Prepare Every Needful Thing

"If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear"

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Equipment and Supplies–November 2015

Wound Cleansing Supplies

betadineDuring the Civil War, soldiers had an extremely high rate of death from wounds, in part due to ignorance of wound hygiene. Without adequate cleaning and disinfection, foreign objects and bacteria may prevent the closure and healing of a wound, leading to infection, serious scarring and even death, if left untreated. This is one area where an ounce of prevention is most definitely worth a pound of care.

Soap and water is adequate for most surface wounds and scratches. Running water will flush out most debris and I keep a bottle of liquid castile soap with a little tea tree oil in the bathroom specifically for this use. My rule with my kids is that, unless it is really serious, it’s got to be washed before I’ll take a look at it. For some reason, this is really effective… (Note: excessive use of tea tree oil can cause sensitization—use adequately diluted and only as needed)

Saline solution is an excellent wound cleaner and does not cause further tissue damage or impede healing. It is also very inexpensive and easy to make at home. To store your own sterile saline, simply bring clean water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon table salt for every cup. Stir to dissolve and boil 10 minutes. Fill clean canning jars, reserving ½” headspace and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. If you need saline solution for use right away, you can skip all the boiling and simply mix the salt into clean warm tap water. Discard unused product when finished.

Betadine or Povidone Iodine is a very effective cleanser and will not inhibit wound healing if the dilution is correct—that is a 1:10 betadine to water ratio of the commonly available 10% solution. For all the details, read here.

Over-the-counter wound cleansing products vary in quality and effectiveness and there are too many to review them here. Type in “best wound cleanser” in your search bar or read reviews at online retailers.

Hydrogen Peroxide is excellent for mouths, but may cause tissue damage and inhibit healing in some other applications.

Rubbing Alcohol is another old stand-by, but is probably best for surface cleansing and instrument sterilization as it also causes a degree of tissue damage. I once worsened a rather deep infection using rubbing alcohol as it killed off healthy surrounding tissue and allowed the infection to spread.

An Infant Hair Brush can be helpful in cleaning wounds with embedded foreign particles like sand or gravel. It provides gentle friction without being unnecessarily abrasive. Use under running water to wash away loosened particles.

A Squeeze Bottle is useful for irrigating wounds in a situation where running water is not available or practical. The bottle can also be filled with saline or betadine solution. Old shampoo or condiment bottles will work, but make sure they are well-washed!

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Equipment and Supplies–October 2015

Firestarting Supplies

flint and steelFire is, at once, heat, light and the ability to cook food and purify water and there are nearly as many ways to start a fire as there are uses for it. Below is a list of inexpensive firestarters. If you are assembling 72-hour kits according to our list, the survival whistle has, built in, both a small waterproof container and a flint that may come in handy for your chosen supplies and method. As you will see below, every method has its strengths and weaknesses, so it is advisable to have a back-up or two.

  • These come in a wide variety of types—waterproof, windproof, strike-anywhere, strike-on-box are just a few. They are lightweight and easy to use, but once they have been struck, that is the end of their usefulness.
  • Pocket-size lighter. Again, very easy to use, will hold a continuous flame for a longer period of time than a match will. The fuel will eventually evaporate, so check periodically.
  • Magnifying glass. Will concentrate the rays of the sun and start a fire, but you must have sun—no firestarting at night or in the rain when you might need it most.
  • 9 volt battery and extra fine steel wool. Can last for years, but must be protected from water and accidental shorting between the two terminals. Store separately! There are a limited number of arcs to create a spark. Instructions and video.
  • Flint spark torch igniter. Cheap, simple, reliable and compact. If you purchase a unit with extra flints it can start many, many fires and requires no practice.
  • Fire piston. Virtually unlimited fires, but more expensive (unless you make your own!) than most other methods. Requires practice.
  • Flint and steel. Will also last practically forever, inexpensive and compact, but technique requires practice.  Video here includes instructions on making char cloth.

Any method will work best with good, dry tinder material. Carry this with you if you wish to ensure firestarting success. Extra fine steel wool creates a very hot flame as it burns and is an excellent choice.  Cotton dryer lint is the next best starter tinder and it is free!



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Equipment and Supplies–September 2015

Dry Shampoobrush

A dry shampoo is an excellent item to keep in one’s emergency supplies. Their use requires no water (which may be in short supply after a disaster), they will reduce the risk of getting chilled from wet hair, and cleanliness is a great morale booster! They may also come in handy in the sickroom where, again, chill is of concern and a patient may have difficulty standing or bending over a sink.

Prices are generally within the 5$-15$ range for 4-7 ounces of product. Most are in a can with some type of propellant (though there are a few exceptions) so you will want to store them away from heat sources. There is a huge range of products and you will probably want to try out a few before stocking up. Reviews on amazon, Walmart and other online retailers may help you find the one that best suits your needs.

One can also go the DIY route with one of the recipes below.  Apply with a large soft makeup brush. Allow to sit for at least two minutes, then brush out thoroughly with a natural-bristle hairbrush.

Basic Dry Shampoo

¼ cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch

3-4 drops essential oil (for fragrance)

Dry Shampoo for Dark Hair

2 Tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

Another recipe:


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Equipment and Supplies–August 2015

Military-Issue Hemorrhage Control

In the case of an arterial bleed, you have just minutes to get the bleeding stopped before facing unconsciousness and death. These items have been designed for military use in case of serious injury and can even be deployed by the injured individual. While such injuries may be unlikely in most of our day-to-day lives, they can and do occur and having an item like this on hand could mean the difference between life and death.

CAT-Combat-Application-TourniquetThe first item is a military issue combat application tourniquet (abbreviated CAT). Although, in general first aid, tourniquet use is not recommended, this has been designed to reduce many of the problems commonly seen with usage and can be applied correctly using just one hand. Currently, they run about $30. If you find one for significantly less than that, it may well be a knock-off and may not be of the quality you need from a device like this—make sure you purchase an authentic item from a trusted retailer. They are available from amazon, here.

israeli bandageThe second item is an Israeli battle dressing compression bandage, sometimes called simply an Israeli bandage. The bandage has a simple mechanism to apply consistent direct pressure a wound, but it can also be used as a tourniquet or a sling. It is also designed to be used one-handed and comes vacuum-sealed to ensure cleanliness. These run about $10 and are available from amazon, here.

For more info watch.


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Equipment and Supplies–July 2015

Mouse Control Strategies

house mouseThe typical house mouse lives for only a single year, but during that year they can produce 5-10 litters of 5-6 babies, all of which are sexually mature at only 4 weeks. Besides reproducing at an alarming rate, mice can cause immense destruction as they chew, scratch, and contaminate food and water. They can bring fleas into your home (hitchhiking fleas on rodents were likely responsible for the spread of Black Plague in the Middle Ages) and carry and spread intestinal parasites, viruses and bacterial diseases. It is worth while learning how to deal with them and protect your home and belongings

Mouse-”proof” your house:

Mice can squeeze through openings as big as a dime and have incredibly sharp teeth and strong jaws, so true proofing may be impossible, but some things will make you a tougher target.

Outside, clear the area immediately around your home of debris and ensure that crawl spaces have tight covers and that other openings for dryer vents, plumbing, wires, cables, etc cannot be used as access points. Make needed repairs, stuff gaps with steel wool or fill larger openings with expanding foam. Store woodpiles off ground and away from house.

Inside, ensure that plumbing leaks are repaired quickly (these are huge draws for mice and rats), store food in sturdy, sealed containers off of floors and never leave food out at night, including pet dishes. Give the interior entry points of vents, plumbing, wires, cables, etc the same treatment as their exterior counterparts and fill any gap dime-sized or larger. Clean under appliances such as fridges and ovens, as these are common areas for food to escape notice.

Approaches to controlling:

Snap traps. Pros: Effective, cheap, kills quickly, somewhat reusable, (if you can stomach removing rodent corpses…) Cons: One mouse per trap, can trigger without catching a mouse (basketballs bounced indoors, for instance, will set them off), small mice may not trigger (I once had a trap licked clean, empty and unsprung in the morning), risk of pinched fingers. Use: set at night in places where you have found droppings. Mice usually hug a wall as they run, so set the traps parallel to and touching the wall so they don’t miss it. I’ve had the best success with the Victor brand traps with the big, fake cheese, but some people prefer the older ones with the metal pedal. I bait them with a little bit of peanut butter to tempt small, twitchy noses out of hiding.

Glue traps. Pros: Cheap, will catch multiple mice and other pests. Cons: May catch things you do not want caught, it is not a killing trap—you must dispatch the mice after they are caught. Set in the same places as snap traps. See here  for more information.

Bait boxes. Pros: Good for large numbers of rodents, effective, reusable. Cons: Mice will sometimes die inside walls (smelly), there is a risk of poisoning other animals or people. Use: follow the manufacturer instructions, secure the box and keep well away from pets and children.

Cats. Pros: Will pursue prey rather than waiting for prey to come to it, eat a wide variety of rodents—wiped out a huge mole problem for us, more pleasant to live with than other control strategies. Cons: Require some feeding (though it’s pretty minimal for true barn cats) and medical care, indoor cats may cause allergic reactions in some, will toy with injured mice (poison may actually be a more humane death…), will sometimes abandon dead mice, will hunt birds with equal glee.


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Equipment and Supplies–June 2015

Liquid Fuel Camp Stoves

camp stovesCamp stoves are far from a one-size-fits-all piece of equipment. The range of sizes, weights, BTUs, fuels and features is astounding and nearly every set-up has its devotees. Propane stoves are perhaps the most familiar; they come in a wide range of sizes and it is easy to find fuel, but there may be even better options if you are looking for an ultra-lightweight stove for a backpacking scenario.

When deciding on a stove, consider the following:

Where do I plan to use the stove? Do you need a backup stove in case of power outages? A kitchen-like set up for car camping? A small unit for a 72-hour kit or backpacking trip?

How many people need to be fed? A small single-burner unit is usually adequate to prepare a one-pot meal for 2-4 people, but if you will feed more than that, you will need additional stoves or a double burner. This is for safety as well as convenience, as a single-burner may become unstable if used with a very large or heavy pan.

Are there other conditions or requirements that need to be factored in? If you will be cooking in a windy or very cold environment a windscreen may be essential. Will you have a table to set it up on, or do you need a stand? Do you need an automatic starter or do you feel comfortable using matches or a separate starter?

If you plan to use it for canning, make sure that your cooking area is large enough to handle your canner and that you have sufficient BTUs (15,000 or more should be adequate) to heat a large volume of water and to keep it at a rolling boil for a long period of time.

How much fuel will you need to store and transport and will you need to purchase adapters or hoses to connect to the tank?

Now that you know what you require, read reviews. This group tested numerous multi-burner units.   This group reviewed small, backpacking stoves.

More information:


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Equipment and Supplies–May 2015

Manual Can Opener

can openerWhen I was a college student, my food storage consisted of a (very) few cans of food and packets of dried soup mix stashed on the top shelf of my dorm room closet. While they could never get me through any extended period, I felt security in knowing that I had a few meals up there in case I missed cafeteria hours. Apparently, I went through the dried soup first because I remember being hungry and having nothing left except my cans and realizing, horribly, that I had no can opener.

Whether you are a poor college student without a car or a parent with a houseful of hungry kids during a power outage, a reliable manual can opener is essential equipment for being able to use all those canned goods that you have amassed. Can openers are available in just a few different designs. My favorite style is the one above. You can pick up one that looks like this from the grocery store, but, unfortunately, the widely available Made in China models do not last long. Instead, spend the time and find one that is American-made. The price is the same, but the quality and durability are completely different. Search online for EZ-DUZ-IT, Made in USA Can Opener or Neaty Made in America Can Opener or check country of manufacture labels if you’re purchasing at a brick-and-mortar store.

Other options include a “church key” or pierce-style can opener, a military/pocket can opener or a side can opener that leaves a less knife-like edge. Apparently, you can also open a can by rubbing the top rim of the can for about a minute on a sidewalk or other flat concrete surface. Or you could to what I did: use a hammer and flat-head screwdriver to tediously (and messily) cut around the rim of the lid until you can pry it up and remove the contents. This exercise had the good effect of helping me to remember to purchase a can opener when I got home and to appreciate this humble mechanical wonder ever since.


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Equipment and Supplies–April 2015

Solar Lanternssolar lantern

While having light in darkness is not absolutely essential to our surviving an emergency, it can make life more pleasant, give us needed flexibility, and contribute to our safety and security. Solar lanterns are lightweight and inexpensive to run and are a great addition to your emergency supplies.

The first lantern shown is one that my parents purchased and my dad ran a number of tests on it, charging in various circumstances and observing how long before the light dimmed. He found that direct sunlight provided the quickest and most complete charge (about equal hours light as charging time), but that some charge could be obtained in south-facing windows or overcast conditions. He says that the light output is about equivalent to an oil lamp, bright enough to read by if the lantern in reasonably close to the book or to light a 12 x 12 room sufficiently to function in it. He concluded that it was a reasonable and cost-effective lighting option that could help conserve the batteries and fuel of other light sources when there was sufficient daytime sunlight to charge the unit. Potential problems: test unit immediately upon receiving as bad units are shipped occasionally.

His full reviewOther reviews.

whetstone lanternThe second lantern pictured is one that my family purchased. There are three different light settings so you can adjust the light level to your activities. The highest light level is bright enough to read by, even 24” away. In addition to the solar charging option, it also has a hand-crank generator. Anyone who has spent time cranking one of these devices knows that this is not a good option for producing more than a few minutes of light, but it is nice to have that option in an emergency. A fully charged unit gives off at least 10 hours of light at the highest setting, gradually decreasing thereafter. Others report getting at least 12 hours on medium. While I haven’t done extensive testing on it, we were happy enough with the duration and quality of the light that we purchased another couple of units. Potential problems: some units have a USB output for charging cellphones and the like. Several reviewers have found them non-functioning, so it might be best to test this feature immediately upon receipt or simply not to count on it as a phone charging station.

Reviews at Amazon and Walmart.


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Equipment and Supplies–March 2015


washdayMy uncle remarked recently that the first purchase my grandparents made as a married couple was a washboard. While this would not have been unusual in their parents’ generation, by 1949 the era of the automatic washer was in full swing and their washboard purchase was an indicator of their extreme thriftiness. After our recent washing machine breakdown, my curiosity and trying to imagine how we’d handle laundry in a longer-term power outage got the better of me and I researched and finally purchased a washboard.

It turns out that this 1797 invention is still manufactured in the US by one company, Columbus Washboard Company, and so it is possible to get a “patina”-less washboard that won’t need to have rust removed before you try it out on a load of t-shirts. As of today the family-size Maid Rite boards are available through Ace Hardware and on the Amazon Marketplace for around $26. I also purchased a smaller Dubl Handi for about $20. You’ll find a whole range of old and new washboards on ebay—useable-ness and prices vary widely.

To use your washboard, fill a sink or washtub with warm or hot water, place board feet-downward with the scrubbing surface facing away from you and lean it back against your waist or the sink edge. Place the items to be washed into the sink to soak as you work. Rub your laundry soap (Fels Naptha is the old standby, but Ivory works as well) onto your first item and rub it up and down, rotating every couple of scrubs to clean all sides. After all items are washed, drain, rinse and wring laundry (see the August 2103 newsletter for a solution for large items and batches) and hang to dry. Finally, give your washboard a rinse and set it somewhere it can dry thoroughly.

Notes and observations:

  • A washboard is a great thing to have if you have a baby. The washing machine alone is often inadequate, scrub brushes tear up and deform the fabric and rubbing the fabric against itself is a pain and only moderately effective. On hard days I would end up leaving all the stuff in need of prewashing next to my sink “for later”. Bad. My Dubl Handi has a permanent spot next to my sink now. Most things take literally a minute, no stains, no fabric damage, no “later”.
  • A couple of people have commented that if you have a large load of laundry, you need to watch your hand position. Repeated rubbing with your knuckles against the board is a bad idea. Work with an open hand instead.

See here for written notes on washboard (and clothesline) use.

And here for a video.


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Equipment and Supplies–February 2015

Using and Caring for Oil LampsOil_Lamp Wall2

I remember losing power for several days after a hurricane struck New England. Being a child with no responsibilities to care for a family in the emergency, I remember it being nothing but fun and feeling distinctly disappointed when the lights came back on. This was partly due to the fact that ours had never entirely gone out. The oil lamps that always hung on our walls in the main rooms were more than merely decorative and they provided us with the light we needed during those electricity-less evenings. Between those lamps and our gas range to cook on, we were quite comfortable.

Fuels and filling. Use the appropriate fuel for your lamp. In most cases this will be K1 kerosene or lamp oil. There is usually only a little difference in odor and smoke output between these two products and you will need to determine whether the additional cost for lamp oil is worth it to you. Brands may vary. Fill your lamp’s fount to about ½” of the top or according to manufacturer instruction with room temperature oil (to prevent condensation). You may want to use a funnel or fill outdoors to prevent spills and fumes indoors.

Trimming the wick. Unlike a candle, the wick height on an oil lamp is adjustable, so trimming is not necessary for this purpose. This is a matter of controversy, lamp construction and, possibly, personal preference. It is commonly held that a flat wick should have its corners rounded off slightly (less than ¼”) in order to produce a pleasing flame shape. W.T. Kirkman Lanterns’ newsletter from last fall suggests that this is due to a defect in the burner shape of the lamp and that trimming will only reduce light outputs. We leave this to the judgment of the user. One opinion, with examples.

Lighting. Allow your wick to absorb oil for a few minutes, up to 30 for a new wick. Light and hold match horizontally, against the edge of the wick. Adjust height of wick using the thumb wheel until it all but disappears into the burner, while maintaining a steady flame and replace the glass chimney. If the flame is smoky, the wick may still be too high. Remember that the goal is to burn oil, not wick.

Extinguishing. Cup your hand around the back of the chimney (without touching it!) at the top and blow hard. Some lanterns are designed with a lever that raises the chimney out of the way for lighting and extinguishing. Allow to cool thoroughly before handling the chimney or storing.

Cleaning and storing. Chimneys can either be cleaned in warm soapy water, using glass cleaner or using a household cleaner such as Tilex. Storing the lamp ½ full of oil will prevent the wick from drying out. As long as the lamp is stored in a safe place, leftover oil can simply remain in the fount until it is used again.

Notes and warnings:

Kerosene fumes may bother some sensitive individuals. Keeping a window cracked and/or changing your fuel may help.

Always burn a lamp with the chimney in place. Failure to do so can result in pressure changes in the fount and present a serious fire hazard.

Always use a correctly-sized wick for best light and lowest smoke outputs. Take a bit of the old wick with you when purchasing of refer to manufacturer instructions.

Kerosene smell on hands can be neutralized by using a bit of gel alcohol hand sanitizer after washing.

Always keep lamps away from children and flammable objects.

Glossary of lamp terminology

More info on care and cleaning

Hours of light per gallon of fuel