Category Archives: Camping

What To Do If Lost In The Woods At Night, 1946

Eveready1946

Seventy years ago, this day’s issue of Life Magazine, August 26, 1946, showed you exactly what to do if you were lost in the woods at night, courtesy of this advertisement by Eveready.

According to the ad, as long as you had common sense and an Eveready flashlight loaded with Eveready batteries, you would come through. The first piece of advice was that you’re never really lost until you lose your head. Therefore, the best course of action was not to travel at night. Instead, you should use your flashlight to gather boughs and leaves for a bed, and build a fire.

Once you made your primitive camp, the next course of action was to signal SOS with your flashlight–three short, three long, three short. This would guide searchers, especially if you had Eveready batteries, which would send hundreds of such brilliant penetrating light signals.

When morning came, the best bet was to stay put and wait for help to come. But if travel was necessary, you should douse your fire and follow any running water downstream.

In addition to the Eveready flashlight and batteries, the ad reminded that other survival necessities included matches in a waterproof case and a compass. These needs should be with you on every outing.

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Direction Finding With An AM Radio

Portable radio mounted on base for direction finding.

Portable radio mounted on base for direction finding.

Sixty years ago this month, the July 1956 issue of Popular Electronics carried an excellent tutorial on how to use a portable AM radio for direction finding.

Most AM radios, both then and now, are very directional in that there is a “null,” or spot where the signal fades out, on each side of the built-in antenna.  You can demonstrate this by tuning to a relatively weak AM station and then slowly rotating the radio.  You will find that there are two spots, 180 degrees apart, where the station disappears or becomes very weak.  If the radio, like most portables, has an internal loopstick antenna, these are the points where the long narrow antenna is pointing directly at (or away from) the station.

You can use this principle to determine your location.  Even with a very cheap radio, you can usually establish your location with astonishing accuracy.

Detail of direction finding mount for portable radio.

Detail of direction finding mount for portable radio.

The Popular Electronics article shows how to construct a rotating mount for your radio.  You strap the radio in place, turn it for the minimum signal, and the pointer on the mount shows the bearing to or from the station in degrees.  For example, if the station’s null is at 45 degrees, then you can draw a line on a map over the station with that same angle from north.  In other words, in this example, running NE-SW.  Your current location is somewhere along that line.

By repeating this process with a second radio station, you will have two lines drawn on the map.  The point at which the two lines intersect is your current location, sometimes to astounding accuracy.

The mount shown in Popular Electronics is for a more or less permanent installation in a boat.  But this is not necessary.  In most portable radios, the antenna is mounted parallel with the outside case, usually with the longest side.  Therefore, it is possible simply to use the radio itself as a straightedge:  Align the map with the Earth, in other words, place the top of the map toward the north.  Then, rotate the radio so that the signal disappears.  With the radio at the same angle, place one edge over the station’s location and draw a straight line on the map.  Your location is somewhere along this line.

Then, repeat the process with a second station.  The point where the two lines come together is your location.  To confirm your location, you can repeat the process with a third station.  If the three lines come together very close to the same point, then you can be quite certain that the location was accurate.  If one of the lines doesn’t seem to agree, then you can repeat the process with a fourth station, and ignore the reading that doesn’t seem to match the others.

With a bit of practice, you can find your location very accurately.  In an urban area, by using 3 or 4 local stations, I have identified my location within a hundred yards or so.  In a rural area, where the stations might be further away, the accuracy will not be quite as great, but you should be able to locate yourself within a fraction of a mile.

The Popular Electronics article contains instructions on disabling the receiver’s automatic volume control (AVC), because in the case of a strong station, the radio might keep playing at full volume even with the station nulled out.  However, it is not necessary to modify the radio.  Most stations, unless they are very strong, will show a null even with the AVC functioning.  And for those stronger stations, you can compensate by tuning the radio slightly off frequency.  For example, if the station you are trying to locate is at 800 and you can’t get a null, you can reduce the signal strength simply by tuning to 810.  You’ll still hear the station with the radio properly oriented, but the signal will be weak enough that you will be able to detect the null.

Of course, for this method to work, you need to know the exact transmitter location of the radio stations you plan to use.  These often differ from the location of the station’s studio and office.  In some cases, they are many miles from the station’s city of license.

Fortunately, in the United States, this information is easy to obtain from the FCC website.  You can search for a particular station, for all stations within a state, or all stations within a certain radius of a given location.  When you click on the station’s call letters, you will be given the exact latitude and longitude of the transmitter.  (Transmitter locations of most AM stations are also shown on aeronautical charts, since pilots still use this method of direction finding.)

Direction finding, even with a very cheap AM radio, can give amazingly accurate results.  It is certainly not as convenient as other methods, such as GPS.  But in an emergency, it should not be overlooked as a backup method to determine your location.  It requires very little equipment (just a radio, map, and pencil).  It also requires a bit of practice beforehand, since you need to learn the characteristics of the radio you will use.  And it requires knowledge of the location of some local transmitters.  But if you can locate those transmitters on your map, you can also locate yourself.

As I mentioned, I’ve been able to determine my own location within a hundred yards by knowing the exact locations of local radio stations.  But even without an exact knowledge of their location, I was able to locate myself, at night, within about 30 miles, simply by using the approximate location of strong distant stations.  For example, I know that WBBM’s transmitter is in or near Chicago.  I know that WSM’s transmitter is in or near Nashville.  I know that CFZM’s transmitter is in or near Toronto.  Even though I did not know the exact locations of these transmitters, when I used this method at night, I was able to locate myself within about 30 miles.  There’s probably little practical application for doing it this way, since it’s unlikely that someone would find themselves not knowing what state they are in.  (However, it should be noted that before the invention of accurate chronometers, most mariners wouldn’t know their location that accurately.)  But it is still rewarding to know that you can determine your location on Earth with such primitive equipment.

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Product Review: Wise Food Storage “Savory Stroganoff”

One of this site’s advertisers is Wise Food Storage, who recently sent me a free sample to review.  The company supplies dehydrated food for emergency food storage, camping, and backpacking.  On their website, they sell mostly packages consisting of assortments of food, such as the package shown below, which is billed as providing enough food for two people for 72 hours:

72 Hour Kit for 2 PeopleTHe sample I was sent was a single meal, namely their “Savory Stoganoff.”

I was initially a bit skeptical, since my experience has been that most suppliers of “survival” food seem to charge a considerably higher price than one would pay for comparable items at the supermarket.  In many cases, they hide the higher price by making inflated claims as to how long the product will last.  For example, some companies offer a “30 day supply” of food, but if you look carefully, you realize that you would be eating starvation rations for those thirty days.

It was refreshing to see that Wise doesn’t follow this same practice, and the claims on their website are reasonable.  A normal diet consists of about 2000 calories per day.  You can certainly survive on less, but if you want to replicate a normal diet as much as possible during an emergency, you should plan on having about that many calories per day per person.  And Wise seems to use honest figures on their website.   For example, the 72 Hour Kit for 2 People shown above supplies over 13,000 calories, which is indeed enough to feed two people for three days, with their normal caloric intake.  In fact, with a bit of scrimping, it would probably last even longer than advertised.  It is refreshing to see a company that didn’t fall into the trap of making exaggerated claims.  As you shop around, you might see lower prices.  But before you buy, make sure you’re really getting the number of days’ supply that the company is claiming.  In Wise’s case, you are.  In the case of some other suppliers, you are not.

I’m not normally a fan of “kits” for food storage.  From a price point of view, you’re probably better off buying normal food from the supermarket.  You’ll know that they are items you like to eat, the cost will be lower, and the supermarket has many items that can be stored for a long period of time, especially if you rotate them into your family’s normal diet.  On my food storage basics page, I have ideas for emergency food storage using items available at any supermarket.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for buying a well thought out “kit.”  You know that everything is optimized for long-term storage and minimal preparation.  And there’s something reassuring about looking at a single container and knowing that it will give you enough food to eat for X days.  I wouldn’t recommend a kit as your family’s sole source of emergency food, but they do have their place.  In addition to Wise’s 72 Hour Kit, they have a variety of other similar assortments. such as a 1 Month Emergency Food Supply for 1 Person – 56 Servings and a 2 Week supply geared for backpackers.  Again, you can probably put similar kits together yourself at a somewhat lower price, but for some people, the convenience is worth it.

Package of Savory Stroganoff being reviewed.

Package of Savory Stroganoff being reviewed.

Wise’s website doesn’t seem to sell individual meals, but they are available from WalMart.  For example, you can purchase a single package of the “Savory Stroganoff” reviewed here.  The price is quite reasonable, and you can order online and have it delivered to a local WalMart, so there is no shipping cost.

The Savory Stroganoff I reviewed exceeded my expectations.  I wouldn’t describe it as a gourmet meal, but it was reasonably good tasting, easy to prepare, and would be quite adequate during an emergency or while camping.  The nine-ounce package was billed as having a storage life of 25 years.  It was packaged in a heavy plastic pouch with an oxygen absorber inside (and I’ll say more about the oxygen absorber in a moment).  According to the nutrition facts, the package supplies four servings of 250 calories each.  In other words, the one package contains a thousand calories, or about half of one person’s caloric needs for the day.  We did feed four people lunch using the one pouch, and the meal was filling.  Each serving contains 45 grams of carbohydrates, 4.5 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein, so it’s a reasonably well balanced meal by itself.  The vitamin content is relatively low, supplying 0% of the daily requirement of vitamin A, 2% of the daily requirement of vitamin C, 8% of the calcium, and 8% of the iron.  During a short-term emergency, vitamin deficiency isn’t an issue, but those planning for a longer-term emergency would be well advised to include some multivitamin tablets if relying on this kind of storage food.

The main ingredient is the pasta, along with nondairy creamer and textured vegetable protein.  You can view the full list of ingredients and nutrition facts at the WalMart website.

Preparation was very straightforward, and we followed the instructions on the package exactly.  You start by boiling four cups of water, turning off the heat, and then adding the contents of the package to the boiling water.  We used the stove, but the water could be boiled by any emergency heat source.  Since the only actual cooking is the boiling of the water, there’s really nothing that can go wrong.  You simply cover the pot and wait 12-15 minutes.

The glitch in the instructions was that it didn’t mention the oxygen absorber inside, so we wound up pouring it into the boiling water, where we had to fish it out.  But other than this oversight, the instructions were self-explanatory.

After 15 minutes, you remove the cover, and let it stand for another 2-3 minutes.  We used a normal kitchen pan, but any container with a lid could be used.  In an emergency, to minimize the amount of cleanup, I would boil the water in one container, and then “cook” the food in some kind of disposable container.

The completed Stroganoff.

The completed Stroganoff.

The finished product didn’t look particularly appealing.  Perhaps it would have looked better if we had let it sit a while longer, but it was rather watery.  It looked more like a thick soup than Stroganoff.  It was best served in a cup or bowl and eaten with a spoon.

However, it tasted quite good, and neither my wife and I nor our kids had any complaints.  It did not have the “dehydrated” taste that I feared it would have.  It tasted like noodles and sauce.  There was a bit of seasoning–I noticed that the ingredients included dried onions.  However, it was rather bland, and adding a little bit of salt and pepper improved it considerably.  My daughter added a little bit of Knorr chicken bouillon, and she reported that this made it taste quite good.  So my main advice if you’re going to rely on prepackaged items like this, it would be a good idea to also include familiar seasonings.

In summary, the stroganoff tasted better than I expected without a “freeze dried” taste, and was more reasonably priced than I expected.  It’s more expensive than comparable supermarket items, but much less expensive than comparable items billed as “survival” or “backpacking” food.  I probably won’t order one of Wise’s food “kits,” but I’ll probably purchase a few packages of the stroganoff and other meals to keep in the camper, or just to keep in the house for times when a relatively quick meal is needed.

Full Disclosure:  The product reviewed was supplied to me free of charge by Wise Compnay, one of this website’s advertisers, in exchange for an honest review.  All product links on this page are affiliate links, meaning that if you click on the links and purchase the product, I will receive an advertising fee.

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National Parks On The Air “Park To Park” QSO

Photo of bridge at Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Oklahoma. NPS photo.

I had my first “park to park” QSO today in the ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event.  On the way to do some grocery shopping, I decided to make a quick stop near the Mississippi River, at a parking lot just south of Summit Avenue on the St. Paul side of the river.  It’s at a fairly good elevation above the water, but it’s within the required 100 feet of the river.

I worked about 35 contacts on 20 meter CW in about a half hour, as shown in the log below.  When the pileup subsided, I decided to try phone.  In a previous “activation” from this location, I had managed to work about 50 contacts, but that was after I was “spotted” on the DX cluster.  Without that help, my 5 watt signal didn’t attract anyone’s attention on the crowded band, and I called CQ for about 10 minutes without any takers.  Before packing up, I decided to tune the band and look for any other strong signals.

After a few minutes, I heard Gary, N5PHT, who I had already worked a few times from home.  He was operating from a campground at the  Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma.  He had a booming signal and easily pulled my weak signal out of the noise.

Gary’s station is described on his website.  The difference in signal is attributable to the fact that he is running 100 watts to a better antenna, with a nice station set up in his motorhome.  Even though he was portable, he had a formidable signal, and has worked about 2000 contacts in about a week from this portable location.

 

npota020716



The Real Reason Scouting Is Important

MeasureDistancePeople sometimes ask what is the most important thing that youth learn from Scouting. They usually expect to hear something along the lines of that it “builds character.” In some cases, it is probably true that Scouting builds character, but I honestly can’t point to too many people who would have wound up being bad characters if they hadn’t been in Scouting.

A better reason why Scouting is important is summed up in this diagram, which appeared in Boys’ Life magazine 70 years ago, February 1945.  That’s not to say that measuring the width of a river is a particularly important skill in the scheme of things. In fact, I don’t recall ever being taught this particular method. But it’s illustrative of something I did learn, without knowing that it was being taught. What I really learned was that when I’m faced with some obstacle, it is usually possible to achieve the desired result, by applying a little bit of thought. But the first step is to know that there is a solution to the problem. Once a person realizes that, then finding the actual solution (or more often, one possible solution out of many) is usually pretty simple.

In this illustration, the Scout needs to know the distance across the river. The article, written by William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, explains the method being used here. He starts at point A, which is directly across the river from a given point with a convenient object, in this case, a tree. He then walks along the river a set distance, such as 100 paces, and places a stick at that point. He then keeps walking that same distance. When he reaches the point marked C, he walks at a right angle, and keeps going until he’s along the same line containing the tree and the stick. At that point, the distance he’s walked away from the river is equal to the width of the river.

There are certainly other methods to figure out the distance, another one of which is also shown. But one method, which seems to be the most commonly used these days, is to consult outside information. It’s usually possible to ask someone who knows the answer. And it’s even possible to go to Google Maps, look at the image, and get the exact width. Those are very valid methods, and in many cases, they are more convenient and better methods. But the Scout learns that they are not the only methods. Even if outside assistance is not available, it is possible to figure things like this out on your own, without outside help.

I never really realized this until a few years back, when I started hearing from RV’ers that they couldn’t possibly camp in a non-electric site. I happen to enjoy the convenience of electric power, and if it’s available, I gladly take advantage of it. But I don’t view it as a necessity. When pressed, these people invariably come up with the same rationale for needing electricity: They need it in order to plug in their electric coffee maker.

Now, I drink a lot of coffee, and I probably drink more coffee than most of those people. So I understand their need for coffee. But I also realize one thing that they don’t know: I know that there are many methods of making coffee that don’t involve the friendly local electric utility. In response to their concerns, I even created a website entitled “How To Make Coffee Without Electricity.”  That website is written in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek style. But it’s also full of information that people don’t know, even though I always assumed that it was just common sense. It’s probably common sense to me because I was in Boy Scouts. I know that I can figure out the width of a river even if Google Maps is unavailable. So it stands to reason that I can figure out how to make coffee even if the power happens to be out.

There must be a lot of people who weren’t Scouts. Whenever a hurricane is bearing down on some part of the English-speaking world, my coffee page starts to get hundreds of hits. A day or two before the storm, these are from desktop computers. The day after the storm makes landfall, the number of hits increases, but most of them are from mobile devices. In other words, the power goes out, and only then they realize that they don’t know how to make a cup of coffee. I’m glad their mobile device is still working, and I’m glad that Google is still working, and I’m happy to impart my lifesaving knowledge that it is, indeed, still possible for them to make a cup of coffee.

But I worry about these people if Google ever becomes unavailable for some reason. Maybe they should have been Boy Scouts. I’m sure these people are of fine character, and they didn’t need Scouting to build it. But learning the lesson that self-reliance is usually possible probably would have served them well.

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The Travelpod: 1970’s Most Versatile Camper

Travelpod

Here’s an idea from 45 years ago that somehow never caught on. It’s the Travelpod, from the February 1970 issue of Popular Mechanics.

TravelpodBoatIt’s a camper, it’s a boat, and it’s a car top luggage carrier, all in one. The author must have built two of them, since the yellow one is shown on top of the station wagon, and the blue one is shown in the water. Complete plans were available from the publisher, and you could even get custom decals for an additional 50 cents.

According to the author, the Travelpod could be built with about $125 in materials. After an 8500-mile camping trip with the family, he reported that it was the most versatile and most functional camper on the road.

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12 Volt Appliances on Sale at Amazon


On my “how to make coffee without electricity” page, I’m sometimes asked whether it’s possible to make coffee (or cook other things) with 12 volts. The answer is a qualified yes. There are cooking appliances that run on 12 volts, and for some applications, they can work extremely well. But there are definite limitations, and you can’t expect 12 volts to provide an exact duplicate of your normal cooking experience. Amazon currently has a number of 12 volt appliances on sale, so now is a good time to look at the possibilities and limitations.

The most important thing to remember about cooking with electricity is that producing heat requires a lot of electricity. Sometimes, people look at their toaster, coffee maker, electric heater, or other device and decide that because it is small, it must not use much electricity. This is not the case. As a general rule, any device that creates heat will use a lot of electricity. Therefore, your coffee maker uses more electricity than your television–a lot more. Your toaster uses more electricity than your computer–a lot more. Anything that produces heat will require a lot of electricity.

This means that, in general, you can’t use a battery to do any type of cooking. There is simply not enough energy in the battery. The battery will go dead.

However, if you have 12 volts available from your running vehicle, then you might have some options. But the vehicle will need to be running. Otherwise, you’re very likely to wind up with a dead battery.

For this reason, you’re usually better off using some sort of combustion to do your cooking, such as a gas stove. I have many options available on my coffee page.

But if you want to cook and you have a running vehicle, then 12 volts might be an option, and you should look into the possibilities on this page. For example, if you are a trucker, your truck is running anyway, and there are 12-volt appliances that you can use to cook while the engine is running. Or if you are on the road all day, you can have a cooker plugged in while you are driving.

On the other hand, if you are an RV’er and your rig has a 12-volt battery, that battery is more than adequate to run the lights for a long period of time. However, it is not nearly big enough to run any of the appliances on this page for other than a very short period of time.

Now that we have that out of the way, we need to talk about another limitation. It will take longer to cook food using 12 volts–a lot longer. The amount of heat produced is proportional to the voltage times the current. This means that if a home appliance produces a certain amount of heat in 1 minute, it will take a 12 volt appliance 10 minutes to produce the same amount of heat. The heat will come, eventually, but it will take longer–a lot longer. So if you want instant gratification, you shouldn’t try to cook with 12 volts. But if you’re willing to put in the food and let it cook while you drive around, then you might be interested in the 12 volt appliances shown on this page. Many of these are currently on sale at Amazon, so if you’re in the market, this is a good time to buy.

The first of these appliances is the RoadPro 12-Volt Portable Stove. In this case, the word “stove” is a misnomer. Strictly speaking, this is a stove, because it’s a device used to heat food. But as you can see, it doesn’t look like a stove. It looks more like a tackle box with a 12 volt plug. It doesn’t look like the stove at home, and it doesn’t have the same function as the stove at home. It will slowly cook food as you drive around. Functionally, it will work more like a crock pot or slow cooker. For what it is, it’s very useful, as long as you understand the limitations. It’s great for having a warm meal while you’re driving. You can put the food inside it in the morning, and you will have a hot lunch after driving around for a few hours. But if you expect to quicly cook a meal for your family while camping, it’s a very poor choice.


If you just want to heat liquids, then the Roadpro Hot Pot is a very economical option. Again, however, you need to understand the limitations. This will not heat nearly as fast as the stove at home. This hot pot will bring 20 ounces of water to a boil in about 35 minutes. Again, if you’re driving around and want to make a hot beverage, this will be great. But remember that once you’ve used the 20 ounces of water, it will take another 35 minutes to make more.

This 12V Frying Pan is small. It can be used to fy one, or maybe two eggs, or perhaps a hamburger. Even though it can be used to fry food, keep in mind that it will take much longer than the stove at home. Of all of the appliances on the page, this seems to be the least practical, since frying food means that someone needs to keep an eye on it, which you probably can’t do while driving. But perhaps for some uses, it might come in handy, and at the current sale price, it’s economical even for occasional use.

This 12 volt Sauce Pan and Popcorn Maker suffers from the same limitations. As noted above, it can really only be used while driving, and it would be difficult for the driver to attend to the popping corn.

Finally,
and probably most useful, is the Roadpro 12-Volt Coffee Maker . It will make 16 ounces of coffee in about 15 minutes. So if you like brewed coffee, this is a good option. The carafe is made out of metal, so it will endure a certain amount of abuse in the car. For occasional use during power outages, this might be a good option for those who want brewed coffee. You will need to run your car for the 15 minutes that it takes to make the coffee. If you had to do that every day, it would be a huge waste of gas. But for occasional use, the convenience might outweigh the added expense.



Portable Gas Refrigerator

Portable Gas Refrigerator

Portable Gas Refrigerator

On various outdoor and “prepper” forums, one common question is the availability of refrigeration in the absence of electric power. In most cases, the best option is to do as our ancestors did before the early 1900’s and simply live without this convenience. But in some cases (such as those with medicines that require refrigeration), a reliable form of refrigeration is needed.

Until recently, there were only three options, each with shortcomings. The first was to procure a generator to power a traditional home refrigerator. This is a poor solution, because the home refrigerator has an electric motor and thus requires a large generator (or very large inverter) and enough fuel to run it.

Another option is a “12 volt cooler” such as the ones shown here:

One of these can be a relatively good solution in many cases. While they don’t work as well as the big refrigerator at home, they are often adequate for the task. Compared to a home refrigerator, they require much less current. However, they draw enough current that they can’t simply be left unattended for long periods of time. The battery needs to be charged quite often, which entails having fuel to do so, or perhaps a relatively large solar charger.

The best solution has been the “3-way” Refrigerator. This type of refrigerator is commonly used in RV’s, and runs on 120 volts, 12 volts, or propane gas. They typically use about 1/2 pound of gas per day, meaning that a 20 pound tank will last about 40 days. In other words, storing fuel for long-term use is a definite possibility. Here are some examples:

The disadvantage of this type of refrigerator is that it is not portable. It is designed to be mounted permanently and, at a minimum, you would need to construct a cabinet to house it.

This objection has now been solved, however, with the following portable 3-way refrigerators:

Like the other 3-way refrigerators, these will operate on either gas, 120 volts, or 12 volts. But they are designed for portable use, and come with the hardware to hook it up to a portable LP tank, the type available everywhere. For those who absolutely need refrigeration “off the grid,” this is a very viable option.