Mar 122013
A typical medium quality sighting compass.

A typical medium quality sighting compass.

This is the first part of a two-part article on choosing/buying a compass, the second part talks about compass features, and we’d recommend you read it after this first part so as to have a more complete understanding of what to look for when selecting a compass.

These days compasses seem very old-fashioned.  If people wish to know which way is north, they can look at their GPS; and if they have a compass at all, it is as likely to be a digital compass as a traditional magnetic compass.

Indeed, the prevalence of GPS units has made the underlying entire skillset of map reading and direction finding, and the need to even know where north is, apparently obsolete.  You just enter a location into your GPS then follow its arrow to get there.  You no longer need to know where you are, or even where your objective is, or what heading to travel along.  All that matters is to follow the arrow.  Even better still, if you have to make a detour due to some obstacle along the way, the arrow is continually updating and recalculating, always pointing you the most direct way to your objective.

The Problems with Modern Digital Navigation Devices

But, as wonderful as they are, it is not prudent to rely on modern high-tech devices when planning for a future Level 2 or 3 scenario.  It is very likely, in such cases, that the GPS service will be degraded or fail entirely.  In addition, sooner or later, the electronics inside your high-tech devices will fail, either a ‘natural/normal’ failure or one perhaps induced by an EMP event; and whatever the cause, you probably don’t have the knowledge – or the spare parts – to repair them when they fail.  Maybe it will be something else equally inevitable – at some point, you’ll simply run out of batteries.

While modern high-tech devices are subject to all these possible failure conditions, a regular ‘old fashioned’ analog compass is a gloriously low-tech device that is very hard to break, and moderately easy to repair.  By all means have a selection of high-tech navigation aids, but ensure you have some compasses too to get you as close as possible to guaranteed availability of navigational aids in the future.

Note also that neither GPS units nor digital compasses are very accurate.  Our sense is that digital compasses are generally accurate to about 5 degrees at best, and may be much less accurate than that.  Never mind that it displays a nice exact seeming number of degrees, the underlying sensor is not all that accurate.

GPS units can only show heading data based on the change in location between now and their previous location reading, which, particularly if you are walking or moving at slow speed in a vehicle, embodies errors to do with both the location fixes, and if the distance between the two fixes is small, then the accuracies become a large percentage.  As you hopefully already know/realize, when you are stationary, a GPS has no idea which way is north.

Different Requirements Call for Different Compass Capabilities

There are two main purposes for a compass.  The first is obvious – for finding your way to your objective when traveling somewhere.  The second use you may have for a compass is to assist when locating an object – possibly yourself, or possibly something else.

These two purposes place different demands on a compass, and – perhaps surprisingly – in most cases a navigational compass need not be as accurate as a locator type compass – particularly when it is used in conjunction with a detailed map of the area you are traveling through.  Indeed, compasses and maps are almost inseparable partners, with both being much more useful when used together with the other.

That’s not to say that more accuracy is ever a bad thing, but more accuracy usually is associated with more cost, and an outdoor hiking/backpacking type application for a compass can sometimes result in compass damage or loss (ie by dropping it), so it can make sense, depending on the nature of your travels to sometimes leave the ‘best’ compass at home and stick to using an expendable type compass for outdoor navigation.

Compass Types

There are two main types of compass.  They both have a needle, and both point to magnetic north.

The major difference between them is how you can use them ‘in the field’.

baseplatecompassbBase Plate Compasses

‘Base plate’ type compasses are designed to be best used on a map.  They are flat, with the compass itself usually set into a rectangle with some straight edges and lines which you use to align to the relevant parts of your map.  This rectangle is the ‘base plate’ implied by the name of the compass type.

There might be scales on the edges to help in map reading, and often the rectangle shape is made out of clear plastic so you can see to the map underneath.

This illustration of a K & R Baseplate Compass shows how a typical baseplate compass is designed.

The base plate compass is good for using with a map and working on bearings and headings.  But how do you then take that information and use it to work out where to travel, ‘in the field’?  That’s where the second type of compass comes into its own.

compass_sightingbPrismatic and Lensatic Sighting Compasses

These types of compasses have an arrangement whereby you can simultaneously see a compass reading on the compass and also line it up with an object around you.  You sight the compass on an object – maybe a mountain peak, a tree, whatever; and then, without moving yourself or the compass, read the bearing to it from the compass card.

Alternatively, if you know you should proceed in a certain direction, you can line your compass up to that direction, then look through the external sighting slot and choose a distant object to proceed towards that will mark your appropriate direction of travel.

The illustration here gives an example of a Cammenga Model 27CS Olive Drab Lensatic Compass and shows how it can be used to simultaneously display the compass reading and align it to an external object.

These compasses are excellent for fieldwork, but not so good to use on a map.


hybridcompassbHybrid Compasses

Increasingly, there are good compasses now being sold that can work both on a map and in the field, and for most people, this ‘one size fits all’ design approach makes them a good choice.

The illustration shows a high quality Suunto brand hybrid compass.

Compass Accuracy

The concept of accuracy is often misunderstood.

For example, in this compass listing, which is the most popular prismatic compass on Amazon, note one of the first reviews (giving the $10 compass an improbable full five stars) which says

If you are looking for a direct sighting compass with 1 degree (or better) accuracy, that is quick to use and virtually foolproof, this is the bargain of the decade.

Currently, 245 out of 250 people found the review helpful.  We are not among them.

The review’s claim that the compass has a 1° or better accuracy is total nonsense.  The compass scale is only marked in 5° increments, so there’s no way it could be five times (or more!) accurate than its own scale.

There are at least four sources of error in reading a compass, and two of those four are independent of the compass itself.

Error 1 – Mechanical

The first compass source of error is mechanical.  Maybe the needle sticks a bit – chances are you can move the compass very slightly and the needle will follow, it likely needs some force to dislodge it from where it had settled, and maybe it then sticks again before settling at the exact new point.

Maybe the needle is not perfectly balanced (indeed, it is probably deliberately not perfectly balanced) and you’re not holding the compass perfectly level, so that makes the heavier end want to drift downwards and scrapes along the bottom of the compass card, or points upwards and scrapes along the top of the viewing glass.

Maybe the outside bezel has a bit of slop in it relative to its position to the internal markings.  Maybe the sighting posts also have a bit of wobble or have been slightly bent.

All these issues can add to the mechanical lack of precision inherent in a compass.

Error 2 – Precision

The second source of compass error is the precision with which the scale is marked and aligned with the compass needle.  Maybe when the markings on the compass card were printed the printing wasn’t exactly aligned.  Maybe then the needle isn’t exactly centered in the card.  Maybe you’re looking at it on an angle too, introducing further error.

Even with these possible error sources minimized, the best case accuracy is probably no more than half of one marking unit.  If the compass is marked in ten degree units, maybe you can guess when the needle is halfway and fairly say ‘this is probably about 5 degrees because it is sort of in the middle’ but you know that there’s no way, with only ten degree markings, you could claim with any confidence a degree measurement to within 2 or even 3 degrees, based on the scale errors alone.

Error 3 – Magnetic Interference

Now for the two major external sources of errors reading a compass.  The first of these is the possible presence of stray magnetic fields or metal that might bias the compass reading.

What’s that in your pocket – your cell phone?  And on your hip – your pistol?  Both of those will impact on the accuracy of your compass reading, as will other metal objects or magnetic fields nearby.

Error 4 – User Errors

The second source of external error is – let’s be as polite about this as we can – you.  The person using the compass.  Maybe you’re not aligning the compass exactly with whatever bearing point you are taking a bearing from/to.  Maybe you didn’t wait for the compass needle to fully settle.  Maybe you just misread the number on the compass card.  Human error is always potentially present.

So how accurate is your compass?  As you can see from the four sources of errors discussed above, that really depends on how skillfully you are using it, and how careful you are to search out and eliminate some of the possible error sources.

We use a rule of thumb that whatever resolution is shown on an instrument’s scale is probably indicative of what the instrument’s capabilities are.  This rule of thumb is sometimes invalidated with digital devices, where it is inexpensive and simple to add extra digits to the digital display, to imply an accuracy that is completely absent.  But for analog compasses, it is probably an acceptable rule of thumb to say that most of the time, whatever the resolution on the compass card is will be about the same as the best resolution you can hope to achieve in the field.

So the highly rated compass with the claimed 1° of accuracy we started off by citing?  With 5° markings, the best you could hope for in a perfect world is 2.5°, and probably, in real life, after allowing for the other three types of errors above, you should consider it to be accurate to about 5°.  That’s a great deal less accurate than incorrectly claimed in the review.


Good quality compasses can give high quality results.  We’d think that obvious, but the $10 compass that was given a five star review and claimed to be five times more accurate than it truly is, and which received 245 approving responses out of 250 total, suggests that we should revisit the obvious.  🙂

When buying  a compass to help you locate yourself or other objects (ie ‘surveying’ type applications), you should choose one with the most accuracy.  This is implied by its marking resolution, and further implied by the size of the compass card (ie the diameter of the compass mechanism), and by it being (or not being) a recognized valued brand name and at variously a high or low price.  Yes, you generally get what you pay for, with compasses as with everything else.

But if you are simply seeking to navigate from Point A to Point B, and with a map as well as a compass, a less accurate instrument is fine.

This is the first of a two-part series on buying compasses.  Please visit the second part for a discussion on specific compass features.

Mar 122013
Brunton make high quality compasses, such as this very fully featured Pocket Transit.

Brunton make high quality compasses, such as this very fully featured Pocket Transit.

This is the second part of a two-part series and you should read both parts for a more complete understanding of issues to do with choosing/buying a compass.

In the first part of this Buyer’s Guide to Compasses we discuss the two or three basic design styles/types of compasses, and issues associated with the accuracy you can realistically expect from a compass.

In addition to these different types of compasses, there are a number of features that may be present in various forms or absent entirely on each particular model of compass.

We discuss the most obvious of these below.

Compass Size

The larger the circumference of the compass card, the greater the distance between the degree markers and the more accurately you can use the compass.  There’s not a lot of variation in compass size, but where there is a difference, the bigger it is, the better it is.

Compass Build Quality

This is a slightly subjective feature, and hard to evaluate on a brand new compass.  But a better made compass will stay more accurate for longer, and won’t have parts come loose and start to wobble and wiggle.  Any movements in any of the parts that are used to align the compass will of course detract from the compass’ ongoing accuracy.

A better built compass will also be more robust and resilient such that you can occasionally drop it or otherwise treat it in a less than perfect manner, and still function.

A better built compass will also be operable over a broader range of temperatures.  Particularly if the compass is liquid filled, there will be a temperature at which the liquid will freeze, and somewhere above that temperature is the lowest temperature the compass will work happily at.

Adjustable Declination

Compasses point (sort of) to the magnetic north pole.  Unfortunately, this is not the same location as the north pole used by map makers and which most grid reference systems are based upon.

We’ll spare you the geometry of it, but the net result is that to switch from your compass’ reading of magnetic north to true north, you need to add or subtract an adjustment to compensate for the difference between the magnetic and true pole.  This adjustment is termed the declination.

Compensating for declination is, on the face of it easy, but few things in life are truly easy, and there are three things to consider.  The first thing, which confuses many inexperienced navigators, is that sometimes you have to add and sometimes you have to subtract the declination from the magnetic (or true) degrees indicated.  Knowing when to add or subtract can be quite taxing of your brain, particularly in a high stress environment (which reminds us of the really big problem some people have with compasses – mistaking the north and south ends of the needle!).

The second challenge with declination is that it is not the same everywhere.  It changes as you move around.  For example, at present, in Coeur d’Alene, ID, the declination is +15°1′.  Go east to Billings, MT, and the declination is +11°11′.  Go southeast to Cheyenne, WY and the declination now is +8°44′.

That’s a lot of change in not much area.  You can ignore declination changes over short distances (for example, the 140 miles, as the crow flies, between Coeur d’Alene and Missoula, MT has the declination change from +15°1′ to +13°52′ – a change of a relatively minor 1°9′.  And the further south you get, the less the rate of declination change.

The third challenge is that the magnetic north pole is moving.  It isn’t fixed.  It is moving – and at an accelerating rate, currently of about 25 miles a year.  In the American Redoubt region, that translates to a reduction of declination by about 9 minutes every year at present.

Anyway, now that you know more than you ever want to know about declination, back to the simple point.  Some compasses allow you to automatically build in a correcting factor for declination.  This is a very valuable feature, and saves you needing to struggle to remember if you should be adding or subtracting at any given time and situation.

Scales – Degrees and/or Mils

You probably already know that there are 360 degrees in a circle.  Most compasses are calibrated in degrees accordingly, with 0° (or 360°) being at the ‘top’ for North, and so on.

There are other scales for angular measurement as well as degrees, however.  There is a metric measurement, the ‘grad’ which is happily almost never used (there are 400 grads in a circle – about as stupid a number as 360, really).  But the one you are more likely to come across is the ‘mil’.  This is a subdivision of a radian (there are 2π radians in a circle – about 6.283, a number which seems awkward, but which has some benefits in geometry).  There are 1000 mils in a radian, or 6283 mils in a circle.

Just to make this simultaneously simpler and more complicated, the 6283 mils are often rounded up to 6400 (why not 6300?) in this country, but in some other countries, may be rounded down to 6000.

There are 17.8 mils in one degree.

The use of the mil measurement has one useful feature – it helps you when estimating distances or sizes.  If you know the size of something, you can tell its distance by the number of mils in size it appears to be.  Or if you know the distance to something, you can tell its size the same way.

The way it works is that if an object is x mils wide, and 1,000 units of distance away from you, then that object is actually x units distance wide.  For example, a 2 mil wide object that is 1500 yards away would be 2 x (1500/1000) yard wide – in this example, 3 yards wide.

You can also use this for estimating distances.  For example, if you say that a typical man is 6′ tall, then if he is filling 12 mils, he would be 500 feet away.  If 6 mils, he’d be 1,000 ft, and if 3 mils, he’d be 2,000 ft away.  That’s why many rifle scopes have mil markings on them.

Or if you saw two mountain peaks in the distance and wondered how far away they were, and your map showed them to be 1 mile apart, and they registered as 100 mils apart on your compass, that would tell you they were 10 miles away.

A compass with both mil and degree markings is perhaps slightly better than one with only degrees, but unless you have a use for the mil calibration, your first priority should be to get the best possible compass with degree markings.

In addition to working out distance/size from mil angles, some compasses also have quick tables of degree angles subtended vs distance/size that you can use as rules of thumb, conveniently printed on them.

Luminous Markings

There are plenty of situations where you might be using your compass in low/no light conditions, and if the compass had either a tritium self-illuminated dial or a phosphor coating that would ‘soak up’ some light, eg from a flashlight, then give it off again for some minutes or longer, that might be very helpful.

A phosphor coating of course requires you to have some other light-source to activate it, although it is probably reasonable to assume that you would indeed have a flashlight with you.

The tritium coated compasses are nice, but tritium has ‘only’ an 11 year half-life.  In other words, in a decade, it will only be glowing half as bright as when you bought it; in two decades, one quarter as bright; and in three decades, one eighth as bright.

We’re not saying you must get some type of self-illuminated markings on your compass, but if the price isn’t much more, it might be nice to have them.

Liquid-Filled Compass

Better compasses have some type of liquid in the compass housing.  This damps the needle’s movement and protects it some from shock as well.  If you are looking at a compass that is not liquid filled, you are probably not looking at a good quality compass.

Level Bubble

In most cases, the more level your compass, the more accurate your reading will be.  Accordingly, some compasses have a bubble level somewhere that allows you to check how level your compass is.  This might be in the form of a bubble in the liquid that fills the compass housing (assuming the top of the housing is then slightly curved) or it might be a separate liquid bubble level to one side.

Clearly, this is a good extra feature to have.

Global Needles

The needle in your compass ideally wants to point more or less directly to the magnetic north pole, following the line of force that flows between the earth’s north and south magnetic poles.  Near the equator, those force lines are pretty much parallel to the earth’s surface, but as you get closer to the magnetic pole, the force lines are curving inwards and downwards (or outwards and upwards) and so the needle wants to go off-center, off-balance.

This would interfere with its free swinging on its mounting point, and so compass needles are typically made unbalanced, with a compensating weight on one side or the other of the needle’s center, so as to adjust for the magnetic force lines wanting to force the needle up or down.

This means that a compass made for eg North America would not work so well in eg South America, because the balance correction swaps.

Some compasses have a clever mounting mechanism for the magnet separate from the indicating needle which makes it less sensitive to the shift in direction of the lines of magnetic force.  This is useful not only for the international traveler, but also for everyone, everywhere, because a related benefit is that the compass doesn’t need to be held quite so exactly level in order for an accurate reading to be obtained.


Of course, these features all have costs associated with them, and remember from the first part of this compass buying guide, compasses don’t always need to be ultra precise.

The more accurate that compasses are, the better they will assist you with tasks such as locating a buried cache on your property or surveying work in general, but even a much less accurate compass can help keep you situationally aware when traveling through unfamiliar territory.

We find that Amazon has a good range of well priced compasses available.  There are also specialty compass stores online, and your favorite outdoor retail store probably has a range of compasses that you can actually hold and physically choose from too.

Please note this is the second part of a two-part article about choosing a compass.  Please also visit the first part to understand about the two major types of compass design and issues to do with compass accuracy.

Jan 072013
Fun for all the family with your own M/T-114 armored personnel carrier - this one costs $74,000.

Fun for all the family with your own M/T-114 armored personnel carrier – this one costs $74,000.

If you found yourself suddenly gifted with several million dollars, and assuming you had some left over after spending money on all the usual things, maybe you might choose to treat yourself to a really neat vehicle to stick in your retreat’s garage.

The issue of successfully defending your retreat against armed attackers post-WTSHTF is one of considerable debate.  Some people choose to ignore the issue entirely, and claim they have no need for serious preparations and defenses, either because their retreat is well hidden, or because they are in a region with plenty of like-minded folks, or because they don’t believe that people would actually come after them and attempt to steal from them by force (and – we fear – do much worse than that too).

We’re not going to re-debate those points.  We’ve discussed them before, and might again in the future, and suffice it to say for now that we feel it an essential component of the prepping mindset to consider not just best case but also worst case scenarios, and to prepare (within reason) for both.  What sort of prepper allows themselves to be caught out by something that they say weakly in excuse about ‘Oh, gosh, we didn’t think that was likely to happen’?  Isn’t prepping all about preparing for less likely things which, if they do happen, will seriously destroy our lives and our lifestyles?

This article is simply looking at some unusual types of defensive vehicles.  And, yes, clearly these ‘defensive’ vehicles could be used just as well by someone else as an offensive vehicle – to bring the battle directly to your front door.

That thought of course begs the difficult question – what would you do if a bad guy turned up on your doorstep in a tank?

Unfortunately, that’s a far from impossible scenario (depending on how close your retreat is to a base with armored vehicles on it at present).  When the rule of law crumbles, there will be many thousands of tanks and other armored vehicles on bases around the country that will be liable to being ‘repurposed’ by people with evil intent.  We can only hope they run out of fuel (or ammo and/or spare parts) for their armored vehicles before they reach your retreat.

But what about the lawful availability of armored vehicles, today?  Did you know there’s a reasonably extensive market that trades in older armored military vehicles.  Of course, the main guns have usually been ‘de-milled’ and made inoperable and close to impossible to repair back to working order, but as a secure platform that would resist small arms fire up to and probably including the .50 BMG round, they are very interesting.

Some of the older vehicles also have fully analog type engines that are probably about as sure to survive an EMP attack as anything out there.

Of course, a heavy armored vehicle is going to give very bad gas mileage, and so you don’t want to use it as a daily driver.  Tracked vehicles can also be very maintenance intensive.  But as the ultimate all-weather and all-terrain vehicle that you can use hopefully in almost any type of weather and ground condition, and with a secure protected compartment that you can either escape within or fight from, an armored vehicle gives you a new level of tactical options that hopefully the bad guys ranged against you can’t match.

Remember that not all tracked vehicles are armored, and of course, general purpose ‘military’ trucks and other vehicles are probably not armored either.  And not everything with impressive looking tracks or really big wheels will manage to proceed in deep soft snow or bottomless mud.

There are a number of different national sources of military vehicles.  Ebay Motors has a section for military vehicles.  Here’s another website that features online classified ads (and interesting magazines too).

Let’s not forget our own government – they sell off just about everything imaginable, including through this site.

Perhaps the best site for armored vehicles is this one.

In addition, who knows what you mightn’t find locally as well.  Ask around, do some Googling, and the chances are, if you want to indulge yourself in such a vehicle, there’ll be exactly what you’re looking for, somewhere in the country, and priced from the low tens of thousands up to the middling hundreds of thousands, depending of course on all the usual things such as market appeal, practicality, and condition.

Dec 252012
The Unabomber was portrayed as a 'survivalist' - and vice versa, alas.  Make sure people understand the huge difference between people like that and preppers like yourself.

The Unabomber was portrayed as a ‘survivalist’ – and vice versa, alas. Make sure people understand the huge difference between people like that and preppers like yourself.

It is hard to know what exactly to call ourselves, isn’t it.  And the name we use has been largely chosen for us, and in some cases, has been stolen away from us again.

It is probably fair to agree that we used to consider ourselves – and I hesitate to use this word now – as survivalists.  That was our whole shtick, wasn’t it – we wanted to be sure we could survive whatever adverse situations occurred.

But somehow, the media took over the term whether through ignorance, laziness, or wilfulness (probably equal measures of all three) started using it to describe people very different to ourselves.  White supremacists were now labeled survivalists, as were religious groups, gun lovers, people seeking off-grid lifestyles, and anyone strange and non-mainstream.

Survivalist became increasingly a negative term and concept, via this ‘guilt by association’ trend.  Some people and businesses have found themselves trapped with the name – for example, the very popular site can not easily rename itself now.

However, the community of people-formerly-known-as-survivalists cast around for another term, and it seems the most common term now is to describe oneself as a prepper – one who prepares for future challenges and problems.  That’s a fine term, and one which hopefully can’t be so easily taken from us and twisted to mean something negative again.

While we now know we are preppers, not survivalists, the general public and the media don’t.  So we need to now help educate them and explain that we are very different to people who are now commonly termed survivalists.  Rather than fight the confusion in the term survivalist, we need to now use it to our own advantage, we should turn a negative into a positive.

The basic concept you want to share is ‘Oh, no, we aren’t survivalists.  We are preppers.  That is a whole different thing!’

Here are some differences between preppers and survivalists.

  • Survivalists reject society, and even encourage and possibly seek its downfall.  Preppers enjoy and like our present society, and hope it never fails.
  • Survivalists choose to live a life outside society.  Preppers are happily integrated into the societies they belong to.
  • Survivalists feel less constrained by the rule of law and normal social convention.  Preppers accept and follow normal social conventions and legal obligations.
  • Survivalists are happy with the most basic of existences.  Preppers realize that our current lifestyles probably can’t be supported or sustained after a major collapse in society, but do the best they can to make their future as comfortable and convenient as possible.
  • Survivalists might happily live in unlined earthen caves and cramped underground bunkers (and sometimes even before a collapse in society).  Preppers seek to create sustainable ongoing positive lives above ground, and will transition to growing their own food rather than living off canned rations as quickly as they can.
  • Survivalists have transitioned to their alternate lifestyle already.  Preppers generally remain leading ‘normal’ lives, but are ready to adapt to future challenges and constraints when and if necessary.
  • Survivalists probably don’t have large inventories of supplies and stores over and above basic food items.  Preppers, probably, do.
  • Both preppers and survivalists probably have guns.  But a prepper lawfully owns the guns he has, and does not seek out fully auto weapons, and owns his guns only for hunting and defensive rather than aggressive reasons.
  • Survivalists generally tend to be more solitary.  Preppers, ideally, would prefer to be part of a larger community of like-minded folk.

You can probably think of more differences too between being a survivalist and being a prepper.  But these preceding eight points should get you started if you ever need to differentiate between being a survivalist and a prepper, and to explain to friends (or media) what it is you are and what it is you aren’t.

In other words, being a prepper is all about positively preparing to succeed in an uncertain future.  That’s a good thing, not a bad thing, right?  While people might be anxious at having a survivalist next door, they should welcome the presence of a prepper.

Dec 032012

Bugarach, France; pop 176 and its mountain – the only safe place on 12/21/12?

Are you worried about the Mayan prophecy about the world coming to an end on 21 December, 2012?

For the record, while we worry about and prepare for many things, this is one thing we’re not at all concerned about, but if it is a worry of yours, then, and observing the Prepper Code of Politeness, we’ll pass this bit of information on to you without (too much) comment.

It seems that some ‘experts’ on the topic of the Mayan end-of-the-world meme have established that there is one place on the planet that will be safe and its residents saved.  This is the tiny French town of Bugarach, in the south-east of France and in its mountainous Pyrenees region.

This is because aliens will emerge from a nearby 4,040 ft high mountain in their space ships and save the locals.

So, if this is your ‘thing’, you better rush over to Bugarach in the short while remaining, where the crush of people is such that accommodation is now costing as much as £1200 ($1900) a night, a bottle of special local spring water can cost €15 ($19.50) and pieces of rock from the ‘mysterious’ mountain are selling for $55 an ounce.

More details here and here.  And if you’re really interested, here’s a NY Times article from 2011 that talks about the area a bit more dispassionately, and an article in French that talks about it more sensationally.

Nov 112012

Save 15% on $29+ orders with US Cavalry through 17 Nov

I got an offer via email today – the online store US Cavalry, full of good stuff for preppers and non-preppers alike, is offering a 15% across the board discount from now through 17 November 2012 on all orders of $29 or greater.

Simply use the discount code PN12N15V when checking out to get the discount.  Here’s their website :

Update :  I’ve a new coupon from them.  The code is R12B15Q and it is again a 15% discount, apparently with no order minimum, and good through 30 Nov 2012.

I’ve bought gear from US Cavalry on several occasions, and indeed have some items currently on back-order that I’m eagerly awaiting.  They seem to be a fair and good company to work with, and their pricing is similar to competing stores, as best I can tell, so when you take a 15% discount off, the pricing becomes very appealing.


May 182012

It is wise to apply the oil of refined politeness to the mechanism of discussion and debate.

One of the problems in today’s society is that we have isolated ourselves much more than ever before from people different to ourselves.

We spend more time in homogenous communities, and so it becomes easier to vilify people who disagree with us, because we don’t see them as ‘people like us’ but rather as ‘strangers unlike us, with strange ideas unlike ours’.

This is unfortunate, because as theoretically right as our views may seem to us to be, and indeed as truly correct as they may be in a perfect world, in our real and imperfect world, sometimes the best views on anything are a compromised mix of different opinions and somewhere closer to middle ground.

The results of the growing polarization of opinion can be seen in the dysfunctionality of our political system, where politicians regularly lie and cheat the system purely so as to ‘trick’ other politicians into taking unpopular stands about things – even if the unpopular stands actually happen to be the right stands.  Well, we could go on and on about the problems with our politicians, but we’ll stop at that point, other than to observe one chilling essential truth :  We get the politicians we vote for.  The disappointing performance of our politicians reflects on us as much as on them.

Anyway, on to the point at hand.  The need to ensure a positive and polite level of discourse when discussing and debating prepping related matters.  Positive discourse reflects positively on ourselves and the topic of prepping.  Negative discourse is no good for anyone involved with it.

Whether you’re discussing prepping with a friend or if you’re being interviewed on national television, there are two scenarios we’d like to put to you.

Preppers Debating Prepping With Other Preppers

We’ve often seen situations where a prepper speaks passionately about some type of future risk and the need to prepare for what would happen if/when the risk eventuates.  Okay, great, more power to them.  We love to see passion and commitment to the concept of prepping, in any and all its forms.

But then they turn around and denigrate other preppers for having different priorities.  Oh, to worry needlessly about Possibility X is stupid, they say.

That is unkind and inappropriate, and acting that way detracts from their own advocacy.  While the person saying this fears they are competing against other risks, and other forms of preparing, that is not the case at all.  All of us preppers, no matter what future risks we wish to prepare for, are not competing for mind-share with each other.  Our biggest competitor is the overall rejection of any and all prepping, entirely.

Furthermore, a diversity of different prepping in a community gives a broader base of safety net for a broader base of possible futures, and one of the things about prepping is that all forms of prepping involve future scenarios of varying degrees of improbability.  There mere fact that an event is unlikely is no reason not to appropriately prepare some degree of response for it.

Nothing is guaranteed to happen at any point in the future.  Maybe there’ll be a Yellowstone eruption, maybe not.  Maybe the San Andreas fault will fracture in an earthquake to beat all earthquakes.  Maybe an asteroid will hit the planet.  Maybe, maybe, maybe, for so many things.  But (and happily), more likely, maybe not as well.

So to dismiss someone as stupid (a bad thing to say anyway) for preparing for an unlikely future risk; when we say ‘anyone who thinks they should prep against this future risk is nuts’, we are halfway to saying ‘anyone who thinks they should prep against any sort of future risk is nuts’ and that is more than halfway to saying ‘I am nuts’.

By all means, it is right and proper that you should have your own personal preferred forms of prepping.  Imagine how boring horse races would become if everyone bet on only one horse.

Besides which, people in different parts of the country, and living different types of lifestyles, and with different personal circumstances, quite validly do have different priorities for how they can approach the risks they confront, and different sets of probabilities attached to the different risks out there.

For example, you’re more likely to see someone in the Florida Keys preparing for a hurricane threat than you are to see someone in San Francisco, whereas the San Francisco resident is probably up to speed with earthquake risks, something the Keys dweller is completely unconcerned about.

A person with major net worth is more likely to be interested in high-end retreats costing seven or eight figures, whereas a person living on an average wage might be more focused on optimizing Level 1 situations and their responses to such things.  And so on, through as many different combinations of people, places and things as there are.

The thing is this :  Just because one person is investing heavily in some form of prepping while you are investing in a different form doesn’t make the other person stupid – and, relax, it doesn’t make you stupid either.  Any prepping is better than none, and we all have to play our personal favorites and do what makes us most comfortable and what addresses the risks of greatest perceived relevance to us.

So, fellow preppers, and recognizing that diversity is a wonderful thing, here’s a polite suggestion and request.

By all means advocate your own personal views and what you do yourself to prep.  But when someone asks you about a different type of prepping, perhaps for a different type of scenario, don’t be negative about it.  Adopt a look of intelligent uncertainty, but treat the other prepper’s viewpoint with the same open-minded respect you hope people will treat you and your viewpoints.

It is as easy as this – you can say something like :

There’s really no end of risks in the world today, but for most of us, we have to prioritize which risks we respond to, and to base our responses on the limits of our time and our budget.

In a perfect world, I’d be enthusiastically doing everything about the risks and responses you mention too, but it isn’t practical for me to do everything about everything, and for now, in my situation, I’m doing the best I can.

Your mileage may vary – you might have a different set of priorities, and possibly more (or even less) time and/or money to allocate to your own preparing.  I’m able to tell you about what I’m doing and why it is important to me; that’s not to detract from your (or their) perspectives – we can both be right.  You’d have to speak to experts on this other type of prepping to properly understand what they do and why they do that.

That is a positive high-minded response which shows you to be open-minded and statesmanlike and serious and sensible.  It reflects positively on you and on the broader concept of prepping.

You’ll win more people to your point of view if you don’t put them on the defensive first.

Preppers and Non-Preppers

Something else might have encountered is a prepper being heckled and harangued by a non-prepper.  Eventually, frustratedly, the non-prepper pulls out what he believes to be his ‘trump card’ and says ‘Well, we’ll see who is laughing when TSHTF – don’t come to me, begging for my food’ and possibly then makes some reference to the dozens of guns he owns in a meaningful manner, implying what would happen to people who come to him asking for food.

You’ve probably seen this happen, but have you ever seen the non-prepper then say ‘Oh my goodness.  You’re so right.  I hadn’t thought about that at all.  You’ve completely changed my mind.  Where can I start stockpiling guns and food?’

No, of course not.  You see the non-prepper’s non-acceptance of the prepping mindset harden into one of adversarial contempt and distrust.  He is thinking ‘That guy just told me he’d leave me to die, and maybe even threatened to shoot me.  There should be a law against people like him’.

Did what our prepping friend thought was his biggest and bestest argument win the debate, or did it lose the debate totally?

If you find yourself discussing prepping with someone else, you are much better advised to play down the level of prepping you currently undertake, and instead help the person you’re talking with to understand how he is already a prepper, without even realizing it.  The only difference between him and you is a matter of degree.

This is a much smaller ideological gap to bridge.  Instead of squaring off at each other, almost literally with guns drawn, you are standing on the same side of an issue, with common shared viewpoints on the big things already.  Neither of you has to change your mind, you just have to slightly alter your thinking on the topic.

Make a statement like ‘All prepping requires is a willingness to invest time or money or resource now to reduce the potential downside of a future event, be it likely or unlikely.  I bet you’re a prepper yourself, without even realizing it.  Do you have insurance on your car?’

The person will require ‘Yes, of course’ and might go on to say ‘I have to by law’.

In that case you can laugh and say ‘Insurance is a form of prepping.  When I buy long shelf life food, I’m paying an insurance premium against a food shortage.  And car insurance is prepping for the possibility of an accident – it is so prudent that it is required by law.  What about householder’s insurance – do you have that, too?’

Maybe the person says ‘Yes, I have to for my mortgage’, in which case you can smile again and say ‘Not only is prepping sometimes mandatory by law due to social reasons, but the bankers recognize the prudence of prepping for financial good sense too.  But whereas, at the end of a year, your insurance payment has gone for ever, I still have my 25 year extended life food stored, and in 24 years time, if I haven’t needed to use it, I can then get my value out of it by simply eating it or a tax write off from donating it to charity.  My voluntary prepping costs me nothing.  There’s no harm and no downside to that.’

Anyway, take the discussion wherever it goes, and don’t try to swing a person’s views completely around 180 degrees.  Instead, encourage them to see that they have all along been a prepper of some sort, and then help them to make just a slight change in their perception so that they feel the good sense in starting to participate in some prepping themselves.

Read through our series ‘An Introduction to Prepping‘ for more thoughts on how to explain prepping to non-preppers.

And – as for the ultimate illogic of the ‘Don’t come running to me in an emergency line’, turn that around and say ‘Well, I sure respect your right not to prepare for anything at all in the future.  But how about at least giving me a bit of encouragement to double down on what I do?  That way, if things do go wrong unexpectedly, you know you’ve got someone to turn to for help and support!’

That’s the positive side of the same coin, isn’t it.  It is absolutely true that, in a catastrophe, non-prepared people will be forced to turn to us for help.  If we have an abundance of materials beyond that which we need ourselves, of course we’ll do all we can to help our fellow citizens.  Maybe it could even be profitable for us to do so when people suddenly find themselves with money but not way to spend it; or  maybe we’ll just do things out of the goodness of our hearts.

But whatever the situation, it is best for the people we must live with now to see us as a positive force for good, and someone to befriend, ‘just in case’, rather than a scary monster ready to start shooting them at the drop of a hat.

The Thing We Are Preparing For

Here’s a related comment for when discussing various TEOTWAWKI scenarios.

Be fuzzy about the details of what you are preparing for.  It is better to say ‘Society today has a range of built-in vulnerabilities.  Accepting these vulnerabilities gives us great convenience in our every day lives as long as all goes well, but if the vulnerabilities should eventuate, then in a worst case scenario, our current comfortable secure lifestyles could be massively impaired.  I’d be pleased to talk through many different possible situations with you, but I don’t think that essential.  I’ve simply prepared to be able to withstand some possible breakdowns in our society and all the underlying support systems that we rely upon.’

It is harder to argue the prudence of keeping a supply of emergency food on hand in case some vague thing interrupts the supply of food to your local supermarket, than it is debating the likelihood of a specific nation launching a specific attack against some specific part of the US infrastructure.

Talking about preparing for adversity is an extension of the widely understood and admired Boy Scout code of being prepared.  Worrying about some remote catastrophe sounds close to paranoid.  Use the positive to describe yourself, not the negative.


Prepping is a ‘broad church’ and both allows and encourages for many different views and approaches to the topic.  It is a positive and supportive activity, and you should be positive and supportive in how you describe it and discuss it.

Remember the saying ‘You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’.