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Survival guide and tips

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First I want to say

I thought I would share some ideas I have collected from the web and from personal experience. The power goes out here a couple times a year. Usually it is on within 12 hours, but there were times when I could go 5 nights without power, and almost always it was during cold weather (like ice storms).

This guide is intended to give you pointers on how to prepare for emergencies. It's better to be prepared than not. Here in Michigan we periodically have power outages, even in the big cities like Grand Rapids (where I live). Just Friday (April 2003) we had a bad ice storm and the power was out for 48 hours. Temps got to 19F at night. I only had a gas fireplace to keep the whole house warm and keep the pipes from freezing.

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You can only live without water for 7 days. I haven't seen any articles about how long you can be conscious, or walking around, or doing things for yourself, so this 7 days is probably a moot point. (Actually, some people say you should not go without water for more than 3-4 days.) You lose 2-3 quarts of water per day from body functions, and sweating. You need to drink a minimum of 2 quarts of water or liquids per day.

First, a note about water containers. You should ALWAYS designate one container for "dirty" unfiltered water, and another for "clean" filtered water. NEVER get dirty water inside a clean water container or from then on consider it a "dirty" container, and it must be decontaminated. Pathogens that can make you very sick can be in the tiny droplets of water left behind after you rinse a "clean" container which accidentally contained "dirty" water. Don't take the chance. Wash out the now dirty container with a bleach solution.

Get a 1 micron or smaller water filter to filter your own water from melted snow or a stream. Or store water for your family. A person needs a minimum of 2 quarts of water per day just for drinking. The best filters are NOT the pump kind. Think, if you're starving and you need to pump water for 20 minutes just to get a quart, it is not fun. (I've been there.) Get a gravity fed water filter, where the dirty water feeds down from the top, through a filter, into another container. That way, you dump water in the top, and go off and do other things while it filters itself. The better filters cost from $100-$300 and can filter 10,000-26,000 gallons of water before needing a new filter. (That's pretty cheap water!)

First, prefilter your water to get out the large junks of junk by passing it through a (clean) sock, nylon poncho, or coffee filter. This will greatly lengthen the life of your filter.

Some filters just filter out bacteria down to 1 micron (or whatever size your filter is). Others use iodine or some other technique of killing viruses and other smaller organisms. These are better filters. However, they will not filter out or neutralize chemically polluted water. This means you have to have a clean water source (not polluted with industrial chemicals) in the first place. Find one, or use fresh snow in the winter. Some filters last for 100 gallons, others last for 1000 gallons. Look at how long they last, and how much they cost. I.e. how much does it cost to filter one gallon of water?

Ex: a filter alone costs $50 and filters 500 gallons of water. So it costs $.10 to filter a gallon of water. Also, some filters will last much longer if they are cleanable. Some are not cleanable. Example 2: a Berkefeld filter costs $200 but filters 10,000 gallons of water. That's $.02 per gallon. Very cheap for gravity filtered water!

Another way to purify water is to bring it to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. This will kill bacteria and viruses, but it will not get rid of chemical contaminents. Pressure cookers can be used to speed the boiling process. Solar cookers can be used but these are only useful in sunny seasons or sunny climates. One solar cooker utilized black tubing with an automotive radiator valve at the "clean" end. The valve opened when the water was hot enough, and closed when cooler water got near the valve. (, link seems dead now)

Yet another way is to use iodine tablets found in camping stores. 1 tablet will purify 1 quart of water usually. But this leaves a bad taste in the water.

UV Light. High doses of ultraviolet light energy at a wavelength of 254 nanometers destroys pathogenic microbes by disabling their reproductive process. Without the ability to reproduce, the microbe is harmless and considered dead. "Party" UV lights can be bought at larger general stores, but I don't know the wavelength of the light. (NOTE: "party" or blacklight lamps do not disable the germs because they do not use the correct wavelength. You must buy special lamps. These are also called "germicidal" UV lamps. Try hospital or barber shop supply houses.)

An activated charcoal filter can kill the bacteria, but not the spores (like Giardia) and not viruses. Activated charcoal can be bought at pet stores, if they sell fish supplies.

Bleach. To store water, add 5-8 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Use a container where the sun won't get in.
Available Chlorine Drops per gallon of clear water
1% chlorine in bleach...40 drops per gallon.
4 to 6% chlorine in bleach...8 drops per gallon.
7 to 10% chlorine in bleach...4 drops per gallon.
The treated water should be mixed thoroughly and allowed to stand for 30 minutes. The water should have a slight chlorine odor if it is ok to drink. If not, repeat the dosage and allow the water to stand for an additional 15 minutes. If the treated water has too strong a chlorine taste, it can be made more pleasing by allowing the water to stand exposed to the air for a few hours or by transferring it from one clean container to another several times.

Granular Calcium Hypochlorite (chlorine treatment for pools). Add and dissolve one heaping teaspoon of high-test granular calcium hypochlorite (approximately 1/4 ounce) for each 2 gallons of water. The mixture will produce a stock chlorine solution of approximately 500 mg/L, since the calcium hypochlorite has an available chlorine equal to 70 percent of it's weight. To disinfect the water, add the chlorine solution in the ratio of one part of chlorine solution to each 100 parts of water to be treated. This is roughly equal to adding 1 pint (16 oz.) of stock chlorine to each 12.5 gallons of water to be disinfected. To remove any objectionable chlorine odor, aerate the water by transferring it from one clean container to another several times.

Chlorine Tablets. Chlorine Tablets containing the necessary dosage for drinking water disinfection can be purchased in a commercially prepared form. These tablets are available from drug and sporting goods stores and should be used as stated in the directions. When instructions are not available, use one tablet for each quart of water to be purified.

Prefiltering water. Be sure to prefilter your water before putting it through the water filter. This means using a fine mesh or cloth to filter out debris and sand. Then let the prefiltered water go through your good filter. This will make the good filter last longer and increase times between cleaning it. Items you can use for prefilters: nylon stockings, densly woven cotten cloth (tshirt or sweatshirt), coffee filter in a funnel.

Be careful of straw or bottle type water purifies. Make sure they say they kill or filter bacteria and virii. Some only take chlorine out of the water and do nothing for the bacteria.

For other drinkable water sources in your home in an emergency:

Transpiration. Trees and other plants naturally give off water vapor as part of their process of photosynthesis. By tying a clear or translucent plastic bag around a bunch of branches, you can trap and condense the water vapor. Tie off the open end on the branch, and make a low spot using a 1/2 inch rock placed inside the bag. Cut a slit in the bottom of the low spot, then tie with string, or rubber band, or twist tie. Open the bag and drink when you want to.

One article says that rainwater collected for drinking should not be collected from roofs with asphalt shingles or lead flashing. I suppose you could filter it and it would be fine to drink.


How will you store water? You can buy 5 gallon containers, or use lots of clean milk jugs. Water only stores this way for about 1 year, then you have to use it up. Will you have to lock it up from greedy or lazy neighbors who didn't prepare? Will you need to build a lockable storage area? Will you need to buy latches, locks? Water weighs 8.5 pounds per gallon in case you want to store some in your attic. Then just run a hose down to your kitchen area and you have a gravity fed water supply. Check with local building inspectors or builders to find out where in your attic the strongest point is, and how much water you can store up there! A general rule is, generally outside walls are load-bearing and are more sturdy, inside walls are not meant to bear loads of weight above them.

Sources of water filters

Flushing toilets

This is all fine for drinking water, but what if you have a power outage at home, how do you flush the toilets? In cities, water pressure is maintained by large water towers, but these are filled by electric pumps. When the pumps stop, eventually the pressure in these will run out. But in a city you will still have water pressure from the towers for 1-3 days, depending on usage. In rural areas, water pumps are run by electricity, so they are useless as soon as the power goes out.

If you know about a storm coming, fill up your bathtubs with water and put a 5 gal bucket in the room with the toilet. The bath water can be put into the bucket to flush a toilet. You will need 3-4 gallons to flush a typical US toilet. In the winter, get two 5gal buckets filled with snow and put them in the bathroom. The snow will eventually melt, and you can use one, then while the first is filled with snow, the 2nd can be used later. Try to conserve water and only flush if someone goes "#2".

In the summer you can catch rainwater from the roof (from gutters if you have them) or get water from a stream or lake. You will not be drinking this water so it will be fine for flushing.

Note: water is heavy, 9 pounds per gallon, so a full 5 gal bucket weighs 45 lbs. Only the big people will be able to haul this amount of weight. So be nice to the big, meaty people! They always get stuck with the hard work.


A person can survive without food for about 2 weeks. Again, the info I've read didn't mention how long they would be conscious, walking about, or caring for themselves without food. Getting a supply of canned food is a good idea. Dried food is good too so get a good food dehydrator, perhaps 2. Use one for a backup. (NOTE: they usually use electricity and will be useless without it.) Dried food found at camping stores is very expensive ($3-10 for one meal for one person) so making your own dried food is a good alternative. Store dried food in heavy (freezer type) plastic bags, not the flimsy sandwich bags.

Food suggestions. Stock up on already dried foods like rice, pasta, raisins, dates, instant mashed potatoes and other dried foods. Food dryers work well -- if you have electricity. But they take 24-72 hours to dry one batch of food.

How will you cook your food or boil water if the electricity goes out? Do you have a gas stove and enough gas? Propane is easiest to use. "White gas" stoves can be difficult to start, especially outside on windy days.

Identifying wild food. Here is that general rule for identifying berries: red is usually ok, black/blue = maybe ok, white = POISONOUS, don't eat. Don't eat wintergreen berries, which are small round red berries on the ground found in the late fall and early winter. The leaves of the plant, about 1-2 inches high, smell like wintergreen when broken. Avoid all fungi and mushrooms, it is EXTREMELY hard to identify the edible ones. Do not eat fish or water animals (crayfish, mollusks) as they concentrate pollutants in their tissues.

If you are desperate, insects, grubs and worms are edible, except for spiders and other poisonous insects (fire ants, wasps, bees, etc.).


Again, is your family strong enough to survive rationing? Or will they break into food when you're not looking? Will you need to lock it up? I recommend storing 2 weeks of food per person.

Heating and cooking

If you lose power and possibly other utilities, it could be cold here for those in the northern hemisphere, like the US. And that means you need heat. Here are some ideas for making heat, and making your own stoves and heating devices. As with any device which burns a substance, it will generate fumes harmful to you. Be sure to vent these fumes outside somehow. My propane heater recommends 24 square inches of a vent opening to the outside, for example. These ideas are in no particular order, but I prefer heating with propane. I think it has fewer risks associated with the benefits and cost.

Ideas for tinder for building a fire.

Finding fuel for a fire. The better fuel to use for a fire is hardwood: oak, maple, birch, ash, walnut. But softwoods will also work: pine, cedar, spruce.

Starting a fire. You can start a fire with matches, a regular lighter with fuel. If you do not have fuel in the lighter, fray out some cotton ball, place it next to the flint, and spark away. When the cotton is lit, place it carefully under some tinder.

Waterproofing matches. To effectively waterproof matches, you must coat the whole stick with wax. You see, with waterproof matches where only the head is coated, when you strike the match, the head burns in about 2 seconds, then the fire goes out when it hits the wet wood. You can dip the whole match in wax once, twice for the head, to waterproof them. When using the match, hold the head level or pointing down so hot wax does not drip on your hands, or use pliers to hold it.

Flammable agents to help get a fire started.

See also these links:


More light links:

Storage, in general

5 gallon buckets

5 gallon buckets are great for all kinds of uses. Here are some sample uses. NOTE: when carrying 5 gallon buckets of water, they are quite heavy. Be sure to balance your load and carry one equally weighted bucket in each hand, so you don't hurt your back. Always try to balance your load when carrying heavy things. Or make a yoke, to balance 2 buckets on your shoulders.

Where do you get 5 gallon buckets? They hold pickles, paint, blacktop sealer, stain, drywall mud (aka joint compound), and more. Get them from fast food restaurants, companies who seal asphalt, paint and drywall contractors. Hardware stores may have some empty ones. Don't store drinkable water or food (which will touch the bucket walls) in the ones that have been used for paint, asphalt sealer, etc. It may not wash out completely and will taint your water. Do not let food or water touch the sides of buckets which have not held food.

Does anyone else have novel uses for 5 gallon buckets? Write me at chuckr30 at netzero dot net.

Power, electricity, other utilities

I think it's generally better to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

What to pack

There is some discussion about what you need to survive. Most agree you need the following: water, shelter, food, heat. But how do you get those things if there is no electricity, water going to your house, and the stores are sold out from a panic? Here's what I advise to pack:

Other stuff good to have around

Reviews of products

You've heard of the products, know their features, but how well do they work in real life situations? This section will attempt to answer those questions by showing reviews of actual products I have used.

No battery flashlight. These are starting to be sold in many camping stores. You shake the flashlight to make it work. Actually, you shake it to charge a battery to make it work. So it is not really "no battery". It works on a rechargable battery, which, like any other battery, will eventually go bad. Do not expect more than 5 years of service from a rechargable battery. I do not own one.
Update: some brands have a battery, which will eventually wear out. One brand (called
Nitestar) has a large capacitor, much better than a battery because it will not wear out. The Nitestar also uses an LED bulb for conserving power. Here is the Shakelight. Can't tell if it uses a capacitor or battery.

LED flashlights. These are great. They last 100+ hours on one set of batteries and the lamp itself, an LED, is much more tougher than a standard flashlight lamp. Very much worth the price. I own one. Regarding the tiny LED flashlights that take button batteries. They work great, but you might pay $10 for the light, then new batteries will cost you $6-8. Be warned. Try getting batteries from

Solar flashlights. My parents started laughing at me when I asked them for one. But it works great. However, you must have bright summer light to get a decent charge. And the charge will only last 2-3 hours at night, just enough to get to bed. Do not expect it to work very well in the dim light of winter. I own one.

Magnesium fire starter. I have not owned one, but they look like they would work well as magnesium burns very hot.

Crank/Solar/AC/battery radio/flashlight. I have one of these of Chinese manufacture and it works great! It has a battery which can be charged via the sun, hand crank, or an AC adaptor which comes with it. It is an AM/FM radio and flashlight. It has a translucent blue plastic case with rounded edges. I've been using it for 3+ years and it has given us the news each time the power went out. Cost was about $15 on sale.

Kent County resources

Are they prepared?

Most useful camping items

It is important when camping to minimize the number and weight of items you are carrying. Do you have a camping item that you have many uses for? What is the most useful camping item? We all know we need a: pocket knife, matches and hatchet. What are other things you find that have many uses?


More links

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