Flashlights for a 72 hour kit

Flashlights for a 72 hour kit

Flashlights are a basic item in any 72 hour kit. In an emergency you are going to need light: to set up a tent, to walk a trail, to find your stuff in a shelter, to read a map at night, etc etc. After doing a fair amount of research, I feel a kit needs three flashlights: a lightweight handheld battery powered flashlight, a battery powered headlight, and a crank or magnetic induction flashlight.

Lightweight handheld battery powered flashlight

I made the decision to power all my electronics with Energizer Ultra Lithium AA batteries. Using AA batteries really narrows which flashlights you can get. Big flashlights with D batteries are way too big and heavy for an emergency kit. Small flashlights with AAA batteries would require carrying AAA batteries and AA batteries. My solution was to buy whatever cheap flashlight I could find at Walmart that took AA batteries. For me it was a Black & Decker Cliplight. It is about 6 inches long, takes two AA batteries, and is reasonably bright at night. I plan on keeping two Ultra Lithium batteries in it, and packing two spare batteries in my bag.

Battery powered headlight

A headlight makes it easy to see while setting up a tent in the dark. It can also be handy if you are carrying a toddler while walking on a dark path. My choice of AA batteries again limited my options here. I ended up getting the Rayovac SE1WHLT-B Sportsman Xtreme on Amazon. It takes a single AA battery and claims to provide 45 lumens. It also has red LEDs so you can get a little light without ruining your night vision, and a low-power blue LED that allegedly makes it easy to see blood in the dark (designed for hunters), but I’ll probably just use it to save battery power.

The downside to this headlight is that it won’t last long on a single battery. With the main light, it will probably only last around 3 hours. Because of this I’ll be packing two spare batteries.


Crank or magnetic induction flashlight

It is vital to have light even if the batteries die and you run out of spares. This means you need something you can power on your own. The typical options for this are hand crank lights or magnetic induction lights (the kind you shake). I personally hate the shake lights, and my radio of choice comes with a crank and a flashlight, so I think I’m set.

Disposable flashlights

If I end up with a little extra room in my pack then I’ll probably pack several flashlights that I consider disposable. These are cheap (or more often free) LED flashlights from Harbor Freight. I consider them disposable because they tend to take button cells (like the common CR2032) and I’m committed to carrying only a single type of battery. The flashlights themselves are so inexpensive that it wouldn’t bother me to lose one (or two or three), trade them away, or to just toss them when the batteries die. If I end up putting these in my packs then I’ll probably use them up before draining the batteries on my primary lights.

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Getting life insurance

Getting life insurance

Now that we have a kid and Becca is out of school, my wife and I decided it’d be wise for me to get a life insurance policy. Our goal is to provide enough money for Becca and Anna to maintain their lifestyle if I die prematurely. For us, we decided that meant Becca would need enough money (combined with our current savings): to bury me, to buy a house (or to pay off an existing mortgage to reduce monthly expenses), and to have enough to live off of while she completes any additional education required to get a job (probably teaching).

My initial research made it pretty clear that a term life policy would best meet our needs. This type of policy gives you a guaranteed rate for a set number of years as long as the premiums are paid. For example, I could get a 20 year policy at $335/year. At any time I could just stop paying and lose my coverage. Or if I keep paying and get cancer in 10 years, there isn’t anything they can do to raise my annual premium, reduce my payout, or cancel my policy. If I pay $335/year for 20 years and never die, then my policy ends and the insurance company gets to keep the $6,700 that they’ve collected over the years.

We decided 20 years was plenty of time for us. By then our kids should be well on their way out of our house. We will hopefully have a completely paid for home. Becca will understand more about our business (and hopefully have some projects of her own) so she won’t be as pressed to get a job.

The next step was to look for quotes. Term4Sale is a great site that lets you punch in your birthday, age, general health, and other details to get a pretty accurate quote. They can also hook you up with an insurance agent once you are ready to apply. I had just had a physical, so I was able to punch in my actual data (such as blood pressure) to determine that I’d likely qualify for a “Preferred Plus” rate (i.e., the best rate offered). I filled in my contact info, clicked submit, and waited to hear back from an agent.

The next day I got a call from an agent. He went over my options, I told him what I wanted, and within a few hours I had an application in my inbox. It was pretty straightforward: contact info, beneficiary info, standard health questions, payment method, etc etc. The agent scheduled to have a guy come to my house to draw blood, take a urine sample, and weigh me. This only took a few minutes and they were kind enough to send me the results of the tests for my records.

The next step was the worst: wait. And wait. And wait. Just when I thought they forgot about me, over a month later, I got a call saying I was approved but had to wait a few more days because the insurance company messed up my last name on the policy. I went on vacation before the paperwork came for me to sign, so I had to wait even longer. But finally, a few months after I started the whole process, I signed the paperwork, they cashed my check, and my policy was in force. Yay! I’m insured!

What I learned from the whole process is that it isn’t an overnight sort of thing. It takes time to get a policy of this type put into place (over 2 months in this case). I also learned that it is surprisingly affordable. For less than a dollar a day I’m able to give my wife (and myself) the peace of mind that comes with knowing that my family will be financially secure even if I die prematurely. That means a lot to me, especially now that I’m a dad.

Photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver under the CC BY 2.0 license.

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Hard driveI received some paperwork from my stockbroker so I decided to take a moment to update my taxes-in-progress for the 2012 tax year. I keep all my 1099’s, TurboTax files, notes, donation records, and that sort of thing in a folder on my external USB drive. I sat down at my desk, opened up the drive, and… my tax folder for 2012 was empty. I checked the 2013 folder (which had several important documents that I’ll need next year) and it was empty, too. My heart sank. It would take hours and hours to replace that lost data. I wasn’t even sure if all of it could be replaced. But then I remembered: I have backups!

I opened up CrashPlan, picked my empty folders out of the list, and clicked “Restore”. About 10 seconds later I had my data back. Yay! I wanted to be sure I didn’t lose anything else, so I did a scan of my external drive and found that things were not so good. The drive was badly damaged and I had lost almost 15 GB of data. Thanks to CrashPlan and a local backup, I had all that missing data back in just a few hours. I am so thankful that I had backups.

So why use something like CrashPlan instead of something like Dropbox? Here are my reasons:

  1. Dropbox is too small. I have a lot of data, and I add more almost every day. I’d have to spend $499/year to get enough space on Dropbox. I paid $149 for a 4 year subscription to CrashPlan that gives me unlimited online backup space.
  2. Dropbox isn’t secure enough. With CrashPlan, all my data is encrypted using a custom 448-bit key. With Dropbox, you have no idea who has access to your data.
  3. Dropbox is too slow. It can take hours for a few gigs to upload to Dropbox then download to my other computers. With CrashPlan, it does an almost immediate backup to my local computer (fast), and then to the internet (slow). If something bad happens, I have to wait for all my files to download from Dropbox (days, if not weeks). With CrashPlan, I can pay to have them send my data to me on a hard drive.
  4. Dropbox isn’t meant for backups. I think the most important reason is the simple fact that Dropbox wasn’t meant to be used for backups. I see lots of people using Dropbox for backups, but that just isn’t its purpose. It works great for accessing documents and music while on the go, but it sucks for backing up hundreds of gigs of data.

One or more of the above reasons applies to all the mainstream online storage solutions. Nothing beats backup software at doing backups. I like CrashPlan, but anything is better than nothing so take a few minutes and make sure you are backing up the files you care about most.

Photo courtesy of pmsyyz under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

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Your urine won’t save you

Your urine won’t save you

UrineA survivalist book recently popped up on a Cool Tools site that I follow. This book, written by a celebrity expert, advocates drinking your own urine in an emergency situation. The author says it is completely safe and sterile as long as you drink it right after urinating, and that you can drink the first two passes of urine. So the question becomes, is he right? Will drinking your urine save you?

The answer is simple: no, it won’t. In fact, in an emergency situation where you don’t have access to fresh water, drinking your urine will almost certainly decrease your odds of survival. This is a debated topic, so I’ll present my case and let you decide.

First of all, I’d like to concede the point that urine in and of itself isn’t particularly dangerous. Thousands of people drink their urine on a regular basis without any issues. These individuals are not living on their urine though. They are drinking it as a supplement to their regular food and water intake. In a survival situation where you don’t have fresh water and potentially have a limited food supply, your body won’t be able to get the water it needs to wash the harmful compounds out of your body that you are reintroducing to it by drinking your urine. Comparing the outcomes of the two situations is an apples to oranges comparison; the two situations are not equal. Just because it is safe to drink at home doesn’t mean it is safe to drink if you are trapped in a collapsed building.

But what about all those stories of people surviving by drinking their urine? Doesn’t that prove that it works? Well, no. All that proves is that those people survived despite drinking their urine. This sort of anecdotal evidence is far from scientific and doesn’t prove that drinking urine actually helped. Think of it this way: there is a famous story of a grandma lifting a car off of her son after it fell off a jack, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to keep an old lady handy when I’m changing my oil.

But if drinking urine in an emergency was dangerous, wouldn’t there be documented cases of people dying from it? I don’t think so. If an emergency crew finds a dead person in a collapsed building, how are they going to know that the person drank urine? It is common to skip an autopsy when the cause of death is traumatic and/or obvious. Even if an autopsy is performed or there is a note left or something to indicate that the person drank urine, it is unlikely that the news is going to print something potentially viewed as derogatory (drinking ones own urine) about an innocent victim of a tragedy.

But don’t the experts say you should drink it if you don’t have water?! If you count Mykel Hawke as an expert, then yup, some experts do say you should. If you count the United States Army, Tom Brown, Jr., and Doug Ritter as experts, then there are experts that say you shouldn’t, too. Personally I find it disturbing that Hawke, a retired Army Special Forces officer, is advocating something that the Army says you shouldn’t do.

So maybe now I’ve at least opened your mind to the possibility that drinking urine in an emergency is bad. What makes it so bad? Here are a few things:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, urine is not sterile once it leaves the body. It picks up bacteria once it hits the urethra. If you drink the urine immediately, the bacteria is generally safe to drink. If you let the urine sit for a while so the bacteria can grow, or you have a urinary tract infection, then drinking the urine is dangerous. Keep in mind that you may not know you have an infection. It can take a while for the symptoms to become noticeable.
  2. In an average well hydrated adult, you can expect your urine to contain about 1.17 g/L of sodium. A person produces about 1-2 liters of urine a day. The recommended daily intake of sodium is 2.4 g per day, which means you are instantly getting about 50% of your daily sodium just from drinking your urine, in addition to whatever sodium you are getting from any food you may have. Your body is going to have to use even more water to wash that sodium out of your body (again), which will cause you to become dehydrated even faster than if you didn’t drink your urine in the first place.
  3. Drinking urine without adequate amounts of water can cause kidney failure. Your body just worked hard to flush a bunch of junk out through your urine. You just took all that junk and swallowed it. Your body now has to work, again, to flush the junk out. Your kidneys aren’t going to like you for this.
  4. If you have a crushing injury (like if you are trapped in a building and something fell on you), then your muscles are going to start leaking potassium and phosphorous. Your body is already going to struggle to deal with this. Dumping a bunch of potassium back into your body via your urine is going to make it even harder for your body to cope.
  5. Similarly, if your only food source is high in potassium (like bananas) then drinking urine is going to be dangerous. Your body will struggle to handle all that potassium.
  6. If you are on medications or vitamins, then some of those medications or vitamins may be reintroduced into your body by drinking urine. The effects of this will vary based on what you’ve taken.

Well that is the end of my rant. Please don’t drink your pee.

Photo courtesy of quinn.anya.

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Prepping for the hurricane

Hurricane Sandy is on its way. Unfortunately, I haven’t finished my 72 hour kits, so we are stuck with whatever we have on hand. Luckily, Becca and I tend to be fairly prepared anyway so hopefully we have everything we need.

Here are some of the highlights of our preparations:


We have two 15 gallon water drums. To prepare for the storm, I drained and refilled them. With the potential for flooding we decided to move them into the apartment instead of leaving them in the basement until the storm has passed.

To refill them, I used a shake siphon (something like this) to drain most of the drum into a drain in the basement. These drums are really heavy when full, and I didn’t want to deal with that. Next, I tried to use the siphon to fill the drum from the sink, but the siphon moves water faster than my sink can fill. Instead I resorted to putting a rubber band on the sink sprayer thing to keep it turned on, then shoved it in the drum. It worked well enough but took forever to fill. Last, or actually about midway through, I added a tablespoon of bleach to each drum.

We also have several water filters , and we have a bunch of water bottles so hopefully we’ll just use the water from the drums for flushing the toilet (if we even have a disruption in water service).


We’ve been trying to eat down our food storage (for various reasons), so we aren’t as prepared as we could be. However, we still have a stack of MREs from my 72 hour kit which should provide several days of food if needed. These things are wrapped in plastic so even if they get some storm water on them (for example, if a window breaks), they’ll be fine.

We also have a camp stove, plenty of propane, and lots of easy to heat non-perishable food. It won’t be glamorous but we’ll survive.

Lighting and communications

We have plumbers candles, flashlights, batteries, fire starters, etc.

We have a NOAA weather radio (crank, solar, and battery powered). It also has the ability to charge cell phones in case the power goes out but the towers stay up (or get repaired before the power). Becca and I are on separate cell phone carriers to increase the odds of being able to communicate.

Documents and data

We have important documents printed and laminated, or stored online. We have all our data backed up to multiple locations across the country.

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Vital records

I’ve been working on putting together a 72 hour kit, and decided to put together some vital records as the next step in the project.

I scoured the internet to find out what documents I needed to get together, and came up with this list:

  1. Renters insurance
  2. Auto insurance
  3. Lease agreement
  4. Vaccination records
  5. Birth certificates
  6. Marriage certificate
  7. Car title
  8. Wills
  9. Medical insurance
  10. Passports
  11. Social security cards
  12. Drivers licenses
  13. Firearm serial numbers

Wow. That is a LOT of documents. I’m a computer junky, and decided I don’t really need to haul all of this around, at least not physically. I created a folder in Wuala that syncs automatically with my phone. This folder holds (or will hold) digital copies of everything above. I can’t think of when I’d need my insurance info without having internet access, so some of this stuff doesn’t even need printed. Also, some of these items probably aren’t safe to keep in an easy to grab pack (like social security cards) so they’ll stay digital-only with the physical copies locked away in a fire safe. Becca is a little worried about having all this stuff on the internet, but Wuala encrypts everything before it ever gets to the cloud, so I’m not really worried about it.

For the rest of the stuff, I decided to print double sided on my laser printer (to make it fairly water resistant) and laminate using my GBC HeatSeal Inspire 9 Inch Laminator and laminating pouches that I got on sale for $22.99 (to make them, hopefully, waterproof). I haven’t decided how I want to keep these papers safe in my pack, but I think I’ll wait until I actually buy a bag for my kit to figure that out. Perhaps I’ll use Velcro or maybe the bag will have a laptop slot I can use or something.

I’m still working on compiling our vaccination records and we are still working on our wills, but we’ve managed to pull everything else together. It feels good knowing I have easy access to this important stuff no matter where I’m at. It even came in handy the other day at the bank. I needed to verify Becca’s social security number, so I opened Wuala on my phone and pulled up a copy of her social security card. Very useful.

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