I was talking to my buddy Gaye Levy about this, just this week and it feels like a good time to repeat some of the ideas I shared with her.

Beware of “Hot Lingo”

Just because something says “tactical” doesn’t mean its any better than a “regular consumer grade” product.

Let me tell you a story:  Years ago, when I was working for an America HF radio company, one of our dealers in the Midwest had a customer who was looking to buy a bunch of HF radios to use in south Asia in a paramilitary setting.

Now, the radios that we were making at the time were marine SSB radios and a bit unconventional in that we had a “remote mountable control head” in 1999.  These are relatively common now, but we broke some ground with it.  Short version is while the radio had its fair share of issues (synthesizer noise, for example) it was made up for with other features.

As I talked to the dealer (whose initials might be Bob) we started jotting down what changes would need to be done to the radio to make it suitable for the paramilitary market.

George, can you get some shock mounts and a vehicle mounting tray under it?”

“Hell, yeah, we could.”

How about a change of paint colors?  Camo?”

“On my way to the hardware store now.”

“I know they won’t want the civilian microphones, either.  Can you put one of those fancy waterproof field microphones and one of those gold-plated pins connectors on the front?”

“Might take a week to get ’em in…”

“And we need a paramilitary sounding name…a PRC-something…”


With that, a “consumer/marine/fishing boat SSB radio was tweaked into a paramilitary version.  We sold them by the hundreds, too.  Great fun…we still smile about it 20-years later.

Point?  In this case, “tactical” came down to shock mounts, waterproof mic and a $100 mic connector, a can of camo spray paint and extra conformal coating on the circuit boards for their tropical destinations.

Ergo, when you buy a “tactical flashlight”  ask yourself “What am I buying here?”

I don’t know if you’re a real prepper, or not.  A real prepper would (like us) have a half-dozen Dorcy Waterproof Battery Powered Floating LED Flashlight with Carabiner Clip, Ideal for Camping and Outdoors at just over $9-bucks a pop.  They are yellow (easy to find) throw out enough light for everything but hernia surgery, and the battery life is fair.  More important is they are waterproof and float.

If you insist on buying a “tactical flashlight” I know a guy who can spray paint a lifetime worth of flashlights in your choice of olive drab or camo.

Notice how I’m carefully not not to call anything a scam…just reminding you a Shakespeare…”…a foo and his poo are soon goo…”  So beware of Hot Lingo.  And take a moment to assess whether you need a searchlight or just something simple for the trail.

Do You Camp? 

If you camp, you are already basically done with prepping.  You have a tent, sleeping bags, maybe a camp stove, hiking boots and the usual camping accessories. Toss in a fire steel, char clothe and a good eye for foraging and you’re good.

“Prepping” is the new “Marine.”  What I mean by this is during the decade-plus that I lived aboard my 40-foot sailboat (in Seattle, SF, San Diego, etc.) I noticed that a good carnuba wax for the old 944 did just as good a job on the sailboat’s gel coat as did the 9-times pricier “Marine Wax.”

Again, is prepping a scam?  What I’m trying to do here is lay out some common sense for you.  If you are in the PNW and you camp, you can get virtually all your prepping done at Recreational Equipment, Inc.  Which is the leading outdoorsy place for the back country adventurers.

That said, there’s a tendency to go a bit overboard when you are shopping online.  So, if you are not a camper, but you worry about that magnitude 12 quake leveling your home, a cheap tent from Wal-Mart works, too. Or, the $70-buck class on Amazon.

How Sharp are You on Knives?

OMG, if I have a dollar for every “tactical knife” that has been sold…

While there is some value to a “survival knife” I get a lot greater sense of security from carrying a Glock-19 and a .22 Taurus “boot gun” when out on the land.  That’s because I spend a day or two a week doing actual outdoorsy things.

Should I actually encounter a Spetsnaz recon force on our property, will a “survival knife” do me any good?  Naw…cheap hollow points on the other hand…

“Tactical” and “Survival knives” has been a flourishing industry.  But, now that I have the plasma cutter (and 4-sets of used lawn mower blades saved up) I can cut out my own knife blanks until hell ain’t a foot away and make my own.  (Admittedly, a Bowie Knife sounds a little more macho than a “Georgie Knife” lol)

If you don’t camp  a simple folding knife will do fine.  Anything by Spyderco or Byrd will work.  My every-day-carry knife is a BYRD Cara Cara 2 Folder3.75 in Plain FRN Handle, Brown and you can get ’em for under $30-bucks. Pocket clip and great one-handed mechanism.

My main bitch with most survival knives is they don’t do much of anything really well.  Are there better fish hooks and line than what’s in the handle?  And the compass in most won’t hold a candle to a good Chinese overlanding/sighting compass.

We Love Freeze-Dried, But…

There is a practical level to prepare for.  My personal horizon for storing things is six-months.  After that, I either have a garden in and can defend my food, or not.  I don’t see the case where having a 50-year supply of food is useful…so at what point do you say “Enough!”??

This is not to say we don’t have more than six months.  But, you may also rest assured that the diet will move from a lot of freeze-dried to egg noodles, rice, and oatmeal somewhere out at the 9-month mark.  And we better get some kind of crop in a year or the ultimate DIEt will be along shortly.  Which is why seeds are important.  With no computers and time on your hands, how many people own a useful shovel, rake, hoe, and an adz or something similar?  Hatchet?  Axe?

Point is, prepping is fine…if you are serious about it.  If you camp – that’s a great first-step and not nearly as pricey.  On the other hand, if you have a collection of “survival radios” you won’t have anything much working if you don’t start with the basics liker solar panels and battery banks

We suppose it’s just human nature to want to bend a credit card on some “silver bullet.”  But the smart money, in the event of an actual emergency, may be the money you spend on some blue tarps and clothes line…not the fancy (and often overpriced) “prepping goods.”

We were writing UrbanSurvival long before the prepping fad came along.  And God willing, we’ll be here long after it’s gone.

A simple rule of thumb? Prepping is 50% between the ears and 40% of the rest in camping gear. 10% in other stuff.  If you don’t camp?  Maybe a month worth of stuff makes sense, especially in earthquake country.

For as it is written in the Great Book of Ure Family Knowledge:

You can only spend it once.

Write when you get rich,


Power in the Greater Depression (Ch.11)
Prepping: For "Real" Farm Life