Camping & Survival

Guest Post: Commander Zero on Simplicity and Preparedness

We humans tend to have an affinity for elegant, complex devices. While having the latest whiz-bang device that not only solves your firearm cleaning problem, but also folds your laundry and walks the dog is great, when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, do you really want to rely on a complex device with hundreds of moving parts? Sometimes a simple solution is indeed the best. Commander Zero of the Notes From The Bunker blog wrote recently about this and more, and is our guest blogger this week. Here’s his take in his post “Overthinking & Occam’s Razor

There is a such thing as overthinking things. When I taught hunter safety to kids one of the topics we had to address was how to take care of yourself when (not ‘if’, guys..when) you got lost out in boonies. We would tell the kids that you have to have a survival kit and here’s what you had to have in it..and we’d give them a list. More often, the kids already had their own ideas. During class we’d have a couple kids pull out their kits and we’d go over the contents. What was interesting was how many kids brought in a flint and steel. We’d go through their kit looking for any other means of firestarting and all the kid would have is the flint and steel. We’d gently suggest that while being able to start a fire with flint and steel was certainly a handy talent, and quite useful under the right conditions, it might be a bit more efficient and simple to have a couple match safes in their pocket and backpack with strike anywhere matches. Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, let me say that I carry around one of those flint/steel firestarter combos in my bag. But, its in addition to several packages of sealed waterproof matches. (And its always, always, always good policy to carry a small waterproof container of matches in your pack *and* in your pockets. Because you never know when you’re going to get separated from your gear and all you’ll have its whats in your pockets.) When its 10 degrees out and my hands are cold I think Im going to be better served with getting a match struck than I am by scraping a piece of metal against a rock.

Similar story with food. Someone told me about their home canning operation where they would go to the farmers market, purchase ears of corn, cook them, cut the kernels off the cob, can the whole bunch and have the glass jars lined up neatly on the shelf for their food storage. That’s great, I can soup and stew every so often. But at the same time it seems to make a bit more sense to just head down to the Albertson’s on Tuesday Canned Good Sale Day and buy as many vacuum sealed cans of Green Giant corn as I want at fifty cents a can. Why reinvent the wheel if I don’t have to? Certainly, I want to know how to can items for the day I can’t head down to the supermarket and get them, but while I can get them at the supermarket cheaper, easier, and better packaged why wouldn’t I? You might recall a post a while back about a buddy of mine who wanted a .30 caliber, semi-automatic rifle and wound up spending a chunk of money on a 1941 Johnson. (Disregarding the gun itself, there was still the issue of spare parts and accessories which only made a weird choice into a foolish one.) The Johnson was not his first foray in the .30 cal. Semiauto search. He previously had a Remington 7400 in .308 with a bunch of ten-round magazines. Again, re-inventing the wheel. He could have just bought an M1A or a PTR-91 or even a Garand for the money he spent and pretty much have been done with the whole thing cheaper and faster than the roundabout way he did things.

There’s a joke that goes something like this: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are out on a camping trip. It’s the middle of the night and Holmes wakes up Watson. “Watson! Wake up, man!” “Huh? What?” “I just woke up and noticed the bright starry universe above me and do you know what I’ve deduced?” ”That we are all just minor players in a larger drama that we’ll never know the outcome of?” “No.” “That the universe is too big and too grand for the human mind to ever fully comprehend?” “No, no.” “Well then…what have you deduced from looking at the starry sky above us, Holmes?” “Its rather obvious, Watson – someone has stolen our tent.” The point is that we sometimes see a problem and manufacture all sorts of complex and intricate answers when theres a simpler, and probably just as good, answer. And sometimes we engineer the problem to fit into our pre-conceived desire of what we want the answer to be…a far worse sin.

Occam’s Razor is the term for finding a solution that gives the same result as a more complex one. If you look it up, Occam’s razor has several meanings but they essentially come down to ‘a simple solution is better than a complex one’.

I mention all of this because often in the forums I read posts that ask questions and people come up with most complex and convoluted answers. More often than not there are simpler answers but sometimes we get so wrapped up in overthinking things that we disregard or dismiss the answer that isn’t ‘tacticool’ enough. There’s a story, untrue as it turns out but still instructive, that when the space program started there was a need to find a way to make pens work in zero gravity. Much money and time was spent developing a pen that would write upside-down and in freezing temperatures. This technological marvel cost thousands and thousands to develop. The Russians simply used pencils.

When stocking up and gearing up it’s always a good idea to try and keep it as simple as possible. There is no shortage of really cool (and spendy) solutions to the issues we want to address, but there’s probably many simpler alternatives as well. The final arbiter, in my opinion, is whether the solution proposed meets your pre-established criteria. (This, naturally, means you actually have to come up with some criteria for what you’re looking for…otherwise you’ll just snag the first shiny thing with cool packaging that gets in your way.) The juggling act here is that balance of ‘simpler/cheaper’ versus ‘meets criteria’. For example…the never ending $95 Mosin Nagant vs. $1000 AR-15 flame-wars. If your criteria is ‘send bullet downrange’ then your choice is probably going to be different than ‘engage multiple targets as rapidly as possible’. If your criteria is ‘not starve’ versus ‘continue existing dietary habits’ then your decision between a $20 50# bag of rice and a $300 case of freeze drieds may be simple to make.

I try to remain objective in these sorts of things and let the facts drive the answers, but sometimes it’s difficult. Most of the time, the simpler solutions seem to be the most appropriate (if not ‘best’) solutions. I suppose the trick is recognizing which solutions are because they are what we wanted to begin with versus solutions which were arrived at on their own.

Commander Zero makes his home in Montana with his wife where he is an active member in the preparedness community. You can visit his blog at

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