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Outdoor Cookware

If you’re cooking outdoors it is important that your cookware is durable.  Cast iron and stainless steel are the materials of choice.  Those nice pottery bowls and Teflon pans may be okay for the kitchen, but they have no place around a campfire.

Cast Iron Cookware

I have four pieces of cast iron cookware in my cooking gear.  I have a 10” cast iron pot with a bail and lid.  This is convenient to hang from an “S” hook over the fire.  I use it to cook things like stew, chili, chicken and dumplings, pinto beans, and etc.

A 12” Dutch oven is handy for baking biscuit, bread, pies, and cobblers.  It or the hanging pot are also good for cooking large chunks of meat like a pot roast.

I have a round 12” griddle that is great for cooking pancakes, corn cakes, and tortillas.  It’s also good for cooking bacon, sausage, spam, and sliced ham.

I actually have two different sizes of cast iron skillets, but I usually just stick to a standard 10” skillet for most situations.  If I’m cooking for a pretty good crowd I have a larger 12” skillet.  These are great for cooking eggs and for frying chicken or fish.

Stainless Steel Cookware

A large stainless steel lidded pot is handy for cooking vegetables, soups, rice, or anything else that you would cook in a pot on your stove.  I have such a pot that I use for large groups, but I don’t use it often.

I use a deep, round baking pan that fits inside my Dutch oven when I cook biscuits or bread. Some people cook biscuits and bread directly in the Dutch oven, but I use this pan and set it on three steel hex-nuts that elevate it about a quarter inch from the bottom of the Dutch oven.  I find that this cooks my bread-stuffs more evenly and avoids scorching the bottoms.  The pan pictured here is actually a new one.  My old one was fairly shallow, and I’m looking forward to using the new pan.

I also have a big stainless steel bowl that serves as my wash basin for doing dishes. It also doubles as my dough bowl for mixing up bread dough and letting it rise.

Enamelware

I have an enamelware coffee pot that has seen a good number of campfires.  Some people cook camp coffee by putting the grounds directly in the water, boiling it up, and then throwing in a cup of cold water to make the grounds settle.  Maybe you can make this work, but I always end up straining coffee grounds through my teeth.  I prefer to use the removable basket and percolator tube to make my coffee.

A medium size enamelware bowl is used for mixing biscuit dough, pancake batter, and etc.

I use my small enamelware hanging pot to cook vegetables, soups, and etc.  I find that I use it much more often than my large stainless steel pot.

I also have an enamelware lid that fits over my 10” skillet.

Kitchen Utensils

You can get as complicated as you want on utensils.  I keep it pretty simple. The main rule is “long handles.”  You want to be able to reach out over that fire without singing the hair off of your hand.  I use a big butcher knife and a small paring knife.  Also pictured is an old-time can opener.

A pair of meat tongs and a long handle fork are also handy; especially if you are cooking straight on the grill.

You’ll need a spatula, a ladle, and a spoon to cook with, and that weird looking thing on the right is an absolute necessity if you’re using a Dutch oven.  It’s called a lid lifter.

The last item on the list is a blow-pipe.  This is used to direct air at your fire to help build the flame.  It concentrates the stream of air much better than bending over and blowing through your lips.

Well, that’s it for cookware.  As you can see I didn’t exactly drive over to William’s Sonoma and buy my stuff.  It’s mostly hand me downs, garage sales, and thrift stores; but it works, and it has turned out some good camp meals over the years.

 

Outdoor Cooking Equipment

In any long-term grid down situation it will eventually become necessary to cook on an open fire.  This is, of course, assuming that you don’t have an old time wood-burning cook stove.  I personally don’t have a wood burning cook stove.  I have a propane cook stove, and I have enough propane to operate said stove for about a year.  This makes it easy to deal with run-of-the-mill power outages, but for a super long term emergency situation the propane will run out.  In order to keep cooking in such a situation I have put together a pretty good outdoor cook set.  This is not the kind of equipment that you can throw in a bug-out bag.  It is heavy, it is durable, and it will last for generations; but it is not very portable unless you have a vehicle.  I’d like, in this post, to tell you a little bit about my outdoor cooking equipment; so without further delay, let’s get started.

The Grill

The most basic component of your outdoor cooking set-up is the grill.  Grills come in many sizes, shapes, prices, and configurations.  There are many places that you can purchase a good cooking grill.   You can get a grill at a sporting goods store or a big-box store like Wal-Mart.  I actually bought my 12” X 18” grill at a home building supply store for about $10 US.  I think it was a replacement grill for an outdoor barbecue.

To support the grill I made four legs by bending some 3/8 inch bar stock as illustrated in the photo below.

To set up the grill requires a small camp shovel and a hand axe or hammer.  I use a hand axe because it is more multi-purpose than a hammer.

Start by digging a fire pit that is about four or five inches deep and slightly smaller than your grill.  One end of the fire pit should slope up to ground level so that you can feed firewood down under the grill.

Lay your grill down over the fire pit so that you can determine where to hammer in the legs, and use your hand axe to start the legs into the ground.  Set your grill on the legs and tap each leg in so the grill is as close to level as you can eye-ball.  You should end up with about eight or ten inches of space between the bottom of the fire pit and the surface of your grill.  This will leave enough room to get a good fire going under the grill.

To fine tune the leveling process, set a pan of water on top of the grill and tap the legs down until the water is level in the pan.  You may not think it’s important to level your grill, but it’s really annoying to try and cook something in a frying pan and have all the grease run over to one side of the pan.

Fire Irons

 

A set of fire irons is a metal framework that is used to suspend cooking pots or a coffee pot over your fire. 

Fire irons are not as easy to find as a grill.  I’ve never seen fire irons in a regular retail store.  You can probably find fire irons on-line if you want to go that route.  Any good size mountain man rendezvous or other re-enactor’s event will probably have a blacksmith or two that sells fire irons.  I had my set made by a blacksmith friend.  Blacksmithing is no longer a common profession, but if you search on- line you might find one near you.  Of course any welder can cut, heat, and bend up some 5/8” bar stock and make you a set.

 

One part of the fire iron set that is pretty hard for an amateur to make is the crane. 

A crane is a device that is attached to one of the uprights and can be moved up and down and swung from side-to-side.  A cook pot or a coffee pot can be placed on the crane and then the crane can be adjusted to keep the pot warm without any continued cooking.  The good news is that a crane is not really a super important part of the fire iron set, so if you don’t have one it’s really not a big deal.

To set up fire irons you simply drive the uprights into the ground on each end of the fire pit and place the cross piece on top.  If you use a crane remember to place it on one of the uprights before you drive the upright into the ground.  I like to place the uprights out as far as possible from the ends of the fire pit so that I have a little extra room at each end of the top piece to hang my griddle, my cooking utensils, and etc.  This also leaves better access for adding more wood to your fire.

 

One final item or really items that you’ll need for your fire iron set is some pot hooks.  These hooks are used to suspend cook pots from the top piece of your fire irons.  Pot hooks can be fancy black smith items, or they can simply be bent up out of ¼” round stock.

 

Whichever kind you use be sure to get them in varying lengths so that you can adjust your pots to different heights above the fire.

In my next post I’ll familiarize you with the various pot, pans, utensils, and accessories used in out-door cooking.

 

 

Other Set-Ups for the Plow Point Tarp

The Pole Framework Set-Up

I wouldn’t waste the time or energy to do this set-up for a one night stay, but if you have a lot of materials available and if you are going to be in the same location for several nights, you may want to set up a pole framework for your tarp.

To do this set-up you will need a ridge pole that is a little longer that the diagonal length of your tarp, and you will need a couple of forked sticks that are about six feet long.  You don’t necessarily have to have forked sticks as you should have plenty of cordage in your kit that can be used to lash together some straight sticks into a bi-pod that supports the ridge pole.  You will also need a short piece of cordage to  attach the front of the tarp (one of the cords used to tie around your kit will work for this), and you will need seven tent stakes.

First set up the framework as pictured below.

Here is how you can lock the forked sticks and ridge pole together.

Now you drape the tarp over the ridge pole and stake down the back of the tarp.

Pull the front of the tarp up and tie it off to the ridge pole and forked sticks then stake down the sides.

 

The One Stick Set-Up

If you are in a situation where you have very limited vegetation you can set up your tarp with only one stick.  In the example below I have pitched the tarp using only my walking stick which is about five feet long.

In addition to the single stick you will need two of the six foot pieces of cordage from your kit and all of your tent stakes.

First you need to stake down the back of the tarp.

Then you need to attach the front of the tarp to your stick.  In this instance I used the lanyard on my walking stick and looped it through the front grommet on the tarp and then back over the walking stick.  If you use a found stick you will need to use a short piece of cordage to tie the tarp off to the stick.

Now pull the tarp forward to tighten up the ridge line and attach your two, six foot pieces of cordage to the top of the stick.

This next step is easier to do if you have two people so that one person can keep the stick in place while the other person sets the tent stakes, but you can do it alone as I did in this instance.  So, what you do is drive in a couple of tent stakes that are about 45 degrees on each side of the stick.  The stakes need to be about four feet out from the stick. 

Tie off your guy lines to the stakes to hold the stick upright.  Make sure that the ridge line of your tarp is tight.  Use your remaining tent stakes to stake out the sides of the tarp and you’re done.

The Plow Point or Diamond Fly Tarp Set-Up

I started using this particular tarp set-up years ago.  At the time everyone I knew called it a diamond fly.  Today the term plow point seems to be more popular, but which ever name it goes by this is definitely one of the quickest and easiest set-ups that you can use.  If you tie off the front of the tarp to a tree you can create a good, rain proof shelter in ten minutes or less.  If you don’t have a convenient tree to use it may take a few minutes more.

Here’s the equipment you will need from your shelter kit:

You will, of course need your tarp.

You will need one of your small, pre-made loops and your bungee cord

You will also need one long stake and six short stakes.

Lastly, you will need a couple of your six foot long guy ropes and one of the little two inch sticks.

Now let’s set up our diamond fly:

First lay out your tarp as pictured below.  It’s best if you can find a location with one tree at the front of the tarp and another tree at the back.  In this case the front of the tarp will be attached to the tree on the left.

Next, attach your small loop to the front corner of the tarp.

Use your bungee cord to attach the front of the tarp to the tree.  You can vary the height according to conditions, but I usually set the front at about chest height.

Grab the back corner of the tarp and pull it back toward the back tree.  Use your long stake to stake the tarp down good and tight so that you have a nice diagonal ridge line.

Use your six short stakes to stake out first one side of the tarp and then the other.  You want to pull the sides out as far as you can without making the ridge line start to sag.

You could stop at this point and call it home, but it only takes a minute to make your set-up a little better. What we’re going to do is attach a guy line between the center loop of the tarp and the back tree.  This will pull the ridge line up a little bit and keep it from sagging down in the middle.  If it’s very far to the back tree you may need to tie two guy lines together to make a long cord. Here’s how you set up the guy line:

Attach one end of the guy line to the tarp’s center loop as pictured below.

Pull the other end of the guy line back to the back tree and wrap it around the tree a couple of feet higher than your bungee cord is attached to the front tree.  Tie the guy line off using the simple quick release knot pictured below.  Notice that the small stick is inserted into the finished loop to prevent accidentally untying the knot.

That’s it.  You’re ready to move in for a good night’s sleep, and the next morning you can break camp as quick as you set it up.

 

My Bug-Out Shelter Kit

When some people are camping they like to be in a tent; other people like to sleep in the open or under a tarp.  I am in the later group.  If the weather is nice, I like to sleep in a hammock or a sleeping bag and bivy sack under the stars.  If the weather is threatening rain or if it is cold; I like to sleep under a tarp.  There are several reasons that I prefer a tarp.  For one, tarps are very light to carry.  My tarp set-up including lines, stakes, etc. weighs 3 lbs. 10 oz.(that’s about 1.65 kilos for my non-American friends).  For another thing, a tarp is very versatile as far as different set-ups.  A tarp can be set up to take advantage of a fire for additional heat in the winter, and it can be suspended overhead to allow better air circulation in the summer.  A tarp also allows better exterior visibility than a tent.  And lastly, a tarp can be used in conjunction with a hammock, something that is not possible with your average tent.

I’m going to do a couple of posts on my favorite tarp set-ups; but before I do that, I thought it might be good to show you my bug-out tarp kit.  Some might say that I include too much in my kit.  Some of the items could be foraged or manufactured in the wild.  This is true.  You could, in fact, build your entire shelter from foraged materials, and I encourage you learn how to do just that.  But, everything about survival is a trade-off.  You have to constantly be thinking about how much space you have in your pack, the weight of items that you carry, the time necessary to locate and/or make items in the wild, and the calories burned carrying items as opposed to the calories burned making items.  I consider the small amount of added weight in my kit to be negligible compared to the time and calories used to do things like cutting tent stakes.  My whole tarp kit weighs three pounds and ten ounces and rolls up into a nice 24” by 6” bundle.

Using the items in this kit I can make my three favorite tarp set-ups without any additional materials. So anyhow, this is what’s in my kit.

Item number one is my tarp.  It is an inexpensive vinyl tarp that you can get at Harbor Freight or Wal-Mart.  The tarp is about eight by ten feet.  I used tarps like this for several years; but I recently modified it, as outlined in the previous two posts, by painting the inside with reflective aluminum paint, and I have added a center loop to the outside.

Some set-ups require a ridge line.  I carry a twenty-five foot piece of 550 para-cord to use as a ridge line.  It has permanent loop tied into one end.  The ends of all of my cords have been melted to prevent fraying.  Be sure that you use good, military grade para-cord, not the cheap stuff from the craft store.

A 40 inch long bungee cord is handy for quickly setting up plow-point shelters (more on that in the next post).

I carry eight guy lines that come in handy for some set-ups.  Each guy line is six feet long with a permanent loop in one end.

My kit includes eight tent stakes.  Two on them are about eleven inches long and made of steel. 

The other six are seven inches long and made of aluminum.  These are actually aluminum nails that are used to hang rain gutters.  You can buy them at the hardware store for about fifty cents each. 

I keep them bundled together with one of those thread covered rubber hair bands.

Some small loops of para-cord come in handy for certain set-ups.  I carry six pre-made loops bundled together with a hair band.

I carry four little sticks that are pre-cut to about two inches long.  These are used for tarp attachments and to secure easy release knots (more on this later).

All of the lines, stakes, and etc. are stored in a small stuff-sack.

The last item in my kit is a piece of camo netting that I can drape across the front of my shelter to help conceal it.

So, that’s my tarp kit.  In subsequent posts I will show you how to make several tarp set-ups using the items in this kit.

Adding a Center Loop to your Vinyl Survival Tarp

Most vinyl tarps have grommets around the outside edges but few, if any, have loops on the back of the tarp.  A center loop can be very helpful with tarp set-ups like the diamond fly, also called the plow point.  The center loop allows you to attach a line in the middle of the tarp and give a little lift to take the sag out of your ridgeline.  But, my $15 Harbor Freight tarp didn’t have a center loop; so I decided to attach one myself.

I have added loops to canvas tarps by stitching and then re-waterproofing the affected area, but I was concerned that this wouldn’t work on vinyl.  I was afraid that it would either leak or tear out too easily, so I thought that maybe I could glue the loops on for a stronger and more leak-proof bond.  I found a You Tube video by a young fellow who goes by “Brave the Wilds” in which he glued on tarp loops (check out his You Tubes at www.youtube.com/user/bravethewilds), so I followed his lead and proceeded as follows.

To do this project you will need the following:

Tape measure

Marking pen

Woven nylon webbing

Scissors

Ice pick and heat source

Straight pin

Sewing machine or needle and thread\

Medium grit sand paper (one small piece)

Rubbing alcohol

Cotton ball

Two part, five minute epoxy

Some weights

First cut a piece of nylon webbing that is about six to six and one half inches long.

Next, heat the ice pick in a flame and use it to gently melt the ends of the webbing.  This will keep it from unraveling.

Fold the webbing in half and pin it about an inch from the loose ends.

At this point you can sew across the loop by hand of with a sewing machine.  My wife sewed it for me on her machine, and she went back and forth about three times to make it good and strong.

So now you have your loop and it’s time to prepare for gluing.

Lay your tarp out on a flat, hard surface and set the loop down on your center mark.

Use your marking pen to outline the area to which the loop tabs will be glued.

Use the sandpaper to very lightly rough up the surface of the tarp and the tabs of the nylon webbing.  This will help the glue adhere better.

Dampen the cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and clean the surface of the tarp and the loop tabs.  Let them dry for a few minutes.

Mix the five minute epoxy according to directions.

Apply epoxy to the tarp trying to stay inside the outline that you have drawn.  Get a good coat of epoxy but don’t overdo it.

Apply epoxy to the loop tabs

And press the tabs into place.

Place some weights on the top of the tabs to press them down but don’t get epoxy on the weights or you may end up with them glued to the tarp.  A couple of small pieces of wax paper between the tabs and the weights might help prevent accidental gluing.

Note that 5 minute epoxy sets in 5 minutes but it is not cured and strong.  You should leave the weights in place for at least over-night to make sure that the loop is firmly attached.

When you remove the weights you will have a nice web loop attached to your tarp.

Here are a couple of pictures of the tarp loop in use.  It seems to be firmly in place and doing its job.

Make an Inexpensive Reflector Tarp for a Warm Survival Shelter

The wilderness survival community has, of late, taken a keen interest in using reflector blankets or reflector tarps to help create warmer lean-too shelters.  The idea is that if the inside of your lean-too has a reflective surface, it will reflect the heat of a campfire onto you as you lie in the shelter.

This is not really a new idea.  I can recall Mors Kochanski advocating for this quite a few years ago when he developed his concept of the “super shelter.”  Mors suggested placing a shiny Mylar survival blanket on the inside of your tarp to reflect radiant heat into the shelter.  More recently I have seen several companies selling survival blankets/tarps.  These survival tarps are made of more durable material than Mylar and they have a reflective surface on one side and grommets to aid in set-up of a shelter.  One problem with these commercial tarps is that the ones I have found are fairly small.  What I am going to show you here is how to make any size vinyl tarp into a reflective tarp that is pretty durable and quite a bit cheaper than a commercially made model.  Let me emphasize that I have only done this with vinyl tarps.  I don’t know how it would work with nylon or other fabrics.

The idea for this tarp came to me in a blinding flash of the obvious when I was working on one of the out-buildings on my farm.  The building in question is about 25 years old and is covered in corrugated sheet metal.  The metal was starting to look a little on the rusted side, so I decided that I would paint it with some Rust Stop metallic aluminum paint from our local Ace Hardware store.  I bought a gallon of the stuff for about $30 US.

They also had quarts for about $10, but I knew that a quart wouldn’t be enough.  So, anyway, here I am standing up on a ladder painting this building when the sun comes up over the trees.  In about ten minutes I started feeling like a rotisserie chicken.  Man, I thought, this stuff really reflects some heat, and that’s when it hit me.  I wonder if I could paint this stuff onto a vinyl tarp?  Well, sure enough, I had about a half-gallon of paint left when I finished painting the building, so I decided to try a little experiment on a tarp.  I got an old tarp and painted a couple of square feet with the aluminum paint.  It flowed on smoothly and covered with one coat. It also didn’t appear to be damaging the vinyl in any way.  So far; so good.  I let it dry in the sun for a couple of hours before I gave it the durability test.  When it was dry I scraped it with my finger nails and there was no peeling.  I folded it into a crease, wadded it up, and just generally tried to make the paint crack or peal.  The tarp seemed to be completely flexible, and the paint adhered beautifully.  I thought to myself, “We may have a winner.”

I unstrapped the 8’ x 10’ camo vinyl tarps that my wife and I have attached to our bug-out bags and went to work.  I laid a tarp out on the ground and used a three inch foam brush to apply the paint.

It went on easily and took about 45 minutes to apply.  I left the tarp out in the sun for a couple of hours to dry.

When it was nice and dry I gave it another round of durability testing, and it seemed to work great.  Even better, painting the two 8’ x 10’ tarps barely made a dent in my half gallon of paint.  I bet a quart would paint three or four of these tarps, so if you have friends that are into this kind of thing you could share the cost of the paint.

I did learn a couple of lessons from the first tarp that helped make the second one a little easier.  First of all, do this in the shade or on a cloudy day.  These things really, really reflect a lot of light and heat.  Second, use some tent stakes to stake down the corners before you paint.  This keeps the tarp from moving around as you paint it.

So there you go.  An easy way to turn a $15 Wal-mart tarp into a high dollar reflective survival tarp.