Outdoor Gear and Disaster Preparedness

The 2013 floods in Boulder had me thinking: Being an outdoors person works well for disaster preparedness.

The historic floods hit the  Front Range of Colorado Buildings washed away, sewage backed up, towns became isolated, and the government initiated the most massive air evac since Katrina.

The infrastructure of the area took years, to recover.  That includes not only roads but also the bike paths and trails that makeup so much of the lifestyle in this area.

Luckily for my partner and me at the time,  we were only briefly (less than 8 hours) cut off from the central part of Boulder and points east by flooded roads.  We just lost power for a short time as well.  Many people with basement level apartments suffered flood damage below us.   Even people who did not experience any flooding had to face contaminated water in certain parts of town.

My partner’s office became flooded, and she has to relocate temporarily to a town thirty minutes away from work; it is a minor inconvenience compared to what others face.

In short, we were lucky.

Very lucky.

As everyone assessed the aftermath, more than a few of us concluded: Damn… it’s nice to have all this outdoor equipment.

Between the outdoor clothing, gear, our backpacking food staples, and general comfort with “roughing it,” I think many outdoors people are prepared to be OK during a disaster.  Most relief agencies suggest being stocked and prepared for 72 hours.  I think many of us are ready for this time frame only by the fact of what we do for recreation.

So, here are some thoughts on gear that worked for disaster preparedness. Without even trying, the accumulation of years of outdoor equipment and knowledge made us prepared for what, luckily, we avoided.

What follows isn’t how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse, but just an overview. 🙂  More of a bull session.  You should consult other sources from people smarter than I on how best to prepare for a disaster.  We dialed in our preparation more by luck than by design  🙂

I should add that we do a fair amount of base camp style – car camping, so we have some additional gear that a person who, say, “only” backpack may not have.  Again, we were lucky! (Lucky that we had the gear…and even more fortunate that we did not have to use it).

So with no further ado, here are my rambling thoughts:

~ Updated for March 2020 ~


Long underwear, warm hats, boots, wool socks, rain gear, gloves, nylon pants, and so on. The standard clothing we all use outside.

Something I take for granted anyway.  My brother and his girlfriend, now wife, were “lucky” enough to visit us just before and left just after the flood hit. With their cotton blue jeans, sweatshirts and similar clothing would have been interesting to even walk around town. 🙂  Luckily, I had some additional rain jackets and fleeces. Made a big difference.

Most people do not expect to be stuck in the rain in snow or willingly choose to be out in it. During a blizzard or a hundred-year flood? The outdoor clothing is very welcome!

What works in the snow in Bryce Canyon works well in otherwise! PCO Elijah Z.


As mentioned, we base camp with car camping for specific places that aren’t backpacking destinations (but are cool anyway!)

As such, we have the standard backpacking stoves (alchie, white gas, and canister), but also have various campings stoves that run on a 5 lb propane tank, white gas,  or the 1lb canisters all found in our gear supply. We also have a mini-propane stove that can we can use as well. Basically, we seem to have plenty of fuel on hand and can quickly cook food, heat water for dishes or hot drinks, and also for basic hygiene.

It is much easier to perform the above on a standard two-burner stove rather than a traditional backpacking-style stove. Naturally, a backpacking stove will work just fine in a pinch.

On a similar note, we have an ample supply of matches and lighters. All stoves have a lighter packed with them.  My always-packed gear has a lighter in the first aid kit, too.


The one possibility I worried about was contaminated water. Even though we did not suffer any flood damage, there was a genuine possibility of the sewer system failing.

When the power came back on, I immediately started filling containers with water. The various water bottles and Nalgene Cantenes worked for easy water storage. For more extensive water storage, the seven-gallon Jerrycan style jug worked perfectly.

Various agencies suggest one gallon of water per person per day. This amount will take care of hydration and sanitation.  (Pets need one qt per pet per day).

Sadly, this mud was from a backpacking trip and not the flooding… 🙂

Speaking of water, with a contaminated water system, even I would be cautious! 😉 Though Aqua Mira, iodine, filters, or Steripens work well, old-fashion bleach is the more straightforward, preferred, and reliable method for larger-scale water treatment.  A 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of suspect water does the trick.    Boiling works, but the amount of fuel needed to boil that much water may not be on hand in the quantities required.


For many years I made fun of Costco: Who needs 50-gallon drums of olives??? 🙂

Well, I drank the Costco Kool-Aid these past few years.  Large quantities of olive oil, oatmeal, dried fruit, nuts, frozen chicken, and, yes, many cans of olives later, I’m a convert. 🙂

As such, we seem to have a large cache of food on hand. The oatmeal, dried fruit, and nuts are a staple of mine for backpacking and something I eat almost every day “off-trail,” too.  For car camping, the canned beans, canned soups, chili, quick-cook brown rice, and even some ready-heat Indian food are on hand. And we also have our usual supply of food we use for backpacking: Snicker bars, chips, crackers, couscous, instant mashed potatoes, jerky, trail mix and so on.

Though I am not a big fan of them, we have a fair amount of Mountain House Meals sold by Costco, too.  Ms. A likes them for backpacking, and I must confess to snagging one on occasion for quick trips, esp in the colder weather 🙂

In addition to the food, there are the usual favorite drinks favored by many outdoors people: Powdered chai, cocoa, tea, and Starbucks Via.   If I am feeling esp decadent, there is an old-school percolator that makes a strong “cuppa Joe.”

It is just easier to have the supplies on hand than to go shopping for each trip. Makes going on trips more straightforward and faster concerning packing and logistics. Less expensive, too.  The side benefit is that we have a surprising amount of nonperishable food that could last several days (maybe more?) if need be.  Naturally, we have a manual can opener.

As a side note, Costco has some surprisingly good outdoor clothing!


As with many people into the outdoors, we use various headlamps.  Headlamps are much easier to use than flashlights.  We also have a supply of AAA batteries (see Costco above!) for them and keep the USB ones charged up. When the power went out, we were able to supply my brother, his girlfriend, and ourselves with light.  I think they got a kick out of “looking like miners” and “Ghost Hunters” as they put it!

Be Prepared like the Devil Duck!


I also have a Photon II light  or similar that is always on my keychain. It was convenient to get to the room where we stored the headlamps.

Though I do not use it often, a D cell-powered lantern in the car camping stash worked well.  In recent years, I’ve found that purchases of solar Luci lights prove handy, too!

And somehow we seem to have an old cache of tea candles from who-knows-what candle lantern.


Then there are the usual items that work well for both the outdoors and for emergency use. All the things below are in my general outdoor supplies:

  • Cord: Good for helping to tie down a tent or other equipment a little more, quick repairs or setting up a tarp
  • Bungee cords: See above!
  • Duct Tape: If you are an active outdoor person, I don’t have to explain why it is good to keep a roll in the supplies… 🙂
  • Small first aid kit:  Hope never to use it, but good to have. Much how I use a FAK for backcountry activities.
  • TarpsA tarp provides much versatility that works well for many things. One enterprising person in my complex had rigged up a tarp to block the rain lean-to style. A mix of bungee cords, rope, and glow sticks (so we wouldn’t run into it at night?) helped keep the rain at bay.
  • Tent Stakes:  To stake out something like the above
  • Zip Ties: I bring them when skiing. Works wells as emergency bindings or for other things
  • Leatherman: I carry a Leatherman Kick when ski touring, guiding, or climbing. Also works well around the house or when the unexpected happens

    “Duct tape is like the Force. It has a dark side. It has a light side. And it holds the universe together.”

  • Backpacks: If the roads shut down, but we need to get out, backpacks haul essentials required. Some people in Colorado did hike out of the mountain communities during the recent flooding and the aftermath.
  • Sleeping bags: If a blizzard hits and the heat shuts down, we have some -15F winter bags that have served us well.
  • Battery Jumper: With the inverter, we can charge the phones.
  • Goal Zero type generator and Solar Panel combo: I used this combo with my road trip gear to charge up my laptop, phone, tablet, headlamp, phone battery, etc. Very handy for emergencies, too!
  • …and of course, I have my “go-to” items I use in many different situations over the years!




Winter Toys

If a blizzard should hit, snowshoes, skis, poles, and related gear works well. A few years back, I skied to work when a snowstorm hit. Best commute ever! 🙂

Going further down memory lane, during the Blizzard of ’78 that hit Rhode Island, I remember my Dad going to the local grocery store that was running on generators. He took my Flexible Flyer sled and came back with groceries.

Today, I have the dirt bagger gear sled that would perform the same function if need be. Not as pretty as the sled I had over 40 yrs ago, but far more practical.

On the way to a backcountry hut. PCO Anton S.

And not strictly outdoor gear, but we have a battery booster that works as a power source. For cold-weather trips, we keep the booster in my car for an emergency jump.  With a combo USB and AC adapter, the inverter works well for charging cell phones.   We could hook a small light up to the inverter,  but it will drain faster.

What about hygiene?

If things become scarce or worse, hygiene becomes especially important. Most outdoors people are used to cleaning, sanitation, and hygiene with minimal resources, of course.

A large stockpot we use for car camping worked well on our 2019 Road Trip to heat up water, take a deep sponge bath, and keep ourselves clean without having to go into town.

And if TP becomes scarce, consider using a pee rag and a bidet combo as needed.

For #2, and though I have not needed to use it, a 5 Gallon hardware store bucket with kitty litter or similar works.  Any dedicated boondocker or river rat knows this trick, of course, and may also call it a groover.

At last! You can justify your $70 utility bucket!


Putting it all together

All our outdoor gear is pre-staged, organized, and ready to go.

The backpack is always packed (minus food, water, and sleeping bag). Most of the outdoor clothing is consolidated together in one area. And the car camping gear is in one plastic tote.  We even organize our backpacking and camping food logically. Our primary outdoor car always has various items stashed, too.

What this means is that when getting ready for a trip, packing is super easy. And if something terrible should happen, it is easy to pull out the gear, clothing, and other items as needed.


More by luck than by design, we were set up to ride out the natural disaster with no issues. We did not lose our home, no vehicles ended up damaged, and we stayed safe – far luckier than many.   Nice to know, though, if something terrible did happen, we’d get by for a little while.

I hope we use the outdoor gear in places and times that bring great memories and not during a time of natural disaster.

Good to be prepared. I hope never to have to use the gear in such a manner.

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Rebecca "BooBoo"
Rebecca "BooBoo"
10 years ago

During Katrina in the hospital in New Orleans I was one of only 2 people that had head lamps and I was made fun of by people all over the building. It was odd and weird but I just think they were jealous of miner’s lamp. I showed up with all my backpacking gear but never needed it. Good idea about the bleach to treat water. Great post!

10 years ago

It was good to hear everyone was OK on the podcast.

We’ve always thought that the camping gear is perfect backup for earthquake preparedness. If our house falls down we’ll just have to dig out the tent and sleeping bags. When the big one hits Seattle I fully expect to see half the city head down to Lake Washington with their water filters.

4 years ago

Here in western Oregon, we also need to be prepared for the “Big One” (subduction zone quake). That’s where being prepared for the outdoors will really help, since most buildings will be toast. On top of that I have 14 days worth of food and other supplies (although I forgot about TP) for the current COVID-19 emergency, that I don’t plan to touch unless the supply chain breaks down. Being one of the more vulnerable people (age 84), I’m holed up at home until I either catch the stuff or a vaccine arrives. I suspect I’ll be rereading a lot… Read more »