Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Paracord Dillusion

Paracord is pretty amazing stuff, but certainly not the panacea many preppers believe it to be. As I was ordering yet another 100 feet of 550 from Paracord Planet (color: Creamsicle, if you can believe it), I wondered again if all those preppers who so faithfully wear a half-dozen feet paracorod of around their wrist 24/7 are really on to something.

No. I still don’t think so.

Paracord is nothing more than a common nylon cord that has a loose resemblance to kernmantle climbing ropes in that both 550 and kernmantles have a outer sheath (mantle) and a inner multi-strand core (kern). The sheath protects the core and the core provides the strength. Great idea, but an old one.

The proliferation of ways to carry paracord on your person is astounding. It’s as if preppers discovered the ultimate survival gadget and it’s called “string.” If the scenario you are prepping for includes an absolute need for seven feet of paracord, then good for you. My personal scenario requires a multitude of cordage solutions from those I can weave myself (don't forget your bushcrafting skills), to fishing line to climbing rope to tow chains. And none of those do I plan on wearing around my wrist either.

Again, don’t get me wrong. A hundred feet of anything for eight bucks is a good deal, but those new to preparing really need to broaden their horizons as to all the cordage options out there. My BOB and BOV have real climbing ropes of 8.5mm and 11mm respectively. One is 30m long and the other is 50m. Yes, I do have plenty of 550 around, and often make lanyards for cutting tools that will double as tourniquets (put it where you need it most!), but paracord is nothing special. Hopefully you will believe I don't hate the stuff since my most recent 550 purchase was the lead-in to this installment of the Prepping Professor.

But would I wear it? No, and heres why. Paracord is in the family of cordage which also contains many other great lines. My preference when I have to carry cordage is something much stronger than the paracord such as kevlar line. While much more expensive, kevlar spear fishing line fits that bill quite nicely.

You see, I cut my rope teeth while rock climbing in my youth, and anything sub-ton in strength, in my informed opinion, is only asking for trouble. Most non-climbers and city-type rescue personnel fail to acknowledge the many ways an object’s strength is reduced. Tie a knot in rope and depending on the bends and curves, the knot may have reduced the strength of the rope by a quarter, or even by half! Some knots are better at preserving rope strength than others, so if you have a list of prepper knowledge yet to gain, add that concern to your list in pen rather than pencil.

Here’s something to get you started:

Knot                      % of original rope strength
Flemish Bend        81%
Blood knot             80%
Figure 8 loop         80%
Double fisherman  79%
Butterfly                 75%
Bowline                  60%
Overhand knot       60%
Overhand bend      50%
Square knot           more likely to come untied then to break.

So as you can see, even the sacred Bowline almost cuts the rope strength in half. That means your 550 cord will barely hold the static weight of an average man, but add a six-inch dynamic drop to the equation and you will disappear in a puff of 550 dust.

To take this line of practical reasoning further, all my carabiners are real ones, strong enough to tow a car. I carry and use real mountaineering webbing, straps, rope, cord, and hardware. It still floors me to see survival hardware with the prominent label “not for climbing.” Sorry Charlies, but everything in my bag can be used for climbing.

What I call the “Grimloc Mentality” is a strange mix of combat concerns mixed with hiking lore. Grimlocs are plastic carabiner-like links that break under a particular load, around 80 pounds or so. Why would you want something to break? The answer, I believe, is found in Hollywood horror movies where the evil critter is chasing the hero who inadvertently snags some unbelievably strong article of clothing or shoelace on a tree branch, nail, door knob, or some other supernaturally immovable object. The hero has mere seconds to shed said hooked item or be devoured. The Grimloc mentality is the belief that anything attached to your body must be able to break free when necessary.

And while we are on the subject of breaking, let’s discuss the square knot. More people have been killed by the failure of the square knot than all other knots combined. Although the square (or reef) knot is perhaps 9000 years old, it is phenomenally unreliable, easy to tie incorrectly, slips under load, hard to untie when dry and impossible when wet. And yet it is still taught as a viable knot in the military. Save the square knot for surgical applications where it can do less harm.

Here are two thing to consider if you find yourself with leanings towards the Grimloc mentality. First, scuba divers have carried knives since the first diver got caught up in a fishing net. I know you have a knife so should you ever get caught on something that is vastly stronger than you, pull out your knife and cut yourself free. That is a much more realistic and likely scenario than being chased through the brier patch only to have your first aid kit snag on a branch and require immediate ejection.

And the second thing is that more people have been killed and injured because something broke, snapped, came untied, or was incorrectly operated compared to all the wounds and decapitations because something that should have didn’t. Of course you can find, and cling to for all I care, the few exceptions. But that’s your problem.

So all you members of the Church-of-the-550 please realize that paracord is best kept for handy uses like fixing things, tie-downs, lashes, lanyards, and even the occasional tourniquet. But if you plan on using it for any major survival application, rescue, or mountaineering use, prepare to die.

Carrry on.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

You Are Your Knife.

All the best planning will still likely result in your experiencing a SHTF event with nothing but your on-person EDC. And of your high tech pocket litter, your knife will be the most important unless the fan is covered in darkness. In that case the knife might be in second place for a few hours. But either way, your knife defines you.
If your blade is a Spyderco Ladybug, you will be able to do everything the Ladybug does well like make small cuts, slice cord and rope, and open boxes and envelopes, keep medium to small-sized bad guys at bay.
However if your EDC happens to be the Benchmade Adamas 275, then you will have almost eight ounces of high power cutting prowess that can withstand 1700 pounds of force before its locking mechanism fails.
But realistically your EDC knife likely falls somewhere in between the Ladybug and the Adamas. Probably with blade between three and four inches in a stout lockback handle. Half of you will have combo edges splitting the cutting real estate between a smooth edge and serrations. Hopefully you are carrying a name-brand blade with of good steel and of proven design.

So what are you if not your knife? You can tell a lot about a person by their choice of knife, and when the SHTF, it will be even more important to judge a book by its edge grind.
I cannot help but feel pity for someone carrying a Rambo blade, you know the knife; huge shiny, big sheath, a real in-your-face blade. And usually with a price tag in the sub-$25 range at the pawn shop. In other words, all show and no go. In fact, the monster blade, unless strapped to the leg of a Seal, Ranger or other Special Operator, is nothing more than a soft steel phallus advertising the owners overall incompetence. Rambo blades are basically an excellent sign that you need to look for intelligence on another planet.
If your EDC knife will be representing you in the event, then the choice you make now might be the most important you ever make. Some preppers have an extensive collection of blades, each with a special purpose; day of wear, or matching grip color, and I'm no different. And all that is fine and dandy, but is the EDC knife you’re carrying right now really the one you would choose if you could only choose one? And if not, why not?
Your skill can make up for some of the limits of your knife, but why give the advantage to fate. Set your minimum standard and then always carry at or above it. 
Personally, I have various blades I carry depending on the maximum I can get away with without attracting undue attention. But no matter what, I always carry as much practical blade as possible. Sometimes that is a Ladybug and sometimes it’s my Adamas, but mostly it’s somewhere in between, again erring on the larger side. By larger, I don't always mean bigger, just better.

Given that an EDC will have double as many things besides a knife, the blade thickness, edge and pry-worthyness need to be considered as well. Although larger or heavier blades will stress the edge of your pocket, I often use the clip the same as an inside-the-waistband holster letting the knife ride just behind my right hip. This carry position is especially useful when wearing shorts or swim trunks for river activities.

You and your knife have one shot at making the best of your relationship, so my advice to you and your fine edged spouse is to make the most of your marriage. 

Hey, is that a Benchmade in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

Carrry on.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gun Show Blues: Prepper Madness on Display

Montana’s oldest, largest and arguably best gun show just wrapped up in town this past Sunday, and like all 56 previous years, it was a real treat to wallow in the depths of gundom.
But there was dark side to the show when it comes to prepping. I’ll admit that those attending and especially those peddling their wares are not a representative cross section of society, however, the writing on the walls was clear: Most folks don’t have a clue how to prep. At least not in way useful to any realistic SHTF event.
Sure, the curve was heavily skewed towards the gun side, but the commentary, advice and general buzz about prepping rarely ventured much outside armament, politics, MREs, knives, and the impending doom of the day. Of course those topics are the most fun to talk about and purchase for, but an interesting observation I made during the show was that there is an inverse relationship between the physical health of the individual and the quality of his/her prepping wisdom. In a nutshell, the fatter the person, the more foolish and self-Infallible they are about prepping.
Go ahead and attack me, but the morbidly obese prepper, you have to admit, is at a significant disadvantage that in most cases is 100% self-inflicted. I’ll admit that there was a kind of sick fascination listening to them espouse their worldly views and solutions upon us consumers not unlike listening to 9-1-1 recordings after the crime, but it was also hard not to feel sorry for them.
The old adage about threes, you know the one, three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food, and the sometimes included three hours exposed to the elements (presumably unfriendly elements at that) are all situations where you can add another three, actually a one-third to be exact. Air, exposure, water, and food are three times more important to a fat person than a healthy person.

Or to put it bluntly, if you are obese, you will die three times faster than if you weren’t so fat. That’s one minute without air, one day without water, and one week without food. All that fat stored throughout your body is not a shed of firewood just sitting there waiting. Instead it is an expensive commodity that requires a lot of maintenance and care, and will spoil rapidly when the temperature goes up or the water intake goes down. The moment the stress of a true prepping event occurs, blood pressure, body temperature and respiration will rise, and all three will kill you faster than a bullet.

The stresses that the extra tonnage puts on your body's organs and mechanics are already two strikes against you so add in a few physical, psychological, and environmental challenges and you are seriously close to failure before the fun even starts.
At the gun show, there were plenty of wonderful folks eager to share their insights into the causes, effects, and prepping solutions for the impending doom. Pressing them for details, it sounded like the heavier amongst us are going to ride out the darkness sitting on their front porch in their super-strength Wal-Mart lawn chair sawing away at the riff-raff with both barrels. It was a tragic comedy of Shakespearean proportions.
So why am I, Professor Prepper, bothering to tell you this? Simple. There is still time to do something about it, and it is by far the single most important prep you can make. And the cheapest!
The American Lifestyle is a major cause of prepper obesity, and yet it also seems to be high on the list of important aspects on this planet necessary to preserve for future generations if given the chance. Well folks, let me say it first: Obesity is un-American! Need me to say it again? I’ll say it all day long! Obesity is un-American.
Global energy consumption per person: the higher the redder.

 Chronic obesity of the self-inflicted variety is a significant drag on our economy, our resources, our military, our security, and frankly, our very way of life. Listening to the obese gun peddlers describe their fixes to my world was nothing short of criminal. You see dear friends, in order to be comfortable in a spherical body that consumes two, three or four times as much as everyone else, the fantasy of prepping for darker times must also include the significant burden their girth places upon us. Our massive brethren cannot run, hike, even walk in many cases. They cannot ride a bike, swim, or even climb up the river embankment if they could swim across it. They cannot kayak, paddleboard, rappel (let alone mountain climb), and certainly they will share their gravitational burden with all those around them.
But they can stockpile guns and ammo and food and knives and opinions.
Please consider the significance of a true SHTF event. The brutal reality will set in rapidly, and in just a few days very difficult decisions will need to be made. The old ways of human and herding animals alike left the slow and old to fend for themselves thus cleansing the herd of weakness. Back in the day, if you packed on a few pounds, you would fall behind meaning there was less for your. You would either get fitter and drop a few, or be devoured by a pack of wolves. Nature's choice.
If you are an obese prepper, you better prep yourself mentally to be left behind. If any three of us cannot carry you, or if you are unable to walk three miles without stopping, or if you cannot ford even a mild river, then you are a liability. The whole point to prepping is to be prepared beyond the standard FEMA party line. The government might accept you as you are because that is the American way. But it is not fair to assume we will risk our life, limb and future because you cannot lay off the potato chips, beer and second helpings of pizza.
Unless you plan on shooting us in the back when we leave you, then forget about the guns for a while and focus on your health.
Take the Prepper Challenge and quit smoking, drop the weight, increase your stamina, and prep like you mean it!

And then we can get back to business.

Carrry on.