Thursday 07/09/17

If you rely on public transport, the only things you have to worry about are remembering the timetable, and having a valid ticket. Occasionally, you may have to deal with snap-strikes by transport workers. However, if you rely on a motor vehicle to get around, your responsibilities and concerns are a little more detailed. Before commencing any journey, you need to make sure you have sufficient petrol in your tank to complete your journey (or at least make it as far as the nearest petrol station), and making sure your tyres are properly inflated.

Beyond the obvious, there are a few other essential you must attend to, which will reduce potential problems on the road.

  • Auto club membership: in Australia, $110 per year.
  • Jerrycan 20 litre: If a 20 litre can is too heavy for you to safely lift and accurately pour, purchase 2 x 10 litre cans.
  • Funnel: Makes pouring petrol into your fuel tank a lot easier.
  • Basic toolkit: A very basic kit costs around $100.
  • Spare tyre: This needs to be regularly inspected to ensure it is inflated, and never removed from your car (i.e. to make room for more luggage).
  • Jack: To be examined at regular intervals to make sure it is in good working order.
  • LED torch: A headlamp will keep both of your hands free.
  • Spare charging cable for your current mobile phone (this cord permanently lives in your glovebox). Your phone is useless if the battery is flat.

I’ll be blunt. If you can’t afford to purchase the items in the above list, you can’t afford to be on the road. Be honest with yourself; if you can afford to go out drinking with your mates, you can afford to buy the items on this list. If you doubt the value of any of these items, think of them as insurance. If your car breaks down, every one of these items will help you resume your journey. A new sound system, or personalised number plates, will not.

Many years ago, I had the misfortune of traveling in a gas-guzzler that ran out of petrol on the Pacific Highway, halfway between Sydney and Newcastle….. at sunset. This situation was completely avoidable; if only the driver had listened to the repeated requests to fill up at any of the numerous petrol stations we’d passed on the way out of the city. I had a mobile phone we could use to call for help; but he wasn't a member of the auto club. Nor did he own a jerrycan. It is safe to assume I was not impressed.

If you have to buy a gift for an irresponsible younger sibling or friend, this list provides great gift ideas for all budgets (and far better options for an 18th or 21st birthday present than video games, or bottles of alcohol).

If you found the information in tonight’s blog useful, please share it with your friends and family on social media. The better prepared you are, the safer you’ll be on the road.

Thursday 03/08/17

Sleeping bags are an important item to take with you when you travel. Strictly speaking, they aren’t essential (yes, you can live without one), but they do make sleeping outdoors a lot more comfortable. The market is flooded with so many different types, styles and materials, selecting the right one can be daunting if you don’t know where to begin.

I’ll start with the obvious; sleeping bags aren’t cheap. If you regularly enjoy the great outdoors, you will have many opportunities to make use of your sleeping bag, giving you excellent value for money. If you aren’t a camper, or are only purchasing one to supplement your Bug Out Bag (BOB), you might baulk at the price of a good quality sleeping bag.

To a degree, price will influence your selection, but it should not be your only criteria. Think of your sleeping bag as disaster insurance. If you have to leave your home, do you really want to be exposed to the elements while you sleep? No? Me neither. In Australia, you can expect to spend $100 to $200 on a decent sleeping bag. If you read through the catalogues that clutter your mailbox every week, or regularly check on-line, you should be able to save money by purchasing a good quality sleeping bag while it is on sale.

There are a number of factors to consider when selecting your sleeping bag.

  • Price: Set a budget. I am fairly confident you don’t need a $500 sleeping bag.
  • Material: Your sleeping bag must have a breathable lining, and a water resistant outer layer. Sleeping bags in transit have a horrible tendency to absorb any liquid they accidentally touch; providing you with a cold, wet, uncomfortable night’s sleep.
  • Temperature rating: Sleeping bags are rated from arctic through to tropical. You need to consider the climate of the area you will be sleeping in. A bag that is retains too much heat will be impossible to sleep in. But a bag with too little insulation will not keep you warm; you will shiver until sunrise (travel light, freeze all night, as the adults used to say). If you live in a subtropical area like I do, think carefully before purchasing a sleeping bag rated for arctic conditions.
  • Size: You need to be able to fit into the sleeping bag and zip it shut. Take the measurement around the largest part of your body (chest + shoulders + arms, or hips), and add a few inches. This is the smallest size sleeping bag you are permitted to buy. Anything smaller will fit like a sausage skin, or won’t zip up at all. A small sleeping bag is a useless sleeping bag. I am, and have always been, very broad across the chest and shoulders. In my youth I believed the advice of a lazy and unscrupulous sales assistant who told me all sleeping bags were the same size, and were designed to fit all adults. Unfortunately, when I took the sleeping bag on my next camping trip, it was a complete disaster. I could only do it up if my arms weren’t inside. Lesson learned.
  • Method of carry: Your sleeping bag needs some way of attaching to your backpack. During an evacuation, you need both hands free to work. Also, there is a risk you may put your sleeping bag down to do something then forget to pick it up again before you leave. Time consuming to backtrack and retrieve. Too expensive to leave behind.
  • Shape: This is a personal preference. Some people love the mummy shaped sleeping bags, but I am not one of them. I prefer the traditional rectangle shape. These allow freedom of movement while you sleep, and provide somewhere to stash small valuables.
  • Hoods: Some people like them, some don’t. I like them because they can be stuffed with a jumper and tied shut, turning them into a pillow.
  • Weight: As with all you gear, the physical weight of this item is an important consideration. Most sleeping bags weigh between 750 grams to 2 kilograms. Choose wisely; kilos are killers.

Just like any piece of equipment, you need to do your research before heading off to the camping store to part with your hard-earned cash. Make a list of your specific requirements, go on-line to find the brand and model that meets your needs, then find a local store that sells that particular sleeping bag. Never settle for “only what you see on the shelf”. If your local camping store doesn’t sell the item you are looking for, or won’t order it in for you, there are ­plenty of on-line stores that will cater to your needs. As I stated in the beginning; there are a plethora of different styles and types of sleeping bags available, hopefully this has made selecting the right one a little easier for you.

Knowledge is only useful if it is shared. Please share your newfound knowledge with your friends and family on your social media page.

Thursday 06/07/17

A couple of weeks ago I updated the gear in my Bug Out Bag (BOB). Expired medicines and hygiene supplies had to be replaced, my jumper was too small (thanks to my efforts at the gym), my multi-tool and knife appreciated a light resharpening and reoiling, and my non-perishable food needed to be replaced. As I checked the equipment in my backpack, I took the opportunity to review the practicality and durability of each item. I was still happy with my initial choices.

This review also included the food I had in my pack. I'd only packed protein bars, packets of trail mix, chocolate bars, and tinned food (such as baked beans, processed meat, salmon, and tuna). I know conventional wisdom emphasises the inclusion of dehydrated food, and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), but this isn't always practical choice. "How can this be? Why would you ignore conversation wisdom?", I hear you ask.

Where I live, prepping is seen as an unhealthy obsession by many people. For some reason, people believe they will have plenty of time to prepare for an emergency when a flood or bush fire is tearing its way toward their house.

These same people have given rise to the attitude that camping is meant to include as many luxuries as possible. This philosophy does not include low-brow foods such as MREs. As such, there is no financial incentive for camping stores to stock MREs. However, they do stock dehydrated meals. Unfortunately, these become expensive bin-fillers if you don’t use them before their expiry date.

To keep my prepping costs to a minimum I restrict my emergency supplies to the same food I have in my pantry. The food in my BOB is kept fresh by regularly swapping it with newer items from my pantry (food rotation).

In addition to trail mix, protein bars and chocolate bars, the choice comes down tinned food versus dehydrated food. Logically, dehydrated food weighs a lot less than canned food, but you must also carry enough additional water to rehydrate the dehydrated food (negating any initial weight difference). You must carry this water in addition to the water you will already be carrying for drinking. If you try to use your meagre supply of drinking water for cooking, you will quickly run out of water. Contrary to what you may have seen in movies, the Australian countryside is not littered with freshwater creeks. Fresh water is not easy to find. Even if you find fresh water, unseen pollutants are a serious concern. Freshwater creeks can become temporarily polluted by flood water, or permanently polluted by human interference.

The best reason to carry canned food is it can be eaten straight from of the can, without any preparation. Dehydrated food requires cooking utensils and a fire to boil your water. You can’t guarantee you’ll find firewood along your route, so you will need to include a small pot, cutlery, a hexi-stove, and a supply of hexamine tablets in your BOB. This additional gear will take up space in your backpack, adds weight to your load, and needs to be cleaned when you’ve finished eating.

Security is a huge problem when you are away from home. If you are in a group with people who have failed to prepare, and information about your supplies become public knowledge, it is likely the group will demand that you "share" your supplies with them. Immediately. This is not a good position to be in.

Natural disaster or not, criminals still see the world in terms of predator and prey. And not just criminals. The average person can do unforgivable things if they are desperate. Be realistic; if they see you as a victim, and they have you outnumbered, there won't be a lot you can do to stop them. Especially in the absence of law enforcement.

Remember; if you carry more gear, you’ll need a bigger backpack. Be conservative when packing. There is a limit to the amount of weight you can carry. You must be able pick your BOB up from the ground and put it on your back, without any help. There are no exceptions to this rule. Also, think about how far you'll have to walk, the terrain you'll be crossing, and how many hours you'll be walking. Unless you are in the military, or an experienced hiker, it is unlikely you are used to this sort of activity. You will struggle if your backpack weighs more than 10-15% of your body weight.

If you have lapsed in your preparations, now is the time to correct that oversight. For the same amount of time it takes to watch a movie, you can organise and pack your Bug Out Bag. Trust me; you’ll sleep a lot easier at night knowing you have done your best to prepare for disaster. As a child, I grew up hearing the expression “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail”.

By this Sunday I hope your Bug Out Bag will be up to date and stored in an easily accessible place. As always, please share this information with your friends and family on social media.