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.

Thursday 22/01/15

We just passed the halfway point and it's already been a long, hot summer. The days have regularly been in excess of 30⁰ Celsius and the nights haven't been much better. It has also been very dry. If any rain has fallen, it's only been light drizzle in the evenings. Over the last couple of days the heavens have opened up and given the eastern seaboard some much needed rain. Unfortunately, some areas have experienced flash flooding as a result of localised heavy downpours.

If you're in an urban environment, flash flooding won't impact too greatly on your life (unless you make a habit of playing in stormwater drains). On the other hand, if you're in a rural area, flash flooding can be problematic. Unfortunately, inexperienced campers can quickly find themselves in a lot of trouble if they've set-up camp in a dry creek bed. Flash floods can turn seemingly dry, solid ground into a raging torrent of water in a matter of minutes. A wall of dirty water isn't the only problem; the debris in the water can be just as dangerous as the water itself. Pointy sticks, heavy logs, animal carcases, snakes and spiders are common debris found in flood water.

You don't have to be in the creek bed to find yourself in trouble. If you camp too close to the edge of the creek, you might find flood water gushing through the front door of your tent. Don't panic; quickly and calmly seek higher ground immediately. Take your food, water and other supplies with you, but do not place your life at risk to do so.

If you find yourself cut off by flood water, do not attempt to cross it. You have no idea how quick it's actually moving, how deep it is, or what perils lurk below the surface. If you become cut-off or isolated, do not panic. You need to use your eyes, ears and brain to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Your path home might simply be via higher ground. If not, you need to be patient. Unless the area is being subjected to major flooding, the flood water should recede within 24 hours.

A word of advice for four wheel drive enthusiasts; your vehicle is designed to handle rough terrain a normal family sedan couldn't drive across. It is not an indestructible, amphibious vehicle. It was not designed to travel through flood water. Under no circumstance should you attempt to cross a submerged bridge or road. You might be a bit of a risk-taker and be ok with risking your life in such situations. You might even get away with it. But if it goes wrong, not only have you put your own life in danger, you are also gambling with the lives of the rescue personnel who have to find and rescue you.

If you've prepared properly for your camping trip, a 24 hour delay before returning home won't be a problem, because you will have brought enough food and water with you to cover an additional 48 hours on the land (just in case of emergency). Minor to moderate flooding should resolve itself within 24 hours.

If you're tempted to go wading through flood waters, I want you to keep in mind that the contents of septic tanks and sewerage treatment works often find their way into flood water. You really don't want to accidentally swallow any of this water; or get it in any scratches, cuts or open wounds.

Don't be afraid to enjoy the outdoors, just make sure you plan for the conditions and be prepared to alter your plans as conditions change.

For your convenience, I have included the link to the NSW State Emergency Services Flood Safe page: