Backpacking and Common Sense Prepping

20130213-210443.jpgLet me start out this post with a disclaimer: I’m using the word “pepper” here, but I don’t intend it to mean what a lot of people think it means. I’m not stockpiling guns and ammo against the coming zombie apocalypse. I don’t think the earth’s magnetic field is going to suddenly flip on its axis, and I doubt the UN troops/BATFE/black helicopter guys are going to be landing in my back yard without some advance warning that they’re coming. When you see the folks on the TV show Doomsday Preppers, digging underground bunkers to wait for whatever apocalyptic catastrophe they think will bring about The End of the World As We Know It? That’s not me. I don’t own a tinfoil hat, and I don’t expect an unannounced apocalypse tomorrow.

However, this is what I do believe: It is probable that at some point I could experience a crisis – be it natural or manmade – that would have the potential to disrupt my life for a period of time, and being able to function autonomously and to provide for my basic needs will help me through that crisis.

Given where I live, I think severe weather, earthquake, power outages, and the rupture of the dam upriver are all more likely than hordes of zombies with AK-47s suddenly invading my yard. In fact, all of these with the exception of the dam break have happened within my recent memory (and the dam does spill over whenever it rains heavily). There has been, within my lifetime, a flood that cut off my city’s roads from the surrounding countryside for a period of some days.

Part of the reason I’ve taken up backpacking, in fact, is because I think that having the capability to provide for my basic needs – food, shelter, fire, water, warmth – for a week or two at a time is an important crisis survival skill. I can fit everything I need to survive for a week or so in the kind of weather conditions we see here into a pack that I can comfortably carry. Want to go for a weekend campout with friends? Take my tent and sleeping bag out of the Rubbermaid containers they live in, stuff them into their sacks, and I can have my pack loaded up and ready to go in about 20 minutes. Flood or earthquake? I can throw the totes into my car and situate the pack later.

I think this theme ties nicely into the other topics I’ve been writing about, because there’s a common thread in backpacking and self-defense: In both cases, we are equipping ourselves and our families to be self-sufficient. To me, self reliance is the key to survival, whether we’re trying to fight off a violent predator or live for a time, voluntarily or otherwise, without the comforts and conveniences of modern life. There’s a huge amount of stress that goes away when we know, in our core, that we have the tools and training to meet our own basic needs and attend to our own safety.

I’m going to start an occasional series on backpacking and outdoor survival, since I think that’s an important topic, but I want to call attention to one more key distinction (with thanks to John Hodoway, whose interviews with Bob Mayne got me thinking about it): The distinction between probable and possible. A rainstorm cutting off power and access to shopping for a few days? Quite probable where I live. Hordes of zombies? Not so much. An earthquake is probable, though rare. EMP weapon? Don’t see it any time soon.

Preparing for the possible can be fun, don’t get me wrong. Buying 12 AR-pattern rifles and 600,000 rounds of “Zombie Killer 2000” ammo is just plain fun for some folks. If it’s fun for you and you can afford it, knock yourself out. Here’s the key, though: You need to be able to make it through the probable before you start worrying about the possible. If you have 12 AR rifles, 600,000 rounds of ammo, and 16 handguns, but you don’t have a raincoat and sleeping bag and a way to make food and clean water…well, really, how prepared are you?

Since this is a bit of a departure from my usual fare, I have two questions for you, dear readers: Are backpacking (and, more generally, “common sense survival”) topics you’re interested in? And, how easily could you survive a week or so without power and access to shopping? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

The photo depicts a homemade alcohol stove, which I constructed in about 20 minutes with tin cans, a pocket knife, a bit of JB Weld glue, and scissors. It’s nothing fancy, but in a pinch it’ll boil up a cup of soup or a mug of coffee, and it puts out enough heat to keep my hands warm on a cool February night. Preparing for emergencies doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive.


  1. There’s an awful lot of information on this topic available, both on the net and in libraries and bookstores. And that information covers the whole range from weekenders to the folks preparing for the end of the world. (Actually, if the world is ending, what does it matter?) But I digress…

    So, it seems to me that an assessment of one’s situation, location, and the potential hazards in the area would be the most important first step in any sort of preparations – as you touched on here. And, since there is literally an information overload out there just waiting to overwhelm us, figuring out what of that information one truly needs to fit the risks identified would be the next step.

    Now THAT’S where I see a hole that needs to be plugged. The last list of “prepper” literature and books sent to me would take years to read through, and many long hours to evaluate and separate into various categories.

    I’d suggest doing some research among those many prepper web sites, books and videos, to identify a few of the best for the level of preparation you have indicated here.

    As for backpacking, first you have to NEED to go somewhere else – a perfectly logical thing for some people, of course. Personally, I’m too old and infirm to even contemplate it. So I’ve made my preparations with “bug in” as the goal. Unless the house burns down, I’m not going anywhere. But if it does, my family is prepared as well, and I’ll be just fine.

    Good preparation includes your neighbors and community, if at all possible. You can’t plan for every contingency, and we all need help at some point. Don’t try to be the lone ranger.

    • Agreed about the “lone ranger” thing. In my case, a disaster that renders my house uninhabitable – an earthquake, say – isn’t outside the realm of possibility, and being able to pitch my tent in my back yard would be a help in that situation. I think backpacking itself is valuable more for the self-reliance skills it teaches than because I expect to flee zombie hordes and head for the hills.

      And good suggestions for some future posts, so thanks for that! I always appreciate your insight on things, my friend.

  2. Great post. Wilderness skills – even enough to just comfortable survive in a local campground without a 5-wheel – are simply not that common anymore. It seems to be that part of our heritage and tradition has been replaced by the RV, Windstream and pop-up camper. Yet, should things go sideways – whether through some kind of civil unrest or simply getting lost on a “short” day hike – hiking and wilderness skills should be part of a person’s “kit” just as much as an extra magazine or a good pocket knife.

    Shameless plug here . . . . I did a post on this topic and the contents of my “boogie bag” about a year. With your kind permission – a link:


    • Thanks for the link, Bill! Lots of good info there. And I agree that there are good reasons why this gear and those skills are helpful, but I think they’re just as valuable for the mindset they impart. In fact, I think that will be the subject of a post pretty soon.

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