Bag Loadout: Urban Communications KitAdam Smith
As an electrical contractor with an interest in emergency preparedness, I’ve realized that there are a variety of events that could interfere with our normal communications infrastructure — if the internet and cell service go down, things can get chaotic quickly. If there’s total loss of power, it’s only going to get worse. As a result, I carry a kit that allows me to bypass these mainstream systems, and still stay in touch with those I care about.
Make and Model: Vertx Communter Sling 2.0
I’ve carried $400 GoRucks, $100 REI bags, and a variety of CamelBaks on various adventures. You really have to try them all to get a sense of what feels good on your back. There seem to be two schools of thought regarding backpack choice — one group will remove their pack to go through the contents; the other will leave it attached to the shoulder while rummaging through it. The messenger-style backpack has some tactical advantages, since it leaves a smaller window of opportunity for a bag-snatcher and can give you better access to important items on the move.
This Vertx Commuter Sling 2.0 works exactly as designed. It has a rather large “Rapid Access” main storage compartment for a variety of tools. Whether it’s a foldable rifle that requires a sling attachment point or your favorite handgun, the attachment possibilities are endless with the mounting systems Vertx offers. It also comes with retention G-hooks to prevent the bag from flopping open completely while surveying your environment. Its ballistic panel pocket easily accepts lightweight plates to give you a valuable layer of protection from projectiles and shrapnel flying in your direction.
This bag doesn’t scream “tactical,” so if you’re trying to stay under the radar, it could be a great choice over some of the military-style bags out there.
GoTenna is a mesh network that can allow multiple devices to connect and chat offline. It offers a means of communicating silently within a small geographical area if there’s no cellular or Wi-Fi service available (range will depend on the number of wireless devices in your vicinity).
Another alternative using the same LoRa Mesh technology is a stand-alone homebuilt communicator. This requires technical knowledge and soldering skills, but it’s a stand-alone unit that doesn’t require an Android/iPhone for communication. If placed in a familiar location, multiple devices can be linked to a repeater. A well-placed single repeater could potentially give you 10 miles of range. Buildings and trees obviously diminish these results. A “post office box” setting in this unit can save messages for when your device is in range.
A Baofeng ham radio is an excellent affordable device that’s capable of communicating with other licensed ham radio operators within a decent range. They’re also limited by terrain, and only travel from one to 10 miles under normal conditions. Maxing out at around 30 miles under ideal conditions would require a longer antenna and clear line of sight. It’d be a great portable way to communicate with someone in the event cell service wasn’t an option — better yet, they’re cheap enough that you can buy several for your family members and friends. If you need to extend that range to hundreds of miles, you need a high-powered, high-frequency (HF) radio and a general license.
The HackRF Portapack has a ton of features ranging from listening to/broadcasting a radio station, remote-starting your neighbor’s car on a chilly morning for him, replacing a lost garage door opener, or chatting with a freight ship captain as he’s coming into port. Although some features can be considered “nefarious” in nature, the all-in-one package is a very robust tool that can potentially reprogram traffic lights in your neighborhood or enable the restaurant buzzer to skip the long wait at your favorite diner. Use your powers responsibly and don’t blame us if you get in trouble.
A Pirate Box is a small device that can broadcast your own LAN (Local Area Network). This can be a source to host a localized off-grid chat, share files, act as a “dead-drop” for digital information, or even provide an easy solution for an off-grid wireless camera setup. If you’re tech-savvy, you can make one at home with less than $100 in materials, or you can purchase them pre-built.
Portable battery packs are vital to both power and recharge all the electronics discussed above. Mophie Powerstations have a track record of holding up to abuse. Extreme changes in climate and multiple charge/recharge events naturally wear out battery cells. Cheaper alternatives don’t handle the wear and tear as well as some of the better brands, so do your research and get the most dependable unit you can afford.
18650 or Lithium-ion (Li-on) batteries pack a greater punch for some sensitive electronics, however, they have been known to spontaneously combust and can get you unwanted attention at TSA checkpoints. Keeping them safe and understanding their dangers is essential if you’ll be using them for your equipment.
The CR123 batteries used in SureFire flashlights fall under the same category. Regular alkaline or nickel-metal hydride AA batteries just can’t produce the power needed, and most rechargeable options tend to fizzle out rather quickly. Having a spare set of each type of disposable batteries in your bag is a requirement.
Solar chargers can be bulky and often don’t perform as needed, but if you’re in a pinch and all your resources are empty, an affordable foldup can serve as a last-ditch option for emergency power. Always keep a USB wall charger in your kit to borrow power from coffee shops and other local watering holes.
Having plenty of spare cables, both USB-C and Micro USB, can lead to tangles and clutter. Keeping them individually tied will help keep you organized and better prepared.
Being prepared for a fight is an automatic ticket to the “prepare to seal wounds” after-party. Tourniquets, chest seals, chito gauze, decompression needles, and Hello Kitty Band-Aids will take up very little room and invaluable space for any “What If” scenarios you may encounter. With the items contained in this pack and the everyday-carry gear in my pockets, I feel confident that I can weather any storm without being dependent on the power grid or established comms infrastructure.
For more info on the items in my kit, you can follow me on Instagram: @socal_offgrid.
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