training is the answer, but how does one train to be prepared for a home invasion, a rollover accident, or a terrorist attack?  Practicing and remembering just this simple breathing technique may be what helps you make rational and smart decisions while everyone else around you is losing it.

This is simple enough that your kids and grandkids can easily learn it. My daughter forced herself from a near state of pre-SAT test panic into being able to calm down enough to take the test, just by focusing on the 16-second breathing technique. My son has used it before going up to bat during a baseball game, and I’ve used it during times of extreme stress when I desperately needed to focus and use my wits.

In a survival situation, this technique will go a long way toward helping you observe, orient yourself to the new reality, and then proceed with logical decisions.

The 4 Core Elements You Need For Survival

I have always been taught that there are four core elements required for wilderness survival.  If you can master these four subjects, you stand a good chance of surviving under almost any conditions.  So what are the core elements needed for wilderness survival?  The following list is not necessarily in their order of importance sine that can vary depending on conditions.

Water is often number one, but sometimes fire and shelter can be of greater importance, depending on the weather. First, look for surface water. Second, look for hidden sources. Learn how to locate water from watching the wildlife including insects and birds.  Know which plants contain water.  Spend some time studying this subject and then go out and try it.  Learn how to filter or boil your water.

Fire — We all like to think we are Daniel Boone and can start a fire anywhere. Go outside and try it with and without matches after it has been raining for a few days and most of your wood is wet.  Learn what woods and materials are the easiest to ignite.  You can learn to start fires using things like magnifying glasses, steel wool and batteries, flint and steel and even the a fire bow.  But above all fire starting takes practice and not just on sunny days.

Shelter — Spend some time learning how to find shelter in the outdoors. There are often downed trees and other terrain features that you can use to your advantage. Learn how to make a bed that will keep you up off the cold or wet ground. Something as simple as huddling up to sun-warmed rocks can make the difference between survival or death.

Food — Learn all you can about edible plants, grubs, insects, fishing and trapping.  There are many good sources of food that are available to you in the wilderness. Here is a link for information on edible plants.

Just remember wilderness survival is all about keeping your body hydrated, controlling your core temperature and supplied with calories.

The whole secret to learning any of these skills is practice.  You can read all you want but until you go in the field and try these skills you will not develop them.  In the near future we will post articles covering these areas in more depth.

15 Wilderness Survival Tips

Hardcore survival in the wilderness is anything but fun, frankly. It’s a matter of figuring out how to stay alive, one minute, one hour at a time. Over the years, here are a few tips that have served me well.

  • Waterproof Match Containers – if you break wooden strike-anywhere matches in half you can store twice as many in your container.
  • If you have to fish in an emergency, a tampon wrapper makes a good fishing bobber. Open the wrapper at one end, take the tampon out, then tie the wrapper closed trapping a bubble of air inside.  If it doesn’t float, stuff some of the cotton into the bubble.
  • Cotton balls impregnated with Vaseline make good fire starters.  I store them in 35 mm film cans and carry one with me when in the backcountry. Read, Homemade Fire Starters are Easy to Make.
  • Smear vaseline or grease on your exposed skin — A friend of mine from Finland says that if you are going outside in very cold weather below zero, smear Vaseline or grease on your face. It will help protect you from the cold.
  • All fur-bearing mammals are safe to eat, but some taste better than others.
  • All freshwater fish in North America are edible.
  • All birds are edible.  Some just don’t taste very good.
  • Ants, grubs, and grasshoppers can be eaten. A good way to get over your natural resistance to eating bugs is to toss them into a stew with other ingredients.
  • The bark of birch trees is a great fire starter. It is easy to light and burns well even when wet
  • Water that is brought to a boil is safe to drink. The length of time that it is boiled doesn’t matter.
  • If you are going out in cold weather, don’t wear cotton.  The old saying is “cotton kills”. Wear clothes that retain their warmth even when wet.
  • Stay hydrated. Becoming dehydration will cause you to have poor judgment, loss of energy, and eventually you will lose the will to survive and you will die.
  • If it is raining and you need dry wood to start a fire, look for squaw wood.  These are the small dead branches that are still attached to the tree. They are up off the ground and dry out first.  Look for the ones on the dry side of the tree.
  • Butane lighters are great for starting fires. Carry orange or red ones, they are easier to find if you drop one.  Avoid white (snow) and green, they can be hard to find.
  • If possible, always go everywhere prepared. Carry a knife, Life Straw or equivalent, some food and at least a space blanket. Dress appropriately for the weather. Extra clothes never hurt.
  • Even if you are not trained in wilderness survival, stay calm, find shelter, and take the time to think things out.  You will find you will remember some of these wilderness survival tips and find you have more knowledge than you think you.

Getting Started With Dumpster Diving

Sometime back in the early nineties I was between jobs, having been laid off and was trying to broker some printing jobs in Denver. During the course of my attempts to sell printing I drove by a large bookstore, and being the bibliophile I am, I had to stop in and do some browsing.

In the very large self-sufficiency section I came across The Art & Science of Dumpster Diving by John Hoffman. Just a few seconds of flipping pages convinced me I needed this book. I paid some ungodly retail price and took it home with me. It turned me on to a very interesting and useful hobby. In fact the very first dumpster I looked into I found a tool box half full of tools.

What is Dumpster Diving?

Dumpster diving is simply looking through dumpsters for useful items that people throw away. These items can include building materials, furniture, books, tools, clothes, food and even CASH! There is a chance of finding most anything in a dumpster.

But aren’t dumpsters smelly, germy, disgusting places?

Yes and no. If you look in the dumpster behind a local restaurant be prepared for some slimy and disgusting things. Avoid places like that and it will be a much nicer experience. Most dumpsters are filled with packaging. That is, cardboard and plastic, nothing real icky. Clean cardboard, though, has many, many uses. You may want to pick it up and begin a stash of clean, flattened cardboard boxes and other packing material you find. This can be helpful with packing food storage and other survival supplies.

So where do I look?

The number one place on my list is apartment complex dumpsters at the end of the month. People moving will throw away perfectly good items they don’t want to move. Many times they will place it beside the dumpster for people like us to pick up and use. I have also noticed how they will box up all their pantry food and leave it in a box beside the dumpster with the other good stuff.

Even better, but only once a year, are the dorm dumpsters at your local college during spring move out days. There’s no telling what college kids, anxious to leave campus, might throw out.

I like strip malls. For some reason, people throw out good stuff behind some of them.

Construction sites are great for building materials, but make sure and ask permission to go through the “SCRAP”. Most foremen will gladly let you if you ask nicely.

If you are looking for food, the grocery store dumpster is the place to go.

Food ? From a dumpster!?

This is a real-life haul from a dumpster.

Lots of food in dumpsters, especially grocery store dumpsters is still in its original packaging. I can’t tell you how much food I have gotten from the grocery store dumpster, but I would wager I could feed my family and all of our chickens just by daily hitting my main three grocery dumpster stops.

I have a couple of rules of my own for grocery stuff. I take meat only in winter unless it is still frozen, and other food only in original packaging.

You never know what will be expiring when you look in a grocery dumpster. I have loaded up on spiral cut hams, still frozen solid, a trunk full of frozen gourmet pizza, and my personal favorite, the bakery department that fills an industrial size clear garbage bag with out dated high-end loaves of bread, bagels and pies.

But what if someone sees me?

Let me share my experience with what Hoffman calls the ninja effect. I was rummaging through a few dumpsters at our local college move out days a few years ago. I was picking out some good stuff when one of my best friends walked by running an errand to the college. He looked right through me from about two feet away. I called him by name as he went past and it took a few seconds for him to realize who I was. People don’t want to see other people “digging in the garbage” so they kind of tune them out. So don’t sweat it, people will see you but they really won’t.

You want to keep yourself neat and fairly clean so you look like an honest, hard working person who might be down on their luck, rather than an unkempt homeless person who may or may not be dangerous.

What tools will I need?

You really don’t need anything but a good pair of shoes, since there is lots of broken glass around dumpsters. Gloves are a good idea. A flashlight is very helpful if you dive at night or in the evening. Keep it small and cheap since you might lose it in a dumpster somewhere. I like to carry a cane since it helps pull things to you that you would otherwise not be able to reach. Plus it provides a measure of protection.

Will I get in trouble?

Some towns have ordinances against dumpster diving, but most don’t.

If you are confronted by the police my advice is to always tell the truth. They hate it when you lie to them. If asked what I am doing I say, “I’m just seeing if there is anything interesting in the dumpster”.

The same goes for security guards, apartment managers and grocery store managers. Be respectful and if they tell you to get lost, then get lost and try somewhere else.

Once you have done some dumpster diving you may look at it like I do. It’s Christmas every day, since you never know what someone will toss in a dumpster. Their trash is my treasure.

Tips For Living Out of a Car, If You Must

Having spent the better part of 5 years “adventuring”, including during graduate school at a very prestigious University,  I have mastered year round hammock camping as well as living in a van, and also in a subcompact car. Vans are preferable. Honda Civics are more challenging. Knowing how to live and survive this lifestyle could come in handy in many survival scenarios.

Having a storage place (I have a shed at a family member’s property) is also helpful. While Walmart dry camping or in a corner parking lot with a car cover are options, finding a private place to set up a mini-campground is a great addition to either vehicular living option.

Here are a few tips:

1.  Organize, organize, organize! Have a place for everything and keep everything in its place. In addition to your sleeping items, you will need a carry-on style suitcase for clothes, a laundry bag for clothes pending a trip to the laundry (with air freshener), a “chuck box” (your car camping kitchen supplies), water storage container and a cup/water bottle, a tool box, a briefcase organizer for paperwork, a box with your camping supplies, a toiletry case (with towel, washcloths, shampoo, soap/shower gel, hairbrush, other hygiene supplies), flashlight/LED lamp and candles.

2.  Keep toiletries and a plastic mirror in a separate bag or small backpack for convenience and discretion. If you add a collapsible basin you can fill it with hot water and go into a large bathroom stall to clean up and change. Remember to keep a separate plastic bag for wet items.

3.  If you find a place to set up a base camp of sorts (esp in an out of the way wooded area) you can be semipermanent.  Private property will provide legal security. In this case, you can set up a tarp/hammock (super comfortable), and rig up some more homelike comforts (potty/shower stall, etc).

4.  Making a mini-rocket stove and having a shelter makes cooking easier, provides a way to heat water for cleaning up (a copper coil heater in a large bucket can heat while one is cooking or making a campfire to warm up for the evening.

5.   A folding, hanging shower stall and a shower bag with nozzle makes for a hot shower even in freezing cold, and one can get dry and re-dressed before even feeling cold. For a floor, a baby inflatable 1-ring mini pool makes a perfect showerpan floor and warmly cleans your feet as you shower. Otherwise, use something else to keep your feet off the ground.

6.  If you really do decide to build yourself a camp, Home depot always has free 4′ wooden pallet supports that you can combine to make floor decking, a table/shower/kitchen setup, frames or bench. Lowe’s usually doesn’t keep things long enough for you to get them.

7.  Water:  A tarp canopy can be set up to double as a water cachement system. You can secure potable water other ways. When in a store/cafe one can also put a collapsible water container in a backpack and fill it with hot water in a restroom for use after you leave.

8.  Cooking: Oatmeal, dehydrated meals, fresh vegetables, soups and small cuts of meat are easy to cook w ith just hot water and a pot. We are fortunate to have access to dollar stores for a lot of cost-effective variety and options. Note: Large reclosable Monster cans are the easiest for quickly bringing 3 cups of water to a boil, and can last weeks before giving out.

9. Always use window shades in your car for privacy. It also helps minimize some radiant cold.

10. Whenever possible, secure reasonable supplies of paper-goods. Newspaper is a good insulator (e.g., nest to the drafty door panel at night or under your sleeping bag if you are using a hammock) and super fire tinder. Cardboard box pieces can be cut into strips and coiled up into a can for a good sterno-substitution (esp if you pour melted candle wax over the coil). Even used cups can be turned into fire starters, and tissues, paper towels/ TP are multipurpose.

11.  A solar charger for cell phone/computer is a real lifesaver for times when you do not have access or choose to not go to a cafe.

12.  I have a canopy area over my brick fire pit/rocket stove (got them free on CL as well as materials for a solar oven and parabolic cooker) that also serves as a carport (and water cachement system that drains via water chain into a large bucket) .

13. Temperature control:  Staying warm and eating a warm meal morning and evening make all the difference in colder climate winters. Summer heat, on the other hand, is best handled by well ventilated sleeping, cool baths/showers, and good hydration.

There are plenty of places to stay cool during the day. In very cold weather you can preheat your sleeping bag with a bottle of hot water. By the time you need a drink, it will have cooled.

In warm weather, raise your tarp sides to allow more ventilation and funnel breezes. The colder it is the more you want the tarp to morph into a cocoon shape, closing ends to stop wind or blowing precipitation. Lowering the tarp sides forms an acute angle that minimizes precipitation build-up on your tarp walls (and less chance for damage by heavy rain/sleet/hail).  In a blizzard or heavy snow, you will wake up surprisingly warm as you end up with a lovely insulated igloo effect with natural snow walls on the lower half (at least) of your tarp cocoon. Below your hammock will be pristine ground. In the event of torrential rain, any water will be on the ground and not in your sleeping bag as you would have with tent and ground camping.

I once awoke with 12″ of water under me. My feet got wet walking out but I was well above the flash flood water line and awoke dry — just rolled up the pant legs and carried my dry shoes out with me. I keep them in a zipped homemade gear-bag that hangs on the ridge line of my tarp.

When car camping, secure a car cover or tarp over you in really bad weather. In addition to insulating and giving better privacy, the covering keeps your car snow/ice free and prepped for rapid travel if needed.

14. Sleeping Options:  Keep windows open a little bit when your car is covered. While no car is actually airtight you will feel better with more air circulation, and will minimize condensation.

Whenever outside, I sleep in my hammock (it has a tarp covering around it, too), otherwise, in the car with my favorite pillow and sleeping bag. I have slept in both my car and more so my hammock through hurricanes, blizzards, tornadic cells (oops, that was a surprise), 106 degree heat, and 5 degree cold plus 50 mph winds. There are different hammock/tarp configurations for as many weather patterns. I have honestly never been wet or cold. Sometimes it has been uncomfortably warm yet bug-free thanks to the integrated no-seeum netting on my hammock.

Insulate under your sleeping bag (thick newspaper or foam pad/thin air mattress)  and hang a separate layer under your hammock as a waterproofer and insulator. In  cooler weather, always keep woolen socks, hat (buff, beanie or balaclava) and gloves in your sleeping bag as well as thermal pants and a sweatshirt to sleep in. Never go to bed dirty.

15.  Lighting:  Candles have come into disfavor as a safety hazard. Presuming you are an adult, use your best judgment. For the past 20 years I have had a hanging candle lantern with an added rear reflector that I adore. It adds safety and light…The melted wax is added to coiled cardboard in pop cans for quick fire starters. Energy efficient LED lights are an excellent and inexpensive option to candles. For people choosing to park in a Walmart or other lot, you will generally be trying to KEEP OUT the light at night.

Why the alternative lifestyle?  I have been homeless for financial reasons in the past and came to learn that I actually enjoy self-sufficiency. I get excited when the hardware store gives me 100 8′ 2x4s they were going to throw out, and I use them to make things for my “retreat”. I recently built a wooden deck floor and fire reflector short wall, a bench, and a separate full shower stall/potty/changing room (wood framed with tarp walls and tented top secured to a tree branch) next to my tarp shelter and ‘carport’ area.

I am an otherwise mainstream healthcare professional. No one associated with work knows how or where I live. Divorced from my ex-husband, my money ultimately gets invested in my now-adult children. They seem to have many more needs than I.  Once in a while, when I can get a great deal (less than 50% rate) on a discounting site for my favorite hotel, I treat myself to a few days of a king sized bed, thermostatic heat, hot water on demand, free breakfast buffet and all the other accouterments. That is when I do the extra things like deep condition my hair, do my nails, iron my lab coats and dress shirts, work out until I am a sweaty mess 🙂  then go shower and do my hair, etc.

It is important that people who live in their vehicles stay organized, maintain excellent hygiene, and maintain a positive attitude. Appreciating what we have is a great blessing.

Survive in the Wilderness With These 4 Fire-Starting Methods

Survival anywhere can be dependent on your ability to safely start a fire. There are many different methods to do this were experimenting with different types of fire starting devices.  In the video below, you’ll see the technique of lighting Vaseline soaked cotton balls.

We used four different fire starters: a cheap magnesium one from Harbor Freight which costs $2.99, the Sparkie which sells for around $9, a large good quality fire steel which sells for about $15.00 and the Lightning Strike from Holland Shooters Supply which cost about $50.

In the following video, you can see how they each function in the hands of someone with a minimum of training.

As you can see, they all do the job.  Some are a little easier to use than others.  To me the magnesium fire starter from Harbor Freight can be a bit hard to use.  The magnesium scrapes off easily enough, but the striker is pretty poor. If I were to carry this, I would carry a backup striker.

The Sparky works well and it has the advantage that it can be used one handed.  The large fire steel works well and will do the job.  After this test, we consider the Lightning Strike to be the Cadillac of fire starters. It’s a bit pricey. It is not cheap but it puts out a large volume of sparks when used correctly. When the strike wears out, you can purchase a spare and reuse the unit.  I like the fact that it lets you carry tinder in its base.  I have a Lightning Strike in my own kit.

All of these fire starters work and could save your life in an emergency. From what I have observed when there is a failure, it is normal the fault of the operator not the device.  With any method, practice is necessary.

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