bigfoot is off the grid

If you're anything at all like me, then "getting off the grid" has been an ambition of yours for a very long time!

And chances are, your idea what what it means to get off the grid is very personal to you. Maybe your dream is to live in a cob house with a windmill. Or an Earthship with a huge array of solar panels. Or a Tiny House in the forest with a wood stove and lots of animal friends. Or maybe you don't even care... You're just wanting to untether yourself from all those "unnecessary" monthly utility bills!

The fact that there are so many visions in people's heads of what it really means to be "off the grid" can lead to some interesting disagreements. But that phrase does in fact have a particular definition. And the real question, as I see it, is "how far off the grid do you really want to be?"

Please enjoy another excerpt from my book "How To Build Your Own DIY Truck Camper And Get Off The Grid For Dirt Cheap", released September 4, 2014.

To get the special launch price, make sure you join my mailing list.


How off the grid do you really want to be? Mobile Rik book excerpt. MobileRik.com
How off the grid do you really want to be? Mobile Rik book excerpt. MobileRik.com

make a pop can alcohol stove

(Yep! It's Yet Another Article + Video About The Iconic 'Pop-Can Stove'!)

Since I first learned about backpackers making lightweight cooking stoves out of aluminum cans, I was hooked. And probably like other "stovies," the one that really caught my attention was the "Pepsi Can Stove."

No doubt the appeal is that it's not only ridiculously cool to be able to fit together a couple of recycled cans that way, but because the end result is so compact, lightweight, and burns exactly like the burner on your home stovetop!

While not one of the simplest alcohol stoves to assemble -- that honor will go to simpler open-flame stoves and the "SuperCat" Cat Food Can side-burning style -- it's also not one of the most complicated. Depending on which one of the several-dozen methods you choose, it's possible to have one made in 20-30 minutes.

In fact, this video could have been a lot shorter had I chosen the popular and dependable "crimping" method to fit the two halves together.

But I was interested to try a few methods I'd seen in videos that allowed you to very elegantly fit the two sides together perfectly, one inside the other, without any glue/epoxy and avoiding the slightly tedious task of crimping one of the halves neatly all the way around the sides so that it could fit into the other half. In the end, I eventually succeeded, but it took some experimenting with different fitting methods to make it work.

Conceptually, it's pretty easy to make and use a "Pop Can Stove."

Construction:

  1. Cut the bottoms off of two aluminum cans (about 3/4")
  2. Drill a small hole in the center of the "top" for refilling with alcohol
  3. Fit them together tightly
  4. Make tiny holes around the upper ledge

Lighting It Up:

  1. Fill with alcohol and plug the fill-hole firmly (ex. a screw or "penny")
  2. Prime the can by dripping extra fuel onto the top and bottom (using a priming pan or wick) and light the priming fuel
  3. Once the can is hot enough to boil the alcohol inside, the side burners will light themselves, and it will behave like a familiar stove burner.

From a birds-eye perspective, it's not too complex. But each of those steps has quite a few variations you could experiment with.

build an energy efficient camper fridge

Campers & RVers: Do you know how much of your valuable energy reserves are being consumed by your refrigerator?

Even if you happen to have a very efficient refrigerator, chances are that you are draining tons more than you really need to be.

Consider these questions:

  • Is your refrigerator running most of the day?

Especially if you're in a hot climate, it's probably running almost full time. Assuming you turn off the lights at night, and use the AC/Heating only when you need it, your refrigerator is the most energy consuming appliance in your RV, because it's intermittently consuming energy 24/7.

Camping Refrigerator

Wastefully Empty Refrigerator

  • Is your refrigerator packed completely full most of the time or is it half empty most of the time?

If you're like a lot campers, you fill your fridge with what you need when you leave and gradually empty it out until you're back in civilization to restock, when you'll find it either completely empty or half full of stuff you never touched. In other words, you're probably cooling tons more air than is really necessary.

  • Is your refrigerator front-opening or top-opening?

Duh. Of course your refrigerator is probably front opening like every other manufactured refrigerator. And like every other refrigerator, you dump out all that cold air every time you open the door. What a humongous waste!

Non Energy Efficient Refrigerator

Familiar family photo of cold air invisibly dumping out of a typical refrigerator when the door is opened. 🙂

What if you could make your own DIY custom RV refrigerator that fixes all of these problems? Sure it might not be among the easiest projects you've done, and may even be among the most difficult. But what if you could?

Let's start with the most wasteful part -- by stopping all the cold air from dumping out. The easiest way to keep the air inside -- even when you open the door -- is to create a refrigerator that operates "on it's back," like chest freezer. Since cold air is denser and wants to go down, a top-opening refrigerator can be opened up over and over without spilling out the air. This helps it stay cool for most of the day without needing to run the power.

It's so obvious that you have to wonder why they don't all do this already! It's because the front-opening refrigerator/freezer is way more convenient in your everyday household for just grabbing what you need off the shelf instead of digging around for it like you do with an ice chest style freezer.

But how about for an RV? Even though you're starved for space, a couple of things make a small top-loader really convenient. Think about this -- Do you already use a camping cooler in your RV to store your drinks and stuff?

If you don't find that inconvenient to use, then small top-loading refrigerator (or a few of them) should be just as convenient. For a permanent installation, a good place might be under the fold-down "sofa" seats. You could even make a sofa out of the refrigerator! While it may seem a hassle to tell your buddy to get off the couch so you can check the fridge... honestly, how many times do you have to tell someone to get off the cooler so you can get a drink. Same thing, right?

Maybe you're wondering if a little fridge under the flip-down couch seats will give you enough fridge space. Well, how much space do you actually use? A good experiment might be to see how many coolers you need in order to store all the food you need for the next trip. Maybe you're camping with a family, and you find that a few coolers isn't enough, no matter how well you pack it... So you're kinda "stuck" with the big one you already have. But with some creativity maybe you can think up a handy way to keep the cold in when you open it -- maybe some kind of insulated "chest of drawers" design or even some of those clear plastic strips like they have in the back of the grocery store.

pot-in-pot refrigerator

Zeer Pot (Pot-in-Pot Evaporative Refrigerator)

But consider this: There are actually great ways to keep your food cool that don't require any non-renewable power at all. There's even an evaporative cooling device called a Zeer Pot that can chill food down near normal refrigeration temperatures in dry climates using nothing but water. Or if you're not living near the desert, maybe you can just use a modified camp cooler to handle the less critical stuff. Though making ice takes electricity, simply replacing a reusable blue ice pack in a super-insulated cooler every few days could really cut your energy costs.

So the question becomes...Is it possible that much of your fridge space is taken up foods that require only minimal cooling rather than full refrigeration?

While meats, dairy products, and cooked and processed foods will typically need full refrigeration below the FDA's easy-to-remember upper limit of 40°F (4°C), many raw fruits and vegetables don't require more than light refrigeration to stay crisp. (Just remember to wash them thoroughly as usual.) Many condiments, jam, salted butter, oils, and hard cheeses can also do fine with light "cooling." Check out this article for inspiration: 7 Foods That Can Survive Outside The Fridge.

Once you've (hopefully) downsized your full-refrigeration needs and moved some of it to a simple cooler, you can think about designing a more efficient refrigerator.

sucrets tin pocket stove

It's tough not to be totally enchanted by elegant simplicity of DIY Alcohol Backpacking Stoves!

For quite some time, backpackers and teenage troopers have been using these little devices -- made from assorted recycled cans configured in clever ways (like the iconic Pepsi Can Stove) -- as lightweight and clean-burning cooking gear, that despite their size, can cook up a meal as well as any full-size kitchen range. But outside of "ultralight" backpacking circles, it seems a lot of campers don't know about these amazing little stoves that you can easily make yourself.

While I love taking them on backpacking excursions, by far the bulk of my own interest in compact cooking isn't for out on the trail, but to completely replace the kitchen in my "tiny house", i.e. my homemade truck camper.

Unlike a full-size RV, I'm limited to the space in the bed of my truck -- about 5'x6' or 30 sq.ft.! Why take up that space with a "range" or even a relatively bulky "Coleman stove" type setup? By using my backpacking cook kit, I can condense my entire kitchen to fit in a large camp mug!

This video explores a variation on one of the simplest alcohol stove designs. Essentially, it's nothing more than a "tin can" filled with alcohol, with an absorbent wicking material to hold it in place and regulate the burn, and a screen to hold it all in place. (The Starlyte (by Zelph Stoves) is a really nice implementation of this idea.)

This project is a quick-and-dirty implementation of the same concept. 

The main variations I used in this project are:

  • a Sucrets tin (compare to an Altoids tin)

  • mineral wool (aka "rock wool") as the wicking material (instead of fiberglass or Perlite)

  • a simple pot stand made from a coat hanger, cut and bent into shape

 

While not as ridiculously simple and elegant as the SuperCat stove design (which doesn't even require a separate pot stand), the Sucrets Stove is about as simple as it gets. It also has the benefits of stowing its own pot stand and being easily "turned off" by shutting the lid.

You could just as easily use an Altoids tin (or any other similar candy tin), but depending on the size of your cook pot, the dimensions may change the way the integral pot stand needs to be bent in order to both support the pot and fit neatly into the tin for packing.

Watch the video to hear my commentary and see how it all fits together!

how to light an emergency fire without a match

light campfire without matches

 

You might be smarter than a 5th grader...

But Are You Smarter Than A Caveman?

There's obviously something primal about wondering -- if my life (or at least my dinner) depended on it -- if I could summon the spirit of McGyver and jimmy up a primitive fire out of twigs and leaves (and some random found object) like we've all seen on TV.

It's like a basic human curiosity.

If I had to... Could I do it? Could I start a fire from scratch?

Interestingly, I posted the Pump Fire Drill graphic (below) to Tumblr on a new account with only a handful of followers. Within 20 hours, it was reblogged more than 50 times and was "liked" over 200 times. Obviously, something about conjuring fire from our bare hands hits us deep. Like an instinct-level insecurity about our fitness as a human being. It's probably why Survivor has survived on TV for so long!

light fire without match

"Fire Pump Drill" - (From: 7 Ways To Light A Fire Without A Match, Field & Stream)

So How Do You Light A Fire Without Matches?

Field & Stream has a nice slideshow of illustrations describing Seven Ways To Light A Fire Without A Match. They are:

  1. Hand Drill
  2. Two Man Drill
  3. Fire Plough
  4. Pump Fire Drill
  5. Bow Drill
  6. Flint & Steel Sparking
  7. Spark Catching Tinder

So there's a start -- Six primitive ways to start a fire by either drilling with a stick or hitting the sharp edge of a piece of flint against the sharp edge of a piece of high-carbon steel, like a knife. Plus some extra tips about ensuring that you've got some highly "flammable" material to catch a spark.

(It's weird that I should put quotes around "flammable" -- Did you know that the correct word is INFLAMMABLE? But when you say that, too many people think you mean it won't burn. It actually means that it's "capable of becoming inflamed".)

If you're most interested in primitive methods of making fire from nothing but a stick and soft wood, there's at least one other really cool and efficient method I found a YouTube video for. It's really similar to the pump drill method, but slightly less complicated and works like a combination of a yo-yo and a top. Despite being totally primitive, nobody has seen it before -- it seems to be brand new!

But lest you think matchless fire-making is limited to "primitive" ways, let's mention that there are lots of other really cool ways to light fires without matches.

You're probably familiar with one of them from childhood:  Using a magnifying glass!

Works great, but unless you're out in the wilderness to study insects, you probably aren't carrying a magnifying glass on you. Or are you?

You could in fact easily carry a small flat Fresnel Lens to use as a magnifying glass. But chances are, you're already carrying around something that can readily substitute: An ordinary water bottle!

If the sun is intense enough and you can get the bottle at just the right angle, you may able to focus it enough to light some tinder, especially if you've got some ready-tinder, like some char-cloth or vaseline-soaked cotton swabs.

I've even seen a pretty surprising video where someone shows you how to light a fire using your own urine!

Have you thought of lighting a fire with a battery?

Nowadays, there's a good chance that in an emergency situation, you actually have a battery or two lying around or stuffed into the bottom of your backpack. If you have a 9V, you're in luck, but even with an ordinary AA or AAA, you can McGyver a small match-free fire. All you need in addition is some thin conductive material, like foil from a gum wrapper, steel wool, or your foil emergency blanket, and some kindling, and you're set. The idea is to send some current through the conductive material, but with just enough resistance to make it heat up the way a light bulb does and apply it to some kindling.