Thursday, August 12, 2010

Miscellany: Mulliga's Urban Survival Kit, Part 3

While my blog is mainly about escaping the mundane through art and adventure, this series of posts addresses "escape" in a more literal sense. Here, I present my ideas on a lightweight, inexpensive collection of items for surviving an urban or suburban disaster. Part 1 introduced the concept and went into my choice for the survival kit's container. Part 2 discussed some options for your first aid kit. Part 3 addresses the next most-pressing needs: water and food.

-- WATER --

If the municipal water supply breaks down, and the store shelves are empty from panic buying or looting, it may become very difficult to find drinkable water in your city. As such, your survival kit should have a subsystem to address the acquisition, purification, and (most importantly) storage of drinking water.

Pantyhose/Handkerchief/Cheesecloth - In dire situations, you may need to skim standing water off of wherever you can find it - flowerpot dishes, buckets, old tires, truck beds, and the like. A piece of lightweight fabric can be used as a prefilter for your water, keeping out the larger rocks, bugs, and plants from your bottle. IMPORTANT - unless you are critically dehydrated, the strained water still needs to be boiled, filtered, and/or chemically treated.

Emergency Poncho - Rain is the best source of potable water since it doesn't need purification, but catching it requires a little more than sticking a water bottle out the window. The cheapo emergency ponchos sold at big box stores can be used to collect rainwater much more efficiently - just suspend the poncho and direct the water right into your bottle.

Metal Can or Cup - In a pinch, you can carefully boil water in a regular disposable plastic bottle by suspending it over a fire ( that is, if you don't mind the taste of charred plastic). I think it's a heckuva lot simpler to carry a small steel can or cup around. The camping kind with collapsing handles are probably the nicest, but you can improvise one out of any steel can or container.

Water Bottle - There are a lot of options for carrying water, including Camelbak-type reservoirs and the traditional military canteens. I prefer an ordinary screwtop water bottle, whether it's made of steel (Kleen Kanteen), plastic (Nalgene), or aluminum (Sigg).

Each type has pluses and minuses. The single-walled, nonpainted Kleen Kanteen bottles can double as boiling containers in an emergency, but they're also heavier. The Siggs are the most pleasant to drink from, have very durable screwcaps, and look the coolest, but they're usually fairly expensive (look for clearance sales). The Nalgene or Camelbak plastic bottles are indestructible, but their caps aren't quite as bombproof as the Sigg bottles.

Collapsible water bottle - The rigid water bottles are meant to be ready and filled 24/7 so you have water in an emergency. These collapsible bottles are for storing extra water as you come across it. There are several varieties out there - I recommend getting one with a built-in loop so you can attach it to your kit's container (examples: Platypus PlusBottle, Nalgene Cantene). If you're really pressed for cash, grab a few large Ziploc bags, reinforce them with clear packaging tape, and run a couple of paracord loops around and underneath them - instant poor man's Platypus.

Chemical Tablets - When you can't boil water but you don't have the space to pack a filter, chemical water treatment can save your bacon. Both iodine and chlorine based solutions are available. While neither can kill 100% of the nasties in groundwater, both should make the water drinkable in an emergency. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package, and remember that these tablets have limited shelf lives (they go bad in months if the actual package or bottle is opened BTW).


Filters - I don't have a water filter in my kit, but they really excel at getting rid of dirt, algae, and all the other particulate matter that boiling and chemical treatment will leave in your water. I don't view that as a huge issue in an urban enviornment, since even compromised tap water will be mostly free of mud and gunk. For a wilderness kit, though, these are indispensable. The Katadyn/Pur line of filters, specifically the Hiker, are extremely popular and reasonably priced. Avoid the straw varieties unless you are really pressed for weight/space - they have small capacities and you're using your lungs to do the work instead of your hands and arms.

SteriPEN - These devices use UV light to deactivate the reproduction of parasites and other microorganisms. They work quickly and don't take up much space. The major limitation, though, is that the water cannot be cloudy or turbid, as the light has to reach all parts of the water to be effective. For an urban setting, the SteriPEN is a viable option, as most water you'll find in a city will be fairly clear. I don't have one, though, because they're expensive.

-- FOOD --

Food is a low priority in a survival situation, but that doesn’t mean it should be neglected entirely. You may be able to "survive" without food for many weeks, but after a few days of starving yourself, your body doesn’t have the energy to do much of anything - you’ll get tired easily and quickly, and your resistance to illness and injury will start to decline.

Remember, however, that it takes water to digest food. You generally won't be doing yourself any favors by eating dry food without a good supply of water. Here are some of my favorites for M.U.S.K.:

Beef Jerky - Tons of protein, minimal fat. Won't make you feel "full," but will help keep your muscles from wasting away.

Energy/Cereal/Granola Bars - The backbone of your food items. Look for calorie density, physical durability, and taste.

Powdered Drink Mix - A dilute solution of Gatorade mix and water can be used to rehydrate someone suffering from shock. Don't use the proportions given by the package directions; the end product is so cloying that people might throw it up when they drink it.


MREs - The classic survival food. They're not cheap, but they have a ton of calories, are fairly durable, and are readily available online.

Mountain House Freeze-dried Meals - A favorite of campers. Sealed bags make the meals incredibly easy to prepare - just pour boiling water into the bag, wait awhile, and eat directly from the bag. It's not great cuisine - most varieties taste like Hamburger Helper - but it's a hot meal, and it doesn't weigh much. Like most of the listed foods, these are extremely high in sodium, so make sure you have plenty of water handy.

Chocolate - In terms of palatability, sugar and fat content, few food items rival solid bar chocolate. Eating one of these provides a rush that can power you through a strenuous activity, whether it's hiking to an evacuation area or building a shelter. Downside is that these melt like crazy when it's hot - not so appetizing when it's chocolate goo on a wrapper.

That does it for water and food. Next post will feature M.U.S.K.'s clothing accessory subsystem.


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