Sunday, March 18, 2012

The BOB and You or How I Learned to Leave the Weight at Home:,

I have been on travel for awhile now, and have had some time to think about my inevitable post on BOBs* and how I wanted to approach it.  Everyone and their brother has put together a blog post, or a Youtube video about the exact contents of their BOBs, and how you need to Be Prepared for Anything!  Because you never know!**  After my experience with all these blogs and videos, I think mine will be a tad different, because I want to instead to discuss this topic from a different angle.  I ask the reader to take a step back and (here it comes again) focus on what you're actually going to need this bag for, and I do this because I'm sure not seeing a lot of that in most of the things I see and read.  My reasoning for this approach stems partially from a very recent experience during my travels, which I will talk about shortly.

So, the BOB.  Look, I know it's the prepper mantra of sorts to be ready for anything, and I am totally onboard with that.  Problem is, I also have this nagging propensity to look at things realistically.  As I said before, it's great that you're starting out prepping.  You've read a few forums or blogs, you've watched a few vids, and you dig out your card, and get ready to go shopping for everything that vid you watched from a YT user named something compelling like "SuperSensibleSurvivalistGuru"*** (I mean, with a name like that, the guy must be an expert!) where they spell out every item you need.  Alright, good deal, now slow down.  Take a breath.  Let's take a step back for a second and ask ourselves some sensible questions (as long as we're hung up on being sensible and all), shall we?

1. Is this guy working from the viewpoint of his local weather conditions/possible natural disasters?  Do these resemble yours?  For example, hurricane preparations aren't going to look like earthquake preparations.
2. More importantly, has SSSG above designed his BOB around his exact bug-out plan?  Does this bug-out plan resemble yours at all?  For example, there's not much reason you should be packing a bag full of camping equipment and three weeks' worth of food if your plan involves simply driving to a friend/family member's house that's a total of twenty miles away, a trip you plan on making by car, and could do on foot in two days tops if required (and you were in reasonable shape).
3. Perhaps the most important question (in my eyes): how much will your bag weigh?

I'd like to mention two factoids about myself that I feel qualifies me to speak on this specific topic fairly well.

A. In my initial post in this blog, I mention that I am not a survival expert.  I am not law enforcement, or military, nor am I Bear Grylls.  All of that is still true.  However, I have decided that it won't be an identification marker if I reveal that I am an Eagle Scout.  There are over a million of us, so I think my initial mission of anonymity has remained intact.  So, yes, I'm an Eagle Scout.  What that means is that I have hiked many, many miles loaded down with a giant pack through woods and down dirt roads aplenty.  I have made many, many packing mistakes, and have learned from each one.  I have camped out in the constant downpours of east-coastal state summer showers.  I know roughly how much ground a person weighed down to a certain degree can cover in a day, and what sort of food and water requirements this sort of travel imposes.  So, while I am not an expert (and really, I'm not sure what really constitutes a survival expert other than someone who lives without the trappings of modern civilization nearly completely), I am experienced enough to be able to speak on the topic of BOBs from the standpoint that there is one concern that for most people should be the primary concern: weight.

B. I very recently had an experience on my travels that really underscored this old lesson I'd learned a long time ago, but had mistakenly discarded in this instance.  My flight was late arriving, and I disembarked this flight at a large regional hub airport, and was forced to run for over a mile at a dead run to make my connecting flight at another gate that was all the way across the airport in the roughly seventeen minutes I had left before that flight took off.  Let me tell you that this run almost killed me.  I had let my physical shape slide in the past few years (something I have begun correcting in the last few months), and I was hindered by a backpack that contained all the things I normally carry when traveling, a bag I pack without real thought to weight.  It spends most of its time in the overhead bin, or in the trunk of my rental, so who cares?  Idiot.  Complacency really, and I mean really, kicked my ass in this case.  With my laptop, and everything else in it, my backpack pegs north of 25 lbs.  A flat out run with 25+ lbs on your back will whip most people.  It certainly whipped my ass.  I did make the flight, however, and relearned the lesson.  As soon as I got home, I went out and bought a smaller bag the next day, and have revised my entire travel packing strategy.  I won't be caught flatfooted like that again!

And so, this lesson is one I implore you to keep at the forefront of your mind.  Your BOB should exactly reflect your bug-out plan (that you should already be working on if you've decided that BO is your preferred strategy).  Weight should be a primary concern even if your plan is currently "The news says a class 4 hurricane is bearing down on my area in the next 12 hours so I'm getting the family, getting in the car and heading to my parents' place three towns away to the north".  Getting everything loaded in your car right before Go Time is not the time to discover that you got crazy with your BOB and it weighs 60 lbs, and your wife's weighs 45lbs. as you're grunting and struggling to throw them in the trunk along with three cases of water. After all, what if your car breaks down?  What if you find yourself on a packed roadway with no way through as the hurricane starts to hit town?  At that point, you may find yourself on foot, and you certainly don't want to leave your supplies behind!

This is what I am seeing when I watch these videos and read these blogs.  You see these so-called experts, and you see things like these guys packing five different knives, ten flashlights along with spare batteries (different types no less! A facepalm noob mistake) for each, three hundred rounds of ammunition in addition to five loaded mags for their pistol (planning on fighting your way through an entire armed mob, are you?), clothes for a week, a gallon of water, multiples of backups for gear that is only marginally essential (if you live in a populated suburban area, you really don't need four different signal mirrors, hell, you don't even need one, a knife blade will do the trick), a full cooking kit, and no less than eight different ways to make a fire.  The issue here is that sure, you have a lot of cool gear.  Sad fact: you can't take it all with you if there's a chance you'll have to go forward on foot at some point.  Each little item adds up.  Sure, it's light when you're hefting it, and you toss it into your pack.  But then you go to pick up the bag and damn near throw your back out?  Yeah, that's Not Good.  And in my mind, you should put together your BOB with the mindset that you will end up on foot at some point.  If you're going with your wife and children, make sure their BOBs aren't so heavy they can't walk far.  Two healthy, motivated adults will be able to make ten or more miles a day on foot, less if with children in tow.  Of course, speaking further on that will go back to more of a planning discussion, and I'm doing my best to stay on point.

So, today's lesson: keep your bags light, and only have essentials.  Know firmly what plan the bag is supporting.  All too many internet survival experts seem not to cover this, in their haste to show you all the cool survival gear they plan to have with them.

Trial Run:

It is highly recommended that once you complete what you feel is your ideally outfitted BOB, that you put it on, put your good sturdy hiking shoes/boots on, and you take your ass for a long walk!  Hopefully, you have followed my advice, and having practiced the Grey Man Concept, you and your bag just look like a hiker out for a practice run.  I see them in my area fairly often, out walking in the evenings.  Sure, you may be armed (after all, you should ideally be outfitted exactly how you would be in the real exit event) but you shouldn't look it.  You are on a shakedown cruise, so to speak, with your bag.  You should try to walk for several miles.  If you have access to some local wooded area that you know well, perhaps during the day, you can head out there and ascertain how you'll do on terrain that isn't nice and flat.

In this way, during my years with scouts, I learned many lessons.  Here are a few:

  • Small outer pockets of your pack are the place for things like your first-aid kit, a spare pair of socks, spare laces for your shoes/boots, a mealbar or two, a flashlight with a couple spare batteries (it can get dark very quickly during some parts of the year), some matches, a knife, and so on.  Also, keep this in mind when selecting a bag to make your BOB.  A big sack with few small outer pockets might be good for holding everything, but do you really want to have to pull everything out because it's getting dark, and you can't find your spare batteries because they're all the way at the bottom of the main compartment where they tumbled after you started hiking with the bag on?
  • If you are carrying food, make sure it's some sort of MRE.  That is, packaged food that is able to be quickly heated (many MREs now come with chemical heating packets).  In fact, for a BOB, something like that is probably best.  For one thing, if you carry much dried food, that means some of whatever water you're carrying is now required to turn that powdered chicken kiev into something edible.  Not the best solution when your plan was to hike 20 miles over these hills that lay between you and your back up location.  Additionally, you now have to stop, take out a bunch of items, and set up a cooking spot.  Just a real hassle if you have a timeline you're trying to meet.  Also, make sure you aren't carrying canned goods, for Chrissake.  I assume I don't need to discuss why.
  • You need to carry both water, as well as some form of water purification.  Those Brita sport bottles will NOT be sufficient to cleanse water you pull from stream out in the woods you come across, so keep that in mind.  That is one thing every other prepper stresses, that I agree with.  Without water, you're dead.  In fact, I tend to keep a few bottles of water in my car, just never know when you might need it(**see, I can laugh at myself!).  Many hiking packs are made these days with those water-bladders in the back, and definitely would be a good asset to have on yours.
  • If you are going to hike somewhere, don't kill yourself.  Plan out a realistic timetable.  So many hiking trips got inadvertently extended for me as a young scout because I had a patrol leader or two in my time who couldn't properly plan a hike.  Eight scouts (a full patrol) aren't covering fifteen miles in a day through woods just because they were able to do it at one point on a road-hike on a weekender where they were carrying less gear.  This is also why I recommend the trial run.  In fact, there was a recent episode of that Doomsday Preppers show (more on that on my next post) where a young woman's plan to get out of her city was that she was going to put on her BOB, and walk out to the outskirts.  She had planned for this to take six hours because she worked out regularly (the show had footage of her doing calisthenics and jogging on a running trail) and felt this was realistic based on her apparently doing little more than running a Googlemaps check of her route.  Well, she had her first trial run of this hike-outta-Dodge while on the show, and she discovered to her dismay that not only did it take a hell of a lot longer than six hours, it wasn't the easy jaunt she'd thought it would be.  A shame.
  • A big, BIG part of your BOB gear needs to be a good pair of hiking boots.  I hiked with plenty of miserable scouts (and adults) who decided that the major hike we were on was the best place to break in a new pair of hiking boots.  Or else, there were scouts who decided that a worn pair of skate shoes were the ideal hiking footwear for a long hike through wooded hills.  I myself have multiple pairs of well cared-for, broken-in hiking boots (I personally prefer Merrill's) that you can bet would be on my feet in the event I had to leave my home ahead of a hurricane or tornado.  In fact, I tend to travel in these also, since some of the airports I find myself traversing would kill my feet in lesser footwear.  Before you buy that cool $100 knife, or $300 tacticool flashlight with the five modes, buy yourself some quality hiking boots.  Then spend the time breaking them in.  You absolutely will regret it if you don't.  
There is so much more, I could probably write for hours on the subject.  Instead, I implore you to read all you can, load out your BOB with things you'll need that support your plan, not someone else's, who may be a giant gear-guy.  Take only what you need, nothing you don't.  Then, load up, and take the bag for a spin, and see how it (and you) do.  If you're able to actually trial-run your escape plan, so much the better.  Whatever you do, stay safe out there.

- Unnamed Prepper

"In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks."
- John Muir

*    I expect we all know what this acronym stands for by now!
**  Many preppers are big proponents of phrases that are incredibly vague yet that hint at doom and the collapse of everything just around the corner.
*** A contrived name combined from two or three Youtube account names I've actually seen.  Outstanding!

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