Consumable vs Perpetual Gear

While we have very few gear items purposely built for “preparedness”, we are forced to adapt to the items available for other activities. The most common areas we “borrow” from are camping/backpacking and the military. Neither of these offers a perfect option for what we truly need and the biggest similarity is that both rely on logistical support to complete long term “missions/trips”.

While the mature preparedness practitioner does not have such a vague plan to “grab backpack and rifle and run for the woods”, it is a piece of any plan that requires an evacuation from your residence. We plan on driving and taking as much as we can possibly pack but some possible events require an alternate plan that will see us relocating on foot.

Will any and all events require a long walk to safety? No and more likely, we’ll not see one that requires implementation of these alternate plans. We do, by matter of course, plan for the worst situation we can, especially after we are prepared to deal with the most likely (regional variables). This is where the theory and plans for backpacking and the military can hinder our abilities to adapt the products designed and made for these areas. Both rely on constant resupply in order to meet their long term goals. If our worst thoughts are realized, we will not have that option and must be able to provide our own needs from “nature’s supply chain”. The following is a breakdown of the different “schools” of thought and practice offered by readily available items and ideas on creating perpetual modules of gear/supplies to create your own logistics operation.

Camping/Hiking

Camping, hiking and backpacking are basically the same for this discussion, although ardent participants of any one may argue this point. We are basically using the idea of a long term expedition type outing, where knowledge, skills and gear from each discipline are incorporated into the overall goal. For the sake of this discussion, we will use “thru hikers” as our example.

Long trek hikers must carry the same items as we would to maintain the “Rule of 3”. They need to maintain core temperature, provide potable water, and food. Their pack must be capable of carrying their load, both comfortably and reliably. Most hikers focus on lighter gear meant for maintained camp sites. When “ounces become pounds”, especially over a long trek, this is what is needed.

Based on my research and reading accounts of thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) or Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), hikers send “caches” to certain locations along the trail that will hold them until they arrive to claim their goods. Some send clothing to replace what they started with to adjust for the different seasons, they send food to replace what they consumed, fuel for their stoves, etc. These supply points are based on “X” number of days on the trail and any rest breaks planned (or side visits to see a particular attraction). Often times, these are planned for a resupply every 7 days with a packable list of 8 days for “emergencies” or slow downs. Most hikers carry a water filter, a minimal first aid kit (FAK), no “tools” (hatchet, saw, trowel, etc) to process fuel, possibly a firestarter that will work when wet (ferro rod), ultra light shelter, etc. They pack light to maintain comfort and rely on modern conveniences to overcome an emergency (cell phone and SAR teams) and resupply points to address basic life support needs. Even a knife seems like an “option” for many, although a small folding knife is mentioned in many articles for opening meal pouches.

Their shelter and sleep systems are designed to be used in maintained campsites along the trail (normally) and oftentimes, they are for the warmer seasons with hikes planned to start in the South during cooler weather and end in the North as the weather warms.

While the needs of hikers to be able to supply needs is there, they often choose to rely on assistance from the outside if an emergency occurs. Most emergencies concerning hikers are from becoming lost or injured and not having the necessary equipment to even supply a small percentage of their needs and not being able to reach supplies either at base camp or at a cache/supply point.

Hikers normally travel in small groups to reduce their impact, so must work together to accomplish all the chores associated with camp “construction”. They normally split the load on certain systems (shelter if using tents). Some have certain members of the group who are responsible for certain tasks because they are more experienced or more knowledgeable in this area.
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Military

Our military has some of the best equipment available on the market. Whether it is issued or bought by the individual. Normally comfort is a luxury criteria with durability and ease of use being the main focal points. Military surplus (milsurp) is normally heavier because it is designed for maximum load carrying ability and for use by people in the best shape of their lives. While things have vastly improved over the years, the military also does not take into account the wear and tear on its members by using the gear issued (they count on 4 years of service and injuries that do not show themselves until years later are of little concern to them. It’s harsh but reality). Manufacturers who produce gear allowable to be used but not necessarily “issued”, offer a better selection of gear because they know they must actually “sell” their product to the end user. They have reduced weight, without reducing load carrying ability and even have improved on the durability and comfort parameters. This isn’t always the case so review the specs and user reviews for each product.

The military’s option for a longer time without resupply is to pack much more weight. Weight is also added by just carrying the tools and needs of the profession, weapons and ammo. Most units and/or “jobs” in the military do not require nor teach survival skills. They rely on modern conveniences like armored vehicles, helicopters, airborne drops, etc to reach even the most remote areas to bring needed supplies.

Soldiers carry many of the same items as every other soldier but they must carry mission specific items that allows them to perform their designated job. A machine gunner carries much more ammo and less medical supplies than a medic for instance. Soldiers usually operate in large groups with a mixture of different jobs to support each other. Certain units operate in small teams but generally the military operates at the Battalion level or Brigade level (5-800 soldiers per Battalion and 3-5 Battalions to a Brigade {average round numbers]).

The individual soldier is not “responsible” for creating their own potable water, they have soldiers specifically trained and tasked with that requirement. Food is a meal that comes prepackaged and does not require heating, cooking, or reconstitution like many backpacker meals. They also weigh more for this ability.

Oftentimes, soldiers use vehicles to carry huge tents that can have heating stoves placed in them for colder climates. Yes, they also carry small shelters or even build shelters from their poncho by teaming up with their “Battle Buddy”.

The durability, ability to adjust the load out quickly (MOLLE gear), load carrying capacity/ability, and design for ease of use (ability to get to what is needed) all make milsurp practical for the preparedness community but the weight of the gear is often a deficit to our goals. Most of us do not have the physical fitness of the troops who work out 5-6 days a week and often work with their loads every day, all day.

Preparedness

We must find a balance between the 2 systems, because 1 focuses on extremely lightweight gear to travel faster and further in a day, while the other maintains heavy loads that abuse the body. Both require extensive logistics plans and capabilities to replenish their packed/carried consumables, something we will not have access to if the worst comes to play and we are forced to implement our last ditch plans.

Yes, I called them “last ditch”. A vast majority I expect in the preparedness movement do not plan on just heading for the woods to “live”, although there are groups who have those plans. For most (me anyway), setting out on foot is my last plan and only to be used when all other options have been exhausted or not able to be implemented.

When choosing your gear to supplement and add to your knowledge and skills, find a balance that will both allow weight to be carried as comfortable as possible but do not pack overweight to where your abilities will be reduced drastically. The 10# pack is great for a pack to get home or maintain life for a couple days but without the added carry weight of perpetual gear, it is a false sense of security for when the worst happens and evacuation on foot is required.

Perpetual gear will allow you to replenish needed resources like food, water and maintain core temperature even if you cannot utilize caches. While we should carry lightweight food options like backpacking meals, we must try and conserve these for dire needs when our perpetual gear does not provide our needs. Even water is sometimes based on consumables, with the planned water source(s) being wells at camp sites and only water purification pills carried to drop the ounces of a water filter. For food; traps, snares, firearms, archery tackle, slingshot, fishing tackle and the knowledge and skill to build these items comes into play, as well as the knowledge and skill to use what you carry. Fishing gear may not be practical for your environment (desert), so base your gear on the availability of resources.

Our shelter and sleep systems must be more robust and cover a wider range of seasonal weather and temperatures. We do not have the option of planning for a particular season, for we do not control when our gear will be needed. The military’s modular sleep system may be one of the best for addressing this need, altho its weight could be a detraction. While an ultra light tent or tarp will work for warm weather, they aren’t as favorable in winter without having the knowledge and skills to maintain core temperature. This usually involves a campfire, so other precautions must be taken (see notes below).
Most of us probably lack the ability to establish full resupply caches on each of our primary and secondary travel routes. Even with multiple routes planned and “staged”, we may be forced to detour off of our routes to avoid damaged areas (downed bridges, ruined cities, etc) or hostile parties. While our caches may remain unnoticed, the area may be too hazardous to venture into for retrieving our supplies.

Known water sources can also be sought by the unprepared. While hostile intent may not be a concern, sanitation will be. Many water sources will become even more polluted than they are now due to people bathing, washing laundry or dishes, using the latrine in close proximity, or even bodies from those who didn’t make the crossing or fell onto hostility upstream of the location. Knowing that everything needs water for survival, predators, both 2 and 4 legged, will also seek these sources for prey. Water filters, both gravity feed (Sawyer)and pump action (Katadyn or MSR) add weight but treat many sources of water. Research these and find the one that best fits your needs and protects you the best. Multiple filter types may be needed, a Sawyer gravity feed can be used while still on the move but doesn’t remove heavy metals or many chemicals, so adding a Seychelle Filter Bottle with an Advanced filter to remove heavy metals and chemicals can be a lifesaver.

Food is a primary concern (except in desert areas where water is more remote) because if we must travel any distance, can we carry enough to make the entire journey without replenishment? When planning for an evacuation on foot and using hiking as a guidepost for distance traveled, 10 miles seems to be the “go to” figure. This can change based on physical fitness, terrain, season, etc. While you may be able to carry enough food for yourself to make the trip, can the weakest member of your family/group? By carrying traps, snares, and fishing tackle, we can replenish our food needs while on the trail. These options can be set at night or when remaining in one location for a couple days to rest or recover from an injury. They can be hidden to maintain secrecy you are in the area as well.

Tools for processing wood for fuel is the only perpetual fuel source we will have. A saw to buck firewood and a hatchet or axe to split it can mean the difference between eating a nice warm meal or taking a chance with raw meat of unknown history. Find gear that will handle the use of a campfire, as these will be much more common and accessible than a small stove that requires bottled fuel and have tools to make the safest fire location to reduce the chance of creating another threat from wildfire (trowel/shovel for digging a pit per se).

We must also be prepared to defend ourselves and loved ones. While we probably do not require a real combat load of ammunition, a “basic” combat load (more for “breaking contact” than an actual firefight) will still be required if we wish to keep our supplies or not become someone else’s next “notch”. Ultra light backpacking gear is not designed or built accommodate this need.

While a hiker carries a minimal FAK, soldiers carry a better one but also have a medic usually close by for even more medical help and supplies. We may be our only medical assistance, regardless of injury. We must carry a full kit capable of treating a wide variety of injuries and illnesses. While my IFAK is fairly lightweight, my trauma kit adds a few pounds to my pack.
Every person will have different requirements based on their situation, skills, location and abilities. Do not buy something just because it comes recommended by a “celebrity” or carries their name. Ask yourself if it will enhance your abilities? What is the trade off for reduced weight? Is the item required or just a comfort? Will the item last or is it manufactured cheaply and thus likely to fail at the worst possible time? Will it provide multiple uses (altho some are specific needs and can’t be multi-tasked)? Etc.
If the worst happens, we must be prepared to replenish our supplies in every type of environment we will travel through, not just the locales where we are or will be and we may have to travel further to avoid threats and hazards.

Summary

Preparedness Practitioners are a mixture of each school. We will probably be traveling in a small group like hikers but our family may include young children who cannot function as an equal partner in the camp chores. If traveling with a larger group of like minded people, we can have members trained and best suited for particular tasks like the military.

Hikers normally do not carry defensive tools and the military must carry a full range of weapon systems to fulfill their mission. We must meet in the middle because we must be able to defend what we have and our fellow members but weight constraints do not support a full armament. It is also best to avoid conflict because even a minor wound for a soldier with medical assistance available could be life threatening to us.

While carrying some consumables like food and water purification tablets are necessary and intelligent, we do not have the luxury of regular resupply as hikers or soldiers. Our logistics must be from the land we travel in.
We must all be able to safely carry our packs for long durations but, unlike a soldier who can drop his excess gear (rucksack) before entering a fight, we cannot drop ours and hope to recover it easily. We must be able to perform most of our chores while still wearing our pack or possibly be forced to abandon it and all its contents.

Hikers and military normally are operating with individuals of similar fitness and abilities. We will have children and older people who cannot move as fast, go as long, or carry the same weight. We must offset our weakest members and carry extra to insure all have the required necessities unless you have resigned yourself to leaving them behind.

Hikers can cancel the trip if it gets too hard or they find out they are not prepared for the hardships. Soldiers can call for reinforcements and other support. We will not have either option in a worst case scenario. We must be able to carry what is needed for the long term, where giving up or not being able to accomplish necessary tasks could mean death.

Now I am not advocating carrying a 100# pack. We must find a respectable balance between the 2 systems that allows us to safely perform the required tasks without undue hardship that will cause us to fail physically. Our gear must be able to carry what we need and have but also be able to carry additional weight at times when we find useful items along the trail; whether these are wild edibles or tools no longer needed by their former owners.
Please join in the discussion so we all can learn and hopefully find the best system to meet our individual needs and requirements.

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