Survival & Emergency Preparedness

The latest posts from Survival & Emergency Preparedness



10/07/2014

Late last month, a security breach occurred, involving a web server at ARRL Headquarters. ARRL IT Manager Mike Keane, K1MK, said that League members have no reason to be concerned about sensitive personal information being leaked.

Link.

If you have a login at arrl.org, I suggest you go change your password.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: October 8, 2014, 2:01 pm
N2EI has made his book, Radio Monitoring A How To Guide, freely available under the Creative Commons License. Go download it here.

{Hat tip to Sparks.}


Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: October 3, 2014, 1:12 pm

It was just brought to my attention that Amazon carries the Baofeng UV-5R with a 3600 mAH battery included, instead of the 1800 mAH battery. At $38 shipped, that’s a great deal.

Don’t forget to order a better antenna than the stock rubber duck. If I were buying now, I’d order a SMA-female to BNC-female adapter and find a highly rated antenna that uses a BNC connector. By doing so, you eliminate wear on the radio’s antenna connection, and make it much faster to change out antennas.

An N9TAX roll-up slim jim antenna with a BNC connector would be a good match for the Baofeng when operating from a static location.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 19, 2014, 4:15 pm

Out in my shop I have a CCrane CCradio-EP AM/FM radio for background noise while I work. I mostly listen to music on a few FM stations, including 102.5 WRFY out in Reading, for which reception has been iffy, so I looked into getting a better FM antenna. Not wanting to spend a lot of money, I got this simple dipole from Amazon.

The dipole appears to be made from 300 Ohm twinlead, and has plastic ends on each leg of the dipole, each of which has a small hole in it so you can tack it up to a wall. The feed leg has an F-connector, which attaches directly to the matching connector on the back of the radio.

This morning I got the chance to give it a try and so far I’m pleased with it. For about $8, it noticeably improved my reception of the Reading station, and even the closer stations come in better.

The CCrane radio has a separate, internal ferrite antenna for AM reception. The local AM news station, KYW 1060, comes in very strong in the entire Philly metro area, and beyond, so a better antenna isn’t needed in my application.

You can have the best radio but if you don’t have a good antenna it’ll be worthless. If you’re having problems with the built-in antenna of your radio, look into an aftermarket antenna.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 13, 2014, 8:24 pm

The other day I posted about the University of Pennsylvania’s N3KZ linked repeater system. Penn’s system is far from unique, even in PA. Going to Repeaterbook.com lets you find the linked repeater systems for your state.

Incidentally, Repeaterbook has a nice app for both Android and iThingies that will let you look up nearby repeaters, even if you do not have a data connection on your phone or tablet.

As I mentioned earlier linked repeaters are not a full substitute for an HF rig and NVIS, but they may be a useful tool in the event of an emergency. Many repeaters have emergency power, and many of us live within range of multiple repeaters. For example, from my home, I can directly hit two N3KZ repeaters which are geographically dispersed. The closest one is in the Roxborough neighborhood in Philadelphia, while the other one is near Robesonia, in Lebanon County. They are about 30 miles apart. I’m also able to hit repeaters in AllStar and WAN networks. Some repeaters may be linked to more than one link network. E.g., W3WAN in Roxborough is connected to both the AllStar and WAN networks.

Linking is done largely over the Internet. If it’s full-blown  TEOTWAWKI obviously you cannot depend on the ‘net. However, in a lot of SHTF situations you can. For example, on 9/11/01 I was able to communicate with family members on Long Island via AOL Instant Messenger even when phone lines into the NYC metro area were unusable.

In an emergency a lot of communications are done by hams over VHF and UHF. If you have a VHF/UHF rig, I encourage you to program as many nearby repeaters into is as possible, especially if they are linked.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 13, 2014, 2:05 pm

“Machinegunseabee” posted a thread on Arfcom detailing what gear has worked form him in a (now) 18 year Navy career, over several deployments. IMO, a lot of his info is valuable for preppers.

Check it out here.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 13, 2014, 1:46 pm

The University of Pennsylvania runs the N3KZ UHF linked repeater system (Internet-linked, AFAIK). It covers SE PA, some of NJ, and NE MD. I was scanning through the memories on my FT-7800R and caught a call on the one in Eagles Peak, Lebanon County, PA. I wound up having a nice chat with a new ham who was using the N3KZ repeater in Havre de Grace, MD. I'm about 50 miles from the Eagles Peak repeater. My rig was set to 10W connected to a Comet GP-3 on my roof, while he was on a Yaesu FT-60R HT with a roll-up J-pole.

Internet-linked repeaters are a nifty blend of old and new tech. Obviously, such a system is more vulnerable to going down in a major SHTF scenario but it's a nice option when it is up, especially for those hams who can only operate on VHF or UHF.

Here’s detailed info about the N3KZ system from Repeaterbook.com: http://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/details.php?state_id=42&ID=168#sthash.FbOLU8Gt.dpbs

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 11, 2014, 10:41 pm

As reported in the news over the past couple days, the Earth was hit by a solar flare on 9/9.  An X-class coronal mass ejection is following the flare and is expected to hit us with a glancing blow early Friday morning, 9/12. When the flare hit HF radio transmissions were severely disrupted, e.g., 20M was pretty much wiped out for awhile.

Other than HF disruptions and some better than normal auroras, any other effects are likely to be minimal. That said, I’ll be unplugging my radio antennas and power cords tonight, just in case the predictions are wrong. Likeiwse, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do things like fill the gas tanks in your vehicles and any spare gas cans, just in case.

Good sites to follow what’s going on with the Sun, solar flares, and CMEs are Solar Ham and Space Weather.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 11, 2014, 1:07 pm

Up until recently one downside of getting the Baofeng UV-5RA HT was that the extra capacity batteries made for the other variants of the UV-5R did not fit it. At the start of last week I found a 3600 mAH battery to fit the UV-5RA. It’s from eBay seller radioshop8888 located in Hong Kong. This link should take you directly to the battery.

The cost was $21 shipped from HK to the US.

Here are some pictures, with a regular Bic lighter for scale. First, the UV-5RA with the stock 1800 mAH battery, then with the 3600 mAH battery, and finally the two batteries together.

Note that my radio is fitted with a Nagoya NA-701 2M/70cm antenna. It provides a little better performance than the stock rubber duck.

Aside from having double the capacity of the OEM battery, the extended battery makes the HT easier to hold, especially when you’re trying to work the buttons while holding it with only one hand.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: September 2, 2014, 11:29 pm

As explained in Wikipedia:

Software-defined radio (SDR) is a radio communication system where components that have been typically implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, etc.) are instead implemented by means of software on a personal computer or embedded system.

Traditionally, SDR has been an expensive endeavor. However, some clever hackers discovered that some very cheap TV tuner USB dongles based on the RTL2832U chip can be used as wide range radio receivers.

Back on August 9th I ordered one of these RTL2832U-based USB TV tuner dongles from Amazon for $8 and change. It shipped from China and arrived today. I then downloaded and installed SDR# using this quick start guide. So far, I just have it receiving FM broadcast signals. Here’s what it looks like tuned to the local classic rock station:

SDR-sharp

As described by Sparks, this $8 dongle can be used as an RF spectrum analyzer to discover what signals are in your area. This cheap piece of hardware plus some free software, and a laptop, Raspberry Pi, or BeagleBone Black system can be used as a portable, low-cost signals intelligence gathering system.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 28, 2014, 12:36 am
Ray, W3PRR, asked me for help on configuring Fldigi running on a Mac with OS 10.9.4 so that it can control an Icom 7200 radio. Here’s how I did it:

1. Get yourself a plain USB-A to USB-B cable, as used with most recent computer printers. This one at Amazon will work fine. The IC7200 has a built in sound card, and the USB cable will provide both rig control and audio input/output through the one cable.

2. Make sure the OS is up to date by running OS X’s Software Update.

3. You need to install the driver for the Silicon Labs CP210 USB-to-UART bridge, which is what provides the brains for the USB-B port on the back of the radio. You can download that here.

Note: Do not connect the radio to your Mac when you install the driver. Connect the radio after you install and reboot the Mac.

4. Download and install the Hamlib radio control libraries.

5. Download and install the latest version of Fldigi.

6. Connect and power on the radio to your computer using the USB cable. Make sure that the radio is in Data mode, and make sure that Data mode is set to U, so that it accepts audio and CAT commands through the USB port. See page 43 of the Icom 7200 Instruction Manual for details.

7.In Fldigi, under Configuration > Audio > Devices, select PortAudio, then USB Audio CODEC for both Capture and Playback. Click Save before you move to the next step.



Note: If the radio is not connected and powered on, the USB Audio CODEC option will not be visible.

8. Under Configuration > Rig use these settings.



Click Initialize, then Save, then Close.

At this point you should be able to see activity in the Fldigi waterfall (ASSuming there is anyone on frequency), and you should be able to transmit from within the program. The 20M PSK31 calling frequncy, 14.070 MHz, is a good frequency to use for testing because it tends to be active.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 26, 2014, 11:52 pm

The best bang for your buck in a survival knife is any one of the variations of the Swedish Mora. I have several floating around here, including two carbon steel Mora Clippers that I got from Amazon last week. One of them was bought specifically for use in the kitchen, while the other one is for garden and field use.

This pic shows one of the Mora Clippers along with my Cloudberry Market puukko that has become my primary field knife.

Both knives came with right handed sheaths. Since I’m a lefty, I made a new sheath for the puukko, and modded the Mora sheath. To do so, I used a Dremel cutoff wheel to remove the belt loop, then made a new loop on the other side of the sheath with a piece of nylon webbing, and secured it to the plastic sheath with Gorilla tape.

The two new Moras came shaving sharp. So far I’ve used one to cut up peppers in the kitchen, and the one shown above for cutting up a bunch of over ripe cauliflower that went into my compost bin. The cauliflower is responsible for the discoloration. Something in it immediately caused some oxidation, but the edge was unaffected.

It’s been my experience while camping and (back in the 80s) being involved in SAR missions that you can handle most of your cutting needs in temperate climes with a knife about this size. It’s no chopper, but if you need to chop things you’re much better off with an axe or hatchet, and a small folding saw is better yet.

Is a Mora the be-all, end-all survival knife? No. Something like my puukko is better made and has a slightly thicker, stronger blade. That said, the Mora Clippers currently sell for $13.92 on Amazon Prime. At that price you can afford to acquire multiples and stash them all over.

Aside from Amazon, another great source of the Mora knives, as well as some much nicer Nordic cutlery, is Ragnar’s Ragweed Forge. I’ve ordered other Moras and a nice puukko from Ragnar and always had a smooth transaction with quick delivery.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 25, 2014, 12:22 am

You may have seen recently in the news stories about a coronal mass ejection (CME) that narrowly missed the Earth in 2012. It apparently was at least as big as the CME which caused the Carrington Event in 1859, the largest CME on record, and twice as strong as the CME that caused massive power outages in Quebec in 1989.

NASA has also provided a nice video explaining the storm:

Carrington-class CME narrowly misses Earth

According to the NASA article, there’s a 12% chance that we could experience another bit hit in the next decade. (Or if you prefer a more optimistic view, there’s an 88% chance it won’t happen.)

If we’d been hit by the 2012 Solar Storm, the damage would have been far more severe than some fires started at telegraph stations. It’s likely that extensive sections of the power grid would have been brought down and we’d still be recovering from the hit. This would be a true TEOTWAWKI event. Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that’s really difficult to prep for, unless you’re Amish.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 24, 2014, 7:18 pm

The last time I took my Icom 7200 to the field one of the Anderson Powerpoles on the end of its power cord came off. I had a spare power cable that I swapped in after I returned home, and this afternoon I fixed the old one.

PowerWerx has a nice illustrated guide  showing you how to install them, here. Both PowerWerx and Quick Silver Radio are good sources for powerpole related items including the powerpoles themselves, cables terminated with them, and crimp tools.

APPs are pretty much the standard among ham radio operators, especially those who participate in EMCOMM. That said, I’m not a fan of them. For one, they are a bit of a PITA to assemble. Two, they are not secure when you connect one cable to another or to a plug, i.e., they don’t click into place, or even have much friction keeping them together when plugged in.  PowerWerx sells retention clips to keep two cables together, but IMHO this is a workaround for poor design.

I’ve only adopted APPs because they are the de facto standard for ham radio power connections.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 24, 2014, 6:02 pm

The Baofeng UV5R and variants like the UV5RA have become popular with preppers because they are a very low cost way to get into ham radio. Back in June a friend who is a new ham and I both picked up UV5RAs, and for the money, we’re both impressed with them.

As handy talkies (HTs), the Baofengs allow you to have a small, light, and inexpensive two-way radio for communication on the 2 meter (144 MHz) and 70 centimeter (440 MHz) ham bands. They can be used in simplex mode or with repeaters, allowing you to communicate over longer distances.

The Baofengs will also receive FM broadcast band stations, NOAA Weather broadcasts, and can be programmed to operate on FRS, GMRS, and MURS frequencies.

Note that the Baofengs are not FCC type-accepted for FRS, GMRS, or MURS, so it is illegal to transmit on these freqs with them unless it’s an emergency.

There are a few accessories you should get with one of these little HTs in order to maximize their usefulness:

  • The stock antenna sucks. The Nagoya NA-701 offers improved reception and transmission without being too long.
  • For use in a vehicle you want an external antenna. The Tram 1185 is an inexpensive mag mount antenna that works well. You’ll also need this jumper to go between the HT’s antenna connection and the Tram’s SO-239 plug.
  • This Baofeng speaker-mic will improve audio for both transmission and reception. (I originally got a Pofung speaker-mic but it was DOA. I returned it to Amazon on their dime and got the Baofeng branded speaker-mic in its place.)
  • When I’m using the UV5RA in my truck I use this battery eliminator to power the radio. Note that this is not a charger, despite the Amazon product description. Rather, it replaces the battery with a regulator that powers the radio from your vehicle’s 12V outlet.
  • Finally, programming the Baofeng by hand is a tedious, frustrating job. Save yourself a lot of aggravation and use your computer and this USB cable. If you already have a programming cable for Icom radios it will be compatible. Check out Miklor.com for troubleshooting any issues related to driver installation. Don’t use Baofeng’s software, which sucks. Rather, use the open source, free software CHIRP, which supports both the UV5R and many other radios. CHIRP is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and FreeBSD.

Everything linked above, including a radio, can be bought from Amazon for under $100.

Although my friend and I both got the UV5RA, were I purchasing again I’d probably go with the plain UV5R. The insides of the two radios are the same but there are extra capacity batteries that fit the UV5R that don’t fit the UV5RA.

This thread on Arfcom is a gold mine of information on how to get up and running with a Baofeng UV5R radio:

http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_10_22/664274_Baofeng_UV_5R_information.html

Despite their popularity, the Baofeng’s are low end radios. HTs from any of the Big Three – Icom, Kenwood, or Yaesu – will be sturdier and have better performance. But, they are a lot more expensive. E.g., even the relatively simple Yaesu FT-60R will run you more than three times the cost of a Baofeng UV5R. The Chinese radio is good if you’re on a tight budget or if you need to use a radio in an environment where it’s susceptible to loss or damage, and it’s cheap enough to keep extras on hand. If you have at least your Technician license or are looking to get it, the Baofeng UV5R is not a bad choice for an entry level radio.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 23, 2014, 1:18 pm
Over on Survival Sherpa, Todd Walker has a nice article on how to make jerky, pemmican, and parched corn. These were traditional foods used on the trail up through the 19th Century.

Check it out here.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 13, 2014, 11:53 pm
Many ham radio operators like to build "go boxes" which allows them to transport their rig(s) and operate right from the box. Some of these are very elaborate, incorporating power supplies, batteries, various meters, and antenna tuners. For example, the Arfcom Ham Radio forum has a long thread with links to many of these builds

I didn't want to create such an elaborate or heavy setup for my own portable ops, but I did need something better than the old Yuengling beer case that I've been using.

On the IC7200 Yahoo group someone mentioned that the radio will fit into a Harbor Freight #69318 18" x 6" x 13" aluminum toolbox. Today I took a ride to the nearest HF store to look at them in person and bought one. Note that HF sells two very similar toolboxes. The #69318 is the one that comes with pluck-to-fit open cell foam and dividers. The #69315 appears to be identical but does not come with the foam.

Here is the one I bought:


As shown in the sticker on the box, it also comes with an insert for holding tools. I removed this because I needed the interior height.

It took only a few minutes to pluck out the foam pieces so that my radio is nicely cradled in the box:



An oblique view shows the depth relative to the radio and LDG IT100 tuner:


(The tuner is secured to the radio with Gorilla tape.)

The box closes with a bit of pressure on the lid and keeps the rig from moving around. I have copies of my ham and GMRS licenses tucked behind the egg crate foam in the lid, along with a print out of the ARRL band plan.

Many go boxes are watertight. This one is not, but my use for it is transport to and from a campsite in my truck. Likewise, it's only one part of my portable setup: I still need to bring a separate power source, netbook, and of course, the antenna and mast. But, this will be easier to transport in my truck, easier to carry, and it was cheap. With a 20% off coupon the toolbox was about $25 out the door. I might pick up another one for the laptop and assorted other gear.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 3, 2014, 7:33 pm
Last weekend I was back up in Tioga County and managed to get some ham radio in.



That's my Icom 7200 radio, LDG IT100 tuner, Hawaii EARC end fed antenna attached to a 31' Jackite kite pole, which is slipped over a 4' piece of rebar pounded into the ground, and a Harbor Freight Cen-Tech 12V portable power source. The Icom's power cord is terminated with Anderson Power Poles, so I got a Powerwerx Cigbuddy adapter so that it can connect to the 12VDC outlet on the Cen-Tech battery.

The laptop is my old MSI Wind U100 netbook running 32-bit Windows 7 Ultimate. At some point I want to replace the hard disk with an SSD for a slight performance boost, but mainly for improved battery life.

I'm running FLDGI on the laptop for digital modes (PSK31, Olivia). After I replace the HDD I'll probably set it up as a dual boot system with Windows 7 and openSUSE 13.1 using the LXDE desktop environment.

Before the trip I'd received a KF5INZ Easy Digi interface to let me use my iPad 2 or iPhone 5 and PSKER instead of the laptop for PSK31. (Reviews on eHam here.) The interface itself is a nice little unit but I've been having trouble getting VOX setup correctly on the IC7200, so I wound up using the netbook this trip.

Aside from playing on HF I also got to try my new Baofeng UV5RA HT. One of my friends who just got his ham ticket (0 to General in one setting) got one for his first radio and I found it too cheap to pass up, as a backup to my Yaesu VX5RS. A follow up post on the Baofeng is planned.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 1, 2014, 1:35 pm
On my trip to Tioga County on Field Day, I wanted to try operating my Icom 7200 from battery power. As mentioned in my AAR, this didn’t happen because I had issues with my battery. So, shortly after getting back home I swung by Harbor Freight and bought a Cen-Tech 3-In-1 portable 12V power pack, item number 38391. I had a coupon so I was able to get it for $39.99 plus sales tax.

Cen-Tech 38391 3-in-1 Portable Power Pack with Jump Starter
Photo borrowed from HF.

The Cen-Tech power pack has three functions:
  • It’s a jump starter for vehicles with 360 cold cranking amps.
  • It has a small work light. It’s a 3.6 watt incandescent bulb and probably will get little to no use by me.
  • It has a 12V cigarette lighter-style outlet on the side for powering electronics.
All this is powered by a 17 amp hour sealed lead acid battery. Since it’s SLA, you must keep the battery charged or it will be damage. There’s a voltmeter on the front that allows you to check on the state of the battery.

The unit weighs about 14 pounds, so it’s easily portable.

Upon getting it home I removed the back cover of the power pack to verify that all of the connections were secure. That taken care of, I proceeded to charge it for 48 hours per the quick-start guide. Recharges should take 34 hours. Aside from a wall plug it also comes with a charger that allows you to plug it into a vehicle’s 12V outlet, but the manual warns you that it won’t charge the battery as well as mains power.

To go with the Cen-Tech unit I bought a Powerwerx Cigbuddy from Ham Radio Outlet.
Powerwerx CIGBUDDY
Photo borrowed from HRO.

As you can see, it’s a 12V cigarette lighter outlet to Andersen Power Pole adapter. This allows me to plug my Icom 7200 into the HF box.

As I write this I have the Icom 7200 monitoring 14.070 MHz and viewing PSK31 signals on the FLDIGI waterfall, on battery power.

Harbor Freight has a deserved reputation for varying quality when it comes to its products. This model was recommended by Sparks for use as portable 12V power supply* and so far it seems OK, but of course, only time will tell. At $40 it was worth a try.

We’re heading upstate again at the end of July and plan to bring the Cen-Tech battery pack with me for powering my radio.

*He posted a picture here and I asked him about it on Facebook.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: July 18, 2014, 12:26 am

From Jun 27 - 29, 2014 three of my friends and I took our respective kids up to Tioga County, PA for a camping trip. We had a total of 10 kids ranging in age from 8 to 11.

We are experienced campers, and have taken our kids on local overnighters, but this adventure was a lot more involved due to the distance involved and the fact that this time we were staying out for two nights. Along the way, we learned some lessons that are applicable to both recreational camping and a buyout situation.

TRANSPORTATION AND THE DRIVE UP

We first met at the Cabela’s in Hamburg, PA. On other trips we’ve used FRS/GMRS radios for inter-vehicle commo. This time we ran into some difficulties with the privacy codes that were enabled on a couple of the radios, preventing us from hearing one of the other units. The privacy codes also caused inter-operability problems between Motorola and Midland units. Unfortunately, none of us had our radio manuals with us and we couldn’t figure out how to disable the codes. The codes just prevent you from hearing other FRS/GMRS users not sending the correct sub-audible tone. They don’t prevent other people listening in on you. IMO, they are more trouble than they are worth.

I’ve been working on my friends to get at least a Technician level ham radio license (I have my General and I’m studying for Amateur Extra). If we all then got the same model of radio programming them would be simpler, and of course we could just pick a simplex frequency on 2 meters to use without any privacy codes to worry about. Even HTs would work, especially with an external antenna.

CB would also be a viable option.

From Cabela’s we convoyed upstate with a planned break for lunch at a rest stop on I-80. We had packed our lunches ahead of time but the rest stop does have some of the park-style BBQ grills available for use, which could be handy. One of my friends used his canister stove and a French press to make coffee at the rest stop.

Our next stop was at Walmart in Mansfield. We had decided that rather than buying food ahead of time and having it sit in the hot vehicles for most of a day, we’d just get it in Mansfield, about a half hour from our destination. IMO, this was a mistake. As soon as we got out of our vehicles it was like unleashing a swarm of locusts. As we shopped we had to corral 10 kids running this way and that. It would have been better to just get the food and paper goods ahead of time, or to send one or two guys into town to shop, while the remaining vehicles continued on to our campsite, about a half hour away.

On the way up my girls were able to keep themselves occupied in the back of the car with their iPhones. One of them has an app that is teaching her French that she played with that for a couple hours. My wife and I aren’t into electronic parenting at home, but smartphones or tablets are great for keeping children occupied on a long road trip.

Our vehicles consisted of two minivans and two SUVs: a Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Honda Pilot, and a Nissan Xterra. The minivans are great for hauling a lot of gear, get decent gas mileage, and have a lot of amenities. The Pilot is a nice ride with a good amount of storage space, and handles the rough driveway of my friend’s land better than the minivans. My Xterra is the only true offroad capable vehicle in the group, but it lacks cargo space compared with the others. I had to use a roof top cargo bag to augment the inside space, since I couldn’t lower the rear seats as I normally do on camping trips.

SHELTER and BEDDING

Once at camp we setup three tents (one of which is huge and handled one adult plus 7 girls). The large tent is a Walmart Ozark Trail 10-person tent and has been used during all seasons, even though it’s a three-season tent. The design is well thought-out but now that it’s a few years old, the fiberglass poles are starting to break. During our Spring trip one split and we repaired it with duct tape. This time, two more split and had to be repaired by wrapping them with bailing wire and then covering the wire with duct tape. (I keep both in my truck toolbox.) The lesson here is that if you’re going to rely on China-Mart quality control you must be prepared to fix it when it fails.

The other tent was a Coleman (not sure what model) and didn’t give us any problems.

The third tent was my REI Basecamp 6, which I’ve used numerous times and never had a problem with. The other tents had plain blue tarps underneath but I sprung for the REI footprint when I bought mine. For warm weather like we had I wouldn’t mind a little more ventilation, but for cold weather use you can really button up and keep out the wind. Since we pitch camp on top of about a foot of gravel, this time I brought along 4 landscaping spikes that I had laying around for use as stakes. They worked well but I couldn’t remove two of them. Two were stuck fast so I just pounded them in flush with the ground when I struck the tent, so they wouldn’t be tripping hazards.

Finally, the property has a 16’ x 24’ steel-roofed pavilion that we use to get out of the sun or rain. At some point my friend is probably going to wall it in, have a cement floor poured, and then we’ll have a cabin to use.

We used a mix of cots, foam pads, and air mattresses for beds. I used my Big Agnes air mattress and while it’s well-made and doesn’t leak, unless I’m sleeping under a tarp, from now on I’m going to squeeze my cot into the truck no matter what. At 46, cots are easier to lay down and get off of, and give you storage space underneath.

Most everyone used a sleeping bag but I used my old, GI-issue, woodland camo poncho liner. Nighttime temps got down into the 50s. I was comfortable in my woobie, a t-shirt, and shorts, but my daughters were a little cold even in the 40* rated sleeping bags, so they put on hoodies inside their bags. This demonstrates how small kids often don’t handle cooler temps as well as adults.

FOOD, WATER, AND COOKING

During our time there we realized that children raised in a modern American middle class household have no concept of water discipline or a limited supply of things like paper plates, bottled water, or paper towels. For example, we setup a 7 gallon jug and unless we watched it like hawks, the kids were prone to using it just like a faucet, i.e., turn it on and leave it open while washing hands. None of the adults remembered to bring a big container of hand sanitizer, which would have conserved a lot of water.

Likewise, some of the kids were prone to grabbing a bottle of water, taking a few sips, forgetting where it was, then going and getting another bottle when they got thirsty again. We took to marking their initials on a water bottle and then locking the cases in a vehicle. We experienced the same thing with paper plates and bowls.

One of the guys didn’t bring enough spoons and forks for his kids so we ran short. We were also short on cups. I suggested to him that he get a Rubbermaid Action Packer box and put all his camping gear in it so that it’s always ready to go. Going forward, each kid will be issued a cup and a spork and be held responsible for it.

Checklists are a good way to prevent you from forgetting things.

In the past we’ve done a lot of cooking on the campfire but last year a park style grill was put in at the site. This is easier to use because it’s at a convenient height. Hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage, and steak was cooked on it using Kingsford briquettes. We use a couple chimney starters to get the briquettes going. Saturday night we made chili (win a cast iron Dutch oven, using briquettes for heat.

Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday was oatmeal. We used my Kovea Spider butane canister stove to boil water in both a Walmart grease pot and a Kelly kettle. I also used the Kovea stove for making coffee in a stainless percolator. (I know it’s a figment of my imagination but coffee tastes best when made in the perc over a campfire, but this time I didn’t have to clean soot off of it.)

My water jug will leak a little when laid down so you can use the spigot. I’ve taken to keeping a roll of Teflon plumber’s tape wire tied to the handle, and use it to seal the cap threads.

OTHER GEAR

I use the first aid kit in my truck on pretty much every camping trip for scrapes and cuts. This trip was no exception. On the second day my youngest stubbed her toe on a tent stake and peeled back some skin from the tip of her right pinky toe. I was able to patch her up but had to bum some triple antibiotic ointment from one of the other guys. This was a reminder that I needed to do the annual inventory and replenishment of my first aid kit.

As I mentioned in the section about shelter, I had to break out my toolkit for some onsite tent repairs. I keep a small bag with basic hand tools, duct tape, bailing wire, electrical tape, and WD40 in my truck at all times. I’ve also used the kit to fix air mattresses. One time we had to wire a valve shut, while this time another guy’s mattress had a pinhole leak that I was able to patch with duct tape. Make sure you bring good duct tape. "Duck” brand is good, as is Gorilla tape. The 3M brand duct tape that I’ve bought recently at Lowe’s is not up to snuff, in my experience

One of my buddies brought a Thermacell and damn, it works great. He set it on the table where we do food prep and it kept all the bugs away. I did pick up a few black fly bites when I was away from the area covered by the Thermacell. I need to add some After-Bite to my first aid kit.

ACTIVITIES

FISHING

All the kids had the chance to catch bluegills and one got a small catfish. We like the Zebco Dock Demon fishing rod sets with spin cast reels you can buy at Walmart.(I’d avoid the Dock Demons with spinning reels if you’re buying it for a kid, unless you want to spend a lot time untangling fishing line.) They are a good size for smaller kids and are cheap. They also seem better made than the rod sets sold specifically to kids, e.g., the Spiderman or whatever themed sets.

When dealing with 10 kids it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hooked. We used only barbless hooks, made by squashing the hooks’ barbs with a pair of pliers. This also makes it more like that the fish we release will survive. I have a small multi-tool that I got at Cabela’s for about $10 that I keep in my tackle box and used for this. I also used it to remove hooks from the mouths of fish.

SHOOTING

My friends and I also got to get a little shooting in on Saturday afternoon. I helped one guy zero the red dot on his new AR-15 and he also tested out the CMMG .22 LR conversion that he bought for it at Cabela’s. We were pleasantly surprised to see that it ran OK with CCI Standard Velocity ammo. He noticed that even after less than a full box of ammo his receiver was filthy inside, so keep in mind the need to clean it before switching back to 5.56 if using one,

I got some plinking in with my 1948-vintage Remington 550-1 semiauto .22. I tried two kinds of .22 LR in it: Remington .22 CBees and Aguila .22 LR Subsonics. It functioned just fine with either. Both rounds were pretty quiet out of the 24” barrel. The Aguila ammo shoots OK but seems to be on the dirty side, even for .22.

HAM RADIO

This turned out to be a total total SNAFU on my part. Our trip coincided with ARRL Field Day, when amateur radio operators practice under field conditions.

First, I had a problem trying to get my Hawaii EARC end fed antenna up in a tree. My slingshot didn't have enough oomph to launch a 1 oz. sinker tied to some 550 cord high enough, and then it broke. I should have used fishing line or maybe mason’s twine for the leader rope, since they are lighter. I may want to use a heavier sinker, as well, so it can drag the leader line down through left branches. Another option would be to use a plastic water bottle with the line tied to it, and just toss it up. I wound up finding a downed sapling and used that as a mast, with the end of the wire duct taped to to the top. It wasn't quite as along as I would have liked but it would have worked OK, I think, had the radio worked.

After I got the antenna up, my Icom 7200 radio wouldn't power up from my battery. {Insert string of profanities here.} I just got a clicking sound when I hit the power button. The battery had been on a trickle charger but it may just well be shot.

I'll be using a different option for power next year and an alternative means of hoisting my antenna. For power, last weekend I picked up a Centech 3-In-1 Jump Starter and 12V Power Supply at Harbor Freight for $39.99 + tax using a coupon. It has a 17ah SLA battery inside. I decided to get this particular one because (1) it’s cheap, and (2) it was recommended by Sparks. Before plugging it in for its initial charge I removed the back panel and verified that all the connections were snug. The downside to the SLA battery is that I need to top it off every month or so, or the battery will go bad.

Next time I may just bring my Jackite 31’ telescoping fiberglass pole instead of relying on a wood pole cut onsite. It’s one more thing to bring but being much lighter, will be easier to erect.

CONCLUSION

Our kids all had a great time and I don’t think any of the dads picked up too many new gray hairs. It reinforced the necessity of trying out your gear and testing your plans before you rely on them in earnest. It was a lot of fun and good practice if we ever find ourselves in a bugout situation.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: July 9, 2014, 12:15 am

Over on The High Road, “marb4” posted a thread in which he tested the penetration and expansion of several different loads from small handguns.

The loads tested were:

  • 9mm Speer Gold Dot 115 grain JHP
  • Federal .380 ACP Hydrashock 90 grain JHP low-recoil
  • Winchester .380 95 grain FMJ flat nose
  • Remington .38 Special 148 grain wadcutter
  • CCI .22 LR 40 grain Mini Mag lead round nose.

The penetration of the two .380 loads and the CCI .22 LR Mini Mags is especially impressive. I load Federal 95 grain FMJ-RN in my Ruger LCP .380 because I’ve been concerned that .380 lacks penetration. It looks like some of the modern .380 JHPs may actually penetrate deeply enough.

I've always suggested Mini Mag solids for someone who must use a .22 for defense, because (1) solids penetrate better than hollowpoints, especially from a .22 rifle, (2) CCI rimfire ammunition has the most reliable priming in my experience, and (3) Mini Mags work reliably in every .22 autoloader that I’ve tried them in, something I cannot say for any other type of ammunition.

My Springfield XD9 is loaded with 9mm 124 grain Gold Dots.

With the popularity of the Kel-Tec P32, I’d like to see similar testing done with a few different .32 ACP loads. Many people, including myself, recommend a European-spec .32 FMJ load to get adequate penetration. It would be nice to see if any of the modern JHPs can penetrate at least 12”.

Kudos to marb4 for providing us with some additional data on with which to choose carry loads.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: June 21, 2014, 1:12 pm

This morning I had surgery to fix "trigger finger” on my right thumb. It was done under a local anesthetic and only took about a half hour. It went well and I really didn’t start having any pain until after almost eight hours, but my hand is wrapped with a bulky bandage that I have to keep it dry and clean for a week.

The trigger finger started last October and was temporarily resolved with a steroid shot into the base of my thumb. That was fun. Not. It started recurring about midway through April and I finally got the surgery to permanently fix it today.

Thankfully, it’s my right hand and I’m a lefty. But the experience is making me more appreciative of having two properly functioning hands.

One tool I’m currently unable to use is a regular slip joint pocketknife, like my favorite Victorinox Pioneer. Because of the side that the nail slots are on the blades, I find them very awkward to open with my left hand. I use the blade everyday, and frequently use the bottle opener for a beer after dinner. (I won’t be drinking anything as long as I’m taking Tylenol 3, though.) So, until I regain use of my right thumb I’ll be relying on my Kershaw Leek assisted opener.

Prior to the procedure it was quite difficult to rack the slide on a semi auto pistol. Right now it would be very, very difficult if not impossible. Loading mags would be hard without something like a LULA. A revolver will be easier to use. I could probably run a rifle or shotgun without too much problem, however.

Doing any work in my home shop is a no-go, since getting cutting oil and metal ships embedded in the bandage wouldn’t be good.

My biggest worry if TSHTF now would be avoiding infection for the next few days. I’d have to take extra steps to protect the incision and keeping it dry. I’m thinking that plastic wrap and/or tape would serve to keep it from getting contaminated. (I’m on the antibiotic Clindamycin as a prophylactic for a few days.)

Taking a shower tomorrow morning will be interesting.

Compared to the medical issues some other forum members have experienced this is a small potatoes, and I should be returning to work tomorrow, but it’s a hassle nonetheless. I expect my hand to heal rapidly but this could be more than a hassle under the wrong circumstances.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: June 17, 2014, 10:13 pm

A little while ago I picked up a 6 – 40M end-fed matchbox antenna from the Hawaii Emergency Amateur Radio Club, for field use. It operates using similar principals to the Ultimax 100 that I use at my QTH.

Both units consist of a single wire antenna with a matching unit at the feed point, however, the Ultimax is advertised as being usable from 6 to 80M. I haven’t had much luck with Tx on bands lower than 40M.

The matching unit on the HI EARC is much smaller than the one on the Ultimax, so it’s better suited for portable operations.

Today I got the chance to try out the HI EARC antenna and while this is hardly a comprehensive test, my first impressions are good. Rx during my daytime 20M test seems comparable to the Ultimax 100 as does my Tx propagation, according to pskreporter.info.

My quick and dirty test setup looked like this:

Hawaii-eARC-end-fed

I used some electral tape to attach the end of the antenna wire to the tip of a Jackite 31-foot telescoping kite pole, then propped up the pole with the magnolia in my front yard. The pole wasn’t long enough to fully extend the wire so I put the matching unit with feed point on the plastic lawn chair to the left.

For a feed line I used a 25-foot piece of RG-8X coaxial cable coming from my LDG IT-100 tuner. With my Icom 7200 and this antenna setup I was able to get a QSO with a station in Windsor, Ontario, using 50W on 20M PSK-31. I can’t leave it up for long because the XYL threw a fit about me having this in the front yard. Future tests will be in the field.

I’ll post a follow up after I get the chance to use the antenna some more.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: May 17, 2014, 6:18 pm

In my ongoing search to find a comfortable way to carry a gun while hiking, including when wearing a pack, I bought a Hill People Gear Kit Bag. I ordered it last Thursday and received it on Monday.

HPG is a small, family-run business located in Colorado. The Kit Bag is a chest pack with three compartments. Overall dimensions are 11.5” wide by 7.5” tall by 2” thick.

The outer zippered pocket is the smallest. I replaced the Slick Clips that come attached to the sewn-in loops with mini carabiners, which I find easier to use. One biner has a Fox whistle and an REI compass on it. The other has a Nitecore T0 flashlight on it, and I also use it to secure my keys. Other items I put in this pocket include some tarred bankline and some 550 cord, a ziploc bag with mixed nuts, and a Benchmade Griptilian folding knife.

The middle compartment opens up and has two pockets on the far side. The third and furthest from your body is a slash pocket again with two pockets, this time on the side closest to you. This pocket also has nylon webbing loops for dummy cording items.

In this compartment I keep a Cliff Bar, small first aid kit, an SOL Survival Blanket (space blanket), water purification tablets, an empty 0.5 liter Platypus water bottle, and a fire making kit with strike anywhere matches, Mini Bic, and three Esbit tablets, and a GI triangular bandage for use as a bandanna.

The pocket closest to your body is meant for the gun, and has a strip of the loop half of Velcro running vertically down the middle, so you can secure something like a Maxpedition universal holster to it. Here I have it packed with my Beretta M9 with a spare mag secured with just such a holster.

The gun compartment is plenty big to handle almost any full size pistol you’d want to carry.  E.g., I tried my S&W Model 625 N-Frame with a 5” barrel and it fits (But I don’t think a 6” N-Frame will fit.)

The Kit Bag comes with straps and fittings to enable you to “dock” the pack to your backpack straps, to better distribute the weight on your shoulders. I decided to remove these because (1) I don’t want to dock it, and (2) for me the Grimlocks attached to the bag got in my way when trying to open the gun compartment.

The suspension is a new take on chest pack design. Chest packs have been used at least since World War I, when some gas mask bags were carried in this fashion. The Kit Bag’s suspension consists of nylon shoulder straps about 1.5” wide in an H-harness arrangement. The straps attach to a mesh panel that rides on your back. The side strap that goes under your right arm has a quick-detach Fastex buckle near the bag.

It’s designed for use while wearing a backpack, but depending on how you adjust it to ride, I think you could use it in conjunction with a shoulder bag.

The Kit Bag is made for HPG in the USA by First Spear from 500 denier nylon, and the workmanship is outstanding. All seams are well done. There were no loose threads or ugly stitches. The zippers are high quality.

One should be careful not to overload the Kit Bag. It has enough space so that you could do so easily. I limit mine to what’s shown in the pictures above, but I may add a monocular, and might put my iPhone in it, depending on what else I’m wearing. Anything else will go in another bag or my pockets.

According to what I’ve read by HPG, the Kit Bag wasn’t designed as “tactical” gear. Rather, it’s for outdoorsman. That said, I’ve read of at least one US Army officer using one while deployed in Afghanistan.

Today I took the Kit Bag out for a hike in French Creek State Park. My walk covered only a few miles but it was over rough terrain, with a vertical rise of about 300 feet in the first half mile or so. I wore the Kit Bag for about 2.5 to 3 hours, in conjunction with my Maxpedition Baby Condor day pack, and I’m very pleased.

For me, the HPG Kit Bag is the most comfortable way I’ve ever worn a pistol. The H-harness with wide shoulder straps carries the load very well, and when adjusted properly the bag doesn’t move around. The temperature was in the 60s but due to exertion I was sweating, but my chest didn’t feel uncomfortably clammy under the bag. The back panel was very comfortable.

If you’re into hiking and have been searching for a way to comfortably carry a sidearm and a few other supplies, while wearing a backpack with a waistbelt, the Hill People Gear Kit Bag is an excellent solution. Based on the quality and utility of the Kit Bag, I’m looking at making further purchases from Hill People Gear.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: May 9, 2014, 12:20 am

An interesting article with discussion and stills from the video, here.

Full video:

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: May 4, 2014, 2:56 pm




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