Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #6: Stainless Steel Drink Container

Stainless Steel Sealed Drink Containers

Stainless Steel Sealed Drink Containers

What is it: By a stainless steel drink container, I mean one of two things – either a truly non-spill hot drink container (a true thermos that closes with an airtight seal such that it doesn’t leak if turned upside down) or a water bottle – with a similarly watertight seal (flat cap or sport cap).

True stainless steel for several reasons: 1) it’s green (non-toxic, BPA free, reusable container); 2) thus, it keeps your liquids fresher, longer and safer; 3) it’s easy to clean and won’t retain taste/odors of previous contents; and 4) it’s unbreakable and durable.  And get true stainless steel – not aluminum containers, which contain internal liners that can break down over time.

I highly recommend Klean Kanteen for your stainless steel drink containers.  Their faq provides an excellent justification for the use of true stainless steel.  We’ve also found that the 27 oz. version is the perfect size for a full (750 ml) bottle of wine (or you can order their wine carafe (the only difference between their wine carafe and their 27 oz. bottle is the wine carafe is more expensive but it comes with a stainless steel flat cap that otherwise you have to buy for about $6 as an accessory).  We use the standard 27 oz. bottle to take such refreshment to outdoor concerts in Prospect Park during the summer where glass is not allowed.

Stainless double-walled, vacuum insulated Thermos hot drink container

Stainless double-walled, vacuum insulated Thermos hot drink container

For hot drink containers, I carry a Thermos vacuum insulated model with a pretty watertight top.

The purpose is two-fold – a) hydration – in the case when you carry water; or b) stimulation – for those who carried a higher-octane beverage (coffee or tea).  But the reason to have this container with you is hydration – you can always wash out a hot drink container and fill it with water – assuming it has a watertight/airtight seal – it becomes easy to carry with you.  Again, the primary purpose of having a stainless steel drink container with you is for water, which can save your life in an emergency.

Utility on a Daily Basis: It’s fairly common today for people to carry around a drink container with them – whether a hot liquid cup for coffee or tea – or a water bottle of sorts for water.  It has become acceptable to walk into stores, schools, classes, and business meetings with them.  And I think these “green” stainless steel water bottles have an additional cache that makes it okay to have one attached to your arm at all time.  As it has become socially acceptable to do so, I encourage you to do so.

You are, of course, free to carry your drink container in a backpack, attache, computer bag, or other tote that you bring with you (just not your empty bag!); they also slide into coat pockets pretty easily in a pinch.  But I think it is fine to equip one of your two hands with it if necessary.

You can’t be at your best if you are thirsty (or tired for that matter, if an insulated hot drink container is your preference).

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared™? Yes.  My liquid of choice is hot – black English Breakfast tea.  I never go anywhere without my Thermos hot drink mug filled with tea.  In warmer months or when I carry a bag/backpack with me, I usually bring a Klean Kanteen water bottle with me as well.  I don’t always have water with me, but I usually have a container I can rinse out and fill with water if needed.  It’s honestly not totally habitual yet to always carry water with me in warm weather, but I shall attempt to do so this summer and see if I can identify tips for making it easier.

Criticality after a disaster: Similar to an empty bag, water has 100s if not 1000s of uses.  It can be used to clean and sanitize, but what we are mostly concerned about is hydration in an emergency.  Having a container that can be filled with water, put in a bag for accessibility when you need it, and carried with you without fear of spillage, can extend the time you can go from point A to point B without having to stop.

Rwandan refugees waiting to cross Kagera river into Tanzania

Rwandan refugees waiting to cross Kagera river into Tanzania

Once upon a time, I set out on a sunny morning in Tanzania to take a pleasant stroll to the border with Rwanda to see where refugees were crossing the Kagera river border by canoe.  I carried with me only two liters of water that day (mostly due to weight) which was fairly hot, and pretty humid.

Local canoe carrying Rwandan refugees into Tanzania

Local canoe carrying Rwandan refugees into Tanzania

The 10-mile hike took me over a few sizeable hills, through mostly grassland, with little shade, and once within a mile or two of the river, became mucky swampland.  It was hard going.  Needless to say, it wasn’t enough water, and I finished my last drop at the river-bank at around 2 PM after rationing it all day.

Rwandan refugees arrive in Tanzania

Rwandan refugees arrive in Tanzania

I was able to make it to the nearest village by late afternoon and collapsed in a building the village used as a public meeting place.  I was pretty dehydrated by that time and could only ask the villagers if there was any water “here”, I said, pointing down at the ground.  “No water here,” they replied, and I sighed audibly, resigned to the fact that I was going to die.  “Fanta?” one man continued, offering me an orange soda.  I swapped a dollar for a Fanta and then was told that the village water point was outside about 200 meters away.  Somewhat refreshed, I was able to fill up my empty water bottles at the tap and make it back to my tent before dark.  True story.

The point is, well, first, that I never should have put myself in the situation of not having enough water with me for the trek that I was undertaking.  I was younger and that was an important learning experience.  What I learned is that you need to carry enough water with you to get you where you are going.  Having a container with you that can haul some water can help you to get where you are going after a disaster strikes.  That’s good enough for me.

Another true story:  In 1998 following a major earthquake, I found myself in Istanbul, Turkey, working around the clock – quite literally – to assist the Turkish Ministry of Health to sort out the flood of international donations of drugs, medical supplies and equipment donated from dozens of countries that was overwhelming their capacity to handle.

Setting up Commodity Tracking system in Istanbul warehouse

Setting up Commodity Tracking system in Istanbul warehouse

Their warehouses were overflowing and they could not sort through the donations in order to find the drugs and medical supplies needed by the earthquake victims.  The team I was leading was setting up a commodity tracking system for the Ministry of Health, organizing their warehouses, and setting up distribution system to get needed supplies to the hospitals operating in the disaster-affected area.

For the first three days I was in Turkey, I slept not at all, working all day conducting needs assessments and helping Ministry of Health staff in organizing warehouse spaces, and working all night with a group of techies in the US who were designing the commodity tracking system.  For the next week, I got no more than three or four hours of sleep as we deployed the system.

Now, I absolutely do not recommend this sleep schedule; getting adequate rest is essential for emergency responders to be at their best and I have on subsequent missions always set up shift schedules with my teams to ensure that everyone gets at least 8 hours off every day to recoup.

Anyway, this inhuman effort was possible, in my recollection, only by the endless supply of Turkish coffee – providing both stimulation (in terms of caffeine) and energy (in terms of sugar).  And that Turkish coffee was poured into my own insulated 20 oz. coffee mug, which I had brought with me as an essential piece of my emergency kit at the time.

So whether it is water or something more stimulating that you need to get by after a disaster strikes, a stainless steel sealed drink container will serve you well.

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The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Stainless Steel Drink Container

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES

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So, carry a stainless steel drink container with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared.

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #1: A Bag

[First note that I have organized the list alphabetically to avoid discussion of prioritization or ranks within the item list.]

What is it: By a “bag”, I mean an empty or spare bag that you have with you. (You know… a bag… to put things in). It has 100’s nay 1000’s of uses. And it should be empty when you leave home as the value and utility of an empty bag is directly proportional to just how empty it is. An empty bag, folded up and stowed, has maximum utility value, whereas one that is half-full when you leave home has much less value as a “spare”.

The best empty or spare bag to take with you is an “eco-tote” as I call them. These inexpensive, and lightweight bag are themselves usually made of a recyclable material, such as polypropylene or recycled cotton fibers, are increasingly sold almost everywhere as a green alternative to plastic bags.

Well-loved Staples eco-easy bag

My favorite is the “eco-easy” tote from Staples. It is HUGE and decently strong. Most of the ones sold in grocery stores for about a dollar are very small (and much smaller than the average plastic bag they are intended to replace). The Staples “eco-easy” tote only cost about $1 (on sale) or $1.50 (if not).

bn-bagAnother favorite of mine is the slightly smaller eco-tote from Barnes & Noble; it’s got that stylish New York black color and is also only about $1.50. Bags on the Run also sells decently sized eco-friendly bags in batches as low as 10. See http://www.bagsontherun.com/.

There are hundreds of alternatives out there. Pick one (or several) that matches your lifestyle and needs.

When empty, these eco-totes fold down to a very manageable size for fitting into a coat pocket or another bag (say if you carry a backpack, purse or briefcase with you anyway – throw an empty eco-tote in each and every one so you’ll always have one with you; leave them by the door so you can grab one on the way out). In warm shorts & t-shirt weather and climates, this becomes admittedly more troublesome…

landsend_packable_backpackAnother favorite type of bag is a packable backpack from Lands End. These are now available only in the Overstocks section, so these may not be available from this source for much longer, so I would grab one (or three) now in red at $19.99 while they last.  They also come in a packable tote and a packable duffel as well. I love the duffel and I grabbed one of those a while back – great to take olandsend_packable_backpack_packedn trips/vacations where you think you might come home with more stuff than you leave home with – they are now only available in pink, which may work for everyone. The totes are available in a bunch of colors, but I don’t think these totes have anything to offer over eco-totes and are a lot more expensive. Anyway, the best things about the packable backpack is they are truly lightweight, decently sized when open, small when folded up (only 6″Wx1″Dx6 1/2″H), easier to carry when open than a tote or a duffle, and strong enough not to rip when filled up with groceries, drinks or kids toys. Packable bags are also available from many camping and hiking suppliers.

Kiva Keychain BackpackKiva Keychain Backpack - FoldedI’m going to be evaluating the Kiva Keychain Backpack as an alternative to the Lands End one.  It is only about half the cost of the Lands End bag, but doesn’t look as durable to me.  I’ll report on these in a future post.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Bringing your own bags has become a great way of “Living Green” and helps make the practice of taking an empty bag with you when you leave home habitual. In urban living this works great as us City folk often set off on foot in the morning from home, go to work by public transportation, stop for groceries or sundries at a drug store, and run numerous other errands before returning to our homes at night. Having a bag with you is essential to this lifestyle and having an (additional) empty bag with you becomes so valuable you can’t imagine life before the empty bag.

Living in Brooklyn, I am in one of the select places in the country (if not the world) where people don’t take their cars with them wherever they go. But being originally from Massachusetts, I do have the experience of having to drive everywhere – even for a simple bagel, which never seems further than the closest corner here in Brooklyn – but I digress. It should be even easier for those who drive from home to point A to point B to point C to point D to… home again to find great utility in having an empty bag with them during the day.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? I can report that personally, this practice has become very habitual for our whole family once the commitment was made. We bring a bag of eco-totes with us to the grocery store for our scheduled weekly household shopping – most of them eco-easy bags from Staples because of their HUGE size. Because they are so HUGE and decently strong, you can do a HUGE shopping and fit everything into about 8 bags.

Living in Brooklyn, we also run a lot of errands on foot on a daily basis – part of City living – so once the commitment was made to use an eco-tote as part of Living Green – it did become habitual to never leave the house without one.

On those rare days when I run out of the house without an empty bag with me, I usually regret it. Those days are becoming rarer and rarer, but one did occur only yesterday. I ran out in the morning to drop my daughter off at school, then needed to stop at both a drug store and grocery store on the way home to pick up some essentials that we had run out of. Alas, no bag. I ended up with four double-bagged bags (total eight!) plastic ones to carry the admittedly heavy items I purchased. I would have needed two eco-easy bags and having only one with me would have spared the use of four plastic bags. We still find utility in having a few plastic bags around the house, especially around the time it is to clean out the cat’s litterbox.

On the other hand, I have had less success in trying to take an empty packable backpack with me. One of my packable backpacks is used on a daily basis by our babysitter to carry along extra clothing for the kids, as well as drinks and snacks for the kids. Another was taken over by my wife, who loved it because it was so light. I have a third hidden away and take it with me only on longer trips away from home; mostly I do carry an eco-tote with me somewhere.

Criticality after a disaster: I think that the utility of carrying an empty bag with you when you leave home on a daily basis is unquestionable; and it should be considered no less critical following a disaster. As I said before, an empty bag has 100s if not 1000s of uses, and has maximum utility when empty. When a disaster strikes, whether in close proximity to you or not, and you have to respond in some way to it (whether it is to get yourself and your family to safety, to evacuate the place where you are, to not being able to return home), chances are you are going to find yourself wanting or needing or asked to take some of the stuff around you with you.

And your go-bag will not be with you. We will discuss go-bags and the contents of same in other posts. Basically, a go-bag is prepacked with all the stuff you want to take with you when a disaster strikes. It will include things like a flashlight, an emergency radio, a small first aid kit, (and an empty bag ;-> ). But we don’t carry our go-bags with us whenever we go out. It stays at home, easily accessible in a coat closet by the front door, for example. But if disaster strikes when you are not at home and you can’t get home, you are caught out without your go-bag. So what do you do? You scrounge. You might be able to find some of your go-bag items at your workplace, in your car, or even at a nearby store. If only you had something to put them in!!! Oh, that’s right – you do – you have an empty bag with you! Good thinking!

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The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Bag

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES

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So, carry an empty bag with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.