Sunday, January 31, 2010

Three Knives for Everyday Carry

Cutting tools are are an important part of any list of bug-out gear, and for everyday use in a variety of tasks.  I've posted once here on my preference for machetes when it comes to large blades for camping, wilderness travel and survival.  Look for much more on that in the future.  Here I wanted to share with you the three knives that I consider essential for everyday use as well as in the bug-out bag.  These are close at hand practically everywhere I go whenever possible.  Each has it's own uses, advantages and disadvantages:

They are, clockwise from top left: the Leatherman Wave Multitool, the Victorinox Tinker (Swiss Army Knife), and the Cold Steel Voyager XL folder.  There is some overlap in functions in the Victorinox and the Leatherman, to be sure, but the smaller Swiss Army Knife is so light and slim in the pocket that it can go with me many places where I would not want the bulk or the belt sheath of the Leatherman.  The Voyager fills many roles from field knife to close-quarters weapon.  In my next post on this subject I will go into the details of each of these three knives.

Today's Gun: Saiga AK and Glock 19

This is my pair for urban survival where the threats are on two-legs and hunting is not an issue - Saiga AK in 7.62 x 39, with Ace side-folder stock, and Glock 19 with full-capacity mags. 

Neither would be high on my list of choices for bugging out in most scenarios, as I wrote here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some Thoughts on Bugging Out by Boat

I know boats aren't for everyone, and many readers live in regions where there is no need for one and other means of travel are more suited.  But if you are anywhere near a coastal area, large lake or rivers or streams, boats of many varieties can be a great option.  The primary advantage of bugging out by boat is that a boat can get you places that can only be reached by boats, so the act of taking to the water immediately separates you from the vast majority of people who do not have boats.  This can be a real life-saver in a bug-out situation.

 Below: That's me landing my sea kayak on an uninhabited Gulf Coast island. This small kayak can easily carry two week's suppy of food, plus all your but-out gear.

I'll be looking at the pros and cons of all sorts of boats in future posts on this blog, and in my book as well there is a discussion of different kinds of boats that could be used for bugging out, ranging from simple, open canoes all the way up to fully-self sufficient cruising boats. 

I will also look forward to sharing some of my experiences about my travels on the water here, and what I learned about what works, what doesn't and why.  I've traveled thousands of miles by sea kayak and by canoe, including a 13-month journey down the coast of Florida and through the islands of the Caribbean, and a trip down the Mississippi River that began in Canada along the old fur trade route.  I've built more than 15 boats and counting, ranging from dinghies and kayaks to the 26-foot cruising catamaran I'm currently finishing up.  You might say I'm a bit obsessed with boats and I will freely admit it.  

Below: That's me in mangroves of the Florida Keys in 1988, two months into a kayak trip that extended over 13 months. The kayak was a  Necky Tesla, 17-feet long, built in Kevlar.

Below:  A 17-foot camp-cruising catamaran I built from plans by James Wharram Designs.  Perfect for cruising the shallows around Florida's remote Big Bend area of the Gulf Coast. See morebout this boat here.


Below:  The first Mississippi Backwoods Drifter, a 12-foot, double-ended John Boat I designed and built for negotiating the small, twisting creeks around here.  Paddles like a canoe but offers stand-up stability and can carry a good load of gear and supplies. See more on my Drifter page here.


Below: My 26-foot cruising boat, Intensity, which I lived aboard at times and sailed widely on the Gulf until I lost her to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. See more here.


Below: The replacement for my lost boat - a twenty-six foot catamaran that can go anywhere offshore, yet with only 18-inches of draft get into shallow estuaries and rivers, all while carrying enough stuff to be self-sufficient for months. More about this here on my construction blog.

Today's Video: Long Haul Folding Kayaks Mark II Commando

Here's an advertisement video showing some of the benefits of folding kayaks.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Some Thoughts on Bug Out Firearms

I like guns a lot and over the years have owned just about all the ones that I found interesting; buying, swapping and selling and still ending up with more than I can use, much less carry in a bug out situation.  Here on Bug Out Survival the subject of firearms in general will naturally come up frequently.

I grew up hunting in rural Mississippi, and when I was first allowed to take off into the nearby woods on my own at about seven, my hunting rifle was a Benjamin .22 caliber pellet gun - very effective in slaying the wild gray squirrels that thrived in the tall mixed oak and pine forests of a nearby creek bottom, so long as I waited until they came closer to the ground.  That single-shot air rifle that had to be pumped up about 10 times between shots taught me a lot about making every shot count and the importance of patience in stalking close or waiting on game to approach.  Later, when my dad trusted that I wouldn't do anything stupid, he let me take the old Savage single-shot 20-gauge shotgun.  With a long barrel and a full choke, using number six shot, I became a real threat to the local squirrel population and occasionally brought home a rabbit as well.  Not too long after, I got my first .22 rimfire rifle, a bolt-action, tube-fed Marlin Model 781 that I still have today.  I came to love the .22 for its versatility and the ease of carrying lots of cartridges, though I really didn't need many for hunting, because that rifle with a 4-power scope was a tack-driver.

Most people discussing survival firearms on various blogs and forums on the Internet agree on the usefulness and versatility of the .22 rimfire rifle, and I'm no exception.  I've seen .22 rifles used to bring down everything from deer to wild turkey and all manner of small game.  In the jungles of Nicaragua and Honduras, along the Rio Coco and Rio Patuca, the Miskito Indians I've trekked with used well-worn, rusty Marlin Model 60 semi-auto rifles to shoot monkeys and birds the size of turkeys high up in the rainforest canopy.  Then, coming to small, clear streams, they would turn these same rifles to the task of shooting fish.  They didn't question their ability to take the occasional deer as well with the same rifles. They were very effective hunters and we ate a variety of exotic wildlife at every night's campsite. 

These Marlin .22 rifles were not the only weapons these guys had, by any means.  In every village there are at least a few AKs around, left over from their struggle with the Sandinistas.  These were the real thing, of course, not the castrated semi-automatics we're allowed to own here.  But ammunition for them was precious, so it was not wasted.  I saw one fired only once from a dugout canoe - our river guide taking a shot a crocodile that quickly sank from view, whether hit or not, I don't know.

I like the AK as well when it comes to defensive firearms and will be discussing that type of weapon here as well, including my favorite variations, and other combat weapons such as Glocks, AR-15s, etc.  I'm also a big fan of leverguns and one of my current favorites is the Winchester Model 1894 Trapper, with the 16-inch barrel.  Combined with a suitable revolver in the same caliber, this is a great compact and lightweight bug-out combination that can do most everything, from defense against human and animal aggressors, to hunting deer-sized game at reasonable ranges, on down to small game with .38 Special rounds.

But if I could take only one gun that would have to do for everything, it would probably be one of my .22 rifles, whether that trusty old Marlin Model  781, the Ruger 10/22, the Winchester 94/22, the Marlin Papoose or the AR-7 Explorer.

This is just an introduction to the subject, I will certainly get more specific as time goes on and I get around to posting more photos and articles.  I will also look forward to your comments and would love to hear your thoughts on bug-out firearms as well as see photos of your favorites.

Today's Gun: Marlin Papoose Survival Rifle

The Marlin Model 70 PPS Take-Down .22 Caliber Survival Rifle

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finding Bug Out Locations in Populated Areas Using Google Earth

A Google Earth view of a section of the Pearl River in rural Lawrence County, Mississippi:

Locating good bug-out locations is a large part of my upcoming book and of what I'll be discussing on this site. I see a lot of conversations on various survival forums that convey a hopeless feeling on this subject, and I think a lot of these folks don't get out enough and really look to see what's out there.  I'll be posting a lot here on the importance of such advance scouting, but there is a lot you can explore from the comfort of your own home, thanks to today's technology. 

Bug-out locations range from big national forest wilderness areas where you can travel for days on foot without crossing so much as a dirt road to small, forgotten corners of wildland scattered all over rural and semi-rural America.  In populated areas, you have to know where to look, but in most parts of the country there are neglected and little-used lands, whether private or owned by the state or federal government.  Where I live in Mississippi, as in much of the South, rivers and streams are the key to finding such places. 

Many of these rivers are too small for navigation by commercial traffic, but are just right for John boats, canoes, sea kayaks and similar small boats.  And though they flow through settled countryside dotted with small towns, farms and houses, most all of these rivers have long stretches of deserted woodlands.  I've spent weeks paddling such rivers, often going days at a time without seeing anyone except the occasional fisherman under a bridge or in a boat.  Landowners that have big tracts of property along some of these rivers usually only visit the parts of their property that they can drive to, and here in the South that's often not much as so much of the river bottom land is swampy. These days, even most hunters do little walking off the beaten path, preferring instead to ride to a deer stand on an ATV and sit in one spot all day.

But despite this, human use along rivers varies along the stream's course and it's hard to know what to expect if you don't know the river intimately. From your perspective on such a river in a small boat, looks can often be deceiving and you may think you're in a remote stretch of river only to come around a bend and find a house or camp on the bank.  Sometimes while camping along such rivers I've discovered ATV tracks on isolated sandbars and moved on to more inaccessible spots to keep from being surprised in the night.  This is where advance planning using tools like Google Earth can be invaluable.  In the example here, I'll show you what to look for along a river like this that gets some fishing boat traffic along its main course and passes through settled land with a few private roads going down to the river banks.  The Google Earth image at the top of the page shows a broad swath of the river and surrounding countryside from more than 40,000 feet.  If we zoom in closer, then start following the river downstream from the nearest highway bridge, we can look for places of interest, like this one below.

Note that even though there are roads and patches of open pasture not too far from the river, most of the banks are heavily wooded.  This is mostly southern hardwood bottomland forest - oak, sycamore, beech, cypress and tupelo gum.  The broad patches of white are fine sandbars that make great campsites for recreational camping, but are too exposed for a bug-out situation.  What caught my eye here during a Google "fly over" is the large oxbow lake you see in the middle of the image, the one inside the biggest loop in the river, that appears dark and is shrouded by green forest all around. 

If we look closer, you can see that within the loop of the oxbow lake there is an island of heavily-wooded high ground.  This is surrounded by the dead lake and you can see other sloughs and wet areas in the forest between the two loops of the main river, showing that no vehicles or ATVs can reach this area.  The dead lake itself is not open to easy access to the river by boat, except perhaps in times of flood when much of this area would be inundated.

This is the kind of place you could drag a small boat, especially a canoe, into the backwater off the river and set up a concealed bug-out camp in the inaccessible forest of the island or most anywhere along the dead lake shore. You would have a few hundred acres of prime hunting and good access to fishing, with little chance of being detected. These woods are full of deer, wild hog, squirrel, wild turkey, rabbits and other game. The river is alive with catfish, bass, bream, turtles and alligator. And this is just one of many such places along the 400-mile course of this one river in one southern state.

Here's an idea of what the woods and dead lakes along this river look like on the ground:

Big Thanks To Mayberry

I owe a big thank-you to Mayberry over at Keep It Simple Survival.  Most of you reading this found your way here thanks to his link, which in the first two days of this blog going live, sent hundreds of new readers my way.  I've been following Mayberry's posts for quite awhile, and seeing how he and I think a lot alike about a lot of things, I sent him a copy of my own little book of rants and commentaries that I put together a few years ago. We corresponded about our mutual interest in boats and boatbuilding, and I also sent him over to my blog on the construction of my ultimate water-borne bug-out vehicle, a Wharram Tiki 26 catamaran

I'm going to make sure Mayberry gets a review copy of my new bug out book when it is published in May, and I wanted to let any other survival-related bloggers with an established site know that I'll have some more review copies available.  Contact me for details. And if you have a blog or site I've overlooked and haven't gotten around to putting in my link list, send me the details and I'll be glad to link to you.

I'm also going to offer some free copies of the book to readers who contribute to this site, either through a contest or drawing.  I'm especially interested in your articles on personal favorite bug-out locations, and personal anecdotes about extended wilderness trips, survival experiences, or experiments in living off the land.  Drop me a line and let me know what you have.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bug Out: The Complete Plan (More about the book)

Work on this site has been mostly on the back burner as I have been rushing to complete the book, Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late. 

This entire project came together much more rapidly than I would have ever imagined, as it went from concept to book contract in about one month, with a six-month deadline to complete a manuscript of over 80,000 words.  That deadline was met before the end of December, and now the manuscript has already been through the editing and revision process and illustrations and maps are being created by the designers at Ulysses Press.  I have to say I am happy with the result and that the book is almost exactly what I envisioned it to be when I first sat down to write the proposal.  But with the suggestions of my publisher some aspects of it have evolved to make it much more targeted to the audience that can use it the most. 

Some of you may have read the editorial description of the book from the page here or over at Amazon, but these short back-cover blurbs can't tell you everything you want to know about what's inside.  I don't want to publish a complete table of contents at this stage, still three months away from the book's release date, but I do want to give you some idea of what to expect.

First of all, the inspiration came about from the innumerable trips I've personally made into wild places all over the United States and elsewhere.  For years I spent huge amounts of time poring over maps in search of the most remote and least inhabited places in the country, and then trying to get there either on foot, or by canoe or kayak.  Of course there are more such places than any one person could visit in a lifetime, but I sure found my way to a lot of them over the last 25 years and I'm nowhere near done yet.  I had long wanted to put this information together into a useful book, but didn't have much interest in writing hiking guides, or other such recreational outdoor guidebooks, as there are plenty of them on the market already.  What I originally envisioned was a guidebook for people who wanted to "check out" like I did and leave civilization for awhile.  I figured not everyone had the time to do the research and the exploratory trips I did, so they might appreciate having a handy book that puts it all in one place.

The book does include this information, and can be used in that way, simply for planning getaways in times of normalcy.  But it's also so much more, as the focus has changed from "checking out" to "bugging out" which seems more appropriate in the times we are living in now.  The locations were chosen so that just about wherever you happen to live in the Lower 48 States, you'll have a variety of options to choose from.  The bug out locations in the book are broken down into eight regions of the country:
  • The Gulf Coast Southeast
  • The East Coast Lowlands
  • The Appalachian Corridor
  • The North Woods
  • The Midwest and Heartland
  • The Rocky Mountain Corridor
  • The Southwest
  • The West Coast and Pacific Crest
An overview section for each region covers things like weather and climate, natural resources, wildlife hazards and recommended equipment.  Then specific locations are detailed.

Beyond the place-specific information, the first 100 or so pages of the book is all about bug-out planning.  Topics covered include:
  • The fantasy and the reality of living off the land
  • Choosing a bug-out bag
  • Clothing and shelter considerations
  • Firearms for survival
  • Food and Water procurement 
  • Navigation
  • Researching potential bug-out locations
  • Use of tools like Google Earth in planning
  • Types of federal, state and private lands in the U.S.
  • Advance scouting 
  • Caching
  • Exit route planning
  • Bug-out motor vehicles
  • Alternative transportation
  • Bugging out by boat
  • Use of horses and pack animals
Again, this is just a quick overview, to give you some idea of what to expect.  A book like this distills the essentials into a handy and readable format that can go anywhere with you.  It is my hope that it will help many readers with their contingency planning and give encouragement to those who think there is no where they could go if they don't own a large parcel of secluded private land.  I don't think the masses are going to attempt to bug-out to the countryside in most SHTF situations.  As we have seen time and time again in disasters like Katrina, most will simply wait for the government or someone else to bail them out.  Those who have the skills and the determination to survive will always find a way - and a place.

This site is for all the other topics that I could not fit into the confines of a 320-page book and for expanding on those topics that are included.  It's also a place for photographs, videos and other extras that could not go in the book.  And it's a place for you, the reader to ask your questions through comments or direct messages, as well as submit your own ideas which I would love to hear about and will consider publishing here as well.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some Categories of Topics I'll Cover

This blog is all about bugging out, and will cover a wide range of related topics from wilderness survival to hunting and defensive weapons and vehicles and boats. I'm leaving the options open as to what I may include, depending on how this develops over time and the feedback I get from readers. But there are a few categories I know for sure that will become regular topics here.

Some of these first preliminary posts already online fall into these topics. They include:

  • Gear Reviews (reviews of all sorts of related camping, survival and outdoor equipment)
  • Book Reviews  (reviews of related books, ranging from how-to manuals to survival fiction)
  • BOV Reviews  (reviews of bug out vehicles, including boats)
  • Video and Movie Reviews (reviews of  related films and documentaries)
  • Gun Reviews  (reviews of specific firearms)
  • BOL Overview (descriptive look at specific potential bug out locations)
  • Wild Edibles (overview articles on specific edible plants and how to use them)
  • Tasty Critters (overview articles on anything edible that crawls, swims, walks or flies)
  • SHTF News (related happenings in the world)
  • Wilderness Legends (real and fictitious characters past and present)
  • Today's Gun  (Just a stand-alone picture of an interesting firearm)
  • Today's Video (A stand-alone video from You Tube or elsewhere)
  • Today's BOV  (A stand-alone picture of a bug out vehicle or boat)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gear Review: Polar Pure Water Disinfectant

Polar Pure Water Disinfectant is a simple, inexpensive and effective way to purify drinking water:

Obtaining drinking water and making sure it's safe to drink is a top priority in any bug-out scenario or wilderness travel situation.  You have to assume that practically any water you find is not safe to drink as is, unless you catch rainwater or find a spring right at the source, coming out of the ground.  Assuming this, all water from streams, rivers, lakes or pools must be purified - either by boiling, filtering, or chemical treatment.

All methods have advantages and disadvantages.  Boiling is extremely effective, but requires a heat source and a container that can be used on a fire or campstove.  You should certainly have such a container if you are bugging out, as I have stated before, a metal pot for this purpose and for cooking plant foods that must be boiled to be edible is a crucial piece of gear.  But if you are just out for a hike or are separated from your gear, it may not be possible to boil water.  Most recreational hikers and campers these days seem to favor filtration systems, and there are many on the market that are excellent and will be reviewed here later.  But filters have their disadvantages as well.  For one, the best ones are fairly bulky and take up precious space in the BOB.  Two, they all eventually require replacement filters, making them less suitable for a long-term bug-out solution.  Good water filter systems are also expensive, as are the replacement filters.

The third option - chemical disinfection - is much more economical and takes up much less space needed for other gear.  Various types of chemical disinfection options are available, some of which are not long-term solutions because they require dissolving tablets that you will eventually run out of.  This is not the case with Polar Pure.  Polar Pure uses an ingenious particle-trap bottle design that contains iodine crystals, allowing you to make an almost unlimited supply of water treatment solutions without depleting the iodine source, see illustration below:

The Polar Pure bottle can last for years before all the iodine is depleted.

So how well does it work?  Well, based on my own experience, I can tell you that I have complete confidence that a treatment with Polar Pure will get rid of water-borne pathogens such as Giardia and worse.  I have used it extensively in my wilderness travels for nearly 20 years, even in such places as the jungles of Nicaragua and Honduras, where the rivers contain all sorts of stuff that will kill you.  In all of these places I have used Polar Pure to treat water taken directly from big rivers, small streams, and even swamps, and not once have I gotten sick from drinking water.  Here is some additional info on how it works from the Polar Pure website:



Iodine has a long history as a safe, effective water disinfectant with no ill effects in normal people over long use in community water treatment at up to 20 ppm (parts per million) iodine.

"Tincture of iodine" (alcohol / iodine solution) can be used, but to assure disinfection, milligrams of iodine per drop must be known.

Iodine complexes such as Potable Aqua and Globaline are convenient and effective when fresh, but degrade on air exposure. -- These tablets should be discarded 3 months after opening bottle.--

Use of Betadine (povidone/iodine complex) in water treatment has not been tested.


Polar Pure Water Disinfectant uses pure crystallized iodine in a unique delivery system to destroy water-borne pathogens including giardia cysts and micro-organisms (viruses) that pass through filters. Simply add water to your Polar Pure bottle to create and use a saturated solution to disinfect your water.

Pure iodine crystals are stable and slightly soluble in water but evaporate easily. Keep your Polar Pure bottle filled with water and tightly capped to maintain a ready to use iodine-saturated solution.

When used as directed, a saturated iodine solution for disinfection is maintained in your filled Polar Pure bottle. This saturated solution is then used to disinfect your drinking water at an optimal concentration of 4 - 5 ppm (parts per million - about 4 - 5 mg) iodine per quart/liter of water.

Saturation concentration varies with the solution temperature, but a green dot on the liquid crystal dosage chart on the Polar Pure bottle shows how many capfuls are needed for disinfection. For complete instructions, refer to our directions for use page.


  • Does not deteriorate with extremes in temperature
  • Has an indefinite shelf life
  • Is safe and fully effective to use as long as you can see iodine crystals at the bottom of the bottle
  • One bottle treats up to 2000 quarts of water at less than 1/2 cent per quart
  • Dosage chart is printed on the bottle
  • Bottle cap is used to measure and decant solution -- no other equipment needed
  • Small size and light weight makes it convenient for backpacking and travel
  • Essential for emergency preparedness

You can read more about it on their website at:

I like Polar Pure because the bottle can be carried in a small fanny pack or even a pocket, so you can have one or more with you at all times, and it's inexpensive.  Here's a source on Amazon for just$13.34 a bottle:

Today's BOV: Trek 520 Loaded Touring Bike

A Trek 520 Touring Bike Loaded for Long-Distance:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

BOL Overview: Aucilla River

The Aucilla River:  A Potential BOL on Florida's "Nature Coast"

Florida's coastlines are not all tourist beaches and condominiums.  Much of the so called "Nature Coast" of the Big Bend section of Florida's Gulf Coast is undeveloped and sparsely populated.  There are good reasons for this, particularly the expansive areas of shallow water off this coastline and the lack of good harbors navigable by deeper-draft vessels.  The lack of long natural beaches here is another reason this area wasn't ruined long ago.  Unlike the panhandle area to the west and north, and the coastline south of Tarpon Springs, this part of Florida's Gulf Coast is mostly low and swampy, and broken up by the entrance of several sizable rivers, including the Suwanee, the Chassahowitzka, the Withlacoochee, the St. Mark's and the Aucilla.

Google Earth view of the swampy hardwood forests along the lower reaches of the Aucilla River

The Aucilla River is one of many good potential hideaways along this coast that could be accessed by shallow-draft larger boats and small vessels like canoes and sea kayaks.  In it's lower reaches this river flows through a sub-tropical hardwood forest that is about as jungle-like as anything you'll find in North America, complete with tall palm trees overhanging the waterway from the bank.  Back in the '70s and '80s when drug smuggling by fast boat was rampant in Florida, the remote estuary of the Aucilla was a favorite drop point.
Another view near the mouth of the Aucilla:

The Aucilla and other rivers in this area have a lot to offer for someone who can navigate them in a small boat, especially a canoe or sea kayak.  Camping conditions here can be tough due to mosquitoes, no-see-ums and other pests, but in this kind of environment, the woods are so dense and impenetrable that even a relatively small area can make a good bug out location.  Fishing will be good, as well as foraging for all sorts of aquatic animals and plants.  Just watch out for big 'gators and don't forget the machete if you plan to go anywhere off the river.  

The Aucilla River
Location: Florida's Big Bend section of the Gulf Coast east of St. Marks.
Additional Resources:



Today's Video: A Country Boy Can Survive

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Make Mine a Machete

You can keep the axes and hatchets, I'll stick with my machete.

The author putting an edge on with a mill file.

Anyone who has spent any time adventuring in the tropical regions of the world has surely seen the many uses of the ubiquitous machete. Variations of this extremely versatile tool are found around the globe in the hot climates of the lower latitudes, but surprisingly, the machete is under utilized in temperate zones such as North America. Sometimes referred to as jungle knives, it’s easy to see why these long cutting tools are popular in the tropics. For cutting your way through thick underbrush and vines, a more effective tool has never been invented. But the common machete finds thousands of uses in Third World countries, from butchering meat to cutting firewood and even building houses. Machetes are cheap, lightweight, and easily carried in a sheath that can be slipped into a backpack, canoe dry bag or worn on the belt.

Given these advantages, it’s surprising that more survivalists and other outdoors enthusiasts do not make the machete a standard item on their gear checklist. One reason for this is the north woods tradition of using axes or hatchets for chopping and cutting tasks, rather than long knives. Few wilderness travelers really have need of an axe however, as this heavy and cumbersome tool is best used for serious tree cutting and jobs such as splitting large quantities of firewood or building a cabin. This sort of woodcraft is rarely necessary unless you are in a secure bug-out location where you plan to stay for an extended period of time.

An alternative to the axe - the hatchet is meant to be a scaled down axe that is handy to carry and can be used to cut smaller pieces of wood to build campfires.  But it’s really a poor substitute for an axe in this capacity, and a good machete with a sharp blade can handle all your firewood cutting tasks and can also be used to fell small trees in an emergency situation where you might need to build a survival shelter.

The one job that axes and hatchets cannot handle at all that machetes excel at is cutting trail through dense brush. The narrow cutting surface of only 3-4 inches on an axe or hatchet blade is useless for cutting vines, springy branches, cane, or dense grasses. With a sharp machete, you can wade through such undergrowth with ease, the long blade clearing a wide swath with each stroke. In jungles around the world, native people who are experts with machetes can clear trail almost as fast as they can walk. In some places it's almost impossible to travel without one.  Aside from tropical jungles, the cutover land and second growth forest found in much of the U.S. abounds in briar patches and other dense undergrowth that forms walls of vegetation.  The same is true in many swamps where impenetrable canebrakes or palmetto thickets occur, and even in some mountain areas.  On numerous occasions, I have spent days at at a time bushwhacking off trail in the Appalachian Mountains where rhododendron thickets made walking practically impossible without a machete.

The machete can also perform many of the tasks you might need a knife for, as it can be used to cut almost anything, including chopping up vegetables and other food items. With a good machete, you can eliminate carrying a large camp knife and take only a small pocket knife or multi-tool for delicate tasks.

Although all machetes are cheap compared to fine knives, it’s worth spending a few extra dollars to get a good one. The bottom of the barrel variety usually cannot be sharpened to a fine edge. The best machetes are the imported ones from Central and South American countries, where the makers know and understand what qualities a machete should have. Look for a blade of spring steel that can be flexed, but avoid the flimsiest, lightweight blades and get one with some heft. Much of the effort of cutting is eliminated by letting the weight of the blade do the work.

Blade length is another consideration. Machetes typically range in length from 18 inches to as long as 30 inches. The shortest variety is handy for many tasks, but I prefer a blade of about 24 inches for all-around usefulness. This length will still fit inside a backpack and it is long enough to have the necessary weight for serious cutting. Many jungle dwellers that use their machetes daily prefer the longer 30-inch blades because they cut even better.

To keep your machete razor sharp, you will need a small mill file. Knife sharpening stones are too slow for putting an edge on such a big blade, but they can be used for the final honing after you’re done with the file. Don’t try to carry a sharp machete without a good sheath. The best ones are made of leather and many imported machetes come with nice, hand-made leather sheaths. Remember that the machete is an extremely dangerous implement that can cause horrendous damage if you cut yourself or a bystander who is too close to where you are working. Always keep the edge away from yourself and others and be especially careful of your legs and feet while cutting brush in front of you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Today's Gun: Kel-Tec PMR-30

The soon-to-be available Kel-Tec PMR-30:  An autoloading .22Magnum Pistol with 30-rd. Capacity:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

BOL Overview: Chickasawhay River

Here's a Bug Out Location from right here in my local stomping grounds in Mississippi:

The Author's Sandbar Campsite on a Kayak Trip Down the Chickasawhay

Mississippi is blessed with fine rivers - many of which have long stretches of uninhabited bottomland hardwood and mixed pine forests along their banks.  The Chickasawhay is one such river, with more than 160 miles navigable by canoe, kayak or light John boat from its upper reaches near Enterprise to its confluence with the Leaf River, where the two merge to become the Pascagoula River.  The river winds through the sparsely populated counties of southeast Mississippi, which is not real wilderness by the definition of big tracts of roadless land, but is nevertheless remote enough in many stretches to serves as a viable bug-out location.  Hunting, fishing and foraging for edible plants is good along the entire course of the river. Deer, wild hogs, wild turkey, gray and fox squirrels, rabbits, armadillos, bass, bream and catfish are all especially abundant.

A Google Earth view of the upper Chicksawhay, near where the photo at top was taken. Big sandbars and heavily-forested banks are found along most of the river's course.

The areas along the river that are not naturally wooded in mixed pines or hardwoods are mostly forested in pine plantations at various stages of growth, so there is a buffer between the river and nearby roads, farms and dwellings along most of its route.  In a few places you will see open pasture land or scattered camp-houses, but for the most part a trip down the river is a journey through what feels like a much wilder area than it really is. 

Some parts of the upper Chicksawhay are bounded by high bluffs of mixed clay and rock.  Springs like this one feed the main river and make finding drinking water easy.

The farther downstream you travel, the bigger the river becomes.  Sloughs and oxbow lakes like this one off the main river become more common, and the bottomland hardwood forests become more extensive.

In 2004 my canoeing partner, Ernest Herndon, and I set out to paddle the entire Pascagoula River System from the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico.  The Chicksawhay and the Leaf Rivers run mostly parallel to each other, with the Leaf to the west, until they merge together to form the Pascagoula, which runs another 80 miles before reaching the Mississippi Sound.  We spent two weeks on this trip, and wrote about our experiences in our co-authored book: Paddling the Pascagoula, linked below.  Having made this trip and many others on these waters, this would be one of my prefered bug-out locations if I had to hit the woods close to home here in Mississippi. 

The Chickasawhay River
Location: Southeast Mississippi, from Enterprise to Merrill.
Additional Resources:

Paddling the Pascagoula
Preserving the Pascagoula
Canoeing Mississippi
Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cooking On A Green Sapling Tripod

The Green Sapling Tripod:  An easy way to boil water without a stove:

Most backpackers and other wilderness travelers think they have to have a camp stove for cooking meals in the wilds. Such stoves are offered in a dazzling array of styles, sizes and prices. New stoves are always on the market, promising better performance and advanced technology. Stoves do have their place in the wild for recreational camping and can contribute to your enjoyment of the trip, but they are certainly not necessary in most environments, where you can easily build a fire to do your cooking. Most cooking done on camping trips with fancy, high-tech stoves involves nothing more complex than boiling water to add to freeze dried foods. Some campers, however, like to cook rice, pasta or other foods that require keeping the water boiling for a period of time. This can be done with a fire just as well as you can do it with a stove, provided you know a simple technique for setting up a pot over the flames.

Forget about the Western movies you’ve seen with complex, counter-weighted branches leaning out over a big roaring fire, supporting a kettle suspended from its bail over the flames. It’s a romantic picture, but not practical or easy to set up. All you need is a small metal cooking pot of stainless steel, and it does not even have to have a bail or even a handle. One point I make in my book in the chapter on gear selection is that if I had to chose between a metal pot and a metal knife to take into the wilderness, I'd take the pot.  The reason is simple.  You can not easily make a pot capable of holding boiling water from materials found in nature, but you can make cutting blades from simple shards of flint, bone or even found glass.  A cooking pot that you can boil water in will allow you to utilize all sorts of edible plant parts that can be prepared in no other way but by boiling.  And of course, it can be used to purify questionable water. 

The key to successfully using open flames to boil water is to set up the pot so it is secure and will remain so throughout the cooking. The method I prefer is the one I learned from some jungle natives in the mountains of the Dominican Republic, and it works great:

Use a machete or hatchet to cut a small green branch or sapling about one to two inches in diameter and about three feet long. Cut this length of green wood into three equal lengths, and sharpen one end of each to make stakes. The other end that is not sharpened should be cut straight across, so that there is a flat surface on it. What you will do is drive these three stakes into the ground to form a tripod, upon which your pot will rest. The stakes must be driven at an angle, so that the bases will be farther out than the tops, just like a camera tripod. Do this by driving one stake first and checking the height by holding the pot on it. You want to have several inches of open space under the pot for fuel wood. Use the pot as a gauge to determine where to set the other two stakes and then drive them down to the same height as the first. If you don’t have a hammer or the back of an axe or hatchet to drive stakes, use a rock or lump of solid wood.

The stakes should be solidly set in the ground and spaced just so they support the edge of your cooking pot. If they are evenly spaced, this set-up should be rock-steady and it will be difficult to turn the pot over. Even heavy pots full of water and food can be securely supported this way.

Now it’s time to build the fire and get on with the cooking. The key here is not to think in terms of a big, roaring campfire. If you want that, you can have that later in a separate place after dinner. What you need to cook with this green wood tripod is just a supply of pencil-sized, dry twigs. Build these up under the pot and ignite them using some leaves or other flammable material. These small twigs will burn hotter and faster than larger pieces of wood. They will also burn up quickly, so if you are cooking something like rice you will need an adequate supply of these twigs to keep feeding into the little fire under the tripod. A fire set up like this can have your water boiling as fast or faster than most backpackers can unpack and set up a modern stove. You don’t have to worry about the tripod catching on fire. That’s why you used green wood to make it. The green wood will usually last more than an hour, depending on the thickness and species of the branch or sapling, before it starts to dry out and ignite. Usually, one such set up built when you make camp will last for cooking dinner, making evening hot chocolate, morning coffee and cooking breakfast before the tripod starts to burn up. This set up will work for skillets as well as for pots, so you can make morning pancakes or fry bread if you prefer.

In a real bug-out situation, there is no place in your pack for a camp stove, much less the fuel to run it.  For any sort of wilderness living experience lasting more than a few days, cooking with fire is the only practical alternative.

The author boiling water for coffee. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fire in Rain

Fire can be the difference between life and death in the most dire circumstances, and in less serious circumstances at the very least - the difference between comfort and misery, or eating and going hungry.  In the wilderness, fire is light and life, and a welcome guest at any camp.

This is a photo I took in the Alaskan wilderness not far from Sitka. 

Southeast Alaska is good example of a place where the ability to build a fire in the rain is essential.  These forested islands are perpetually wet with either rain or fog.

Fires have fallen out of favor with recreational campers these days, mainly due to the advent of a wide variety of compact camp stoves. Modern campers often forget, however that a fire can mean the difference in life or death in a survival situation. In freezing cold conditions, the ability to build a fire can save you from certain hypothermia if you are caught out in the wilds without adequate clothing or shelter to stay warm. This is especially true if you have fallen into a stream or otherwise gotten wet and have no way to dry your clothes without the heat of a fire.

Building a fire in truly adverse conditions, such as falling snow or rain, might seem impossible to today’s urbanized outdoors enthusiasts. But native peoples and frontier travelers always depended on fire for everyday cooking and warmth, so they had to become proficient in building them, despite whatever bad weather Mother Nature threw their way. You can build a fire in such conditions too, as long as you have an understanding of how to do it and practice often in better conditions. Many people dismiss fire building as a no-brainer – just get some wood and light it with a match. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Real backwoods experts know that fire building is an art and a craft and their ability to rapidly build fires that burn hotter and brighter and more reliably bears this truth out.

Rainy weather is perhaps the greatest challenge to the fire builder. All fires depend on fuel in the form of combustible material, and in the woods, this usually means dry leaves, twigs, branches and other chunks of wood. If it’s raining out, how do you find dry wood?

It’s really quite easy if you know where to look. Not every piece of wood in the forest gets soaked in a rainstorm. The easily-gathered dead branches you find lying around on the ground that work well in fair weather will be wet however, so you must look elsewhere.

Standing trees are much less likely to absorb water than those lying on the forest floor. Often you can find dry dead branches near the bottoms of pine and spruce trees, as these are shielded from falling rain by the dense needles on the living branches. The outer bark of even these limbs may be wet, however, so you will need a knife to cut it away and reach the dry wood inside. Building a fire in the rain will be much easier if you have a large knife, or preferably, a machete or an axe. The frontiersmen of days gone by never ventured into the wilds without an axe, and this was one of the reasons. A sharp cutting tool will give you the ability to split large pieces of wet wood to get at the dry interior, or even to cut down small standing dead trees that can then be split into usable sized pieces of fuel.

Even better than wood that is merely dry on the inside is the wood you can sometimes find in old stumps that are full of concentrated pine resin. Called “lighter knots” or “fat lighter” by country folk, this resin rich wood will burn with a hot and bright flame even in the rain, if you first cut it into little pieces of kindling to light it. You can identify such fat lighter by the smell and color of the wood when you cut into it. It will smell like pine pitch or tar and is bright yellow or orange inside, often oozing sap. This wood is also much heavier than regular dry wood. It can be found in any forest where there are conifers such as pine, spruce, fir or cedar.

Once you find a source of ignitable fuel, try to locate your fire somewhere so that it is at least partially sheltered from more falling rain. Although fat lighter will burn in direct rain, you will have to build a really large fire and keep the fuel coming to keep it alive in a downpour. If you can get under some dense trees or a rock overhang, you can keep your fire going much easier once you locate a source of dry wood. Don’t give up on a fire just because it’s raining. Remember there is always dry wood somewhere in a forest, but it may take a little effort and a sharp blade to get to it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Gear Review: Compact, Hi-Intensity Flashlights

This review I wrote as a result of testing several Compact, Hi-Intensity Flashlights was first published in Sea Kayaker magazine.

A new breed of flashlights for sea kayakers and other boaters in need of a powerful package compact enough to fit in the pocket of a PFD.

Expedition paddlers exploring unfamiliar coastlines are almost certain to eventually get into a situation that requires paddling at night. Despite careful pre-trip planning and studying charts to look for possible landing and camping sites, many factors such as weather, fatigue or accidents can cause delays that require navigating in darkness. This can even happen on a simple day trip, so all paddlers should be prepared for paddling at night. Some type of bright light is required safety equipment for alerting other boaters as well as for finding a hospitable shore. A powerful light is also especially useful for picking up reflective channel markers or the reflective tape on your partner’s PFD or kayak from a long distance.

When I first started taking long kayak trips almost 20 years ago, I carried a powerful underwater light designed for scuba diving at night. This light was a bulky affair—about five or six inches in diameter, like the 12-volt spotlights designed to plug into a cigarette lighter outlet in a car or boat—and powered by eight D-cell alkaline batteries. It was bright, though, and completely waterproof, and held up on two trips lasting several months.

The problem with the dive light was its size and shape. It was too big to go anywhere on deck and it was even an awkward fit in the cockpit. I normally kept it between the seat-back and the rear bulkhead while traveling, but that made it difficult to get to. It was expensive to purchase and expensive to run with less than two hours of burn time on a fresh set of the best alkaline batteries. The size and weight of all those D-cells limited me to carrying only one or two spare sets.

When this light finally died after years of hard use, I went through an assortment of cheaper, less durable alternatives powered by a single 6-volt lantern battery. None of the compact flashlights I carried for use around camp could compare to these bigger, more powerful spotlights that were so useful for scoping out a strange shoreline from a safe distance before landing.

A variety of high-power flashlights are now available in compact sizes. They are powered by 123A 3-volt lithium batteries, the same type used for many cameras and other high-drain electronic devices. Some of these lights are only slightly bigger than the popular compact flashlights that use two AA 1.5-volt alkaline batteries, but they are far more powerful. I recently tested two of these that are powered by three 123A cells and another pair that use just two cells.The three-cell lights are much more expensive and slightly larger than the two-cell lights but are powerful enough to replace the large bulky spotlights I used to use. The lithium batteries are only 1 <3/8> inches long (compared to 2 inches for a AA battery), so even the three-cell lights are small enough to carry any time you go paddling. They provide a bright, broad beam of light that is useful to a kayaker looking along the shore for a place to land.

All of these lights use Xenon lamps. Xenon is an inert gas that fills the lamp bulb to allow the filament to burn hotter and brighter without burning out. They all produce a clear, consistent beam without the usual varying rings of light typical of standard flashlight beams. To test the lights, I took them for a night paddle along a heavily wooded, swampy lakeshore.

SureFire M3 Millenium Tactical Combatlight
The M3 Combat Light is the largest and by far the most expensive of the four flashlights I tested. At $252, it’s billed as a “heavy-duty tactical flashlight to meet the needs of demanding customers such as military special operations units, SWAT teams and other law enforcement professionals.” The case is anodized aircraft aluminum with a checkered grip especially designed for the Rogers/SureFire combat grip—a technique used by the aforementioned customers when engaging opponents in the dark with a handgun. Sea kayakers won’t need that particular design feature, but the no-compromise quality built into this rugged light makes it a good choice for the demands of an expedition.

Although not rated for underwater use, such as diving, SureFire claims that all its current lights are waterproof to about 33 feet. I left it under about three feet of water overnight and found no moisture had entered the case. The switch is built into the tailpiece—turning it full clockwise turns the light on—but the tailpiece also functions as a momentary push-button switch when partially rotated. Backing the tailpiece off by turning it counter-clockwise disables the push-button feature so the light can’t be accidentally activated when packed.

The M3 comes with a 225-lumen lamp and a 125-lumen lamp. On a set of three batteries, the 225-lumen lamp provides only 20 minutes of run-time, and a 125-lumen lamp runs one hour. With the high-output lamp installed, the M3 is by far the most powerful of the four lights I tested.

This light provides a useful range of at least 200 feet, completely illuminating the dark woods of the lakeshore I paddled along from that distance. The beam it throws is perhaps not as broad as my old diving spotlight, but it is amazingly intense for such a small package. I even took it out for a drive on a deserted country road and found it bright enough to drive by, held out the window of the car with the headlights turned off. Reflective road signs were visible over a half a mile away.

At just over seven inches long and with a bezel diameter of 1.62 inches, the M3 may not fit in small PFD pockets, but it’s still compact enough to carry in a chart case or perhaps secured with a Velcro loop to your PFD. A lanyard is included with the light. With the high-power lamp, it will burn through 123A batteries in a hurry, but for such power that’s a reasonable trade off. SureFire sells its own brand of lithium batteries in a case of 12 for $21. These batteries are so small and lightweight, a kayaker could carry several cases on a long expedition.

SureFire M3 Millenium Tactical Combatlight
800-828-8809 or 714-545-9444

Pila GL3
The other three-cell 123A flashlight I tested was the Pila GL3 from Permalight. A bit more compact than the SureFire M3, the Chinese-made Pila GL3 measures just over six inches in length and has a bezel diameter of 1.3 inches. Like the M3, the case is also anodized aircraft aluminum, but inspection of the threads inside the screw-on bezel and tailpiece revealed some rough surfaces and possible damage that might interfere with removal and replacement over time. This light did leak inside the bezel during an overnight immersion test, but it is only rated as splash proof. Despite the water intrusion, the light continued to function perfectly while wet and after disassembly and drying.

The biggest difference between the Pila GL3 and the SureFire M3 is the addition of a red four-LED light built into the tailpiece. Like the M3, the on-off switch for the light is a rotating tailpiece that also functions as a momentary push-button switch. The distinction is that the red LED light comes on first as you begin to turn the tailpiece clockwise. Turn it a bit further, and you can use the push-button to turn on the main lamp. Turning it fully clockwise turns off the red LED light and turns the main lamp full on.

I like this red LED feature a lot. It’s handy to have both a high-power spotlight and a red lamp for reading charts without ruining night vision all in the same compact package. The red LED light is plenty adequate for following a trail through the dark woods at night or for chart work or other tasks in the cockpit such as searching through a dry bag for a snack, and the current draw in this mode is so low that it will burn up to 60 hours in continuous operation. The Pila GL3 will also operate on two included lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that can be recharged in just three hours. (These batteries weren’t available during my testing.) This is a nice alternative to the 123A batteries if you’re just using the light for short trips or the occasional night paddle.

The white Xenon lamp in the GL3 has an output of 130 lumens, comparable to the lower-powered lamp provided with the SureFire M3. The GL3 will run for a continuous 50 minutes on three 123A batteries using this lamp. In a run-time and output test, I found the M3 (with the 125-lumen lamp) and the GL3 to be about equal.

The Pila GL3, being a bit shorter and slimmer, is somewhat easier to stow in a pocket than the SureFire M3, yet still produces comparable output. The red LED is a nice addition, and although it is not as nicely machined as the M3, at about $85, the price is a lot easier on the expedition budget. The model I tested has now apparently been changed, with a redesigned case and a 200-lumen Xenon lamp. The upgraded model is available with a variety of LED tailpiece and switch options.

Pila GL3-Xenon
Permalight (Asia) Co., Ltd.

Two-Cell 123A Flashlights
I also tested two smaller lithium-powered flashlights that are in a different class from the three-cell lights. The SureFire G2 Nitrolon and the Brinkmann Maxfire LX both operate on just two 123A cells, using Xenon bulbs like the more powerful lights. While not as useful as a spotlight for examining a distant shore, the two-cell units are plenty adequate to meet the safety requirements of a bright light to signal other vessels, providing more output than a four D-cell flashlight in a package small enough to easily fit in a PFD pocket or chart case. Both of these lights remained dry in the same immersion test I used for the larger lights.

The SureFire G2 sells for $36 and has a 65-lumen lamp that runs for 60 minutes. There’s an optional 120-lumen lamp available that provides 20 minutes of run-time. The tough polymer case is 4.9 inches long, and the switch works the same as the M3, with a rotating tailpiece that also features push-button momentary on.
The Brinkmann Maxfire LX comes in a rubberized polymer case 5.5 inches long. The output power of the Xenon bulb is not given in the information packaged with the Maxfire, but in my tests, it seemed equal in every way to the SureFire G2, including run-time. One key difference is the lack of the rotating tailpiece switch found on all the other lights tested.

The Maxfire uses a simple push-button switch in the tailpiece, working as a momentary on switch when lightly depressed and full on after pushing hard enough to click. I like this switch better than the rotating ones because it’s easy to activate with one hand from any position. This high-powered flashlight is also a bargain compared to the others tested, available at discount department stores for about $16 to $20. It comes with two Sanyo 123A batteries in the package.

SureFire G2 Nitrolon Xenon Tactical Flashlight
800-828-8809 or 714-545-9444

Brinkmann Maxfire LX Lithium Xenon Flashlight
800-527-0717 or 972-716-4262

Small but Mighty

Having tested this new breed of compact, high-power flashlights, I can’t imagine being without one in the future—not only for sea kayaking, but as a great emergency light to carry in a vehicle or to use while sailing, hiking or any other outdoor activity. All the lights tested are better than anything I’ve used in the past. I’ll definitely pick up a Maxfire or G2 for all-around general use and probably one of the powerful three-cell units like the M3 Combat light for nighttime navigation. It’s also worth noting that if you don’t mind spending even more money and carrying a slightly bigger flashlight, SureFire and other companies offer tactical lights that use four and even six 123A cells, claimed to be powerful enough to function as handheld searchlights.


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