Jun 182013
In just over ten years since it was formed, the Homeland Security Department has grown to employ 240,000+ people, including FEMA.  This massive army of people are surely all there to help us, right?

In just over ten years since it was formed, the Homeland Security Department has grown to employ 240,000+ people, including FEMA. This massive army of people are surely all there to help us, right?

This is the second part of a three-part article series on how everything we’ve saved and stored could be – lawfully – taken from us in an emergency.

If you arrived on this page from a search engine or website link, you might wish to first read the first part of the article, which talks about how our society has evolved to the point where the majority already feel no shame in taking property from people who have it and appropriating it for themselves.

Perhaps because preppers tend to be fair-minded people, they find this concept hard to accept.  Please read through the first part, and force yourself to realize just how possible this is.

These Future Scenarios Are Real, Not Hypothetical

Now for the really vital part of this two-part article series.  In the first part, we’ve been talking about hypothetical future scenarios, and like all such things, maybe we are right, and maybe we are wrong – you need to selectively pick and choose what you feel to be most likely and to base your own plans accordingly.

But what would you think and what will you do, if/when you learn that there are already laws on the books to empower the ‘authorities’ (ie everyone else) to take our carefully stockpiled food and other supplies from us?

There are indeed federal laws/regulations/orders on the books to cover exactly this type of scenario.  There may be other federal level plans as well.  In addition, there are probably state level provisions you need to be aware of as well.  Let’s start with a look at state level issues, then move on to the federal level.

This is Real, and Documented, Not Just Scare Stories to Sell You Something

We often come across sales pitches trying to sell us something that have a detailed presentation including a lot of assertions about a lot of things, but their assertions are light on the facts and heavy on the fiction.  So we’ve learned to discount and ignore much of such stuff when we encounter it.

But we’re not trying to sell you anything.  And we will give you links to everything we tell you about in this article.  See for yourself, confirm for yourself, and be prepared to be astonished and dismayed at what you find out.

State Level Emergency Provisions

You need to know what emergency powers the governor of your state has.  You might be astonished at how extensive they could be, and some of the ‘better’ states actually have some of the most unrestricted powers available for their governors – the ‘frontier days’ thinking of those states’ constitutions still flows through, and such laws have not been rewritten for a more cautious and legally constrained present day scenario.

If a governor declares an emergency – either in part of the state or all the state – he can then do all sorts of things.  You probably know about ‘martial law’ – a vague concept that means different things in different cases, but which essentially means that many of your constitutional rights are suspended during the period of martial law.  Most governors have their power to declare martial law validated by the state constitution.

Here is a useful discussion about martial law, including examples of its misuse and abuse – sometimes resulting in judicial action overturning the martial law, but not always.

Some states might have no specific provisions for declaring martial law as such, but they may have provisions for other types of emergency declarations such as a ‘Public Health Emergency’ or a generic ‘State of Emergency’.  The same can be announced at a national level by the President as well.

Governors can sometimes do things such as call people up into the state militia, at which point, you become subject of course to military command and control.  Maybe the first requirement after being drafted into the state militia will be to assemble at some make-do barracks, requiring you to leave your retreat.  What do you do – comply, or be charged with ‘desertion’?

And, guess what the next order might be?  To go around your neighborhood, requisitioning any food and other supplies you can find!

National/Federal Emergency Provisions

Did you know that we are currently in a state of emergency – indeed, for most of the time since 1950, our country has been in a state of emergency.

See this discussion for an eye-opening explanation of our current state of emergency, including the disclosure that in the 1970s, Congress discovered – to its surprise – that the county was in a state of emergency dating back to the Korean War, initiated in 1950, which people had generally forgotten about and never repealed!  Congressional oversight?  Alas, not at all!

And as for the courts applying good sense to this farcical situation, apparently not – courts have upheld sentences that were made more severe due to the existence of a state of emergency, even though there truly was no emergency present.

You probably know that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids US troops from performing law enforcement action on US soil.  So how then to reconcile events such as troops being deployed to the LA riots in 1992?  Well, it seems that there are exceptions to everything, which is a chilling thought – heaven forbid that you too should become an ‘exception’ to the normal application of justice and jurisprudence.

More seriously, as covered in this helpful discussion, there is a possibility that the Posse Comitatus Act was quietly repealed and overturned by a provision of the 2012 National Defense Authorisation Act (section 1021).  Here’s a discussion of it here.

But if the innocuous and limited seeming provision in the 2012 Act overturns the Posse Comitatus Act, it is because much of it has already been overturned.  Prior to the 2012 Act, in the 2007 Authorization Act, section 1076 massively emasculated the Posse Comitatus Act :

The President may employ the armed forces… to… restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition… the President determines that… domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order… or [to] suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy if such… a condition… so hinders the execution of the laws… that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law… or opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.

We can translate that lengthy statement for you.  What it means – truly – is that the President can order the military to do pretty much anything to anyone, at any time, for any reason.

Specifically, he can order the military to ‘restore public order’ – and you might wonder what ‘public order’ is.  Truly, that’s a broad term capable of many meanings, and so too is the verb before the noun – ‘restore’.  What types of things can he order the military to do to restore the public order?  There’s no limit specified, so presumably whatever he (and he alone with no need to get approval from Congress) feels to be prudent, necessary, and appropriate.

A partial clue is gathered by looking at the examples of types of things that may cause the President to invoke these powers.  An insurrection or conspiracy (a conspiracy of course can be just talking about something, even though the ‘conspirators’ don’t actually do anything) that deprives any part or class of people (which means anyone) of a right/privilege/immunity/protection – wow, with the expanded view of what a person’s ‘rights’ are these days, to say nothing of their privileges, that covers just about anything.  If that’s not enough, it goes on to add ‘or opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the US’ which means that anyone talking about (conspiring) or actually opposing any law can be responded to by the President calling out the Army (and the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard too!).

There may be valid bona fide reasons why such powers are required, but do you really feel comfortable seeing how the entire rule of law and due process and habeas corpus and constitutional rights and protections can be annulled, by one person, at any time, for any reason?  Haven’t we just allowed our President to become our Dictator?  (Your instinct is to say ‘No, of course not’ and maybe to vaguely talk about ‘checks and balances’, but force yourself to think about this.  What checks and balances, what controls and restrictions, are placed on the ability of the President to invoke these powers, to use these powers, and to abuse these powers?)

There’s more.

Hoarding of Just About Anything Can Be Banned

There was an interesting Executive Order signed by President Obama in March 2012.  There’s a lot of legal stuff in it, and only when you get towards the end, do you suddenly realize ‘OMG!  What is this I’m reading?’.

Look at section 801 of the order, defining the things covered.

Sec. 801.  Definitions.  In addition to the definitions in section 702 of the Act, 50 U.S.C. App. 2152, the following definitions apply throughout this order:

(a)  “Civil transportation” includes movement of persons and property by all modes of transportation in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce within the United States, its territories and possessions, and the District of Columbia, and related public storage and warehousing, ports, services, equipment and facilities, such as transportation carrier shop and repair facilities.  “Civil transportation” also shall include direction, control, and coordination of civil transportation capacity regardless of ownership.  “Civil transportation” shall not include transportation owned or controlled by the Department of Defense, use of petroleum and gas pipelines, and coal slurry pipelines used only to supply energy production facilities directly.

(b)  “Energy” means all forms of energy including petroleum, gas (both natural and manufactured), electricity, solid fuels (including all forms of coal, coke, coal chemicals, coal liquification, and coal gasification), solar, wind, other types of renewable energy, atomic energy, and the production, conservation, use, control, and distribution (including pipelines) of all of these forms of energy.

(c)  “Farm equipment” means equipment, machinery, and repair parts manufactured for use on farms in connection with the production or preparation for market use of food resources.

(d)  “Fertilizer” means any product or combination of products that contain one or more of the elements nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for use as a plant nutrient.

(e)  “Food resources” means all commodities and products, (simple, mixed, or compound), or complements to such commodities or products, that are capable of being ingested by either human beings or animals, irrespective of other uses to which such commodities or products may be put, at all stages of processing from the raw commodity to the products thereof in vendible form for human or animal consumption.  “Food resources” also means potable water packaged in commercially marketable containers, all starches, sugars, vegetable and animal or marine fats and oils, seed, cotton, hemp, and flax fiber, but does not mean any such material after it loses its identity as an agricultural commodity or agricultural product.

(f)  “Food resource facilities” means plants, machinery, vehicles (including on farm), and other facilities required for the production, processing, distribution, and storage (including cold storage) of food resources, and for the domestic distribution of farm equipment and fertilizer (excluding transportation thereof).

(g)  “Functions” include powers, duties, authority, responsibilities, and discretion.

(h)  “Head of each agency engaged in procurement for the national defense” means the heads of the Departments of State, Justice, the Interior, and Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the General Services Administration, and all other agencies with authority delegated under section 201 of this order.

(i)  “Health resources” means drugs, biological products, medical devices, materials, facilities, health supplies, services and equipment required to diagnose, mitigate or prevent the impairment of, improve, treat, cure, or restore the physical or mental health conditions of the population.

(j)  “National defense” means programs for military and energy production or construction, military or critical infrastructure assistance to any foreign nation, homeland security, stockpiling, space, and any directly related activity.  Such term includes emergency preparedness activities conducted pursuant to title VI of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 5195 et seq., and critical infrastructure protection and restoration.

(k)  “Offsets” means compensation practices required as a condition of purchase in either government to government or commercial sales of defense articles and/or defense services as defined by the Arms Export Control Act, 22 U.S.C. 2751 et seq., and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, 22 C.F.R. 120.1 130.17.

(l)  “Special priorities assistance” means action by resource departments to assist with expediting deliveries, placing rated orders, locating suppliers, resolving production or delivery conflicts between various rated orders, addressing problems that arise in the fulfillment of a rated order or other action authorized by a delegated agency, and determining the validity of rated orders.

(m)  “Strategic and critical materials” means materials (including energy) that (1) would be needed to supply the military, industrial, and essential civilian needs of the United States during a national emergency, and (2) are not found or produced in the United States in sufficient quantities to meet such need and are vulnerable to the termination or reduction of the availability of the material.

(n)  “Water resources” means all usable water, from all sources, within the jurisdiction of the United States, that can be managed, controlled, and allocated to meet emergency requirements, except “water resources” does not include usable water that qualifies as “food resources.”

These definitions are written in to the 1950 War and National Defense Defense (sic) Production Act, and so let’s see what the act itself has to say for itself.

Go directly to section 2072.  That’s the key part from our perspective.

§2072. Hoarding of designated scarce materials

In order to prevent hoarding, no person shall accumulate (1) in excess of the reasonable demands of business, personal, or home consumption, or (2) for the purpose of resale at prices in excess of prevailing market prices, materials which have been designated by the President as scarce materials or materials the supply of which would be threatened by such accumulation. The President shall order published in the Federal Register, and in such other manner as he may deem appropriate, every designation of materials the accumulation of which is unlawful and any withdrawal of such designation.

In making such designations the President may prescribe such conditions with respect to the accumulation of materials in excess of the reasonable demands of business, personal, or home consumption as he deems necessary to carry out the objectives of this Act [sections 2061 to 2170, 2171, and 2172 of this Appendix]. This section shall not be construed to limit the authority contained in sections 101 and 704 of this Act [sections 2071 and 2154 of this Appendix].

So the President can simply say that anything more than (for example) a week’s supply of food (and all the other things listed) is an amount ‘in excess of the reasonable demands of personal consumption’ and then order the Army to impound everything you have in excess of that amount.  End of story.

Well, no, not quite the end of the story.  Let’s just look at one more thing.

The Mysterious Nature of FEMA

You’ve probably heard the occasional scare stories of FEMA camps where people will be forcibly resettled, and speculation about the extraordinary level of ammunition purchases by the Department of Homeland Security (FEMA is one part of the huge new monster that the Homeland Security Department has become since it was formed in November 2002).

Maybe you’ve wondered what FEMA is doing with the mine-resistant armored vehicles it now has.  Or maybe you’ve simply dismissed FEMA as something that gets a lot of criticism whenever there’s a real emergency but not likely to be a relevant part of any extreme emergency in the future.

You might be right.  But you might be wrong.  One of the things that really has us puzzled is seeing job vacancy postings for low and mid level FEMA managers, with the requirement that such people be able to obtain a Top Secret security clearance.  We’d like to know – what is there that would require a FEMA administrator to have a Top Secret security clearance?

Our point is simply this.  In minor regional type emergencies, we certainly agree and appreciate that FEMA is there to help out as best it can.  But in a serious Level 2 or Level 3 disaster – a situation which totally overwhelms FEMA’s ability to solve the problem – might the role of FEMA then change into something darker and more sinister?

We don’t want to get into the deeper darker conspiracy theories of what FEMA and HSD might be and do in the future, but we would like to be reassured that these theories truly are as impossible as we hope them to be.

We have no answer to these questions.  But we wish we did, because we can readily see a future scenario where the government (which, of course, always ‘knows best’) decides the best thing to do is to centralize all food and other survival resources – all the stuff listed above in the Executive Order – and then distribute it ‘fairly’ as it sees fit.

And, in case you didn’t read the first part of this two-part article, distributing ‘fairly’ is a code phrase that means ‘we’ll take as much as we can from people who have the thing, and then give it to people who don’t have the thing’.  The people without the thing doubtless feel that is fair, but how do you feel, as someone more likely to be losing your preps, while seeing people who laughed at you for being a prepper now having your preps passed over to them?

This all ignores the illogic of the concept of redistributing food and other supplies.  You personally might have enough food and other supplies to see yourself safely through the emergency situation.  But if your supplies are taken and split twenty different ways, probably the only result will be that all of you will fail to survive, albeit with the 20 people now sharing your preps lasting a bit longer than they would have otherwise done.

How is the net result improved by having everyone die, rather than by allowing those who chose to prepare for an emergency enjoy the benefit of their preparations and survive?  At least, if you got to keep your materials, you would survive.  Nothing will allow for most non-prepared people to survive an extreme emergency, but having you too share in their misery and failure doesn’t make things any better or any fairer for anyone.


There’s a lot of content in this two-part article, and it paints a terrifyingly dark possible future, where we run the risk of losing everything we’ve been going to such lengths to amass.  If you’ve not already done so, we recommend you now read the first part.

If you don’t think such a thing would ever happen in the US, please read through the linked articles – articles that expose past abuses of power and of compulsory taking in our nation’s past.  Alas, rather than making such past actions less likely in the future, the social evolution of the last 50 years seems to empower and make more likely future actions of ignoring our constitutional rights.

The laws and authorizing powers are already on the books.  All it takes is a single proclamation by the President – not even an Act of Congress – and the end of the rule of law as we know and cherish it could occur.

A prudent prepper will consider these concerns very seriously, and will be careful about what they store, and where and how they store it, and – most of all – be very selective about who knows what they have.

Please see other articles in our Legal category for more thoughts and ideas on these issues.

Please Read on to Part Three

Please continue this article series in part three, which introduces you to the totally un-American and terrifying concept of ‘civil forfeiture’.

Mar 152013
The famous 'Wolf Map' purportedly shows the location of treasure buried by Jesse James.  You'll need location data for your buried cache, too.

The famous ‘Wolf Map’ purportedly shows the location of treasure buried by Jesse James. You’ll need location data for your buried cache, too.

Note this is the first part of a two-part article on how to record and locate a buried cache.  Please also visit the second part to complete your reading of this article.

There are many reasons to bury some of your prepper supplies, and to do so at a hidden location.

The main reason is usually not because you have something illegal you want to hide.  The main reason is more likely to be because you want to protect your supplies from an uncertain future, and most of all, from people seeking to steal your supplies from you – either by theft/burglary while you’re away from your store, or by violence/force while you are present.

A buried cache is probably the most resilient form of storage there is.  It is (relatively) safe from man-made threats and also from natural threats such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and fire.  It is a constant temperature cool environment.  Obviously flooding is a threat, but equally obviously you shouldn’t have your retreat location in a flood plain to start with, and as long as your cache is waterproofed (which it should be, no matter if there’s a flooding risk or not) then some surface water above it for a while shouldn’t be a problem anyway.

The process of preparing items for burial, what to bury them in, and so on are all subjects for other articles at other times; our focus today is on a very important aspect of the complete process – being able to find them again.

Depending on where you locate it, finding your hidden buried cache may not be as easy as you hope and assume it is, and so you should carefully consider where to bury your cache, and what to use to help you locate it again.

On the other hand, if you make your cache location too obvious, then you run the risk of having other people find it, too.  It is entirely possible that if people think you may have a cache, then in the future they might go looking for it with the aid of a metal detector.  But while they’ll look for it close to your retreat and close to other objects, they’ll probably not painstakingly search through every square foot of all the acres you own, so it behooves you to avoid some of the easiest cache locations, because they are probably also the most obvious.

The few minutes it takes you to read this two-part article now, and the extra time it takes you to apply the ideas and concepts we explain, may be time extremely well spent.

The main things to consider are your choice of reference points, how you describe your cache location with relation to your reference points, and how many reference points you specify.

Using Multiple Reference Points/Bearings

We urge you to use multiple points of reference that you work from to calculate your cache location, either in terms of distances and/or angles/bearings, for three reasons.

First, the tools you use to identify your cache may not be available to you at an unknown uncertain future time.  For example, if your references are all compass bearings, maybe you don’t have a compass with you when you need to dig up your cache.  If your references are all distances from known points, maybe you don’t have a measuring tape with you.  And so on.

Second, some of the reference points you are using to locate your cache may disappear or change.  It is highly possible that fence posts might fall over, trees might be cut down, and so on.  Or maybe a reference point simply gets obscured by something else being built (or naturally growing) in front of it.  It you can’t see your reference point, then that becomes essentially the same as it no longer being there if you are using visual bearings.  If you are using distances, if something is built in front of your reference point, it becomes much harder to calculate the straight line distance when your measuring now has to do a loop around the obstacle.

Third, the more bearings or measurements you have, the more accurate your location fix becomes.  Maybe the first set of two bearings ends up giving you an oval area perhaps plus or minus ten feet on one axis and five feet on the other axis – that gives you 160 sq ft of space within which you’ll hopefully find your cache, and depending on what you’re using as a reference point, this is close to a best case scenario.

If you add another bearing, maybe that gives you a 4′ radius circle instead, – about 50 sq ft of space in which to find your cache.  That’s a huge improvement.

A fourth and subsequent bearing (or measurement) won’t necessarily reduce that area much – perhaps it might make it a 3′ radius circle (ie about 30 sq ft), but it gives you backups in case of problems with some of the other reference points.

The Closer Your Reference Points, the Better

Your reference points will give you a much more accurate ‘fix’ on your cache location if they are close to it.  For example, if one reference point is ‘The cache is six feet west of this fencepost’ then how hard is it to miss the cache?  You know you can measure six feet to within a few inches, and even if your measurement of what is west is off by an enormous 30 degrees, that only shifts your measurement by 3½ feet.

On the other hand, if you are measuring from the barn in the distance – let’s say it is 500 yards away – then if you have a 1% error in your distance measurement, that adds 15 ft of error.  In addition to the distance measurement, your bearing might be off too.  Lets be kind and say that you are not off by a huge 30°, but by only a tiny 3°, but that adds 78 ft of uncertainty. giving you now a zone 15′ long and 78′ wide – a huge 1170 sq ft within which your cache might be located.

As for a bearing to the mountain peak 10 miles away, even if you were to measure the bearing to it to an extraordinary 1° of accuracy, that still gives you 950 ft of uncertainty, which is close to useless.

Far away bearings can be okay to help you locate the general area, such as which field out of a dozen fields your cache is within, but you need your ‘real’ reference points to the cache to be as close as is possible in order to secure the most accurate fix on your cache.

Choosing Your Reference Points

Of course, you need to describe your cache location in terms of where it is related to a number of reference points around it.

The first thing to appreciate is that you want to have multiple reference points (see above) and they should be spread more or less around on all sides of the cache location if at all possible.

Ideally if you have only two reference points (which is not ideal) they should be at right angles to each other, when viewed from the cache.

If you have more than two, try to get some on the opposite side of the cache to the others.

Your reference points should be things you can readily find at any time of year, and ideally that you can see from your cache.

Your reference points should be as permanent as possible, and least likely to change or become unclear or obscured in the future.

Some things are vulnerable to changing over time.  For example ‘the highest tree, which is near the middle of that row of trees to the south’ – what happens if one of the trees next to it grows higher?  Or if the highest tree dies and falls down?

Even buildings are impermanent.  They may get pulled down, or they might get altered (so, eg, a reference point like a high point on the roof line or a corner of the building changes), or other buildings might be added in front, obscuring the reference building and making distance measurements now difficult.

If there are nearby official survey pegs and/or memorial markers, these are excellent objects to work from.  They probably look inconspicuous (make sure you can be sure of always finding them!) and are normal things to find on any property.

If you are in an area with utilities, then things like fire hydrants, power pylons or lampposts, manholes, and utility boxes can also provide semi-stable reference points.

There’s no reason why you can’t create your own markers to make things very much simpler.  Maybe you build a pig sty or a cattle water trough close to your cache and use that as a marker.  Maybe you run a fence line or dig a ditch or make some other sort of appropriate landscaping change.  Maybe you have a compost bin or a trash incinerator.

Angles, Bearings, and Distances

There are many different trigonometric techniques you can use to locate your cache with reference to external markers.  Essentially, they fall into three groupings – angles relative from something to your cache, bearings from a compass, or distances from a point.

While there are reasons to like bearings (ie as taken by a magnetic compass) we prefer using angles with respect to other objects if possible.  The reason for this is due to the earth’s magnetic north moving.  In the American redoubt area, every six or so years, magnetic north has shifted, with respect to true north, by a degree (note that this rate of change may speed up or slow down in the future and possibly even reverse).  There are also some people who theorize that the earth’s magnetic field may be due to flip over entirely in the foreseeable future; and if such an act were to occur, not only would you for sure be forced to your retreat and need to access your cached supplies, but magnetic bearings would become totally invalidated.

On the other hand, being able to say ‘follow a line that goes 25 degrees to the north of the heading from here to that other place’ is a relatively fixed reference that does not rely on a slightly unreliable magnetic north.

Of the three techniques, the best to use are measured distances.  These are much more exact than angles and bearings.  When specifying a distance, you generally give the magnetic bearing the distance should be measured from the reference point to the cache, this does not need to be quite so exact.

If you inscribe a partial arc on the ground at the measured distance from the reference point, with the arc swinging around even 30 degrees relative to the approximate line of travel, this is fine because your second measurement from another point will then intersect with the arc at only one or two points.  Add a third measurement and arc, and you now are starting to create a ‘hot zone’, and more or less in the middle of that hot zone is where your cache should be.

You can also use a concept of ‘run a line between this object and that object.  The cache is located at a point x feet from the first object on that line.’  Or, ‘run a line between this object and that object.  At a point x feet from the first object, now measure another y feet at an angle of z degrees from the line to reach the cache’.

There’s another form of reference you can use as well.  Boats will use sets of markers ashore and line them up, one behind the other, to allow them to know exactly where they are at sea.  You can use the same sort of technique – if it is possible to take advantage of, or to create, two objects that are lined up so they are (inconspicuously!) pointing to your cache, that is an obvious easy visual aid as well.

Read On for Part Two

Note this is the first part of a two-part article on how to record and locate a buried cache.  Please also visit the second part to complete your reading of this article.

Mar 152013
Some type of a diagram of how to find your cache from reference points will help you make sense of your notes.

Some type of diagram showing how to find your cache from reference points will help you make sense of your notes.

Note this is the second part of a two-part article on how to record and locate a buried cache.  Please also visit the first part to complete your reading of this article.

Recording Your Reference Points

In general, there is less possibility of mistake if you express each marker both in terms of how it is calculated from the marker to the cache, and from the cache to the marker.

To start with, when you have no idea where your cache is located, you’ll want to first go to known markers and use the information expressed in terms of how to find the cache from the marker.  After using one or two of these, you’ll end up with a likely location for your cache, and you can then fine tune the calculation from the cache using the directions from the cache.

Depending on the time of instructions, it is usually easy to express them in either direction.  A distance remains the same, no matter which end you’re measuring from, of course.  A bearing from a marker to your cache becomes the bearing from your cache to the marker by simply adding (or subtracting, whichever is easier for you) 180 degrees.  For example, a 50 degree angle from the marker to the cache becomes a 230 degree angle from the cache to the marker.

Some things won’t be so readily measured both ways.  If you’re using a relatively distant point (a bad thing to do, as discussed above) then you probably will only use the direction from the cache to the distant marker, so as to cut down on the travel.

There’s another aid to assist you in locating your cache as well.  You can take photos – both of the cache site from nearby points, and of the views you see from the cache site.

If you take pictures, don’t just leave them on a memory card.  Print them out.  That way you are protected in case your memory card fails, or the system you’d use to read the pictures off the card fails.

It is very helpful if you can also make up a diagram showing the angles, bearings, distances, reference points, and everything and how all the different parts line up and result in locating your cache.

How Do You Orient Your Cache to your Ground Zero Point?

You also need to plot how your cache lies in the ground so you know the overlap between where your cache actually is, beneath you, and the invisible ‘X marks the spot’ point above it that your calculations are hopefully directing you to.

If the first trial dig down to where you think the cache might be doesn’t locate it, are you best to now widen your hole to the north, south, east or west of that first point?

Our slight preference is to use more or less the center of the cache location as your reference point, but do whatever works best for you.

How to Measure Distances

This might seem simple, but the chances are that the distances you want to measure will be more than ten or twenty feet, so your choice of measuring tool starts to have an impact on the accuracy of your measurement.

On the other hand, if you have some flexibility in choosing your cache location, maybe it is prudent to locate it closer to a reference point, making it easier to return to in the future.

For longer distances, a laser rangefinder can be a great convenience, although it is obviously a high-tech product that you can not guarantee to be reliably available and functional in a future scenario.  We discuss laser rangefinders and other high-tech aids to locating caches in a separate article.

The best low-tech method of measuring longer distances is usually with a long measuring tape.  You should buy a couple of long measuring tapes – Amazon has a 400 ft tape and a 300 ft tape on convenient spools, for example – this link takes you to a selection of long tapes they offer.  These are much easier to use than a shorter tape that you have to keep ‘flipping over’ or ‘leapfrogging’ and reusing, and this makes them more accurate too.

You might want to consider buying two tapes.  That way, when figuring out your cache location, you can stretch both tapes out from different reference points simultaneously to see where they meet up.  Oh – don’t forget that with two reference points, there will be two points where the distances meet up, and sometimes a long way apart.  You need a third reference point and measurement, or accurate bearings to/from the two reference points, so as to know which of the two reference points is the correct one.

When you’ve measured out the distance from the reference point to where your cache should be located, be sure to pull the tape reasonably tight (not so tight as to stretch it, but tight enough to ensure the tape is in a direct line).  This will straighten the tape and give you a more exact measurement.

There are also measuring wheels available, but we don’t like these quite as much as tapes.  There are two possible errors introduced with a wheel that are not as prominent with a tape.

The first is that on uneven ground, the wheel may not read quite as accurately as on even ground.  This error can be minimized by using a larger diameter wheel – use a 12″ instead of a 4″ wheel, for example.

The other problem is that you need to move the wheel in a direct and straight line from the reference point to the measured distance.  If you weave about a bit rather than proceeding directly straight, then this will introduce some error, too.

These errors can be quite small, however, and you could also help minimize the error by measuring each distance twice and averaging the results.  Indeed, if the difference in measurement was significant, measure three or four times.

Identifying Cache Locations in a Forest

Much of our discussion to date has assumed that everything is in nice easy unobstructed straight lines from each other, such as in an open field.  But maybe you are instead hiding a cache somewhere in a forest.  All you can see around the cache are trees, and they all sort of look the same.

That is very much more difficult a scenario to work from, and is made harder by the fact that most forests have trees falling down from time to time such as to distort your perceptions of locations, tree counts, and so on.

There are various ways you can ‘signpost’ your way through a forest.  If there’s a clearly established trail, then that should be your reference point, and we’d probably then choose to use a wheel type distance measuring device.

We would segment the trail into lengths, each of which had a clearly recognizable tree or stump or other feature at the start/end of it.  The directions might be something like this

  • Proceed about 150 ft until finding two large trees on the right and no trees for at least 10 ft on the left of the trail.
  • From the further away of the two trees, now proceed another about 200 ft until you come to a fallen over tree parallel to the trail on the left.
  • From the base of the fallen over tree, proceed another about 180 ft until coming to a point where two trees on the right line up, one in front of the other, at a 30 degree angle.
  • At this point, head off the trail on a 75 degree angle until …..

Sure, you could simply say ‘Go 530 ft along the trail until reaching two trees lined up at a 30 degree angle’ but by splitting the path into segments, you give yourself recalibration points, and furthermore, if one of the points disappears, you still have other points to guide you.  Maybe the fallen over tree has been cut up and hauled away for firewood.  If you can’t find it, you instead know to proceed 380 ft from the two large trees on the right.

In addition, we don’t much like following trails, because other people follow trails too.  Trails are also not fixed.  They can disappear if they are not regularly used, or one lightly used trail can be superseded by a slight change in usage – a downed tree further along the trail might redirect people a new way, and so your trail now follows a different path.  In winter, snow can obscure the traces of any trails.

Probably the key consideration here is that if you’re going to hide a cache in a forest, it is best to hide it not too far into the forest, or, if further in to the forest, not too far from an obvious impossible to miss reference point.

Another technique you can use in a forest is to consider marking your trail by way of subtle signs on trees.  What is the most subtle sort of marking?  Hammer a nail or two into the tree at a specific height (say 3′ or so above the ground) and perhaps on the north side of the tree.

The nail will quickly disappear into the tree bark, but if you then go searching it out with a hand-held metal detector, it should be easy to spot if you know to focus on the north side of trees about 3′ from the ground.  Then plot a chart showing the ‘chain’ of marked trees, with bearings/distances from each to the next, and follow the ‘hidden’ trail you’ve created.

Hiding Your Instructions

Do we need to point out that you don’t want to print out your cache location data in large bold type and stick it with a magnet to your fridge door?

The first thing you want to do is keep all knowledge of you having a cache as tightly restricted as possible.  If people don’t think you have a cache, they’re less likely to search for either the cache itself or for directions to it, and they’re less likely to recognize your directions, if they should stumble across them, as being related to finding your cache.

You do need to have your instructions written down.  You can’t trust electronic devices to remain operable in the future, so you need a good old-fashioned written in ink on paper set of instructions.  We’d also recommend having multiple copies of the instructions, so if one copy gets lost or damaged, you still have others you can use.

You can secure your instructions several different ways.  You should adopt several of these strategies.  But make sure that whatever you do and however you do it, you are then sure to remember the details, so in the future you know where to find your directions and how to decode them.

  • Hide them somewhere really secure and secret and safe.
  • Write them in invisible ink so people see a ‘normal’ piece of paper somewhere in a normal (not hidden) place and think nothing of it.
  • Alter the instructions – perhaps add 5 to everything.  A 15 yard distance becomes 20 yards.  A 35 ft distance becomes 40 ft.  A 35 degree bearing becomes 40 degrees.  The 2nd tree on the left becomes the 7th tree on the left.  If there are some numbers you can’t change because they’d then look ridiculous, use a special code marker to indicate that it is a real number rather than a changed number.  Perhaps spell the number rather than write it in numerals, or have a word like ‘about’ as an indicator that the number following has not been altered.
  • Transpose digits.  Swap the ones and tens digits on any numbers.  If the number is 13, it becomes 31.  If the number is 2076, it becomes 2067.  And if you have single digit numbers, think of them as, eg, 03, so swapping that becomes 30.
  • Make notes on pages of a book on your bookshelf, with perhaps only the notes on pages where the page number is divisible by three being valid notes.  Hopefully people won’t go thumbing through the book to start with, and if they do, they won’t know what is what.
  • Split the instructions up and keep half somewhere and the other half somewhere else.
  • Hide them ‘in plain sight’ in a pile of other junk and papers.
  • Write them in code so they appear meaningless.  For example, use A, B, C, D instead of NSWE, use F for feet, I for inches, and Y for yards.  Maybe E for degrees, and X for ‘looking from the cache to the marker’ and Y for ‘looking from the marker to the cache’.  So you could encode the instruction ‘the cache can be found by following a line at an angle of 15 degrees for 50 ft from the gatepost as 15E50FYgatepost.  If this was all in a notebook with lots of other semi-random jottings and notes, they’d not stand out as directions to a cache.
  • If you have photos identifying your cache, or from your cache, maybe have a family member posing at the cache point (if a photo to the cache) or in the foreground (if a photo from the cache) so as to make the photo seem like a typical family photo rather than a cache location photo.
  • A bothersome but ultra-secure strategy is to have your directions leading to a ‘sacrificial’ cache, and your main cache being a secret distance and direction from your sacrificial cache.  This can help you two ways.  If someone finds the cache map, then when they find your cache they’ll stop looking for more caches.  Secondly, if you find yourself forced to reveal your cache, you can show them the map to your sacrificial cache and not need to disclose the second more substantial cache.  Make sure the main cache is far enough from the sacrificial cache so as not to be accidentally found when people are searching for the sacrificial cache!

If possible, have the instructions typed/printed out rather than handwritten.  If someone finds them and demands that you interpret them and lead them to the cache, you can say ‘Joe did that, and he isn’t here, so I’ll try to help you, but only Joe knows exactly what he means’.

That way, when the instructions don’t work, they’re not going to pressure you to tell the truth, because you’ve already said that the instructions are Joe’s, and relate to his cache.  You don’t know what is in the cache, where it is, or how to read/decode Joe’s instructions – clearly Joe didn’t trust you or anyone else with that information.  They are not in your handwriting, so it is hard to be contradicted on that point.

Note this is the second part of a two-part article on how to record and locate a buried cache.  Please also visit the first part to complete your reading of this article.

Mar 102013
This laser rangefinder can instantly display distances out to almost one mile, and also provides ballistic data for the long distance precision shooter.

This laser rangefinder can instantly display distances out to almost one mile, and also provides ballistic data for the long distance precision shooter.

We’ll be writing about the ‘old fashioned’ way of locating your secretly buried cache shortly, but wanted to also write, separately, about using high-tech tools when first establishing where a buried cache is, and then subsequently locating it again later.

There are three high-tech tools that some people might consider useful for locating their cache.  The first of these is a GPS unit, the second a laser range finder, and the third a metal detector.

All three devices have pluses and minuses, and in particular, we do not recommend GPS units.

The problem with such tools is simultaneously also their strength – they are high-tech gadgets.  They rely on batteries, and if they fail, you’ll almost certainly not be able to repair them.  If an EMP event occurs, they may be destroyed by the EMP effects.

We’re not saying you should totally ignore these three devices, and if they are in a suitable situation where they can work well, they’ll massively simplify your task.  But we are saying you should supplement them with lower tech calculations as well.

GPS Units

GPS units can be accurate, but usually not quite as accurate as you might think.  The accuracy which some GPS units show is not the complete calculation, it is the theoretical best case accuracy and fails to allow for some of the other fudge factors that affect GPS accuracy.  As a rule of thumb, double the imprecision it shows.

So if the device is telling you it is showing your location to within 12 feet, it is probably accurate to within 24 ft.

The most accurate units have a WAAS capability too – these are ground stations at fixed locations that provide additional reference location information in addition to the satellites in the sky above.  If your GPS is WAAS enabled, it will give very much more accurate information – sometimes locating you to within a yard or so of your actual location.

An earlier type of GPS improvement, known as DGPS, has largely been superseded by WAAS.

There is a further type of GPS improvement, probably used by your cell phone, which combines GPS information with location information from cell phone towers and possibly even known Wi-Fi locations too.  This information is primarily used to more quickly get a ‘first fix’ for where you are, but may also assist in improving accuracy too.  This is known as Assisted GPS, or A-GPS or aGPS.  Due to the reliance on many additional layers of data sources, and the expectation that you’ll be in a less dense area with fewer of these additional data sources, we expect that aGPS would be the first service to fail WTSHTF.

There are also special GPS receivers such as some surveyors use, which use additional signal processing techniques to create a more accurate position, potentially enhancing accuracy to as close as 3″ or so.  These are very expensive, of course.

The accuracy of a GPS is a ‘double whammy’ because presumably you are first making a note of your cache’s location by using the GPS receiver, and then subsequently looking for it with a GPS receiver, too.  So perhaps your initial location was 24 ft in error, with the real location being 24 ft north of you.  Then when you are attempting to return to the spot, the location error is now 24 feet in the opposite direction, so when you think you’re exactly at the location, you’re actually 48 ft away.  Even more misleading, the GPS might be showing a 12 ft accuracy in both cases, but you’ve ended up with the cache some 50 ft away.

Digging up a circle with a 50 ft radius involves 7850 sq ft of digging.  That’s a lot.

You can help improve the GPS’s accuracy by taking multiple readings, each reading an hour or two apart from the preceding one, over several days, and averaging the results.  This would give you readings from different alignments of different satellites, with different propagation delays, and would give you a more accurate average location.

This is helpful when recording the cache location in the first place, but you probably don’t have several days of spare time to leisurely plot an average position when the time comes to dig it up again.

There’s another reason to avoid relying on GPS units.  It is far from impossible that in a post-WTSHTF scenario, the constellation of GPS satellites may have been degraded or even completely destroyed.  In other words, GPS might no longer be available at all.

Even if sufficient of the GPS satellites and their signals remain, we’ll guess that the ground station corrections that are continually being fed into the satellites to update exactly their orbits and locations will cease, meaning that the accuracy of the GPS service will steadily degrade.  This degraded accuracy will not be apparent on your unit, but it will be happening; maybe only a few inches every day, but in a month, that could be another 10 ft of inaccuracy on top of all the other ever-present inaccuracies.  In three months, it might be 30 ft, and so you’re starting to reach the point where the GPS is becoming unhelpful rather than helpful.

GPS receivers also require a reasonably unobstructed view of as much of the sky as possible.  Dense foliage and tall trees will reduce their ability to accurately receive signals from as many satellites, which will degrade the accuracy of their position calculations.  A nearby hill would also block some of the satellites.

By all means take an averaged GPS fix as one of your multiple ways of recording your cache location, but consider it merely a tool to get close to where the cache is and then use other methods to exactly find it.

Laser Rangefinders

Laser rangefinders are one of three different types of range finders available – the other two being optical and ultra-sonic.  It is perhaps helpful to quickly consider these other two forms of range finder before concentrating on laser rangefinders.

Optical rangefinders can be useful, and are gloriously low-tech.  But to give any type of useful accuracy, they need their two viewing windows to be far apart, making them bulky, heavy and also very hard to find – they are not being made any more (as far as we are aware).

The way they work is such that the greater the distance they are measuring, the greater the error in their measurement.  The percentage error increases as distance increases, making the actual number of yards plus or minus become impractically large for the purposes of pinpointing a cache.  Furthermore, the units need to be regularly calibrated and all in all, a reasonable amount of skill is required to get best use from an optical rangefinder.

To given an actual example of optical rangefinder accuracy, here is the accuracy data that applies to a Wild TM-2 range-finder with a 31.5″ base (80 cm).  It’s best case accuracies are :

Accurate to within   0.05 m at 100 m (a wonderful accuracy indeed)
Accurate to within   0.5 m at 300 m (still workable)
Accurate to within   1.3 m at 500 m (starting to get a bit much)
Accurate to within   5.4m at 1000m (no longer very useful)
Accurate to within  21.5m at 2000m
Accurate to within  48.4m at 3000m
Accurate to within  86.0m at 4000m
Accurate to within 134.2m at 5000m
Accurate to within 193.6m at 6000m

This last figure has now become equivalent to a 3.2% error and of course useless for cache finding purposes.

Sometimes you might find an old ex-military range finder for sale; if you do and its price is low enough, it might be a fun thing to add to the pile of stuff you buy in the hope that one day it might come in useful for something, even if you’re not exactly sure what that use might end up as being!

Ultrasonic rangefinders are okay for indoor short distances, and typically max out at about 60 ft.  They are not so useful outdoors.

Laser rangefinders are the best solution for outdoors, and unlike optical rangefinders, their accuracy can/should stay the same, in terms of the plus or minus number of feet or yards, which means their percentage accuracy is actually improving, as the distance increases.

They are decidedly more accurate than any other type of rangefinder and also superior to most ‘normal’ GPS units, and unlike the GPS receivers, don’t rely on the reliable ongoing availability of a radio signal from somewhere/someone else.  They’ll calculate a distance, sometimes out as far as 1000 yds, between where you have the unit and a far away object that will reflect and return the laser signal from the unit.  The better the reflecting surface, the longer the range the unit is capable of, including sometimes greatly in excess of the unit’s maximum claimed range.

Military type units have even longer ranges, sometimes extending out beyond 10 miles (the distance to the horizon is only about 3 miles, so this is about as long a range as you’d ever be likely to need for most purposes not involving field artillery and other stand-off weapons delivery systems. Smile

Civilian units, usually sold for hunting or golf purposes, typically have an accuracy of within one yard; some of the new units are now getting reliably accurate to half a yard (18 “).  Sometimes the accuracy gets less exact as the range increases, although in theory that shouldn’t really be the case for most normal distances.

A laser rangefinder is certainly a very fast and easy way of taking multiple measurements for distances from objects, as long as the objects are suitably reflective.  If you’re in the middle of a field and can take measurements off fence posts on four sides, for example (perhaps with metal strips on them) you’ll quickly establish a very small zone beneath which your cache lies.

This obliquely indicates a requirement for a rangefinder to be useful.  There will need to be relevant landmark objects that you can measure distances to/from in several different directions, so as to establish the location of your cache.  If you are in an open field with nothing visible for a long way in any direction – or, for that matter, in a forest surrounded by identical trees – then any type of rangefinder would not be as useful.

On the other hand, do keep in mind that their accuracy is probably only within one yard, whereas measuring tapes, over reasonably short distances (ie one full tape length, perhaps 400 ft) are going to give you an accuracy of a few inches.  If you have some sort of probe (or metal detector – see immediately below) that you can use to quickly test if your cache is underneath you, then a yard or so is perfectly fine; but if the type of covering above your cache doesn’t allow for a thin metal probe, then you probably would appreciate greater accuracy from a tape.

The problem with laser rangefinders is they require batteries and are vulnerable to EMP effects.  They can also be weather dependent – if it is raining or foggy or snowing, their range will drop and maybe they’ll cease to function at all.

By all means, use one, but make sure you have backup tapes as well.  Expect to pay appreciably over $100 and up to $1000 for a very good ‘industrial’ grade laser range finder (with longer range, greater accuracy, more features, and stronger laser pulses that will bounce back off a wider range of objects).

Some laser rangefinders come with a sophisticated set of ballistics calculations to help you with long-range rifle shooting.  This can be invaluable if you anticipate the need for long distance precision shooting and have suitable rifles that give you that capability.

Needless to say, Amazon offer a good selection of laser rangefinders.

Metal Detectors

A metal detector can help you quickly locate your cache once you know its general location.  Depending on how much metal is buried and the type of soil it is in, a good metal detector will uncover objects as much as 15 ft – 20 ft beneath the surface.

This is both good news and bad news.  The good news is that it is tremendously helpful if you can use a metal detector to find your cache without having to dig up hundreds of square feet of ground.  The bad news is that your cache is vulnerable to discovery if other people decide to go looking for it with a metal detector too.

This page has an excellent explanation of metal detector capabilities.

If you were wishing to be really secure, and if you were anticipating organized searching for your cache, you’d probably deliberately place metal objects randomly all around likely areas that searchers might go looking for your cache, and you’d probably choose objects that looked ‘innocent’ like they could have been placed there by accident.  Of course, this would also destroy your ability to use a metal detector yourself to find your cache, so you’d have to decide which was the more important to you.

Although a good metal detector can cost over $500, it is probably a helpful tool to have – and, who knows, you might find yourself using it to, in turn, detect other people’s caches, too!


Although you shouldn’t rely on them as your only ways of locating your hidden buried cache, a laser rangefinder and a metal detector can make zeroing in on your cache a quick and easy process (assuming you have specific identifiable objects within half a mile or so on several directions that you can bounce laser beams off to triangulate your position).  Both items will cost some hundreds of dollars each, so they may not be the highest priority items on your wish list, and of course, until such time as you are about to start burying caches, you have no need for them (at least in this context).

A GPS can also help, but it is less reliable and probably less accurate than using a laser rangefinder.

Mar 092013
This shows how a side cutting can opener goes in through the side of the can/lid seam, and creates a replaceable top.

This shows how a side cutting can opener goes in through the side of the can/lid seam, and creates a replaceable top.

Here’s something you may not have thought about.  It is a small issue, but like so many other small issues, it is as easy (and sometimes easier) to ‘get it right’ and to do it in a fully optimized manner as it is to do it ‘wrong’.  So you probably should do it right.  And every small extra enhancement to your overall preparedness and ability to live better in a problem situation has to be a good thing, right.

With that as an opening, let’s now talk about can openers.  It might seem like a ridiculously trivial topic, but please do keep reading.

You of course know that can openers come in all shapes and sizes, of course.  There are the nasty primitive ones that leave a jagged edge around where they have ‘sawed’ open the can lid – these are the original types of can openers, and have only one benefit – no moving parts, and a lot of negative downsides (if you’ve used such openers and never cut yourself, you’re in a very lucky minority).

In the mid 1920s, a new design of can opener appeared, and it was further improved in the early 1930s, becoming the familiar two arm, hinged in the middle, opener with a cutting wheel (or maybe, more simply and not as satisfactorily, a stationary blade) on top and a matching pressing/turning wheel below.

We call these vertical cutters.  They cut down through the top of the lid.

More recently (we think about ten years ago) a new type of cutter started to appear.  This cuts horizontally rather than vertically, into the folded over seam between the lid and can body.  They were initially hard to find and very expensive, but over the last decade, have become more common, better made, and less expensive.

Although you doubtless have a drawer full of vertical can openers, most of which work reliably and well, we recommend you set them all aside and instead buy (and use) a horizontal type opener.  These are sometimes referred to as a ‘smooth edge’ type cutter.  They are only a little more expensive than a standard vertical opener, and they have two important advantages.

The first is indeed the smooth edge.  There’s less to cut yourself on, and while that might sound like a trivial thing, remember that any type of possible infection after TEOTWAWKI can be much more serious and even life threatening than is the case at present.  So the safer final result is a plus.

Talking about infection, some people also like the fact that the smooth-edge horizontal side cutter also doesn’t have its blade come in contact with the contents of the can.  This is a very small added benefit, but – hey – any benefit of any magnitude is better than a negative factor, isn’t it!

The second advantage is that the opened can becomes reusable.  You can press fit the lid back onto the can – this won’t give you a truly air-tight or water-tight seal – it is more ‘air resistant’ and ‘water-resistant’, perhaps.  However, it will definitely keep dirt, dust, and also insects, animals and hopefully rodents out of whatever you have stored in the can.

Most of our current storage concepts seem to involve plastic containers.  Sure, they can provide excellent barriers to oxygen and moisture, but they don’t provide any protection at all against rodents in particular, who will happily chew through plastic material without any hesitation.

So being able to put the side-opened metal lid back on the emptied can is a useful feature, although you then need some way to ensure the lid isn’t dislodged.  You could possibly solder it on in a couple of places, or in any of many other ways secure it in place.  The simplest method is just to put a rubber band around the tin and lid, or better to make it two at right angles to each other.

Sure, you can buy plastic snap on lids to put on traditional top opened cans too, but they are plastic and therefore vulnerable to rodents.

You may have heard the half-joke half-truth that long after man has vanished from the earth, there will still be cockroaches thriving everywhere.  The same is true of rodents.  We expect that with the changes that will occur in a Level 2 or 3 situation, rodents will necessarily become more aggressive at searching out food, just the same as people will, and anything/everything you do in terms of how you’ll store supplies needs to be done with an eye to keeping them as rodent proof as possible.

That’s not to say that rats can’t eat through metal cans, because they can and sometimes do.  But the can is at least a partial barrier and added layer of protection.  We would recommend packing foodstuffs in sealed barrier bags first, and then placing the bagged foods into washed and cleaned cans.  Keep the smell of food away from the packaging so as not to attract rodents.

This page on Amazon lists side-opening ‘smooth edge’ type can openers, but be careful.  There are a few traditional openers that have been miscategorized and appear in the results too, but if you read the descriptions carefully, and possibly look at the photos, you can see which is which, and even if you guess wrong, Amazon has a great return policy.

Some people have reported that they prefer units which don’t cover the top of the can – they find it easier to align the opener with the can if it is located to the side of the can rather than on the top.  Some people also feel that gears at 90° to each other are better than inline/parallel gearing.

The Amazon reviews will give you more insight into which units seem to prove the best in actual use.

You’d want to get at least two hand-operated openers, plus perhaps you might optimistically get an electric one too – both for use at present and for use in situations where the grid might remain up, or you have sufficient solar or other power to run appliances such as this (which happily use very little power).

We’ve been using side cutting openers for years ourselves, and while we sometimes find it a little harder to start the can opening, we love the results and would never go back to a standard can opener.  Try it, and you’ll probably love it too.

Mar 052013
It takes time to end up with this amount of supplies set aside.  But the sooner you start, the sooner you too will have a resilient set of prepping resources for whatever the future may require.

It takes time to end up with this amount of supplies set aside. But the sooner you start, the sooner you too will have a resilient set of prepping resources for whatever the future may require.

Unless you are blessed with a major seven-figure net worth that you can immediately allocate to your prepping, you need to make choices about what prepping activities you can do and can not do.

Indeed, even if you do have millions of dollars free to invest in prepping, you still have time and resource constraints.  You can’t just snap your fingers and have an instant, fully equipped, fully self-contained retreat appear in a flash of smoke.  The question for all of us is which things do we do first, and what do we leave until later?

It can seem that the costs and complexities of prepping are overwhelming, with the result that some people throw their hands up in despair, and do nothing at all.  That’s not a good thing!

So, assuming you have finite and limited resources, what should you do first?  What can you leave until later, and what can you overlook entirely?

There are ways to evaluate such things and to semi-scientifically set priorities.

Two Factor Formula

Traditional risk analysis involves considering two things.  You assess the severity of the event you are considering, and the likelihood of it occurring.  Maybe rate each on a scale of 0 – 10.  Then multiply the two together, to give you an answer anywhere from 0 to 100.  This is the importance/priority you should give to the event.

This formula is helpful – it gives higher priority to major events than minor events, and higher priority to events that are likely to occur than events which are unlikely to ever come to pass.

Adding a Third Factor

But it is clear the two factor formula was designed by abstract theorists, because it misses out on one very obvious consideration, something we always have to think about in the real world – how affordable is the solution to the problem?  A problem that scores high on the two factor scale might have a totally unaffordable solution, whereas a lower scoring problem might be something we could prepare for with almost no out-of-pocket expense whatsoever.

Maybe we need to add a third factor – affordability, where 0 means totally unaffordable and 10 means costs nothing to implement.

So we now have a three factor score ranging from 0 to 1000.

Is that all we need to consider, or are there are other issues as well as severity of the problem, likelihood of it occurring, and the cost of preparing a solution for the problem?

Adding More Factors

With a bit of thought, you can almost certainly think of other factors.  For example, you might have a high scoring problem that has an affordable solution that goes to the top of your to do list, but there’s only one thing wrong with that calculation – the solution, while affordable, is impossible for some other reason.  Perhaps government regulation, or perhaps lifestyle constraints, or inability to get your spouse/partner to agree with you, or whatever.

So there’s a factor – the feasibility of the solution.  Add a score, from 0 meaning totally impossible through to 10 meaning can be done pretty much immediately with no hassle or problems.  Multiply that to your other three factors, and now you have a four factor score ranging from 0 to 10,000.

Another factor could be something like ‘additional benefits from adopting this thing’.  Maybe you do something which solves one problem but also goes part or all of the way to solving a second problem.  For example, perhaps you are solving a problem ‘risk of forest fire destroying my retreat’ and part of your solution is to put a metal roof on your retreat.  Perhaps the metal roof can then link into another problem/solution ‘Shortage of water’ – the roof can be used to collect rainwater much more efficiently than shakes or a composite roof.

If you hare using this as a factor, don’t use a range from 0 to 10.  If you used 0 for no additional benefits, that would zero out the entire project’s value, and that’s clearly not right.  Maybe you should instead use a range from a neutral 1 (for ‘no additional benefits’) up to a 2 or 3 for additional benefits, or maybe you simply add the score of each project that the solution can assist together to get a total that way.

Another factor is the ease and speed of implementing the solution.  Maybe an issue requires nothing more than five minutes browsing on Amazon and then ordering something from them and having it delivered.  Or maybe an issue would consume every spare minute of your time for the next three months.  Score high for an easy project that takes little of your time, and lower for a difficult project.

How to Set Values for Each Factor

For each factor you are rating, the more desirable or better the factor, the larger the value you should assign to it.

There are two things to consider when assigning values.

The first is to be very careful about assigning a zero value to anything.  Think of the zero as a veto.  Any time you use a zero, you have made your entire calculation reduce down to zero.  It doesn’t matter if every other factor is scoring max, a single zero will drop the total calculation all the way down to zero.

So unless you want to totally kill a project, you should normally consider 1 as least desirable (and 10 as most desirable).

The other thing to consider is the relative importance of different factors.  Maybe one factor is much less important than another factor.  If that is so, we recommend that after you’ve assigned it a value from 0 or 1, and up to 10, you then divide that value by two or three or whatever number you wish to reflect that it is a less important factor than the other factors you are also including in your calculation.

Which leads to the next point.

The Result is Not As Accurate as it Seems

So maybe you end up with a calculation of 4 x 5 x (2/3) x 7 = 93.33 for one possible project, and a calculation of 7 x 7 x (4/3) x 2 = 130.67 for another project.

So obviously, the second project is scoring massively higher than the first project and should be the one you do first, right?

Well, it is true that 130.67 is almost 50% higher than 93.33, but let’s also keep in mind that probably all the values in both calculations are approximate guesses – they are plus or minus at least one or two in rating scores.  Even if only +/- 1, that means that the first project could score as high as 5 x 6 x 3/3 x 8 = 240 and the second project could score as low as 6 x 6 x 3/3 x 1 = 36.

Wow, so the first project is probably about a 93.33 score, but could be as high as 240, and the second project is probably about a 130.67 score, but could be as low as 36.

In other words, the two projects are pretty similar in rating.  You would want to see a much bigger gap between them than merely a 50% differential in order for a significant different in priorities to be assigned.

Oh – one more thing.  The 93.33 score?  Just because this is how your calculator shows it, don’t be obsessive about showing all the decimal places.  We already know it could score as high as 240, and it could also score as low as 24, so it is perfectly fine to round the 93.33 to the nearest five units, and perhaps call it 95.  And the same for the 130.67 of course, which might be anywhere between 36 and 320 – call that an even 130.

Considering Other Issues Too

So – don’t get too hung up on the exact numbers you are generating from your multi-factor calculations.  You need to also apply some subjective and ‘qualitative’ tools to your analysis as well as the quantitative calculations you’ve been doing, plus a healthy measure of common sense when looking at the answers you get.

Some of these other issues are philosophical – which things ‘feel’ best and most closely seem to fit with your view of the problems you wish to prepare for and how you are creating solutions?

There’s also the value in a balanced cohesive approach to problem solving.  There’s no point in getting a brilliant totally bulletproof (and maybe quite literally so!) solution to one element of risk if that still leaves another element of the similar risk totally unaddressed.

For example, if there are (say) three different things that need to be done to make you able to live without external help for three weeks (perhaps food, water and energy) which is better – to have a complete three-week solution for one of these three factors, to have a half solution good for a week or two for the second factor, but nothing at all yet done for the third factor?  Or to have each of the three factors partially addressed so that you currently are good for a week or so on all three counts, and are continuing to step-wise improve your prepping in all three areas more or less simultaneously?

We’d probably say the second approach was the better approach.  Remember – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and so perhaps you are best to start off with a complete but not very strong chain, then upgrade to a complete stronger chain, and then stronger again and so on, rather than to make an impregnable chain, one link at a time, but which is of no use at all until it is completed.

This brings us to a point which is so important that we list it by itself :

The Excellent is the Enemy of the Good

This is a concept you need to take to heart and keep close to you in everything you do.  We’ll explain this concept with an analogy.  One time I was managing a promotional activity that would be greatly boosted by having a sales brochure.  Think of it as something like perhaps selling new cars in the days before the internet and tablets made brochures more or less obsolete – sure, you can do it without a brochure, but with a brochure is better.

Well, I decided that I’d create such an amazingly wonderful brochure that it would be ten times better than any of the competitors’ brochures out there.  This would be such an incredible brochure that it would just about sell the product, as soon as a prospect saw the brochure.  It would have twice as many pages.  Twice as many color pictures,  Twice as many helpful tables and feature lists.  It would be updated twice as often.  And so on and so on – everything would be better than other brochures out there.

So I worked and worked and worked at preparing this amazing brochure.  In the middle of the process, the product changed, and I thought to myself ‘good job I hadn’t sent the brochure to be printed, this way I’ve saved the cost of a wasted brochure printing run’.

The new product changes made me make some changes to the brochure.  And then a competitor came out with some interesting new features and selling strategies, so I redesigned the brochure to reflect that.  My company opened another office, so we redid the brochure to reflect our two sales and service locations – that was a great new feature to promote.

We hired a professional brochure designer to bless our project, and she made changes, and we hired a professional copywriter to write some of the advertising copy, and that required some layout changes – more space for some things, and less for others.

This story is stretching out and stretching out, isn’t it.  As did the brochure project.  It took almost five years for that brochure to first appear on a brochure rack, and while it was a great brochure, just as I’d hoped; the ugly fact was that for five long years, we’d had no brochure at all.

A better strategy would have been to urgently quickly come up with a ‘me too’ type brochure, so that at least we had something.  Then, and based on our real world experience of what was working and not working in the brochure, to come out with a second version.  And then a third, and so on.

If we’d have done that, we’d have been at a much better point than we were at when we first released our super-brochure, and probably our ‘normal’ brochure’s evolution over those five years would have moved it beyond where the first untested super-brochure was.

So – the excellent (brochure) was the enemy of the good (brochure).  Our company was harmed for five years while we obsessed over this brochure project.

Another shorter example, perhaps.  Microsoft recently launched Windows 8.  Windows 1.0 came out in November 1985.  Imaging if Microsoft hadn’t released Windows 1, or 2, or 3, or any of the preceding versions of Windows, while it kept on improving and improving the product prior to suddenly then releasing it as Windows 8.  That would clearly have been a massive mistake, wouldn’t it.

Or, at a simpler level, when any software company releases its software, it subsequently comes out with new versions and bug fixes and so on.  The graphics drivers for my computer’s graphics card are now at version 307, for example.  Imagine if nVidia waited until it had an almost perfect version of its graphics drivers before releasing its card?  Heck, the card would still be unreleased, because I’ll wager within a month or two, there’ll be a new version 308 driver out there.

You get the point, I hope.  The excellent is the enemy of the good.

It is easy to see how this could translate to a prepping situation, isn’t it.  You decide, for example, that you want state of the art ultra-high efficiency photo-voltaic panels.  They cost much more, you have to save up for longer to buy them, and a new generation of PV panels comes out, and so on, and for all the time you’re saving up for the super panels, you have no panels at all and no solar power generation capabilities.  Surely it would be better to buy a regular set of PV panels, and then to upgrade or add to them in the future, so as to get your retreat or primary residence outfitted with some solar power as soon as possible.  If you subsequent upgrade the panels, the first panels aren’t wasted.  They can be supplemental panels, or if there’s no room left to mount them, they can be spares.

Or maybe you decide you will build a retreat for 20 people, with three-foot thick exterior walls.  But while you are saving up the money to get this construction started, you have no retreat at all.  Perhaps it would be better to build a retreat for five people and with normal exterior walls, then after you’ve got that up, start adding more modules to the property, and start reinforcing the exterior walls.  Which would you prefer if you needed to bug out today – a completed retreat, albeit too small and vulnerable to cannon fire; or plans for a spacious impregnable retreat for which the first foundation had yet to be laid?

This leads us to a very important related concept.

The Tortoise and the Hare

You know the story of the tortoise and the hare, of course, and you also know which one of them crossed the finishing line first.

With prepping, don’t be dismayed at the enormity of the task you are setting yourself.

Instead, start prepping right now, and slowly but steadily build up your preparations.  Maybe the very first thing you do is get a large container to store some water.  That’s something you could probably do today – indeed, here’s a challenge :  Click this link to Amazon and buy a water storage container right now.  🙂

Maybe the second thing is the next time you go to Costco or Wal-Mart, buy a few extra cans of food and start building up a store of extra food.  And so on.  Little by little, but always steadily building up your reserves and your resources.

Even small modest investments in your prepping will massively transform your ability to comfortably survive a Level 1 event.  It is true that creating a level of resilience to withstand a Level 2 event will be more challenging, and a Level 3 event more challenging again, but don’t submit to the challenge, but confront and surmount it.

In particular this is one of the benefits of joining a community of like-minded folks (whether it be the Code Green community or anything/anyone else) – you can pool your resources and create something that is more individually affordable and simultaneously something which is more viable as a group for surviving a Level 2/3 event.

Progress is a Series of Small Steps in the Right Direction

What we are saying is that while your prepping journey may be long and may be arduous, it is feasible and possible (and necessary).  Like any journey, you simply put one foot in front of the other, and then repeat, while ensuring you are proceeding in the right direction.

Use the resources on this and other sites to ensure you are proceeding in the right direction, and move forwards as best you can.

Feb 242013
Your mom knew what she was saying when she told you to eat your vegetables.

Your mom knew what she was saying when she told you to eat your vegetables.

You already realize that once TSHTF, food will no longer grow on trees.

Well, okay, to the literal-minded of you, of course, apples etc will still grow on trees.  What we mean is that food will no longer be cheap and plentiful, requiring no more effort on your part than a drive to the local supermarket and paying a relatively small amount of money for a relatively large amount of food.

Instead, for most people, providing food for their family will become pretty much their primary activity for most of most days, and they’ll have little spare food left over from their labors.

So, obviously enough, if you waste, say, 10% of the food that comes into your house and kitchen, that means you have to work 10% harder than if you didn’t waste that food.

But there’s another issue that might be more subtle, but which is almost as important.

Saving on Food Means Saving on Water and Energy Too

Yes, food will become very precious and in short supply.  But one or two other things will also almost surely become very precious and in short supply too.  The first of these is water.  Depending on where you live and your water sources, you may find that at some times of the year (or, worse, at all times of the year) you do not conveniently have as much water as you might wish.

The second of these is energy – particularly in the form of electricity, but also more generally in the form of heat and fuel.

So let’s think about the first of these things first, and the second thing, second.  If you have a water shortage, you probably do things like take shorter showers, right?  You’re probably also careful to not flush the toilet more than necessary, and perhaps go easy on washing dishes and clothing too.  Maybe with some care, you can reduce your domestic daily water consumption from 75 – 100 gallons per person down to 50 – 75 gallons, and if you are fastidious, you could get as low as 25 – 50 gallons.

But the greatest need for water is outside your retreat.  It is in the fields, where you water your crops and feel your cattle and other farm animals.  You will probably use 100 times more water in the fields for agricultural purposes than you do in your retreat for household purposes.  So here’s the thing – if you can cut down your food waste by even 2% or 3%, then if you don’t need to grow 2% or 3% more food, the water saving from this will allow you to take long showers whenever you like.

Perhaps the extreme consumer of water is growing cattle.  Depending on your preferred study and analysis, it takes anywhere from 440 gallons to 2500 gallons of water per pound of beef that ends up going in your pot.  If we take a half-way point of 1500 gallons, and if we say you use 50 gallons of water a day, each pound of beef represents a month’s water supply.  That’s not a problem if water is plentiful, but if it is scarce, then it is a massive constraint.

A pound of chicken requires ‘only’ 500 gallons of water.  A pound of corn requires 110 gallons, a pound of wheat 150 gallons, a single egg requires 400 gallons, and a pound of potatoes only needs 10 gallons of water.  (Go to this page, guess at the values, then submit the form for the correct answers and data sources.)

Although your food savings may allow you to take longer showers, they will probably be cold.  Because there is the other constraint that you’re sure to be facing – energy shortages.

You can probably guess what we are about to say.  Growing your food requires a lot of energy – either your energy, or energy from horses and other animals that are helping you, and/or energy from farm machinery if you have fuel for them.

Indeed, you can get locked in a nasty cycle – growing crops to convert into bio-diesel and ethanol to power the machines you need to use to grow the crops you need to power the machines.  That’s a nasty loop to get into.

The bottom line for energy however, is the same as it is for water.  Small savings in the net amount of food you require and consume will translate to bigger savings in the energy you need to produce the food.

Almost Half of All Food is Currently Wasted

Currently, we live in an extremely wasteful society.  At present, estimates suggest that 40% of all food in the US is wasted, uneaten.  Waste occurs at all steps of the process – in the field, in distribution, and in the supermarket – not just in your house of course, but household waste is still a large and controllable part of this.

One could even say that at present, with food costs low, it makes sense to waste food.  It can be more of a hassle, and more of a time cost, to not waste food.  For example, carrots cost $1/lb or less, and potatoes maybe 20c/lb.  If you earn $30 an hour, taking five more minutes of time to save a pound of carrots or potatoes doesn’t make sense.  The five minutes of time is sort of worth $2.50, whereas you are only saving between 20c and $1 from an activity that has a ‘time cost’ of $2.50.

This is a far from perfect calculation, however, many people perceive, and more or less correctly so, that currently the time costs of being frugal outweigh the savings involved.

The present reality is reflected in other forms too.  For example, if you have a choice between making some vegetable soup from scratch, or opening a tin of Campbell’s soup, many people will reach for the Campbell’s.  Making it yourself might save you $1 in ingredients, but might cost you half an hour or even an hour in extra time.  Ignoring issues such as the quality of the final finished soup, most people understand the value of saving an hour of time and will choose the commercially prepared soup.

But this will all change when the food you eat is not grown by low-cost labor and high levels of mechanization, with no appreciable shortages of anything, probably thousands of miles away and speedily/efficiently flown from their field to your front door, but instead is grown with little mechanization and probably by yourself and your immediate neighbors only.

You are more likely to find that it takes you much more than five minutes of time, as well as lots of resource, to grow a pound of carrots or potatoes, and so if you can save a pound by spending five minutes doing something, it is time well spent.  And as for those cans of soup – they won’t exist at all.

So, how to reduce food waste?  It is easier than you think.  Here are four simple considerations.

1.  Change how you prepare food to minimize waste in preparation

Try to change your cooking style to minimize the waste.  For example, scrub rather than peel potatoes, and the same for carrots.  This will not only reduce your waste, but will increase the nutritional benefits – much of the vitamins and minerals in vegetables are closest to the outside.

If you trim the stalk off broccoli or cabbage or whatever, consider using that for a soup base.

The same thing for the water you boil your vegetables in – that is now a rich nutrient broth of vitamins and minerals.  Reuse it the next time you boil vegetables, then use it for broth or soup too.

Soups (and stews) will become your friends.  They are both great ways of using up leftovers, and reducing the amount of waste that would otherwise occur.

Okay, you can still trim some fat off your meat, but in what is almost certainly a more active lifestyle, maybe you can leave a bit more fat on the meat than you normally would.

2.  Change the type of food you grow

Oh – one more thing about meat.  Beef is by far a more energy and resource intensive type of meat to raise than pork or poultry.  You know that pork is cheaper than beef in the supermarket meat case at present, but the real difference in cost, when you have no subsidies, is much more than double.  Plan to raise pigs, and go easy on the beef.

You’ll of course want (need!) to do a similar thing with the fruits and vegetables you grow as well.  The crops you raise will be determined of course in part by the climate and soil conditions you have, and by the need to rotate crops, but also by which items will give you the greatest yield for the least amount of effort and energy.

At present, with home gardens, people have the luxury of growing the vegetables and fruits they most enjoy, but in a survival situation, you need to switch to those items which return the most nutrition per unit of energy, water, and time expended on your part, and which yield the most output from the smallest amount of ground.  Sure – you might have 10 acres around your retreat to cultivate, but the less distance and more compact your gardening, the more efficient its management becomes when you are more likely to be walking than driving everywhere.

You want to consider seasonality of when foods need to be planted and can be harvested, and also storage issues.  A fruit or vegetable that doesn’t last long and can’t be easily stored for extended time (eg lettuce) is not nearly as sensible a choice as something that can be stored and consumed over the winter season.  Chances are you’ll be growing plenty of potatoes, which are not only a high yielding crop but also a crop that can be stored for an extended time.

3.  Change what you do with cooked food to minimize leftover waste

Adjust the quantities you cook so you don’t end up with too much leftovers that eventually get tossed out, uneaten and spoiled.  Sure, it makes sense to cook in moderately bulk quantities – that can be both time and energy-efficient, but don’t overdo it, and also remember you always have to guard against appetite fatigue setting in.

Be careful at ensuring that you properly store and eat any leftovers you create – for example, quickly cover and refrigerate leftovers after cooking them.

There is nothing worse than leaving a pot of something, especially uncovered, on the stove and allowing it to naturally cool.  As the item cools, it goes through a temperature band which represents the ideal temperature band for bacteria, yeasts and molds to grow, and anything that might land in the item from the general air, or perhaps be introduced by handling, will find itself in an ideal environment to grow.  Keep all pots covered, and once you’ve finished serving out the food, quickly cool them then prepare them for storage, ideally in sealed containers with little or no headspace for air.

At present, with plentiful cheap energy, it is fine to cool things in the fridge, but in an energy scarce situation, you will probably choose to cool them with a water bath before then refrigerating them.

Depending on the item, cooked food may last longer than raw food, so plan what you have in the way of raw food and how/when you cook it.  As we said in the preceding paragraph, stews and soups will be your friends.  Don’t let appetite fatigue set in – you must vary your meals, but you also will find that some types of food preparation work better for you than others in terms of the ‘yield’ of edible food compared to raw food you start with, how much energy it takes to cook the food, and how long the prepared item lasts and can be eaten.

4.  Don’t throw away any food items – use everything in some way or another

Disable the waste disposal unit in your sink and instead place a filter over the drain so that no food goes down the drain and all is salvaged for some purpose.

This will help you two ways.  It will salvage a lot of food scraps that otherwise would disappear, and it will reduce the biomass inputs into your septic system (we are assuming your retreat will almost surely have a septic system).  Remember that pretty much all the solid that goes into the septic system will sooner or later need to be cleaned/cleared out of the tanks, and when you consider that after TEOTWAWKI, you can’t just call the local septic pumping service and have their truck come up and do it all, as if by magic, in an easy simple procedure.  You’ll have to do it yourself.  It will be smelly, dirty, and nasty; definitely something you want to do as infrequently as possible.

Any truly waste food unfit for humans should be fed to animals if possible.  And if that still leaves some items left over, put them into your compost bins.


Your life in a Level 3 situation will be defined and constrained by two related factors – the amount of energy available to you, compared to the amount you need; and the amount of food available to you, also compared to the amount you need.

Because growing food is an energy intensive process, anything and everything you can do to minimize your food needs will be beneficial, and help you better manage both your food needs and your energy needs.

With food, the adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is very true.  Every reduction in the amount of food that goes into your kitchen will greatly pay off (maybe nine-fold, maybe more) in reducing the inputs you need to grow the food in the first place, giving you a better lifestyle overall and/or making you hopefully food ‘wealthy’ rather than food ‘poor’.

Jan 042013
The food we eat is increasingly produced further and further away from where we live.

The food we eat is increasingly produced further and further away from where we live.

One of the greatest problems that encourages us to become preppers is that the overwhelming majority of people no longer provide/create/grow their own food.

These days, over 80% of all Americans live in urban/suburban areas, meaning only one in five people are in the countryside, and not all of these rural dwellers are involved in food production.  Barely 100 years ago, the situation was almost exactly the opposite – for every one person in a city, there were four in the countryside, most of whom were involved in agricultural production.

So, in a worst case scenario back then, only one in five or one in six people were reliant on the other four or five people for their food.  But now, maybe ten people are totally reliant on each rural/farm worker for all their food.

If anything occurs to stop the flow of food from the one person who grows/provides it to the ten or however many who rely upon that food to survive, we clearly have huge problems.

In addition, we have problems because the one person who makes the food for the ten others is reliant on all sorts of machinery and productivity aids to enable him to grow so much food so efficiently.  If something happens to the productivity aids, he’ll be struggling to provide food just for himself and his family, and won’t have any left over for the other ten people who are relying on his ability to grow food productivity for them.

Our article on Urban Drift discusses some of these phenomena in more detail.  And here’s an interesting chart that shows that growing urbanization is not just a US trend – it is a worldwide trend.

Our Rural Infrastructure is Being Neglected and Abused

Our point in this article is to show how no-one seems to care about the decline in our rural infrastructure.  That’s actually understandable, in a way.  Back when almost everyone lived very close to the land, it was the central part of the entire country’s consciousness.  But today, some people who live in cities have never seen a farm or a farm animal, and don’t know anyone in the circle of family and friends who lives/works on a farm either.  Our rural foundations are no longer a core part of our awareness.

The reality of rural neglect is reflected in these comments by former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack – now US Secretary of Agriculture.  He says that rural America is becoming ‘less relevant’.

He is simultaneously right and wrong.  Sadly, safeguarding, securing, and boosting our rural economy getting less attention than it needs, even though our reliance on rural America increases steadily in line with our greater and greater concentration of agricultural production in the hands of so few.  Rural America is still relevant to us, but we don’t seem to accept that so willingly now.

And so we have city-dweller idealists writing up new legislation and new restrictions on farming operations, based not on a real world understanding of farming requirements, but on a ‘don’t confuse me with the facts’ idealized way of how food production should operate.  Some of these burdens are ecologically based (such as the famous threat that plowing fields shouldn’t create dust), and others are financial attacks, such as the provision to tax farm estates valued at over $1 million at a 55% rate.  This article exposes the threat to farm viability from the new death tax.

A death tax is perhaps appropriate, because it exposes society’s clear death wish – ie, to destroy our local sources of food production, making family farms less viable (and/or increasing their costs and thereby our food costs too) and either concentrating still more farming potential in corporate megafarms (companies don’t ‘die’ so aren’t threatened by death taxes) or forcing us to turn to increasingly distant food sources in other countries.

So we are changing from eating the food we grow ourselves, to eating the food our neighbors grew, to eating the food that farmers grew less than a day’s horse and cart journey away, to eating the food less than a day’s truck journey away, to eating the food less than a day’s plane journey away, to eating food grown by farmers in some other country, thousands or even tens of thousands of miles away from us.

In the past, when four or five farmers were growing food for each city dweller, if anything failed or went wrong, it was no big problem.  The food was largely being grown locally, and by hand.  Indeed, what could go wrong?

But now we are relying on farming operations totally out of our control, thousands of miles away.  If fuel supplies become restricted, how will that food travel thousands of miles in only the very few days it has before it perishes?  It probably can’t and won’t.

Implications for Preppers

The implication for us as preppers is starkly obvious.  In any type of disruptive event, we’ll lose our access to the food supplies we currently rely upon.  Three implications :

  • First, we need to be more aware – and supportive – of rural issues and infrastructure within the US.
  • Second, we need to have a sufficient supply of food on hand to allow us to survive a loss of third-party food supplies.
  • Third, we need to have a way to transition to growing all our own food before our stored food is exhausted.

The second issue is fairly obvious, but the need to be able to grow all our food is one with major implications – particularly if you live in a central city apartment.  Your balcony won’t be big enough to grow enough food.  You need a rural retreat with sufficient arable land to allow you to grow the food you need.

Ideally, that retreat should already be in operation as a farm.  That way, there are fewer unknowns and already existing routines and processes and procedures, and less to go wrong if you need to move there in a hurry.

Dec 022012

Bulk freeze-dried food for sale at Wal-Mart. Although their prices are prominently displayed, their real values are obscured.

Most preppers keep three sorts of food supplies.

The first type of supply is to keep larger than normal stocks of ordinary food items with typical two or three year expirations.  They simply eat this as they wish, in careful rotation, so that all food is eaten prior to it expiring, and as/when they see specials on these food items, they replenish their supplies at the best prices.

This sort of food supply will be enough to see you through a typical Level 1 scenario of from at least a few days to some weeks in a severe Level 1 event, without access to external supplies of food.

The second type of supply is to consciously buy some food products in bulk – food products which have moderately extended shelf lives (say 3 – 5 or more years) – an obvious example could be rice – and hopefully to use those up, prior to expiry, in the ordinary course of day-to-day living and eating too.

This sort of food supply will come handy if you are moving into a Level 2 type scenario, and hopefully you have many months of these types of bulk foods available to you.

The third type of supply is to buy some stocks of freeze-dried foods, typically with a 25 year shelf life.  These are put into the far corner of your storage area, and as for what happens in 25 years time, few of us have yet to have kept such things for so long that they are now starting to approach the end of their shelf life.

This sort of food supply is your ultimate emergency reserve – for example, if things have degenerated still further into a Level 3 situation, and you’ve had a bad year for your harvest, then you might supplement whatever food you did grow with a top up from your emergency long-term supplies.

It goes without saying that the freeze-dried food is the most expensive, and the bulk food the cheapest.  That’s unsurprising, and unavoidable, and fortunately, you don’t need to tie up a lot of your money in the 25 year freeze-dried foods.  The money you invest in the first and second types of food storage is not money you’ll never see again; indeed, by buying bulk foods and regular foods in larger quantities when on special, your food prices overall will drop appreciably.

But you should buy some long-life freeze-dried foods as well.  How much?  That’s something for a separate discussion, and it really has to be considered as part of what other foods you have available, how much storage space you have, and – of course – how much money you have, too.

This article is here to give you a very useful tip about how to select the freeze-dried foods you choose to buy and store.  The difference in cost as between the best value and the worst value freeze-dried foods is enormous, and the manufacturers don’t make it easy for you to understand and compare values – either within their own product ranges, or as a comparison between Brand X and Brand Y.

You’ll note that most freeze-dried foods are described in three ways – their cost (of course), the net weight of food within the pail or can, and the number of servings that the manufacturer claims the food can be subdivided into.  There is another piece of information, required by US food packaging laws, but it isn’t boldly shown; you have to look carefully for it, and this is a vital piece of information – the number of calories per serving.

What is a Serving

You probably already know, from normal life, normal foods, and normal eating, that the concept of ‘a serving’ is a very abstract and non-standard concept.  Sometimes you’ll find yourself eating multiple servings of something and still feeling hungry – as well as very guilty for your apparent gluttony; other times, you might find that a single serving is plenty.

There is no formal legal definition of what a serving is.  Generally, manufacturers prefer to define their servings as small as possible.  This does two things – it makes the amount of food they are selling you seem to be more than it truly is, and it makes all the ‘bad’ things in the food seem less prominent than they are.  Clearly, if they can split a portion of food into three suggested servings instead of two, then each serving will have 50% less fat and 50% less cholesterol and so on than if the servings were more realistically sized.

So, in evaluating any types of food, ignore the concept of how many servings you are buying for your money.  Read on for the most important measure.

How Much Food is Enough?

The answer to that depends on if you are eating brussels sprouts or chocolate, I guess!  Nutritionists can discuss and debate this topic at great length, but we’ll cut straight to the key points that matter from a point of view of prepping and surviving in adversity.  Warning – some gross over-simplifications follow, but the basic concepts are fair and properly stated.

The amount of food we need each day can be considered in three categories.  The first category is the number of calories it contains.  Our body needs energy to keep operating, and it gets that energy from the food we eat, and the amount of energy any given piece of food contains is represented by the calories it has.  More calories = more energy.

The second category is a need for ‘raw materials’ for our bodies – material to replenish our blood supply, our dead cells, and so on.  This is where a consideration for the presence of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and that sort of thing comes into play.  But these issues, while potentially important longer term, are not so immediately vital in the short-term.  Our body can last longer without a complete supply of raw materials than it can without energy, and furthermore, most of the time if you are eating enough food for energy purposes, and with a reasonable mix of different components in the food, you’ll ‘automatically’ be getting sufficient raw materials as well, without needing to consider the issues in any detail.

The third category is a simple need to fill one’s stomach.  Swallowing a single magic concentrated energy pill once a day might supply us the energy we need, but it would be an enormously unsatisfying way of doing so and would leave us feeling hungry for food, even if we didn’t actually need energy.  It is good to actually have some volume of food pass through our system, and it is what our bodies expect and desire.

There’s a semi-related fourth point as well – the need for variety in foods eaten to avoid appetite fatigue – an unlikely sounding ailment which can actually become fatal (click the link for a relevant article).

So, the key parameter we need to consider when working out how much food we require, each day, is to understand how many calories of energy we will need.  The answer to that question depends on what we are doing each day.

If we’re sitting around at home, doing nothing, we’re not working as much and not using energy.  If we’re spending a hard day working outside, then we’re using a great deal more energy.  If you’re young and growing, you need more energy than if you’re old and with a slower metabolic rate.  If you’re in a warm environment, you need considerably less energy than if you’re somewhere cold (just like your residence, the colder it is outside, the more energy you use to keep the inside warm).

The number of calories you need also depends on your weight – the heavier you are, the more calories you need because there’s simply more of you to keep energized and powered up.  You can browse through the internet and come up with a dozen different suggested numbers, all of which are reasonably similar, but having slightly different assumptions about how active and how heavy you are.  Here’s one such page, and here’s a somewhat more helpful page that helps you to work out your own calculation for the energy you need.

Note also, as explained on the second of these two pages, that 10% (more or less) of the energy you take in from the food you eat gets used up in processing the food you eat.  Only 90% of the energy you eat is actually available for your body to use.

So, pick a number, any number (some say to use 2000 calories for adult women and 2500 for adult men, but increase these numbers if you’re actively doing manual labor) and that tells you about how much energy you need a day.

Equating ‘Servings’ to Daily Food Needs

Now, as you evaluate different freeze-dried food products, ignore the count of the servings they allegedly contain, and ignore also their net dry weight of food.  The only thing that really matters, for our purposes of surviving in adversity, is how many calories they provide.

You will quickly notice a surprising truth.  The number of calories in a ‘serving’ can vary enormously, from as few as 30 and up to as many as 300 or more.  You’d need to eat ten times as many servings of the low caloric food as you would of the high caloric food, but the manufacturers consider both to be ‘a serving’, which provides further proof, if you need it, of the nonsense of considering food in terms of servings.

We’re now so close that we’ve almost revealed the strategy for how to maximize your food storage budget in terms of the freeze-dried food you buy.  You don’t need to know the simple cost of a #10 can of food, and neither do you care what the net weight of food is contained inside it.  Even more, you could care less how many servings it can provide.

The only thing that matters is how many calories you are getting per dollar you spend.  The more calories you get, the better the value.

The difference in calories per dollar is stunningly enormous.  Here’s a table where we went to one well-known supplier of freeze-dried food – Mountain Home – and simply took the first twenty items on their website and calculated out how many calories you were getting per dollar spent on each item.  Then, for no reason other than abstract interest, we also showed the cost in calories per dollar for some generic foodstuffs.

Our point is not to show that freeze-dried foods are more expensive than bulk rice and flour.  We all know that, already, and if we were looking for the cheapest freeze-dried foods, we’d be looking at large pails rather than #10 cans.  Our point is simply to show the huge variation in value, not only by carefully shopping between different manufacturers and package sizes, but also by simply looking at one single manufacturer’s range of #10 can sized bulk foods.

Item Price Servings   cal/serving   $/serving   cal/$
MH Beef Stew $35.49 10 210 $3.55 59
MH Chicken Stew $35.99 10 240 $3.60 67
MH Chicken a la King $35.99 11 280 $5.33 53
MH Chicken Alfredo $34.49 9 250 $3.83 65
MH Chicken Teriyaki $29.99 10 230 $3.00 77
MH Diced Chicken $48.39 14 170 $3.46 49
MH Ground Beef $44.59 18 290 $2.48 117
MH Macaroni & Cheese $28.99 9 310 $3.22 96
MH Beef Stroganoff $28.29 10 260 $2.83 92
MH Diced Beef $54.99 15 130 $3.67 35
MH Creamed Beef $46.19 54 120 $0.86 140
MH Chili Mac with Beef $25.49 10 240 $2.55 94
MH Corn $21.49 22 90 $0.98 92
MH Green Beans $23.69 20 30 $1.18 25
MH Peas $20.99 23 80 $0.91 88
MH White Rice Instant $17.99 24 180 $0.75 240
MH Cottage Cheese $65.39 20 110 $3.27 34
MH Crackers – Pilot Bread $20.29 67 50 $0.30 167
MH Sliced Strawberries $29.99 16 40 $1.87 21
MH Sliced Bananas $25.69 20 70 $1.28 55
Bulk raw rice (per lb) 90c/lb 1616 1796
Bulk raw flour (per lb) 50c/lb 1592 3184
Bulk raw potatoes (per lb) 20c/lb 352 1760
Bulk raw carrots (per lb) 50c/lb 192 384


Freeze-dried foods seem to be all similarly priced in terms of dollars per container of food.  But in terms of the most relevant measure – the number of calories of food value/energy you get per dollar spent, there is a twelve-fold spread between the best and worst values.

For reasons of preventing appetite fatigue, you don’t want to only buy one type of freeze-dried food.  But, in choosing a range of different items, clearly you want to concentrate on the higher value items and avoid the items with very low values.