Essential System #7 – Repair Kit and Tools

We were going to use this category to wax poetic about the early 90s Leatherman multi-tool that we wear on our belts at all times but, hold the blog press here, self-sufficiency geniuses Stephen Box and Enci gifted us with a category-busting set of tools that, get this, fit within a tiny 30g (1.5 oz) Altoid tin!

Believe it or not this pocket size Altoid tin contains the following items:

1 inner tube piece – a section of a bicycle tire that can be used as a tourniquet, bandage, or slingshot

1 boot lace – always handy to have a section of string

1 saw wire – you can cut wood with this sharp wire

2 finger rings

1 can opener

1 duct tape (40cm) on straw

2 saw blades – these attach to two screws on the bottom of the altoid can so that the can functions as a saw handle

2 fasteners (#6-32 x 3/8″)

2 Exacto blades #11

1 needle/thread

1 upholstery needle

2 needles

1 red LED bulb – the bulb and the small hearing aid batteries fit in a tiny hole in the side of the Altoid can, thus turning the can into a flashlight – the red bulb is so that you can read in the dark without ruining your night vision

2 batteries for LED

6 match heads (sealed in wax)

1 striker for match heads

6 fire-starters made out of lint and wax (we’ll describe how to make these in a future post)

1 tin foil

1 rubber glove – for gathering or distilling water or for one-handed first aid

8 water purification tables (in straw) – see our earlier post on water

6 safety pins – for, among other uses, creating a sling with a shirt for a broken arm

2 medicated Bandaid strips

1 package first aid cream

6 aspirin

1 baling wire

4 fish hooks (snelled #2/#8) – for fishing!

4 split shot sinkers – also for fishing

1 snap swivel (#10)

1 filament (10 meters)

Beyond having enough items to repair virtually anything, this tiny kit can be used for signaling, trapping, fishing, filleting small animals and first aid.

A tip of the SurviveLA hat to Box and Enci for producing an innovative response to the problem of how to lug around basic essentials!

The Sound of One Hand Snapping

We’ve had to do a fair amount of carpentry around the compound – part of that self-sufficiency thing – and countersinking nails with a nail set, those pen like things you use to get the nail head below the surface of the wood, is a pain in the ass. Which is why we think that this tool, the “Noxon Two Bit Snapper” by the mysterious Spring Tools Corporation may be the handiest tool in the SurviveLA compound tool box.

The Snapper model we have is double sided, and has a spring connecting the two ends which consist of a center punch and a nail set. You hold one end against a nail and pull the spring back. The spring bangs one end into the other, thereby driving the nail. We’ve used it for years, and driven hundreds of nails with it, hanging molding, fixing windows, making furniture, and countless other tasks. It’s possible, in fact, to drive nails with this thing without using a hammer and it’s especially useful in tight spaces where there is not enough room to swing a hammer.

If SurviveLA ever sells out, it will be to whore ourselves out to the folks at Spring Tools who manufacture this elegant, simple and effective tool right here in our own fucked-up USA. In fact, it seems that Spring Tools holds the patent for this whole spring-based concept and has extended the idea of “spring driven technology” into a number of areas. We’ re especially intrigued with the potential of their spring driven I.D. Stamper which comes with a set of letters for stamping out a message in metal. Though we have not tested the I.D. Stamper, it seems like some illicit fun could be had with that thing . . .

Essential System #8 – Nutrition (Extra Food)

Continuing our countdown of the ten essential systems we get to the food category. In our grab and go bags we have a few Clif Bars – they taste alright, don’t require cooking, and have a relatively long shelf life.

The problem with Cliff Bars is that they prove tempting when we have the occasional sweet tooth attack. This is why some people keep MREs (meals, ready to eat) on hand, because they taste so foul you won’t be tempted to bust them open. They also don’t require cooking and some even come with a chemical heating packet. As for the taste of M.R.E.s, SurviveLA correspondent Corey Travis reports on a recent attack of the munches while at the office. All he had was an MRE in the hot trunk of his car. Scared by the main entrĂ©e he just ate the cracker and chocolate. Here is what he had to say, “The cracker was what you’d expect – a cross between balsa wood and salt. The chocolate energy bar was much more substantial with a thick, waxy chocolate-like-ness, almost completely masking a surprisingly malty undertone. I’d use the word cloying, but I hate that word.”

Should you require another opinion on MREs, someone calling themselves “Badtux the Snarky Penguin” has a review of the chicken tetrazini MRE.

We prefer the more upscale freeze dried backpacking food to MREs. They taste better and have an astonishing shelf life. You will, however, need to heat them up with something and they are also expensive. Our favorite brand is Mary Jane’s Farm, though someone should tell her about the implications of her name (read our review of Mary Jane’s Organic Buttery Herb Pasta).

We also keep the SurviveLA pantry well stocked with canned items and we always maintain a vegetable garden, so that we’ll have fresh stuff when the shit comes down.

Take the Streets!


From an exiled Kalifornian in Toronto comes this image of some riotous folks taking back the street. Homegrown Evolution sends a shout out to the folks at Streets for People who are responsible for this bit of street theater, but we could do without the hippie font. We also suggest a little more . . . bling.

In the interest of our revolutionary vision of home economics we suggest taking the streets LA style with the Homegrown Evolution Hollywood Stretch Hummer Cornfield:


It’s economy of scale the Homegrown Evolution way!

Essential System #9 – Hydration

As we’ve noted before you can go about three days without water, but you’ll be feeling mighty crabby after just a few hours without it. We’ve got a number of water sources around the homestead, with a few more back-ups in the works.

First off it pays to have some plastic water jugs around – figure two liters a day per person minimum. There are stricter standards for tap water in this banana republic we call the USA than for bottled water so don’t go wasting any money on boxes of Evian. The Red Cross recommends changing out the water every six months. While there are health concerns about plastic bottles, this water is for emergency situations and the synthetic female hormones that plastic bottles leach out should be the least of your concerns if the shit comes down.

In addition to stored water, your house or apartment contains three other sources of water – the pipes, the water heater and the tank of the toilet (not the bowl). To use the water in the water heater turn off the gas or electricity that heats the water. Shut off the main water supply and open a hot water faucet somewhere in the house. You should be able to drain the water out of the heater using the heater’s drain faucet. You can also get some water out of the pipes by closing the incoming water valve and opening the highest faucet in the house while draining the water out of the lowest faucet.

To purify suspicious water we, once again, rely on the world of backpacking. Our grab and go bag contains a Katadyn micro-filter which will remove microorganisms such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium and bacteria. These microorganisms have the nasty habit of giving you very bad diarrhea which leads to . . . dehydration! The Katadyn filter has a tube which you stick in the suspicious water and a hand pump which directs the water through a filter and out through another tube which you stick in a bottle that you supply. You can also kill Giardia and Cryptosporidium by boiling water for at least one minute – perhaps with your handy Pepsi can stove. Instructions for purifying water with iodine or chlorine can be found on this page.

Filters, however, do not kill viruses which include hepatitis A., Norwalk virus, and rotavirus and are present when water becomes contaminated by the feces of affected individuals. In other words, bad dookie in the water. To kill viruses you need to use either iodine, bleach or expensive filters which also use iodine or electrostatic charges. Boiling water for at least five minutes will kill all viruses. Right now viruses in water are more of a concern in the “developing” world, but the Republicans are busy taking our municipal water supplies back to the Middle Ages.

Remember that none of these methods will purify water that is contaminated with chemicals such as arsenic and other bad things lurking in our sad, concrete-channelized Los Angeles River. In a worst case scenario you will need to head up to the hills to get water or invest in an expensive and heavy reverse-osmosis system like boats have to turn seawater into drinkable water.

Lastly we must put in a plug for the geniuses behind the artistic collective Simparch who are experimenting with solar stills to distill water as a method of purification. Distillation takes care of 99.9% of the bad stuff and the Simparch folks have created a solar still as a part of the border art shindig InSite. Solar stills can also be improvised.

One homestead project that is in the planning stages, pending our long wait for the corrupt Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to approve our foundation repairs, is the construction of a rainwater storage system. We plan to feed one of our roof downspouts to several fifty gallon plastic drums that will be linked together. We will use this water for irrigating plants in the front yard. While, admittedly, we don’t have room for much rainwater storage to make a big difference, we plan on filling these drums with municipal water after the rainwater runs out. That way we will always have a few days worth of water for our vegetable garden should there be a service interruption in the warm summer months. The barrels will be hooked up to a drip irritation system designed for low-pressure gravity feed systems.

While we would love to go off grid and have our own well here, we’d be more likely to strike oil than water and, no doubt, the drilling costs would be prohibitively expensive.

Essential System #10 – Shelter


Counting down on the ten essential systems we keep in our grab and go bags at number ten we have shelter. Note that this list is not in order of importance, in fact if it were shelter would be number one. It’s possible to survive for at least three days without water and there are documented cases of people surviving for forty days without food. But your ass could be either fried or frozen damn quick without shelter even in temperate Los Angeles. The handy rule to remember is three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. In addition to having a place in our grab and go bag the concept of shelter figures into our policy of having a back-up system for every necessity at our urban homestead.

We like things lightweight for our grab and go bags, so we purchased a three pound backpacking tent, the two person MSR “Missing Link”. This tent is spacious for its low weight and uses either hiking polls or trees to stake it out. On the down side, we’re not sure how this thing would hold up in high winds and it requires a lot of room to stake out. The “Missing Link” was also very expensive and, as a cheap alternative, it’s possible to improvise shelter with a large garbage bag or the ubiquitous blue tarp material found at any hardware store. There are also commercially manufactured Bivvy Sacks and even cheaper thermal reflective survival bags which, combined with warm clothing, will function as shelter in a pinch.

Improvised shelters can also be constructed by gathering materials in whatever environment you happen to find yourself in. SurviveLA participated in a wilderness shelter workshop run by noted Los Angeles survivalist and wild food salad chef Christopher Nyerges a few years ago. While it’s possible to construct decent shelters out of sticks and branches you must act quickly especially if the weather is turning ugly. In places where it snows you can construct a snow cave.

Whatever you decide on it must shelter you from the wind and sun and keep you dry. Our tent is for backpacking, but it’s also in the grab and go bag in the event that an earthquake takes out the poorly constructed dump that we live in and we need to sleep out in the yard for a while. We also have an old shed in the backyard that we have turned into an art studio, but it could easily double as a comfortable bedroom.

We don’t know about you, but when that earthquake comes we’d rather not end up in the LA equivalent of the Louisiana Superdome.

Grab and Go

So it’s time to go over what’s in the SuriviveLA compound grab and go bags. These are the backpacks we have for each person here just in case we find ourselves surrounded by zombies and decide its time to run. Conveniently our grab and go bags are the same ones we use for hiking and backpacking. In fact the contents of the bags are based on what the Sierra Club used to call the “Ten Essentials“, which has now been expanded into the “Ten Essential Systems”. We’ll go into each of these systems in greater detail in the next ten posts. To start off here is the Sierra Club’s Ten Essential Systems list with our brief annotations:

1. Navigation
This includes a compass and a map of the area you are traveling to.

2. Sun Protection
It gets hot and sunny here in the Southwest so you’ll need sunglasses and sunscreen.

3. Insulation (extra clothing)
Even though it never gets that cold in Los Angeles it’s important to remember that hypothermia can occur when temperatures are above ten degrees Celsius, (that’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit for you backwards non-metric American types) especially if it’s windy or if your clothes get wet.

4. Illumination
We have multiple headlamps and flashlights with extra batteries.

5. First-aid supplies
We’ll give the full list of the contents of our first aid kit in a subsequent post.

6. Fire
Our fire making kit includes waterproof matches and kindling material made with dryer lint and candle wax

7. Repair kit and tools
We wear a Leatherman multi-tool at all times on our belt.

8. Nutrition
Our grab and go bags contain an array of Cliff bars and other items with a long shelf life.

9. Hydration
We have both extra water and a ceramic water filter.

10. Emergency shelter
We have a very lightweight backpacking tent.

This ain’t about paranoia – while our grab and go bags contain modern tools, we appreciate the ancient, and almost lost art of travel by foot. Remember kids, back in the days before SUVs people used to walk long distances without the benefit of convenience stores and fast food joints.

Stay tuned for a detailed explanation of each of the Ten Essential Systems and some adaptations for urban situations.

Los Angeles: Swag Town USA

We love bikes and we love community here at the Root Simple compound, so today we ventured down to the Metropolitan Transit Authority headquarters to attend Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Town USA bike giveaway. The truth is, of course, that we also love free shit and these events, where city officials line up to pay lip service to cycling, tend to overflow with swag. But today, in the shadow of the swanky MTA tower, only cosponsor Lipton Tea had any swag and an odd glass booth which folks stepped into and grabbed at coupons animated by an attached power blower. If you grabbed enough coupons you were entitled to an ugly Lipton t-shirt. Our dignity didn’t allow us to participate in such a tawdry spectacle, but we did score a box of a hundred tea bags. But we digress.

The main point of this event was to unite fifty people who had written essays about why they needed a bike with their new wheels which were donated by Giant. We had naive hopes that the fifty winners would mount their new bikes and ride off on the mean streets of LA in one big happy flock, like a bunch of ceremonial white doves released from a cage. Of course, the last time we witnessed a dove release was at an event put on by the El Cajon based UFO cult, the Unarius Society. When they opened the top of the papier-mache UFO that housed the doves, the doves refused to leave until, after a long and awkward silence, someone wearing a polyester space cadet uniform came over and beat on the bottom of the UFO. Even then, the doves left slowly, one at a time, for what seemed like a half hour while all the cynical types in attendance stood around trying not to laugh. Similarly today’s Bike Town USA event ended not with a bang but with a whimper – the thirty or so contest winners who bothered to attend shuffled off to load their bikes into their SUVs and drove home where, we suspect, many of the bikes will just sit in the garage.

The handful of speakers who kicked off the event included representatives from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the MTA, the Department of Transportation, Bicycling Magazine, and a former Bike Town USA contest winner from Irvine. Unless I missed something, none of the speakers even hinted that a bike could be used for anything other than recreation. Now we’re all for getting exercise but we think it’s time to take the bike beyond just recreation, and into the realm of transportation – and prove that two wheels are a fun, sexy, pimped-out kind of transportation.

Bike culture is taking off in this city in a big way, with the success of Bike Summer, Bike Winter, and the ongoing Midnight Ridazz phenomenon. We suppose it’s too much to expect a magazine like Bicycling which caters to folks who own $5,000 bikes to get with the program. We applaud the idea behind Bicycling Magazine’s Bike Town USA program – to get people on bikes – but does the web site for Bike Town USA need to feature a prominent banner ad for a gas-guzzling SUV? And what about the cross-promotion with Lipton, the “Live Well Challenge” which suggests enjoying “three servings of delicious Lipton’s Tea a day” along with the bike giveaway. We assume Lipton isn’t suggesting three servings of their products that contain copious amounts of high fructose corn syrup.

But perhaps we’re getting too cynical here. At that Unarius dove release we witnessed many years ago, after much pounding, finally a group of doves flew up into the sky. The last rays of sunshine cast a golden hue on the small flock of birds as they soared high above El Cajon, a blighted suburb of Thrift Stores and Plasma Donation centers east of San Diego.

Perhaps some in that group of fifty new bike owners will spread the joy and love of riding two wheels and make this tangle of freeways and asphalt a better place.

Secure your Ride Part I

Today’s bike locking strategy is bound to be controversial as the subject of how to secure your bike is one of those tasks, like thwarting squirrels, killing cockroaches and arguing with Republican family members, for which there are no easy answers. We credit this tip to a recent visitor to the SurviveLA compound, Nicholas Sammond author of the award winning book Babes in Tomorrowland and a former NYC bike messenger back in the day.

Now, many of our modern rides come with quick release levers so that folks can throw their bikes in the back of their Hummers and drive to the nearest bike path. Unfortunately these quick release levers make it real easy for crackheads out there to steal wheels for their daily fix. Comrade Nic suggests securing the front wheel quick release lever to the fork with a hose clamp. That way you can just lock the back wheel and frame to a secure object and not worry about the front wheel. Comrade Nic claims that he’s never had a wheel stolen with this technique in many years of riding the bad-ass streets of North America and Nic theorizes that crackheads don’t carry screwdrivers. We hope this is true, and we will add that if you hose clamp your wheel to the fork you will have to carry a screwdriver to fix a front flat. Of course loyal SurviveLA readers already carry a multi-tool (such as a Leatherman) with them at all times to deal with any number of contingencies – yes? You could also replace the quick release lever with an old school nutted axle but then you will need to carry a wrench to get the wheel off to fix a flat. This would be a good point to also suggest that if your seat is equipped with a quick release it’s time to figure out the correct seat height and replace that quick release with a bolt because crackheads also like to steal seats.

We’ll get into some other bike locking ideas in other posts, but if you have locking strategies you’d like to suggest please leave some comments. In the meantime internet bike guru Sheldon Brown and the folks at the NYC Bike Messenger Association have lots of bike security tips. And whatever you do don’t just lock the frame – make sure you lock both wheels and the frame to something secure!

And why do so many bikes get stolen? Cops in Victoria, British Columbia have a theory that disassembling and reassembling bikes soothes methamphetamine addicts.

“We’ve come across lots of sites littered with bikes and bike parts,” Const. Peter Lane said.

“They sit in the bush with hundreds of parts just fiddling with them all day…”

“For some reason, they find fiddling with bike parts satisfies that need for stimulation,” Lane said