Chapter 7: Fire and Water

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

In any real apocalypse, fire and water will be essential, as in, “without them, you will essentially die quicker than the box office of ISHTAR.”

Without a way to make fire, you can’t keep warm at night or cook your food to make sure each bite of bunny or muskrat isn’t full of nasty germs and parasites.

Without a way to find, purify and carry water, you’ll dehydrate and become human jerky for the zombies.

Yet many of the standard ways of making fire and purifying water make absolutely no sense during an apocalypse of whatever flavor, and yes, that includes climate-change causing WATERWORLD, because salt water isn’t what scientists call “potable” and civilians call “drinkable.”

Previous posts:

Firemaking Method Number 1: Flick your Bic

Lighters are built to do this, right? This is their job.

Except lighters run on fuel. I don’t care if you buy the fanciest Zippo in the world or stockpile a case of cheap plastic Bics: you will run out of fuel.

And yes, a Bic + hairspray = a tiny flamethrower, but such a thing is only good against hornet nests and such, and completely useless against zombies, aliens and scavengers.

Verdict: Ixnay on the ighter-lays, for they are unsustainable.

Firemaking Method Number 2: Waterproof matches

These are a staple for hikers and campers. Even if you fall into the river and get them soaked, these reliable suckers will still create a spark, light a campfire and keep you warm at night.

Matches of any sort have the same fatal flaw as lighters: nobody will be making them anymore. It’s not a long-term choice.

Even if you’re tempted to put some in your One Backpack of the Apocalypse and switch to a different method later, this is a bad idea. Practice that other, sustainable method instead.

Verdict: Nopity nope.

Firemaking Method Number 3: The famous fire drill

This is the famous method of making fire when you don’t have a Zippo in your back pocket or a box of matches: You spin a stick really fast, or take off your shoelaces and make this complicated thing to spin a stick even faster while the bottom of the stick sits in a notch of wood.

TV and movies have shown this so often that unless you grew up in an ice cave, you’ve seen it 100 times. Here’s a smart man doing it from scratch, and even he takes a long time just to get the right materials.

There are other ways of making fire that are far easier.

Verdict: Maybe, if you’re desperate and easier methods didn’t work.

Firemaking Method Number 4: Nine volt magic

Bear Grylls uses this. You take a nine-volt battery and touch the working bits to some steel wool and BAM, there’s fire.

There’s a lot going for this method. Unlike other techniques, it’s pretty foolproof. I can’t think of a way to screw this up. And the material needs are small and light. I like it.

Verdict: Even though this is definitely unsustainable over the long haul, this method is so fast, surefooted and easy, it’s worth including as part of a first phase sort of plan, where you need to do things quick and easy before switching to more long-term options. This one is like picking Batman in a fight against Superman, when every ounce of logic says Supes wins, but your heart says nah, Batman is too smart and Superman is too lame.

Firemaking Method Number 5: Flint and steel

Now we’re talking. There are a hundred variations on this, and other metals involved aside from steel, like magnesium, and don’t ask me how all this works except magnesium = fire, which is Good.

Flint and steel is completely portable, reliable and sustainable. You’ll have a knife, so the steel part is taken care of, meaning all you really need to carry around is the flint or some fancy magnesium-type alternative.

Verdict: This is your go-to firemaking method. Learn it, practice it, embrace it.

Firemaking Method Number 6: End the perpetual Quest for Fire with a char box

If you burn some wood, paper, cotton or other burnable shebang, then put it in tiny metal box and screw the lid on, Sir Fire gets separated from one true love, Princess Oxygen, and his little heart is broken. Sir Fire falls into a deep, dark depression—actually, a coma—and goes dormant.

You can put that metal tin in your pack or pocket all day. Once the sun says goodnight and you need a campfire, pull out the tin, open the lid to re-introduce Princess Oxygen to Sir Fire and watch the embers spark as they embrace.

Here’s the thing: keep a healthy char box going and you never have to make fire again. You own it. You control it like the Fremen controlled the galaxy’s supply of spice, and when you control a thing, you can make really bad movies about starring Kyle MacLachlan.

Verdict: Char boxes are the best thing ever. This is your apocalyptic jam.

Protips for moving from “I got a spark” to “I’ve got a roaring fire that will cook our food, boil water and keep us warm all night”

Protip A: Tinder

  • You need tinder, which is not a dating app in the age of evil alien overlords, hungry zombies or Mad Max nuclear wastelands. Tinder is the fluffy, easily flammable stuff that helps transmogrify those first few sparks into a real fire.
  • For tinder that’s absolutely reliable and absolutely free, start collecting dryer lint. I kid you not. It’ll work great.
  • For slightly more advanced tinder that burns better, take cotton balls and dip them in Vaseline.
  • There are other sources of tinder, like dry moss, dry leaves, dry anything.

Protip B: Kindling

  • Kindling is not an app that finds you the best private kindergartens in Manhattan, where tuition costs more than Harvard.
  • Kindling is one step up from tinder. You got a spark, the spark got the tinder hot and bothered, now you need to kick it up a notch with kindling before logs and such will hop on your Fire Train.
  • A great natural answer? Fire sticks. Take a stick and your trusty knife. Carve curls of wood from the stick without separating those curls from the stick. Basically, make yourself a funky Christmas-tree looking thing with all sorts of wood curls. Surface area is your friend.
  • Newspaper and the pages of books are both highly flammable. Nobody will have a use for 10-year-old editions of The New York Times or first editions of TWILIGHT, so this will be a source of kindling for a long, long time.
  • The sap of trees makes great fuel. There are bits on a tree where sap tends to collect, like the intersection of the trunk and branches. Use those bits. GET SAPPY.

Water is life

You can survive without food for weeks. Without clean water, it’s game over, man.

The emphasis is on clean. Unless you’re in a desert, water itself will be pretty easy to get. Drinking it, though, will make you sick.

And there are different kinds of sick, many of which will kill you, some of them involving plain old germs and others involving parasites that make the chest burster from aliens seem like a friendly doggo.

So: purifying water will be a huge deal.

Water Purifying Method Number 1: Purifying tablets

This is the standard method and it’s proven to work. Pop a couple of pills in your dirty water, wait for the pills to work their magic, then drink.

This is a good method if you’re camping or able to stop by REI to pick up more tablets.

During any sort of apocalypse, water purifying tablets will run out about as fast as .22 LR rounds.

Verdict: Unsustainable.

Water Purifying Method Number 2: Filter straws

These are cheap, light and re-usable, the three Holy Grails of this series.

You can throw a dozen of these in your pack to trade with people who ran out of water tablets or didn’t think about water as they went full Rambo.

The only trouble with these filter straws is volume.

Verdict: Definitely put water filter straws in your One Backpack of the Apocalypse.

Water Purifying Method Number 3: Boil away

Boiling water kills all germs and parasites. It also has side benefits, like the option of cooking food.

If you make a campfire every night and boil water, you’d have enough for days. You need a suitable container for boiling water, which means a bush pot.

Verdict: Boiling water whenever you make fire is smart and completely sustainable.

Water Purifying Method Number 4: Natural filters

Say you’re absolutely without gear. No water tablets, no filter straws or pump and can’t make fire.

Natural filters are a good last-ditch option.

Here’s what you do: make layers of straw, grass, sand, charcoal and anything else that might filter out germs or parasitic nonsense. Pour water on the top of your contraption and let it drip through at the bottom.

Verdict: This is slow and imperfect, but a lot better than nothing. You can improve this sort of thing with bits of cloth in between layers.

Water Purifying Method Number 5: Filter pumps

This is a filter straw on steroids: bigger, faster, stronger.

It solves the problem of volume with straws and creates all kinds of safe, filtered water in a hurry.

Verdict: A great, sustainable option. Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.

Next week: Chapter 8—Blades, Bludgeons and Bad Ideas

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 5—Yes, Any Sort of Apocalypse Means Looting the Mall

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

Looting the local mall is a staple of zombie and disaster movies, and yes, the idea is not only great entertainment on the big screen, it also (2) makes good sense if a real apocalypse happened.

HOWEVER: You’d have to do this right. Because there are real troubles standing between you and driving a stolen U-Haul down the aisles of Home Depot.

Challenge No. 1: You will not be alone

No matter what flavor apocalypse you favor—a giant space rock plowing into the Atlantic, aliens landing to make us mine unobtanimum all day, a supervolcano goes boom or zombies (fast or slow) rise up—everybody is going to have the same idea: loot the local mall.

Things will kick off long before police and civilization breaks down. Store will be jammed with people buying up essentials: canned food, batteries, blankets, generators, ammo, everything.

And yes, this will make the worst excesses of Black Friday look like a holiday.

It will get more interesting after the apocalypse of your choice, with survivors roaming those same stores, except they’ll be pack shotguns instead of VISA cards, and they’ll be a lot more motivated to fill their shopping cart.

Long after whatever Extremely Bad Thing turns things upside down, scavengers will set up camp close to shopping malls and stores. Truly organized and ambitious bands of survivors might turn the local mall into their actual base. Because why commute?

Challenge No. 2: How do you plan on carrying all that, tough guy?

Say your local Home Depot didn’t get emptied by shoppers before the Extremely Bad Thing and is somehow clear of zombies and scavengers after everything went Mad Max.

Let’s pretend there are perfect conditions and nothing to worry about. The store is yours, so go wild.

Here’s the trouble: how will you haul away all that loot?

Not on foot, especially if you’re already carrying all your wordly possessions in a backpack.

Not on bicycle or horseback, though those two options make a lot of sense.

You’re gonna need something bigger.

Challenge No. 3: Where to stash it

If you manage to cart off all sorts of valuable stuff without suffering any casualties, great. The next problem is keeping it safe from the elements and other survivors.

Wherever you hide the loot has to be a long-term solution, since staying in a permanent bunker or fortress isn’t a smart option. Even the best-stocked bunker will eventually run out of MREs and water.

You’ll need to travel with the seasons and follow migrating food sources.

So: how can you loot a mall, then stash all that stuff somewhere safe enough that if you head south for the winter, all those valuable treasures will still be there when you return come spring?

Challenge No. 4: Which stores should you prioritize, and what should you take?

Even if you hotwired a fleet of U-Hauls and RV’s, there’s no way you and your friends could possibly loot an entire mall. There’s too much stuff.

You have to pick the most essential items.

When everything is free for the taking, that’s a hard decision to make. The temptation will be to throw anything you like into your shopping cart.

This is something you’ll need to decide, as a group, before you go in there. And this has to be a team effort. A lone wolf has no shot of pulling it off, because there will be other groups looking to do the same thing. And they won’t want to share.

A practical plan

Rule Number 1: Looting an indoor shopping mall is suicide

There are good reasons to go ixnay on the oppingmallay, despite the fact it has a Regal Cinema while strip malls and big box stores tend to have a Panda Express.

Take a look at this floor plan for an average indoor mall:

That’s a maze, with far too many entrances, exits and hiding spots.

You’d need an army to secure every entrance before clearing out each tiny store. Only then could you move on to Sears (no apostrophe, don’t ask why) and Macy’s (yes apostrophe, because grammar).

Rule Number 2: Go for big box stores and strip malls

Big box stores and strip malls are much easier to secure than an indoor mall. Plus we can do them in sequence instead of putting our eyes on swivel for zombies.

With your average big box store or strip mall joint, there’s just one main entrance and a back door with a loading dock. Let’s back up the bus on that sentence for a second: loading doooock. Oh yes.

Big Box stores also specialize, which gives us more selection.

Rule Number 3: Get your Mad Max on

For a dozen good reasons, relying on a motor vehicle during any sort of apocalypse is an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey. HOWEVER: This is one situation where you absolutely, positively have to get behind the wheel, at least temporarily.

Sedans aren’t a good choice. Can’t hold much loot.

Station wagons and SUV’s are better.

You’d think a semi would be perfect, except most people don’t know how to drive a semi and you need a haul your loot up a long ramp to get it inside.

Best bet: U-Haul trucks. There common, they’re easy to drive and they’ll hold a lot of stuff. Grab your friends and nab two or three of these before heading to the shopping center of choice.

Rule Number 4: Shopping carts are old and busted; handcarts and wheelbarrows are the new hotness

Speed is essential. You want to load up on treasures, roll them into your borrowed U-Haul, stack them neatly and skip back inside the store.

Shopping carts are the enemy of speed. They make it easy to put things inside and hard to take out.

This is why your first store should be in the Home Depot / Lowe’s family, where you can grab handtrucks and wheelbarrows right off.

Rule Number 5: Take what others don’t want

Here’s a short list of unsustainable items people will fight over to grab first, compared to the smart, sustainable alternative that you and your friends will take instead:

Unsustainable     Sustainable and smart
Flashlights, batteries and generators Lanterns and kerosene
Guns and ammunition Bows, crossbows and slingshots
Chainsaws and power tools Regular saws and hand tools
Lighters and matches Flint and steel
Canned food Wire, cordage and traps
Fishing poles Nets
Perishable food and vegetables Seeds to plant

Rule Number 6: Improve your start by starting at a home improvement store

The first stop should be a hardware/home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Here’s why: carrying things by hand stinks. Begin in the garden section to grab wheelbarrows and hand trucks.

Stay there to fill your wheelbarrow full of every seed packet of edible goodness in sight and load up on machetes, axes, shovels and other good stuff right by the garden gnomes and garden hoses.

Sidenote: You would not believe some of the deadly stuff they have in the garden section, and it’s all sturdy, well-made stuff, which is in stark comparison to your average gas station ninja superstore, where the nonsense they sell (ninja swords for $12, throwing stars for $5) won’t cut through a snowman. Not kidding.

Check out this thing, which Home Depot calls a ditch blade. I call it a The Beheader of Giants.

After you pillage the gardening section, head inside the store proper to the tool section for heavy work gloves, hammers, crowbars and multi-tools.

Then swing over to the nuts-bolts-screws-nails aisle to snag a variety of boxes, especially oversized bolts and such you won’t be able to scrounge from the average garage of private home.

Then hit the rope and chain section for cordage, chains and padlocks (important!) before cruising over to grab all the Gorilla Glue / Crazy Glue / Super Crazy Gorilla Glue and such you can find.

Rule Number 7: Sporting goods will give you a sporting chance

Big 5, Dicks and other sports stores are pretty common.

Here’s why you want to head there second: a sports store is a great source for backpacks, hiking boots, socks and camping material: sleeping bags, tents, compasses, canteens, rain gear, fishing poles, slingshots, bows and arrows, crossbows, cheap guns and ammo, knives and clothing.

This is also your best bet to pick up practical armor, which is a topic deep enough for future post all by itself.

For now, just know that imitating the body armor of the Army and Marines isn’t a real option. What soldiers wear is incredibly heavy. Once you get shot, whatever panel that got hit needs to be replaced, which you won’t be able to do.

Sports stores have the kind of armor that’s sustainable and works against the main threat you’ll face: melee combat. Football helmets and pads are good protection against blunt instruments and blades.

Even better: motorcycle and mountain bike armor, which is tough leather with Kevlar inserts. This sort of armor is also easy to move in.

Rule Number 8: Don’t forget the small stuff

A little pharmacy may not seem like a top target, yet it’s a gold mine.

First aid kits, crutches, allergy pills, sunscreen, antibiotics, sunglasses, prescription drugs, toilet paper—the best stuff from a pharmacy is life-saving gold and perhaps the best trading material possible.

Let everybody else stock up on gold bars and AK-47s. When they run out of ammo, which will happen sooner than you think, what will they do with those heavy, useless gold bars? You can’t eat them. They won’t keep you warm at night. What are you gonna do, make necklaces out of them?

Raid a pharmacy and you’ll have what everyone else wants and needs. Because people will inevitably get cut, shot, sick or infected.

Rule Number 9: Before you start, figure out where you’ll safeguard all this good stuff

Any option you choose has to protect your liberated loot from the elements, wild animals and other survivors.

If you get a bunch of plastic bins, garbage bags and five-gallon buckets from your first top at Home Depot, you can hide and/or bury your loot all over the place. Just keep a map of where you put it all.

Unloading all the stuff into a safe building seems like a good choice until you think about how long any building will be safe when every single person is hungry, wandering around and breaking into places to scrounge for food and stay warm.

The best bets: (a) hide your fleet of U-Hauls in plain sight by driving them into a junk yard, (b) drive them far off into the woods on logging roads and ram those suckers into the forest until the wheels don’t move, (c) bury the moving trucks in junk, dirt and debris or (d) lock them with multiple padlocks and chains, then park them back-to-back, so nobody can get in until you return with the keys.

You can also make cheap, waterproof shebangs that can store a lot of stuff. PVC pipe is a good bet.

Rule Number 10: There’s nothing wrong with pre-looting

Ethically and morally, it’s completely wrong to loot a store today. During a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion, the moral compass changes polarity, because (a) it’s a question of survival and (b) when society collapses, there won’t be any cashiers waiting to take your checks, banks to cash those checks or functioning corporations to make a profit.

HOWEVER: There’s always the option of beating the crowds and the craziness by doing this carefully and comfortably, without worrying about getting munched by zombies or shot by other scavengers. Buy and cache a little every week, writing down what you stored and where you stored it.

It’s not hard to buy and cache a little every week. Because you’re going the smart, sustainable route instead of the expensive, unsustainable path, this won’t be expensive, either.

Below are some different ideas for pre-looting and caching:

  • Here you go, my friend: a backpack full of tools and gear, for when you add a new friend to your party.
  • Food, glorious food: a PVC pipe full of beef jerky, jars of peanut butter and MRE’s.
  • Shelter: a full-size tent, which you wouldn’t want to pack around, pre-placed in a good spot next to running water and a food source.
  • Hunting and gathering: Snares, traps, bows and arrows, slingshots, fishing nets and a sturdy metal pot to boil things up.
  • War: Let’s say a wannabe-Negan mugged you, taking all your gear and weapons. It’s never a back idea to have backups stashed someplace safe.

Next week: Chapter 6—Suit Up with Seriously Practical Armor

Previous posts:

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

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

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

If you live long enough, something bad will happen. The question is how bad, and whether you’re ready for it.

Here are seven easy ones:

  1. Rising seas from climate change, possibly leading to WATERWORLD (Kevin Costner is optional)
  2. An big, nasty asteroid decides to plow into our planet when Bruce Willis is otherwise engaged
  3. MAD MAX doesn’t seem much like fiction after a reality TV star starts a nuclear war with (a) North Korea, (b) Russia, (c) China or, for variety, (d) all of the above
  4. Aliens invade to enslave the human race, making us all mine unobtanium 20 hours a day after their home planet totally runs out
  5. Zombies—slow, traditional and terrifying
  6. Fast zombies—which tell you this film is full of CGI and no good at all
  7. Say hello to our robot overlords

Even if nothing truly terrible happens, it’s a good idea to be prepared for emergencies, be they tiny or huge. Public health folks have brilliantly latched onto this idea, using zombies to get people to prepare for earthquakes and hurricanes.

Plus it’s just fun to think, “What if?”

However: The traditional—and heavily advertised—ways of being fit and prepared for any sort of apocalypse aren’t all that smart. At all.

Rethinking fitness

The ideal of fitness today means (a) looking great in a speedo or bikini, (b) winning athletic contests or (c) looking great in a speedo or bikini while winning athletic contests.

It also means being highly specialized.

Yet all the tools people use to be fit today—gym memberships, Olympic weight sets, $400 running shoes and protein shakes—won’t exist in any sort of long-term emergency or apocalypse.

And being extremely fit and specialized, by today’s standards, would actually be a problem.

  • Giant muscles require a massive and steady amount of calories to maintain, along with all kinds of free time and gym equipment, none of which you’ll have in whatever flavor of apocalypse you favor.
  • Extremely low bodyfat makes you look great on a beach, yet nobody will see you on a beach during the apocalypse, and zero body fat gives you zero margin of error when it’s freezing at night or you can’t find food for three weeks.
  • Being highly specialized in one game or sport isn’t helpful for survival purposes, where you’ll need to be pretty good at a ton of different and random things.

So that’s what this series of posts will be about—researching and experimenting to find the smartest, cheapest ways to actually prepare for some sort of disaster or apocalypse. And the emphasis will be on cheap.

Each post will look at four different options for whatever we’re talking about, rating them on weight, price and practicality:

  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 absolute most expensive option and top of the line, just for the sake of comparison

Next week: Lone Wolf in a Bunker vs Nimble Nomad with Friends

Survival Sunday: Concrete Canvas Shelters of the Apocalypse

The First Rule of the Zombie Apocalypse: You will NOT be staying in your home.

There’ll be no electricity, no water, no cable, no internets and no guarantee that your house is remotely zombie-proof.

The Second Rule of the Zombie Apocalypse: Find a defensible shelter.

Sleeping under the stars is a good way to get nom-nom-nommed. Even if there are not walking dead around to eat your brains, other survivors will happily steal your stuff and leave you for dead.

Here’s a great little shelter from the British, who have glorious accents, making anything they say or invent ten times the awesome.

It’s an inflatable shelter made from canvas impregnated with cement*. Blow it up, spray water on it and bam, instant bomb shelter.

This is military grade stuff. Pile dirt around it and you’ve got an instant bunker that’s safe from small arms fire, mortars and the undead.

*Yes, the video says “concrete.” Cement is actually the right term. Concrete is cement mixed with rocks and whatnot.