Paul Butzi |||

Skills are better than stuff

(I’m giving this an amateur radio tag although it is only tangentially related to radio. So many hams are into emergency preparedness, it makes sense in some way)

My amateur radio club has focus for every monthly meeting. About once a year, the topic seems to be What should go in your get home bag/emergency bag/bugout bag?”

A few years ago, I gave a presentation on what was in my family’s get home bags - a bag, in each vehicle, filled with stuff that we might need if we need to abandon the vehicle and get home on foot.

I suspect that most such bags are prepared, stuffed into the trunks of cars, and largely ignored. Three years ago, I tried to drive to the airport to pick up my daughter, but steadily worsening road conditions forced me to tell my daughter to hole up in a motel, and and then try to get back home. The entrance to our neighborhood is a big hill, and although my car is all wheel drive and pretty capable, I couldn’t get up the hill. So I parked the car at the church, and went through the get home bag. Everything I didn’t need between the town and my home got left behind. And then I just legged it home - three miles or so, through driving snow and cold. I was wearing a cap from the get home bag, gloves from the get home bag, an extra rain shell from the get home bag, a headlamp from the get home bag, and ate a cliff bar from the get home bag on the way. I arrived home slightly damp but otherwise just fine.

Now, mind you, I was in pretty good shape, and a three mile walk in the snow and dark was essentially a minor inconvenience.

So when I gave the presentation on what was in my get home bag, I offered the following advice:

  • capabilities are more important than skill and stuff.
  • skills are more important than stuff.

My point was simple - if I hadn’t been capable of walking three miles in the cold and dark to get home, I’d have been up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Stuck in town, no way to get home, no where to go. I would have been pondering courses of action that carrieD much, much greater risk to me than a simple walk.

I’ve covered 100 miles on foot in 32 hours. For me, covering 3 miles on foot is a bagatelle. I regularly walk in the dark, either just using ambient light or with a headlamp, so a walk in the dark with a headlamp felt perfectly normal to me. The gear from my get home bag helped but what was essential was two things: I was physically capable of the walk, and I had the skills to execute the walk. I could have made the walk without my get home bag. The get home bag just made it easier and more comfortable.

But there are a lot of people who couldn’t walk the three miles from my town to my home in perfect conditions, let alone a driving snowstorm in the dark and cold. There are people for whom a three mile walk in the dark is unthinkable. There’s nothing you could put in a get home back that would make them capable of making that walk.

Sometimes stuff can be a liability rather than an advantage. I’ve seen get home bags presented which included so much stuff that the packed bag weighed 35 pounds. 35 pounds is a huge load for someone not accustomed to carrying a load, and it’s crazy to think someone so out of shape they cannot climb a flight of stairs without gasping for breath is going to be able to carry that 35 pound load even a modest distance.

The only way gear in a go/emergency bag makes sense is if you have the skills to use it. A 300 piece medical kit with sutures, splints, irrigation syringes, and so on will just be dead weight if your first aid skills don’t include using those things; you’d be better off with a lighter kit that matches your skill set.

My point isn’t that emergency/go bags are a bad idea. My point is that you need to match your emergency plan to your physical abilities and your skill set, and then put together a bag that complements those capabilities and skills. And also, if you want to improve your preparedness, booking CPR and first aid classes might be more useful than ordering a big first aid kit off Amazon in terms of actual preparedness.

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