When we were living in an area prone to flooding, volcanoes, unexpected deep winters, earthquakes, and tsunamis, our Bishop suggested that we practice using our food storage any time the power went out. This would enable us to rotate items (to prevent expiration), and let us try out some of the things we’d stored. I thought this was a great idea, but we usually only lost power in my neighborhood once every two years, and that was usually only for a few hours, so I looked for a way to put this into practice without the short duration and I frequency of a power outage. Since my family likes to go camping, I decided to put together 72-hour kits for each member of the family and begin surprise campouts.
Our first surprise campout happened about four months after I assembled the packs. Though each pack contained a small amount of food, my wife still made me swing by the grocery store to buy ingredients for s’mores and hotdogs. I thought this would ruin the experiment, but it was difficult to convince her otherwise, so I eventually caved in.
On this campout, we discovered a few important things that we may not have realized otherwise. First, it was impossible for my wife to help with setting up the tent, gathering firewood, cooking, or watching our son play at the creek because she needed to be watching our one year old. We fortunately had a collapsible play-pen in the back of the truck, and that worked great, keeping her off the ground and out of trouble. I would have never considered a playpen as part of our evacuation list.
The next thing we discovered was the difficulty in gathering or preparing food. You can’t boil water in plastic water bottles. There were no fish in the stream. If we had been able to hunt, there was no wildlife nearby that we could eat, other than giant “Mormon Crickets” that happened to be devouring ALL the vegetation at that particular place and time.
I’d been a boy scout and loved “wilderness survival”, but I couldn’t remember which plants were edible (or how to prepare them!), and didn’t want to take any chances on the kids. When we opened our “emergency backpacks”, we found that the chocolate bars had melted, the crackers were expired and stale, our plastic forks didn’t cut very well, and the kids are terrible at keeping their lids on their water bottles, and like to dump out the water to catch bugs. I don’t remember why, but we weren’t able to stay the night that particular time (maybe we ran out of formula?).
On our next surprise campout, we did stay the night in the wilderness. It was fall when we went, and that weekend was windy and cold. We were fine in our nice and toasty sleeping bags. Most of us, anyway. It turned out our $250 “extra-large” “mummy” bag that we’d got for me a year before only went up to my armpits, and the other bags were smaller. I also learned for the first time what it means to feel “old”. Despite years of sleeping on the ground (I even slept on the floor most of my life, well into my thirties), every little pebble was killing me. As sleeplessness wore away at my sanity, I became convinced there was some dangerous beast or person outside, and I would be helpless to defend my family.
Our third major campout had a couple hours notice, and was actually the suggestion of a friend. Though we were more prepared, we were blessed with a new trial: despite being in a desert area of an already arid part of the United States, it rained constantly from the moment we set up the tent until we drove home the next day. We had a giant tent, and warned our kids not to touch the walls of the tent, but when we awoke the next morning, we found both our son and our daughter drenched, and large puddles on their sides of the tent. Only my wife, our newborn and I escaped dry. We hadn’t brought any “dry” clothing for our kids, and my daughter spent the morning happily walking through mud puddles in her only pair of dry socks.
This trip introduced me to a new problem. I could no longer eat most of the kinds of foods that are the staple for camping/survival because of health issues. With sugar, sodium, fat and ‘bad’ cholesterol and “spicy” foods eliminated from my diet, I couldn’t eat hotdogs, cookies, crackers, soda pop, chocolate bars, soup, stew, a lot of meats, etc.
Camping outings haven’t been our only drills. When we had a tornado warning earlier in the spring, each time there was severe weather we checked our packs in case we needed to “evacuate”. We got the kids hooked on eating canned sardines. We go on regular hikes, and are trying to refresh ourselves and teach our kids about edible and poisonous plants.
A lot of lessons were learned from these few “drills”. We realized that there are a lot of baby-accessories that are pretty important. We learned that we need to have season-appropriate spare clothing clean & ready at all times. I learned to keep a firearm in my backpack. We know the foolishness in expecting to “live of the land” through fishing and hunting. We bought another tarp. I quit buying “reduced for quick sale” crackers and other snacks for the backpacks. My wife keeps a giant can of chili in the trunk of her truck. I learned recipes for grasshoppers, and carry some extra padding with me when we go out.
I’ve also begun brushing up on edible plants of the region. I’d wanted to begin introducing local “weeds” into our diet – using at least one meal a month to eat some indigenous plant or grain, fish or beast – but quickly realized I need to be more knowledgeable of the local plant life. We have several trees and weeds in our yard, but I only know of two which produce edible food. To remedy my ignorance, I bought two books that are quite useful for our area:
Nature Bound Pocket Field Guide by Ron Dawson (1990) – This has been my favorite edible (and poisonous) outdoor survival guide since I fist saw it in the early 1990s. It is hard to find now, and at the moment there are only 7 available on amazon.com, all used, and all starting at $47! When the book came out, I think it was somewhere around $9 or $12. I’ve actually bought two in my lifetime, one as a kid at scout camp (my dad already had one, but wouldn’t let me use it), and one more recently.
National Audubon Society Field Guide To The Rocky Mountain States – I haven’t actually received this one in the mail yet, but I am under the impression it has the same format as the other Audubon field guides: color photos grouped by type, and lengthy descriptions in the back of the book. Currently I have their guides on seashore creatures, fishes of North America, mammals and insects. This book, however, is supposed to only include those animals/plants native to this particular ar5ea of the country (though because of the area I live in, it is likely I will need to also purchase the “Nevada-Utah” book for the desert stuff and the “Oregon-Washington” book for the Pacific Coast stuff.
The purpose of drills is to prepare us. Despite our misadventures, our drills were successful because we were able to identify some of the things that could have become more serious in the event of a real emergency. We still have a lot to learn, but already we’re leaps and bounds more prepared than the average armchair “Survivorman”-watching wilderness survivalist, and I think we’re probably in better shape for a 72-hour disaster situation than most Americans.
With winter upon us, it is unlikely I will have the opportunity to practice eating many of the local plants, but it’s going to be fun to see how well the family fares in a winter emergency campout …