Chapter 18: Will a shield save your apocalyptic bacon?

When you see a tool or weapon used again and again throughout history, in just about every culture, it makes you think: yeah, that’s pretty useful.

Hammers and saws. Ropes and wheels.

Swords and shields.

Previous posts have looked at what gear, weapons and vehicles might be smart for any flavor of apocalypse, whether you like (a) zombies going nom-nom-nom, (b) robots turning sentient and deciding they don’t like being slaves or (c) climate change turning Waterworld into prophecy. And listen, every flavor of apocalypse tastes equally bad. I pray to whatever gods that listen that we can avoid calamity and chaos. 

HOWEVER: It is fun, and interesting, to talk about this stuff, and figuring whether you want to look Lowes or the mall first. (I know you want to do that. It’s okay.)

And shields are a serious thing to think about. They keep popping up throughout history.

So let’s talk it through.

A Mondo Vibranium Shield of Invulnerability

The temptation is to go all crazy and build the toughest shield possible, a work of art that will laugh at arrows, eat bullets and make swords break in half.

I mean, that sort of shield works great for Captain America and Wonder Woman, right?

Okay, yeah. Raise your right hand if you want a shield, your left hand for a lightsaber and keep them up if you’d sell your car to get a shield AND a lightsaber.

Everybody who didn’t raise both hands is lying.

Here’s the problem: you’re not making Wonder Woman / Captain America shield.

Not today, in your heated garage with electricity and power tools.

Not tomorrow, after you buy a bunch of welding equipment and somehow find a bunch of titanium, vibranium and uranium.

And not during any sort of apocalypse, where you won’t have electricity or power tools. Seriously. You won’t, and any book or movie about the apocalypse that features electricity is Cheaty McCheatypants. 

Another clue that the movie or book cheats harder than the Astros and Patriots in a game of Who Can Steal Signs Better: clean-shaven, well-groomed heroes. Nope. Everybody in the ‘pocalypse gonna make the Duck Dynasty boys look well-groomed.

Time to get brutally practical

If you read a little about shields throughout history , a few things pop out immediately.

First, any shield had to be light enough to carry on long marches. Ten pounds is about it.

Second, even the armies that really relied on shield-and-spear formations–which isn’t a bad way to go–didn’t actually have heavy metal shields. They had light, wooden shields, reinforced with all sorts of stuff: metal or rawhide edging, linen and glue, leather. 

Third, soldiers didn’t see shields as some kind of invincible, long-term tool. They knew a shield would get beat up and possibly destroyed, so these things weren’t expensive family heirlooms like swords or suits of armor. Shields were disposable and replaceable. If one saved your life exactly one time, hey, it worked. And if a shield got smashed up, making a new one wasn’t hard.

Making a scrapyard shield of the apocalypse

Our limitations are pretty logical, then: 

(a) raw material that’s easy to find

(b) hand tools instead of power tools

(c) a final shield that’s lightweight and easy to repair or replace

So I tested it out and made one, then learned from my mistakes and made a SECOND SHIELD, embracing the scientific method of “make a Serious Plan, follow it to the letter until you learn that it Seriously Sucks, then give it another go.”

Shield Number 1: Wooden Pallet Craziness

As for raw materials, I went with the following main materials:

  • A pallet of wood. The boards were about 5.5 inches wide by four feet long, thick enough to be sturdy. Pallets are insanely common and basically scrapwood.
  • Two wooden stakes to hold it together. Also common and easy to find.
  • Wood glue and common screws to finish it off.

This thing had the shape of an octagon (think stop sign), which would seem to make sense at first, being a rough circle.

How did it turn out?

Using a wooden pallet may sound smart. Common sense.

Nope. This is a terrible idea.

Wooden pallets have poor-quality wood. Spectacularly so. The wood they use in pallets is also thickier and heavier than you’d want in a shield.

Gluing the pieces together was also a giant mess that didn’t work out. Wooden pallets have incredibly rough cuts.Smooth, perfectly straight wood might glue together fine. These things weren’t meant to be glued.

When finished, the shield was not just too big, but incredibly heavy, and more useful as a portable wall than a shield. 

Verdict? Straight into the garbage can.

Shield Number 2: Cedar Fence Special

You can find cedar fences anywhere, making this a solid idea. The wood is a lot thinner than what you find in a wooden pallet, and a lot higher quality. YES.

I went with a hexagon instead of octagon, which saved weight while still having a roughly circular shape.

To strengthen it, I hammered a bunch of extra steel plates meant to protect wiring (yes, they probably have a name, and no, I have no idea) along the edges, with some thin scrap metal plates in the center.

The final steps, which aren’t done yet, would be attaching a handle or rope, then covering the front with duct tape to protect it from water, give it extra strength and cover up the scrap metal.

Didn’t use glue at all on this one–turns out you don’t need to. Screws all the way.

Verdict: Completely doable. 

Is a shield smart?

Yes, as long as you treat it as a cheap, disposable object and keep it small.

Marching long distances with any sort of giant shield would be a good way tire yourself out.

If you’ve got a group of people with you, whether it’s three or thirty, I’d want everybody to have a small shield to protect themselves and each other. Honestly, if you’re wandering around the wastelands and see six random people with machetes and garden tools, then another six people with matching shields and spears, you’re gonna steer clear of the folks with shields. Especially if they do a decent formation with shields making it hard to hit them, and spears stabbing you before you get close enough to even try.

To maximize the effect of shields, use your Psych 201 skills. Paint every shield with the same colors or symbol, because the absolute last thing you want to do in the ‘pocalypse is mess with people who belong to a gang or army, and get hunted down by Robert Duvall or whatever. 

Also, if your band of survivors gets good enough with swords and shields in formation, it means eventually doing stuff like this. You know, in epic slow motion.

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A tale of two apocalyptic infographics–waste money and die or get smart and live

Since prepping went mainstream, of course people made infographics out of the apocalypse.

Let’s pick two examples, one that doubles down on Conventional Wisdom that Will Get You Killed and a second graphic that could turn you into Mad Max.

Don’t Do Any of These Things

Sure, you need food and water. But are you really going to carry $5,000 worth of groceries and water around in your backpack? No. Not even with a squad.

Which is why they’re saying hey, you need $10,000 for a pickup. Which sounds smart until you consider that the roads will be a mess in any sort of apocalypse, nobody will be producing more guzzoline and you’ll have no luck finding spare parts or mechanics.

The huge red flag is the one with the biggest price tag: $330,000 to buy land and build a bunker.

Anybody who’s checked out bunkers knows they have maybe six months of food and water. Once the gas for the generator runs out, you’re also in trouble in terms of heat and power. 

If you’re building a bunker, it’s really a $330,000 coffin, because you will be unprepared to go on the surface and find new sources of food and shelter.

You’re far, far better off building an old-fashioned log cabin in the woods by a stream. No electricity. Nothing fancy. Could do it for free–all it would take is labor. Ditch the fancy gear and guns (nobody will be making new bullets) and stick to fishing, hunting, trapping and foraging. That’s a lot more sustainable, and cheaper, than what this infographic is telling folks to do.

So yeah, all of this advice is pretty bad, though the infographic looks pretty. (Note: The rest of it is about what stocks to invest in for an apocalypse, top grossing end-of-the-world films, etc., so we’re skipping it.)

Yes, Do All the Things


Surviving the Apocalypse - TargetSportsUSA.com - Infographic

TargetSportsUSA.com

Hey, this is pretty good. I really like how it gives very different advice for very different scenarios, which is pretty rare. Most infographics and guides tend to assume it’s a zombie apocalypse, which is kinda sorta unlikely unless you’re a Hollywood director and those zombies are hungry extras.

There’s nothing about this infographic that truly off-base, and just about every plausible apocalypse is covered.

Super Volcano and Giant Asteroid are actually great scenarios to plan for, because they will happen. It’s simply a matter of when.

Well done, maker of this infographic. You would actually save lives along with preventing folks from spending at least $330,000 on a bunker.

VERDICT: You can’t print this, stuff it in your Army surplus jacket and treat it as a survival bible, but hey, it’s a good little primer, and does exactly the job it’s intended to do.

 

Three days alone in the woods, no food, no shelter, no water

This is an good take on surviving in the wilderness. 

Kusk focused on the right things. He set up a good shelter with fire, then set traps to catch his dinner and made sure to store his food in a safe place far from camp.

All of that may seem like common sense, but it’s uncommon. You see story after story of people lost in the woods who travel way too far from where they started, searching for food or civilization.

Then they panic once the sun goes down, faced with two bad choices: keep traveling in the dark–not smart–or hunkering down for the night wherever they can. Which usually means substandard shelter and no fire.

Thank you, Kusk Bushcraft, for doing this video and showing why the basics matter so much. 

How to build a survival shelter in the woods

If you live near the woods, like me, it’s pretty easy to picture making a shelter. 

Exactly HOW to do it is the tricky part.

Survival Lilly from Austria shows us how to build a great one, start to finish. All you need is a cutting tool, some rope and brains.

I really like how she uses heavy logs as a hammer to pound other logs into the ground–brilliant.

 

Who says underground bunkers have to be boring? This one has a pool

And they do all this with hand tools, brains and sweat. Incredibly impressive.

There’s a whole series of videos like this.

It’s crazy what you can make with a little ingenuity and local materials.

Scientists bring pig brains back to life, so yes, go prepare for the zombie apocalypse

Listen: I love zombie movies as much as anybody, even though they hit the over-saturation point about three years ago. And even as a fan, if you put a Glock to my noggin and started counting backward from 10, asking if I believed zombies could really happen, I would tell you nopitey-nope-nope.

Because zombies are just fun. There is no virus that will rampage through morgues and cemeteries to make the dead walk again. There’s simply no plausible way to move the Possibility of a Zombie Apocalypse up to 1 percent, much less 10 percent.

But that was before scientists took a bunch of pig brains from a slaughterhouse and BROUGHT THEM BACK TO LIFE.

Yeah. They did that. 

Watch the video, then we’ll chat.

So, we’re not talking zombies yet. Not quite.

Though you can’t take comfort from the fact they didn’t get any brain waves or consciousness, seeing how the scientists were pumping these zombie pig brains full of drugs that suppress brain waves and consciousness.

HOWEVER: Put that Glock to my forehead and start the countdown again and my answer totally changes. I’m not saying “Zero percent chance of zombies” anymore.

Because we are already at “zombie pig brains,” which truly isn’t that far from “zombie pigs.” And once we have zombie pigs, there’s nothing to stop mad scientists or evil dictators from saying, hey, why should I waste money on funerals for all my dead henchmen or soldiers? Inject them with that zombie pig stuff and send them back to the front lines to fight and die again, And again, and again.

There’s still a long way to go from zombie pig brains to zombies. It’s just not that long anymore. 

 

Chapter 17: WATERWORLD was a prophecy, so get your sweet sailboat ready

It’s fun to talk about getting ready for a zombie apocalypse–or imagine what kind of spiked muscle-car you’d fill with guzzeline if we were living in a Mad Max wasteland.

Yet if we’re going to be brutally practical, and that’s what this series of posts is all about, we need to focus on two key things:

(1) What ideas, fitness regimens and gear would actually work to prepare you for a disaster or apocalypse of any sort, whether it’s a 9.0 earthquake or a super-volcano going off at Yellowstone?

(2) Whatever we come up with must fit the budgets and lifestyles of everyday people. As in nothing on this silly blog can include things like (a) borrowing $400,000 to build an underground bunker next to your house, (b) spending $$$$ on a tricked-out AR-15 and a fancy $2,000 katana for yourself when you could spend a tiny faction of that for an arsenal of cheap, tough machetes ($15 apiece) along with bows and arrows for all your neighbors and friends, or (c) quitting your job and moving your entire family to a log cabin in Nome, Alaska.

To boil that down: what are the cheapest, smartest things you can do to prepare for the most likely craziness?

That means no, don’t prep for zombies, because they don’t exist. And it means yes, think about evil robot soldiers and artificial intelligence gone wrong, because that is not science fiction anymore.

The most likely apocalypse may already be happening, because all the ice in Antarctica (and Greenland, and the north pole) is melting. Insanely fast.

Which means the biggest box-office bombs of apocalyptic movies, WATERWORLD, may be a prophecy.

For those who didn’t watch the whole story, or read about this in the papers of news, plain old global warming would raise sea levels enough to turn coastal cities into water parks. Not good.

Antarctica holds about 90 percent of the world’s freshwater in its ice sheet.

If all the ice in Antarctica melts, you’re looking at a sea level rise of 230 feet.

Yeah. Not two feet, or 23 feet. Two hundred and thirty.

I already did an entire post on what makes sense to prepare for a global warming or WATERWORLD scenario, and that post still holds true.

What’s important here is to recognize the news happening. Because honestly, if CBS reported a small horde of zombies taking over Nome, Alaska, people would lose their minds, even if scientists said it would take 50 years for those zombies to march through the snow and get to Anchorage to start causing real trouble.

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The fatal flaw with zombie apocalypse movies

There are great zombie movies, and horrifically beautiful apocalyptic films.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, WATERWORLD (hey, I’m kidding)–you get the idea.

So why do zombie apocalypse movies smash into the brick wall of failure?

Zombie comedy? Sure. SEAN OF THE DEAD. Zombie romance? Yeah, they’ve tried that. Zombie drama? Yep.

You’d think this would be like peanut butter and chocolate, two great things that taste even greater when mashed together. But I can’t think of a single zombie apocalypse movie that truly works.

The biggest such film–WORLD WAR Z–went splat, despite the star power of Brad Pitt and a big budget. Why? 

I’ve pondered this, downed a pot of coffee and consulted the oracle.

Here’s the deal.

In a horror movie, everybody dies

Not because the screenwriter and director are sadistic. The whole point of a horror movie is society getting punished for its sins by the monster, who’s actually the hero.

That’s why Freddy, Jason and all the other horror monsters never truly get killed off.

Slasher movies show teenagers breaking the rules–shoplifting, getting drunk, having premarital sex, lying to their parents about it all–and getting punished by the boogeyman for their sins.

Another big branch of horror movies is about man playing God–inventing super-smart sharks with lasers, creating hybrid genetic experiments that go wrong, or sewing together body parts from the grave and using lightning to reanimate the thing. Then those creations rise up to punish the scientists for their arrogance.

This is why horror movies can fail. If the teenagers or scientists actually win in the end, the movie confuses the message. You might start out rooting for the teeny boppers or mad scientists, but in the end, you’re supposed to see the monsters as agents of rough justice.

Same thing with a zombie movie.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is actually about racism.

DAWN OF THE DEAD is about consumerism, which is why it’s set in a mall.

Monster in the House is a great story and a dangerous one for zombies

There’s a primal story that screenwriter Blake Snyder identifies as Monster in the House, where there’s a monster in an enclosed space and either it’s gonna kill you or you’re gonna kill it.

JAWS, ALIEN and FATAL ATTRACTION are all Monster in the House stories.

There’s a big difference between these stories and a true horror movie. The ending is completely opposite. 

The shark dies in the end of JAWS, as does the alien and the obsessed, discarded mistress played by Glenn Close. 

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD feature the same enclosed space problem, because it’s good storytelling to put characters in a cage with your monster. But they stay true to the message and let the monsters win, punishing society for our sins.

In an apocalyptic movie, tons of people die–but the story ends with hope

The storytelling bones of a good apocalyptic movie are completely different than a horror story.

Civilization goes buh-bye, and the fun of an apocalyptic movie is seeing how that happens and what replaces the status quo.

Also, you get to loot the hardware store and the mall. Who doesn’t like to see that on film? Always a good time.

The message of an apocalypse film, though, is that lots of people die because they make bad, selfish choices, while the few heroes who survive make good, unselfish choices.

It just doesn’t work to mix a true zombie movie, where everybody dies as punishment for society’s sins, with an apocalyptic film, with its message of survival if you make the right choices.

So: back to the movie, WORLD WAR Z, which is a confused beast.

If you read the novel–which you should–it’s not a horror story, where everybody gets nom-nommed by the living dead. It’s a true zombie apocalypse story that can work, with the end showing the undead almost destroying the world. They’re only beaten when society makes painful, fundamental changes to work together and win the war.

Hope and survival. That’s the right way to thread the needle and tell a zombie apocalypse story that works. Give us that, Hollywood–Brad Pitt is optional.

How to carve a survival bow

Ever wonder how to carve a survival bow if you really, really needed to?

First, here’s how NOT to carve a bow.

You don’t use a 2×4. You don’t whittle it down to nothing. And you don’t skip the whole thing about picking a strong piece of wood, fully drying it, soaking it in oils, etc.

Here’s the right way to do it, out in the woods, where there are no 2×4’s.

Take it away, Survival Lilly.

 

Chapter 16: How to survive in a nuclear wasteland–mostly, by doing the opposite of Mad Max

A nuclear war is–scarily–far more likely than an alien invasion, zombies or other apocalyptic possibilities. How would you survive?

I say this with love, as a big fan of the Mad Max movies: the smartest ways to survive involve doing the opposite of Mad Max.

1) Roaming the wastelands in a sweet muscle car is a terrible, horrible, no-good idea

If you’re like most people, you drive a car. Maybe it’s a Ford F150, or a Toyota Camry.

And maybe you change the oil yourself. I’ve done that. Changed the headlights a few times, replaced the battery, even changed an alternator and such.

HOWEVER: Working on modern cars is increasingly tough without all kinds of computer diagnostic nonsense. It’s crazy difficult today, with the lights on and a NAPA store down the street full of fresh parts.

After any sort of nuclear war, driving whatever car you can find around the radioactive wasteland is just a bad idea. Because it’ll break down, and chances are you will not be able to crawl under the car with a wrench and just fix it. 

Even if you’re a pro mechanic with your own set of tools, spare parts and gas will vanish in a hurry. Your car will eventually break down, or run out of gas, or both. And being stranded means death.

But let’s say those problems don’t exist. You have a magic Tesla 3 that that runs on solar panels and never breaks down. Great. Roaming around the countryside is still a terrible idea, because you’ll want to stop wherever there may be resources, like food and water that doesn’t glow in the dark, and there will be people there, defending those resources from raiders like you.

Those local people will have the advantage. They know the territory and will have set up defenses and traps. You’re gonna lose.

2) Loners will not last long

Mad Max is a lone wolf, right?

Only in the movies does a lone hero win real fights while being outnumbered 10 to 1, or 100 to 1.

Any serious effort to survive an apocalypse, fictional or not, means having a team or a tribe.

You need people who are good at different things: finding food and water, healing the injured, creating shelters, making fire, crafting tools and clothing.

And you need people to watch your back.

3) Staying put is smart

Sure, if you can’t find a decent supply of food and water, move until you do. But once you do, stay put.

Any sort of nuclear war will affect different areas in different ways. There’ll be places that get hit with all sorts of bombs, like major cities and military bases, and other places left untouched.

Prevailing winds and ocean currents will also bring radioactive fallout to some places while sparing others.

You don’t want to wander far and wide, because you’ll inevitably wind up in a place where the geiger counters go nuts. 

Of course you might need to do a little hunting and gathering, or go on supply runs. Even so, do that from a solid home base. Because staying put in a good place is the smartest option. Fish, farm, grow mushrooms, whatever floats your boat. Build a wall. Set up watchtowers and keep a lookout for dudes driving Interceptors with big turbos sticking out of the hood.

4) Be sustainable

Mad Max famously carries a sawed-off shotgun with maybe four shells, two of which tend to be duds.

Shotguns are also a bad idea. You need a weapon with plentiful ammo that you can make. A slingshot, a bow and arrow, spears you can throw–anything is better than a weapon that only gives you two bites of the apple.

Remember the bad guys in every Mad Max movie? They carry crossbows a lot of the time. Because that’s sustainable. You can re-use the ammo and make new crossbows a lot easier than trying to manufacture more AR-15s for your friends, since there won’t be any factories making bullets anymore, either.

Same thing with armored muscle cars and semis. It takes a tremendous amount of time and resources to keep a single car functioning and fueled up during an apocalypse. A fleet of vehicles would be insanely tough to keep going. 

Your time and resources are better spent improving quality of life and survivability: growing more food, building better walls, crafting new tools. That sort of thing.

VERDICT

Mad Max is a great character on screen. To survive a nuclear apocalypse, remember him and do the opposite.

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