Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 4—One Backpack and a Pair of Hiking Boots

As we discovered from the first three posts, you can’t count on (a) lounging around in a bunker that never runs out of food and water or (b) cruising the wastelands in a vehicle. Which means (c) bushwhacking around while carrying all your possessions in a backpack.

Previous posts:

In apocalyptic movies, heroes tend to sprint around in ripped T-shirts with a single weapon. You never see them hefting around a sleeping back and a bunch of food.

Meanwhile, video game heroes carry around an entire gun store, plus food and medical supplies. If you’re playing a Fallout Game, the hero can scavenge entire cars and somehow lug all that around while running and fighting.

A huge part of really prepping for any sort of apocalypse—whether you favor Mad Max nuclear wastelands, alien invaders or zombies—has to be (1) figuring out the essential gear to put in your One Backpack of the Apocalypse, then (2) putting on good hiking boots and actually trudging through the wilderness for a mile, then two miles, then over downed trees, across streams and all that.

How much can you really carry over long distances?

Modern soldiers in the U.S. Army and Marines carry about 60 pounds of gear. On long-term patrols, maybe double that.

However: no sane human being should plan on lugging around 120 pounds of stuff all day, every day, during any sort of long-term apocalypse. Even slow zombies are not THAT slow.

MythBusters did a nice bit about this. How much you carry, and how you do it, matters more than you think.

What kind of backpack should you get?

There are all sorts of cheap, pre-packed survival backpacks these days. We got a couple from Costco to leave in the car. They’re great for a short-term problem, like a car breakdown in the middle of nowhere or an earthquake. These backpacks just aren’t a long-term solution.

What you really want is something proven to work that also works for you, specifically.

If you want to get the best of the best, hop on down to someplace like REI and actually put on backpack after backpack.

The cheaper option that doesn’t sacrifice practicality is a local Army surplus store. The military knows a lot about backpacks (they call them rucksacks) and how to make everything modular and attach to other bits you’re wearing. The old system was called ALICE; the new hotness is MOLLE, which is pronounced Molly and stands for Modular Lightweight Loadbearing Equipment.

Here’s a good comparison:

Which boots will last the longest?

This is a trick question, because eventually this won’t matter. Not one bit. Even the best, most expensive boots on the planet will wear out.

You’ll have to repair them. Eventually, those boots will be beyond repair. And this will be a big, big deal. Because you can’t walk around barefoot.

Repairing and replacing the soles is the biggest issue. Tires are a great material for soles. Tire rubber is insanely tough and will last a long, long time. Plus it will always be easy to find and scavenge old tires. The tough bit will be cutting it. A hacksaw might be required.

The design for this is important. Glue will be hard to find, and the last thing you want to do is wrestle a hungry polar bear, while the second-to-last thing you want to do is try to sew tire rubber onto the remaining bits of your hiking boots. No needle is that strong.

The best idea is use rope or straps. Here’s one way to make sandals out of a tire and some straps, and they smartly don’t try to pierce the bottom of the sole, which would stink in terms of waterproofing. Well done.

Socks will actually matter, so let’s get this right

There’s no perfect sock, and even if you had a pair, they’ll eventually get holes.

The best idea is to wear two pairs of socks. The first layer is a thin sock to cling to your feet. If you have to scavenge socks, thin white athletic socks work for this. The second pair of socks is good, thick wool for cushioning. This way, you don’t get blisters.

Wool is the only way to go here, and with most of your clothing. Remember these words: cotton kills, wool thrills.

What essentials go inside the One Backpack of the Apocalypse?

Fire: A way to make fire plus dry tinder. The quick answer here is a flint and steel plus a waterproof container full of dryer lint (free!) or cotton balls rolled in vaseline.

Water: Some sort of container to hold water plus a method to decontaminate it, such as a filter straw.

Warmth: Any sort of way to keep warm at night, whether it’s extra clothing, a wool blanket or a lightweight sleeping bag. This is crucial.

Wood: A way to cut or chop wood for fuel and shelter. Hauling a honking big full-size axe around isn’t an option. A hand axe, a heavy machete or a folding hand saw would work.

First-aid supplies: Absolutely essential. There are also military surplus first-aid kits that are a lot more hardcore than the dinky civilian kits at the grocery store. Get one.

Rope: Paracord is light and incredibly useful. Tie a bunch of logs together and you’ve got a raft. Lash your knife to a pole and you have a spear. Make a series of snares and you’ve got bunny stew tonight instead of a rumbling tummy.

Charmin: Maybe your neighbor is buying gold bars and putting them in a big safe, thinking gold will be worth more than boring paper money if things go bad. Instead of handing over valuable purple euros for mere ounces for gold, stock up on scads of toilet paper and put more than you need in the backpack. Toilet paper works as tinder to start a fire and, mark my words, soft toilet paper will be far, far more than gold once the zombies go nom-nom-nom.

A long-range weapon: A rifle, bow, crossbow, slingshot—something to help roast dinner on your campfire at night.

Food: You can’t count on living off the land every day. To start out with, the One Backpack of the Apocalypse needs high-calorie goodness that won’t go bad, like jerky, protein bars and MREs.

A knife: Not a folding knife. A full-size knife with a hilt, and none of that Rambo nonsense with a hollow hilt full of fishing hooks and a compass on the bottom.

This is a big topic, and future posts will break down each of these items into various options:

  1. Grizzly Adams: absolutely free and crafted from whatever you can find in the woods
  2. Scavenger Special: free or truly cheap, taken from recycled material, stuff you find in a junkyard or can buy today for almost nothing
  3. Best of Both Worlds: great quality for a great price
  4. Crazy Billionaire: the most expensive option, just for the sake of comparison

A short training program

Endurance alone isn’t enough. Say you can put the gym treadmill on a 10 percent incline and power-walk at 4 miles an hour for six hours. That’s amazing. It’s just not the same as bushwhacking through the forest or trudging through miles of sand while the sun tries to roast you.

Folks trying to make get into the Special Forces train for what they call ruck marches, which is exactly what we’re looking for here. The goal of this training program is to finish an 18-mile march carrying a 50-pound ruck in 4.5 hours.

They include strength building, like squats, because you need strength in your legs to go uphill while carrying weight, and you really need it to climb over downed trees and other obstacles like walls or cliffs.

For homework, find a good backpack, stuff it with the essentials, put on some hiking boots and see how comfortable it is to hike a mile or two. Then adjust what you’re carrying, figure out what gave you blisters, and hike double that the next weekend.

Next week: Chapter 5—Yes, Any Sort of Apocalypse Means Looting the Mall

7 thoughts on “Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 4—One Backpack and a Pair of Hiking Boots

  1. I like it! After “There’s no perfect sock,” I thought, has he heard of Bombas Socks? Then proceeded to have an amalgamation of podcast ads play through my head as punishment for cracking wise.

    (Not affiliated with Bombas Socks in any way. Just a guy who listens to podcasts and has heard enough of their ads to last him a lifetime and yet not purchase a single pair.)

    Like

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