Regardless of where you live, the possibility of a short-term power outage is likely at some point. For most of us, this happens two or three times a year for a very short period, meaning a few hours on up to a few days.
These short-term outages often become a big adventure. Talk to someone who is an avid camper and you will learn there is a certain magic involved in sitting by a campfire or camp stove, sharing fish tales and roasting marshmallows over the flickering flames. And so it is when the power goes out. The oil lamps are lit, the fireplace or woodstove is set ablaze and out comes the rocket stove for cooking our food – outdoors of course.
Yes, the whole idea of being off-grid for a few days can definitely be viewed as a big adventure and something to look forward to as a way to disconnect from our busy lives and the digital world.
As fun as this all sounds, this adventure can get tiresome if not downright frightening if you are ill-prepared for being off-grid. Think about it. We depend on power for the most mundane things. Lights, heat, cooking, laundry, basic hygiene and of course, let us not forget about computer and internet access, are all driven by the power grid. Unless you are lucky enough to own a generator (and even then you need fuel – lots and lots of fuel), when the grid goes down, so does life as you know it.
What is it like to go off-grid? A while back, Todd, the editor of the Prepper Website and Ed That Matters, got a taste of the off-grid lifestyle for himself. And no surprise, things did not quite go as planned. It was not the perfect off-grid trip but there were some lessons that we all can learn from his experience.
Lessons Learned Off-Grid
Last week, my dad and I spent three days at his property in East Texas to clean up and prepare for a future foundation for a structure that we would like to place on site. We’ve been wanting to go for a while now (when it was cooler), but we were waiting for the well to be finished up. The property is totally off-grid, with no electricity, propane and even the well needs the generator because the pump is so deep, so I knew that there would be some lessons learned as these city folk spent three days out roughin’ it!
Lesson: I over estimated my physical ability to work out in the heat. I’m not a wuss. I work hard and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. But most of my day, nowadays, is spent inside in the AC. The heat just drains you and I was constantly thirsty!
On the way up to the property, I was looking forward to stopping at Whataburger (only in TX I think) to have a big hamburger before getting to the property and eating “camp” food. Dad wasn’t hungry, so I told him not to bother stopping. As soon as we arrived, we started unloading the tractor, clearing a path for the truck and trailer and setting up the tent and shade cover. By the time I knew it, it was late and I had lost my appetite. I was thirsty though. It seemed like I couldn’t quench my thirst. I had water and Gatorade, but I was always thirsty. I did monitor myself and my dad. I made sure we were drinking, using the restroom, sweating, etc… So we weren’t in danger, but it was hot.
I wasn’t as sore as I thought I would be afterwards, but the heat did take a lot out of me. I weighed myself at home, even after eating a hamburger on the way back home, and I lost 5 pounds! I’m sure it was all water and I’ll gain it all back!
After the generator was started and hooked up to the well, I had all the cool water I wanted. But this situation did cause me to reflect on the fact of “what if” I had to bug-out and the water I had in my BOB ran out. You can only carry so much water. In hot climates, this needs to be really thought out!
One of the items that we both thought were invaluable were those neckties that cool you when you soak them for five minutes. I have purchased one for each member of my family off of eBay, but the two that I had with us were from Walmart. I found them in the sporting section for under $4. We used them constantly.
Lesson: I forgot some important items. I feel like I’m a pretty organized person. I also have a pretty good memory. But there was so much that I was trying to remember that I forgot some important items. I don’t usually have to make lists, but I can see how they insure that you don’t forget important items.
I forgot my camp stove, sun screen and table. The table wasn’t a big deal. Dad had one that we could take up there, although it was a lot smaller than what we needed. For the rest of the items, we stopped at Walmart. I hated to buy another camp stove, but that’s what we were using to heat up water, etc… I could have made a fire, but I’m glad that I didn’t go that route. When you’re tired and hot, spending the extra time and effort to build a fire isn’t what you want to do unless you absolutely have to.
There is always going to be items that you forget, making an effort to minimize your forgetfulness is very important.
Side note – the Sporting Goods section in small town Wal-Mart’s suck compared to those found in the “big city.” The Sporting Goods section was about 1/3 the size of the one that I’m used to.
Lesson: Things broke and didn’t work. My sunglasses, bic lighter and generator broke or didn’t work as I thought. I’m bad with sunglasses. Actually, I never take my sunglasses out of my truck. They stay clipped to my visor when I’m not driving. But the sun was so bright that I thought I should wear them. I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the line they broke. I can still wear them, but nevertheless, sunglasses are important for eye protection and eventually, the small crack that developed will give way and I won’t be able to use them.
The thing that freaked me out was the lighter that was fairly brand new, didn’t work. The wheel was bent and wouldn’t strike the flint. Thank goodness I had backups. I lit the stove with my Primus Fire Steel. If that didn’t work, I had the fire steel on my Gerber fixed blade sheath and also the fire steel on my paracord bracelet. I could have ultimately used the flint in the lighter and the car lighter too.
Lastly, the generator didn’t work just as I thought. This is my first generator. We need it to run the pump on the well. I don’t like this, so I’m working on a way to make sure we can have water, even if we don’t have gasoline. But I digress… I purchased the generator the week before and left it in the box. I assembled it on site (wheels and handles) and started it. It wouldn’t stay on! I pulled the string, checked all that I knew, but it still wouldn’t stay on. I breezed through the manual, looked at the troubleshooting section and still no luck. After about an hour, I figured it out. Basically, it was not enough oil. The automatic shut-off was not allowing the generator to get going due to the lack of it. At the store, the salesman sold me a bottle with enough oil for two changes. So, with that information, I put in half of the bottle, right? It wasn’t enough! After putting in more, it was fine.
I should have assembled the generator at home and gave it a test run first before I really needed it. If the generator wouldn’t have run, we would have had a rough time.
The equipment not working didn’t lead us to tragedies or anything, but it still speaks to the need for redundancy and to the fact of making sure your equipment is in working order BEFORE you need it!
Lesson: The items that I counted on the most. I had multiple knives with me. However, my Kershaw Shallot knife was the only one that I used…and did I use it. I love that knife.
The other thing that we used a lot and could have used more was rope. We used a lot to put up our big shade cover. Because we only had a limited supply, we couldn’t string the cover all the way to the next tree like we wanted to. It still worked for us. But the lesson is that you can never have enough cordage!
In conclusion, I love it out in the country! We are already planning to go back up there again in the next week or two. I will take all these lessons into consideration as I start planning the next trip. But I’m sure that the next trip will have more lessons to learn. And that’s the beauty of it all, learning and growing and making adjustments as we move forward.
Note: Todd is the owner/editor of The Prepper Website. He is also an assistant principal in the public school system and a bi-vocational minister. He’s a great guy too and together, we have helped work technical kinks out of each other’s web sites. As I have always said: it takes a community of like-minded folks to make stuff happen in a positive way!
Never say never when it comes to being prepared
Now I know what you are saying. “I already know that stuff . . . that would never happen to me.” Well think again. In Todd’s case, he had time to do advance planning. He is an experienced prepper and a smart guy. Yet in this – what turned out to be a good practice run – he learned that he had some shortcomings.
Unlike Todd’s recent experience, in the case of a real emergency, you would have no time to plan while in the moment. Instead, you will be in a “what you see is what you get” situation. To help mitigate the lessons you will learn in the field, I would like to summarize six things you can do to prepare for going off-grid.
Six Ways to Prepare for Going Off-Grid
1. Stay in good physical shape. Life in the rough is more difficult that life on the sofa. You will more likely than not be walking with a pack, carrying water, chopping wood and performing other strenuous activities. The best way to prepare for this is to get in shape now.
2. Plan on water for drinking – and lots of it. Make sure that you acquire some way to purify water in the field plus make sure you have some way to carry the water whether it be it bottle or a portable bladder. Heat will be your enemy in this regard, so be prepared or you will go down like a flash from dehydration. (See 8 Reason Drinking Lots of Water is Important for Survival.)
3. Think about the gear you will need and start acquiring it now. There will be no Santa Claus to deliver gear to you when the grid goes down and if there are stores open (unlikely) they may not have what you need. And just as important, keep your gear together in a central location – you are less likely to forget about it if it is all located in one place.
4. Redundancy is your friend. Sure, it is great to use a lighter or matches to start a fire. But also have a flint and steel as well. The same thing applies to lighting (candles, lanterns and chemical lighting), knives and other items.
5. Practice in advance. Go camping and enjoy a family weekend in the wilderness. Learn how to use your stuff before your life depends upon it.
6. Make a list and check it twice or even three times. Put a checklist in your bug-out-bag and use it. I personally keep a list on the inside of my closet door – front and center where it can’t be missed.
The Final Word
Even the best of preppers can learn from real-time experience. Of the six ways to prepare for going off-grid, perhaps the most important is taking the time to drill and to practice in advance. Hone your craft and have fun doing it. And as always, hope you never have to use your off-grid skills for more than just a day or two.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: For this article, I decided to clear the decks and come up the assortment of items I felt were the most important for my needs when the power is out and we are grid down. Keep in mind that this is my list; your may be different. Also, for the most part, this is a hunker-down list and not a hit-the-road and bug out list.
Emergency Radio: My old Kaito died right when I needed it so now I have two: the compact Kaito Voyager V1 and the Ambient Weather Compact Emergency Radio. While both have lots of features, my primary interest is in using them as a solar/crank radio.
BaoFeng UV-5R Dual-Band Ham Radio: Redundancy is the name of the game. I also have two of these inexpensive Ham radios. Keep in mind that if you are just planning to listen, you do not need a license (I am still working on mine). The price is right – $29.91 as of this writing. Also consider the NAGOYA Antenna for BAOFENG UV-5R.
Mr. Heater Portable “Big Buddy” Heater: Using propane and safe for indoor use, the Big Buddy Heater features an automatic low-oxygen shut-off system that automatically turns the unit off before carbon monoxide fumes reach dangerous levels in home.
Coleman PefectFlow 1-Burner Stove: This Coleman One-burner Propane Stove is an easy-to-use portable stove that should meet almost any camp cooking need. The PerfectFlow regulator provides consistent cooking performance by producing a steady fuel stream, even in cold weather, high altitudes, or when fuel is low. Equipped with one 10,000 BTU burner, this fully adjustable stove will last for 2.2 hours on high or up to nine hours on low.
Coleman Rugged Battery Powered Lantern: This sturdy Coleman has a runtime of up to 28 hours on the low setting and 18 hours on the high setting but does require D cell batteries. Personally, I have both a battery operated and propane lantern. Of course by now you know that I like redundancy with my preps.
Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite: Don’t let the $20 price lead you to think this wireless flood light is wimpy. I have two of these and feel that these lights are worth double the price. Using D-cell batteries, the Dorcy floodlight will light up a dark room or a dark stairway in an instant. I can not recommend these enough.
BIC Disposable Classic Lighters: This six pack of Bic lighters is reasonably priced but check around since these often go on sale locally. BICs just work – every time.
Eveready 3-LED 6Volt Floating Lantern (battery included): If you are planning to build a 2000-hour flashlight (and you should) this is the one that you need.
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