Civilian MREs

Civilian MREs


Our civilian MREs arrived in the mail on Thursday. We ordered from MREFoods.com last Friday, so shipping speed wasn’t too bad (< 1 week). As I mentioned on a previous post, civilian MREs have crazy long shelf lives and contain everything you need for a meal in a single package. Our house is generally 68 F to 80 F, depending on the season, so these should last for 3 to 9 years.

They are also calorie rich, which is important in an emergency situation where you are likely under a lot of stress and doing a lot of physical movement. However, they are incredibly unhealthy for normal people. We’re talking 50% of your daily sodium, 85% of your daily fat, thousands of calories… Like I said, great in an emergency (or even for camping), but not something you want to eat everyday.

Anyways, Becca agreed to eat MREs for dinner yesterday so we’d get to see if they are a viable option for our 72 hour kit. We opened the packages and began to heat our meals. The instructions are pretty straight forward. You add a packet of water into a pouch, wait 15-ish minutes, and BAM! Hot meal.

We explored the rest of the goodies while waiting for the main course to heat. We had pop tarts, raisins, saltines with peanut butter, and oatmeal cookies. There was even lemonade drink powder. The oatmeal cookies were a little hard, and we should have diluted the drink powder more, but overall it was filling and tasty.

The main courses were also pretty good. Definitely not on par with a home cooked meal, but definitely edible for camping or an emergency situation. There was plenty of food for the three of us. We even had left overs, which in an emergency would be great for snacks or to save for breakfast. We’ll definitely be including these in our 72 hour kits.

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The perfect batteries

The perfect batteries

As part of putting together my 72 hour kit, I had to pick a flashlight, radio, and other electronics. To keep things simple, I decided everything should use the same kind of battery. I decided to go with the ubiquitous AA. It is fairly easy to find electronics that take AA batteries, and even if something needs the bigger D cells, I can buy a reusable adapter that can be stored inside of the device. But which brand of batteries and which model should I get?

After quite a bit of research I settled on the Energizer Ultimate Lithium battery. These little guys aren’t cheap (I paid $1.76 per battery) but they have several perks for use in a 72 hour kit:

  1. Long shelf life. These batteries have up to a 15 year shelf life. Wow! That is double the life of a normal alkaline battery. I still plan on rotating every couple years.
  2. Works in extreme temperatures. With an operating range of -40 F to 140 F, there isn’t any fear of being without power just because it is too cold or too hot outside.
  3. Weighs less. Ultimate Lithium batteries weigh 1/3 less than alkaline batteries. This means you can carry weigh more (haha) without breaking your back.
  4. Lasts longer. Although both types of batteries are rated at about the same mAh, you’ll get to use your radio and walkie talkies significantly longer with Ultimate Lithium than with alkaline. This is because alkaline batteries are unable to handle heavy loads or cold temperatures every well. Based on my research, Ultimate Lithiums will last 3-4 times as long as alkalines in normal everyday use.
  5. Leak resistant. I absolutely hate it when I open a battery compartment and find nasty sticky goo and lots of corrosion. These batteries are designed to be virtually leak proof if used before the expiration date.

Sounds great, right? Well there are a few cons that you should be aware of before you run off and drop $100 on fancy batteries:

  1. Consistent voltage. These batteries will stay above 1.4V until nearly dead. This has several implications. Battery gauges aren’t likely to be accurate unless your device was designed for lithium batteries, and low battery alerts become “your battery is going to die any moment” alerts.
  2. Sudden death. These batteries die very abruptly. For example, if you use alkalines in a flashlight then the light will start bright then get dimmer and dimmer until it stops working. With lithium batteries it will start bright, stay bright, and then turn off. You get very little warning, so make sure you have backups handy.

These may not sound like huge cons, but they make these batteries unsuitable for things like smoke detectors where you want it to chirp at you for several days before the battery dies. These also aren’t replacements for rechargeable batteries that you would use for everyday use in things like cameras. For that use case you would of course want to use Sanyo Eneloop NiMH batteries.

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72 hour kits

Emergency preparedness kits have been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve tried a lot of different solutions over the years, but have never been satisfied with any of them: cheap backpacks, expensive hiking backpacks, large zip locks, and even a recycled cardboard milk carton filled with candy. All of those are awful. So I’m on a mission to make a reliable 72 hour kit and will be posting on my progress over the next several weeks (months?).

Requirements

I have several requirements:

  1. Adaptable. My wife and I have one child. Maybe next year we’ll have two. Or a dog. Maybe we’ll be living in the mountains, or perhaps in the desert. Maybe we’ll need the bag in the summer, or maybe in the winter. I want a pack that is easily adaptable to my future needs, and is somewhat modular so I can be prepared for different climates.
  2. Affordable. I don’t anticipate this project to be inexpensive, but I’d like to avoid spending my life savings on something that (God willing) I’ll never use. I don’t plan on buying, or ever needing, top of the line equipment.
  3. Easy to keep fresh. These kits are a big enough pain to put together without having to keep track of a bazillion expiration dates. I want gear that doesn’t expire, or at least conveniently expires at roughly the same time.
  4. Easy to transport. I’ll potentially be lugging this thing for miles, cramming it into an overcrowded vehicle, storing it at an emergency shelter, or who knows what else. I need something comfortable and fairly compact.
  5. Independence. I’m part of a family, but I don’t feel it would be wise for me to rely on Becca’s pack or for Becca to rely on my pack. I want us to have the confidence of knowing that we’ll have everything we need even if we get separated. This also gives us some redundancy–which I love as a web developer–in case something breaks or is lost.

In the past I’ve started my kits by buying a bag. I’ve found several bags that I really like in different sizes, so I’ve decided this time around I’m going to buy the contents of the kit first and then buy a bag that will fit all my stuff. Food and water are the most important–and bulky–parts of a 72 hour kit, so I decided to start there.

Food and water

For water I’ve decided to go with standard pre-filled commercial water bottles. These are cheap enough that we can rotate them every time we check our kits, and they last long enough that it doesn’t matter if we forget.

Food is more complicated. Do I buy canned goods? Crackers? Gum? How do I deal with varying expiration dates? The easiest solution I could find is to go with civilian MREs. There are several high quality options out there. You can read all about the pros and cons of the different brands at MRE Info, but I decided to go with a case of aPacks. Cost per meal is about $6.39 per person, which seems comparable with a fast food meal. Each meal includes a flameless heater and at least 1140 calories. They last for around 10 months at 95 F, or as long as 3 years at a more moderate 80 F. Each meal is individually packaged so the whole meal can be rotated at once without much hassle.

Becca is worried that they’ll taste horrible and I want to know if two meals can feed our family of three, so we are going to crack a couple open as soon as they arrive (placed the order on Friday, so hopefully sometime this week). I’ll post an update to let you know how it goes!

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Pantry moths and weevils

My family went on vacation last month. We were home for maybe 2 days of August. We cleaned out our fridge before we left, threw out a few opened packages from the counter (like cereal and bread), and enjoyed our time away from home.

We loved our vacation but it still felt good to be home at the end of it. Sadly, our enjoyment was short lived. It wasn’t long before we found pantry moth larvae climbing up our walls, and a few days later we were being bugged by full grown moths. Egh. The next day we found weevils in our flour. Ah! Bugs everywhere!

Clean-up

The first step was to order moth traps. These use pheromones to attract the male moths to a sticky trap. The girls can’t get pregnant, and your moth problem ends quickly.

Next, we killed all the bugs we could find. We smushed the larvae, killed the moths, threw out all the food that the weevils could possibly have infested, and threw out shelf liners that could have eggs on them.

Cleaning is vital. We vacuumed out the cupboards then wiped them down with white vinegar. We bagged up the trash (and the vacuumed gunk) and took it outside, away from the house.

Over the next week we were vigilant. We frequently checked the kitchen for moths and weevils, and killed any we could find. A few moths got caught in the trap (yay!), but I think we caught it early enough that it didn’t become too big of a disaster. Haven’t seen a moth or a weevil in a few days.

Prevention

This mess caused me to spend a few hours online trying to figure out how to keep this from happening again. The most effective thing I’ve found is to store grains, flours, nuts, and other food products in hard plastic or glass containers instead of the flimsy bags they are sold in. Bugs can easily eat through bags and cardboard. Plastic tubs and glass jars are much safer.

For long term storage, vacuum sealing and oxygen absorbers are highly effective. Most bugs need oxygen to survive. No oxygen, no bugs. We already store most of our long term stuff (including pasta, rice, and flour) in half gallon jars. We use a vacuum sealer to get most of the air out. We are going to start using oxygen absorbers (available cheap from the LDS church) to make it even more effective.

Some people suggest freezing. Freezing doesn’t destroy the eggs, so to be effective you have to freeze for 2-3 days, thaw for 24 hours, and then repeat several times to ensure everything is dead. Vacuum sealing is much faster and easier. Once the food is out of the freezer, it is of course possible for it to be re-infested. Again, not an issue with vacuum sealing.

Some people suggest including bay leaves in the storage container. I’m not an agricultural expert, but Utah State University has done some informal testing and is convinced that this is an old wives tale, and isn’t effective at preventing or correcting an infestation (see this page, or this PDF, or this other PDF). Either way, vacuum sealing is essentially free once you have the equipment and is a proven method of prevention and correction, so I don’t see a reason to use bay leaves.

The last bit of advice should be obvious, but I’m still a horrible offender: throw out old food! I have a habit of buying new ingredients for new recipes. These recipes are almost always flops, so I end up with bags and bags of strange foods in my cabinet. Take some time every few months to run through your cabinets and toss stuff that is expired or never going to get used.

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The Great Purge of 2012

My wife and I recently helped her parents clean out their office. We threw out truckloads of junk. It felt really good, and we decided we wanted to purge our own home. We decided to do this room by room, starting at one end of the house and working towards the other.

So far we have completed the living room and dining room, and I think we are both a little shocked at the quantity of stuff that we’ve thrown out. It isn’t like we are big hoarders or anything, but we’ve filled all three of our trashcans and have to wait until next week to resume our purge. This is some of the stuff we’ve tossed:

  1. DVD and CD cases. We’ve decided that it is silly to keep stacks and stacks of DVDs and CDs in their original packaging. We aren’t proud of our purchases. They aren’t trophies to be displayed with pride on a shelf. Heck, the CDs are never even removed from the case once we rip them to MP3. So the discs were moved to storage cases and the packaging was tossed.
  2. Magazines and other old mail. Sometimes a magazine comes in the mail and it looks interesting, so we set it aside with the intention of reading it later. A few months go by and suddenly we have a foot thick stack of Popular Science and the Ensign that we are never going to read. All this was tossed. We also tossed (or appropriately filed) old mail, cards, and random papers.
  3. Knickknacks. Like most people, we have lots of random junk that isn’t actually usable but that we have sentimental attachment to. For example, I have had a Geico piggy bank. Becca won it for me at Harborfest in Norfolk when we were dating (I think), so I’ve kept it. It is just a piece of plastic, and it actually fell apart when I picked it up to toss into the trash. We weren’t able or willing to get rid of all of our knickknacks, but we pared down quite a bit.
  4. Toys and games. We tossed a bunch of games that we don’t actually play. We tossed some old toys that we’ll never use. Some of these things went into a re-gift pile that will save us from buying gifts in the future for random birthday parties.
  5. Original packaging. For example, Becca had a bunch of chargers in the original boxes. These are basically round plastic plates. There isn’t any reason to have these in the original packaging. Tossing this cardboard saved us a bunch of space.

Anyways, we still have a long way to go. We’ll be getting rid of clothes, shoes, scrap wood, food we no longer want (or is expired), an old mattress, and whatever else we can find that we no longer want. It feels good to clean house.

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