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The Bug-Out Campout

By Claire Wolfe
With way more than a little help
from Bobaloo, Thunder, and Lightning

February 15, 2005

The Bobaloo Ranch (known for its world-famed herd of long-toothed fighting mice) lies somewhat southeast of Hardyville, along a ridge of high, dry hills. Those hills get cold and forbidding this time year.

So you might wonder why three seemingly sensible people -- namely family patriarch, Bobaloo, Sr. and his guests Thunder and Lightning, -- would get the notion to trek into the wilds of the ranch, pitch their tents, light a campfire, toast marshmallows, and swap lies in the January frost.

Their reason is saner than first seems. They were testing their three-day bug-out bags.

A bug-out bag, as you may know, is like a three-day emergency-preparedness kit. But as this writer points out, it's easier to type.

Lots of experts tell us we should have such kits. Most of those same experts will tell us what should go into our kits. And a few experts will even sell us kits ready-made.

But the Bobaloo Crew, being true Hardyvillians, decided to pack their own, then go out in not-so-good conditions to test them. (Hurricanes tend to hit when the weather's warm, but quakes, tsunamis, fires, and terrorist attacks may be less courteous.)

They prepared as well as a venturesome group of out-of-shape non-outdoorspersons could, then set out into the winter wilderness for what was intended to be a two-night stay ...

The Pack

First sensible thing they did was assemble their kits in backpacks rather than duffel bags. (Easier to haul a large amount of gear.) In their case, these were CFP-90 military-style backpacks, which can hold close to 6,000 cubic inches of cargo.

They packed light, though, because part of the test was to learn what additional items they might need to include. (And oh boy, did Thunder and Lightning discover a biggie. A bit later for that.)

They carried some standard, expected items: tents, sleeping bags, food (MREs, freeze-dried entrees, marshmallows, and of course Twinkies, because you have to make survival worth surviving), long johns, heat-reflective space blanket, warm clothes, cooking equipment, personal hygeine gear, first-aid kit, and -- what proved to be a favorite, Survival, Inc's Ultimate Survival Deluxe Kit. Even though, as Thunder admitted, "ultimate" was a slight exaggeration, the kit included a Blastmatch, WetFire tinder, a hand-operated chain-saw, signal mirror, and one very loud whistle.

The Bug-Out

On a dry, clear day with the temperature hovering around 35 (first day in a week with no rain or snow), Bobaloo led his friends to a pre-chosen location -- what he calls his "outdoor priest hole." The spot had two advantages handy in emergencies; it's hidden and it has a spring, which meant nobody had to haul 10 pounds of water. They did haul an excellent SweetWater Guardian water filter and virtually tasteless ViralStop chlorine purifier drops that came with the filter.

Starting out from the Bobaloo ranch house, they shouldered their packs and set off to cover a mile of mostly muddy ground.

They reached the priest hole without catastrophe.

The Campout

It quickly emerged that Thunder, a broad-shouldered, try-anything ex-Marine (oops, sorry, I forgot; there are no ex-Marines) was the Boy Scout wannabe of the crew. Bobaloo and Lightning (Thunder's significant sweetie) had to talk him out of constructing a debris hut, reminding him there was a perfectly good reason he'd ported in that nylon tent.

Thwarted in his plans to be the Bold Woodsman, Thunder then regressed to Man's Discovery of Fire. Out of his pack came every spark-generating device known since the dawn of time.

"Uh, Thunder," Bobaloo pointed out, "that bow and drill set takes up more space than about a thousand matches."

But logic was of no avail. "That boy just likes fire," Bobaloo marveled with a shake of his head as he walked off, leaving Thunder to his pyromania.

As Thunder laid out his flints and tinder, Lightning went out with the Saber Cut chainsaw to gather wood. Pretty soon the sawdust was flying. Saw Woman (envision superhero outfit with cape wafting in breeze) bit through four-inch branches as if they were butter.

By the time Lightning, sparkling with triumph, sashayed in to the campsite with her first armload of wood, Thunder had (to everyone's relief) returned to the twenty-first century; a high-tech Blastmatch beats cave tools any day.

Adventures in Fine Dining

As the sun set, the happy (though by now, pretty chilly) campers dug into their assortment of foods. Instant revelation: MREs take less preparation and less water, and have more solid, warmth-building calories, than fancy freeze-dried camping foods. They weigh more. But unless you're climbing a mountain or walking 50 miles, so what?

One taste of Reconstituted Dried Apple Compote and the wise survivalists set that particular dish out for the woodland creatures. They then proceded to the marshmallows.

Now, as everyone who's ever attended a weenie-roast knows, marshmallow toasting is an art. It's also an endeavor in which deep-seated psychological differences emerge. The guys ... well, Oreo marshmallows -- black on the outside and white on the inside -- are fine with them. But Lightning being a budding artiste, must have her mallows crisped to the ideal golden-brown.

When you're sitting around swapping those lies and comparing notes on monkeywrenching and privacy protection, as true Hardyvillians tend to do, sometimes you lose your concentration and neglect the slow, refined stick work needed to get marshmallow gold.

Thus it was that Lightning looked down at one point in the proceedings to discover her mallow engulfed in six-inch flames. She blew the flames out, frowned at the Cajun-blackened treat, and with a flick of the wrist tried to snap the charcoal crust off the soft melty center. But Saw Woman, bulging with newfound muscles, didn't know her own strength.

Flick! Her toasting stick snapped in half, carrying the white center of the marshmallow far into the woods.

Later, Bobaloo returned from a trip to the boys' tree to report that the mallow, glowing in the moonlight, made an excellent beacon, lighting the way to the facilities. In emergency preparations, expect the unexpected and be ready to take advantage of useful improvisations.

The Flakeout

After listening for a while to Lightning's hand-cranked-solar-rechargeable-battery-AM/FM/SW/TV/Worldband-portable radio (good for morale even in this faux emergency), they decided to pack themselves in for the night.

The temperature had dropped only about 10 degrees, but damp crept in and frost formed on exposed surfaces.

Bobaloo, with a 0-degree rated sleeping bag and a $10 closed-cell foam ground pad, stripped to his thermal undies and fell cozily into the serious business of sleeping. He hoped for a long night and a lazy awakening.

He did not get his wish.

"Bobaloo. Hey, Bobaloo. We need your sleeping bag."

At least, that's what his groggy brain thought the midnight voice was whispering. Now what kind of friends want to steal a nice, warm bag out from around a guy on a winter night?

What the voice -- Thunder's -- was actually whispering was something more like, "Uh, I don't know if it's the fact that your sleeping bag is rated for colder weather than ours, or that you have a ground pad and we don't, but we're going back to the house because we're freezing our patooties off."

After crawling into their own bags, fully clothed, Thunder and Lightning had made their first discovery: nylon is cold until your body heats it up.

And their bodies weren't heating it up.

They lay on the ground for an hour, waiting for the warm. Instead, frozen earth beneath them sucked like a vacuum, pulling the heat from bag, bodies, and clothes. True, their bags were rated for only 30 and 35 degrees (not enough for winter camping, especially if you're the sort that sleeps cold). But the real problem was not having a ground pad.

At first, Thunder decided to use his Boy Scout skills and innovate. He laid his mylar space blanket under the bag in hopes it would do the job it's advertised to do -- reflect his body heat back to him.

R-L: Thunder; Lightning; visitor Bobaloo, Jr.; Bobaloo, Sr. Any resemblance to Jayne, Kaylee, Wash, and Mal from the backwoods space epic Firefly is purely coincidental

No dice.

He huddled there for a while, contemplating civilization, mortality, the symptoms of hypothermia, and various aspects of physics: namely reflection vs. conduction. If the blanket is wrapped around you, it reflects. If you're in contact with it, it conducts. His body heat was being sucked out to warm the space blanket instead of it warming him.

Ultimately he yielded to common sense and the laws of physics. It was time to pack the experiment in and pack back out.

Poking his nose through the tiny slit that was left in the hood of his bag after he'd nearly shrink-wrapped himself inside to keep warm, he whispered to Lightning, "Hon? You cold?"

The rattle of Lightning's chattering teeth was all the answer he needed.

So the Bobaloo Crew tugged on their frost-covered boots and hiked back to the ranch house in the dark. (Warm though he was in his padded nest, Bobaloo went with them, reasoning that it would be poor manners to allow midnight guests to be shot by his startled wife.)

Back at the ranch, they sat in the glow of the kitchen, ate their survival Twinkies, and talked about lessons learned in the art of winter bug-outs.

Next time: Lessons from the Bug-Out Campout

Read More by Claire Wolfe

Read Claire Wolfe's Blog

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