Do you need a machete in your emergency kit?

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I carry a machete in my car survival kit, and there are some tasks that a machete is ideally suited for. If you think one of those big South American knives is only good in the jungle or rain forests, think again!

How to: Make jerky from small game meat

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Venison or big game jerky is common, but few use small game animals as the basis of that frontier staple. Making jerky is a great way to clean out the freezer at the end of the season and create tasty snacks out of last year’s harvest.

Build a better concrete block rocket stove from recycled or salvaged materials

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In the aftermath of a disaster, such as a tornado,purifying drinking water may be a priority. The quickest, safest method could be boiling. Here’s how to make an effective stove out of salvaged materials.

Recipe: Make healthy bannock – an easy multi-grain survival bread

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Some useful, very basic, recipes for wheat flour should be included any prepper/survival/ Bug Out backpack. Here’s how to add a few ingredients to make flour-based survival foods more nutritious.

Pipe tomahawk provides touchstone with past

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One of my readers wrote, “Loved the story about the flintlock rifle. When are you going to tell us about that pipe tomahawk that goes with it?” So, here it is, folks – a good tale about a man who loved to make a well crafted tool and weapon, and gracious enough to give it […]

Ten Do-It-Yourself Mothers Day Gifts for Under $10

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What useful, fun gift can you get the prepper and/or survival mom when the budget is tight? Try a bunch of items, all made by you and bundled into a lovely gift. She’ll love you for it.

What knife do you carry every day?

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Question from Reader: “You’ve written abut the best survival knife, the best EDC knife, the best hunting knife, fillet, pocket knife, etc., etc. Skip the options, the analysis and potential survival scenarios and answer this: What is the knife you have on you right now?”

Urban camouflage: Why you should blend in to walk home after a disaster

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You’re driving home from work, something “big” just happened and you’re completely stuck in gridlock on the highway. You heard the news – it’s really bad and folks are panicked. But, you’re prepared for this scenario. You abandon your car, grab your Get-Your-Ass-Home backpack out of your trunk and start walking. How do you blend in with all the unprepared people, so you don’t become a target for muggers? Here are some ‘fashion’ tips to get you home safe.

Unbelievably Delicious Chocolate Pudding from Dried Survival Food

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Survival food is sustenance and can be delicious, and made easily during a survival or emergency situation. Use mainly simple, long-term storage food items, cooked outdoors, using off-the-grid methods. by Karla Moore This week’s survival recipe is definitely comfort food, and it certainly could provide a much-needed morale boost under survival circumstances! Our family is transitioning to […]

Gear review: Wiggy’s Thule is a great winter camping sleeping bag

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I bought this bag several years ago, and received no compensation for writing this review. At the time of publication, Wiggy’s is not an advertiser on

A reliable sleeping bag is a survival tool, and a faulty one can be dangerous. Here’s what I learned about Wiggy’s sleeping bags.

by Leon Pantenburg

My garage looks like a used outdoor gear store, with backpacks, skiis,  snow shoes, boots and camping stuff in most available crannies. My sleeping bag collection used to be pretty extensive, with probably well over a dozen or so in stock. (Over the years, as my kids have left the nest, I have donated surplus bags to the local Community Center. My inventory is down to a more reasonable level now!)

The Wiggy's Ultima Thule has become my favorite sleeping bag.

The Wiggy’s Ultima Thule has become my favorite sleeping bag.

When my family of five used to go camping together, everyone needed a good bag. Then, when my sons got into Boy Scouts, we were always going somewhere, and camping in all sorts of weather. I experimented with all sorts of sleeping bag styles, weights, insulation and shell material.

While I found a few bags I liked well, at some point, the insulation always deteriorated. When they got to a certain point, they were relegated to loaners. I generally could plan on a zero- rated bag lasting about two or three years.

About three years ago, on the suggestion of survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt,  I took a look at a Wiggy’s sleeping bag.

Several things pre-disposed me to consider buying a Wiggy’s bag:

Made in America: The Wiggy’s factory is located in Junction City, Colorado. Today, all other major sleeping bag manufacturers have moved overseas, and Wiggy’s is the sole American sleeping bag factory.

Lifetime guarantee: Any Wiggy’s bag comes with a no questions asked guarantee.

Machine washable: The cost of cleaning a sleeping bag must be amortized into the purchase price. I’ve seen some sleeping bags come home from scout summer camp that had little hope of ever being really clean again. But Wiggy’s recommends their bags be machine washed after every use.

Lamilite insulation: Lamilite is synthetic, polyester fiber. Wiggy’s brand sleeping bags are the only bags purchased by all branches of the U.S. military, according to the website. The Air Force uses them in their fighters and transports. The Navy uses them on all four and 12-man survival rafts. The Army has them on aircraft and helicopters and the Marines on transports.

This Wiggy's Thule works very well in extreme cold.

This Wiggy’s Thule works very well in extreme cold.

I ordered a Wiggy’s Thule, and it has become my go-to sleeping bag. After using it for several seasons, here is what I’ve learned about the product.

  • The bag is very comfortable to sleep in. I’m five-foot, ten-inches tall and weight 183. The bag fits me very well. There are other sizes for bigger people.My five-foot, six-inch tall wife fits very comfortably in the standard Thule.
  • The Thule came with a pillow that fits perfectly inside the hood. One of the worst things about sleeping in a mummy bag is that most don’t work very well with a pillow inside.  The Wiggy’s pillow/sleeping bag combination is incredibly effective, and I never wake up  because my head slides off the pillow.
  • The zipper is well-designed and easy to use. A quality zipper is critical to sleeping bag efficiency and safety. A jammed zipper in the down position can reduce or eliminate completely the insulating value of the bag. A jammed zipper in the up position could mean you’re trapped in the bag.

After my initial field testing post, I got these unsolicited comments from Bardy Jones, a scoutmaster from Pelham, New York:

“Not sure if Wiggy’s hates me or will love me. Hate me because I am such a bad customer: Love me because why I am.

“I started a kayak tour company in 1988 and because I had bought bags from Jerry Wigutow’s previous company, I ordered 12 Wiggy’s 20 degree bags. Twenty years of use, 10 trips a year at least, washed after every trip = at least 200 washes and about 4,000 stuffing into compression stuff sacks. Makes me tired to think about it, usually my last packing task. The only damage to ANY of these bags is from a too-hot dryer that scalded the nylon off part of a bag. Most of the time they were line dried. They look used, which is fair, (sun from the line drying a part) and I thought about replacing just for a fresh look, but decided they did the job perfectly well.

“Every zipper works great, loft is better than new, the bags are awesome. I feel guilty to have been a one-time customer of Wiggy’s, but when you make a lifetime product, you only need one.” – Bardy Jones

In the final analysis, I really like the Wiggy’s Thule. For the type of winter camping I do in Central Oregon, it meets all my needs and then some. The Tule might be a little heavy for a backpacking bag, but on the other hand, it is just what you need for cold weather camping under most circumstances. The ability to launder the bag, and the cost saving from that  can’t be underestimated.

But as frequently happens, when I get a piece of good gear, I generally get per-emptied by family members.  The Thule has also become my wife’s favorite sleeping bag, and when we go out together, I end up with another bag.

I’m fine with that, though, and budget permitting, there will be another Thule in the family by the time summer camping rolls around.

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Try making hardtack: A great, cheap addition to your survival gear

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Looking for a way to use up surplus flour, or make a cheap trail food or durable survival ration? One answer may be hardtack, a baked, unleavened wheat cracker. As a survival food, hardtack has a proven track record.

by Leon Pantenburg

Vicksburg, MS: My gray-clad brothers-in-arms and I  hunkered down to eat. In the morning, we would do battle with those “heathen Yankee horde” Civil War re-enactors at Champions Hill, between Jackson and Vicksburg,  Mississippi.

I was “under cover” on assignment for the Vicksburg Post to photograph the battle, one of the biggest re-enactments of the year. Except for the Nikon safely hidden  in my haversack, my gear, weapons and accouterments were authentic in every way.

Hardtack can have different ingredients to make it more flavorable.

Hardtack can have different ingredients to make it more flavorable.

Since I was working for the Post, I had to represent the home team and be a Confederate. (This probably caused a minor earth tremor in Ruthven, Iowa, as my great-great-grandfather, James Hallowell,  92th Illinois Infantry, rolled in his grave!)

My only excuse was that like most Confederate soldiers, I had been drafted, thought “The Cause” was illogical, had no choice about being there, and wanted to go home!

I ‘d learned a lot about being a Civil War infantryman in one short, sweltering afternoon: the food was absolutely awful; our wool uniforms were too hot, and felt like you were wearing a sweatsuit: the Kepi-style caps provided no sun protection and the canteens were too small.

The Sargent, sensing my discontent (because of  my constant whining and complaining) picked on me.  He proclaimed to all within hearing distance that I was a “slacker,” and called me a “baboon” when I dropped my canteen during drill. As darkness fell, the re-enactors would sleep under wool blankets, not to stay warm, but to fight off mosquitoes.

But the food was the worst. Dinner was a piece of hardtack, a fatty piece of bacon toasted on a bayonet over a campfire;  horrible boiled coffee brewed in my tin cup and a wormy-looking apple. After eating my meager meal, I was ready to either desert or form a raiding party to attack  the Yankees and get some real food!

A hardtack biscuit

A modern hardtack biscuit

Hardtack is one of the original trail and emergency foods, and it is worth considering if you are a prepper or are interested in wilderness or urban survival.

The advantage is that hardtack is easy to make, transports easily and will last a reasonably long time if stored in appropriate containers. The disadvantage is the bland taste, and traditional toughness.

Even after yeast was discovered by the Egyptians, there was a purpose for unleavened breads. It was easy to carry and durable, so it was standard fare for hunters and warriors.  Centuries later, Christopher Columbus took unleavened bread on his journeys.

Hardtack remained a staple in the New World. During the early settlement of North America, the exploration of the continent, the American Revolution, and on through the American

Hardtack was a durable, if bland-tasting, field ration.

Civil War, armies were kept alive with hardtack.  A basic concept in war is that the side that keeps its soldiers from going hungry will probably win.

Hardtack is also reasonably nutritious. Wheat flour is more than 10% protein and includes Vitamin B. During emergencies, people can live for quite a while on just bread and water.  Although raw flour is hard to digest, in the form of hard bread, it is edible.

No one has determined just when, or how, during the American Civil War, hard bread began to be referred to as hardtack. Apparently,  it was first called hardtack by the Union Army of the Potomac; although the name spread to other units, it was generally referred to as hard bread by the armies of the West.

Regardless of the time frame, if you’re a history buff, prepper or hard-core survivalist, you should consider including hardtack in your emergency food supplies or survival kit. A guaranteed conversation starter at any campfire, campout or outdoor event, hardtack can have a useful place  in today’s survival kit.

(It only takes a few additional ingredients to turbocharge  the nutritional value of hardtack. To each cup of flour in the recipe, add one tablespoon of soy flour, one teaspoon of wheat germ and one teaspoon of powdered milk. There is no difference in the taste, and these ingredients combine to make the bread a complete protein.)

There are many versions and varieties of hardtack recipes: Try some of these to start out.

Army Hardtack Recipe
  • 4 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • Water (about 2 cups)
  • Pre-heat oven to 375° F
  • Makes about 10 pieces


After cutting the squares, press a pattern of four rows of four holes into each square, using a nail or other such object. Do not punch through the dough.  The appearance you want is similar to that of a modern saltine cracker.  Turn each square over and do the same thing to the other side.

Place the squares on an ungreased cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn each piece over and bake for another 30 minutes. The crackers should be slightly brown on both sides.

The fresh crackers are easily broken, but as they dry, they harden and assume the consistency of fired brick.

Swedish Hardtack

I cup water

3 tbsp. vegetable oil

3 tbsp. honey

3 cups rye flour (or 1 1/2 cups rye & 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour)

1  1/2 tbsp. brewer’s yeast (optional)

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix liquids together.  In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients.  Combine the mixtures, stirring to moisten throughout.  Form a ball.  On a floured surface, flatten the dough, and roll out thinly. Cut into squares and prick each cracker with the tines of a fork a couple of times.  Transfer to lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 425° F for around 8 minutes, checking to be sure not to over-brown.  It is best served warm.

Mix: two cups of all-purpose flour and a half teaspoon of salt.  Use more salt for authenticity. Mix by hand. Add a teaspoon of shortening and a half cup of water, stirred in a little at a time to form a very stiff dough.  Beat the dough to a half inch thickness with a clean top mallet or rifle butt.  Fold the sheet of dough into six layers. Continue to beat and to fold the dough a half dozen times until it is elastic. Roll the dough out to a half-inch thickness before cutting it with a floured biscuit cutter or bayonet. Bake for about a half hour in a 325° F oven.

The basic ingredients are flour, salt and water. General directions are also similar: Dissolve the salt in water and work it into flour using your hands.  The dough should be firm and pliable but not sticky or dry. Flatten the dough onto a cookie sheet to about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into squares 3 inches by 3 inches.  Pierce each square with 16 holes about ½ inch apart.  Bake in oven until edges are brown or dough is hard.

Preheat the oven to 400° F For each cup of flour add 1 teaspoon of salt. Mix salt and flour with just enough water to bind. Bake 20-25 minutes.  The longer you bake the hardtack, the more authentic it will appear.

A Sailor’s Diet

In a separate container, mix:

  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.
  • 3 tablespoons honey.
  • 1/2 cup melted bacon drippings or shortening.

Combine the two sets of ingredients. When the dough is thoroughly mixed, roll it out on a floured board to a thickness of about a quarter inch.  Cut out circles of dough with a large drinking glass dipped in flour and put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake for about 5 1/2 minutes at 450° F.

Let the hardtack cool on a wire rack before serving with jam or jelly.



Pilot Bread: Try Alaska’s modern day version of hardtack

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 Hardtack has been an emergency ration since time immemorial. Here’s a look at pilot bread, a modern day version of hardtack that is widely used in rural Alaska. And here’s why it should be considered for your survival gear.

by Leon Pantenburg

I’ve carried and eaten hardtack since my time in the Confederate infantry, and baking it is another history-related activity I enjoy. When I’m really going primitive, hunting with my flintlock rifle, I might pack hardtack, jerky and dehydrated corn for lunch.

Pilot bread is a form of modern hardtack. Consider it as an addition to your storage foods.

Pilot bread is a form of modern hardtack. Consider it as an addition to your storage foods.

But if you’d rather buy a similar hard cracker product for long term storage, take a look at pilot bread. It’s widely available and a good staple to have on hand.  It’s sorta tasty, durable, and has a long shelf life.

If I had to describe pilot bread, I’d call it a salt-less saltine, but with a tougher texture. While the bread is hard, it is easily bitten off, and the texture is much softer than the traditional recipe hardtack I make. Pilot bread also has fewer crumbs than a standard saltine. A nice feature is the durability – pilot bread with peanutbutter and/or fruit jam stands up well to travel in a daypack.

Pilot bread is a common storage food item in Hawaii, and Alaska and The Diamond Bakery “Saloon Pilot” cracker is available in many stores.  Sailor Boy brand Pilot Bread is well-known in the Northwest United States and Alaska, and I got mine at the local Food 4 Less.

It is “a very inspirational food” in Alaska, according to the Sailor Boy Facebook page. Alaskans are among the last to eat hardtack as a significant part of their normal diet. Interbake Foods of Richmond, Virginia, produces much of the commercially available hardtack under the “Sailor Boy” label—98 percent of its production goes to Alaskans.

Originally imported as a food product that could handle rigorous transportation throughout Alaska, pilot bread has become a favored food even as other, less robust foods have become available. Alaskan law requires all light aircraft to carry “survival gear,” including food.

The blue-and-white Sailor Boy Pilot Bread boxes are common at Alaskan airstrips, in cabins, and virtually every village. Whether it’s topped with salmon spread, seal oil or old-school Crisco and sugar, chances are if you’ve ever lived in rural Alaska you’re familiar with that long, rectangular, navy blue box. The Alaska Dispatch claims pilot bread is soul food for rural Alaskans -mothers give it to their babies to teeth on, village grocery stores, no matter how sparse, carry it on their shelves, and seldom does a hunting party venture out in the country, or a family head to fish camp, without a supply stowed away in someone’s bag.

Lots of people have their favorite ways to enjoy them: topped with cheese or Spam or  spread with peanut butter and jam or honey. You can also spread them with ground meat, cheese and tomato sauce and make pizzas.  some people even know how to make “pizzas” with them.

For more info from the Alaska Dispatch click on pilot bread

While I use pilot bread frequently, I also bake hardtack for backcountry trips and the bread’s conversational value around the campfire. Here is a very traditional hardtack recipe from the Civil War. When done, this hardtack has the consistency of a fired brick, and lives up to the nickname of “teeth dullers.”

Hardtack was a staple of military rations during the Civil War.

Hardtack was a staple of military rations during the Civil War.

Army Hardtack Recipe
  • 4 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • Water (about 2 cups)
  • Pre-heat oven to 375° F
  • Makes about 10 pieces

After cutting the squares, press a pattern of four rows of four holes into each square, using a nail or other such object. Do not punch through the dough.  The appearance you want is similar to that of a modern saltine cracker.  Turn each square over and do the same thing to the other side.

Place the squares on an ungreased cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn each piece over and bake for another 30 minutes. The crackers should be slightly brown on both sides.

The fresh crackers are easily broken, but as they dry, they harden and assume the traditional texture. Widgets

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Learn these eight tarp and equipment tips for emergency snow shelter camping

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A tarp shelter can provide very comfortable sleeping quarters in deep snow. Here’s some gear tips to help you build that shelter.

by Leon Pantenburg

This was my shelter. It took about half an hour to construct.

The original plan was to build an igloo to sleep in. Recently, Eagle Scout Sean Jacox and I were at the annual Fremont District Boy Scouts Freezoree, a winter camping event in the deep snow of the Oregon Cascades. Between us, Sean and I have built a couple dozen igloos, and we’re very proficient at throwing up a shelter.

There was about three to four feet of accumulation on the ground, but the snow was too dry for igloo making. The top crust went down for about a foot, then got grainy. It was like shoveling sand, and there was no way to cut blocks.

Plan B was to make trench shelters. The directions are simple: Dig a trench in the snow and cover it with a tarp.

The shelters worked great. Though the temperatures were in the low teens, both of us were very comfortable. But the shelters wouldn’t have worked as well without the correct tarps, equipment and techniques.

Here are some tips and gear for making snow trench shelters.

Get a big enough tarp: When it comes to tarps and ropes, I learn from Bob Patterson. (Check out his creds below.)

A basic tenant, according to Bob, is that people always choose a tarp that is too small.  Remember, the area around the edge is a splash/blow-in (or wet) zone, he says, that is always wet in a rain storm and even worse in a high wind. This also applies to snow and sleet.

“I have two “go-to” tarps.  Both are taffeta nylon, which is heavier than rip-stop but stronger,” he writes.  “One is 12’x12’ and the other is 12’x16’ – I use the 12’x16’ the most.  I’m looking for a larger one, but I’m not going to pay $400 for it.” (Here is a good  go-to tarp.)

In a trench shelter, you need a large enough tarp so you can shovel snow up on the edges. This becomes important if there is wind and blowing snow. Also, the size of the tarp limits the size of the trench.

My 8’x 10′ tarp, which I carry for warmer weather hunting and camping, was barely adequate for my trench shelter. I would have been able to squeeze another person in, but the quarters would have been cramped. I’m upgrading to a 10′ by 12′ for snow camping.

Troop 18 Scoutmater Phil Brummett made a great tree well shelter, which I was happy to inspect!

Phil Brummett made a great tree well shelter, which I was happy to inspect! 

Carry a good shovel: I consider a lightweight backpacking snow shovel to be an essential part of my winter Ten Essentials. Get a good one. Otherwise, that storm will blow in and you’ll be forced to dig with a snowshoe or ski. That doesn’t work all that well, and it isn’t efficient.

Another good choice, recommended by survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt, is the Snow Claw. This is a backcountry snow shovel that fits in a backpack, and works well on a variety of snow conditions.

I helped make a tree well shelter with a snowshoe, and it was a lot of work. You’re better off taking the tools designed for the job.

Know how to use snow anchors: Snow anchors, or dead heads, are nothing more than a stick buried in deep snow. Anchor each corner of the tarp, then shovel snow on the edges. (Here’s how to rig deadheads.)

Cross members: Put your skis and ski poles across the trench to support the ceiling. If a lot of snow is falling, you don’t want the roof to collapse.

That means, you should probably also carry a saw or something to cut branches for roof supports. I like the Swen Saw. I used one in the Boundary Waters several years ago, and friends of mine in Search and Rescue include them in their gear. I’ve carried a folding saw in my hunting daypack for years, for survival and meat processing.

Aluminum tent stakes weigh virtually nothing. Combined with a tarp, and about 25 feet of paracord, the items can be made into an effective emergency shelter.

Aluminum tent stakes weigh virtually nothing. Combined with a tarp, and about 25 feet of paracord, the items can be made into an effective emergency shelter.

Carry paracord: I always carry paracord, in every daypack under every circumstance. Take a minimum of 50 feet. You will use the paracord for tying down tarp ends, making “rafters” for the trench and a multitude of other things. Get the good stuff with seven individual strands.

Take along a candle: A candle can supply a surprising amount of heat in a snow shelter. I lit two in mine, and went off to eat dinner. When I came back in about 25 minutes, the candles had knocked the edge off the chill. It was still cool inside the shelter, but there was a noticeable improvement.

Probably more important is the morale factor. It gets dark early in the winter, and night may last 14 hours. A candle can light the interior very well, allowing you to read or play cards. It will help you pass the time, and stay focused on surviving.

Include a closed cell foam pad: The cold from underneath can suck the heat right out of your body. While you can rely on cutting tree boughs, and lining the floor of the trench, it’s going to take a lot of extra cutting and chopping.

The safest choice is to take a closed cell foam pad, because it is the least affected, and cheapest  material for a sleeping pad.

A quality  inflatable mattress may work, but make sure you get an insulated one. I’ve used an Exped Downmat 7 for about ten years now, and it has performed magnificently. It has kept me warm, even in below zero temperatures when it was the only barrier between me and the ice underneath.

Carry a space blanket: I’m talking about the sturdy, quilted blankets, with one reflector side. This will be the vapor barrier on the floor, and the reflector side will direct heat back into the pad and bag. DON’T get those flimsy mylar blankets that retail for about $2. They are fragile and tear easily.

Knowledge: This doesn’t weight anything, and you can take it with you anywhere. Before you go into the backcountry, anticipate a worst case scenario, then think about how you might deal with it. Consider what tools you need and what techniques you might need to learn.

Then practice. And prepare to enjoy yourself in the wilderness!

Robert Patterson is on my short list of people to go into the wilderness with. Bob is a skilled outdoorsman, an avid deer hunter, and for more than two decades,  has done an annual solo, two-week canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

His career choices make Bob a great guy to review gear. A retired firefighter and first responder, Bob was also an EMT,  and his job required he be out in all sorts of nasty, cold Minnesota weather. (Bob knows his foul weather gear and is my go-to guy for questions about winter camping, rain gear or other survival clothing!)

Bob is also a retired member of the National Ski Patrol, and a certified rope rescue instructor.


Protect your head with a wool hat | WeatherWool Boonie Hat review

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If I’m outdoors, chances are I’m wearing wool. The WeatherWool Boonie™ is a hat to consider for cool, wet weather.

by Leon Pantenburg

I was sent this hat to review, and I will send it back after completing field testing. At the time of publication, WeatherWool™ has no sponsorship relationship with

Us follicle-challenged males who go outdoors become hat lovers. That’s my situation. I’m not completely bald – to my surprise – but with my DNA, a shiny head is inevitable.

The Boonie is based on a classic hat pattern.

The Boonie is based on a classic hat pattern.

So any time I go outside, I’m wearing some sort of head covering. In the fall and early winter that will probably mean a wool hat. I have a collection.

My most-used outdoor hat is a hunter orange Bailey. I got it in 1991 after starting hunting backcountry elk and deer in Idaho. That hat has been all over, and protected my head from rain, sleet, snow, hail and sun. It’s been folded, crumpled up in a tent, stepped on, wadded up and suffered serious use and abuse.

But I wore it in October on an Oregon deer hunt, and despite my wife’s persistent, ongoing campaign, have no plans to get rid of it.

A good wool hat is an investment for the outdoorsperson. My favorite style is a wide-brimmed hat, with a 2-1/2 to 4-inch brim. The 4-inch is best for rainy weather – it protects my glasses, and the back will drip off or hit the middle of my back on my rain gear. The shorter brim is great for urban settings, or when bow hunting in swampy, deciduous forests.

So the 100 percent wool Weatherwool Boonie Hat™ has potential.

Why Wool?

There are a lot of reasons for wearing wool clothing. (Here’s several.) But in a nutshell:

  • Wool is very fire resistant. Polypropylene and other synthetics will melt when a spark from the campfire hits them.
  • Wool is warm when wet, breathes well and insulates as well or better than just about anything.
  • Wool can be an organic, renewable and sustainable material with a tiny carbon footprint. Synthetics and plastics use petroleum.
  • Wool sweaters and pants can be cheap and they are easily available – check out your local surplus store for bargains. Look for wool sweaters at thrift stores and garage sales.
  • Wool garments seldom need cleaning, and when they do, a simple hand wash with mild soap will generally do the job.

Here’s the good stuff about the WeatherWool Boonie:

Design: The Boonie is made completely of  FullWeight Fabric.

I wore the Boonie to walk my dog one night when it was windy and in the low 20s. It kept my head warm  enough, but my ears got cold. Obviously, those conditions required a full-blown arctic quality head covering. The Boonie should be great in cool fall and spring weather.

Style: The Boonie hat has a shapeless, floppy brim, and many people, including some of our hardcore, elite military personnel, like it.

I don’t.

As my wife and daughter will verify, I don’t give a rip about what outdoor clothing looks like, as long as it does its job. (I have an ongoing struggle with my wife as she seeks to find and get rid of perfectly good outdoor clothing, just because it shows a little wear.)

Gilligan wore a Boonie style hat.

Gilligan wore a Boonie style hat.

Me wearing the Boonie.

But the floppy, Boonie style hat looks sloppy to me, and I look like a dork wearing one. After all, Gilligan wore a boonie with a 2-inch brim. I don’t like how the short, floppy brim can funnel water down my neck.

And Jed Clampett wore a floppy wide-brim hat, designed to make him look like a hillbilly.

Now, I’m OK with that hillbilly look.  (Actually, Jed is one of my role models, and I admire his survival skills, wisdom and business acumen. Great time for a “Deliverance” joke…)

Jed Clampett wore a wider floppy brim hat.

Jed Clampett wore a wider floppy brim hat.

But I want a stiffer brim on that outdoor hat that will shed moisture and protect my head from the sun and rain. If I were investing in a hat, I would make sure it had a stiff brim. If necessary, the Boonie brim can be starched to make it stiffer.

Tall crown: The Boonie has a taller crown, designed to help keep your ears warm. It is possible to wear the hat a high on your head. Then, if necessary, it can be pulled down to cover the tops of your ears to keep them warm. The idea is hat the brim can also be pulled down along the sides to provide more protection.

That technique will work in cooler temperatures, but the Boonie is not a winter hat for cold weather.

Color: The Boonie comes in four different colors to blend in with various scenarios. I like the cammo pattern. It isn’t too radical, and it fits in well in urban situations. Get a solid black color if you are anticipating blending into an urban setting.

Quality: This is evident from looking at the tightness of the cloth weave, quality stitching, and overall design. Weather Wool makes quality products.

Made in the U.S.A: All WeatherWool products are made in the United States of American wool. Everybody in the wool production, manufacturing, sales and distribution chain makes a living wage, pays local, state and federal taxes, and contributes to their community. Buy American!

My orange wool hunting hat has faded over the years, but still does the job.

My orange wool hunting hat has faded over the years, but still does the job.

Do you need a WeatherWool Boonie?

Everyone needs some sort of head covering outdoors. There is tremendous heat loss through the head, and some sort of insulation on the head is needed to keep a person from getting sunstroke or overheated in hot sun.

IMHO, the popular baseball cap style is a miserable choice for protection from the elements. The rain or snow will drip down your neck, the brim is generally inadequate to block the sun or rain, and in general, the design is ineffective for hard use.

In hot weather, a baseball cap doesn’t shade your neck and cheeks, and sunburn is a given.

To me, that rules out that style of hat.

Do you need a wool hat? Well, it is interesting that some companies famous for their synthetic outerwear that now recommend and sell wool base layers. And despite all the research and technology, many military forces in colder climates stick with wool winter wear.

Here’s my take: One size doesn’t fit all in anything outdoor-related.  A hat I don’t care for may please you. And the hat that doesn’t meet my requirements may be just what you’re looking for.

If you’re considering a quality wool hat, take a look at the WeatherWool Boonie. It retails for $115.00, postpaid. The Boonie may becomes your go-to cool weather hat.

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Bark River Seax: Ancient design + modern materials = high performance knife

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There’s a reason this knife is a classic. It flat-out works.

by Leon Pantenburg

Show me a blade design that has withstood the test of time, and I’ll show you a prime contender for that elusive “do-it-all” knife.

The Bark River Seax may be that. I got one as soon as they came out in 2015.


My Bark River Seax got a forced patina after the blade was stained with citric acid.


  • Overall Length: 10.125 Inches
  • Blade Length: 4.8 Inches
  • Cutting Edge: 4.6 Inches
  • Blade Steel: A2 @ 58-60rc
  • Blade Thickness: .187 Inch
  • Weight: 10 Ounces
  • Made in the USA

Pronounced “sax,” the Seax design goes back to the Middle Ages. Back then, every knife was handmade and expensive. The average peasant could probably only afford one, so of necessity it was used for everything, from cutting fibers on the farm, to whittling handles for tools to butchering livestock to cooking – you name it.

The peasant would have chosen his knife design with care, because a poor blade and handle design would have been a really bad idea.

The BR Seax is massive and the design grows on you. As is my custom, all new knives start out in the kitchen, and are used as needed for culinary work.

But then the knife is used for whatever project I happen to be working on. In this case, that project was helping put in a garden. The Seax was used to whittle plant stakes, cut rope, twine and PVC pipe, open plastic seedling and fertilizer containers and it did some digging. The edge held, despite all this. A quick strop quickly got is shaving sharp again.

Later, it was used to clean some fish for dinner. A Seax sucks as a fillet knife, but it worked just fine to behead, gut and clean a couple of catfish.

Well, it’s been more than two years,  and the Seax has found a permanent home on the knife rack. It  is used  regularly for any carving and slicing tasks that come up. The Seax is particularly useful for cutting lemons, oranges and other citrus fruit, as well being used a lot for slicing meat and fish and chopping onions, potatoes and any other vegetable.

This means the A2 steel gets stained from the citric acid. That is no big deal – the blade got a forced vinegar/lemon juice patina, and it has that well-used look I find appealing.

I’ve heard that other Seax users swear by them for butchering and processing large animals. I have done a lot of meat cutting and slicing with my Seax, but have not tried many hunting-related tasks.

My Saex has the patina of two years of constant use.

My Seax has the patina of two years of constant use.

Here’s the good stuff:

Steel: I love A2 steel. It holds an edge really well, and is easy to re-sharpen. A2 will get stained, especially if it is exposed to blood or a lot of citric acid. I don’t care. After two years of constant use, my Seax has a well-used, well-earned patina I find appealing.


Blade length: My favorite, overall blade length is about five inches. I find this to be the best compromise between a blade large enough to gut a buck and small enough to whittle small wood items.

Blade thickness: I favor thin blades because they slice better. With the tough, modern A2 steel, I don’t see a lot of need for a thick blade in this kind of  knife. I can’t see an instance when you’d need the extra lateral strength a thick blade might offer.

The handle is generous, even for my large hands.

The handle is generous, even for my large hands.

As it is, I would like this knife better if the blade was thinner. Since it is used mostly for slicing and chopping, a thinner blade would work better.

Handle: The handle is generous, even for me with my large hands. The large diameter and ergonomically-designed handle provides a secure grip. Mine is black micarta, and my experience is that the micarta gets “grippier” when damp or wet.

Something to consider when buying any knife: Can you use it safely with gloves on? This is a big deal for me, since I am frequently out in deep snow and cold temperatures. The Seax handle is large enough to grip securely, even when wearing wool mittens.

Point: People looking at the Seax point will immediately notice how much it resembles a sheepfoot or Wharncliffe.

A Wharncliffe blade is similar in profile to a sheep’s foot, but the curve of the back edge starts closer to the handle and is more gradual. Its blade is much thicker than a knife of comparable size. Wharncliffes were popular with sailors because the tip’s shape prevented accidental penetration of the work or the user’s hand with the sudden motion of a ship.

This is another proven part of the design.

Spine: The spine is ground at 90 degrees, like an ice skate. That allows using it to shred tinder or scrape a ferrocerium rod.

The Saex, top, and Genesis are low profile, high performers.

The Seax, top, and L.T. Wright Genesis are low profile, high performers.

Weight: At 10 ounces, this knife is no lightweight. A Seax could certainly do anything a backpacker might need, but at the cost of extra weight and tremendous overkill. Still, it could work very well as a survival knife.

Do you need a Seax?

Well, it depends on what you might be using it for.

A Seax is a hardworking tool that will take a lot of use and abuse without any problems. But it’s not particularly pretty, and most people won’t be all that impressed with it right off the bat.

Until it gets used. Then, you find the Seax works great for just about everything. Gradually, it will become that knife you use for just about anything.

Then it fits into that exclusive “that knife” category, composed of a few select knives you can depend on for everything. When in doubt, you reach for that knife. For me, that category includes the L.T. Wright Genesis, Cold Steel SRK, Bark River Bravo, and a few others.

You do need “that knife.”

Check out our other survival knife reviews.

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How to: Choose the right sleeping bag

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One piece of gear you don’t want to have to improvise is a sleeping bag. If you can’t sleep at night because you’re cold, the next day is guaranteed to be exhausting.

by Leon Pantenburg

I graduated, less than penniless, from Iowa State University in 1976, and decided to go backpacking in the mountains.

So I did. Trips to the Bighorn and Pryor Mountains in Wyoming only whetted my appetite for more, and I couch-surfed at John Nerness’ house in Mountainview, CA, between trips. In addition to several weekenders around central California,  my grand finale was a 14-day hike of the John Muir Trail in the Sierras.

My backpack came from Target. My clothing was whatever I had – at the time I’d never heard of cotton killing anyone. My shelter was a piece of visqueen. Freeze-dried food was too expensive, for the most part, so my diet consisted of such things as macaroni and cheese. I borrowed a Swea 123 backpacking stove.

This 1977 photo from Lassen National Forest in northern California shows my gear was pretty sketchy.  I did invest in a quality knife, sleeping bag and boots.

This 1977 photo from Lassen National Forest in northern California shows my gear was pretty sketchy.

But I didn’t scrimp on a few items. My Buck folding knife was purchased for $25 at the Ace Hardware Store in Lovell, WY. My boots were on sale at the War Surplus Store in in Powell, WY, for about $30.

But my sleeping bag was bought at an upper end backpacking store for about $80, which, at the time, was about a third of all my “assets.”

That gear was used extensively in the next few years. The Buck, a Swea 123 and the sleeping bag went on several major backpacking trips and ended being used on my six-month canoe trip down the Mississippi River. None of this gear ever let me down.

Today, I have close to a dozen sleeping bags, ranging from indoor sleepover styles to a pair of  -15 degree winter bags. All  have their specific purposes. You will decide what the best sleeping bag is for your needs, and here are some considerations.

Where will the bag be used? Location is  important. I have slept on top of a sleeping bag in Louisiana, when the night time temperature was about 90 degrees, and snuggled deep in an arctic bag one night during a raging Iowa blizzard when the temperature got to -10 degrees, not counting wind chill.

Both bags were adequate for their jobs, but radically different from each other. One could not have safely replaced the other in those dramatically-different circumstances.

If you will be tent camping, you won’t need as warm a bag as if you’re sleeping under the stars. But that doesn’t mean you can or should buy a cheap, light bag!

Possible uses: The size, weight and composition of the insulation will all  be determined by the potential uses of the bag. A backpacking mummy bag is different from a full-cut bag designed for car camping. The car camping or elk camp sleeping bag, that won’t be carried anywhere, can be roomier, bigger and heavier. If you intend to backpack, or canoe, you’ll need something smaller and more compact.

Igloo interior during winter camping outing.

A heavy winter bag would be needed to sleep in this igloo. It would also need to be one that dries out easily.

Mummy or full cut: These are the two main styles of bag.You wear a mummy bag, so if claustrophobia is an issue, don’t get one! (One of my mummy bags is so snug-fitting it feels like I’m wearing a loose sausage casing. It doesn’t bother me, but make sure you to crawl inside any prospective bag in the store before buying it.) A full-cut bag is roomier, but the additional bulk and weight makes it harder to backpack.

Type of insulation: Sleeping bag insulation can be broken down basically into two categories: down and synthetic. Decide before buying: What is the potential for the bag getting wet?

Goose down insulation is the classic insulation used in sleeping bags, and, despite all the technological advances, is still the most efficient insulation around. Goose down provides the most warmth for the least bulk and weight, allowing for very warm sleeping bags that are in very, very small packages.

But goose down insulation is USELESS when wet, and it can take forever to dry. This could be deadly: What if you fall in a creek, soak all your gear and desperately need to warm up? Or suppose part of the bag gets soaked inadvertently during a rain? I don’t own a down bag, and get along very well with my synthetics.

But some of the very experienced Boy Scout leaders I backpack and camp with do use down bags. They swear by them, and I must admit, the tiny, light bundles the down bags compress into is very appealing!

Synthetics: There are a variety of good synthetic insulation fills on the market, and
generally you’ll get what you pay for. Check the internet and manufacturers’ specifications to decide which will be best for you.

My first synthetic bag paid for itself in my first two days in the Sierras. Here’s an excerpt (to read the whole story, click on  my 1976 John Muir Trail Journal:

Sunday July 25
Last night was the worst I’ve spent in the mountains so far. It rained all night, and I got completely soaked in my sleeping bag. The rain started after I was sound asleep, and drenched me before I even woke up. (I’d slept under the stars, and not bothered to set up the tarp).
The bag kept me warm, but it was sure was wet and clammy. Stayed awake most of the night. The rain kept stopping, then pouring down, so I kept getting wet, then getting wetter.
My camp was at 10,500 feet, so the temperature was pretty cold. Some of my clothes got wet, but I made sure to keep my boots dry.
“Got up, wrung out the sleeping bag and placed everything on rocks to dry. The sun is just coming up over the mountains, and the sky is clear. Looks like another nice day.

It rained, intermittently for  nine days straight after that, and keeping anything dry was a real struggle. I’m glad I didn’t have a down bag on that trip!

Weight: Sleeping bag weight is supposed to be a determination of how warm the bag might be. But beware! A lightweight down sleeping bag will be very warm, while a heavy, cheap cotton-filled bag will be heavy and cool. A better indication of warmth is probably the temperature rating.

Temperature Rating: My experience is that the manufacturers are very optimistic and that these ratings are more a statement of purpose than anything else! My rule of thumb is to look at the temperature rating and subtract 20 degrees.

Also, some people sleep colder than others. My snow camping equipment consists of a four-season dome tent and a minus 15 degree sleeping bag. I have slept comfortably in that setup down to zero, during blizzards with gale-force winds. But my wife took the same gear on a June Girl Scout campout in Oregon and was very comfortable.

What about getting sleeping bags that zip together so the loved one can snuggle? Again, this will depend on the couple.  If one is a colder sleeper than the other, both will be miserable.

Make your sleeping bag choices wisely. Otherwise, you may have some really long, uncomfortable nights to ponder and regret your hasty choices!
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Make A Practical Water Purification System Part of Your Survival Kit

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In a disaster, no single item or piece of gear can absolutely guarantee your ability to purify water for drinking. But several carefully-chosen pieces of water purification equipment might give you a fighting chance!

by Leon Pantenburg

As a newspaper reporter covering various natural disasters, including tornadoes, floods and forest fires, I noticed a common aspect among all of them: Drinking water was always in short supply.

My first flood taught me that. I was working for the Vicksburg Evening Post and was sent to photograph the high water in Chickasaw Bayou, north of Vicksburg, MS. The nearby Mississippi River had reclaimed some of its flood plain, sending high water into a subdivision and forcing residents to leave.

I rode in a jonboat with a sheriff’s deputy, and we cruised the flooded streets. It

A drainage ditch might be the only source of water you can find.

was Mississippi summer hot, the heat reflected off the muddy, nasty water and the bottom of the metal boat, and the  deputy and I baked in the sunshine.

Though  there were miles and miles of water, there was not one drop to drink (to update and steal a cliche from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”). I would have gotten  really thirsty, except the deputy was prepared with extra water and willing to share!

I’m not sure anything could have made that vile floodwater stew after Katrina potable! But regardless of where you are, staying hydrated is one of your first priorities.

Where I live in Central Oregon, I am within striking distance of high desert, mountains, temperate rain forests, the Pacific coast and beautiful deciduous forests. I love to roam all these areas, and frequently, during hunting season, may end up miles from the vehicle and my backup water supply. But these areas all require different variations of hydration gear, and here’s how to decide what will work best for your region.

Here’s an important consideration before choosing hydration gear: How long will it take to work? Some sport bottle systems work instantaneously – you fill them up, prime the filter and drink. This can invaluable if you need to quickly re-hydrate a child or someone who is dehydrated to the point of medical emergency.

The chemical treatments, such as the Polar Pure, can require upward of 30 minutes to work, depending on the water temperature. Some filters just take a long time to work. Generally speaking, boiling is not a particularly quick operation. The time it takes to boil water varies, depending on altitude, heat source, shape of container etc.

Buy this filter.

Here’s what I carry as part of my hydration system, and so far, everything has served me well. (Many of these items are multi-use):

Water Containers: You must have durable, large capacity water containers available. If you’re out all day in the desert or a flood, for example,

The Nalgene in the center is what I drink from and the Platypus flexible bottles on either side are backups.

there probably won’t be a place or chance to replenish your drinking water, and all you’ll have is what you carry. Also, you might find someone without any water at all. You don’t want to give away your backup!

  • Nalgene bottle: I like the wide-mouth model, and modify mine with a paracord loop and duct tape. The loop is designed so the bottle can be carried on my belt, or tied to a cord to lower into a stock tank, depression or water source that is hard to get to. Don’t think you can just tie something onto the lid retainer – chances are it will break at some point, and as these things go, probably when you need it the most.

Duct tape is useful for everything, and around the water bottle is a convenient place to carry it!

  • Platypus flexible water containers:  These collapsible water containers are available in various sizes as water storage units and they roll up into a small, lightweight pack when empty. I generally carry two or three large-sized extras, rolled up and empty, in my daypack, since they weigh next to nothing and don’t take up much space.   Then, if you need to carry water from a spring or other water source, you won’t have to improve. (Tip: Since you will probably need a minimum of a gallon of water per day, it makes sense to take enough flexible water containers to haul a gallon!)

Tin or metal cup for boiling or dipping water out of hard-to-reach places. Boiling water is probably the safest, most effective method of water purification available, providing you have a heat source, and a tin cup works great and is incredibly useful.

I usually carry a large (about 24-ounce capacity), metal cup for several tasks. My trusty, large blue enamel cup and a spoon comprised my mess kit for nine days in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. I never needed anything else. I have brewed countless cups of tea or coffee over various heat sources with that piece of gear, and I don’t leave home without one!

How long should you boil the water to purify it? Bring the water to a boil, and that should kill anything that boiling will

This Central Oregon high desert spring is the only water source for miles. The water will require purification before using.

This Central Oregon high desert spring is the only water source for miles. The water will require purification before using.

kill. Water boils at 212 degrees, then vaporizes. Extended boiling will not make the water hotter or kill more nasties, but it will use up more of your fuel!

Polar Pure or Potable Agua: These are chemical purifiers, and require a certain time period for them to work. I used the Polar Pure system exclusively on a nine-day canoe trip in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters and the system worked really well. Potable Agua comes in capsules and is easy to carry and use. Either Polar Pure of Potable Aqua goes on every outing. (Order Polar Pure here.)

Six-foot piece of aquarium tubing: I got this tip from survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt. Peter recommends including the tubing in case you find water in a crack or crevice and can’t get to it. Just stick the tube in the water and suck it out.

Coffee filter and bandanna: If you can filter the mud and debris out of the water, it will make any filter last that much longer. In especially turbid, muddy water, wrap the coffee filter around the bottom of any filter and attach it with a rubber band. It will help! The bandanna has many uses, including serving as a water filter. A clean one, that you haven’t used to wipe your nose, is preferable!

Large garbage bag: Another multi-use item. Use this to catch rain or dew, or as a reservoir for holding water.

Water filter: Some lightweight  method of filtering and purifying water can be incredibly useful.  Several companies make sport bottles with filters in them. Use is simple – fill the bottle and suck the water through the filter.

These are the best for hikes along streams, or in areas where you know there is running water available.

If the water is really nasty, two drops of plain chlorinated bleach or iodine can be added to each refill before filtering. This will kill minute pathogens such as viruses, and the disinfectant will then be filtered from the water entirely removing its odor, color and taste.

So, these items work for me. My hydration system is set up with the idea that there is a piece of equipment that should be able to handle any situation. Do your research, select your equipment carefully and include an integrated hydration system in every survival kit.

And make sure to  use your common sense to stay hydrated in the first place!

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