The following article is a guest post by Bill from upstate NY.
In this article, I will be demonstrating how you can build a cold frame, which is like a mini greenhouse for the garden. It will allow me to plant my vegetables a couple of weeks early and keep them growing a couple of weeks later in the fall. All of this is depending on where you live and what you are growing, of course. There are also many types of coverings you can use. Some plastic sheeting is thinner, some thicker and better for insulating. Some allow more light through and some are used to give cool growing plants shade so they can do better in warmer weather than they normally would. Each has a trade off.
Most people I know would rather scrounge around for used and about-to-be-discarded materials. Like a contractor who has just built a house and now has to pay to dump the scrap lumber and other materials he used. Many times, if you ask, he will gladly give you all the scrap lumber you want, as long as he doesn’t think you might steal anything. You can usually find old windows and frames in good shape, which are great for a do it yourself cold frame.
What I chose to do is use lightweight PVC for this project. Schedule 40, furniture grade in 3/4 inch (inside diameter). I used white to save money but you can buy them in all kinds of colors or even paint or stain your own. For the most part, hardware stores and places like Home Depot will stock all the PVC you need, but the connectors are more tricky to find.
The cold frame I built measured about 26” side to side , 20” tall at the highest point and about 14” wide. That should be ok for a couple of plants with enough height to allow them to grow and not be too crowded. What I like about using PVC is that you can make things of any size quickly and as long as you don’t cement the pieces together, you can reuse the connectors and pipe in almost limitless variations.
I used a portable table saw to cut the PVC. The dust mask and safety goggles were used to keep the plastic out of my lungs and eyes. Even though this was a small project ,the amount of plastic “ dust “ generated was quite a lot . I cut it all inside for convenience but next time I’ll set up the saw horses and do it outside.
Here is an overview of all the pieces and tools to make this cold frame. There are several more types of PVC fittings available, but I wanted to make the cold frame inexpensive, so I used only 2 types of the fittings.
What You’ll Need to Build a PVC Cold Frame
Here’s a list of the parts I used:
- 3/4 inch (inside diameter) furniture grade PVC pipe (they came in 5′ pieces and I needed 17′, so I got 4 pieces which cost $16.00 and had 4 feet left over)
a) 3 pieces 24” long
b) 6 pieces 12” long
c) 4 pieces 10” long
- 6 of the 3 way fittings ( $1.04 ea. = $6.24)
- 4 of the 45 degree angle fittings ( $1.31 ea. = $5.24)
- 10 snap clamps cut to 4” long. (I bought a 5 foot long piece and cut it myself, $5.00)
( note : I used snap clamps made for 1 “ PVC because the 3/4 inch size was too hard to work with)
- 2.4 mil “grow tunnel” plastic ( A roll 6 1/2 feet wide by 25 feet long cost me $17.85
Total cost ( not including tax and shipping ) was $32.48 To make one bigger would cost very little extra.
These are the snap clamps. I bought them in 1 five foot long section and cut them into 4 inch pieces myself to save a little money. You can buy them pre-cut though. Note, I tried using the snap clamps made for the 3/4 inch pipe , but they were a very tight fit over the plastic. So I went up a size to 1 inch clamps , which were much easier to work with since I assembled the cold frame a few times to try various configurations. But , if you want a tighter fit use the 3/4 inch size. Just don’t plan on taking them off too many times.
How to Make PVC Cold Frames
Step 1: Assemble the bottom:
Step 2: Add the 45 degree fittings on top:
Step 3: Add the 4 pieces ( 10 “ long ) and the 3 way fittings that will allow you to attach the ridge piece.
Step 4: Add the ridge piece and drape plastic over structure
Step 5: Secure plastic covering
To make it a little faster and easier, I cut the plastic a little larger and just folded the excess under the snap clamp. Doing this saved a little time and if I wanted to re use the plastic on some other project later, the larger piece would come in handy.
I used a piece of paracord in between the ends to keep the plastic from pushing against the plants. I could not seem to find a PVC fitting that would allow me to have a section of pipe to be used for this, so when in doubt, use paracord.
Step 6: Finish by Securing the Lower Portions
To wrap the ends of the cold frame I just cut the plastic and folded it around the pipe and held it all in place with the snap clamps. If I had used the smaller 3/4 “ snap clamps this would have been difficult indeed to do.
Shown above is one side of the frame.
That’s it. This will keep you seedlings and plants quite a bit warmer and will prevent wind damage to young plants. It might be necessary to anchor it to the ground with a couple of tent stakes in windy locations.
In the summer, for cool loving plants, replace the plastic with a product called shade cloth. Basically a woven fabric that allows some light and water through it. It comes in various types , depending how much shade your plant needs.
Still, I would not keep the plant covered 24 / 7 . The whole frame weighs only 2 pounds or so, so I would lift it up so the plant can get some sun. For some types and sizes of plants, you might only need the cold frame over night.
In the spring, this will help the soil warm up a little faster and keep any light frost from hurting the seedlings, as well as discourage animals from eating you plants, up to a point. It will do a good job also, of holding humidity in.
As I said earlier, you can make almost anything using these materials. The whole thing can be disassembled and easily stored when not in use, as long as you do not cement the pieces together.
Look at the links I included to see many more ideas on how to use PVC.
This is a guest contribution by Lee Flynn. Lee Flynn is from the Greater Salt Lake area and grew up in a family where everything they did was outdoors. Lee was raised with survival and preparedness as a way of life. After graduating from college, he began a survival course teaching basic survival knowledge and preparedness advice and has been doing this now for 10 years.
Now that you’ve made the decision to create a food storage system based on your family’s needs, the first step is to determine where you’ll put it. You may only have enough space to store a few weeks’ worth of surplus food if you’re short on space. This is the time to get creative when it comes to building your emergency food storage. Whether you live in a house, condo, or apartment, every bit of available space has the potential to serve as a place to store extra food.
Food Storage Tips
Store your emergency food in a space that gets a limited amount of light and generally stays anywhere between 50 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Pantries, cupboards, or basements work great. Some families store surplus food in their crawl space under their home, provided the food is properly sealed and contained.
As long as food isn’t stored in extra warm temperatures or kept near hot pipes or furnaces, it probably won’t spoil. However, be sure to always check the expiration date on your storage food prior to eating it since it could possibly be bad. Many people also like to store food in a basement freezer chest with a variety of frozen foods as well.
What Kinds of Foods Should Families Store?
While you’re trying to figure out what kinds of foods to store, stop and consider what types of foods both you and your family actually like to eat. Don’t buy things you know your kids won’t touch. In order to build an effective food storage supply, stockpile the foods you’ll actually eat since you’ll be rotating your food supply anyway. Also, if you’re not accustomed to eating a particular food, you may find yourself with some unpleasant digestive issues in the end.
Here are some ideas for food staples that many people choose to stockpile in their emergency food supply. Again, consider the tastes of your family along with any special diets anyone may need to follow and adjust your supply accordingly.
Canned Vegetables and Fruits
Several canned vegetables and fruits are not only full of healthy vitamins and minerals, but they have a shelf life of at least three years.
Beans and Legumes
Dried navy beans, kidney beans, great northern beans, and a number of legumes can last up to 20 years if properly stored and they’re an excellent source of protein as well. Cook them and simply eat them plain, or put them in tasty homemade soups or other recipes.
Most people don’t realize the importance of salt. Your body needs the iodine found in salt in order to survive. Therefore, if you want to create a long-term food supply, put iodized salt on your list.
In many cases, dehydrated fruits and vegetables last longer on the shelf than several bottled or canned versions. A few produce items aren’t good for drying, but foods like peas, apricots, carrots, bananas, apples, and onions work especially well for dehydration.
It’s obvious you need water in your food storage. Ideally, your water should be stored in large polycarbonate barrels and kept in a cool, dark area. Figure one gallon per day per person; one-half gallon to drink, and the other half for hygiene and cooking. Also, the water inside your hot water heater can be put to use as well. Just be sure you have a quality water kit or purification tablets to ensure it’s usable enough for cooking and/or drinking if necessary.
If you want to use powdered milk in your back-up food supply, make sure it’s never exposed to any moisture and keep it cool and dry. Stored properly, powdered milk can last on the shelf as long as 18 – 24 months.
Not only is rice an excellent of source of energy for your body, it’s fairly inexpensive and makes an excellent staple to have on hand for various recipes or just plain. Rice can last 8 – 10 years on the shelf if it’s properly stored.
Your emergency home food storage supply can provide both you and your family with great peace of mind and satisfaction knowing your food requirements are met in case you ever need them in the face of an emergency. It also helps financially as well. With a solid plan, you can start building your food storage as soon as today, which will enable you to be fully prepared in those unfortunate times of economic or personal instability.
If there were one fire-making skill I’d recommend all preppers get good at it would probably be making fire from char cloth.
It’s a great skill for truly learning and understanding how to build a fire since it prevents fire-making “laziness” — something we can easily develop in the days of lighters and matches — since it forces you to collect and use only good materials and have your skills down pat.
In addition, these skills will also help you easily translate to getting a fire going from a primitive bow-drill, hand-drill or any other friction-fire method.
And finally, if the time ever came where you really needed to get a fire going, and you had an easier fire-starting tool like a lighter (which you should carry with you anyways), it will be that much simpler.
With that long winded intro, how do you go about making charcloth anyways?
Well, that’s the focus of this post and video.
The process is super simple but first let’s start with getting some ingredients:
What You’ll Need:
- Some metal or tin container: This could be an Altoids tin, a chew tin, or like I use an old pellet tin from my pellet gun.
- Some plant-based material: Cotton balls, cotton makeup remover pads, even cut up pieces from an old cotton t-shirt will work great. Other materials like flax, hemp, and burlap are also great.
- A heat source: This heat source is typically an open fire but it can also be your outdoor grill or even your indoor stove top if you need to (for which I”ll explain how to minimize the smoke so your significant other doesn’t kill you)
How to Make Charcloth
Making charcloth is a very simple process. If you’d prefer a visual demonstration, be sure to check out my video on making char cloth here:
Here’s the written description of the process:
Step 1: Step one is just to prepare your heat source if necessary. If this is an open flame than make sure it has burned down to a decent amount of coals for a coal bed. Other wise you can just use your grill or stove.
Step 2: Punch a hole in the top cover of the tin with a small nail
Step 3: Fill your tin with your cotton (or other) material and cover it up.
Step 4: Place your tin on top of the heat source
Step 5: After placing your tin on the heat source you’ll notice smoke starting to come out of the top hole. This smoke will continue until it stops at which time you’ll know the charcloth is complete.
How to Make Charcloth Indoors (without getting in trouble)
Making it indoors is the same process as above but instead of letting the smoke just bellow out of the hole and filling your kitchen and home, you can light the smoke with a flame. It will stay lit much like a candle. When that flame goes out, your charcoal is complete.
This video is a follow up to the previous blog post on 18 Bug-Out Uses for a Trash Bag.
How to Make Rope from a Trash Bag
When it comes to your bug-out bag — given the limits you have in terms of space and weight — the best survival items you can pack are those that are lightweight, have multiple uses, and don’t take up much space.
I’m sure you know the importance of duct-tape and paracord (and likely have those in your bag right now) however, there is one item that many of us overlook that should also be in there…
A trash bag.
Yes, trash bags — especially heavy-duty contract bags — are one of those excellent cost-effective, space-saving, multi-use items that should be in every bug out bag. They have a plethora of uses, 18 of which I’ll be listing in this article.
18 Uncommon Bug-Out Uses for a Trash Bag
- Warm Shower: Fill your trash bag with water, tie it up above your head and let it sit in the warm sun. The black color of the bag will absorb the sun’s rays heating up the water. Once the water has reached your desired temperature, poke some tiny holes to enjoy a nice warm shower.
- Food Transporter: Whether you just took some game while bugging out or if you’ve opened your packaged food and need a clean place to put it in, a trash bag makes for a great container for transporting and protecting game meats, opened food, etc.
- Water Container: Besides a one-time use shower, a trash bag can make a decent way of transporting a fair amount of water if you’ve lost or don’t have a water container. Here’s where having a contractor bag would be idea given their strength.
*Note: Some trash bags (not so much contractor bags) are lined with chemicals on the inside to prevent odors and mold. It’s not a bad idea to turn the bags inside out if using them for the above purpose>
- Water Collector: Dig a hole around 2 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep, tear open your bag so it’s one large piece and lay it over the hole to set up a makeshift rain water collector or container.
*Note: Some trash bags (not so much with contractor bags) are lined with chemicals on the inside to prevent odors and mold. Given that, it’s not a bad idea to turn the bags inside out if using them for the above purpose>
- Poncho: Trash bags make for excellent ponchos. Just rip a hole in the bottom of the bag for your head and two on the side for your arms and it will do a fine job at keeping the wet weather at bay.
- Waterproof Leggings: Take two trash bags and place one foot with your shoes on inside each. Tie up the bags around your ankles and calves with some duct tape or cordage (both of which aren’t bad ideas to have in your BOB). Now you have some decent waterproof leggings to temporarily cross through shallow brooks or streams or traversing over deep, wet snow.
- Gear Protector (Dry Bag): You can use the bags to keep your gear stored in your BOB dry while traveling in wet conditions. In addition, you can enclose your entire bug-out bag with the trash bag (cutting slits for your backpack straps to get through) for a makeshift poncho for your bag.
- Makeshift Toilets: If you happen to have bugged out to an urban area and there aren’t many places to dig a latrine, trash bags make for excellent makeshift toilet liners (like in a 5-gallon bucket or in a non-functioning toilet if the grid’s down).
- Comforter and Pillow: Large trash bags filled with leaves or other light debris make for great expedient comforters that can be placed on top of you when it’s cold out. In addition, a smaller bag (or a large one only partly filled with leaves) will work pretty decent as a pillow (it would be best to place a piece of cloth on it (like a Shemagh or bandana) for your face to lie on for more comfort.
Although less than ideal, you could also partially inflate the bag for a pillow (but it will be less comfortable than leaves or other soft debris).
- Strong Rope: Yes, trash bags can actually make surprisingly strong cordage and rope when braided correctly. I plan on doing a video of this pretty soon so I’ll update this article with that when I do.
- Ground Cloth: One thing that’s very important when setting up a tent or other makeshift shelter is laying down a groundcloth to keep the moisture from coming up from the ground into your shelter at night. A trash bag cut open and laid out will help in this way.
- Makeshift Shelter/Lean-To: While obviously not ideal, a trash bag can work as a fair shelter against wind, rain and the sun’s rays. Just stretch it out and tie it off as you would with a standard lean-to shelter.
- Life Preserver/Flotation Device: While certainly not Coast Guard approved, trash bags can be blown up with air like a balloon, tied off, and be used to provide flotation while crossing bodies of water. A few of these can also be tied to a makeshift raft to aid in buoyancy. Again, the stronger the bag (like a contractor bag) the better to prevent tearing and puncturing.
- Arm Sling: Similar to how the boy scouts use their neckerchiefs for slings, you can follow the same approach to sling someone’s arm if recently injured.
- Bandage Protector: If you’ve just finished bandaging up someone’s wound, you can use a strip of a trash bag to wrap over the bandage and tie it off to further protect the bandage and wound from getting dirty.
- Bug Out Washing Machine: For extended bug-out travels you can place your dirty clothes in a bag, some soap scrapings (or if you packed small amounts of detergent) and some water, twist or tie off the bag and vigorously shake the bag for a few minutes. Drain the dirty water, replace with clean water and repeat for the rinse cycle.
- Window Black Outs: While at your bug-out location or when bugging in, you can use trash bags to cover your windows at night — preventing a “light signal” to those less-than-friendly people looking for occupied residences. Again, it’s best to use contractor bags here since some thinner bags will require multiple layers.
- Cold Compress: Trash bags can be filled with snow or ice (if available) to provide for a makeshift compress for treating inflammation caused by injury.
*Note: Some trash bags (not so much with contractor bags) are lined with chemicals on the inside to prevent odors and mold. It’s not a bad idea to turn the bags inside out if using them for the next three uses.
In addition, let me just stress again that while normal trash bags can work in the above examples in a pinch, again, ideally you want to pack contractor bags which you can find at most any hardware stores.
Also, as a side note, others have mentioned using trash bags as “thermal underwear”. While it will hold in heat, it’s not a good idea since it also traps in moisture, which when cold outside can easily lead to hypothermia. True thermal underwear “breathes” to allow the moisture to escape.
If I were to guess, activated charcoal is probably not one of the items found in your med kit right now.
Well, it’s time you change that…
The thing is, in a long-term disaster or a post-collapse situation, you’ll likely not have access to professional medical help. And if you or your loved one accidentally ingests something poisonous, it could end up being a very bad day for you or yours.
That’s where having activated charcoal could be a very real life saver.
In this article you’ll discover just what activated charcoal is and how it can be used to ward off potential disaster when things go very bad. In addition, you’ll learn about many of the other potential uses that this long-standing “medicine” has.
Activated Charcoal Throughout History
The first recorded use of charcoal for medicinal purposes comes from Egyptian papyri around 1500 B.C. as a method of staving off infection of open wounds. Since then, activated charcoal has continued to be an effective form of treatment for a variety of ailments down to the present time.
In fact, it’s common to find activated charcoal in modern emergency rooms for treatment of drug overdose and poisoning.
How does it work you ask? Well, read on…
How Activated Charcoal Performs its “Magic”
It may at first seem a bit unbelievable as to how a simple black powder can be so effective at removing poisons from the body. But there’s real scientific reasons as to why.
Activated charcoal works mainly by adsorption (no I didn’t spell that incorrectly). Since activated charcoal is 100% alkaline (i.e. negatively charged), this negative ionic charge attracts postive ionic charges like toxins and poisons, causing them to bind to the charcoal which then gets escorted out of your body through the eliminative process of your intestines.
Even when made as a poultice (a moist paste of charcoal and water that you spread over a wound or sting) this adsorption process will work to draw out poisons caused by stings and bites of animals.
Basically the process that creates activated charcoal (steam heating and oxidation) ends up creating an internal lattice of very fine pores. This structure allow s charcoal to adsorb over 100 times its weight in bacteria, toxins and other positively charged chemicals (like drugs and unwanted medicine).
For that reason, it’s important that you don’t ingest charcoal if you’ve recently (within the last 2 – 4 hours) taken perscription medicine for medical reasons since it can also adsorb certain medicines as it does poisons.
Here are just some of the examples of charcoal remedies (both internal external) that you’ll find used in modern as well as folk medicine:
- food poisoning / drug overdose: This is really the only remedy I’ve found where charcoal is used in modern medicine. My ER doctor friend has used charcoal a number of times in the Emergency Room for drug-overdose patients.
- elimination of toxins that contribute to anemia in cancer patients
- stomach bug/flu: This has worked very well in my family. Anytime we feel a stomach bug coming on we take a teaspoon of charcoal in a cup of water which stops it in its tracks.
- filter toxins from blood
- minor arthritic symptoms
- sore throat irritation
- tooth abscesses
- disinfect wounds
- teeth whitening: Charcoal surprisingly does an excellent job at removing tartar and plaque buildup on teeth (no the black will not stain your teeth) and even removes stains (especially those caused by coffee).
- cold sores
- insect bites: Very effective against bee and wasp stings. I’ve personally seen this work wonders for my 4-year old daughter with a wasp sting. The pain subsided very quickly after making a poultice and covering her sting.
- snake bites
Is Activated Charcoal Something I Can Make?
As a quick warning, this is not the charcoal that comes as briquettes that you use in your charcoal grill. Since many of them are laden with dangerous fillers and petrochemicals (firestarter) to help them ignite, ingesting or using these for medical purposes could certainly lead to a very bad day for you or your loved ones.
True activated charcoal is made industrially through a process of exposing pure charcoal to hot steam in order to oxidize it. So while you can certainly make normal charcoal from a woodfire and grind it up fine enough to be somewhat effective (if that’s all you had available to you), it’s not the same.
Given the purity that you can buy as well as it’s practically limitless shelf life I would still highly recommend you purchase it.
Where Can I Purchase Activated Charcoal and How Can I Learn To Use It?
It’s important that you purchase a high-quality charcoal. Here’s the one that I recommend and buy for my own family:
In addition, if you want to learn all of the fantastic ways to use this as well as dosing information be sure to check out some of these resources:
As preppers we all know the importance of keeping our firearms and electronics free from moisture when they are put away for storage. For this reason, before caching or storing items such as these for the long term its crucial you include some type of desiccant (or water absorber) in with your stored items.
Most preppers use silica gel, but what if you don’t have any on hand?
Well, here in the US, there is a huge supply of desiccant that you can readily use in a pinch if you can’t get a hold of silica gel.
What is it you ask? Well, it’s none other than drywall. Yup, common gypsum wallboard found in most homes throughout the US.
How to Make Homemade Desiccant
Similar to silica gel, if you want to activate drywall to become a anahydrate or desiccant you need to heat it up long enough to remove the moisture. Here’s the process:
|Step 1: Preheat your oven to 450F
|Step 2: Grab a 1/2 foot x 1/2 foot piece of drywall.
|Step 3: Remove the paper (it helps by wetting the paper first) and break it up in 1″ square pieces, then place those pieces on a cookie sheet and into the oven.
|Step 4: Let it heat for about an hour which will remove all the moisture.|
|Step 5: Remove from oven and while hot, immediately place in an air-tight container that won’t melt from heat (a mason jar is a perfect container for this).
How to Use your DIY Desiccant
To use your desiccant place a handful of it inside a sock and stash it in the storage container that is housing your electronics, firearms or other items you’re interested in keeping away from moisture.
Here are just a few examples of where to use your homemade desiccant:
- In the bottom of your gun safe
- In your survival cache tube (like a PVC pipe where you cache your firearms)
- Inside a sealed Mylar bag that contains your electronics
- In your gym bag to prevent mold, mildew, and odors
- With silver jewelry or silverware to slow tarnishing
- In your toolbox to prevent rusting
- Inside containers holding stored clothes and blankets to prevent mildew
- Inside of anything you store in the basement
- In a safe with important documents
- Inside of cases with seed packets to keep them from molding
- and much more..!
The following pictures give an example of how effective this is as a desiccant. I threw a handful of these desiccants in a mason jar that just came out of the dishwasher. After a few minutes the homemade desiccant had absorbed all the water in the jar.
A Quick Related Tip
As a quick side note (in case you missed the reference above), be sure to hang onto any silica gel packets you come across that are packaged in various products you’ve purchased. They can also be reused by heating them up in the oven and storing them as described above.
Hey guys, just wanted to quickly let you know about a document I found buried in the CDC website. It’s an older document (written in 1998) that provides an excellent resource for Ebola prevention in a time when modern medical facilities might not be available.
Originally written for healthcare workers fighting Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (like Ebola) in austere conditions like West Africa, it deals with prevention, early diagnosis and response within a limited infrastructure (again, something we might face during an outbreak and associated civil collapse).
This would obviously be important knowledge to have and I wanted to make sure you guys have it.
Here’s some of the points it covers:
- How to set up isolation precautions in rural areas.
- How to use common, low-cost supplies to prevent transmission of Ebola
- Necessary safety precautions
- How to properly isolate (ie quarantine) potential and actual carriers of Ebola
- Proper procedures for putting on and taking off protective clothing
- Disinfection methods
- Proper Ebola-contaminated waste disposal
- Safe burial practices of deceased Ebola victims
- How to make protective clothing with low-cost items
- and much more…
This is a must have document that should be part of everyone’s Survival Library so be sure to download it here:
Most preppers get the idea that communication is an important capability to have during an emergency.
Despite this understanding though, few preppers have a solid communication plan in place beyond a few two-way walkie-talkie devices and the false hope that their cellphone will still function.
If that describes you (like it did me a few years ago), this article should hopefully open your eyes and inspire you to change that.
The Dangers of a Communication Blackout are Very Real
We take our ability to instantly communicate with others around the nation and the globe for granted. In reality though, the methods we depend on to communicate — internet and cellphone primarily — are extremely fragile.
One common theme you see in any widespread disaster (or even overcrowded sporting events) is that people are unable to make use of their cell phones for outgoing or incoming calls. We saw this with 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, as well as the Boston terrorist bombings.
This is just a small glimpse into what might happen if there was a more widespread natural disaster or terrorist event – it would wreak havoc on our telecommunications
History has proven that when cell towers go down during an emergency, the whole network is at risk of being overloaded (or may fail entirely).
Can you imagine what a major emergency would cause?
What about Landlines?
Landlines aren’t much better. If things got so bad that our basic utilities were to shut down, landlines wouldn’t be far behind even though they run on their own power source.
GMRS/FRS radios (ie walkie-talkies), while great for certain scenarios, just don’t have the range if we plan on talking with anyone outside of a couple miles…let alone out of the state or in another country.
Satellite phones, while they can be very effective in an emergency, still have their drawbacks in that they’re very expensive to purchase and operate (~$30/mo for only 10 min of talking time) and they are still dependent on a 3rd party maintaining their satellites as well as keeping your account active (which may not be possible in an extended post-collapse scenario).
Also, they don’t work indoors or where there’s thick canopy (like in the jungle or thick woods). You need clear access to the sky where the satellites either pass over or are situated (depending on if the sat network has roving or stationary satellites).
What’s the Answer Then…?
That leads us to the only reliable emergency communication method that we have available to us when the SHTF. It’s a method that’s not dependent upon the grid and can be used for local, regional, and even global communication.
What is it?…
Amateur radio, or more commonly referred to as “ham radio”, is used by city, county, and federal emergency communications teams; by private relief organizations throughout the world; and by a large number of dedicated citizens who are active, knowledgeable, and have the skills and ability to respond and assist in emergencies.
And if you haven’t yet, it’s something that you definitely need to learn if you want to have an effective emergency communications plan in pace.
Now don’t misunderstand the word “amateur”. It has nothing to do with it requiring less skill or having less capabilites than a “professional” (if that exists) might use. Amateur in this case only means that it is not broadcast for purposes of making money (like much of FM radio is).
Pros and Cons of Amateur (Ham) Radio
The ultimate benefit of Ham radio is that there really isn’t any restriction to how far you can communicate. It can be used to communicate locally, regionally and worldwide.
In addition, it’s not dependent upon any public or private communications’ infrastructure and can be used on top of a mountain or in a crowded city, powered on the grid, or completely off by using a generator, a battery backup, or a solar setup.
The biggest downside (which can be a plus for us fellow hams) is that you need to be licensed and in addition, there is some ramp up time to get comfortable with communicating and using the equipment (it’s actually a skill that you will develop over a lifetime since there’s so much you can do with Amateur radio).
Why Should I Bother With A License Since It Won’t Matter When The SHTF Anyways?
This is a common question I get, and my answer is always the same: Since amateur radio isn’t something you can simply pick up and use without prior experience, you need to practice NOW before things go south; and you can’t properly practice without getting a license first.
There are a lot of things you need to learn such as antenna theory, skywave and NVIS propagation, which bands to use at what times and how solar activity and other environmental phenomenon can affect your transmissions.
And besides, there are still a lot of other emergencies (local and regional) that don’t involve the end of the world to be here to still warrant having EMCOMM abilities.
The Secret to Getting Your Ham License
I’m happy to tell you that it is much easier to get a Ham license than ever before.
Back in my Father’s Day, he needed to learn Morse code in order to get his ham operator license. I, on the other hand, was able to to not only get the entry-level “Technician” license but the “General” license (to operate on the HF frequencies that allow for regional and global communication) all in one day without needing to know a bit of Morse code.
Note: I’m not saying that Morse code is not a bad thing to learn (in fact it’s something that I am hoping to pick up soon) however the good news is since 2006 it’s not required anymore when getting your ham operator license.
Since most of the real learning you’ll do with ham-radio operating is through doing it, to get going with the “doing” part, all you need to do is pass the test. And passing the test for licensing only requires you to know what the right answers are.
Luckily, the entire pool of questions for each license type and their answers is available for study. Since the tests are multiple choice, you don’t even need to understand the theory behind the questions, just the right answers (this is more true for Technician than the others).
For example, when I first got my license, I studied for a total of 8 hours and was able to pass both the Technician and General tests in one sitting with over 90% each — just because I memorized the answers for the most part.
If you’d prefer to learn all the theory behind the questions before testing, that’s certainly your prerogative.
Here are a number of resources you can use to study the question pools and answers for each of the license exams:
- HamStudy.org – This was the resource I used to help me study and pass the Technician and General exams. For the Extra, I had to study a bit more in depth which I used the next resource for…
- hamRadioLicenseExam.com – This is my friend PI’s site (K1RV). He’s got a great resource that will actually tutor you so you really understand the theory and not just the answers.
Where Can I Take My Ham Radio Exam?
Most license exams are offered out of the many Amateur Radio clubs found throughout the US. Depending on where you live, you should be able to find one nearby at any week of the year.
Here are some resources to find and exam site near you:
- The ARRL: The ARRL has a nice search functionality that you just need to enter your zip code and it will spit out a number of tests given nearby along with their date and location.
- HamDepot.comhas a listing of most of the clubs throughout the US. Since most clubs are the ones giving the tests, you can contact a nearby one and find out when the next test is.
Is The Testing Expensive?
The test is only around $15 dollars to cover filing with the FCC and other handling fees.
Another great bonus is you can take all of the tests in one sitting if you so wish for the same price. You just need to be sure you pass each in order before going on to the next one.
Final Thoughts and Resources
Hopefully by now you see the benefits in adding Amateur Radio to your preps.
After all, when the grid goes down and cell phones and land lines no longer function, while everyone else is in the dark, all you’ll need is a wire, a battery, and a radio and you’ll be communicating with your loved ones and others around the world. That’s the ultimate benefit of ham radio.
For more info on getting started, here are a couple more links:
- Ham Radio For DummiesIf Ham Radio is brand new to you you’d have to be a dummy not to read this. It provides a great overview to get you started. You can even just go to the bookstore and sit down with a nice hot drink and get through it that way.
- Stealth Amateur Radio: Operate From Anywhere A great resource for communication OPSEC. For preppers looking to hide their radio station from nosy neighbors and other prying eyes, this book will teach you how.
For preppers, survivalists and others desiring to have other means of electricity when the grid goes down, solar has always been a valid means of off-grid power.
And in recent years, there’s been significant advances and interest in portable solar chargers that are capable of charging cellphones, tablets and other small electronics while in an emergency, on the go, bugging out, or any other reason that would require you to power and charge your devices when the grid is not available.
Well, I recently got my hands on a fantastic little portable solar-panel array that is perfect for small electronics like your Android, iPhone/iPad or anything else able to charge up from a USB port.
It’s called the SunJack and is marketed as “the most powerful solar charger in the world, capable of charging your phone as fast as a wall-outlet with plenty of power to spare.”
Does it live up to it’s claims? Let’s find out in this week’s product review…
Overall Size and Makeup
The 14 watt SunJack is a portable solar array made up of four solar panels organized in a black cloth foldable case. Overall it seems to be a very durable and well-made product.
When closed up, the unit measures around 6″ L x 9″ W x 1″ H (slightly smaller than the size of an iPad although a bit thicker):
It measures approximately 24″ long when fully opened:
The battery, charging cable, and USB ports are located in a mesh bag behind the charger.
The solar array has two USB ports which (when in full sun) will each produce an output of 2 amps. This allows you to easily charge a smartphone, an iPad, or other tablet requiring 2 amps to charge its internal battery directly from the sun.
It also comes with an external battery (that will connect to one of the USB ports on the array) to hold the energy harnessed by the sun — providing you with a source of power to charge your electronics when the sun is down.
In direct sunlight, it will fully charge the 8000mAh lithium polymer battery in around five hours with this 14 watt SunJack model (the manufacturer also sells a 20-watt version that comes with two batteries).
When the battery is at full capacity (again, after only 5 hours) it has enough power to charge an iPhone around 4-5 times.
Personal Testing Results
When I first received this, the battery was already around 1/2 full so I couldn’t test the 5 hour charge time stated by the manufacturer. But after putting it in the direct sun (it was slightly cloudy that day) it took just under 3 hours to bring it to a full charge. From just this initial test I’d say they’re probably pretty accurate.
How is it able to charge this fast? Here’s what SunJack’s representative had to say…
“We’ve found a way to optimize filling up the battery from sunlight – think of it as being able to get more water out of your faucet faster. The SunJack is able to get more electrons flowing into the battery faster than any solar charger available, which means you get wall-outlet charging speeds in an incredibly portable form-factor.”
Wall-Speed Charging Capabilities
There are other folding solar panel chargers similar to the SunJack on the market that I’ve seen on Amazon, but from reviews I’ve read they don’t have the “wall-speed” charging abilities. In other words, they take a long time to charge up your phone or worse, your tablet compared to charging it from a standard wall outlet — barely making a dent after hours of charging.
How does the SunJack fare? To test this, I timed how long it took to charge two of my devices (an iPad and an iPhone) directly from the fully charged battery.
Here are the results:
|Device||Starting %||Ending %||Battery Time||Wall Time|
|iPad||40%||80%||~90 min||~90 min|
|iPhone||60%||100%||~45 min||~45 min|
Basically for both tests of each device I started at 40% for the iPad and 60% charge for the iPhone and charged each of them 40% more — first on the SunJack battery and then in the wall (after discharging the iPad and iPhone to 40% and 60% respectively).
In both cases I did not see any significant difference between charging on the wall or from the SunJack battery.
So again, it lives up to its promises by delivering “wall-speed” charging time.
One other thing that I really liked was the durability of this device.
Think it’s not tough enough to stand up to the rigors of a survival or bug-out lifestyle? Well, think again. It can withstand large drops
onto its corners on concrete and even work after a car runs it over (over the panels, not the battery):
In addition to durability, the SunJack promises longevity.
According to the manufacturer, the monocrystalline solar cells will still produce 80% of their power even after 25 years of use and the the lithium-polymer battery holds roughly 80% of it’s capacity after 1,000 cycles.
Assuming this is true (I couldn’t test this for obvious reasons) this is great news for us preppers who want products that can last not only through abuse (see the durability section above) but through the duration of a long-term collapse situation. And keep in mind, if it’s as long-lasting as they say it is, the SunJack will probably outlast any device you plan to charge with it anyways.
Currently the SunJack 14 watt that I have goes for $150.00 on Amazon. They also have a 20 watt version that goes for $250.
For my uses, the 14 watt is plenty.
Some Nice to Haves
The one feature I would like to have seen in this is that it were weather/waterproof. I’m not necessarily saying it needs to be submersible, but more so that it would hold up in a decent rain.
SunJack’s manufacturer has fortunately come up with a decent (although not ideal) workaround. You can purchase a weatherproof sleeve:
Their weatherproof sleeve is specially designed to maximize sunlight pass-through while protecting against the elements.
All in all I really found the SunJack to be a solid product and one that I would definitely recommend as part of your preps and especially in your Bug-Out Bag. In fact, with it’s existing loops and a carabiner (I don’t recommend using their supplied carabiners since they’re worthless), you can easily attach the SunJack to your BOB to charge while on the move:
The SunJack is ideal for preppers who want to have portable power available for small gadgets such as smartphones and tablets. I’ve also been able to successfully charge some Ni-MH batteries with a AA USB charger I have which is what I need to keep a small 2-way HAM radio going that I have.