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Consumables for the Survivor
Apart from food, you likely consume a lot of other things in your life that can become critical in survival situations, especially those which end up lasting more than a few days.
Look around your house, camp, barracks or apartment and consider all of the things that make modern life reasonably clean, safe and comfortable from things that could turn quite miserable without these items and conveniences. Most of us use no less than four different types of soap in our lives; two types of consumable paper (toilet paper and paper towels), and other things like toothpaste, baking soda, abrasive cleaners and pine oils. Sure, you can live in the woods and eat bark, but who wants to be filthy? Check out the costs of these items and realize that a little bit of halfway careful planning can lay in sufficient supplies of these things for just about any foreseeable crisis. Then we have the biggie, that one thing that gets the most civilized people willing to fight brutal wars - FUEL.
For those of us into guns, there is the all important issue of ammunition, since guns without ammo are pretty useless, yet ammo without guns is still at least a decent trade material. Assume that if you are not anticipating any serious warfare, but might have to go several months of occasional training and defensive use of your guns, you will want to have 1,000 rounds on hand for each centerfire firearm, and 5,000 rounds for each rimfire gun in your core set. Additional ammo for supplementary guns and trade guns will vary greatly. Don't worry too much if you end up with extra ammo and not a lot of supplementary guns because lots of people have guns with very little ammunition. The barter value ratio of firearms to ammunition in most crisis spots in the world is heavily in favor of ammunition when compared to places that don't have shortages of either. Figure the service life of your average quality gun to be a healthy 20,000 before the gun is worn out or needs a major overhaul. Also consider that many makes are not even "broken in" with less than 500 rounds through them. This is why I generally favor the common military calibers where large amounts of bulk ammo are available for reasonable prices. In other circumstances however, you simply cannot rationally justify the cost of large amounts of ammunition for supplementary guns that you know you will not fire very often. This especially includes odd caliber specialty hunting rifles that require expensive hand loaded ammunition.
Fuels are a touchy subject in this game because a lot of us have to contend with some tight legal restrictions on fuel storage, and we have to justify the cost of fuel containers along with the cost of the fuel itself when we are constantly using it. Back in the early 1990s, I was involved with a rural retreat that had four permanent residents, around three transitory residents, and another half dozen part time residents that had pooled resources for a supply of gasoline to be stored in a shed away from other buildings. While the shed was kept secured, most of the residents knew where the keys were kept and it was often left unsecured when people were around. What ended up happening was usually a big mess.
First, the "contributions" of a lot of people were nothing more than the empty gas cans and fuel containers, then from others there was the "help" in hauling them to the filling station and back, and for that one less than fortunate person (me) there was the actual purchase of the gas. We had a communal idea on the gas to be used by anyone who had an emergency and to occasionally rotate it around when one of the vehicles was being used for group purposes, like when I used my truck for hauling garbage or when one of the vans got used for a shopping trip into town. What happened was that I ended up on another short end of the stick which was people "volunteering" to help rotate the gas supply by putting gas into their cars when they had "emergencies" IE, ran their tanks dry coming in to the retreat instead of putting gas in their vehicles out in town before making the final trip to the remote retreat. All of this "help" I got from the other residents ended up costing me around $15 a month worth of gas just to have it around in the shed and I rarely needed it. When the group eventually split up and all went their own ways, those who had pitched in things like gas cans took them all back. Worst was the one bitch who happily "loaned" our stuff out to her "friends" who she wanted to "help out". The big lesson in this is that people will play a lot of games around your gas because just about everyone has a use for it and in even the lowest level survival scenarios, you have to keep some pretty tight security on your gas. That said, you do want to find some way of keeping enough fuel around somewhere nearby so that you can go for a while without needing to take the most convenient but overpriced deal on gas during a crisis. You want to be able to hold out until circumstances are in your favor to resupply on gas, and you want to be able to take a supply in your vehicle during a crisis just in case you cannot immediately find supplies of gas. If the stinky stuff is really on the fan, you probably need to consider keeping some cans and siphon hoses around for those opportunities to recover gas from various improvised sources.
That brings me to the other gasoline misadventure we had with the failed retreat. Our fearful leader had this idea of obtaining "free" cars in the SF bay area that were being given away by their owners at the time because the cars usually needed more repairs than they were worth, and the junkyards were charging money to tow them at the time because scrap metal was at an all time low. A lot of the cars "kind of" ran when they were brought to the retreat and we often could scavenge parts between them to keep some running. Almost all of them were filled with gas in town before making it to the retreat junkyard which we had on the far side of the property. That was in part to get around some government regulations about the amounts of gas you could store without special permits. IE, the law did not apply to gas in the tanks of vehicles. Thus we figured that the gasoline supply in the vehicles reached a high point of around 500 gallons until the local speed phreaks discovered the little gasoline gold mine at the retreat. In those days before I got into serious night vision gear, and the fact that the speed freaks figured out they could sneak in the place at zero dark thirty when productive people in society were sleeping, we lost a lot of the gas to toothless goblins with gas cans and siphon hoses. Between thievery and evaporation, less than 50 gallons was recovered from the leftover cars when the junkyard was finally cleaned out. What we found out was that most older vehicles and a lot of newer vehicles don't have fully sealed fuel tanks, they have vented caps that are set up that way to allow for normal expansion of the fuel and that causes the gas to evaporate over the long term. If it does seal up fully, you get "gas rot" which turns the stuff useless anyway.
Thus, you have some real serious cost, legal and practical factors when it comes to storing fuel, but you have to store some anyway. Metal fuel cans are still pretty good, especially the surplus military types which are built to last virtually forever. Plastic fuel cans eventually become brittle, but their biggest problem is that most plastic fuel cans use non-standard filler spouts which crack and leak pretty easily, usually before the can itself is worn out. Next in line is the caps which are nearly impossible to replace when they are lost. Conversely, US military fuel cans use the exact same type of cap size and thread pitch that is used on oil drums, so if you can find any place that has drum caps, you have a supply of gas caps. They even make faucet spouts that can screw into those openings. This is great when setting up a fuel can as a miniature filling station for chainsaws and gas powered equipment. Euro pattern fuel cans have very secure airtight tops, but they require a proprietary type of filling nozzle and you want to make sure you never lose yours. Heck, if you depend on Euro type fuel cans, keep lots of extra filling nozzles around, like one in every vehicle. They can be a cool low budget way of making sure other people don't have an easy way to get at your gas if they are sneaking one of the cans from the fuel shed. Of all the gas cans that had gas taken out of them by other residents of the retreat and their "emergencies", nobody got far with my NATO fuel can because the nozzle for it was safely locked behind the seat of my personal truck.
Getting back to basic human needs, there are items like soap, detergents, toilet paper and personal care products. Most of these are relatively cheap and easy to obtain in bulk when you are not in a crisis, yet many people take them for granted even during the early stages of short term crisis. The survivor on a budget can probably leverage the greatest trade value for storage space with these kinds of consumables because they have extremely long shelf life and would go up exponentially in value during a crisis. Consider bulk packages of soap and detergents, maybe even institutional sized small drums of these things. Highly concentrated soaps used in hotels and restaurants cost very little per usage but need to be purchased in bulk. Likewise, large purchases of "single serve" size packages of soaps and detergents can make life easier for the survivors on bugout or while traveling. Toilet paper is something everyone takes for granted until they are forced to go without.
Some things to consider for storage on these items are the risks and effects that they will have on the place they are stored in. Consider the packaging as part of the program and a lot of items which are packaged for relatively short term distribution, transport and use will have to be repacked into more suitable containers. In the case of the ammunition which normally comes in cardboard boxes and then the boxes put in larger cardboard boxes, I opt to unpack the ammo from the cases, but not the individual boxes and then place the individual boxes in steel ammo cans. This provides a much higher level of fire and corrosion protection than the standard cardboard cases while individual boxes can be removed for later distribution and trading. Another step further would be to unpack the boxes and then repack the ammunition into vacuum and heat sealed bags.
Two tools that survivors tend to use in these long term storage strategies are plastic 5 gallon buckets and a vacuum sealer. More recently, plastic tote containers have replaced the buckets because they are easier to open and close and pack more efficiently because of the mostly square and rectangular shapes they come in. Thick plastic containers, whether they are tote containers or buckets provide decent protection against rodents and other vermin. They may not be sufficient in extremely hot and humid bug infested environments like what are found in the southeastern United States. In those circumstances, you will always do better to package items with a vacuum sealer before putting them away.
Many items can attract vermin. Rats in particular are a problem for stored food that is in any sort of container that they can chew through, and desperate or bored rats will chew up some things just for the joy of chewing them up. For example toilet paper and paper towels in a cardboard case can turn into a big rat nest and worse, turn into a fire hazard. Take some effort to harden your supply storage areas with the considerations of flood, fire and vermin.
There are a few different philosophies for arranging supplies that you pack away. One that is labor intensive but easy to inventory and plan with later is to pack supplies into "kits". This involves dividing up and repacking items into rationed sets that are intended to last a certain number of people for a certain period of time. For example, one week's worth of hygiene and cleaning supplies per person should easily fit in a five gallon bucket, and given the chemical odors some of these items give off, you might want that to be in a separate container from the food supply that is set aside for that week. Once you set up the "kit" to you liking, you can count your inventory and make plans on your progress of preparations based on a fairly easy count of the kits. You may also find these kits to be workable trade items in the future.
The other philosophy is to package and store items in bulk, organized by the types of items and the level of importance that item holds. This makes it easier to ration a particular item based on the amount you know you have available and adjust your anticipated usage based on the demand and size of your inventory for that item. This is an intelligent way to approach the storage of items that have different shelf lives and becomes most relevant with gasoline and food. You may also need to concentrate limited storage and preservation resources into some items more than others or concentrate your cargo hauling resources to more valuable items when moving to a new location.
More to come later