Welcome to Jercol's Back to the Basics. This is where I will post useful information, tips, and gear reviews about what I learn about Outdoor Survival, Activities, and Disaster Preparation. My only goal is to be informative, realistic, and at least a little entertaining.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Some Range Time and Conversation

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine the other day.  For the most part we have very similar ideas on firearms and gun control, though he leans a bit more towards some of the legislation proposed recently.  His girl friend is a High School teacher, so I think that probably plays a role in some of his feelings.  I'm sure he worries about her with all these stories in the news about school shootings.

Anyway, he's in the military and was toying with the idea of getting a pistol for his girlfriend for while he is deployed.  I'm sure it is as much for his peace of mind as for hers.

I offered to take them to the range and let them try out a few of my pistols.  She had never handled one before (was kind of scared of them), so this seemed like a good chance to show her the basics and try out a couple, see what she liked.  I brought my Smith & Wesson MP-22, Glock 17, and my Ruger Blackhawk .357.

Having never shot a pistol, she obviously liked how easy the .22 was to handle.  After a bit of practice with the .22 we got her moved up to the 9mm.  She was alright with the 9mm, put a few magazines through it, but she wasn't quite as enthusiastic about it as the .22.  We even got her to try the Blackhawk once, but the gun itself was so heavy that she quickly went back to the other two.  She handled the recoil just fine, it was the actual, physical weight of the revolver.  That was fine, him and I had plenty of fun with the Blackhawk.  He's a revolver guy too.

Afterwards, he was still puzzling over whether or not get her a pistol.  I offered my two cents.  I told him first off that he should get two pistols, one for him, one for her.  The way pistol purchases go in Hawaii, it's a lot of back and forth between the police station and the gun store.  If you are even toying with the idea of buying two pistols, you buy them at the same time and it halves the trips to the police station.  Secondly, if he thinks it might be a good idea to get him and hers pistols, he should do it now.  There is a minimum two week waiting period for all pistol purchases in Hawaii.  I told him that a home defense firearm is kind of like insurance, you don't ever want to use it, but if you need it, you need it now and not in two weeks.

Also, if he gets it now then they will have plenty of time to get her well practiced before he leaves.  Obviously, having a pistol for home defense doesn't do her any good if she she isn't comfortable and accurate with it.

We all had fun at the range, so whether or not they decide to become gun owners, at the very least she had an opportunity to learn about firearm safety, got to shoot a variety of pistols, and have some fun.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Isn't that just pretty?

You ever have a relationship with a gun that's like a marriage?  You love it, but it drives you nuts at the same time?  My M1 carbine has been like that for me.

I originally wrote a glowing review about how much I loved the M1 carbine (original post), with only a few minor complaints.  Well, after the honeymoon phase I started to see the cranky side of the rifle.  I actually went back a couple weeks after the original post and added an edit to the end:

"EDIT (02-10-2013): I love my M1 carbine.  I love the history, the looks, and how it shoots.  However, the rear sight drives me bonkers.  It comes with a non-adjustable flip sight, one for 100 yards, one for 200 yards, in a dove tail joint.  On mine, it was really off to the left.  To "adjust" this sight you need the proper vice/tool, or a hammer, punch, and patience.  I ordered an adjustable sight for it, tried a dozen times to replace the flip sight... and broke down and ordered the proper removal tool.  These typically go for $150, the cheapest I could find was with Sarco for $70 (E-Sarco Inc).  It's been frustrating, especially since I'm probably only going to use it once.  So, great rifle, just keep that rear sight in mind.  On a plus note, the original M1 needed to have the front sight ground down in the field, whereas the front sight on my replica seems spot on."

So, let me summarize the time and money I put into getting my M1 accuracy even close to where I wanted it.

$55 Adjustable Rear Sight
$40 Various Vices, C-clamps, and scrap (trying to find something cheaper than the proper removal tool)
$20 Boresight Laser for 30car
$70 Proper Vice/Removal tool for Rear Sight
$20 on TWO new sets of Hex drivers to fit the Removal Tool
$60 on some 30 round magazines (ok, not entirely necessary, but why not?)
$265  (the cost of the entire rifle was only $900)

From start to finish, about TWO MONTHS of F****ing around to get it finally figured out...

I am pleased to say, with confidence, that it was totally worth it.  Check my baby:

I know there are plenty of AR-15 fan boys out there, lots, and lots of them!  However, I don't care what kind of rifle you like, you can't tell me this is not a helluva sexy rifle.  Folding stock, fully adjustable rear sight, 30rd mag, weights less than 6 lbs, full wood stock, that shoots like a dream?  Hell yeah! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Endurance Products I Like

This is a follow up post to my last one, which discusses the importance of maintaining proper hydration and fuel intake during long term athletic activity whether it's racing, hiking, or bugging out.  Especially if you have limited access to supplies, deep woods hiking or a survival scenario, knowing what to bring with you is really important to avoid problems.

I am not sponsored by any of these companies, nor do I receive any financial gain or gain otherwise from discussing them here.  These are simply products I've found that do what they are supposed to, have proven themselves to me in the field, and that I have used extensively.  When I was doing long distance trail running (ultra-running) I always kept these items in stock and then could pick and choose what I needed for each event.

Nuun Tablets
Nuun tablets have been formulated to precisely match electrolytes with the percentages that are sweat out.  You can check their website, they have lots of graphs, studies, and stuff...  I just know they work.  I used to get these really annoying headaches after long races, I couldn't figure out what they were from.  Then I started drinking these during the races and I haven't had a problem since.  Each tube has twelve tablets, they dissolve in water like an alka seltzer and in two minutes you have an electrolyte drink.  Easy to carry and effective, every athlete and survivalist should have a few of these.  And they taste pretty decent too.

Camelbak Elixer
Camelbak Elixir is very similar to the Nuun tablets.  They dissolve in water and produce an electrolyte drink. These are very similar products, both taste good and provide the necessary electrolytes.  I think the ratio on these isn't quite as precise as the Nuun tablets and the Elixir is a little more expensive, but the Elixir produces more drink per tab and seem to be more easily found in stores.  I've used them both a lot, they both seem to be good products.

Perpetuem is a pretty neat product, it's food and fluid rolled up into one.  When they were making this they wanted a single solution for fuel and hydration.  Because the calories and nutrients are in a liquid form they are much more easily digested during activity.  The nutritional info is on the site.  It comes in powder form, just mix it with water, though the taste takes a little getting used to.  I have the "orange" one, you could take a creamsicle and melt in a liter of slightly gritty water, and that would be about the same taste/texture.  However, for a "one size fits all" approach it actually works pretty well.  I like this stuff, it worked extremely well on my last race.  With most drinks you don't get a 'full' feeling in your stomach.  When you're hungry and then drink a sports drink you're still hungry.  With Perpetuem, it's like drinking a class a milk when you're hungry, might not be entirely satisfied but it's a whole lot better than most drinks.

There are a variety of "salt pills" on the market.  Salt Stick has developed tubes for dispensing their version of the electrolyte pills and they've done quite a few studies on what electrolytes and amounts to put in them.  They have links for their studies on their site, whether you believe them or not is up to you.  I haven't tried the dispensing tubes but I have taken these pills during events and found them very effective.  I usually drink Nuun or Perpetuem and take these as back ups, or take one an hour for extended races to make sure I'm keeping up the electrolyte levels.  The dispensers seem kind of neat, they keep the pills dry and easy to access, so they might be a good option for long distances or survival scenarios.  Otherwise, any water tight container works well.

Honey Stingers
These guys have a very wide variety of products, all made with honey.  Waffles, gels, chews, you name it and they probably make it.  Carbohydrates are important for maintaining a high level of activity and honey is an excellent carbohydrate.  There are quite a number of different carbs available, but he best ones come from more natural sources, honey, agave, etc.  Carbs that are more processed get absorbed into the body really fast, which leads to ups and downs in your energy level.  More natural, complex carbs are as effective but absorb at a longer, steadier rate, helping maintain a steadier energy level.

GU Chomps
GU chomps have a pretty standard carb mix, there's lots of chews out there that are similar.  However, GU Chomps also have Amino Acids added.  Amino Acids are kind of a new trend in the endurance world.  During exercise, if your body doesn't get enough calories (because your stomach isn't digesting very well) then it starts to cannibalize your muscle tissue.  If you are already damaging your muscles (by exercising) then the last thing you want is that cannibalization.  There haven't been too many studies on the use of Amino Acids during exercise yet, but the theory is that by taking in Amino Acids you are providing them to the body for fuel, which means your body won't need to break down muscle tissue.  Also, it means that there are extra Amino Acids in the body so that during recovery it should make rebuilding muscle tissue faster and easier.  I like these, they do seem to make a difference during and after a race.

Hammer Endurance Amino
Ok, same reason as above.  The difference here is that these are in pill form, you can just drop a pill before, during, and/or after your endurance event.  Again, there aren't many studies on these yet, but in an endurance event or a survival situation I'll take any advantage I can get.  I've used these and they do seem to make recovery faster, I don't know if that means my muscles aren't getting cannibalized or if they help rebuild muscle faster, but they seemed to work for me.

There are plenty of other products out there, I've used quite a few of them and those above are just a few of my favorites.  My favorite place to purchase these items is online at ZombieRunner.com.  They have a million options and good prices.  I also like the name.  What can I say, I'm a zombie dork.

If you have any questions about endurance events or nutrition, suggestions, or comments feel free to send me a message. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Metabolism of Endurance

When I was really into long distance trail running and hiking I spent a lot of time looking for the best options for food and drink (usually referred to in those circles as "fuel" and "hydration").  Some of those products were really cool, really effective, and a lot of those lessons I learned serve me well every time I head into the woods.  In this post I'm going to go over some of the basics, in the next post I'll talk about some of the specific food and drinks that have worked well for me.

Obviously, trail running is a much higher intensity than hiking, but a lot of the techniques can carry over.

When you are moving a lot, sweating a lot, you need to keep in mind fuel and hydration.  You need to intake calories, water, and electrolytes if you want to KEEP moving.  Too little fuel, food, and you run out of energy.  You have to maintain the proper electrolyte balance as well, you get too far either way and you lose your endurance, get sick, and it could eventually kill you.  Electrolytes are necessary to relay electrical impulses in the body, they include sodium, potassium (those are the two biggest), magnesium, and calcium.

Too much water (without enough electrolytes) and you can get hyponatremia, a condition that kills a couple long distance runners every year.  They run a long race, lose lots of electrolytes, then drink water trying to rehydrate.  By just drinking water they essentially dilute the levels of electrolytes in the blood, it throws off your body's balance.  Sports drinks are one way to intake electrolytes, but there are quite a few options (I'll go over them in my next post).  Hyponatremia outside of athletics is most commonly caused by kidney failure.  In other words, it's not the kind of thing you want to happen in the woods, in a survival situation, or during/after a race.  That's why you need to take in electrolytes.  Also, look at the drinks you are using, many common sports drinks only have sodium, potassium, and not necessarily in the ratios that are best (these are better than nothing but intended for short term activities, sporting events).  For extended activities you need to find a better option with Sodium to Potassium is about 3.5-1, calcium and magnesium levels should be lower and in a ratio about 2-1.  So, something with 180mg of Sodium, 50mg of Potassium, 10mg of calcium, and 5mg of magnesium should be about right for an hour of high level activity.  There are quite a few electrolyte pills available, a simple, easy solution when drinks are not as available.

Hypernatremia, or too much sodium, results in the same symptoms as dehydration; extreme thirst, lethargy, weakness, swelling, and at extreme levels seizures and coma (the same as drinking sea water).  Usually, it will start with swelling in the hands and feet.  When you get in tune with your body you will notice those symptoms and increase your water to electrolyte intake.

Ok, so those are the reasons that balance is important.  Now, how much overall fluid should you be taking in?  That depends on your personal physiology (some people sweat more than others, with more or less electrolytes lost), your fitness, the climate, and your current activity level.  Essentially, you need to do some testing and find how much you lose so you know how much you need to drink.  When I was running a race I would typically take in close to a liter of fluid an hour, that was trail running though; high activity level, extreme heat, lots of sweating.  For hiking I could probably make do with half that.

It's also better for your body to take in fluid frequently and in small amounts.  That helps maintain a steady balance rather than drinking a full liter once an hour and it's easier to absorb.  That's why hydration packs like the Camelbak or hand held bottles are so popular with long distance athletes, easy to take small, frequent sips.

Ok, now what about food or 'fuel'?  Again, that depends a lot on you and your activity level, but to maintain a high activity level for multiple hours you should probably try to take in at least 300 calories an hour.   Now, this is where it gets a little complicated... when your body is in high activity mode it's diverting blood away from your stomach and generally toward your legs (or skin for cooling), which means you won't be digesting food very well.  In fact, you are going to be digesting really poorly, absorbing calories very slowly and inefficiently, which means you need to bring along food which is easily digested or you will just get bloated, cramped, diarrhea, and not many calories.  Mostly you will need carbohydrates for energy, but you will also need fats (for long term energy), and protein (for energy and to maintain muscle endurance).  Easily digested foods are those like fruits, gels, liquids, and gummies.  For low intensity exercise, like easy walking and hiking, foods like trail mix have a pretty good mix of carbs, fats, and protein. Just like the water, you want to eat small amounts frequently, it's easier on the stomach and will help maintain a better overall balance of energy level.

I know, it all sounds complicated, but once you do a little experimenting with what products and balance work for you the benefits are drastic.  You can go longer, feel better, and recover faster.

Next post, I'll show you some of the cool products I've found that work well for me.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Urban Camouflage

In a lot of survival circles they advocate military surplus gear, chest rigs, Alice packs, BDUs, etc.  A lot of that gear is good quality, efficient, and fairly inexpensive.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with military surplus but it isn't always the best option.

I mentioned in the previous post on survival shorts that sometimes there is a benefit to blending in with the crowd.  Unless you're facing an invading army, and probably even then, camouflage probably isn't the best option for get-out-of-town clothing.

"Urban Camo"

Yes, there is such a thing as "Urban Camo".  It's a digital camo in all shades of black and grey, it's supposed to break up your outline in an urban environment.  I'm not sure how effective it is in military or law enforcement applications, but for the average person I think there's better options.


Or even better...

You could walk around and ask everyone for empty cans, bottles, change, and you'd still be invisible.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Survival Shorts

In the past, whenever I've thought of clothing for "bugging out" or survival situations I've automatically assumed I would wear pants.  Probably some kind of cargo or tactical pants, like some surplus camo or hunting pants.  They have obvious benefits, heavier duty pants won't fall apart, they protect your legs from the random scrapes and cuts, protect your legs from the environment, and usually have well placed pockets for carrying the multitude of survival supplies.  Overall, pants are a must have in your survival wardrobe.

However, today had me rethinking things a little bit.  It was f***ing hot out.  I was running some errands after work, wearing some khakis, and sweating my *** off.  That made me start thinking about how much "fun" it would be to hike around the island, heavy pack on, in pants and boots (yes, those are sarcastic quotation marks).  I'd be losing valuable electrolytes, uncomfortable, and probably developing blisters in all the wrong places.

So, that put a little kink in my mental survival scenarios.

That's what got me thinking about "survival shorts".  That doesn't mean abandon all pants, just that warm (HOT!) weather clothes don't seem to be discussed all that often in survival circles and so I thought I would bounce around a few ideas.  Wear the shorts, keep the pants in the pack, or vice versa as the situation dictates.  Something like swim trunks might be another good option, work in warm weather, work in the water, etc.  There are some serious benefits to shorts in a survival situation (in addition to having pants).

First, obviously they will allow your body to cool more efficiently in hot weather.  This helps avoid excess sweating (loss of precious fluids and electrolytes), the blistering, and the discomfort.  In hot weather, shorts would be a nice, if not essential, addition to preps.  In some climates you might hike all the time in pants, so shorts wouldn't be as essential, but in the southern months or warmer climates short could make a huge difference in your ability to cover distance.  And I don't know if you've ever tried swimming in pants but it isn't fun.

Secondly, in an emergency situation you probably don't want to be the guy or gal that stands out.  When you're "bugging out" of your neighborhood wearing your tactical pants, Alice pack, and chest rig might draw the wrong kind of attention (let alone firearms, but that's a whole other conversation).  Someone in shorts, t-shirt, and a hiking pack will raise a lot fewer eyebrows.  That might be the difference between  a successful bug out and a very abrupt, unsuccessful attempt.  Whether it's law enforcement or unfriendly neighbors, you want to get out of town without being stopped, so clothing should be something you keep in mind.  Some Suburban Rambo is going to pipe up "Yeah, but I'm so scary when I'm all geared up nobody is going to F with me!"  Well, that might be partly true but it seems to me that the better option is to avoid being noticed at all.  Either way, you should be thinking about how you look in your chosen survival clothing.

Ok, so having shorts is a good idea, what are some things to look for when picking our your "survival shorts".

(Hint: Not these)

Comfort, that might seem obvious, but keep in mind that you might be hiking in them for an extended period of time.  You really should test them out before deciding if they're the right ones for you, even a minor discomfort can turn into blisters really quickly, which would certainly hamper your movement (another overlooked piece of clothing is a good pair of compression shorts, good for avoiding those poorly located blisters).

Fabric, you want to find something light weight but durable.  I would avoid cotton because it takes a long time to dry (leading to blisters and discomfort), and doesn't wick sweat very well.  Blended fabrics, or technical fabrics with polyester and nylon are generally better choices.  They also tend to flex better, breath better, and less prone to wear and tear.

Pockets, find shorts with pockets that are a good size and arranged well for your uses.  Also, check how the pockets close.  Maybe you prefer velcro, or buttons, or zippers, but make sure that the pockets will keep your valuable secure.  I have one pair of really comfortable shorts that I love but every time I sit down my keys fall out.  In a survival situation you wouldn't want to lose your knife or something after a pit stop.

And finally, you want to consider the short's coverage.  I don't know if you're into hot pants or not, but those probably aren't the best choice.  I have a pair that cover my knees (thankfully, they are just short enough to not be "capri pants", wouldn't want to lose man points), which would probably be ideal for my situation.  If I need to do any kneeling than my knees are protected but they breath well and are cool enough for this Hawaiian heat.  I've seen some nice 5.11 shorts but they stop mid-thigh, which doesn't offer as much coverage as I'd like (or want to be seen in).

I've found a couple options online but you would probably have better luck at your local department store.  I think 5.11 has a pair of slacks that zip-off into shorts and back again.  Something like that might be an interesting option if they fit all the other criteria.  If you don't find anything at the store the easiest option would be to buy an extra set of your favorite "tactical pants" or some surplus military pants and cut them off at your desired length.  I've done that to a couple of older military issue BDUs and was pleased with the results.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Tasty Addition

I was at the supermarket today and noticed an interesting offering.

I really, really wanted to do a VS post on this "Hot & Spicy" Spam, but I couldn't think of anything to compare it with other than... well, other varieties of Spam.  But that didn't seem like all that interesting of a battle, though I have to say I was surprised at the wide variety of Spam products offered.  Especially in Hawaii, it seems there's a version for every taste.

So, I picked up a can of my trial product.  I sliced it up and fried it.  It looked exactly the same as regular Spam only with a reddish tint.  However, I was very surprised at the difference when I tried a bite.

This stuff is not bad at all.  I'm not a particular fan of Spam, it's a little too "generic meat product" for my taste, but this surprised me at how a little Tabasco sauce changed the flavor.

 It's almost like going from a cheap hot dog to a spicy sausage.  The quality of the meat and the content are obviously the same between the regular Spam and the spicy stuff, but the difference between the tastes is pretty dramatic.  And I don't just mean the spice, it only has a little kick to it, but it totally changes the taste.  I'm not sure if it's there's some chemical change when they added the tabasco or if it just adds flavor to an otherwise bland product, but this stuff was actually pretty good.

I chopped some up and mixed it in with some chili over some rice and was very pleased with the results.  

It cost the same as the regular Spam.  I didn't see any bulk packages of the stuff, it's probably not very cost effective to prep one can of Spam at a time, but I'm sure it's out there.  It might take a little more searching than the generic stuff, but it might be worth the effort.

So, if you're looking to add a little variety to your preps, something to spice up an otherwise boring meal, this stuff might be just what you're looking for.

Guns by Stephen King

In case you haven't noticed, I like firearms a lot.  I like their shape, their engineering, the variety, the culture, the practice, and the focus it requires to get the perfect shot.  Obviously, I'm a fan of the Second Amendment that allows me own these firearms.  However, that doesn't mean I'm totally against gun regulation or controls.

I also read a lot and I'm a huge fan of Stephen King, so when he came out with a Kindle Short called "Guns", I picked up a copy.

This is an extended essay on Stephen King's opinion on gun violence and gun control.  It's a no BS take that doesn't pull punches toward any group or party, he pretty much mocks everyone involved and all of the politicians.  He also discusses politics in general and American culture.  I would call it a page-turner but I'm not sure that term really applies to an essay.  Lets just say it was a quick and interesting read.  His wit keeps it rolling along well.  I think it's worth a read, whatever your opinion on gun control (Hint: King is for it).


In the end he agrees with a lot of the President's proposed legislation.  Universal background checks, limits magazines to 10 rounds, and ban "assault" rifles.  He backs it with studies and examples.

While I don't agree with some of his points, and I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions he draws from his examples (granted, I'm fairly biased), it is an interesting read.  It is at times funny, thoughtful, respectful, or even sadly retrospective.  It is as well written as all of King's works.

If you are a fan of gun control, or King, or just looking for an interesting read, you should check out "Guns".

Now a couple of thoughts in response to to his conclusions:

The two points that I disagree with are the ones on magazine restrictions and the ban on "assault" style rifles (and the misuse of the term "assault" drives me nuts these days.  They mean 'military style' semi-auto rifle, not one with selective fire).

First, the magazine restriction is a hindrance to legal firearm owners and does nothing to limit illegal use.  Look at two guys with Glock pistols, one trying to kill the other.  The legal owner has 10 rounds (or 7 if you are in New York) and the illegal owner has the 15 round magazine that gun originally came with (or an after market 33 round mag).  Or what if two (or more) criminals break into your house, you're ability to defend yourself is hampered against those that don't follow the law.  Another point, many "restricted" magazines are standard magazines with a block installed that limits the capacity.  A criminal can simply take the block out to go back to the larger capacity.  On the other hand, it's harder to justify the 30+ round magazines that are available for some rifles (unless preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse).

I totally agree with the universal background check and closing the gun show loop hole.  Those decrease the likelihood of criminals and crazies buying guns.  I'm also OK with waiting periods, as frustrating as they are, because that would force any emotions to cool.  Those are two concessions that I think gun owners should make because they could actually make a difference.

As for the "assault" rifle ban, it would block the most popular rifle in America, the AR-15.  Banning a certain weapon will only mean that other weapons get used by criminals and crazies.  I think a better option would be to make legal gun owners liable for their fire arm, how it's stored and used.  Or require fire arms to be locked up (you could exempt one or two for home defense when the owner is home), or require specific security measures for specific fire arms.  After all, the owner goes through the back ground check, their family, friends, or robbers don't.  I think that would drastically limit access by those that couldn't pass a check.

As a legal gun owner I have no empathy toward anyone owning, carrying, obtaining, or using firearms illegally.  I absolutely support logical gun control that limits the illegal use of firearms.  It's just too bad that so many of the proposed restrictions do more to restrict legal owners than the criminals.