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

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

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

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 3—Getting Around

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

As a huge fan of zombie, Mad Max and apocalyptic movies, I had to ask the question: what would actually be smart, cheap and sustainable?

Read the first two posts here:

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 1—You’re Doing It Wrong

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 2—Lone Wolf in a Bunker vs Nimble Nomad with Friends

This chapter is about traveling, which you’ll need to do since hunkering down, bunker or no bunker, is a terrible option.

Most apocalyptic and zombie movies feature some sort of vehicle—Mad Max is packed with them. Though it would look amazing to ride a Harley through the wastelands, you would only look amazing for a week or two before that bike ran out of gas or attracted dozens of enemies with its insanely loud exhaust, advertising your exact location to anyone within a half a mile.

There are serious problems with relying on any sort of vehicle, no matter how cool it looks when Tom Hardy is driving it.

Though you can count on having to walk, hike, trudge and climb, are there any decent alternatives? In the end, I found three good options.

To get there, let’s talk through the problems and solutions for getting around without zombies going nom-nom-nom as you’re trying to siphon gas from a wrecked Ford Expedition.

Problem #1: Running out of guzzleline

Any serious, long-term apocalypse would mean nobody’s filling up the local Chevron anymore. Fuel would run out within weeks.

There are complicated ways of getting around this, such as using diesel engine and making your own biodiesel. Except that’s pretty involved even today, when you can do it in the comfort of your garage and can get new parts from the local hardware store.

Making your own fuel isn’t practical when you’re trying to survive in a wasteland. Neither is setting up Bartertown just to gas up your rig. We all know how well that worked.

Solution: Whatever options we pick need to be sustainable, and preferably not rely on any sort of fuel.

Problem #2: Roads and highways will be dangerous messes

You won’t be cruising along I-5 at 70 miles an hour—wrecked and abandoned cars will clog up the roads. Smart scavengers will also use obstacles and roadblocks to ambush anyone who does drive through.

A related issue is the fact that highways generally mean civilization, which should be avoided. They’d be trouble in an apocalypse, with millions of people streaming out from big cities and crowded suburbs to look for food. Looting the Safeway is not an original idea. Everyone will head there first with a can opener in their pocket.

Solution: Good options need to travel off-road, and this includes water. WATERWORLD may have been terrible, but a sailboat isn’t a bad idea at all.

Problem #3: Insanely equipped and armored vehicles are also insanely expensive

We’re shooting for cheap and sustainable here. A real military Humvee, armored personnel carrier or RV decked out with steel plates and spikes would cost a lot of money to buy and modify.

It’s also not smart to invest everything into a single vehicle.

Economists have a concept called “opportunity cost” that’s useful here. A plain vanilla RV can easily cost you more than $100,000. Armored cars will cost a lot more. If you can buy a good hiking backpack for $80 and fill it with the essentials for $300, you can equip all your friends, neighbors, coworkers and those college kids down the street with what they need to survive for the same price as that one vehicle.

Solution: Anything that makes our final list has to be cheap, or readily available as you wander around.

Problem #4: Breakdowns would be fatal

Say you have a great vehicle, and it goes off-road just fine. All your food and gear is happily stowed inside.

Any sort of mechanical breakdown would put you back on foot. And there would be breakdowns, since oil changes and mechanics would no longer exist. Even if you’re a trained mechanic, finding parts and tools would be tough.

Solution: This means adding “easy to fix” to our list.

Problem #5: Going to the air is completely nuts

A helicopter could get you in and out of trouble and a dirigible could stay safely above the fray for weeks or months.

And yes, a gyrocopter looks amazing. Combine a Carver trike with a gyrocopter and even James Bond would get jealous.

Fuel isn’t your real problem here, though. You won’t have to come down to the ground just for gas. You’ll need food and supplies, too. And that means landing. A lot.

Every time you land, that beautiful flying machine is sitting there, completely vulnerable. Zombies will swarm it, aliens authorities will confiscate it or scavengers will steal it.

Solution: We’re sticking to ground and water options.

Our three best options

Motorcycles would seem like a much better option than heavy, gas-guzzling RVs, Humvees and M-1 tanks stolen from the National Guard depot.

They’re nimble and could get around wrecks. Even better: dirt bikes, to easily cruise through logging roads, mountain trails and deserts.

Though this is appealing, fuel is still the sticking point. However: dirt bikes do lead us to the first smart, sustainable option.

Great option #1: Mountain bikes

Cheap to buy and equip.

Easy to fix.

Never need fuel.

If your mountain bike gets mangled, you can scavenge another. They’re everywhere.

There are even fat-tire mountain bikes, overbuilt for sturdiness rather than speed, with giant tires meant to go through mud, sand and snow.

Great option #2: Sailboats

A sailboat is a great idea. You can actually pick up small, used sailboats for pretty cheap.

They’re sustainable and have a built-in shelter, letting you snooze out of the elements. A sailboat also means an easy supply of fish.

You can anchor the boat far from shore to stay safe, or use it to set up a series of island bases as you follow the seasons and migrating animals. A sailboat also gives you the ability to carry a lot of friends, food and gear with zero penalty in terms of fuel, since all you need is wind.

A decent sailboat gives you all the benefits of a bunker with none of the drawbacks.

There will be other people with the same idea, and therefore avoiding other boats is smart. But if you know how to work sailboats, and teach your friends to sail, you can liberate marinas along the way and get an entire fleet of boats.

Calling yourself the Dread Pirate Robers is optional.

Great option #3: Horses

If you know how to deal with them, though, this is a smart, sustainable way of getting around. Horses can travel over tough terrain and make it easy to escape trouble.

Since you’ll be traveling in a group as a Nimble Nomad with Friends instead of a Lone Wolf in a Bunker, a group of horses is even smarter because they can feed themselves and reproduce, two tricks that mountain bikes and sailboats still haven’t mastered.

Once again, Kevin Costner has a great idea in a terrible movie.

Bottom line

Despite the fact that Kevin Costner should never again star in an apocalyptic movie, he nailed two out of three best options: sailboats and horses. Well done, Costner.

Next week: Chapter 4—One Backpack and a Pair of Hiking Boots

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 2—Lone Wolf in a Bunker vs Nimble Nomad with Friends

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

If you watch apocalyptic movies or TV shows, there are three kinds of people after the zombies show up or a giant angry space rock smashes into North America:

  1. Unprepared people who get nom-nom-nommed by the zombies in the first sixteen hours;
  2. Heroes who are nimble nomads, wandering the wasteland as they grow a scruffy beard, reluctantly help the helpless and say a grand total of five lines of dialogue; and
  3. Lone Wolfs who built backyard bunkers packed to the gills with MRE’s and AK-47’s.

It feels comforting to think you can hop out the back door and duck into a safe, secure bunker. Yet there’s a crazy amount of trouble with this Lone Wolf in a Bunker theory of survival, and a completely separate crazy amount of reasons why Nimble Nomad with Friends is a better option.

Fatal flaws lurking inside the concept of Lone Wolf in a Bunker

The price tag. Entire reality shows are dedicated to companies that build giant, custom-made bunkers which cost as much as a house. These bunkers have living rooms with televisions and couches, full bathrooms, kitchens, generators to provide electricity and enough fresh water and food to last six months.

Most people don’t have a spare $100,000 to $300,000 to spend on something like this. Even if you go cheap and snag a free shipping container, then spend every weekend welding and fixing it up, any true bunker will take a real investment.

We’re aiming for cheap here, in both time and money, and a bunker is neither.

When things go radically wrong, you may be nowhere near the bunker. Most people spend their waking hours driving to the job, doing the job, or driving home from that job. If you’re a working mom or dad like me, you also have soccer games and All the Things.

Also, many people travel for work, or even hop on aeroplanes to take these things called vacations. I have heard of them.

Bottom line, you can’t predict what sort of natural disaster or apocalypse will strike, and you can’t predict when it will happen.

So even if you build the perfect bunker for cheap, there’s just a good chance you’ll be 40 miles away, compiling TPM reports. Think the traffic is bad when you’re driving to work? Wait until the zombies get started or the giant asteroid hits. Hope your neighbors enjoy all those MRE’s you carefully collected.

Six months is not enough. Say you have the money to spend on a fully equipped and stocked bunker with six months of food, water and fuel for your generator. Assume that nobody finds you bunker for six entire months and you don’t need to venture out for fresh food, water, medicine or supplies. Great. When those six months are done, so are you. Because you are fresh out of fuel, water and munchies. Which means you have to head outside of that comfy bunker to the cold, cruel, nasty world, and that’s a tough adjustment after lounging around in watching John Wick on a 84″ television.

Your secret bunker is not so secret. Say you have the cash and time to build a backyard bunker. Say you’re sleeping at home when things go south. Bam, you hustle right into that bunker, close the hatch and everything’s good, right?

Wrong.

The neighbors and everyone else in town are now wandering the streets, and you can bet that (a) 99.9 percent of them did not built a backyard bunker and (b) they all remember Jimmy, the dude up the street who’s into Mad Max movies and actually brought a backhoe to dig up his backyard and install a bunker full of food and guns. Except you’re Jimmy, and they know exactly where you live.

You can’t Rambo your way out of this. When your neighbors do knock on your hatch, or the six months of food and water run out, sure, it completely makes sense to have weapons for self-defense and hunting. Absolutely.

Yet the Lone Wolf theory runs into trouble once you’re up against the hungry masses. Even if you have the best gear and guns in the world, and the training to go with them, you can’t hold out against persistent numbers. You will run out of ammo—and even Rambo has to sleep sometime. The hungry masses will win.

Advantages of a Nimble Nomad with Friends

Food, water and supplies. There is this thing called Seasons, with all the birds and animals migrating north and south to chase the sun and the food when the weather turns and frozen water falls from the sky.

For bazillions of years, our ancestors were nomads who migrated along with the sun and the best food sources. They only took what they could carry. That’s our model.

Read the brilliant GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL by Jared Diamond, who explains how permanent villages and civilizations didn’t really happen until people domesticated plants and animals. Making a permanent civilization, though, requires a lot of people who specialize in different things.

A more practical strategy is copying what worked for our nomadic ancestors for eons: migrate in search of the easiest food, water and supplies. Because winter will be a killer. Let’s avoid that if possible.

What this truly means: A big part of our fitness regimen has to be (a) hiking far, (b) through all sort of terrain, while (c) carrying all that we own.

In sickness and in health. You won’t suddenly become immune to disease after the zombies or aliens show up.

A cold or flu is guaranteed, and instead of taking a few days off work, a Lone Wolf will have to take a few days off, which could easily be fatal unless you have a friend or three to nurse you back to health.

The same thing is true of getting injured, whether it’s while hunting, fighting or simply foraging. There’s an old saying: “The loser of a knife fight dies in the street. The winner dies in the hospital.” It’ll be ten times worse in whatever flavor of apocalypse you favor, because without doctors and modern medicine, a simple scratch or cut could lead to a nasty infection or gangrene.

Same thing with spraining your ankle or breaking a bone: no big deal today, but fatal if you’re a Lone Wolf.

What this truly means: Unless you have the healing factor of Wolverine, you’ll need friends.

Teamwork makes the dream work. Even if you buy into the notion that training and firepower is all that matters, six average people with a motley collection of weapons will beat the next coming of Bruce Lee, mostly because only in the movies to people circle a hero and wait their turn to fight him one-on-one. No. We will shoot such a man from far away with a crossbow, stab him from semi-far away with a spear and, if he’s still sort-of moving, let the wolves chew on the body until we decide he’s truly dead and move on.

It’s a myth that training turns you into an invincible fighting machine who can’t miss whenever you pull the trigger. Another myth: tons of talent and training lets you take on armies of people with guns and knives with your bare fists. Also, you should never, never stroll away from an explosion. Dive behind something, genius. Take cover.

Having friends also makes it easier to hunt as a pack, create shelters and tools as a group and divide up the labor. A Lone Wolf has to sleep sometime, which means he’s super vulnerable eight hours a day, every day. A group of Nimble Nomads can always have somebody on watch while you rest up. That’s invaluable.

Friends also matter when it comes to skills and gear. One person can’t possibly train in every valuable skill and carry all the useful items on the planet. No backpack is that big. For every friend you add, that’s a person with special skills you don’t need to have and special equipment you don’t need to carry, like bolt cutters. And wouldn’t it be great if you had one person who was a nurse or doctor, one person who knew how to hunt and fish, then another person who was a wizard when it came to patching up clothes and hiking boots?

What this truly means: Figure out what friends and family you’d want to take along. Plan as a group, which could mean something as simple as taking group hikes, then long hikes with backpacks. Then a long hike with backpacks ending with a camping trip.

Minimum prep for maximum results

This series is mostly a fun thought exercise, but it’s also a smart alternative for everyday people.

How can you get max results with minimum effort and money, even if the worst happened?

Our role model here is Bear Grylls, who parachutes into insanely tough environments with only the clothes on his back and a knife. He crosses rough terrain, makes shelter anywhere and lives off the land.

 

Bear doesn’t have giant muscles or fancy gear. All he carries is that knife, which doesn’t look fancy or magical at all.

Instead, he has practical fitness and skills. While he’s in good shape, he brings random celebrities onto a new show, people who aren’t in great shape and know nothing about survival. But they make it.

The finest piece of gear Bear owns is something that can never be lost or stolen. Because it’s between his ears.

Here’s the best part is this style of preparation: it’s cheap, fast and works for people of all ages.

Plus you can teach others how to do it, and turn a band of random people into a skilled pack of stealthy rangers, though we are talking about unpowered rangers. No neon suits or robot dinosaurs.

The Laws of Survival

There are three legs to your rugged and primitive Survival Stool, which is made out of knotty pine and not sanded down one bit.

Those three legs are Fitness, Skills and Gear.

So what are our goals for each leg?

Leg # 1: Fitness

You don’t need giant gym muscles or 4 percent body fat. What you need is basic, practical fitness to climb walls, carry food or supplies, hike for miles and sprint short distances.

Whatever ideas show up here can’t only apply to 26-year-olds who used to be Navy Seals.

These tips need to apply to all ages, all genders and all fitness levels.

And the exercises here can’t (a) require any equipment, (b) take hours and hours or (c) be intricate or complicated.

They need to be sustainable, the kind of stuff you can do in the middle of a forest or in a tiny prison cell with alien zombie guards right outside.

Leg # 2: Skills

Skills apply whether you have a backpack of gear, an entire Home Depot to loot or nothing but the clothes on your back.

Primary skills include (a) making fire from scratch a dozen different ways, (b) building a shelter whether you’re in icy mountains, the desert or the woods, (c) hunting, gathering and scavenging, (d) hiding and camouflage, plus (e) parkour and evasion.

Secondary skills are (f) fighting only when you have to and (e) patching up other humans and your gear. Why secondary? Because camo, parkour and evasion are a much better option than turning every encounter into a death match. You’ll want to avoid fights whenever possible.

Say you win 7 out of 10 fights, by luck or skill. Each battle will deplete your ammo, damage your weapons and expose you to injuries. Even if you win a fight with only have a few minor injuries, what seems minor today—broken bones, scratches and cuts—could turn fatal if you get infected, or if the wound makes it so you’re limping around intead of scampering and running.

The goal here is to thrive in any environment without anyone knowing you were there.

Leg # 3: Gear

Here’s where we give birth to The One Backpack Rule.

It’s easy to go overboard with gear, to start gathering supplies and wind up with a garage full of tents, sleeping bags, generators, flashlights, food, water, ammo and extra wool socks, because who thinks they can wear the same pair of stinky wool socks for years and years?

This is the thing: you can’t count on staying in the same spot for months or years. There’s no such thing as an impregnable fortress, a happy home for hundreds of pounds of gear, which also happens to be full of the food and supplies you’ll need forever.

You’ll have to go out there and fish, hunt, find blackberries and scrounge for supplies. And no matter how well you plan, cars and trucks will run out of fuel and break down.

You’ll be hoofing it. A lot.

The One Backpack Rule says the only gear you can gather is what fits in a backpack. That backpack can’t be overstuffed. It has to be light enough that you can hike with it, maybe for 20 hours straight, day after day.

It means this solitary backpack can’t be so heavy that you’re so overburdened that nobody has to fight you to the death to steal your supplies, because they just need to tip you over and grab what they want as you flail on the ground like a turtle who’s been flipped upside down.

The One Backpack can’t weigh you down. The lighter, the better.

And while you might start out with good, modern gear, eventually that stuff will wear out. Then you’ll have to switch to scavenged gear.

When scavenged gear gets hard to find, the last stage will be living off the land.

And that will take the most practice and skill of all.

Next week: Chapter 3—All the Ways of Getting Around