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10 Lessons from
the Bug-Out Campout

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

March 1, 2005

The cold hills of the Bobaloo Ranch seemed far away as Thunder, Lightning, and The Bobaloo himself gathered 'round one of the small side tables at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed.

Steamy windows and warmth from the pellet stove were a welcome change from the cold of their recent Bug-Out Campout. Even the Hog Trough's alleged coffee smelled and tasted pretty good.

The test of their three-day bug-out kits and their emergency preparedness skills had been a success. Even if part of the success lay in finding out what they didn't know and what they'd done wrong.

As they ordered up chili and chicken-fried steak, they talked about the lessons they'd learned.

First thing, though, they congratulated themselves because some of their preps had been outstanding. The Blastmatch and Saber Cut hand-operated chain-saw from their Ultimate Deluxe Survival Kit worked exactly as advertised. Their water filter was a winner. And well ... one great thing about the campout had been spending time with each other.

"But," said Thunder with a shiver of memory and just a hint of his Suthuhn Vuhginya gentlemun drawl, "It's the little things that'll do ya'll in." Like trying to sleep on the cold, cold ground without a foam pad, which leads to serious risk of hypothermia.

"Maybe Claire and Bobaloo shouldn't have given you such a hard time about your Boy Scout and caveman skills," Lightning sympathized, taking his hand. "If we hadn't had Bobaloo's ranch house to hike to, we might have frozen without some of your talents."

True. Redundant skills and redundant materials are good. A thick bed of leaves on the floor of that debris hut Thunder wanted to build could have provided insulation from the ground, while the small size and thicker walls of the hut might have retained their body heat better than a tent.

A real woodsman could have spent the night in comfort by sleeping above a firebed and enjoying its radiance.

The aboriginal fire-starting equipment that took up so much space in Thunder's pack could have helped get that firebed (and campfire) going if they'd lost their Blastmatch or ended up with soggy matches.

"Being able to improvise, adapt, and overcome obstacles put in your path is what life's all about, right?" He shrugged. "Oh yeah, bring your own tinder, just in case: dryer lint, cotton balls, paper towels, toilet paper, coffee filters, napkins, tufts of broom sage ... they'll all burn long enough to let you get more substantial tinder, like pine straw, going."

Lightning, whose hands were still a little stiff from her wood-cutting duties, added, "You can never have too much firewood. Gather plenty while it's light so it'll last through to the morning."

Bobaloo observed, "Multi-tasking items are useful Like using paracord for bootlaces." If you need to improvise fishing line, the paracord has four to seven useable strands inside it -- and the outer shell can still be used to tie your boots.

"Shaving in a signal mirror," Thunder added.

"Or carrying a hammock," Lightning nodded, "that you can also use as a stretcher or sieve net."

Janelle-the-Waitress bustled up with their orders, plunked down the plates and observed, "Stay warm."

"Yeah," agreed Thunder, "Waterproofing, warmth, and layered clothing are important."

"Warm, dry feet," said Bobaloo, digging into the plate of red goo in front of him. "I suspect that having wet, icy feet could literally make a bug-out walk ..." he stopped chewing, a stunned look on his face, "Impossible," he concluded, carefully laying his fork down on his plate.

On their hike back to the house in the moonlight after aborting the campout, Bobaloo stepped into a large puddle. But he'd learned a lesson from a freezing, wet-footed fall hunting expedition. Boots sprayed with Rain & Stain stayed completely dry.

"Wool socks, too." Lightning tried to break open the biscuit that came with her chili. No luck. Banged it on the table. It dented the wood. "Wool's one of the only fabrics that'll keep you warm even when its wet."

Wool wicks moisture away from your feet, which also helps prevent blisters -- a simple injury that can make life hell if you have to stand or walk far.

"Food," said Thunder, looking down at the dubious material on his own plate. For a moment, he thought he spotted something alive down there. "Good food," he coughed, nudging the plate away and taking up his coffee again. "In a short-term bug-out situation, filling, easy-to-prepare food like MREs is better than freeze-dried backpacking food that requires water, work, and cooking."

"Speaking of food ..."

"Bring a long gun," everybody chorused.

All three of the campers carried .45 pistols. The shared caliber could have come in handy if the'd been forced in a real emergency to pool resources. But all three agreed that extra ammo, gun-cleaning supplies, and above all a rifle, would have been smart carry items. In a real bug-out situation long arms would have been useful against both two- and four-legged predators and could have helped the campers bag food, besides.

"It was wonderful to go openly armed," Lightning, who spends too much of her life in a city, sighed. "And really, the whole experience was empowering. It taught me I could do more than I imagined, that I could get by alone if I had to."

"I learned I could get away with making myself look ridiculous," said Bobaloo. "Well, wait a minute. Actually, I already knew that."

Don't be afraid to look stupid learning new things

"It's my strongest attribute," Bobaloo went on."I'll freely admit to having zero knowledge on a subject, and I'm willing to look ridiculous while learning. This technique tends to evoke pity in those who have more knowledge than me in a particular field, and they express their pity by trying to help me achieve some level of competence. It works great, and it's a lot of fun too.I've learned to cook, fence (with the sword, not the barbed wire), pilot an airplane, ballroom dance, plow a garden, and split infinitives all through the application of this method. My current public humiliation involves broadcasting my trials (scores included) in becoming a rifleman on my web log. This technique works for learning survival skills, too."

"Test your skills now rather than waiting for either perfection or disaster," Thunder confirmed. "Better to look ridiculous or screw up now than to find yourself stuck when the brown stuff strikes the propeller."

"Yeah. And be realistic," said Bobaloo, "A lot of people have absolutely unrealistic expectations about what they can achieve through backpack bugging out. For most people it just doesn't make sense to plan to survive for any extended period of time living out of your backpack. It can be done; we've all heard the stories. But for every story we hear about luck and intelligence leading to survival against the odds, there are 50 corpses in the woods.

"A reasonable purpose for a bug out pack would be to have enough food and gear to travel through the woods to get to a rendezvous point, or to make it back to your much-better-prepared retreat or bug out vehicle. Another scenario I would consider possible is some sort of quarantine that you needed to bypass, through which travel by car impossible. Far more important than having a kitted-out pack, in my opinion, would be to have some sort of plan about WHERE you would go and different ways to get there. Stashing a car registered in someone else's name can be cheaper than buying all the top of the line survival gear, and it's a lot more comfortable."

Everybody nodded over their mostly untouched plates.

"Dessert?" Janelle asked, eyeing the brimming plates like a mother who knew the kids weren't entitled to desert.

"Uh ... No thank you."

But as she walked away, Thunder added, "But here's dessert for anybody thinking about bugpout preps. Lesson 11: Get trim and get fit. "It does you no good to have a bugout bag if you can't bugout or hack it when the going gets a little rough. You can't run from danger if you can't run."

"Well, this meal was a good start on the getting trim part," Lightning grinned. "I think we've all lost at least two pounds already. Now let's get out there and exercise, guys."




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