Outdoor Gear and Disaster Preparedness

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

Last week, the Front Range of Colorado was hit with historic floodsBuildings were washed away, sewage backed up , towns are isolated and the largest air evac since Katrina was initiated.

The infrastructure of the area will take months, if not years, to recover.  That includes not only roads, but also the bike paths and trails that make up so much of the lifestyle in this area.

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

Though a past partner’s office was flooded and she has to re-locate temporarily to a town thirty minutes away for work, it is a minor inconvenience compared to what other’s face.

In short, we were lucky.

Very lucky.

As everyone is assessing 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 prepared for this time frame simply by the fact of what we do for recreation.

So, here’s some thoughts on gear that worked for disaster preparedness. Without even trying, the accumulation of years of outdoor gear 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, really.  You should consult other sources from people smarter than I on how best to prepare for a disaster.  More by luck than by design, a past partner and I were prepared. 🙂

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” backpacks may not have.  Again, we were lucky! (Lucky that we had the gear…and even luckier that we did not have to use it).

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

Clothing

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 were “lucky” enough to visit us just before and left just after the flood hit. With their cotton blue jeans, sweat shirts and similar clothing, would have been interesting to even walk around town. 🙂  Luckily I had some spare rain jackets and fleeces. Made a big difference.

What worked in RMNP also worked well on Pearl St. 

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!

Cooking

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

As such, we have the standard backpacking stoves (alchie, white gas and canister), but also have a Coleman two burner that can 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 than can be used as well. Basically, we seem to have plenty of fuel on hand and can easily cook food, heat up 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 a large supply of matches and lighters. All stoves have a lighter packed with them.. My always-packed gear has a lighter in the FAK, too.

Water

The one possibility I worried about  was contaminated water. Even though we did not suffer any flood damage, there was the very real 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 larger water storage, the seven gallon Jerrycan style jug was perfect.

Various agencies suggest one gallon of water per person per day. This amount will take care of hydration and sanitation.  (Pets need 1 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 easier, 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 needed.

Food

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 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 is 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, cous cous, instant mashed potatoes, jerky, trail mix and so on.

Though I am not a big fan of them, we have the a fair mount of Mountain House Meals sold by Costsco, too. a past partner 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 individual trip. Makes going on trips easier and faster in terms of 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!

Lighting

As with many people into the outdoors, a past partner and I have AAA powered headlamps.  Headlamps are much easier to use than flashlights.  We also have a supply of AAA batteries (see Costco above!) for them. 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!

The Devil Duck was well prepared, too!

I also have a Photon II light that is always on my key chain. It was very handy to get to the room where the headlamps were located.

Though I do not use it often, a D cell powered lantern in the car camping stash worked well.

And somehow we seem to have an old cache of tea candles from who-knows- what candle lantern, We both seemed to have owned one separately at some point in the past.  The lanterns are long gone, but somehow the candles survived the many moves.

Misc

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

  • Parachute 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 to never use it, but good to have. Much how I use a FAK for backcountry activities
  • Tarps: A 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 bring a Leatherman Kick when ski touring, guiding or climbing. Also works well around the house or when the unexpected happens
  • Backpacks: If the roads are shut down, but we really need to get out, backpacks haul needed essentials. Apparently some people in Colorado actually did hike out of the mountain communities during the recent flooding and the aftermath.
  • Sleeping bags: If a blizzard hits and the heat is shut down, we have some -15F winter bags that have served us well.

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

Winter Toys

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

Going further down memory lane, during the Blzzard 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 35 yrs ago, but far more practical.

And not strictly outdoor gear, but we have a battery booster that works as a power inverter. For cold weather trips, it is kept 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.

Putting it all together

All our outdoor gear is pre-staged.  The backpack is always packed (minus food , water and the sleeping bag). Most of the outdoor clothing is consolidated together in one area. And the car camping gear is in one plastic tote. Even our backpacking and camping food is organized logically.

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

Finally

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

Having said that, I hope the outdoor gear continues to used at places and times that bring great memories and not during a time of natural disaster.

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

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3 Replies to “Outdoor Gear and Disaster Preparedness”

  1. 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!

    • The headlamps are certainly a novelty for many people. As mentioned, my brother and his girlfriend had more fun with the headlamps than anything else. Thanks for the kind words BTW!

  2. 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.

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