Director's Blog

 Follow us daily as our director, Scott, shares his thoughts and keeps you abreast of all workings at the institute.

Date: 10/28/2017 9:31 AM EDT

The band saw is an extremely versatile tool.  Many wood-workers would say that it is an indispensable part of their workshop.  From cutting out the exterior of complex shapes to milling boards from firewood and making boxes, the bandsaw certainly isn't going anywhere.

Martinsville/ Henry County, Virginia was the heart of the US furniture industry for years.  As a result we have a tremendous woodworking knowledge from which to pull.  We sat down with Lori Shockley Scott, a 30 year production band saw operator, to get the pro tips that could only come from experience.

1.  "Make sure your band blade has flex to it."  In Lori's years of experience she learned to gage blade flex by slapping the blade with her fingers.

2.  "Make sure your blade guard is down all the way - no more than 1in over stock."

3.  "Keep it clean!" - Blow out your saw with compressed air after each use.  In the production shop, Lori blows out her saw at the end of each day.  This will keep your saw running smoothly as dust doesn't have time to collect.

4.  "Watch your fingers!"

5.  "Keep table waxed."  A slick table will reduce your effort and keep things safe.

6.  Some material require a little lubricant on the blade.  "Only lubricate the outside with silicone spray."  If lubricant is applied to the side that touches the wheels there is increased chance the blade will slip off.

7.  "Install your blade with the teeth facing down."

8.  "Smoke or difficulty cutting is a sign of a dull blade."

9.  "Blades should run smoothly.  Jumping is a sign of a bent blade or something more severe.  Replace it immediately."

10.  "Always wear safety glasses."

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Date: 6/20/2017 11:19 PM EDT

One of the most popular questions we get asked is how to deal with ticks and other bugs in the woods.  The severe effects of Lyme disease have been a concern of outdoor enthusiasts for a good while now, but more recently emergent diseases have made headlines by causing severe allergic reactions to meat.  Plus with mosquitos carrying diseases like Zika, it just pays to protect ourselves from these blood suckers.

Our first line of defense against the environment is our clothing.  Just like dressing for winter, seal off pathways for air to reach your skin.  These are the same pathways on which a tick or mosquito will capitalize.  Start by tucking in your shirt to your pants, and your pants into your boots.  Do your best not to allow any avenues a tick could enter.

Despite our best efforts, sometimes ticks do get in.  It is good practice to take a piece of elastic and tie it around arms and legs.  Ticks like warm, dark, and damp places.  If they do manage to get past your clothing, the piece of elastic seems like a good place to call home stopping them from traveling to harder to search areas.

The chemical industry has come up with some pretty good protection from insects. DEET stands for diethyltoluamide, a chemical rated to kill insects and be safe for contact with the skin.  I've had pretty painful though short lasting rashes from a lotion containing 100% DEET.   Off Deep Woods Insect Repellant is a readily available spray option that contains 25% DEET available at Walmart and most drug stores.  We've had students use it in class with great success.

The best option for treating your clothes is without a doubt Sawyer Products Premium Premetherin.  Simply spray generously on your clothing the day before your outing.  As it dries, it forms a shield against bugs for up to 6 washes.  All you have to do is let it dry, and you are protected.  I've seen bugs fall over and die like they were in a cartoon.  This stuff works that well!

Garlic oil, rosemary, lemongrass, peppermint, and thyme are common spices that have been shown to have some level off repellant against insects.  A smudge or smoke bath is a traditional means of naturally deterring pests.  When moving into a debris hut that may have sat dormant for some time, it is common practice to drive insects out of the shelter by a smoldering a small bunch of leaves.  The bugs think a forest fire is coming and really high tail it out of there.

Above all, the number one way to keep ticks off you is to avoid them.  Ticks really like areas of transition from woods to field or creek.  They wait on grass and leaves until their prey walks nearby where the tick can fall or jump to hitch a ride.  If you stay deep in the woods or in the middle of the field one stands a better chance at avoiding a tick bomb.

Frequent checks are essential to a comprehensive tick maintenance plan.  A detailed check of one's body should be performed twice a day while in tick country.  Ticks' jaw structure makes it hard for their teeth to grip when inverted on their backs.  Should you be bitten by a tick, use tweezers to gently flip the tick on its back before pulling.  Do not rip as it increases the chances that pieces of the tick will be left in the wound.

Monitor a bitten area.  Should the area become inflamed see your Doctor.  Further symptoms of lyme include headaches, joint pain, fevers, fatigue, and muscle pain.  See your doctor should you experience any of these symptoms after an extended stay in the woods.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is an understatement when it comes to bugs and the diseases they carry.  A compound approach ensures the highest probability of defense.  Use herbal deterrents, treat your clothing with premetherine, use a spray repellant approved for skin contact, and use your clothing as a physical barrier by sealing off entrances to your body.  These steps will greatly decrease your chances of disease carried by an insect.

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Date: 6/6/2017 4:04 PM EDT

We get the question frequently, "what pocket saws do you recommend?"  There are a lot of great saws on the market, and plenty more crappy ones.  Take from our experience and choose the right saw for you.

The Bacco Laplander a long time bushcrafter favorite.  It has relatively small teeth and a thick kerf which makes it less than ideal for processing firewood, but still gets the work done quickly.  The Laplander's sleek design and lightweight construction make it a great carry saw.  At about $20, it is a good priced option for finer wood processing tasks and pruning.

The Silky Ultra Accel was built for rugged continual use by loggers looking to clear limbs quickly while suspended from trees.  Its aggressive teeth, curved shape, and longer thinner blade hog out material to get jobs done two to three times faster than then Laplander mentioned above.  The Ultra Accel fits comfortably in larger pockets but is suited best in a back pack or car door ready for easy access.  It is the most expensive option at about $60.

The 8in bladed Corona Folding Saw is available in just about every big box home improvement store and combines features of the Bacco Laplander and Silky Ultra Accel for a best of both worlds scenario.  Its durable lightweight construction makes carry easy, and long thin kerf blade with aggressive teeth gets cutting done efficiently.  At less than $20, the Corona Saw is the best value in the line up.  We like these saw so much, we choose to outfit our camp with them.  I do like to add a drop of LockTight to the primary nut holding the blade to the handle to ensure durability as they tend to back off over time.

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Date: 4/5/2016 10:56 PM EDT

We are significantly expanding the pastured poultry operation.  A mobile chicken tractor keeps birds contained and happy and constantly exposed to fresh pasture.  This is the first of 10, and its construction yielded crucial hints to finishing your tractor quickly.  Stay tuned for detailed step by step instructions.

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Date: 12/3/2015 2:07 PM EST

Pine trees can be found all over the world, and when combined with water makes a quick and tasty pine needle tea.  Wether in the bush or the kitchen at home, you can enjoy a cup packed with Vitamin C with minimal equipment.

A cup of pine needles
Knife and cutting board or scissors
3-4 cups Water
Heat Source
Filter:  French Press, cheesecloth
Coffee Cup

1.  Harvest pine needles from a source at which you are confident chemical spray has been kept to a minimum.  Christmas tree farms particularly may cover their fields with pesticides to minimize weed or bug damage.
2.  Begin to heat water.
3.  Clean off the bark or paper looking sections leaving green pine needles remaining.
4.  Increase the surface area by finely chopping the needles.
5.  Add pine needles to warm water.  For best tasting tea, look for gentle steam, but no bubbles, or between 160 and 170 degrees F.
6.  Steep your water and needles together for about 10 minutes.
7.  Strain out needles.  A French press effortlessly strains out needles or ground coffee beans that could be added to the compost pile for a rich soil kickstart.
8.  Serve

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Date: 8/13/2015 2:44 PM EDT

Photos courtesy of Pete Porter

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Date: 7/28/2015 11:45 PM EDT

Part of the recent survival training in partnership with Sigma III Survival School took the nine instructor candidates into 44,000 acres of West Virginia reclaimed coal country for knife only survival missions.

Heavy metals tainted the landscape.  Iron discolored the stream banks in a reddish orange, while much of the water itself looked a cloudy white, evidence of aluminum contamination.

Sparing the details of an at times grueling exercise, two points were highlighted and underlined.
1.  Everything Is Sacred - I cannot stress this enough.  The trek to get "clean" drinking water, the hours of bow drilling wet wood to get a fire, to the speed of cutting with a saw, the hunt for plant matter and protein - it is easy for us to overlook the conveniences our society provides.

2.  Our way of life comes at the detriment to nature.  There is a Cree saying, "That only after the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money."  What otherwise would have been gorgeous, the area was uninhabitable long term.  A solar still is the only water purification method that I am aware of that can remove heavy metals from a water source, but it has little effect on the fish and plant life heavily saturated.  Everything society has achieved and accumulated has come from a hole in the ground somewhere, and our children will be tasked with cleaning up this scarification and toxification of the land.  Unless we change our way of thinking and living there will be no world left for them to inherit.  It is responsibility of the older generations to lay up for and future generations.  This is the Sustainable Homestead Institute's mission - to tip the scale away from degradation in favor of regeneration.

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Date: 7/10/2015 9:29 AM EDT

We are proud to be hosting Sigma 3 Survival School for their 40 day instructor course. The Instructor Program is made up of several classes including Survival Standard, Advanced Survival Standard, Wild Plants, Advanced Primitive Skills, Bow making, Scout and Knife only survival, SERE and Long Term Survival Curriculums. These classes are packed with information related to living with the land. Take a look at the schedule and reserve your spot in future Sigma 3 classes here at the Sustainable Homestead Institute.

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Date: 3/30/2015 4:30 PM EDT

If you follow us on facebook you may have seen some pictures of the plants started in the greenhouse, as well as some of the plants already going outside.  Here is a short rundown of what is in store for our local customers:

Red Beauty Hybrid Peppers (68 days until green; red about 2 weeks later)  “A red bell pepper widely adapted to reliably turn red in almost any area of the country.  Very thick-walled, heavy fruits are blocky, and about 4 inches long.  Heavy yields of bright red sweet peppers.  Resistant to tobacco mosaic virus.” – Tomato Growers

Sweet Banana Peppers (72 days)  “Bright yellow fruits are sweet, crunchy and about 4-6in long.  Many folks eat them right out of the garden, but they are delicious pickled as well.  Gets sweeter as they ripen.”  - Sustainable Seed Company

Fresno Chili Peppers (75 days)  “From the area around Fresno, CA.  Fresno Chile Peppers will grow 18-24in tall and bear 2-3in long peppers.  Like many peppers they start out green, got to orange, and finally red.  Looking for a medium hot pepper that won’t burn your mouth, but will still pack a punch?  This is it!  5-10k Scoville units.” – Sustainable Seed Company

Keystone Giant Peppers (75 days)  “A large bell pepper and great variety for classic bell pepper taste.  Bears large fruits up to 5in, with a blocky shape.  Usually eaten while green, fruits have a sweet flavor and crunchy texture.  Plants grow 2-3ft with nice yields” – Trade Winds Fruit

Jalapeno Peppers (75 days)  “Fiery, thick-walled peppers grow 3in long and 1-1/2in wide, with rounded tips.  Dark green at first, then turn red.  Good for fresh use or pickling; famous for nachos and other Tex-Mex dishes.”  Tomato Growers

Bronze Mignonette Lettuce (65 Days)  “You know this is a favorite if it has been around for over 100 years.  A heat resistant cultivar that is slow to bolt and produces emerald bronze heads are about 8in across with crumply, crisp leaves perfect for salads or sandwiches.  Does well in hot climates and is semi-doubt tolerant.”  Sustainable Seed Company

Golden Acre Cabbage (65 days)  “Golden acre cabbage produces 3-4 pound heads that are succulent, sweet and tender.  Golden Acre Cabbage produces round, tight heads shaped like globes.  Know for its early production and uniformity and is a great cabbage for coleslaw or stir fry.” – Sustainable Seed Company

Early Snowball Cauliflower (60days)  “A very sure-heading variety with large, white heads of delicate flavor.  Low in fat content and a good source of vitamins A and C.  Cool weather crop.” – Ferry Morse

Waltham 29 Broccoli (74 days) “Waltham 29 produces uniform hight yields, good color, and big side shoots.  It is cold resistant and grows into a compact plant.  The main heads are 4-8in with steady side shoot production after the main head is harvested.  It is a good cultivar for freezing.” – Sustainable Seed Company

Early Green Broccoli (60 days)  “Hardy annual 18-24in plant, 5-7in head.  This short season broccoli variety yields a large tight head followed by an abundance of succulent side shoots until a hard freeze.” – Seeds of Change

Sioux Tomatoes (70 days)  “Indeterminate.  This heirloom variety was originally released in 1944 by the University of Nebraska and is worth planting today because of its incredible flavor and reliably large harvest even in hot weather.  Although this appears to be an average round, red tomato, you just have to grow it to believe how good it is – sweet yet tangy and full of those rich, complex flavors that make a delicious tomato memorable.” – Tomato Growers

Tomato Growers Garden Salsa Hybrid (73 days)  “A medium-hot pepper developed just for homemade salsa!  It is milder than Jalapeno but hotter than Anaheim, offering the amount of heat that suits the average American palate.  It is also useful for picante sauce and various other Mexican dishes.  Smooth green peppers are 8-9in long and 1in wide, ripening to red.  Large plant produces a big yield and are tobacco mosaic virus resistant.”  Tomato Growers

Better Boy Hybrid Tomato  (75 days)  “Rugged vines produce large crops of bright red, 12 to 16oz smooth flavorful fruit.  Similar to Big Boy, but with additional disease resistance Better Boy is firm and perfect for slicing.  One of the best tasting, garden tomatoes available anywhere.” – Tomato Growers

Celebrity Hybrid Tomato (70 days)  “A 1984 ALL_AMERICA SELECTIONS WINNER.  Absolutely incredible set of exceptionally flavorful, firm 8 to 12oz fruit on strong vines with good cover and outstanding disease resistance.  Large clusters of consistently large, beautiful tomatoes.” – Tomato Growers

Supersonic Hybrid Tomatoes (70 days)  “Very large production of meaty, 8 to 12 ounce tomatoes with good flavor and solid structure tolerant to cracking especially popular in the Northeast.  Vigorous vines grow best with some means of support.” – Tomato Growers

San Marzano (80 days) “Indeterminate Excellent for canning, tomato paste, or puree.  Rectangular pear-shaped, 3 1/2in long fruit with mild flavor and meaty texture.  Bright red color.” – Tomato Growers

Brandywine (80 days) “This is a version of Brandywine that offers red fruit with luscious old-time, red tomato flavor.  Plants have regularly-shaped leaves and are extremely productive, bearing long harvests of these 10 to 16 ounce fruit.  Heirloom from the late 1800’s.” – Tomato Growers

Roma Tomato (70 days)  “Determinate.  Famous pear shaped fruits that bring to life any Italian dish.  Roma are noted for the juicy paste and few seeds that come from this time tested tomato.  Roma is mid-season crop that ripens within a 2-3 week period for an easy harvest.” – Sustainable Seed Company

Large Red Cherry Tomato (75 days) “ Indeterminate.  Large red cherry produces clusters of large red cherry tomatoes over a long season.  Perfect for salads or just popping in your mouth when you’re in the garden!  Preplanning in greenhouse or a sunny windowsill will ensure a good crop.” – Sustainable Seed Company

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Date: 2/4/2015 7:33 PM EST

A refugee bag is the physical system that accompanies your mindset, planning, and training for surviving and rebuilding during an event that requires fleeing from your home or home range devastation.  Building a one-kit option for your entire life can seem like an insurmountable task.  It is an exercise in efficiency and a journey into exploring your wants and needs.  The bug out is a full migration to greener pastures while depleted or sick areas recover.  Returning to your stores may not be an option so a refugee must include everything needed indefinitely.  Families during westward expansion carried so much stuff they needed an oxe and a cart.  Even with advances in technology, it seems like a nearly impossible undertaking to fit your entire life and life support systems into a backpack.  The bug out bag is distillation of life to survival simplicity, but true mastery begins with the realization that the life support system is not what is put in the pack, but it is what is all around living with nature and your ability to craft what you need from the wild.

“An animal is an instrument played by the landscape," is a favorite saying of survival expert, Tom Brown jr.  A desert traveler will carry more water than an eastern woodlands hiker.  But the common denominator is water and its essentiality to human life.  There are enumerable differences between individuals, but the end of the day our human necessities dictate that we all live the same.  Survival experts sight the “Rule of Three” when considering priorities of survival.  
The Rule of Three
                        Three quarts of blood
                        Three minutes without air
                        Three hours without proper shelter
                        Three days without water
                        Three weeks without food
The human body requires five quarts of blood to be happy.  When you only have three quarts left, that is when you loose consciousness and you die if no one helps you.  This is mentioned first because it corresponds to the importance of safety.  A good medical kit is secondary to practicing blade safety fundamentals most importantly is do not cut towards yourself.  At the time of writing the author has a particularly nasty axe wound at the base of my left pointer finger.  An expert in all things machinery and construction friend of the author will show off his less than full hand saying, “it took 40 years of practice before I cut my fingers off with a chainsaw.”  So it bears repeating that a good medical kit is secondary to safety and paying attention.  Accidents are accidents and trauma is trauma; a medical kit is essential in any expedition.  An acceptable medical kit covers minor cuts and scrapes and ailments to initial trauma stabilization.  Additionally the author’s medical kit is the conglomeration of several commercial available kits designed to limit critical blood loss, relieve a sucking chest wound, and create an unobstructed airway.  Once a person is stabilized chances of survival are much greater and exceeded the author’s level of experience other than calling for an ambulance and going to the hospital.  CPR classes are available through local organizations and regularly offered.  Further medical training and certification can be found through emergency medical services or fire department in your area.  The military’s rule of thumb is that your medical kit is for you.  So everyone has got to have one.  But if there are no medical services, you will have to rely on nature.  Milkweed can help seal a scrape, dried sphagnum moss becomes a gauze pad, yarrow powder a coagulant, and a boiling of acorns will create a wash high in germ fighting characteristics.  There is a plethora of medicinal plants available to the aware woods-person.  A firm understanding of medicinal plants is critical to be supplemented by the things you carry.  The example kit also includes a one handed fercerrium rod for fire starting incase one of my hands is damaged.  A well organized field guide to medicinal plants can point the way to learning about the healing properties of natural items.  Other equipment may be added based on medical training proficiency. 

Subsection two of the rule of three reminds us that three minutes without air will put a short end to the survival journey.  Thankfully the trees of the earth produce fresh air, but up until recently few would think it necessary to worry about polluted air.  Near apocalyptic images of Kiev covered in smoke, pepper spray, and tear-gas accompanied by the images of sorrowful faces coated in carcinogenic debris from New York City’s Twin Tower Buildings at minimum have highlighted the potential need for a gasmask in a bug out kit. 

Clothing is the first layer of shelter.  Gear for a tropical environment is not the same as gear for an Alaskan expedition, but both may need to be accounted for when packing a bug out bag.  This is dictated by the need to get out of the initial danger zone.  If we compare bugging out to the first second of a gunfight, the most critical thing is to get off the line of attack because your reaction will always be slower than someone that already attacking you.  So in a refugee situation being forced from your home you need to get off of the line of danger.  The tragedy at Fukashima highlighted this necessity.  If the large plooms of radiation force you to the north out of the danger zone but you have only packed for east to west travel, you may be colder terrain.
The key to keeping core body temperature up and happy is layers.  Wool has amazing thermal properties particularly when wet.  All of the layers with exception of raingear in the author’s bug out bag is wool.  It retains 80% of its ability to hold heat when wet.  On the other hand cotton holds none.
The next line of shelter is a sleeping system.  A debris hut will keep you warm well below sub zero temperatures, but a sleeping bag is a packable option for folks on the move.  When every calorie is valuable, it is a luxury to unroll your bedroll and be asleep in no time as opposed to building a hastily constructed natural shelter each evening if you are moving quickly.  The military sleep system is offered by the United States and can be found in great condition for note much money for the ALL weather capability and millions of dollars in research and development.  It utilizes three sleeping bags that nest inside each other for colder temperatures.  Many nights a full on tent or tarp are not required when sleeping outdoors.  The military sleep system also includes a gortex outer covering that acts like raingear for your sleeping bag.  Because the sleep system’s size compresses next to nothing, it is a really good option for warm sleeping on the move and a staple of the author’s bug out bag.  A really good rip stop camping tarp is included for additional shelter on rainy days, water collection, or debris hauling.
Most of your body heat is lost through the ground.  No sleeping system is complete without something to lift you off the ground.  Leaves and grass mats are a natural option.  The author choses an inflatable pad after putting away the OD green military standard issue pad passed down from my parents.  The inflatable pad stows away smaller than the roll up kind, but become inefficient when punctured.
Since we are warm and out of the elements, we now need to get something to drink.  Water is all around, but water isn’t created equally.  It is rare to find a place acceptable to drink directly from the surface.  The only way to be sure the water is safe to drink is to boil it.  Just bringing the water to a rolling boil is enough to kill any pathogens.   At least a 40oz stainless steel canteen makes a good water bottle because of its ability to boil water sitting next to a fire.  Even plastic containers can boil water, but it is difficult to outlast a stainless steel water bottle.  In addition to the steel water bottle, a water filter is a great addition.  The right water filter will allow you to drink or pump water into your container ready to drink saving you time and risk at the expense of very little weight.
In order to purify water or cook food, a reliable way to start a fire is not a bad addition to the bug out bag.  I really enjoy friction fire.  It is thrilling to see the coal jump to life from a pile of black dust.  After four solid years of practice the author has gotten to a point of competency with a hand drill friction fire method.  A lot of this skill requires proper material selection, which in field during a monsoon might be difficult.  A bug out bag will include several means of fire for when the elements overcome your friction fire proficiency.  My favorite next to a Bic lighter is the ferrocerrium rod.  When a piece of steel is scraped across, the oxidation causes the filings to spark lighting properly processed tinder on fire quickly.

A really nice fire is now crackling away at camp, but the pre prepared food in your kit isn’t going to last forever.  Peanut butter and tuna fish are staples of my backpacking kit.  In addition Duke 110 traps, 220 traps and snares provide long  term food procurement without a firearm which may be regulated or draw more suspicion to you as you travel through potentially hostile environments.  Trapping is a numbers game.  The more traps you put out the more things you will catch.  Skillful production of “primitive” traps is a great way to have more game getting potential, but it is hard to beat the ease and convenience of the Duke traps particularly because of the weight vs the calories they produce.  I don’t know anyone that would speak poorly of the Duke lines of traps.  Have-a-Heart live traps are a fantastic option as well, however, they don’t fit easily into a backpack.
In addition to meat sources, plants provide essential nutrients and don’t run away.  Pine needle tea is very tasty full of vitamin C.  Grass can provide calories through chewing and swallowing the juice produced.  An edible plants guide is a mandatory addition.

Rope is an essential tool in the wild.  Rootlets provide easy cordage and reverse wrap cordage techniques produce extremely strong cordage.  Rope is used to hold up a tarp or lash the frame of your structure together, to make baskets, or fishing lines.  I carry a small amount of paracord marked for bow drill fires and a much larger amount of 110 bank line usually used in fishing and net making.  Using the reverse wrap method I can make that 110 pound bank line hold substantially more weight if need be so there is little need to be carrying a heavy duty rope.

In any situation the right tools make all the difference.  Making a “cutting” tool with rocks doesn’t take too long, but the performance advantage from a saw is a 10,000 year advantage.  Nestled on the side of my backpack’s main pouch is a 30 inch folding bow saw with extra blade, which in addition a smaller folding Bahco saw, makes any wood cutting task extremely efficient.  A full tang fixed blade knife is pretty much a staple of anyone who spends time in the woods.  A knife with a full tang has one piece of metal running from the blade all the way through the handle.  This heavy construction allows for abuse that shatters other knives.  A small axe rounds out my tool kit for its ability to chop wood and handle large tasks quickly.

Don't forget to bring a towel.  Identification documents and sentimental items should be considered.

The very last item to consider is the bag itself.  The items that go inside need to actually fit your bag, and if you spend a lot of money on a primo backpack that doesn’t fit what you want to carry, you potentially have wasted some time and money.  There are lots of bags out there.  Some less flashy than others, a camo bag may be what you want in the woods, but a tote bag may make you look less like someone that has something to take.  Other than size a bag should be comfortable and offer padding at the shoulders, back, and hip straps.

At a long enough time in the bush your tools will become worn out, your clothing ripped, and your consumables gone.  Your bug out kit provided you the gear to quickly move out of a danger zone, but the time may come that you need to utilize the skills of our ancestors to produce a life for you and your family.  If you want to learn more about the skills and how to implement them to create abundant and healthy villages, visit or feel free to email me at  Subscribe to our youtube channel to see the accompanying video when it is uploaded.

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