UPDATE: The Office Preppers EDC

Canned stew with pull-tab
My blog post back in July 2013 (The office preppers EDC) described a small everyday-carry kit that could help office workers cope with emergencies. Since then, we’ve seen plenty of nasty winter storms and other events that would indicate this isn’t a bad idea.

These days I’m driving to visit out-of-the-city clients more often. Many manufacturing companies tend to like less-expensive locations such as Kemptville, Perth, and Smiths Falls. So, I’ve had to change my EDC accordingly.

LEFT: Campbell’s Chunky Chili is a meal ready-to-eat straight out of the can, no opener required. Amy’s vegan stews also have a tab top.

Have a roadside assistance program

Of course, a Roadside Assistance Plan is a great idea, and most new cars include a plan from the manufacturer. Call CAA if you don’t have one.

Supplement your EDC with a larger kit in the car

The basics are still in my briefcase, and there’s the usual stuff in the car — jumper cables, blanket, tarp, shovel, duct tape, a liter of engine oil, 12-volt tire pump, and a few hand tools.

Apparently they say in the military that “two is one, and one is none”, meaning it’s good to have redundancy. That’s why there’s also a 12-volt auto phone charger, a larger first aid kit, a second flashlight with spare batteries, and — since I have an amazing talent for getting lost — a well-stocked map case to back up the GPS. In the winter I keep boots, an old parka, a hat, and mittens in the trunk.

Do you still need a radio? Yes!

Some believe having a small battery-operated radio is still useful, just in case their car battery dies or they have to leave their car. Some older mobile phones — like my ancient trusty Blackberry — have a built-in FM radio, and these should work even if there is no cellular service. Note that radios in phones often need to have a headset plugged in to operate. The headset is used as an antenna, so you can still listen through the phone’s speakers.

TIP > Inexpensive headsets from the dollar store work just fine (at least with my phone), and I keep a spare one in the glove box.

BONUS TIP > If you want to use the FM radio but want to max out your phone’s battery life, turn off the other radios (cellular, Wi-Fi and BlueTooth) individually. “Airplane Mode” turns off the FM radio as well.

What about food & water?

The main difference for me is that these out-of-town locations aren’t within walking distance of home. If the worst occurs, walking 80-100 km would take a couple of days. That means water and food are important. Experts say you can survive for three days without water, and three weeks without food, but there is great comfort in having cool water to drink in the summer and hot food in the winter. Staying hydrated also helps your brain function.

Storing food and water in your car over the long term isn’t without its challenges. Bottled water is a problem in the winter since a full bottle can explode if it freezes. Packaged food can have a short shelf life, and repeated freezing/thawing results in food that isn’t very appetizing and may not be healthy.

So, my solution is simple — a tote bag that I take with me and toss in the back seat. It holds my EDC kit, plus a reusable one-liter bottle of water, a spork, paper napkins, power bars, and a couple of cans of ready-to-eat stew. I take the tote bag inside when I get home, and replace anything that has been consumed.

TIP > If you fill your water bottle only three-quarters full, it will have room to expand and won’t explode if it freezes (in theory anyway). You might also want to take along water purification tablets or a water filter.

Stew? Why stew?

Stew is more-or-less a complete meal and has lots of fluid for hydration. In a pinch, stews can be eaten cold right out of the can. Personally, I don’t mind the flavours of ready-to-eat stews and soups.

Canned food might not be the healthiest choice, but we are only talking about occasional emergency use here. Cans have a long shelf live, often well over a year. Items with a pull-tab don’t even need a can opener. Ever tried opening a can with a Swiss Army knife? Sure, you can do it, but it isn’t what anyone would call convenient. “Road chefs” might be able to heat a can, at least somewhat, by setting it on your hot radiator (please not while you’re driving!). Get lots of contact area between the can and the radiator.

Others might prefer military-style Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), but these are expensive and hard to find in stores. You can order them online by the box. The freeze-dried meals popular with hikers and campers are easy to find and lightweight, but need to be mixed with boiling water. Another alternative is a bottle or two of Boost or Ensure, but again, be careful of freezing.

BTW, you can use a metal can to boil water if you don’t have a pot or metal cup handy. Boiling water for 1 to 5 minutes will kill the majority of bacteria and other micro-organisms in the water. It can also remove some chemicals by vaporizing them. Be careful not to burn yourself when handling a hot can!

However, boiling water will not remove solids, metals, or minerals. If you have a coffee filter with you, you can use it to strain water before boiling. Fold a couple of paper coffee filters flat, and tuck them away in a pocket of your EDC gear bag — they can also be used as tinder and emergency face masks.

The other additions to the tote bag are a few packets of Starbucks VIA instant coffee, a mug, an immersion heater, socks and underwear, a clean shirt, and your trusty toothbrush. If stuck overnight, caffeine hounds will be much happier after a cup of coffee in the morning.

Like insurance, it’s better to have this stuff and never need it than the other way around!

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