Glen Wiley's blog

Glen Wiley

Since my first job as a programmer in 1987, I have experience across the technology industry and worked on Internet Infrastructure as the lead Systems Architect for Verisign's COM/NET DNS resolution platforms for over seven years. The articles on this page reflect more than thirty years of experience systems software development, network management systems design and large scale Internet Infrastructure design.

I spent 8 years enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, after the first 6 months active duty I served in an MI SF company in the USAR and then later in the ARNG. My software projects (including this blog) are mostly maintained at Github

My public GPG key is at glen.wiley@gmail.com.asc


The perfect Get-Home Bag: The US Army GI Alice Pack, 2016-03-02

I often find myself spending a few nights away from home as part of my job so I decided that I need a good "get-home-bag". I figure that in the event of an EMP or disaster that makes the roads impassible I will need to walk home, a trip that I expect to take a week or more based on a realistic daily travel rate.

If you already have a get home bag I strongly recommend that you take a few long walks with it to figure out whether it meets your needs. Spend some time reading a few of the articles on the Internet each week to help you think through how you will use the pack and what should be in it.

It can be fun to equip your get home bag, I recommend that you look at this as a long term process of constantly reevaluating your pack and progressively upgrading the equipment and packing list over time. I really enjoy taking an evening from time to time when I am on the road to unpack the bag and sort through the contents and make a list for the next upgrades.

One of the easiest things to overlook is how your get home bag should change with the seasons. Depending on your climate you may have a very different set of equipment for winter versus summer travel. In the mid-Atlantic region of the United States we must have well rated cold weather gear for January-February while our summers can be dangerously hot.

What Do I Need?

Research on good hiking packs yields too many choices to cope with, most of the options are also really expensive! This led me to breakdown my requirements for a pack that would get me home and carry enough supplies to last more than a week. The features I decided I need to focus on are:
Ergonomics
If the pack destroys your shoulders or back after a day or two it really isn't much use. I was surprised at how many "hiking" packs have really poorly designed straps that focus so much weight on such a small space that they can't be used for prolonged hikes. A well designed hip pad is absolutely essential as well, this keeps the pack off your back to allow for air flow and helps distribute the weight more evenly.
Size
The pack has to carry my essential get home supplies, while I don't pack the kitchen sink I find that the essentials for a one to two week hike take up a lot of room. An inventory for a good get home bag is a topic for a different discussion, but I find that the typical tactical bag just isn't roomy enough.
Construction Quality
Finding a pack that is actually designed to be durable turned out to be a real challenge! Most of the best looking packs were designed for show, not hard use. The fabric tends to be too light, seams are single stitched with string that will never survive hard use and buckles and fasteners are often made with minimal strength.
Waterproofing
Some packs try to provide a waterproof shell, but this is not as good an idea as you might think. If the pockets are waterproof they might keep water out but that means that they also keep water in! If you have to ford a stream or end up with a leak in the rain that you don't discover immediately then you are going to need to unpack the entire bag to get the water out. A better design assumes that you want the pack to be able to drain as you walk and provides drain holes and permeable fabric.
Organization
You might think that having a few dozen pockets lets you organize your pack more effectively than having just a few pockets. I have found that I can't remember what I packed in each pocket no matter how many there are. It ends up taking longer to go through each of the small pouches than to sort through just a few larger pouches. I decided that using separate waterproof bags to group essential items by category makes more sense than relying on the pack design
Economics
There is a pack out there for every budget, but higher dollar packs don't always perform better. A good pack will last you for years of regular use if you take care of it. Be prepared to spend what you need to spend to meet your needs, but make the selection about features not about the money.

Does the US GI Alice Pack Meet the Need?

US GI Alice Pack As I compared the results of my research against the list above I found that there are very few packs to choose from. In fact it came down to just two choices: a United States Army GI Alice Pack or a United States Army GI Molle Pack. I ended up deciding on a large Alice pack for many reasons, let me explain how I arrived at that choice based on the list of requirements we just went through. I admit that I have a bias since serving in the US Army in the 1980's gave me significant intimate experience with the Alice Pack. Having hiked countless miles with it already provided valuable insight into the decision:
Ergonomics
The Alice pack comes with a set of wide, sturdy straps that distribute the load well. The aluminum frame keeps the pack far enough off your back to allow for generous air flow and provides a good mount for the hip strap. I am a large man at 6'4" and 260 lbs and I found that this pack comes as close to perfect for my body type as I can imagine. I have carried it for twenty mile hikes fully loaded and not regretted the design.
Size
The Alice pack comes in a few different sizes. The large size is generous enough to hold my winter gear with room to add extra water and supplies as needed. You might be able to get away with a medium (they both use the same frame).
Construction Quality
I dare you to find a more sturdy pack at even twice the cost of the Alice pack. It is very well built. Some people have found the rivets on the frame to be a weak point, this can be easily remedied in a few minutes by drilling the rivets out and replacing them with machine screws. I haven't needed to do this, I find that the stitching, straps, buckles and fabric are all very high quality.
Waterproofing
The drain holes in the Alice pack ensure that you aren't going to carry water after fording a stream or walking through the rain. I use separate waterproof bags inside the pack to protect items that need to stay dry.
Organization
The Alice pack has a large primary compartment with an inner pouch, a Velcro compartment integrated into the flap and roomy external pockets. The number of external pockets depends on which size you get. It also offers enough places to clip things to the pack that you shouldn't have any problems finding a way to organize your gear.
Economics
You will spend less than a hundred bucks on a large Alice pack and a frame. Make sure you get U.S. Army government issue pack and not a knock off. The packs built to military specifications are VERY different than aftermarket look alikes. The quality of construction is usually not even close. Amazon and eBay are a good place to look, your local military surplus store is a decent second choice. Don't bother to look at a hiking supply store or hunting/outdoor sports store, they are only going to offer commercial packs.

Conclusion

The Alice pack makes a great get home bag, it has very few negatives, the most glaring issue some folks will have with it is that it fails completely in the "grey man" approach. I agree with the theory that you want to blend in as much as possible and do as little as possible to draw attention to yourself. If you have to walk for more than a week with only what you can carry on your back then I believe that is impossible to be unobtrusive. Physics will constrain how small you can make your pack and still make the week long trek. The Alice pack is an attention getter - no way around that. I would argue that in a SHTF scenario you should be walking routes where you are less likely to be seen, at times when you are less likely to be seen.

Be Realistic About Fire Starters, 2016-02-17

Whether you are putting together a "get home bag", a "bug out bag" or preparing to shelter in place for a natural disaster or protracted civil disruption you have thought about how you can start a fire. I'd like to challenge a few of the preconceptions I have seen in the community of preppers and survivalists.

Most articles that I read on preparing for the unexpected suggest that you spend money and time putting together a set of primitive tools to start fires. If you are going to spend the money and time assembling flint and steel, magnesium, tinder, etc. I'd like to suggest a simpler approach.

The good old fashioned BIC lighter can be purchased in bulk (50 lighters) for less than one dollar each. If you are willing to go with a generic brand butane lighter you can spend half of that!

While primitive fire starting techniques have their uses and I would be the first to recommend that you know how to get a fire going using a bow drill or other expedient technique, I simply can not understand "planning" on that being your go-to method for fire starting. Let's consider a few of the techniques:

Flint and Steel
This is the most common approach, usually includes a chunk magnesium from which you can file off shavings to use as tinder. While this works, it can be very tricky to get a spark that can ignite your tinder and that very first bit of embers seems to really struggle to get lit. Remember too that the magnesium is a finite resource. Most of the flint and steel kits have pretty small parts too so you should expect a good helping of skinned knuckles before you see flames.
Fire bow or drill
The idea is that you use some string (or para-cord) to rig a bow that will let you spin a sick really fast on top of a piece of dried wood, as it gets hot add tinder and boom you have fire. This is exhausting work and profoundly frustrating. The good news is that if you are trying to light a fire to keep warm you won't need it as long as you are still working the bow! One advantage to this approach is that you can put a fire bow/drill together from found raw materials.
A Stick
Rubbing a stick on a piece of dried wood might be one of the oldest approaches to starting a fire. You rub the stick really fast back and forth until you see a glowing ember then add dried moss, grass, (Vaseline soaked cotton balls?) to get flame. While maybe the oldest approach it is also by far the most difficult. If you are planning on relying on this you had better be physically fit and have superhuman patience.

Every fire starting exercise requires tinder, but with a butane lighter you can even dry out a small bit of tinder than might have gotten damp! You get instant flame, even instant light if you just need some help seeing something. A butane lighter will even light after getting drenched in rain. The most common complaints about butane lighters include:

  • Butane is a finite resource
  • Butane lighters break
  • Butane eventually evaporates

Just about every complaint about butane lighters can be fixed by buying in bulk. Seriously, for $36 you can have 50 lighters, over one year's time that means you use one per week and throw it away. The reality is that each lighter will probably last many, many weeks of even daily use (ask the nearest cigarette smoker how long their lighter lasts). Just about any prepper who can afford to prep can afford a pack of lighters.

One major benefit of bulk butane lighters is that they can serve as barter items too. When you realize just how long each one lasts you will be happy to find that other people have discovered just how hard it is to light a fire without a lighter and they will pay a high price for that little piece of convenience.

If you are still a skeptic to the approach of buying butane lighters in bulk then I suggest you spend some time this weekend trying to use the various primitive techniques to start a fire. Do it, don't sit there and speculate, have some fun making a hands on experiment and if you still think that butane lighters in bulk are not the way to go then...well whatever.


Simple Blog Hosting, 2016-01-29

After carefully reviewing many of the blog site building tools I decided to build my blog site on my own FreeBSD server using simple CSS and HTML all hand edited with vi and built using system tools. This means that time that I want to spend on my blog can be spent on content rather than maintenance. This also means that I don't have support for multiple authors (this is MY blog after all) and things like reader comments (again, this is my blog not my reader's blog). I figure that folks can send me an email if they want to offer their thoughts.

The primary tool list for this site includes:

The most interesting of these is M4, an underrated tool that lets you aggregate text files while leveraging simple macros, file inclusion and some useful in-line code. A concise macro language that has stood the test of time, it's pedigree is older than many of it's users.

The sources for this blog are in Github.