How to Start an Emergency Fire

Every outdoors person should know how to light a fire. It’s not simply a source of pride at that lakeside cookout with your buddies: It’s also a vital, life-saving skill in case you ever find yourself in a survival situation.

Let’s review some firestarting basics, including the requisite ingredients and the easiest way to start a fire. Practice makes perfect when it comes to quickly and efficiently lighting a fire—and speed and efficiency are the bywords when you’re caught out in a blizzard or a torrential downpour, or you just took an unexpected dip in the river and need to warm up and dry out posthaste.

So try different ways to make a fire in non-emergency situations: It won’t take long to hone your skills, and it’ll make you that much more prepared in the event that getting some flickering flames going is of life-or-death importance.

A Quick Leave-No-Trace Note

A campfire’s magical, no doubt about it, but it’s often not the most eco-friendly choice when you’re out backpacking. If you do make a campfire, you should be thinking about Leave-No-Trace principles. What we’ll be discussing here is emergency fire-starting for those scenarios where having as light an impact as possible on the environment is not necessarily your top priority.

The Basics of Emergency Fire Starting

You may have heard about the “fire triangle” before. It’s a simple way to think about the three basic ingredients required for fire to happen: namely air, fuel, and heat. Absent one of those three ingredients, a fire isn’t going to happen; and if the components are out of balance, your fire may not be sustainable. A source of ignition, of course, is also critical. (It can be thought of as part of the “heat” category.)

Let’s tackle fuel first. Your fuel setup will consist of tinder, kindling, and fuel wood.


Tinder’s the highly flammable and fast-burning initial fuel used to spark your fire in the first place. Try holding a match or a lighter to a dry branch and see how far that gets you (hint: not far). Poorly chosen tinder—or, and this is surprisingly common, no tinder at all—is a common reason many a campfire flunks out.

It’s a good idea both to carry tinder in your survival kit and to know promising sources of natural tinder to gather. In terms of the latter, some good options include:

  • dry evergreen needles (pine needles are best, just because they’re usually longer)
  • dry and crushed hardwood leaf litter
  • wood shavings
  • dry moss or lichen
  • dry grass
  • dry shredded outer bark (especially birchbark, if you’re in range of paper or yellow birch)
  • strips of inner tree bark
  • the seed “fluff” from a cattail head (cattail’s among the more broadly distributed plants, often fairly easily tracked down in marshes, lakeshores, riverbanks, swales, hollows, etc.)

If you’ve got a pine forest handy, another excellent, tried-and-true source of tinder is so-called “fatwood,” also called “heart pine,” “lighter knot,” and “fat lighter.” This is the resin-imbued heartwood of a pine, formed where sap has hardened. It quickly and easily lights, even if it’s damp. Where can you easily get at fatwood? The best sources come from well-aged pine deadwood: a stump where outer bark has sloughed off, the root stubs of a decayed log, or a branch nub from a standing snag.

The nice thing about a hunk of fatwood is that it’s a long-lasting source of tinder: Just pare off some shavings when you need to start a fire.

In terms of manmade sources of tinder, some of the best is clothes lint. In a pinch, you may be able to scrounge some from your pockets to get an emergency fire going. Better yet, save the lint from your dryer at home and keep it with your other fire-starting materials in a waterproof container.

Another good, space-saving tinder source you can prepare at home is long, thin strips of newspaper you’ve rolled together and bound with a rubber band.

Many outdoors people also carry around cotton balls presoaked in petroleum jelly: These will light quickly and burn awhile.

Another good tool to carry around with you in the tinder department is char cloth (or simply char). This is cotton fabric that has been blackened by flame but not completely burned. The charred material easily catches a spark and can then be used to light tinder.

There are different ways of making char cloth, the roughest-and-readiest simply lighting some cotton on fire and then snuffing out the flame. More efficient is to put a cotton scrap inside a tin or an aluminum foil packet in which you’ve punched a small hole. Put this tin or packet over a flame. Smoke or fire will start streaming from the hole as gases are burned off; as long as the hole you’ve punched isn’t too big, the cloth inside—not exposed to oxygen—won’t burn. After the smoke or flame dies down, remove the tin or packet from heat and let it sit a little bit. Open it up, and you should have a blackened piece of char you can then keep in your survival kit. (Char cloth, incidentally, was often the tinder kept inside “tinder-boxes” back in the day.)

It usually takes only one spark to catch in char cloth. Lay the tinder you’ll use in your fire structure atop the smoldering part of the char to ignite it.

Kindling & Fuel Wood

Kindling refers to the larger fuel that catches fire from tinder and burns long enough to ignite your bigger-yet fuel wood. Natural kindling includes twigs and small branches; an artificial option is segments of cardboard folded into branch-like bundles. It’s good to have a variety of sizes of kindling on hand—from little twigs to wrist-diameter branches—so you can progressively feed a growing fire.

You should also gather different-sized fuel wood so you can regulate the size and heat of your fire.

Fire Ignition

The most beautifully structured fuel setup in the world won’t give you a happy fire without an ignition source. It’s always a good idea to carry a few different ignition tools so you’ve got a backup or two on hand if the need arises.

Matches and lighters are the obvious first choices; carry both in a waterproof container. You should also consider having flint and steel or a ferrocerium rod and striker on hand. With a little practice, these can be dependable means of lighting tinder even in the rain.

Now, there are lots of other ways to start a fire using friction, including hand drills and bow drills as well as fire plows. Learning how to use these “primitive” tools doesn’t only give you yet another backup method for fire lighting: It also lends some profound historical perspective, as cultures around the world used such tools for millennia. That said, they can be mighty hard to master and also generally time-consuming. In a survival situation, you’re usually better off using an easier and quicker ignition method if it’s available.

Best Way to Start a Fire

Now that you know the basics of fuel and ignition sources, let’s run down a basic way of getting an emergency fire going. In this case we’re using the classic “teepee” structure; afterward we’ll also mention a couple of other fuel designs you can try.

  1. Clear a space for your fire. Scrape away brush, leaf litter, duff, and surface soil to square off a space at least three feet across. In snow cover, you can either dig to bare ground or make a platform of green logs or branches on which to light your fire.
  2. Consider building a wall around your fire site with rocks or logs, but don’t stack this so high that you over-buffer the site from airflow.
  3. Place a pile of tinder in the center of your fire space. If you’re using newspaper strips, tie them in a loose knot to increase the ignitable surface area and prolong burning time.
  4. Brace twigs in teepee form around this tinder bundle. Then stack some larger pieces of kindling around that structure, being sure not to pack the wood too tight to impede airflow.
  5. Light the tinder. Gently blow on the sparks to grow them into flame.
  6. Once the kindling catches, add a few more pieces to start building a bed of embers.
  7. When you’ve got embers and burning kindling going, begin adding larger fuel wood.

If you’re struggling to maintain the teepee shape, consider making a base for it by lying two pieces of maybe wrist-sized kindling parallel to one another and placing your tinder pile between them. These will give your braced kindling a little more support.

You can also make a “lean-to”-style fire by driving a green branch into the ground at an angle, ribbing it loosely with kindling, and lighting a tinder pile placed well inside the structure.

Other prefer a pyramidal setup with logs and branches stacked crosswise, the smaller wood at the top. You can light a tinder and kindling atop that and allow the fire to burn downward.

How to Start a Fire in the Rain

What if you’ve got a bone-chilling downpour going on when you’re trying to start a fire? (A bone-chilling downpour may well be the main reason you’re trying to start a fire.)

Well, seek out any kind of natural shelter that you can: a rock overhang, say, or a large leaning tree trunk, or simply a heavy tree canopy. (You’d be amazed at how effectively a thick canopy can shield you from rainfall: a stand of hemlocks, which have tiny and tight-packed needles and dense interlaced boughs, is particularly handy.) You can also make a shielding shelter with tarps, ponchos, or branches and boughs, but obviously you want to allow for ventilation and avoid lighting your shelter on fire.

Actually, a well-constructed fire can burn fairly well even when directly exposed to rain as long as the precipitation isn’t too heavy.

But what about finding dry-enough fuel? Well, hopefully you have some nice dry tinder in your survival kit—bundled newspaper, a fatwood chunk, charcloth, etc. But you can also generally find dry natural tinder even in a rainstorm. Look around the base of tree trunks for twigs, leaf litter, dead fallen moss and lichen, and such: Overhanging boughs can keep the ground here remarkably dry even in heavy rain. Conifers especially often have dead branchlets on their lower trunk that can be snapped off to serve as tinder.

If the ground’s very wet, consider using a platform of logs to light your fire upon. And when you have a fire going, place damp fuel wood around it to start drying and heating the wood.

Keep in mind there are many ways to start a fire, and just about everybody has his or her own opinion on the choicest method. Again, the trick here is practice: Figure out what works for you, and challenge yourself with different fuel types, different ignition sources, and different ambient conditions. Knowing several different methodologies gives you that much more peace-of-mind out in the great outdoors.

Survivalism Evolved: New Technology That Can Save Your Life

Survivalism Evolved: New Technology That Can Save Your Life

Listen, we understand: When many of us outdoorsy types think of roughing it in a survival situation, we like to imagine fashioning fishing rods from saplings, navigating by star-paths, erecting backwoods cribs out of tree branches and hides we’ve cured from beasts we’ve brought down with bows-and-arrows, and generally going the 100% primal route to stay alive.

Fair enough, but wilderness travelers turn up their noses at modern technology to their own detriment. Even if you want to limit the gadgetry you haul into the wilds (or stow in your bug-out bag)—and that’s a perfectly understandable impulse—certain survival electronics and other 21st-century innovations are definitely worth considering. Whether making essential task more efficient or keying rescuers into our location more quickly, they can be truly lifesaving technology.

Here we’ll spotlight a few categories and specific models of high-tech survival gear you may well want in your pack the next time you strike off from the trailhead.

Survival Electronics, Round 1: Personal Locator Beacon

If you’re a mountaineer, an off-piste skier, or really anyone who regularly makes the deep backcountry his or her playground, you ought to think about purchasing a Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB. They can run you several hundred dollars, so there’s definitely a cost consideration. And it must be said that more than a few wilderness trekkers frown upon such devices, reckoning that they enter the back-of-beyond by their own volition and shouldn’t demand to be bailed out by rescuers if things get hairy.

There’s no question, however, that PLBs can be lifesavers. The beacons, which are based on similar transmitters long used for marine rescues, emit two signals when activated. One relays your Unique Identifying Number (UIN)—applied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration when you register the device—to the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite network at 406 MHz, a universal distress frequency monitored by NOAA and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

The other signal at 121.5 MHz, meanwhile, serves as a homing beacon for search-and-rescue workers who’ve been directed to your general vicinity by the satellites.

A PLB with GPS capability significantly shaves down the time required for search-and-rescue teams to locate you: We’re talking an average notification interval of a mere five minutes.

The long-life lithium batteries powering PLBs are meant to last at least 24 hours even in extreme cold (and longer in warmer temperatures).

It goes without saying that you should only activate a PLB in a truly life-or-death situation, as doing so puts the lives of search-and-rescue workers at risk and—if you’re signaling just because you’re in an inconvenient pickle versus a grave one—draws resources from others in emergencies.

Survival Electronics, Round 2: Backcountry Charge-Ups

Nobody should rely on smartphones for staying alive in the wilds, but there’s no question they can serve as a handy survival electronics in a pinch, whether you’re locating yourself on a digital map or using a cell signal to text or call for help.

How to charge such gadgets in the backcountry? (After all, last we checked, your average tree trunk doesn’t come with electrical outlets.) These days, you’ve got a whole galaxy of options, solar chargers chief among them. The Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit, for instance, serves up 7,800mAH worth of power via water- and dirt-proof USB ports, and has the rugged frame to stand up to the inevitable punches of the great outdoors.

The jack-of-all-trades Eton Scorpion, meanwhile—which also doubles as an NOAA weather radio and an LED flashlight—can charge your devices via solar power or hand-crank.

A non-solar but outdoors-ready option is the super-portable, 2.4A, IP68-grade myCharge All Terrain Charger’s tough rubber coat makes it waterproof and shockproof.

Mealtimes: The MiniMo

Most seasoned backpackers have probably struggled more than once with an otherwise decent campstove that just lacks precision when it comes to flame control. A full boil or zilch: Frustratingly, those extremes often seem to basically exhaust your options.

Well, it turns out you can get a simmer going out there in the backcountry kitchen. You can, anyway, using JetBoil’s MiniMo, which boasts state-of-the-art regulator and valve technology to allow you much more finesse on the burner than your average backpacking stove. That fine-scale performance—backed up by a nicely designed cooking cup/pot—earned the MiniMo an “Editor’s Choice” award from Backpacker in 2015.

You’ll appreciate the progressive MiniMo when you’re whipping up a lipsmacking Mountain House entree on a cozy evening in the campsite—although, truth be told, our meals are so easy to prepare that even the crudest cookstove’ll do the trick.


Even if plenty of backpackers still throw caution to the wind and slurp directly out of potholes, creeks, and mountain lakes, we advise erring on the safe side of things and treating any wilderness water source. Boiling is the ancient, tried-and-true method, of course, but it’s not convenient on the trail, and it’s fuel-demanding.

For on-the-go water treatment, you’ve got plenty of options in terms of filters, purifiers, and tablets. When it comes to sheer convenience and ultralight compatibility, it’s hard to beat LifeStraw. A mere 9 inches long and 2 ounces, it strains out most offending bacteria and protozoa in mighty user-friendly fashion: You simply stick it in the stream or lake and suck—no pumping, squeezing, or chemicals required. The company claims it’s good for making as much as 1,000 liters of water safe for drinking.

Given its utility during the aftermath of natural disasters, LifeStraw’s nabbed more than a few accolades since it debuted in 2005, including a “World Changing Ideas” award from Saatchi & Saatchi and a TIME “Invention of the Year” honor.

(We’ll also give a shout-out to the nearly-as-easy-to-use Sawyer water filters.)

The Latest in Avalanche Safety

Whether you’re a snowshoer, backcountry skier, or mountaineer, avalanches represent a mortal danger not to be taken lightly. These crushing slabs of snow—often triggered by your own passage—can travel faster than 100 miles per hour. It’s easy to be blasé about avalanches, but catch one in action—or even just wander the shredded chutes they gouge out on mountainsides—and you’ll quickly gain the proper respect.

Let’s note right off the bat that avalanche safety equipment isn’t a substitute for avalanche awareness: Given how supremely dangerous these slides are, it’s best to do everything you can to avoid being caught in them in the first place, which takes careful study of weather reports, knowledge of particularly avalanche-prone terrain, and an understanding of snow dynamics.

That said, modern technology can improve your chances of survival if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself square in the path of one of these thunderous rivers of snow. Winter backcountry travelers should consider wearing avalanche transceivers, which are specialized beacons for locating individuals trapped under snow. It goes without saying that time’s of the essence in such a situation.

An additional option is the avalanche airbag, which when deployed is meant to make an avalanche victim more “buoyant”: In a snow slide, larger items tend to rise to the top (abiding by the physics of “inverse segregation”), so a properly used airbag makes it more likely you’ll end up at the surface of an avalanche, rather than within it—and that’s a much better place to be, to put it mildly.

And then there’s Black Diamond’s Avalung, designed to extend your survival time when buried in an avalanche by improving your ability to breathe air out of the snowpack and directing your exhalation to avoid carbon-dioxide and ice buildup.

Caution’s the Best Survival Tool

Our caveat about avoiding avalanches in the first place leads into a more general point regarding all this high-tech survival gear: Seek it out by all means, take advantage of the forward-thinking minds behind it, but don’t assume that having it on hand is a foolproof way to avoid backcountry emergencies. Whether it’s a smartphone or a Personal Locator Beacon, people sometimes have the tendency to act more recklessly when armed with technology, assuming it’s got their bases covered in case they get lost or sprain an ankle in some farflung basin. None of the items we’ve highlighted replace plain old common sense and sound preparation.

Treat state-of-the-art survival electronics or any other cutting-edge outdoor technology as valuable resources for your outdoor adventures—not get-out-of-jail-free cards.


Why Everyone Should Own a Paracord Bracelet

Ever see one of those hardcore backwoods folks or prepper fanatics sporting a woven bracelet? Chances are, it’s not simply a fashion choice: It’s a don’t-leave-home-without-it survival tool called a paracord bracelet.

The uses for paracord (i.e., parachute cord)—still a military staple—are just about endless. The most common form, 550 cord, has a strength rating of 550 pounds, and multiple strands of it twisted together can handle much greater loads. You can also unravel the component nylon strands (seven to nine of them) in order to access the finer yarn—also called “guts” or kerf—within, which is just as useful. Whether the task calls for finesse or heavy-duty gruntwork, paracord comes in mighty handy.

And speaking of handy, there’s no more convenient way to lug around a useful length of 550 cord than as a bracelet. Slip it on your wrist for your next camping trip, and you’ll quickly forget it’s there—until you actually need it for something, in which case you’ll be glad you included this unassuming-looking accessory in your backcountry outfit.

It wouldn’t be difficult to rack up a list of dozens of paracord uses, but let’s take a look at just a few to really showcase how utilitarian and versatile a survival bracelet can be for any outdoorsperson or prepper.

(1) Wilderness First Aid

Among the chief survival bracelet uses is as first-aid material. For instance, you can use paracord to make a sling in order to stabilize an injured shoulder, arm, or collarbone, or to apply a splint to a fractured, dislocated, or otherwise banged-up limb.

If you need to transport a wounded or sick person, meanwhile, you can also use paracord to create a readymade stretcher by stringing it in a web pattern between a pair of straight and sturdy branches.

(2) Catch a Fish

Unsheath the paracord’s inner kerf strands, and you’ve got go-to fishing line: All you need is a hook, some suitable bait, and no small amount of patience.

Conversely, you could also fashion a gillnet to snare a finned meal. Use two ropes of paracord for the top and bottom lines—the floatline and the leadline, respectively—and string some of the inner yarn between to form a mesh. The gaps need to be large enough for a fish’s head to enter, but too narrow for the body to pass through. You can use chunks of wood as floats and stones as anchors for the leadline; more paracord comes in handy for securing these to the gillnet.

Keep in mind we’re talking a survival situation here: Obviously you otherwise should be abiding by any and all angling regulations.

(3) Make a Survival Snare

The same applies here: By no means are we advocating going off and snaring woodland creatures willy-nilly. If you’re staring down a SHTF type of situation, however, and you’ve run out of Mountain House meals, you might try your hand at building a survival snare for squirrels, rabbits, and other small quarry using paracord’s inner yarn.

(4) Build a Survival Shelter

Among the many other things to do with paracord? Put a roof over your head in a survival situation. Whether you’re rigging a mainline for a tarp or lashing together branches or boughs to make a lean-to, the cord—wielded with a firm knowledge of basic knots, of course—helps you quickly construct an emergency shelter if the weather turns grim or if you need a safe, secure spot to tend to an injured member of your party.

(5) Make Repairs

The inner yarn of a piece of paracord makes the perfect in-a-pinch thread for sewing up rips in garments, backpacks, and other equipment.

(6) Raise a Bear Bag

If you’re camping in bear country—and given the American black bear’s re-expanding range, that applies to much of North America—it’s vital that you secure your foodstuffs, trash, and toiletries from the shaggy bruins. That means either packing along a bear-proof canister—required in more and more national parks, particularly those with grizzlies, and essential if you’re camping above timberline or anywhere else suitably tall trees are few and far between—or using that paracord bracelet of yours to hoist a bear bag off the ground.

This can actually be more complicated than it sounds: You need to string the bag such that it’s at least 12 feet off the ground and six feet or more away from the closest tree trunk or bough. That means finding a tall-enough tree with a long-enough branch, or two trees close enough together to string a line between but clear of intervening branches.

And make sure you hang the bag 100 feet or more from your campsite, just in case its odors attract a snuffling (and ultimately frustrated) bear.

(7) Fashion a Lanyard

Perhaps you’re traversing a particularly confusing stretch of country, or you’re lost and attempting to scout your surroundings along exact bearings so you’re able to return to your original location if need be. If you want your compass close at hand for such tricky navigation work, use a length of paracord to tie it around your neck for easy access.

Quick Tip: How to Untie Paracord Bracelets

More than a few survival-bracelet wearer has been a little flummoxed on the best way to actually unbraid one. Some bracelets have a quick-release knot, while others are a bit more complicated: You may need to use a knife blade, a pair of pliers or scissors, or some other tool to wedge out the melted rope ends.

Paracord: A Camper’s Best Friend

As we alluded to at the start of this piece, we’ve only sketched out a few survival bracelet uses. Keep an eye out for a future blogpost going into more detail on paracord and its multiple functions out in the woods!

paracord bracelet

How to Stay Active Indoors in the Winter

Staying active in the winter can be difficult. Short days mean the morning comes late and the evening comes early. It can be hard to fit in a workout around everything else going on, especially if that means getting out in the frigid darkness.

There is hope, however: staying active in the winter, while sometimes it may seem impossible, in reality just requires a little extra forethought.

Here are six ways to keep your blood pumping when the sun is shy and winter is nigh.

1. Indoor fitness classes

CrossFit is cult. Right? That’s what you may have heard at least. But if it is a cult, it’s a cult that’s a lot more active than you might be this winter.

Group indoor fitness classes like CrossFit, SoulCycle, Zumba and the like — they are all great ways to make sure you get moving this winter. There is group accountability making sure you actually come into the gym. You start to compete with the other attendants, make friends, and become part of an active community that pushes each other inside and outside the class.

There’s a reason these classes are so popular: they get you to do that “workout” thing you’ve been talking about for a long time but haven’t actually done.

And anyone who claims they are a cult doesn’t really understand what a cult is. So, CrossFitters have a tight-knit community that likes to work out. Is that a cult? Or is that a team?

Joining in on group classes is a great way to be active in the winter. You get oversight from instructors, who push and motivate you to move more, better. But they can also be pricey. Thankfully, if price is prohibitive for you, there are other options.

2. Climbing gyms

You may see this and think, “I’m not a climber. Why would I go to a climbing gym?”

Sure, you’re not a climber — but why not? Because you haven’t been climbing before?

You are what you tell yourself you are. If you’re a person who tries new things, then you can become a climber. Or you may try it and find it’s not for you. More often than not, though, people tend to stick around the gym after their first few times going.

Climbing gyms are a great way to combine technical movement with strength, and most gyms have enough variety for anyone: from simple rope climbs to bouldering, they will be able to walk you through the different types of rock climbing.

There are other benefits to joining a rock gym. For one, season passes tend to be cheaper than group fitness classes. You can come and go as you please, so you don’t have to worry about rushing from work at 5:00 to make the 5:30 class (because there are no classes).

Plus, you form a community in the winter that you can carry into the summer. This is true of other group fitness options, but for climbing it’s different. In the winter, you all climb inside. When spring comes, the cocoon (and cold weather) breaks and you can all fly forth into the woods to climb on real rocks.

Rock climbing is as much about the movement and exercise as it is about the community. Join a gym to get moving in a new way, to build your rock-pulling practice, and to become a part of a new and fun community.

3. Yaktrax and a headlamp

The habits of lone wolves die hard. Do you like to do your own thing no matter what?Pull on a pair of Yaktrax, layer up, flip on the headlamp and get going.

The bottom line: you can still run in the winter. You just need a little extra gear, and a little extra caution.

Winter days being short, a headlamp is almost as necessary as your jacket. If you live in an icy area, Yaktrax will make your run safer. Just make sure you know where you’re going, you have enough battery, and someone knows you’re out there. The elements are serious — we recommend sticking to inhabited lands where possible should you get hurt or lost or both.

4. Outdoor meetup group

Form a group on for outdoor enthusiasts. Get a couple people in a room, and get creative. Maybe there’s a hike nearby on a sunny slope that’s almost always thawed, and that you’ve not yet heard about.
Outdoor communities are a great way to keep active. We push each other, we share knowledge, and we look out for each other. is a great way to find likeminded strangers who are trying to solve the same problem as you.

Planning for Long Term Power Outage

Ah, nothing like a good old-fashioned power outage to remind you how amazing it is to have light and heat at our beck-and-call just by flipping a switch or dialing a thermostat! Those are modern conveniences we should never take for granted, and that lesson tends to be driven home the hard way when a storm, fire, flood, grid malfunction, or some other hiccup—more than one unlucky transmission-line-scurrying squirrel has done the trick—disrupts the power supply.

Blackouts are often merely short-term inconveniences, but it’s also possible to endure one that lasts a week or more. Such extended outages can be dangerous, even life-threatening, if you’re caught unprepared.

So how should you prepare for a power outage? There’s a lot you can do to make these inevitable interruptions much more bearable: It’s all about assembling a power outage survival kit and knowing how to stay safe while electricity’s down.

Let’s run through the fundamentals of how to prepare for power outages, including what sorts of power outage supplies to have on hand and strategies for meeting your basic needs during an extended blackout.

Power Outage Supplies: Emergency Preparedness Kit

Among your power outage supplies should be an emergency preparedness kit. If you’re a regular reader of the Mountain House blog, you’re familiar with the importance of such a kit, but it’s worth running through the basics again—especially because it’s one of those responsibilities we tend to think about attending to, but don’t always get around to following through on.

The more emergency provisions and supplies you can safely and securely stockpile, the better, but at a minimum the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends readying enough for 72 hours off-gridding it. That means a three-day supply of water—a gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitary purposes—and a three-day supply of non-perishable eats.

Not long ago we published a blogpost entirely dedicated to the principles of emergency food storage, and that’s well worth eyeballing again as you brief yourself on how to prepare for power outages. With the longest proven shelf life in the industry, Mountain House products make fantastic food for power outages: They’re as useful around the house during such an emergency as they are out in the wilderness campsite.

Our Just in Case…® line in particular makes storing enough backup food for the long term simple and straightforward, whether you’re prepping just for yourself or for a whole family. For example, our 14-day Emergency Food Supply provides you all the more wiggle room for dealing with protracted power outages, given it efficiently stows a two-week cache of meals for one person. (We’ll talk more about cooking during a power outage later in this post.)

Other emergency supplies for power outages to put in your preparedness kit: first-aid materials; a flashlight (ideally hand-crank) and backup batteries; a hand-crank or battery-operated radio (as well as a NOAA Weather Radio) with backup batteries; a signaling whistle; a backup cell phone with charger; moist towelettes and plastic bags with ties for personal sanitation; a supply of any necessary prescriptions or other medications; and a bundle of warm clothing, blankets, and sleeping bags, which are especially critical during wintertime blackouts.

Don’t neglect to regularly check on your emergency kit and replenish and refresh components as needed.

Want to learn more about putting together emergency preparedness kits? Check out this FEMA factsheet.

Prepare for Power Outages: Long-Range Planning

Besides assembling and maintaining an emergency preparedness kit, there are a variety of actions you can take to better ready your household for a future power outage. For example, making sure your home is well insulated will make regulating temperature if your heating or air-conditioning goes out a bit easier. Insulating water pipes in unheated rooms or crawlspaces will lessen the likelihood of their freezing (and maybe bursting) during a winter outage.

You might consider purchasing a portable generator for a readymade emergency power supply and installing a landline phone so you have an alternative means of communication besides a cellphone.

Ahead of a Potential Power Outage

Obviously you can’t predict a power outage, but weather forecasts can give you a heads-up when one may be likely. If severe thunderstorms, ice storms, blizzards, high winds, floods, or similar phenomena are expected, you should start preparing immediately for a potential loss of power.

Gather power outage supplies: Check on that emergency kit (again) and locate other flashlights, lanterns, and extra batteries so you’re ready in the go-to illumination department. Charge your cell phone, computer, and other electronics. Make sure your car has at least a half-tank of gas (remember, gas-station pumps may not be working during a power outage). Make or purchase ice, or freeze water in plastic containers, so you can keep the freezer’s provisions frozen for longer. And speaking of, crank your fridge and freezer to their coldest settings.

If you think your water supply may be impacted, fill jugs, pots, pans, and other containers with water as well as the bathtub (to be used for manually flushing the toilet and other sanitary tasks). Make sure you and other family members know how to shut off the main water valve to your house.

If you have an electric garage door, confirm where the manual release lever is and how to use it.

If you or a member of your household relies on a medical device that requires electrical power, come up with a plan of action in the event of a blackout. You should also notify your utility company if it’s a life-support system. (FEMA has more detailed recommendations on emergency preparedness for those with medical conditions or disabilities.)

If you have a fireplace or woodstove, make sure you have a decent supply of wood on hand in case you need to rely on it for heat.

What to Do During a Blackout

Unplug computers and other electronics and turn off appliances so they’re protected against the temporary surges that can occur when power comes back on. Leave a light on, however, so you know when electricity’s been restored.

Favor hand-crank or battery-operated flashlights and lanterns over candles as power-outage light sources.

During colder temperatures, use a woodstove or fireplace (if you have one) to keep at least one room toasty. Wear extra layers to stay warm. And in the event of any winter outage, keep your water pipes in mind: Swaddle them in insulation, and if it’s really frigid outside keep the taps trickling to lessen the chance of a frozen pipe (which may burst). In an extended blackout during cold weather, you may want to shut off water to your house entirely; be sure to drain the pipes if you do so.

Use generators sparingly to power the most necessary appliances. Always operate them outdoors in a well-ventilated area away from your house’s windows or air intakes. Make sure you’re using a power cord of the proper rating, and only plug in appliances that use less wattage than the generator’s output. (The American Red Cross offers more detailed tips on generator safety.)

How to Cook Without Electricity

You can use a charcoal or gas grill or a campstove to prepare food during a power outage, but only outdoors—never inside. A fireplace or woodstove can serve as an indoor cooking receptacle: For instance, you can cook meat or vegetables on skewers or wrapped in foil and placed on coals. A less desirable option is a fondue pot or a candle warmer, but make sure you’re exercising due caution at all times.

It’s important to conserve fuel and water during a power outage, so choose quick-cooking and one-pot meals. Here again, Mountain House entrees, snacks, and desserts prove their worth: All you need to do is add hot water!

Power Outage Tips for Your Fridge & Freezer

Minimize opening your refrigerator and freezer during a power outage in an effort to keep foods inside as cold as possible. A full, unopened freezer can keep items frozen for 48 hours, a half-full one for 24 hours. An unopened fridge can maintain perishable products at a safe temperature for as long as six hours.

If you’re facing the situation of no electricity for a week or more, you’re obviously going to need to work through your freezer and fridge reserves. Naturally, you’ll want to eat or at least cook the most perishable items—raw meat, for instance—first.

Chances are, you’ll probably run into a power outage or two at some point in your life—maybe a lot of them if you live in a storm-prone area. Readying an emergency supplies kit, insulating water pipes, buying a generator: These tasks can seem a burden in the context of your everyday routine, but they can be lifesavers when the lights go out. And don’t forget to stock up on those Mountain House supplies!

Beyond Camping: 5 Other Activities for a Mountain House Menu

A lot of people associate Mountain House with backcountry camping, which is just part of the story. But the truth is: we make Adventure Meals™. And adventures aren’t one-size-fits-all!

With a trusty spork and a way to heat water, you can take Mountain House with you wherever adventure calls. Here’s just a few ideas to get you thinking outside the tent …

Go Climbing with Mountain House

After so many pitches or boulders and so many bags of trail mix, there are few things more refueling than a warm, delicious meal. Taking a break from the crag and heating up a Mountain House meal will refresh your outlook on the day, making it that much easier to get back to what you came there to do: pull on rocks.

photo credit @NorthwoodsSteph

Tailgate with Mountain House

Grub up and game on! You put your best fan foot forward when you show up to cheer on your favorite team. So why stick with hot dogs and potato chips? Try serving up some Chicken and Dumplings instead, for the win. Just add water.

photo credit @frankivitis

Hunting with Mountain House

When you’re hunting, you have enough to keep your brain plenty busy. Reserve your senses for staying aware and focused, and let Mountain House keep you fed, distraction-free. 

photo credit @hannah.finley

Moving in with Mountain House

Everyone loves moving day!!! Oh wait. No. No one loves moving day. But it’s an adventure nonetheless, right? So instead of waiting until the kitchen’s unpacked to have a home-cooked meal, let us serve up supper for ya. Then find yourself a nice cardboard box to sit on, and dig in.

photo credit @kylekesterson

Century Ride with Mountain House

How many packets of Gu can you gulp down before your throat closes up and your stomach demands something of substance? If you’re committed to being on your bike for the long haul, well then we’re committed to making sure you eat well. Tuck a few of our single serve pouches into your bike jersey and bring a pocket stove for heating water.  Boom. Now it’ll be the ride of the century.

photo credit @liveoutsideandplay

Win Tickets to a Banff Screening Near You!

When you  hang out with the cool kids you’re cool by association, right? That’s how we feel being an official Major Sponsor for the Banff Mountain Film Festival! And because we already know that you’re super cool, we want to share in the fun with you and invite you to attend a local screening of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour!

So here’s the deal. Check out the list of US cities here. Then head over to Facebook and leave us a comment with the city of the screening you’d like to attend. That’s all you have to do. If we have tickets for you, we’ll reply to your comment on Facebook.

Check out the official video below, and look for the cool kids hanging out on a mountain somewhere around the 4:36 mark …

8 Must-Attend Survival Expos

If you’ve ever even simply casually investigated disaster preparedness and survival, you probably already know how much “prepper” information exists online. You can bone up on the basics of weathering both natural and manmade “SHTF” scenarios and order the necessary tools and supplies—all over your computer or smartphone. (And hey, we like to think our Mountain House blog has some useful resources along both of those lines…)

That’s all well and good, but there’s much to be said for reinforcing that web-based learning and provisioning with some hands-on and face-to-face activity. That’s the virtue of a high-quality prepper expo or survival expo, good examples of which can be found all across the country.

Drawing folks from all walks of life, these gatherings see experts share knowledge, practitioners swap advice, and vendors sell wares—all in the name of being ready in the event of a grid failure, a severe storm, a flood, or any other disruption, as well as generally adopting a more self-reliant mindset and lifestyle.

A Sampler Pack of Survival Expos

These prepper conventions and doomsday expos range in size from small county-level affairs to major regional exhibitions, and we won’t be able to present an exhaustive list of them. Here, however, are a few standout examples from different corners of the U.S.

(1) National Preppers & Survivalists Expo (Gonzales, LA)

The National Preppers and Survivalists Expo fills its two days with loads of exhibits, high-level classes, and other resources for anyone interested in emergency preparedness, homesteading, and survival. This year’s hits March 4 and 5.

(2) SGK Emergency Prepper Expo (Fredericksburg, VA)

The SGK Emergency Prepper Expo puts the focus both on emergency preparedness as well as all-around sustainable living. The next SGK Emergency Prepper Expo falls January 28 and 29, 2017 at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center.

(3) Prepper Camp (Saluda, NC)

Prepper Camp takes place in a bushcraft-friendly setting: the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina. It’s an immersive experience, what with the cookouts, fishing, swimming, music, and other rustic fun augmenting the demos, lectures, classes, and vendor stalls on hand. The 2017 Prepper Camp runs September 15 through 17.

(4) Great Lakes Emergency Preparedness Expo (Dimondale, MI)

One of the premier prepping happenings in the Midwest, the Great Lakes Emergency Preparedness Expo offers lessons from the experts on everything from assembling a 72-hour kit to taking care of Fido and Fluffy during a disaster. This year’s run-through happens April 1.

(5) Sustainable Preparedness Expo (Grants Pass, OR & Spokane, WA)

For the past several years, the Sustainable Preparedness Expo has been held in multiple locations; in 2017, it’ll take place May 21 in Grants Pass, Oregon and October 1 in Spokane, Washington. This survival expo focuses on off-the-grid self-sufficiency and disaster protocol.

(6) Preparedness Expo (San Luis Obispo, CA)

Put on by the American Red Cross, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and El Dorado Broadcasters, this prepper convention provides attendees with the know-how to respond to all sorts of cataclysms, although it puts special emphasis on the kinds of disasters San Luis Obispo County residents might be most likely to experience. (For instance, “THE BIG SHAKER!”, a 24-foot-long hydraulic trailer, simulates an temblor of 8.0 magnitude.) The 6th Annual Preparedness Expo takes place March 11, 2017.

(7) PrepperCon (Sandy, UT)

PrepperCon markets itself as the “ComicCon” of prepper expos, and it certainly goes above and beyond to incorporate a bit of fun and entertainment into the proceedings: from celebrity appearances to a prepper-themed fashion show. The Hurricane Simulator, meantime, gives you a firsthand taste of a Category 3 tropical cyclone’s punch. This year’s PrepperCon falls April 21 and 22.

(8) Full Spectrum Preparedness Expo (Topeka, KS)

The Full Spectrum Preparedness Expo has the classes, lectures, and supplies needed to ready yourself for whatever contingencies might be coming down the pike. This survival expo—which also proudly aims to foster a sense of community among Sunflower State preppers—will take place March 25 and 26 this year.

Whether you’re a veteran prepper or somebody who’s just now realizing the importance of readying oneself for garden-variety emergencies and once-in-a-lifetime disasters alike, doomsday expos and prepper conventions can provide valuable instruction, tried-and-true survival equipment, and plenty of opportunity to touch base with likeminded enthusiasts. Any of the above prepper expos are well worth checking out, and remember that there are plenty of others.

Turn to Mountain House for Prepping Tips—and Provisions!

Meanwhile we hope you’ll explore some of the other Mountain House blogposts dedicated to emergency/disaster preparedness—whether prepping on a budget, building a storm shelter, or properly storing food for emergency use. They make good background reading ahead of an emergency preparedness expo. And don’t forget that Mountain House’s Just In Case…® 14-day Emergency Food Supply kits make ideal provisions for your bug-out bags and other prepping reserves: This compact and stackable stockpile includes a delicious diversity of breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals for one person (totaling 100 servings). Like other Mountain House products, the 14-day kit hits a homerun with a killer combination: the longest shelf life in the industry and mouthwateringly good preparations—from Granola and Blueberries to Chili Mac with Beef to Chicken Teriyaki. (Hey, who said emergency rations had to taste like cardboard?)

Whether or not a prepper convention’s in the cards for you this 2017, we wish you luck in whatever disaster preparedness you engage in over the coming year: It’s worthy work, no doubt about it.

Cooking in the Backcountry With Your Kids

Backcountry camping with kids is a great joy. You get to see your kids experience the natural world, learn new skills, and move at a slower pace.

But bringing food into the backcountry for your whole family can be a bit of a challenge. You not only need enough calories for everyone, you need food that tastes good enough that everyone will eat it.

This is where Mountain House excels. We make products you can rely on to taste the same trip after trip, so your kids know what to expect and you don’t have to worry about bringing all the ingredients and spices to cook for multiple people in the backcountry.

There are two main ways to make the most of mealtimes with family in the backcountry.

As Many Calories, as Light as Possible

Freeze-dried food is pre-cooked and seasoned, which means a chef has cooked it before it gets to you. So, you can count on it to be delicious when you heat it up. That’s the other thing about freeze-dried: all you have to do for it to be ready is to heat it.

Bringing multiple large packages allows you to have several servings at a time, while also being able to mix up the flavor from meal to meal. We recommend bringing a spread of flavorsthat you know your family will like, such as:

Beef Stew
 Beef Stew

Chicken Breast and Mashed Potatoes Chicken Breast Mashed Potatoes

Italian Style Pepper Steak with Rice and Tomatoes Italian Style Pepper Steak
See the full line of our pouch flavors here. 

To be absolutely sure you have enough to feed the whole family, you can also get most Mountain House flavors in our #10 Cans, each of which has 10 servings. And once the can is empty, you can use it to pack out any waste you might have! See the full line of our #10 cans here.

Don’t Forget Dessert

Dessert is a great way to get the whole family some extra calories and make sure the next day on the trail is full of fun (rather than dragging feet). When you’re in the backcountry, you’re active almost all day. And if you’re not active, you’re still out in the elements. You need calories to fuel this activity, and at the same time you need calories to replenish the energy you’ve already spent for the day.

Dessert helps everyone get the calories they need to replenish and keep going. A chocolate bar is a simple option. Or, you could go with something that brings the flavors of home to your campfire, such as our New York Style Cheesecake Bites. Browse our full selection of breakfasts, entrees, and desserts. And the next time you and your kids hit the trail, take a pic and share with us! #savortheadventure
Cheesecake Bites


How to Prepare for a Flood: Emergency Flood Checklist

A flood is among the most universal of natural disasters: It can happen just about anywhere. That includes parched desert country, where canyons and washes are highly vulnerable to flash floods. And that includes urban areas, too, where heavy rainfall over a paved-over cityscape often generates violent runoff and overspilling channelized streams, and where storm drains may back up from clogged debris or simply the magnitude of precipitation.

Whether a seasonal floodplain overflow or a catastrophic 500-year inundation, floods can kill and sicken, rack up billions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage, and impede transportation and services for days and weeks on end. (The National Weather Service tallies some pretty sobering yearly flood statistics.)

Here’s how to ready yourself for high water in your neck of the woods!

Waterlogged Primer: The Nature of Floods

Floods come in all shapes, sizes, and timetables. They might impact a single waterfront neighborhood or swamp entire towns or regions. Hydrologists distinguish between slow-onset floods, which may slowly build from multiday rainfall and persist for weeks or months, and rapid-onset floods, “flashier” affairs that rise and fall more quickly.

Streams and rivers may leap their banks due to heavy and/or prolonged precipitation; they may also flood from spring snowmelt. Some parts of the country often see inundations from ice jams. (For instance, the Red River of the North, which flows, rather unusually, poleward from Minnesota and North Dakota to Lake Winnipeg, is notorious for regular flooding not only due to its pancake-flat basin, but also because its southern watershed often melts out earlier than the northern portion, where lingering ice can dam the river’s swollen springtime waters.)

Ferocious as the winds of hurricanes and tropical storms most definitely are, the most lethal effects of these tempests tend to be flood-related: from storm surges—where cyclone winds pile up ocean water inshore—and inland deluges caused by torrential rains. Storm surge can also coincide with high tide to result in a so-called “storm tide,” which may pummel coastal areas with waters better than 20 feet above the normal tidal reach.

Floods, of course, can also stem from the failure of artificial infrastructure: breached dams or levees, for instance, or burst pipes.

Flood Risks

Sound flood preparation means understanding just how dangerous high water can be. Overland floodwaters are deceptively powerful: A mere six inches can knock you clear off your feet, and only a foot or two can sweep a car away. (Cars can also stall out in surprisingly shallow water, leaving occupants vulnerably stranded.) Overflow may also be contaminated, and there’s also the risk of electrocution. In short, whether you encounter them while evacuating by foot or vehicle or inside your home, avoid entering floodwaters if at all possible.

Besides drowning, electrocution, waterborne illness, and other directly life-threatening effects, flood impacts can also include damaged or destroyed property, blocked transportation corridors, interrupted power, and polluted municipal water supplies.

Flood Preparation for Your Home

If you live in the U.S., you can assess the vulnerability of your home to flooding by looking up your address via the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center. The agency generates Flood Insurance Rate Maps (aka FIRMs)that portray high-risk, moderate- to low-risk, and undetermined-risk flood hazard areas. Federal law requires many home- and businessowners in high-risk areas to obtain flood insurance. It’s not required in moderate- to low-risk areas, but damaging flooding can still occur in these zones: According to FEMA, they account for a third of flood-related federal disaster assistance and better than 20 percent of National Flood Insurance Program claims.

If you live in a place prone to flooding, it’s smart to take measures to protect your house, such as:

  • waterproofing your basement;
  • installing a backup battery-powered sump pump;
  • elevating electrical systems and appliances such as furnaces at least 12 inches above the projected flood level; and
  • securing fuel tanks.

Putting Together a Flood File

As part of your flood checklist, FEMA recommends maintaining a “personal flood file,” a collection of essential documents kept in a waterproof container. Said file should include copies of your insurance information and a detailed inventory of major possessions, including serial numbers and receipts for appliances.

Flood Checklist: Emergency Kit

You may need to evacuate in the face of a flood and be unable to return home for an extended period of time, and goods and services may well be disrupted during and after the inundation. This means it’s vital you have an emergency readiness kit already assembled before a deluge comes knocking at the door. This should include water and non-perishable food provisions (such as Mountain House Just In Case…® supplies) for at least three days and preferably a week-plus.

Your flood preparedness/flood evacuation kit(s) should also include first-aid, any necessary prescriptions and toiletries, insulated clothing (including raingear), sleeping bags and/or blankets, flashlights (and backup batteries), a charged cellphone, spending cash and credit cards, and other essentials. A battery-operated or hand-crank NOAA Weather Radio is also a valuable tool to have on hand, as it allows you to closely monitor real-time flood conditions.(Check out this FEMA factsheet for a full flood checklist.)

Developing a Flood Action Plan

Evacuating ahead of or during a flood is much easier when you have some sense of where you’re going. This means developing a flood action plan that everyone in your household’s well versed in. Identify evacuation routes to high ground in your neighborhood as well as around workplaces and schools. In the event of a large or long-lasting flood, you may need to take refuge out of the region, so make a list of friends or relatives you might be able to stay with. Make sure everyone’s phone has emergency numbers programmed in, and identify a family member out of the region to serve as an emergency point of contact.

Practice makes perfect, right? “Dry runs” (if you’ll pardon the pun) put the finishing touches on any flood evacuation plan. Carry out periodic simulated flood drills with your family so everyone’s familiar with the step-by-step. Besides instilling confidence, these exercises can help you identify and fix any potential hiccups in your plan.

Flood Forecasts & Evacuation Orders

Pay attention to those meteorologists: The National Weather Service issues a “Flood Watch” (or “Flash Flood Watch”) when conditions are ripe for flooding; a “Flood Warning” (or “Flash Flood Warning”) means a flood’s underway or soon to occur. It’s also a good idea to keep tabs on alerts from the NWS River Forecast Centers, which monitors current and predicted river levels.

It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway): Take any evacuation orders issued by local or state officials seriously. The sooner you can seek safe high ground ahead of a flood, the better: Traffic’s liable to be heavy on major evacuation routes.

Imminent Flood Preparation

Besides the general measures we outlined above, you may need to implement some last-minute prep if a flood watch or warning has been issued. (But remember, again: Evacuation is the most important course of action in many cases, and you should absolutely abide by any evacuation orders issued by local or regional officials.) Move important documents, rugs, furniture, and other possessions to higher floors of your house. If directed to do so, you may also end up shutting off utilities and/or water to your house. Clear your gutters and downspouts of twigs and other debris in anticipation of downpours.

Don’t let floodwaters catch you off-guard: Prepare a flood checklist, assemble an emergency kit, come up with (and practice) an evacuation plan, and stay abreast of weather/hydrographic forecasts and any emergency declarations. You can learn more about flood prep and response over at

Here’s to staying dry—and safe!