Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fire and Light -- guest post by D.K. Richardson

Chapter Three

Fire and Light

"Come on, Baby, light my fire" The Doors

One need only look at the poor souls wandering the streets of their ruined cities after a natural calamity for motivation to have a small kit ready at hand to provide some basics - after all, a shelter may not be available for some time. Cooking food and boiling water is a primary consideration after a disaster.

I want to discuss stoves first. While it is possible to build a campfire, which I discuss last, a stove provides many advantages. A small stove is easy to light, provides controlled heat, works in nearly any weather and can be shut off when you are done cooking or boiling your water. A stove suitable for you kit should be small, lightweight, produce enough heat to boil water in a reasonable amount of time and use commonly available fuel - fuel which is safe to store in the kit.

For this DIY kit, I would recommend a Sterno brand folding stove. It folds flat, will easily support a large pot is easy to light and snuff - and because it burns gelled alcohol, may be used safely indoors with minimal care taken for ventilation. One large (7 oz) can of fuel is rated by the vendor to burn for two hours. At ten minutes to boil two cups of water, you should be able to produce (about) 24 cups of hot water before the first can is used up.

Sterno brand stove with Trangia burner

Another good choice for cooking is a Trangia brand alcohol stove (burner). Heat output is the same or slightly hotter than the Sterno brand product. The Trangia burner may be used with the Sterno stove. Trangia sells cook kits incorporating the burner, but can be costly.

Alcohol burners are safe to use indoors with proper ventilation, the only caution I have is that alcohol burns with an almost invisible blue flame - so a fuel spill is a concern. If any fuel is spilled - absent an ignition source, it will evaporate quickly and leave no residue or offensive order. Fuel may be obtained at the local gas station in the form of the yellow bottle of HEET brand fuel antifreeze. Bottles of 91% alcohol may be found at most Big Box stores for under 2 dollars for 16 ounces - a less expensive source.

There are numerous camping stoves that are compact and provide excellent heat. I would suggest that other than so-called canister (propane/Butane) stoves, none are really suitable for safe indoor use. The cost of the fuel canisters is also a consideration.

Another strike against these compact camping stoves is their stability - you must be quite careful to avoid tipping over your cooking pot. Storage of volatile petroleum fuels like gasoline or kerosene is another major drawback - for this kit.

Having said that, larger or full sized 'camping' stoves, propane fired, may be a good item for use at home in the event of a loss of utilities. The venerable Coleman brand stove may be had as a propane appliance or an adapter is savable to convert a Coleman brand gasoline stove for propane use - for less than twenty dollars! Proper ventilation must always be a consideration when using these larger stoves indoors.

Don't want to spend money on a stove that will sit in a kit unused? Okay, a Sterno folding stove does sell for 5 to 9 dollars, the fuel, is about four dollars for a large can. Any can of a diameter to hold the fuel container may be pressed into service as a pot holder for your fuel. (See photo)

The holes in the sides were made with a common can opener, the fuel can is held by two short sections of coat hanger wire. The holes for the wires were made with a small drill bit.

The only critical measurement is to ensure the top of the fuel can is 32mm to 38mm (1.25 to 1.5 inches) from the top edge of your pot support. DO NOT use gasoline or kerosene in this or any alcohol stove.

What about these so-called soda pop can stoves? Are they any good?

There are a large number of plans to make an alcohol burner out of soda or beer cans. They work, but are fragile. The Trangia brand burner, made from brass, is very rugged time proven design. You get to chose, it's your money.

Can I use isopropyl alcohol in one of these stoves?

It's also called 'rubbing' alcohol. If the alcohol is 91% - yes. If the alcohol is marked at less than that - usually 70%, then no, it is not suitable for use in the burner.

How do I put out the flame on my Sterno fuel?

Simply place the lid back on the can, loosely, and the flame will extinguish. Once the can of fuel cools, press the lid firmly in place.

On a Trangia burner, the so-called simmer ring is used to snuff the stove.

What other kinds of fuel can I use with my alcohol setup?

There are other brands of 'chafing dish' fuel - read the labels carefully. All are alcohol based, other alcohol sources, like yellow bottle HEET fuel-line antifreeze burn cleanly as well. Remember, extra ventilation is needed for any indoor use.

Campfires -

I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of open fires for use in a disaster situation. They are a potential source of out of control fires, burns and can produce noxious smoke. Cooking over an open fire is a skill, so some prior practice is strongly suggested.

An open fire will produce both heat and light. And smoke. A campfire requires an open space, with nothing flammable overhead, for safety and a source of fuel. People living in an urban area will be hard pressed to find a viable source of dry fuel to maintain an open fire for any length of time. Bad weather, such as rain and/or high winds also impact on your ability to keep that fire going.

IF you live in an area where fuel is plentiful, by all means, plan on using an open fire for your cooking needs. You'll need more than a few strike-anywhere matches for this, especially if your wood is wet. For those in urban areas, remember that some treated wood products will outgas poisonous gases when burned, so do all of your cooking outdoors, unless your indoor stove is properly vented.

Light in a grid-down situation can be provided by flashlights, lanterns, and candle lanterns.

For short term situations and small size, it is hard to beat the common flashlight and with the newer LED 'bulbs' battery life can be excellent. For your DIY kit, any number of low cost LED flashs are available, so many that I won't make a specific recommendation. If you already own a MagLight brand flash, retro fitting for LED 'bulbs' is simple, with a drop in replacement - check the flashlight section of your local Big Box store. I converted my smaller "AA" battery MagLight for just a few dollars.

A headlamp, ("AA" and LED) as part of your kit will allow you to keep your hands free as you perform a variety of tasks. Again, there are so many low cost lights on the market, I'll just say, consider adding a headlamp to your kit.

The only lanterns that I am aware of on the market for possible inclusion in this kit are candle lanterns and a single kerosene insert made for a specific brand of candle lantern. I purchased and have used an older miniature kerosene lantern (also called a canoil) and found it lacking. The kerosene insert has more than a few bad reviews, so I've mentioned these in passing with a recommendation to take a pass on these.

Candle lanterns, such as the UCO candle lantern have been around a long time. Well built, they enjoy a following with replacement candles readily available on line. I have used these for years and with the limitations of a candle lantern, they provide a usable light - burning for about eight or nine hours for a single, full size candle. UCO also makes a lantern which uses the popular tea candles. Either would make a good secondary light source for your DIY kit. Just remember that storage conditions, heat is not kind to candles.

How you might use a so-called Dakota fire pit, a rocket stove and other efficient ways of cooking with wood is covered, with images, in the book.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dave's Kitchen

Far, far away, in the land of Texas, I have a good friend named Dave.  Dave lives in his garden, using his house as a place to cook, can, and dehydrate food, and, on rare occasions, sleep.  In his climate he can grow things most of the year.  While I envy that, it's not what I most admire about Dave.
What I admire most about Dave is the canning and dehydrating he does.  I've never even heard of some of the things this guy has stuffed in a jar and run through his canner.  Things like pickled watermelon rinds and candied sweet potatoes.  Or dehydrating sweet pickles, eggs, yogurt (yes, yogurt!), sweet breads (pumpkin, banana, etc.), chili, and leftover spaghetti.  He also salts and smokes food to preserve it.
As a regular feature of this blog we're going to start checking in with Dave and see what he's up to.  We visited him a couple of weeks ago, and he's the real deal.  And if he's not enough of the real deal, you ought to meet his daughters!!!  What an amazing family.  I hope you enjoy and learn from the things I'll be posting from and about them.
 This is just one of the herb beds Dave planted.  This is Basil.  He grows and dries bushels of it every year! 

This is some of Dave's dried basil, vacuum-sealed in Food Saver bags.

The bag in back is dried Okra, and in front is dried sweet pickles.
Dried sweet pickles?
In a message earlier this year Dave wrote:
"Most of what I dehydrate is just regular raw fruit, vegetables, eggs, cooked beans and rice, and left overs,and cooked pasta.

Yesterday I made a chicken and broccoli dish to serve over rice and there was alot left over(intentionally) so I mixed it with the rice and put it into the dehydrator and just took it out, bone dry, only a fraction of the space and it rehydrated great.

My dehydrator was some of the best money I have ever spent(would be lost without it), next to my tiller that is.

While I was waiting for the chicken and rice to finish up, I canned 30 pounds of chicken leg quarters. I used to can it bone-in but I saw that most people cooked it first. I tried it that way, and now I bake it first, then de-bone it and can it."

Candied sweet potatoes (left) and  Mustang Grape Juice
Many of Dave's emails are sent at 1-something or 3-something o'clock in the morning while he's waiting for a canner load of something to finish up.  Or he's about to put something in the dehydrator.  I often wonder what he runs on, because he keeps on running.  Usually he's been out in the garden all day, then prepping, processing, and preserving food most of the night.
So, pull up a chair and grab a bite of candied watermelon rind (it really is good!) and we'll learn together.  Look for a new post from Dave's kitchen about twice a month.
Meanwhile, thanks for all the emails of support after the death of my sister-in-law, and thanks for the prayers and good wishes.  Sadly, after the funeral my 81-year old Father-in-law had a stroke and he's still in the hospital.  He's in rehab/physical therapy right now while they determine what he still has, what he lost, and what they think he can get back.  We're still in Kansas helping out.
Take care, everyone.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The unexpected happens

Many of us prep for the unexpected.  Then something unexpected happens at an unexpected time.

We had traveled across the country to visit my husband's mother and two sisters, all of whom have homes in SE Kansas.  After spending time with all of them, we left to visit a couple of friends and my husband's other sister, who lives in Colorado.

Yesterday morning, while at the home of a fellow prepper and his family, we got a call that my husband's youngest sister had unexpectedly died.  She was 52.  The family was in shock.

We headed back to SE Kansas, nearly 500 miles away.  The long loop we'd planned to make on the way home, to visit these other people, had us in a position where we had enough money for the trip back here, though it means a straight-line trip home when the time comes, eliminating the other visits.  They understand.  Maybe another time.

I'm very thankful we were able to turn around and come right back.  In normal times we wouldn't have had the money to make the 3,200 mile round trip from home (where we normally are) on such short notice.

I'm also thankful for each and every one of you who bought my book, or any of my other books.  Although I only get .35 from Amazon for each book I sell, I was able to accumulate enough to make this trip.  It's been five years since we could afford to visit my husband's mother and sisters.  His mother is nearly 80.  It means a LOT to us that he got to see her.  It also means a lot to us that although no one knew Linda was about to die, her brother (my husband) got to see her one more time.

Thank you.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Almost Invisible

Almost Invisible
I try not to promote products on here so people don't think I'm just selling things.  My sincere goal is to make a difference in people's lives as they learn to prepare and how to do things related to that.
But sometimes I find a product or a book that has helped me so much that I want to spread the word.  

I don't get anything from the sale of anything except my own books.  So when I tell you that this book, "Almost Invisible", had a powerful impact on me and that I recommend it, there's nothing in it for me.
This is an amazing book.  What I took away from it is that even the little things we do, or the little changes we make, can have not only a huge impact on ourselves and/or others around us, but they can change the direction of our lives.
When I started reading this book I rolled my eyes and thought "oh, I suppose this is going to be one of those social type things to bring awareness to the plight of the homeless."  But it's not.
It's a fiction story.  The more I read the more I found myself nodding my head in agreement and thinking "wow!  This author has great insight"  I love her characters and how they interact in this story.
The reason I recommend it for preppers, especially those drawn to my "Poverty Prepping" book, is that often we think we can't do things.  We don't think the little things are going to matter.  My philosophy is that doing anything, even something little, is better than nothing.
This book fits neatly into that philosophy.  Not only will you feel more confident in the (seemingly) little things you do, but you'll probably enjoy the story as much as I did.
It's only .99 on Kindle, and it's also available in print.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Shelter and Environmental Protection (Guest Post, D.K. Richardson)

Chapter Two
Shelter and Environmental protection
"Singing in the rain, I'm just signing in the rain" -Fred Astair
Just like the popular song, rainy days and Mondays always get me down. Well, Mondays, those I can live through, but too much time spent in the rain could kill you. Shelter is the next most important item on your list, right after water, because it really is a cruel world and unprotected exposure to the elements can and will kill you.
I think everyone understands that there is a range of temperatures, narrow as it is, within which you can easily function. Go outside of that narrow range of temperature, and you are now uncomfortable. Deviate further and fairly soon, you are dead. That deviation can be hot or cold - either extreme can do you in.
Your body temperature can change through four main external processes - radiation, convection, conduction and evaporation. 
Radiation can be the heat felt from the sun or the heat from a campfire - both are forms of radiation. Convection is the loss of heat from the movement of air or water across your body - or the exposed parts of your body. Conduction is the loss of heat from physical contact with a material or object that is colder than your body. Finally, evaporation is heat loss from moisture changing state (water to vapor) and the resulting heat loss.
Let's begin with heat, or rather, too much of it. You can be heated by direct exposure or by indirect exposure. To avoid direct exposure, you would seek shade, in some areas of the world; you have to make your own shade. Indirect exposure is the heat received by radiation from other objects, say from nearby rocks that have been exposed to the sun, or from a hot wind blowing directly on you. Failure to react to excessive heat can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke and hyperthermia - all of which are emergent conditions leading to death.
Your body naturally reacts to excessive heat by sweating. The sweat evaporating will remove heat from your body. Fan yourself, and convection will help cool you, or a dunk in a cool stream of water and again, convection removes the excess heat. Sit on a nice cool, moss covered rock and conduction will pull the heat from your body. A shade shelter can provide protection from direct radiation and from a hot wind to reduce heating from convection.
Cold will kill as fast as the heat. Hypothermia, once commonly called exposure, is where the body can no longer maintain a livable internal core temperature, and death soon follows. A shelter will reduce exposure to wind, rain and snow to help you maintain your core body temperature.
So what is shelter - really? 
I like to think of 'shelter' as a series of shells, or layers that I can add or remove based on the conditions at the time. These shells should be easy to add or remove, wick moisture away from your body and provide insulation between the environment and your body. 
Base layers:
I found (brand) cotton long johns on sale, should I buy some?
I generally do not recommend cotton long underwear except is a limited number of specific situations, such for wear under Nomex fire-proof clothing. Polypropylene (Polypro) based clothing offers many advantages, moisture wicking, fast drying, lightweight and so on. NOTE - If you work in a hazardous environment, check with your safety people on restrictions for both nylon or polypro garments.
I found some (polyester-lycra fabric) brand long johns, should I buy some?
If the garment fits, by all means - but you are really looking at underwear, rather than classic 'long johns' - or insulating garments. Many of these undergarments offer moisture wicking, and odor control, so represent a good base layer for your 'shelter'.
I was at the store and saw polypro long johns, some were fuzzy inside, the others looked like they had lines or ridges - what's up with that?
Both types allow a layer of air to be trapped against your skin. This air space is heated, and so you feel 'warmer'. Both styles work well, so cost or fit should be bigger factors than style. 
My friend told me that a long sleeve shirt is cooler than a short sleeve shirt, how can that be?
Your friend may just be right. A loose fitting, long sleeve shirt will protect you from direct solar radiation and can feel cooler. You'll also benefit from reduced exposure to UV rays, which can burn and in the long term, have been blamed for certain skin cancers.
Outer layer:
Outer clothing is the next layer in your shelter. This next layer is shirt and trousers, then coat, hat and gloves. For a disaster kit, you'll want heavy duty clothing that is easy to clean and can stand extended wear. Location will drive what materials the clothes are constructed from - light weight in light colors for warm weather, heavy wool or canvas for cold weather. Used 'work' clothing obtained from a local thrift store will allow you to purchase clothes inexpensively enough to leave the garments in your disaster kit.
You can take a lesson from the "homeless' who live outside all day, nearly everyday. They will often wear two sets of trousers, multiple shirts and often more than one hat. There are many reasons that different people have for this 'fashion', but the idea of having multiple layers shouldn't be lost on you. When it gets cold at night another pair of pants, or even nylon shell pants can make a real difference. Another is a regular shirt and pants covered by overalls or bib overalls. This combination is much warmer and provides some protection should you need to perform tasks that could tear your primary outer layer. I leave a set of oversized Carhart brand overalls and an oversized lined jacket in my car all the time. If forced to change a tire in bad weather, I'll have a way to cover my street clothes and the outfit will keep me much warmer.
This does raise the question of just how much in the way of clothing should you keep in your disaster kit. Since this series of posts and the book focus on a four day kit, the real answer is - none, or nearly so. A complete change of clothing takes up space, bulks up your carry package and adds weight. On the other hand, standing around at night in soaked clothing can kill you. 
My compromise is a single set of underclothes, polypro long johns, and a set of nylon pants and jacket. In mild weather the nylon outfit should work as you dry you things. In colder weather, the long johns worn under the nylon shells should be fine for use. If you get soaked in extreme cold weather, it is problematic that you would be able to change into a dry set of clothes before hypothermia sets in. The polypro outfit will be your sleeping clothes in any case, this to maximize the warmth of your sleeping arrangements.
One last thought on the outer layer - the clothing you select should be rugged, heavy duty you might say. If you work in a suit, a dress or light weight clothing, you might want to consider having a complete change of clothing that stays at your work location. If an event occurs, you can change before you leave, the few extra minutes spent will likely be paid back many times over. Don't forget a pair of good quality walking shoes or boots and an extra pair of good quality wool socks for your change-into outfit.
I just found (brand) of overalls on sale at the thrift store, should I but a set?
You should do a bit of research on the price of new heavy duty clothing. You may be surprised at how well they hold their value. A set of brand name 12 oz cotton duck overalls can cost 75 dollars, or more, here in Alaska. Used, but serviceable overalls of the same brand may sell used for 50 dollars - or more. You may be better served by purchase of new items, rather than used - but you should at least know the price of new before you hit the second hand/thrift stores.
My goodness, I found a used Filson jacket and they wanted...a lot!
Some garments are legend - Filson is one of those, along with Pendleton and a few others. These are clearly a case of getting what you pay for - you may find a bargain in the used clothes store, but I doubt it. On the other hand, I have seen Filson jackets worn by the grandson of the original purchaser.
Are these Army surplus wool shirts any good?
The surplus wool shirts and so-called field pants are rugged garments. If they fit, or are even a bit loose, and the price is right, they represent a solid value for outerwear. Regular fatigue uniforms (OD, ACU and MARPAT) are both expensive and may not wear as well as clothing sold for industrial workers. In these, price should be the deciding factor.
What should I watch out for in used clothing?
Before you purchase any used clothing, inspect it completely. Are all the buttons and zippers whole and functional? Are repairs needed? If there are tears or rips, you can mend the garment yourself, but the price should reflect the lower value found in clothing in need of repair. Carefully check all the pockets, turning them inside out. Check seams and hems, again, carefully. Finally, check for fit. Used garments rarely are the size they are tagged at, if a fitting room is available, use it. At a good price point used clothing can make a good addition to your disaster kit.
Protective layer:
A protective layer includes ponchos, rain suits and heavy jackets like parkas or anoraks. I have some fairly strong ideas of what works in the field - before entering the military, I worked my college summers with a Geoexploration field crew in the Western US. In the military, I was in the field both in the Nevada desert and the wilds of Alaska, both winter and summer. Finally, I now live full time in Alaska. 
Let me begin with fit. A proper rain suit will have a long jacket and bib type overalls, with the jacket extending down to the level of your fingertips when fully extended. The jacket should be vented, with a two-way zipper if possible. The jacket should have a hood with visor, if possible, and a drawstring at the waist and hem for when the wind comes up. If you are going to spend real time working or even walking in the rain, you owe yourself a quality rain suit. A poncho should have a hood and extend to at least your knees. A set of lightweight nylon gaiters to cover your shoes or boots will go a long way to keeping you happy in the wet. One common problem with a poncho is that the wind can make it difficult to stay dry, so include a length of cord or a belt to secure the poncho on a blustery day.
A parka or cold weather jacket should be part of your outfit, left in your vehicle if you don't care to wear it inside. The parka should fit such that the bottom hem is the length of your extended fingertips, or slightly longer - in other words, it should cover your backside. The parka should, at a minimum, have a waist level drawstring to keep the wind out of your core area. I prefer a parka with both 'hand pockets', and larger cargo patch pockets. I leave several hand warmer packets in both sets of pockets year around. You never know what you'll cold hands after all.
A friend told that cloth parkas were worthless. Is he right?
I've worn military and commercial parkas made from both cloth and nylon. The USAF issues both types; I've used both while active duty. While out in the field, if I'm going to be around a campfire, I wear a cloth shelled parka. OTOH, my anorak is coated nylon, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The main thing I worry over is damage in the field and ease of repair. Cloth is less likely to burn, and I find that sewing cloth is easier. 
Well, then, when would I want a nylon parka?
That's a very good question. A nylon shelled parka is normally lighter in weight than a cloth one and a nylon parka usually does better in a wet environment, where cloth does not. Both, if well made, seem about equal. I walked around the Cape Lisburne RADAR site one winter in 30+ knot winds and temps reputed to be nearly -50F. I was properly layered, with my outer layer being a set comprised of a cloth parka and so-called fat boy pants. With the issue arctic mittens, to protect my hands - I still have all my body parts, though I do have a better appreciation for what Scott must have gone through at the South Pole.
I can wear sandals in the desert, what is the best boot for cold weather?"
I would suggest boots or shoes are a better choice for desert wear. Sandals are fine for hot weather wear in town, but are a very bad choice away from the city or roadway.
The type of cold weather boots you choose is dependant on the location. For cold and wet weather, a pair of good overshoes and your normal boots with wool socks may be just the thing. Another choice is the so-called Caribou pacs. A felt lined half-boot with a rubber bottom and leather upper. I love mine and with a new set of liners, it like getting a new boot for very little money.
In extreme cold weather, in a dry area, you can wear so-called Bunny Boots or Mukluks. A Bunny boot, or as it's known by the military, "Boot, Extreme Cold Weather, Vapor Barrier" - sometimes called a VB boot. Basically a rubber boot within a rubber boot, with felt insulation between the inner and outer shells, they have a valve at the ankle to allow for pressure differences.
These VB boots must be worn correctly or use can lead to Trench Foot - a permanent partial disabling condition. If wearing VB boots you must change your socks at least every 4 hours, and dry your feet in between uses.
Mukluks are usually found as a cloth or nylon shell covering thick wool booties, with one or more wool pads for the bottom of your feet - the sole is a rubber-like compound with an aggressive tread patter. They are a dry-climate garment only! They offer no real support, so are not very fun if you have to walk any distance with a load. If you decide to purchase surplus mukluks, treat the shell with an appropriate water-proofing compound. Canadian surplus mukluks are built very differently than the US version. Mukluks will keep your feet warm to zero F. I have worn mine in colder weather but I have modified them with calf length urethane liners in addition to the felt pads and booties. 
A good set of 'snow machine' boots will work well, but are normally difficult to walk in, something to consider for any boot.
What about hats and gloves?
I strongly suggest you have a hat with built in ear flaps, as you ears are very easy to freeze, and horribly painful once thawed. A good wool knit hat over a 'baseball' style hat will work well, the bill working to keep rain/snow out of your face. 
Full face hats, a baklava or knit hat with a separate face covering are essential for extreme cold weather. 
Fleece material is as warm as wool when dry, but once it becomes damp, ceases to provide real insulation / protection. A thin knit polypropylene hat covered by a second wool hat can provide an opportunity to dry one should the inner polypro garment get soaked in sweat.
Gloves are a personal preference, I carry several kinds, wool liners for use with leather work gloves - something I recommend, as well as some light neoprene gloves, If you will be in a wet environment, PVC coated gloves with wool liners provide both warmth and protection. You should have one pair of gloves for 'work - cutting wood, working with rope, moving a hot pot from the campfire, made of heavy leather, these are primarily for protection. A second set for warmth can fit in a pocket with no difficultly, I use wool liners, and the gloves are inexpensive, lightweight and warm. 
Now we've discussed a shell around your person, what is the next layer? In this case, I'll cover use of a tarp. The Capstone project uses a 8x10 blue poly tarp, and recently, my local big box store had a pair of the 6x9 blue tarps on sale for five dollars. The tarp used to photograph the capstone project is 8 x 10 feet. Since this tome is aimed at an individual kit, you may chose that size best suits your needs. The smallest usable tarp is the 6 x 8 foot model.
How can I best pitch a tarp?
That depends on your location, the weather and a host of other issues beyond this posting. If it helps, I gave my eight year old granddaughter and her younger brother a few large nails (for tent pegs) and a set of blue tarps. Each had a walking stick to use if they wanted, and a tree was nearby if that was desired for use. 
In less than twenty they each had a workable shelter set up, both used their 'walking sticks', my assistance was limited to tying the knots in the string used to hold up their shelters. I've posted a couple of images for your consideration.
What can I use to pitch my tarp?
A popular type of cordage is known as '550 cord', 'paracord' or 'shroud line' - all refer to a nylon cordage used to connect parachute canopies to the personal harness. It may be purchased in bulk. It is handy to work with, but ordinary mason's line (nylon) is more than strong enough to do the job, and it comes in colored rolls. Another inexpensive option is the white polypropylene so-called "tomato twine" - a roll of 6,500 feet sells for under 35 dollars. At 350 pounds breaking strength, I find this twine has worked well for me over the years and at very low cost.
Pegs to secure the edge of your tarp may be made locally, or you can purchase a few large nails and leave them in the Yukon ruck you will be building.
Are these blue tarps safe?"
These tarps are flammable. DO NOT cook directly under a tarp with an open campfire - the sparks could ignite the fabric. 
Are these tarps waterproof?
Nothing is waterproof, it is just really shades of water resistant. If you rub the inside of a tarp, water may leak through. This happens with several materials, including canvas and other common tent materials. I have found that vinyl coated tarps are heavy duty, weather well, but are expensive and heavy. Since the focus here is on low-cost, I've used the common blue tarp, since it will be used as the 'backpack' as well.
What else can I use besides the blue tarp?
Let your imagination go! The idea behind the blue tarp is that is low-cost, already has grommet protected tie points, and is universally available in North America. 
Nylon shower curtains, painter's drop cloths, even old sheets can be treated to repel water, there are several things you must consider as you make your choice.
Is the material flammable? Is the material durable? Does the material have a place to attach a cord or line? Is the material suitable for my location?
Some people I know carry large squares of Visqueen, a type of heavy plastic. Transparent, is can provide a workable 'side' to a shelter and lets in the light as a bonus. 
How about on of those military surplus 'pup' tents? I've seen them on line for eight dollars... Are they any good?
Yes, you have. You'll need two of the "shelter half" units, and ensure they are free of holes, and have the pole set that should come with the unit. 
Are they any good? In looking, I see where a complete 'double ended' system, (both halves) poles and pegs may be had for under 30 dollars. A complete shelter (two halves, poles and pegs) weighs in at just about six pounds. A 10 x 12 foot poly tarp weighs in 2 pounds, 10 oz.
I have three shelter halves, they are fun for the grandkids to play in, and can be rigged as a Baker style tent, but for this project, I would recommend against them - just too limiting.
I see where two military ponchos can be used for a shelter, is that a good choice?
Certainly, the military designed the poncho to do just that. But, let me ask you a question, if you are wearing your poncho because it is raining, how do you set up a shelter?
I won't kid you - for years, in the desert I carried a poncho and poncho liner as a sort of sleeping bag where weight was at a premium. I also froze my backside off. I could grab a catnap, but the poncho liner was better than lying out without any cover - but just barely better. Nowadays, the Military Sleep System provides more options than I had at the time. But these, even surplus, are very pricy.
What will I use for a sleeping bag?
For this kit, a surplus wool blanket is used as a sleeping cover. A used, five pound, quality, surplus blanket will go for about 20 to 40 dollars for the 100% wool items. 
This is one of the expensive items for the kit. It is money well spent. Wool will retain it ability to keep you warm, even if damp. Wool will not burn if a campfire spark lands on the blanket. If you live where it is very cold at night, then a second layer (a square of polypropylene material) can be added. 
I've purchased the polypro material for this second layer at a local fabric shop for under eight dollars.
If you live in a warmer climate, say, Southern Arizona, a fleece sleeping bag 'liner' can be had at the local box store for under 20 dollars - nice as normally they have a zipper and a small stuff sack to carry the bag.
For this project, I am using a surplus wool blanket. Remember, I discussed earlier about having a set of polypro long johns to wear to bed as well - with your knit hat and gloves and a set of dry socks, you should be set in temperatures to freezing and maybe a bit lower.
A wool blanket is all I need?
I'll have you add two so-called drum liners or contractor trash bags plus a windshield reflector. (see image #). The trash bags are heavy weight plastic and may be used as is, or split for more protected area, to serve as ground cover. The windshield protector is made of the reflective bubble type insulation. Found in rolls at your local building supply store, the brand I most often found is "Reflextix" brand insulation. It looks for all the world just like foil coated bubble wrap. These windshield protectors can be found at garage sales (I got mine for 25c), your local big box store or on line - look around. 
You are kidding, right? Trash bags and a reflector?
I'm not kidding. I've slept in a cardboard box, with the reflective insulation and a military ground roll under me, in my polypro long johns, under a single wool blanket in zero degree weather. Slept pretty well, as a matter of fact - I wouldn't recommend this for folks without a lot of experience, but it is do-able.
The key is to have as much or more insulation under you as on top. Place the trash bags first, filled with tree duff if possible, then the protector, you on top of that, the blanket on top of you. Even if you use a sleeping bag, the insulation under your bag is as important, if not more important, than what is on top of you. It's that whole conduction vs convection thing we covered at the start.
This is another reason to try out your kit, before there is a need, even if you just camp out in your back yard.
I have covered the various layers, or shells used to surround you for protection from the environment. I mentioned leaving heavy duty clothing at work in case of an event while you are working. I specifically called for a hat and gloves to go with an extra pair of warm wool socks for your kit. Finally, I covered tarps as a good way to provide shelter for your blanket 'sleeping bag and plastic bag ground cover.
Next - Fire and light
If outdoors, you will need a source of heat to avoid hypothermia, cook food and provide light to perform any work after dark. I discuss a variety of inexpensive stoves, and show you how to make a pair of stoves that burn a common commercial product. I walk you through the choices in flashlights, lanterns, and candle lanterns - showing you how to make a couple of small candle stoves and lanterns. The last part in this chapter will discus the advantage and disadvantages of a campfire