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Survival Equipment

Ten old tech gadgets that will come in handy when the electricity goes out

Ten old tech gadgets that will come in handy when the electricity goes out

Some perfectly good items may be  laying around your house unused, because they have been replaced by electronic gadgets. Here are some oldies that could prove to be really valuable when the grid goes down.

by Leon Pantenburg

Check out this survival LED light for a keychain!

Check out this survival LED light for a keychain!

Before electricity was common, many of these tools and implements were so common as to escape notice. But let the power go out and you will appreciate the old-time technology. Here are some things that will make life easier during a blackout.

 Kerosene lamps: I love the old antique glass lamps and lanterns and am always on the look out for them at garage sales or antique stores. But in addition to looking cool, they can also provide efficient lighting. My kerosene lamp can burn for about eight hours on one filling of about a pint. That is plenty of light for an evening, when the alternative is to sit in the dark. You can add candles to this category. Battery-operated lights will last as long as there is a charge in the battery.

A single candle may provide enough lighting in some power outage situations. Check out thrift stores and garage sales for good deals. (Pantenburg photo)

A single candle may provide enough lighting in some power outage situations. Check out thrift stores and garage sales for good deals. (Pantenburg photo)

Can opener: Some people only have an electric can opener, which, obviously is worthless in a blackout. Get a crank manual can opener, or at least a P-38 military rations opener. I always have a can opener on my everyday carry Swiss Army Tinker, and I’m always surprised at how often that feature is used.

Glass fruit jar: You probably don’t think much about these items. But in addition to holding various food items, they can also be improvised into an oil lamp. The technique is easy, and a fruit jar oil lamps will go a long way toward stretching your other lighting sources.

Hand mixer: The crank mixer works well, and can supply aerobic exercise if the job is long enough!

Check out this manual mixer

Hand tools: I have my Dad’s old wood saw, as well as several folding saws. There is no better tool for cutting firewood, trimming branches, processing large meat animals etc. An axe is another valuable item to have.  The crank hand drill is one of the oldest tools.

Cheese grater: I included this because I don’t like dicing cheese with a knife. You can also use it to grate soap for laundry and onions and garlic for cooking.

Cell phone charger: (Not old timey, unless you consider that you’re generating electricity with a crank!) I bought a hand crank charger to test, and it works fine. You’ll find lots of volunteers to crank it when it comes time to charge phones, laptops and various electronic items.

Biomass stove: Cooking is a real challenge without power unless you have a reliable source of heat. Check out your camping gear, and if you’ve prepared well, you may have some variation of this tool.

Cast iron Dutch oven: Probably the most versatile cooking implement ever invented, everybody should have at least one Dutch oven. I regularly use my ovens for cooking, and they work superbly over a propane heater, charcoal or a campfire.

Recipes: Many of the old time recipes evolved because of  food shortages, or regional preferences. Some recipes from your area are designed to take advantage of seasonal crop harvests or garden excesses. Regardless, check out the local old time recipes and keep a file somewhere.

If you don’t have that food heritage, get a good food storage cookbook. The best one I’ve ever come across is “Jan’s Fabulous Food Storage Recipes,” written by the late Jan LeBaron. Jan owned a storage foods company, and compiled 435 recipes to help people get started cooking storage foods. It’s my go-to food storage recipe book, and a copy should be stored right on the shelf next to the storage food.

Obviously, if you look around, you’ll find all sorts of things that can help you get through a blackout. But don’t overlook those low tech items that may be in the back of the pantry, or stored on a shelf in the garage. Some day, they might prove to be really, really useful.

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View Comments (2)


  1. Donna

    12/10/2013 at 19:37

    Good reminders, just in time

  2. kevin steffen

    12/10/2013 at 11:52

    hand coffee mill! boil water on grill or wood, pour into regular drip coffee basket!

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Survival Equipment

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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