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.

SurviveLA Food Review: Mary Jane’s Farm Organic Buttery Herb Pasta

This guest review from one of the SurviveLA compound sistas, is the first in a look at long term food storage options. Freeze dried food like this is marketed both towards backpackers and holed-up-in-the-bunker paranoid types. Exceptionally long shelf life makes freeze dried food a good, though expensive, option for your emergency pantry.

Field Tested July 22, 2006 on Mt. Silliman

The name of this dehydrated entree is somewhat misleading. It is in fact a form of your classic boxed mac n’ cheese: elbow pasta in cheesy powder sauce, only sans the bright orange coloring. It is good, being similar to the upscale Annie’s Mac & Cheese. Maybe Annie and Mary Jane smoke pot together somewhere in OrganicVille?

I did not notice the herb flavoring, and did not miss it, because I find when you are exhausted and camping at 10,000 feet your palette is not as adventurous as it might be ordinarily. This is comfort food, and works very well in that capacity.

That said, it is ripe for doctoring, because it is so very basic. I brought along a handful of chopped sun-dried tomatoes from the SurviveLA gardens (and dehydrated in the compound’s solar dehydrator – more on that in a future post), and that added the perfect amount of interest. Nuts, canned tuna, fresh veggies if you wanted to carry them, all would work well too.

You cook this entree in its own bag (a paper bag instead of a foil pouch, which is nice). All you do is add 3/4 cup of boiling water, reseal the bag and wait for ten minutes. I used a Pepsi can stove to boil the water, incidentally. It cooked well, with only a couple of the elbow noodles escaping hydrating and ending as crunchy surprises on my fork.

The pouch claims that it holds 1.5 servings: a Mary Jane’s Organics eccentricity. I scarfed the whole thing down without difficulty and I’m a girl. I think Mary Jane intends us to buy more than one dish and share them on plates like civilized beings, rather than selfishly wolfing them out of the bag. Oh well.

Security

A neighbor stopped me while I was walking the dog last night to tell me that they had an intruder the night before who crept around the house Manson family style but did not steal anything. This comes a week after another neighbor found some crackhead in their side yard. Now before having a yuppie-style freakout here, it’s important to note that Los Angeles’ crime rate is down significantly since the early 90s and is much lower than many other large cities in America. In fact the crime rate in LA is on a par with Denver and nowhere near the high rates of cities like Detroit and Washington D.C. But while we ain’t the gun-toting survivalist types here at the Homegrown Evolution homestead, we do have a security system. It’s a security system developed in the 19th century by tax collector and dog pound proprietor Louis Dobermann – the notorious Doberman Pincher.

Last popular with coke dealing pimps and players in the late 1970s, Dobermans are powerful, fast, hyperactive, and combine occasional bad-assness with extreme sensitivity. Our Doberman, “Spike” a.k.a “Dieter”, has a bark so loud that it vibrates our poorly constructed compound and his hackles go up at the drop of a hat, or the visit of the particularly hated UPS deliveryman. At the same time, fireworks and sprinklers can send him cowering. Now, we strongly advice against running out and getting any kind of big protection dog. So-called “working dogs” like Dobermans and Rottweillers require a tremendous amount of training and are a great responsibility. We would have been in big trouble raising this beast without the assistance of a friend who is an experienced dog trainer and dog show handler. That being said, things feel pretty secure around here with a 95 pound Doberman and his presence seems worth it despite those moments when we find ourselves dealing with the smelly results of the annual backyard skunk hunting season.

So here’s the SurviveLA home security advice. First of all don’t own anything valuable. Get all your stuff at thrift stores and, like the Buddha, lose your attachment to material things. If you decide to get a dog, make sure that you have the time to invest in obedience training. And I don’t mean shipping them off to some overpriced con-man who charges thousands of dollars to train your “dangerous” dog. You, the owner, are the one that actually needs the training. You must be the one to learn to handle and communicate with the dog. Find a local obedience club like Pasanita, which has classes outdoors at the Rose Bowl. It’s difficult to get the hang of working with a big spirited dog and Dobermans, like other large protection dogs, require an owner who is confident, and both firm and gentle all at once.

More advice: Make sure to socialize your dog with lots of different kinds of people, young and old. A dog like this will always guard the house – what you don’t want is one that is psycho with guests and people on the street. A Doberman belongs indoors, not chained up in the back yard. And lastly, please – no more fat dogs – you don’t want a Doberman that looks like most Americans.

Survival Chic

It would seem that preparedness is now hip, with SurviveLA’s mention in a Los Angeles Alternative article entitled “Duck and Cover”. While the article correctly states that we at SurviveLA are on the more eco-crunchy side of things, we think it’s important to restate what we are not – we are not part of what Setha M. Low, an environmental psychology professor calls the “new emotions of home: fear and paranoia and insecurity.” You see, the Man wants us to live in fear. And in response to that climate of fear we think it’s important to prepare ourselves and our communities, so that we can be free to stick it to the Man. To fear we offer fun – to paranoia we say party – to insecurity we say independence!

Preparedness Now!

SurviveLA staff attended a fabulous survival salon hosted by the Process Media/Feral House revolutionaries to promote Aton Edwards hip new book Preparedness Now!

Aton’s informative and well designed book is a fresh look at a subject that is usually the domain of nutcase libertarians and Mormons. Aton is neither and the book has many useful tips for us urban dwellers with chapters on shelter, transportation, self-defense, and a collection of possible disasters we should prepare for. Two things we especially liked – Aton’s advice to start biking, and his advice against running out and buying guns. Plus there is a hilarious passage recalling how he cleverly dealt with some thugs on the A train that’s worth getting the book for.

And while we’re in the pluggin’ mood, check out a little feature on the SurviveLA parkway survival garden on the Preparedness Now! blog.

Tomato Can Stove

Here’s another stove based on the Penny Wood Stove by Mark Jurey for heating up that pot of coffee when the gas and electricity go out. It’s a bit simpler than the Pepsi can stove and doesn’t require fuel other than some sticks or small scraps of wood. The stove works on the same principle as a charcoal chimney starter and it is simple to build.
1. Use a 28 ounce can – I used a Trader Joes tomato can. First, drill a bunch of 1/8 inch holes in the bottom.
2. Next, drill eight 1/4 inch holes about 3/4 of an inch from the top and bottom of the can.

3. Lastly, thread three pieces of heavy wire up through the 1/4 inch holes in the top and bottom to function as a stand for the pot. The wires should extend about two inches above and below the can to allow air to move freely.
4. To light the fire pack the can tightly with pencil sized sticks about one to two inches in length. The idea is to create a slow, controlled burn with a minimum of soot. The looser you pack the wood the faster it will burn, which is not as good. Put some newspaper in the bottom or douse the top with some denatured alcohol or lighter fluid and toss in a match. In just moments you’ll have a toasty fire.

Thong Theory

As author Daniel Pinchbeck suggests, we’re in a time when technique is more important than technology. Take the Homegrown Revolution Thong for instance. A friend and fellow “thoughtstylist” posed the question last night, what else could the real survivalist do with a thong in an emergency situation? It’s all about the brain my friends, so get out there and innovate – that thong has many uses – tourniquet, bandage, face mask . . .

Make a Pepsi Can Stove

Preparedness means having a backup system for all of the things we depend on. If the gas goes out in an earthquake how are you going to cook? Thankfully the world of backpacking offers a number of solutions. Our favorite is the Pepsi can stove which you can build using these incredibly detailed instructions. [Editor’s note 7/27/08: looks like the author of that Pepsi can stove site failed to renew the url and, sadly, the link no longer works. We’ll try to find an alternative.] [Editor note 10/5/11: The instructions are back! In PDF form.] The stove uses denatured alcohol solvent, sometimes called shellac thinner which is available at any hardware store. The stove is fabricated with the bottom of a Guinness beer can and the bottom of a Pepsi can and the end result is incredibly light. I cut the top off of a 24 ounce Heineken can to make a pot and I used some chicken wire and aluminum foil for a stand. Basically this setup is good for boiling a cup of water, so don’t plan on making any complex balsamic reduction sauces. You can use the stove for coffee and for simple things that need boiling water, i.e. instant soups. Light and compact, this stove is ready for when the shit hits the fan.