Thursday 9 September 2021

Prepping for Full Time Outdoor or Mostly Outdoor Living

You may not ever need to commit to living outdoors/off the grid or without power and running water full time, for the long haul, but if you prepare for that, you'll also be prepared for the inevitable short term periods of power, water, or gas outages, which can be caused by any number of things, and will also be prepared for worst case.  
This post will most likely be edited plenty, over time, but it's good enough to post as-is, for now. 
A few things to keep in mind right off the bat
  • Being prepared beforehand, all the time, is always key! 
  • This means always having certain things on hand, and USING them regularly.
  • The time to find or learn to use your gear is NOT when you need it most!

If you don't already have it, start building up a full complement of good, rugged camping gear. You don't have to break the bank, and it doesn't have to be expensive stuff. LOTS of what you need can be found second hand, or for cheap at discount stores. Good doesn't have to mean expensive.

There are a few basic necessities which we all need for survival, and a few more that make surviving FAR more pleasant.

Shelter/Protection From Elements

If you're bugging in, you already have basic shelter, so you just need to take steps to make it as secure from the elements and other hazards as possible. If you already have measures in place to block or take advantage of the sun, cold, wind, etc, perhaps to save on your electric bill - things like solar panels, blackout shades, vent turbines, or similar, you're already mostly set in this area. If not, there are simple things you can do, like sealing around windows and unused doors with plastic and tape, to keep out the cold and wind, insulated curtains to keep out cold or heat, and blackout panels (purpose built or DIY) to keep out heat and/or block inside light from showing outside. You can tape foil or mylar sheeting to the windows facing, out, and further insulate with cardboard, newspaper, foam, extra blankets, or whatever else is handy to get similar effects to the ready made blackout panels/curtains. I'm not going to go into further detail on these options, but I'll likely eventually add posts further detailing them, and, in the meantime, you can easily do an internet search on any of the above and learn more.

If you're bugging out to a location that doesn't already have established shelter, unless you are in a very mild climate, you'll want to make setting that up your very first priority, before food, fire, or even water. Even if you're in a mild or moderate area, you'll still want to at the very least have a tarp or something to shield from rain and condensation (dew).

The nicest thing, short of actually constructing some sort of building, is going to be a large tent that is big enough to stand up in, and has space for cots or double high air mattresses and maybe a small table and camp chair (coolers also make good seating or side tables), but start with whatever you can afford and fit in your vehicle (or wagon or carry with you, if walking). Most of my regular camping supplies live in my primary vehicle, full time, except when in use, and that has been the case as long as I've been driving. That means that even if I had to get out of my house RIGHT NOW, with no time to grab anything not right at hand, and drive away, I would have all my basic needs met rather comfortably for quite some time. I have a big ol' van now, so have upgraded some things, because I can, but even with a compact car, you can fit a lot if you plan and pack well.

Even a tiny tube tent, hammock tent, tarp lean to, debris shelter, or just a bivvy sack is better than no shelter at all, so start with bare basics in every category, and then upgrade as you can based on your priorities and specific needs.


The general standard for survival situations is at least one gallon per person, per day of water for drinking and absolutely necessary sanitation. That is not allowing for any real measure of comfort or anything else beyond not dying before rescue or resumption of services, and is based on staying put and not exerting yourself any more than absolutely necessary. That isn't something that you will be able to maintain more than a few days without some serious consequences.

This means you should really keep a bare minimum of five gallons of potable water (per person) in a sealed container at all times. More is better. Water containers are cheap and don't take up that much room. You can use plain old tap water if you are on municipal supply in most places. I recommend a lot more than that, and rotating by routinely using what you have in containers (get the ones with spigots, like this - they stack well and are almost as convenient as a regular sink) and refilling them, to keep it fresher. The collapsible containers are good to have on hand too, but are better for shorter term storage and use.

Conserve water by reusing as much as you can. Use the same water you used for boiling veggies for other cooking. Collect water in a bucket or pot under your handwashing station to pre-wash your dishes or to wash clothing. Use the last batch of rinse water for the next batch of wash water. Dip cleaning cloths into a container of water, instead of using "running" water, etc. Look for an upcoming post solely dedicated to conserving water in a SHTF situation. It will be linked here once it is finished, and some of the longer portions of this post (cleaning stuff, mostly) will be moved there.

If you have to bug out, a roof rack on your vehicle is a really good place for those water containers (and lots of other things), so if you don't have a roof rack already, install one! It nearly doubles your vehicle's storage and hauling space. It may not look sleek or cool, but you'll be glad you did the first time you put it to good use, whether in a bug out situation, or just hauling home something big and bulky. I'll get into larger filtration and purification systems in other post(s) as well, but you should also already have some kind of emergency filter system, like a Mini Sawyer System, Lifestraw, Seychelle bottle, etc. If you don't, get at least one. Do it now! Don't wait!

Fire, Food, and Cooking

You're going to need a way to heat water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, and to cook food. That means some kind of fire. There are LOTS of options available, like propane, butane, charcoal, alcohol, chemical tablets, etc, and I'll address that in another post, all about outdoor kitchens and emergency cooking, but you should still know how to build and use the oldest and most basic - a campfire. 

If you don't know how to build a proper fire, LEARN NOW!!
Seriously. Start with dry/cured wood, ideal tinder and kindling, and actual matches or lighter, then go from there to learn with less favourable conditions. Learn to do it with no additional accelerants, and minimal matches or lighter use. If the lighter gets too hot, you're taking too long. Everyone in my girl scout troop learned to make a one match fire (as in, laying a proper fire setup with tinder, kindling, and initial fuel and having a full on campfire going from that, using only one match, with no accelerants) within a single 4 day weekend, decades before Google or YouTube. If a bunch of 8 and 9 year olds can do it, so can you!! There are a lot of really good bush-craft channels on YouTube that will show you dozens of efficient ways to build a good fire. They all involve proper use of tinder, kindling, fuel, and airflow, but, from there, lots of options. Go do some searching, and then follow up with practising. 

Your fire can also enable you to use hot water bottles or heated bricks/rocks to help stay warm at night.

*Note: Wet/river rocks should be heated very slowly, at the edges of the fire until they are totally dry, or they can explode.
Exploding rock shards hurt!

I strongly advise having at least one good pair of leather firepit/welding gloves on hand. they make it so you can pick up hot pots or Dutch ovens, pick up and move around coals/burning logs, use hot fire tools, etc with no problem. Bonus: They ALSO double as general work gloves to protect you when cutting brush/thorns/brambles, handling splintery wood, sharp rocks or other rough/sharp surfaces, handling biting or clawing animals, and all kinds of other things. Just get some!!

Make sure you have at least a couple of basic, fire safe cooking pots/pans. I highly recommend using cast iron for most cooking and always having a stainless steel or aluminium kettle/coffee pot on hand anyway, for many reasons, but even if you aren't ready to do that, make sure you have a cast iron Dutch oven and good sized skillet (if they are both the same diameter, the lid will be interchangeable), and a pot or kettle for boiling water.  

Start using and cooking the most perishable foods in your refrigerator first. If the power is out more than 24 hours, you'll end up having to toss a lot of what you don't use up before it spoils, unless it's cold enough outside to keep foods cold. Meats will generally stay good a little longer if you cook them. Fresh veggies last longer raw. 

Don't open your fridge or freezer more than once a day, and keep coolers in the shade and/or under a reflective tarp if it's warm weather.

Most foods in a well stocked freezer should be safe for 72 hours, but you'll need to cook and re-freeze or use stuff pretty soon. 

Smoking, curing, and dehydrating foods can preserve them for longer.

A multi-fuel generator is an investment worth its weight in gold, and the fuel can last a long time if you only run it an hour or two a day to run your fridge/freezers and charge devices. You can also use it to charge a Yeti Power Station or similar at the same time, and have power for things like CPAPs/BIPAPs charging phones, portable phone chargers, emergency radios, batteries, etc. And, of course, solar panels are a very good thing to have on hand. Goal Zero makes some really awesome, compact ones that fold out and can continuously charge a power station and keep you at least minimally powered.

Hygiene and Sanitation

Since you likely have a limited water supply, unless you happen to be right next to a body of water, you need to be able to strike a really good balance between cleanliness and conservation. I mentioned a few ways to save water earlier in the post, but I'll add a few specifics here. 

Dishes & Food surfaces

For washing your dishes, you should have three tubs. They only need to be big enough to accommodate a few dishes at a time, and they don't need to be changed unless they get too gross (or soapy, for rinse water) to do the job. NOT too gross for you to feel nice. Wash water can be pretty murky and have floaties and still get dishes clean!

  • Wash tub: Should contain 1-2 drops dish soap per gallon of water. Too much soap will waste rinsing water and soap! You don't need a bunch of suds. Heating optional. It's nice, especially in cold weather, but not necessary.
 Scrape off as much food stuff as possible before putting in wash water, so you don't have to change it so often. If you have pets, they can be great for "prewashing" for you. (Just make sure you know what foods are unsafe for your pet type!) Let soak if needed, and scrub dishes clean in the wash water. Swish around in the water to remove as much soap as possible before rinsing.
  • Rinse tub: Plain water. 
 Rinse well by swishing. You don't want soap in your bleach water, or it will keep it from doing its job as well.
  • Sanitise tub: Cool water with 1 Tbs unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water - Enough to submerge dishes.
 Soak each batch of dishes for at least one full minute, then air dry completely (Don't rinse again. The bleach will evaporate). A dunk bag is really handy for this. You can put the rinsed dishes in the bag, then dunk in sanitise tub, so you don't have to reach your hand in bleach water, then hang the bag from your line*, and not worry about dishes taking up surface space or getting knocked off a table or whatever. Note that you need the coarse weave mesh for this, not the super fine mesh, to allow for the right amount of air and water flow.
For cleaning food surfaces, dip a dish rag in your wash tub and wring out to clean, then dip another (dedicated for this step) in your sanitising tub, wring out, wipe down, and allow to air dry.  

*Speaking of your line, this is a line of rope, twine, or cord, strung tautly from one stable point to another (trees, posts, side of the house, vehicles, whatever, as long as it's high enough to keep stuff off the ground), which you can use to hang all manner of things. Laundry, dishes, drying meats, fish, unruly children (KIDDING... sort of), lighting, etc. You will really want at least one line in your camp. Bonus - hanging stuff can double as shade/privacy.


You don't need to take a shower or bathe every day, or even every week, and being dirty (with dirt) poses no sanitation hazards as long as you wash or sanitise your hands after anything that can cause bacteria spread and before handling food, and do a daily "sponge bath" of your hands, face, bits and pits. For that, you really only need about 8-12 oz per session, maximum! I'm a very large person, and I can get by with that much. Using a rough, terry cloth or microfiber washcloth is key for making this work. As mentioned above, instead of running/pouring a bunch of water, put some in a small container (I usually use an 8 oz metal, mess kit cup. I heat the water in that too, and it only takes a minute or less on a propane burner to get to a good temp) Dip your hands in to wet them, and work a SMALL amount of soap to a lather between your palms, and massage into each part you're going to wash. Next, dip your washcloth, wring it out back into the container, and use it to scrub and remove most of the soap, ideally starting with your face, then pits, then bits.  Dip the cloth again, but this time squeeze out into a secondary, grey water collection bucket. Get as much of the dirty water out as you can, then give another good dip and use, sopping wet, to do another scrub/rinse, squeeze into the grey water bucket, and then do one more dip, squeeze to grey, and give a last once over of yourself. Then rinse the cloth well in the grey water give it a good misting with your 5% bleach solution, and hang it in the sun to dry.

Hand Washing

For just cleaning general dirt, grime, food during eating or food prep and whatnot, use a washcloth wet with just enough water to make it damp. For actual hand washing, which should definitely be done before food prep and after bathroom or handling any biohazards, setting up a hand washing station is best. Here is a link to the old school, Girl Scout method, using a gallon jug. I actually prefer using one of the aquatainers with the spigot, and tying the soap bylon to the handle. Either way, be sure to put a collection bucket underneath to collect grey water to use for other things, and don't use your hand washing container for drinking water!


As with bathing, you don't need to worry about washing most of your clothes, unless they get something REALLY nasty or hazardous on them. The exception is socks and underwear. And, of course, you'll need to clean your kitchen towels and linens. There are various ways to clean laundry. Plunger or hand agitate in a bucket, manual drum washers, etc, but my favourite for camping, travel, no power, etc is with this guy right here! I love it, and it has worked very well for me for years, in all kinds of situations. It's rather pricey though, and you can also use any dry bag to achieve similar results. It will take more work and not get stuff quite as clean, but it will work. Grey water from your handwashing station is perfect for initial wash water, and your old dish rinse water that is too soapy for dishes will be fine to rinse clothes. After you rinse your laundry, that water can be reserved for the next batch of laundry wash water, general cleanup, or lots of other things. Again, at some point, I'll be making a post that is JUST about water for SHTF situations, and I'll include more info there.


Invest in some sturdy, utilitarian, fire resistant clothing and a good pair of combat/tactical boots. Even if you can't/won't make it your daily wear, you need to have it around. Again, it needn't be expensive. Cruise the thrift shops and get some good, thick jeans (not designer ones - work ones), Carhartts or decent Carhartt knockoffs in canvas/duck cloth, and a couple canvas, cotton flannel or wool long sleeve shirts. They are great for layering and are fire resistant. A good base layer (thermal underwear) in synthetic material (NOT cotton!) is a very good idea too.

 Carhartt makes all kinds of very durable outerwear (and inner-wear, and every other kind of wear!). If you can find any second hand, it will likely still be in good condition. If not, at least try to invest in a one of their jackets. I have this one, and it is super toasty warm, sturdy as hell, extremely fire resistant, and has stood up to all kinds of abuse for several years. I have never needed a warmer jacket, and that includes a cruise to Glacier Bay in Alaska in September, with many hours spent outside, on deck, and even in a storm with hella wind and 18-20 foot swells. Plus, I just think it looks sharp. 

Propper is another great brand for sturdy, utilitarian, every day wear, especially their TDUs. Do an Amazon search.They are my every day pants and shorts - literally all I wear when I'm not dressing up fancy or lounging at home. They can be pressed and creased and look sharp enough for business casual, or be bloused easily with a quick modification, and go the distance for anything you throw at them!

It's hard to find decent boots at the thrift store, but check these out! They are what I finally decided to try after I couldn't find the old (okay, fine - ancient now) style flight deck boots I had always preferred. I was sceptical, due to the amazing price, but took a chance based on all the even more amazing reviews, and now my only regret is not making the switch WAY earlier! 

I've got a fairly comprehensive list of good, outdoor clothing that I use, here.


Ideally, you'll make the most of daylight, and get most things done then, but in the fall and winter months, you'll need to supplement. 

I prefer to have a variety of options available at need - candles/candle lanterns, oil lamps, propane lanterns, and led lanterns, tent lights, flashlights, and string lights, both solar and battery powered. If you live somewhere that reliably gets a lot more sun, you may be able to get by mostly with solar power, but I live in the Pacific Northwest, so not really something to count on.

For outdoor lighting, tiki torches are cheap, simple, and can use several variations of fuel. They can be especially handy when filled with citronella torch oil to keep mosquitoes away(you don't have to buy the special jugs of it if you keep citronella essential oil on hand. Just add a few drops to whatever fuel you're using)

If you give your eyes time to actually adjust, you'll find you really need far less light than you may have expected, which means you can save on fuel/batteries, and create less of a beacon advertising your location far and wide. Instead of firing up everything on full brightness the second dusk hits, try letting your vision adjust with the setting sun, and only using the dimmest light necessary to get things done. Sure, sometimes full light is called for, but for most things, just finishing up dinner, sitting around conversing, or hanging out, there's no need for additional light at all, and even for getting up and walking around, especially if you've gotten to know the terrain well, you really won't need more than a dim glow. 


Practise Makes Better!!

Take your acquired gear and learning, and go camping (real camping, in the wilderness! Not some fancified camping resort that is more like a hotel where you sleep outside!) as often as you can. Practice set up and strike and ways to do all the day to day things. Get good at it.
Work out routines for setting up and striking camp, preparing meals, taking care of personal hygiene and camp sanitation, making firewood/supply/foraging runs, etc. Do it the same way, every time, other than making improvements here and there to make the routine better.

Whenever at all possible, stay for at least a week or two at a time. Most State and National Forest lands officially require you to move to a different area every two weeks, so you may have to strike camp and set up a few miles away, but many times, the Rangers will look the other way if you're not in a particularly popular area, are treating the land, wildlife, and resources right, and can assure them that you do have a regular, permanent address, and are not trying to take up full time residence on their patch. This can be ESPECIALLY true if you are friendly with them and let them know what you're doing. Some will be more than happy to give you some additional tips and resources too!

If you can't go camping, fake it. "Camp" outside in your yard, if you have one, or a friend or neighbour's yard if you don't. Even if those aren't options, you can still get some practice by doing utility outage drills regularly (Google it and/or look for a linked post here soonish)

In summary, you can do several little things, starting right now, to get yourself ready to handle just about anything that comes your way, so don't put it off any longer. 

If you've got questions, or additional idea and information to add, please feel free to post them in the comments! (As long as it isn't spam for the sake of spam. Links to good gear is fine. Links to random BS will be deleted.)



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