Gaye Levy, Contributor
Anyone who has gone camping overnight knows that there is a certain magic involved when sitting by a campfire or camp stove, sharing fish tales and roasting marshmallows over the flickering flames. The whole idea of being off-grid for a few days is embraced as a big adventure and something to look forward to as way to disconnect from our busy lives and the digital world.
Alas, as fun as a camping trip can be, the adventure could get tiresome if not downright frightening if you were forced to camp due to either a short-term power disruption, or the longer-term side effect of a major disaster of calamitous proportions.
Think about it. We depend on power for the most mundane things. Lights, heat, cooking, laundry, basic hygiene and, of course, let us not forget about computer and internet access, are all driven by the power grid. Unless you are lucky enough to own a generator (and even then you need fuel – lots and lots of fuel), when the grid goes down, so does life as you know it.
So what is it like to go off-grid?
A couple of weeks ago Todd, the prepper guru at the Prepper Website, got a taste of the off-grid lifestyle for himself. And no surprise, things did not quite go as planned. He shared the following with me.
Lessons Learned Off-Grid
Last week, my dad and I spent three days at his property in East Texas to clean up and prepare for a future foundation for a structure that we would like to place on site. We’ve been wanting to go for a while now (when it was cooler), but we were waiting for the well to be finished up. The property is totally off-grid, with no electricity, propane and even the well needs the generator because the pump is so deep, so I knew that there would be some lessons learned as these city folk spent three days out roughin’ it!
Lesson: I over estimated my physical ability to work out in the heat. I’m not a wuss. I work hard and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. But most of my day, nowadays, is spent inside in the AC. The heat just drains you and I was constantly thirsty!
On the way up to the property, I was looking forward to stopping at Whataburger (only in TX I think) to have a big hamburger before getting to the property and eating “camp” food. Dad wasn’t hungry, so I told him not to bother stopping. As soon as we arrived, we started unloading the tractor, clearing a path for the truck and trailer and setting up the tent and shade cover. By the time I knew it, it was late and I had lost my appetite. I was thirsty though. It seemed like I couldn’t quench my thirst. I had water and Gatorade, but I was always thirsty. I did monitor myself and my dad. I made sure we were drinking, using the restroom, sweating, etc… So we weren’t in danger, but it was hot.
I wasn’t as sore as I thought I would be afterwards, but the heat did take a lot out of me. I weighed myself at home, even after eating a hamburger on the way back home, and I lost 5 pounds! I’m sure it was all water and I’ll gain it all back!
After the generator was started and hooked up to the well, I had all the cool water I wanted. But this situation did cause me to reflect on the fact of “what if” I had to bug-out and the water I had in my BOB ran out. You can only carry so much water. In hot climates, this needs to be really thought out!
One of the items that we both thought were invaluable were those neckties that cool you when you soak them for five minutes. I have purchased one for each member of my family off of eBay, but the two that I had with us were from Walmart. I found them in the sporting section for under $4. We used them constantly.
Lesson: I forgot some important items. I feel like I’m a pretty organized person. I also have a pretty good memory. But there was so much that I was trying to remember that I forgot some important items. I don’t usually have to make lists, but I can see how they insure that you don’t forget important items.
I forgot my camp stove, sun screen and table. The table wasn’t a big deal. Dad had one that we could take up there, although it was a lot smaller than what we needed. For the rest of the items, we stopped at Walmart. I hated to buy another camp stove, but that’s what we were using to heat up water, etc… I could have made a fire, but I’m glad that I didn’t go that route. When you’re tired and hot, spending the extra time and effort to build a fire isn’t what you want to do unless you absolutely have to.
There is always going to be items that you forget, making an effort to minimize your forgetfulness is very important.
Side note – the Sporting Goods section in small town Wal-Mart’s suck compared to those found in the “big city.” The Sporting Goods section was about 1/3 the size of the one that I’m used to.
Lesson: Things broke and didn’t work. My sunglasses, bic lighter and generator broke or didn’t work as I thought. I’m bad with sunglasses. Actually, I never take my sunglasses out of my truck. They stay clipped to my visor when I’m not driving.
But the sun was so bright that I thought I should wear them. I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the line they broke. I can still wear them, but nevertheless, sunglasses are important for eye protection and eventually, the small crack that developed will give way and I won’t be able to use them.
The thing that freaked me out was the lighter that was fairly brand new, didn’t work. The wheel was bent and wouldn’t strike the flint. Thank goodness I had backups.
I lit the stove with my Primus Fire Steel. If that didn’t work, I had the fire steel on my Gerber fixed blade sheath and also the fire steel on my paracord bracelet. I could have ultimately used the flint in the lighter and the car lighter too.
Lastly, the generator didn’t work just as I thought. This is my first generator. Weneed it to run the pump on the well. I don’t like this, so I’m working on a way to make sure we can have water, even if we don’t have gasoline. But I digress… I purchased the generator the week before and left it in the box. I assembled it on site (wheels and handles) and started it. It wouldn’t stay on! I pulled the string, checked all that I knew, but it still wouldn’t stay on. I breezed through the manual, looked at the troubleshooting section and still no luck. After about an hour, I figured it out. Basically, it was not enough oil. The automatic shut-off was not allowing the generator to get going due to the lack of it. At the store, the salesman sold me a bottle with enough oil for two changes. So, with that information, I put in half of the bottle, right? It wasn’t enough! After putting in more, it was fine.
I should have assembled the generator at home and gave it a test run first before I really needed it. If the generator wouldn’t have run, we would have had a rough time.
The equipment not working didn’t lead us to tragedies or anything, but it still speaks to the need for redundancy and to the fact of making sure your equipment is in working order BEFORE you need it!
The other thing that we used a lot and could have used more was rope. We used a lot to put up our big shade cover. Because we only had a limited supply, we couldn’t string the cover all the way to the next tree like we wanted to. It still worked for us. But the lesson is that you can never have enough cordage!
In conclusion, I love it out in the country! We are already planning to go back up there again in the next week or two. I will take all these lessons into consideration as I start planning the next trip. But I’m sure that the next trip will have more lessons to learn. And that’s the beauty of it all, learning and growing and making adjustments as we move forward.
Never say never when it comes to being prepared.
Now I know what you are saying. “I already know that stuff . . . that would never happen to me.” Well think again. In Todd’s case, he had time to do advance planning. He is an experienced prepper and a smart guy. Yet in this – what turned out to be a good practice run – he learned that he had some shortcomings.
Unlike Todd’s recent experience, in the case of a real emergency, you would have no time to plan while in the moment. Instead, you will be in a “what you see is what you get” situation. To help mitigate the lessons you will learn in the field, I would like to summarize six things you can do to prepare for going off-grid.
Six Ways to Prepare for Going Off-Grid
1. Stay in good physical shape. Life in the rough is more difficult that life on the sofa. You will more likely than not be walking with a pack, carrying water, chopping wood and performing other strenuous activities. The best way to prepare for this is to get in shape now.
2. Plan on water for drinking – and lots of it. Make sure that you acquire some way to purify water in the field plus make sure you have some way to carry the water whether it be it bottle or a portable bladder. Heat will be your enemy in this regard, so be prepared or you will go down like a flash from dehydration.
3. Think about the gear you will need and start acquiring it now. There will be no Santa Claus to deliver gear to you when the grid goes down, and if there are stores open (unlikely) they may not have what you need. And just as important, keep your gear together in a central location – you are less likely to forget about it if it is all located in one place.
4. Redundancy is your friend. Sure, it is great to use a lighter or matches to start a fire. But also have a flint and steel as well. The same thing applies to lighting (candles, lanterns and chemical lighting), knives and other items.
5. Practice in advance. Go camping and enjoy a family weekend in the wilderness. Learn how to use your stuff before your life depends upon it.
6. Make a list and check it twice or even three times. Put a checklist in your bug-out-bag and use it. I personally keep a list on the inside of my closet door – front and center where it can’t be missed.
The Final Word
Even the best of preppers can learn from real-time experience. Of the six ways to prepare for going off-grid, perhaps the most important is taking the time to drill and to practice in advance. Hone your craft and have fun doing it. And as always, hope you never have to use your off-grid skills for more than just a day or two.
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Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye Levy, the SurvivalWoman, grew up and attended school in the Greater Seattle area. After spending many years as an executive in the software industry, she started a specialized accounting practice offering contract CFO work to emerging high tech and service industries. She has now abandoned city life and moved to a serenely beautiful rural area on an island in NW Washington State. She lives and teaches the principles of a sustainable, self-reliant and stylish lifestyle through emergency preparation and disaster planning through her website at