Thursday 12/02/15

Being in the dark isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it can work to your advantage. How well do you know you own home? I'm not talking about the contents, I mean the floor plan. Do you know it well enough so you can walk around in the dark, without bumping into things? "Why would I bother doing that, when I can just switch the lights on?", I hear you ask. That's a fair question.

Being comfortable with the dark has several advantages. The obvious one is when you wake up in the middle of the night; you are able to navigate through your home without turning the lights on and disturbing the rest of your family. The same applies if you are unfortunate enough to experience a power outage at night. In both situations, it is useful to be able to safely and confidently walk to the nearest light switch or torch. It's a little embarrassing to witness adults panic about a sudden, temporary loss of lighting in their own home.

On a more serious note, if there is a fire in your building, smoke will rapidly reduce your visibility to zero. To escape, you will probably be on your hands and knees and have to crawl. Remember, smoke rises. The cleanest air is down low. If you can walk through your house in the dark, finding the exit during a fire shouldn't be too difficult. But what about holiday accommodation? Even when you are on holidays, it is imperative you know where your nearest fire exit is. After you put your gear in your motel room, go back into the corridor and walk the path from your room to the fire exit. Count the number of doors between your room and the exit. The reason for counting doors is so you know how far away the fire exit is when the corridor is full of smoke, reducing your visibility to zero. If you have to crawl, keep close to the wall with the doors, so you can touch each one as you pass it.

Another issue for darkness is home security. Usually, if you hear a strange noise at night, your first reaction is to turn on all the lights and hope it will discourage whoever is causing the noise. There may be an occasion where it is more advantageous to silently approach the source of the noise the dark and observe the situation, before you act. Darkness gives you the element of surprise, allowing you a few extra moments to make a decision; whether you choose to retreat, call the police, or take other some other course of action.

Darkness doesn't have to be a hindrance. Just like any other situation, be willing to work with your environment.

Thursday 05/02/15

If you've been reading my blogs on a regular basis, you will have a fair understanding of the things you should carry in your car, in your backpack and in your Bug Out Bag. This week I'm going to add a few additional, light weight items that are often overlooked.

  • A pair of bootlaces. I mentioned these a few weeks ago. I used mine as cordage this week, so I thought it was worth mentioning them again. They easily tuck away into an unused corner of your pack, so they take up no useable space and weigh virtually nothing.
  • A little traveler's sewing kit. Essentially, this is just a couple of sewing needles, a few safety pins and a few lengths of thread in various colours. The whole kit can fit into a matchbox (or even smaller if you wish). This is an absolute lifesaver if you have to make emergency repairs to your clothes (or backpack).
  • A pen. To me, this seems obvious. But now that everyone has a smartphone, fewer and fewer people carry a pen (they just enter the information on their phone). Smartphones are great, but you can't use them to write a quick note for someone.
  • A small torch on your keyring. A cheap plastic torch is better than no torch, but a sturdy, metal torch will last longer.
  • Bandanna. Useful as a handkerchief and a pad in a first-aid situation. It is a bit bigger and bulkier than a handkerchief, but more practical. I've even dowsed mine in water and tied it across my face as a smoke filter in a bushfire.
  • A small, metal nail file. "Men don't use nail files" I hear you think. Trust me, if you have ever kicked your toe on a rock and split it open, you'll have fond memories of catching jagged shards of nail on your sock or bandage.
  • Sticking plaster. Keeping one of these in your wallet or purse won't take up much room in your wallet or purse. Its true value will become apparent if you get a blister on your heel.
  • A lubricant-free condom. Get your mind out of the gutter. If it looks like you are going to get drenched thanks to an unexpected storm, a condom makes a great waterproof phone cover. Just roll the condom down over the phone and tie the end shut.

There you have it. No startling revelations, just a few handy hints that have made my life a little easier.

Thursday 29/01/15

Keeping warm doesn't present too much of a challenge in the comfort of your home. You have blankets in your linen cupboard and warm clothes in your wardrobe. You probably have a fireplace, electric heater or air conditioning to warm your home. Cooking your food isn't much of a challenge if you have a stove or oven.

If you are camping or find yourself stranded, a fire gives you light, heat and will boost your morale. Starting a fire and keeping it going will give you something constructive to do if you are stranded and waiting for help.

If you were stranded for a night or two, would you know how to light a fire? Do you have any equipment that would help you light a fire? I'm not suggesting that you walk around town with enough fire-lighting paraphernalia to rival your neighbourhood arsonist, I mean in your car (specifically, in that overnight-bag full of gear I suggested you carry a few weeks ago). If not, you should consider adding fire making tools to this bag.

Ideally, you should have at least three different ways to make fire. My preferences are:

  • Weatherproof matches,
  • A disposable lighter,
  • A magnesium flint with striking steel.

There are other methods of lighting a fire, such as a bow-drill, but they require practice beforehand. You don't want to try these methods out for the first time when you are in serious trouble. You could also focus sunlight through a magnifying glass or the lens of your glasses onto tinder, but this only works on a clear, sunny day. No sun = no fire.

You should also carry some form of tinder with your fire-tools, because you can't always rely on your surroundings to provide you with something suitable. I suggest keeping your tinder in either a zip-lock bag or small, airtight plastic container. Two readily available sources (in every home) are:

  • Lint from the dryer (not only is it highly flammable, it's free),
  • Cotton balls infused with petroleum jelly (yes, that stuff you rub on your lips when they're chapped). Cotton wool with petroleum jelly burns four times longer than cotton wool on its own.

The rest of your fire building is fairly straight forward. Gather your firewood, tinder and kindling first. Clear debris, even grass, from the area you intend to build your fire. Bare earth is best. Also, clear any debris that is near the fire. If possible, use rocks to build a ring around the fire. Then build your fire; tinder on the ground with a tee-pee or pyramid of kindling above it. Build a larger tee-pee of sticks above this. Once your fire is established, you can gradually feed larger and larger pieces of wood into the fire.

I know this information is fairly basic, but not everyone knows how to build a fire. (Yes, I actually know adults who can't make a fire and keep it going once it's lit.)

Never leave your fire unattended. Once a fire is lit, accidents can happen (embers travel on the slightest of updraughts). When you are done with your fire, make sure you extinguish your fire properly. (Notice I keep referring to your fire? You created that fire, so you are responsible for not letting it get out of control. Even if you have no conscience and don't care about anyone else, do you really want to die in a forest fire that you caused?). After the fire burns out, drown the remains with water and stir it with a stick, ensuring nothing hot remains. Burying the remains with sand will help too.

Until next week; keep safe.