Most people have heard, “Two is one and one is none.” Things break, get lost, or get taken and sometimes they aren’t easily fixed or replaced in the field. That’s why you need to have a backup for anything critical. There’s a critical point that people miss here though that needs to be addressed.
Imagine being cut off from your group in the middle of the woods and realizing that you’re now gonna have to spend the night outdoors until the storm blows over and you can get your bearings. You reach into your bug out bag and find that you didn’t pack any way to start a fire because your partner had that covered. Wouldn’t that suck?
Obviously, you need to have redundancy amongst members of your team on the most basic level but don’t just jump out there and get 5 of everything for your team of 5.
The same goes for the gear that you personally carry. You can’t very well use a knife if you’ve lost it in the high grass somewhere in the past 10 miles. Also, sometimes things just break or run out of fuel. You need to have a spare. But you gotta be smart about what you’re choosing.
Here’s where a lot of people go wrong. Sometimes something will work perfectly at home (or on the internet) but not in the field, even though there’s nothing actually wrong with it. What good does it do to have two of them then? Your spare shouldn’t be a duplicate if at all possible.
Carry redundant capability, not redundant gear
I’m a big believer that one of the best survival items you can carry is a simple lighter. They’re cheap, easy to carry, and work in most cases to get a fire started, provided you’ve built it to stay lit.
The problem with these lighters is they don’t like to work right away if they’re wet, they sometimes don’t light in extreme cold or after they’ve been lit for a while, they don’t work well in windy conditions, they won’t catch things on fire that are wet, very easily, and they can run out of fuel – especially if they’re cracked. If you chose to have a second simple lighter as your only backup, you’re S.O.L. for starting a fire.
Instead of getting the same, identical item, think about what could possibly cause your first one to fail – and get something different that will cover the same critical need but not have the same problems.
In this case, you’d be better off choosing a different fire starter that would work in harsher conditions, such as a windproof lighter, or something that won’t run out of fuel such as the awesome Doan Magnesium fire starter. You’d then not only have a backup in case your primary doesn’t work, you’ve expanded the scenarios that you could start a fire.
By having different solutions to the same problems, you’ve not only helped protect yourself against the risks presented by losing or breaking something necessary, you’ve increased your capability to solve those problems under more varied circumstances.
Wargame different scenarios
This is just one example of a system I’ve come up with to power my flashlights and small electronics. I’m just listing it here so you have an idea of how you should run through different scenarios to make sure you can do what you need. Same thing goes for being able to have safe water or be able to build a shelter, etc. I’m using electronics to make the point because it’s more complicated than the others, so it’s a better teaching example. This is a really simple concept once you get it but it helps to break it down.
Having light available is a very useful thing in a survival situation and VERY nice thing for everyday living at night. I wanted to make sure that I had light available whenever I needed it and do it in such a way that it doesn’t cost me a ton of money or weight/space. I also wanted to make sure I had power available for my cell phone and/or ham radio since those are the best ways of rescue and/or survival reference if you have them available, whether it’s because you’re lost in the woods or trying to survive a natural disaster.
I’ve converted all my lights to AA battery lights now (except for the awesome Luci solar lanterns I have). Even the cheap little 7w super-bright torches I carry are AA. AA might not be the best battery in and of itself, but it’s the best battery overall.
Why? Because I want to make sure I have light in pretty much any scenario, and I can do that with AA, and not have to carry a lot for that ability. I sat down and war-gamed several different scenarios where I had and didn’t have things available to me.
What if you found an abandoned car with a good battery? Could you use the connections and gear you currently have to charge your AA batteries or charge something like a USB battery to charge them later? What if you had access to a 12v accessory plug from a vehicle? What if you didn’t have anything to plug anything into and were far away from civilization?
AA batteries are everywhere in urban environments so if I’m caught in some kind of natural disaster in town, I can easily find batteries inside TV remotes, clocks, or many other places. This is just one type of scenario though, so I have to consider if I don’t have access to those places, such as being in the wilderness. I can have pretty much unlimited lighting from A/C, DC, directly from a car battery, from solar, or from a portable battery that I can also charge different ways.
I now have rechargeable AA batteries to power my flashlights. As long as I can charge them, I have power. They key is to be able to do that under almost any circumstances. The centerpiece of this arrangement is my Goal Zero Guide 10 battery pack.
That pack will charge rechargeable AA batteries with power it gets from a USB cable. As long as I can get access to USB, I now have unlimited power for my flashlights (and cell phone, etc). This is also something that I make sure I have redundancy. Don’t forget if you’re traveling that motel room TVs almost always have a USB port in the back nowadays in case you lose your charger.
Just like the fire starter thing above, you shouldn’t have identical backups if you can help it. Obviously I need a USB cable to power the battery charger so having an identical spare wouldn’t be an issue but to save some space, I got something like one of these for my iPhone instead of carrying another normal one (I can’t find the exact one I have to show you because I got it from a booth somewhere). Having two cables would be better than one because cables break but you have to go further. How are you gonna put power to those USB cables if your primary method doesn’t work or isn’t available?
If you’re in town and have access to A/C power, the easiest way is to have an A/C-USB wall charger (a USB block that plugs into the wall). I carry the one that came with my iPhone because it’s not only very compact, it’s essentially free since I already have it. I also have an A/C AA charger that I carry because otherwise my USB AA charger becomes a SPOF (Single Point Of Failure). You can’t rely on always having A/C power though.
When I got my setup, they didn’t have this particular charger available. I’ll be swapping my current A/C charger for one of these now because it’ll run off both A/C and USB. Much better solution.
I carry a small solar panel that allows me to charge that AA battery charger. As long as I have light, the thing will charge my batteries. Goal Zero actually has a set that includes that guide 10 and solar panel, called the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Recharging Kit but there are several solutions you can use. The problem is that you might not always be able to set out your solar panel when you swap out AA batteries or need to charge your cell phone.
To ensure I can power the battery charger even at night, I carry a battery that has a USB output. You can use something like this Anker 2nd Gen 13000mAh battery with this kind of setup like I used to. It allows you to charge your batteries or other devices even if you don’t have full sunlight because the battery will take a trickle charge from the solar panel and then you can use that power whenever you want.
Having effective redundancy is more than just having a backup. It’s having a backup that will increase your capability under various scenarios where your primary doesn’t work. Wargame different situations and actually try them out and then find a way to have a backup. One of the smartest ways to do that is to use gear that serves more than one purpose.
You can sometimes get almost free backup capability if you’re smart about things. This is another reason I chose to use the AA battery/USB charger as an example here. This little gizmo will not only charge your AA batteries, you can use it as a backup USB battery because it has a USB output that you could use to charge your cell phone or other small electronics.
Because you’re already carrying it to charge your AA batteries, you don’t have to buy or carry anything extra to make sure you have a backup for your USB battery. ALSO – the charger has an LED flashlight built-in. If you lose your primary lighting, you STILL have a backup as long as you can get either AA batteries or charge AA rechargeables – and it doesn’t take up any extra weight or space (effectively) because you’re already carrying it. This is a MUCH better solution than carrying your typical AA battery charger that uses A/C.
So I guess I got a little long-winded with a simple idea, but essentially, just remember that ‘Two is one and one is none’ doesn’t just mean get two things. It means have at least two ways to perform a certain function, which when combined, will expand your capabilities beyond what having one will do.
The ‘Two is one and one is none’ fallacy was last modified: June 11th, 2015 by
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