Saturday, 22 August 2015

Digging the Hoes.


            If you ask most people to name a digging tool they will probably say “spade” or “shovel”. A couple of them may have said “Entrenching tool” but they were probably thinking of a spade or shovel based implement.


            Some time back I was watching a nature program that was discussing how well designed badgers were for digging. They have powerful chest muscles and their claws rake the earth and throw the spoil between their legs. Many other animals use the same method. The program also discussed the mole. The mole uses a swimming motion to move through the earth that pushes the earth to the sides. The mole uses a breaststroke rather than a doggy-paddle action but the basic mechanism is the same:- pull down the earth and scoop it away.
            If we once again consider the shovel it will become apparent that it generally does not use these actions. Shovels are mainly used to lift and move materials rather than pulling them and letting gravity assist. Many experienced gardeners and labourers will tell you that the shovel is not their digging implement of choice and that their preference is the pick, hoe, adze or mattock.

            I have been told that the most efficient way to dig a foxhole is with a three-man team. One man breaks the soil with a pick, the other two use spades to remove the loose soil. The fourth member of the fire team stands watch and these duties are rotated to minimise fatigue and get the job done in the shortest time.



            The entrenching tools issued to most armies have generally been some form of spade. A notable exception was that of the British Army in the Second World War. This was the '37 Pattern tool, a evolution of the 1908 pattern. While this is not as elegant as some one-piece or folding tools it is very cleverly designed. When assembled the head of the tool is at right angles to the shaft, forming a pick and a very wide-bladed hoe. The head on its own could be used as a shovel to move loose soil, the pick part sometimes wrapped in a sandbag as a grip. The end of the wooden handle had a fitting so that a spike bayonet could be fitted to form a serviceable mine probe. The handle itself could be used as a truncheon. For completeness I will point out that this wasn’t the only entrenching tool issued to British infantry. If the 37 Pattern has one flaw it is that it is a somewhat bulky and unwieldy shape to carry assembled so was not the best choice as close combat weapon.

 

            The modern infantryman typically has a spade-type entrenching tool. It may be folding and capable of using the head in a mattock/hoe configuration and it may or may not have a pick fitting to break up hard soil. Alternately a fire team may carry a selection of tools such as a pair of shovels, a pick-mattock and a hand axe. Most outdoorsmen do not need such extensive earth-moving capability unless they are in certain climates or environments. Most of the time an outdoorsman’s digging requirements are simpler :- cat holes and indian wells. What tools most effectively meet these needs?

            The simple hand trowel is the first solution that springs to mind. You can get these at the local garden centre or hardware store or certain outdoor suppliers will sell you a lightweight polymer/plastic example. While these are an option they are somewhat limited if the ground is hard or you need to dig a bigger hole than you anticipated. Personal security is always something you should consider, so I’d like a tool that can also provide me with some defensive capability if needed.


A web-search for “hand hoe” or “hand mattock” turns up a number of interesting tools, many of them under a pound in weight and small enough to be carried in a daysac. Some of these are small varieties of pick-mattock while others, intended for gardening combine a hoe with fork tines. For general camping (as opposed to military needs) my preference is more towards an example that combines a hoe blade with a flat hammer face that can be used for knocking in pegs and stakes. Such a tool can also be used as a useful prying-device, lever or hook for extracting stubborn pegs too. My preference would also be for a hoe blade with a point, like a trowel but I have yet to see any examples that have this combined with a hammer surface. The “camping hoe” is a possible niche in the market I suspect.

The Books
http://www.angelfire.com/art/enchanter/epsdbook.html 

http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/survival-weapons-optimizing-your-arsenal/paperback/product-21488758.html

http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/crash-combat/paperback/product-22603842.html



Are You Ready to Go?

            Here is a question to ponder over this weekend : Are you ready to go?
 

            Suppose, you are told at short notice that you need to go camping, leave the country or evacuate before the zombie swarm reaches you. How organised are you? How effectively can you lay your hands on things you might need?
             Regular readers will know that recently I had to prepare for a trip abroad on very short notice. This was relatively painless since most of the things I needed were already packed in my big black rucksac. I didn’t take that rucksac on this trip, but it was useful that I just had to reach into one pocket for my washkit, another for the medical kit and so forth. Even some of my “holiday clothing” was stored in this pack. (We will, of course, ignore the fact that at first I could not find this rucksac because I had forgotten I had stored it in my flatmate’s room!)
             My girlfriend wanted to borrow a tent for a girls-only camping trip the other weekend. All my tents and sleeping bags are on top of a wardrobe and easily accessed. My preferred “SHTF” kukri is already mounted on a belt along with a Puuko utility knife.
             On the other hand, last night I was looking for a mess kit and stove I wanted to show someone and this involved digging at the bottom of a cupboard for ten minutes. All the bits of the kit were together and I had a supply of fuel readily to hand to fill the fuel bottle, but was this kit truly “ready to go?” Not really! The interior should have had a brew kit, some Oxo cubes and a couple of blocks of instant noodles. The kitchen cupboard was also deficient of these items. I really should keep more food in the home for emergencies!
             This weekend I want readers to think about their level of preparedness and how easily they can gather necessities together at short notice. The useful tool of “Uncle Phil’s list” can be used to give us some guidelines here.


Uncle Phil’s List, with comments.
1) Shelter.
             If you own more than one tent, store them together and ensure each packed tent has sufficient pegs, poles and lines, with spares as necessary. When you buy a tent is often comes in just one bag. It is often prudent to place the inner and outer in separate bags and/or carry the poles separately. Place all the components in a larger storage bag or devise some other means that ensures components of different tents do not get mixed up.
              Other shelter items such as basha sheets, bivibags and such are probably best stored with the tents. You can thus choose the shelter best suited to expected conditions.
Emergency shelter items such as survival bags may already be packed in rucksacs or emergency kits. Similarly you might choose to keep one tent in your car or with your bike.

2) Sleeping.
               Sleeping bags, sleeping bag liners, kipmats, blankets and related items should probably be stored with your tents. When not travelling sleeping bags should not be stored in their stuffsacs. Keep the stuffsacs close to the bags so they can be quickly packed when needed. Some of my stuffsacs are tied to loops on the appropriate sleeping bag. My tents live on top of a wardrobe along with several of my larger rucksacs. The sleeping bags are laid over the top of these.


3) Clothing.
               I will admit that my clothing needs to be better organised. My summer and winter hiking boots are at the bottom of the wardrobe. Easily located but may take some digging out. Not being a total idiot I have tied the laces together so if I find one I can soon find its sibling.
             To prepare for a quick bug-out you should probably have a set of clothes suitable for rough travelling stored with your boots. Don’t forget warm items, waterproofs, gloves and hats. You will need a hat suitable for sun and one for colder weather. A boonie hat, headover and some bandanas or keffiyeh are ideal. Some of my wet weather items live permanently in various rucksacs or daysacs.


4) Fire.
               My emergency kit/pouch contains several ways to make fire, including a source of tinder (Vaseline-soaked cotton wool). Many of my packs or daysacs have a disposable lighter tucked into a pocket. A lighter should also be in a pocket of your bug-out clothing.


5) Water.
               My larger Platypus bottle with the drinking tube either lives in my black daysac or the big black holiday rucksac. Various plastic bottles (ex-soda bottles) live in other packs. My emergency kit/pouch holds water purification tablets and a plastic bag that can be used to carry and sterilize water. There is room for improvement here. My canteen cup was hibernating in a bag of miscellaneous outdoor items! I need to organise something where my cooking utensils are all gathered together and more readily accessible.
               Activities such as camping may require items such as a folding bowl or larger volume water storage.


6) Food.
             I should really keep more food in the house! I injured my back recently and could not leave the house for several days. I need to stock up on dry goods. I don’t generally eat tinned food but I should really have some in the cupboard for emergencies.


7) Hunting and Fishing.
             Means for hunting, trapping and fishing are included in the emergency kit/pouch. Actually having some food I can carry out with me would be more practical!


8) Cooking Equipment.
             Over the years I have acquired a variety of mess kits, camping cookware and stoves. I need to gather these together in one place so that I can easily choose the items most suited to the anticipated journey.


9) Medical and First Aid items.
             My main travel medical kit sits ready in a pocket of the big black rucksac so is easily located. I should probably make sure that my suncream and insect repellant are in the same pocket. They currently ride in another pocket of that pack. My personal medications are in my bedroom so an appropriate supply can be gathered at short notice. The emergency kit/pouch contains some additional medical supplies. Some of my other rucksacs contain more basic medical kits (ie, plasters, alcohol wipes and painkillers).


10) Tools.
             I have lots of these, and I really need to separate the genuine working items from the various curios and collectables. As mentioned already, my field kukri and a companion knife are already on a belt in the same cupboard that stores a big chunk of my other gear. The machete, golok and entrenching tools should probably join these. Blades should be sharp and ready for use. Other tools such as my telescopic walking poles should also be here. Some items such as the penknife and mini-leatherman are always on my person.


11) Navigation.
             My best compass is with my emergency kit/pouch. It actually has its own pouch attached to the belt of the main pouch. A small Suunto clipper compass is always with my penknife and mini-leatherman. If you have any other compasses distribute them to useful locations such as the pocket of your bug-out clothing or in the pack you usually use for hiking. A map or street atlas of the local area is not a bad idea.


12) Signalling.
             A compact whistle rides on my keyring. The emergency kit compass mentioned above has a plastic whistle on its lanyard. One of my daysacs includes a little gizmo that combines a whistle, magnifier, compass, LED light, mirror and thermometer. Got it from a 99p store and it mainly serves as the tag of a zipper, but it has the potential to be a useful spare. Any spare whistles can be added to other packs or attached to your bug-out clothing.
             I guess the category of signalling these days also includes mobile phones. Most of you will count this as an item you always have with you. Hopefully you are not one of the people that seems incapable of going more than two minutes without it in your hand! Your travelling kit may need provision to keep your phone charged. I have one of those handcrank gizmos but the lead does not fit modern phones. There may be more up to date versions available. Your phone charger may be an item in everyday use. Make a note on your travel checklist so you do not forget to pack it.
             In some parts of the world signal gear may mean CD radios, satellite phones or pyrotechnics. The first two will require charged batteries or means to charge them.


13) Light.
             No matter how civilized the location of your trip may be take a light source. It is amazing how readily useful items such as room keys find nice dark places to hide! My keyring always has a Photon II LED on it. Several of my packs have torches in them. My mini-maglight got lost in the tent fire at Leeds Festival. I now have a couple of the Chinese-made hand crank LED flashlights. While not as robust as “survival flashlights” their ability to hold a charge is impressive and I don’t need to worry about dead batteries. If you do opt of a battery powered design either store it with the batteries separate or block one contact with folded paper. Even with this precaution, check occasionally for signs of corrosion.
             Larger or more specialised light sources should be stored with your tools so you can readily select them. This includes candles and nightlights, useful for camping in the darker months.


14) Toiletries/Wash kit.
             I will describe the contents and rationale of my washkit and related items in a future post. These occupy a pocket in the big black rucksac so are easily located when needed. Deodorant is usually an everyday item so it is easy to overlook packing this in the rush to get going. Make a note on your checklist or buy a stick to ride in your kit permanently.
             A roll of toilet roll has its own plastic bag to keep it dry. This item is duplicated in some of my daysacs. Numerous uses including blowing your nose and as tinder.


15) Documentation: Passport, Visa, Books, Tickets, Money and Writing material.
             Some trips will need visas, passports, healthcare entitlement forms, tickets, boarding passes and foreign currency. You may want something to read too and I like to travel with a notebook. As always, make sure this items are organised so they can be readily located.
 Some of these items will need to be checked or prepared in advance, which brings me to another point. Make yourself a checklist and use it! It is easy to overlook something or take something for granted. Use your checklist and refine it with experience.


16) Rope and Cordage.
             The emergency kit/pouch has a hank of paracord created as described here. I usually put a hank of string or even a whole ball into a pack for more mundane tasks.


17) Repairs : sewing kit, tape, glue, spares.
             The sewing kit is a component of the emergency kit/pouch. On my recent trip space considerations prevented me taking the full emergency kit so I added the sewing kit to my medical kit. A small plastic bag contains more general spares such as rucksac buckles, electrical tape and superglue.


18) Specialist items.
             What these will be will depend on your intended trip. It includes defensive weapons, climbing gear, cameras, gift for hosts etc.


19) Packs.
             Now that you have decided what to take, you need to decide how to carry it. As you will have already gathered, most of my packs are all in the same place so I can choose which is most appropriate.


The Books
http://www.angelfire.com/art/enchanter/epsdbook.html 
http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/phil-west/survival-weapons-optimizing-your-arsenal/paperback/product-21488758.html