Survival, Part V: OneNote Survival Binder

This is the final post of a series about survival:

Survival, Part I: Are You Prepared?

Survival Part II: Temporary Emergencies

Survival, Part III: Short Term Situations

Survival, Part IV: Long-Term Survival

I have touted the benefits of OneNote before, so I won’t repeat them here. Instead, I’m going to jump right to showing how I use it to organize my “Survival Binder.”

Why Have a Survival Binder?

I have spent most of this year learning about edible wild plants. While I can spot a large number of them in my yard, I find myself forgetting some that are less common, or I can’t remember which parts you’re supposed to eat, or how they’re supposed to prepared. I know cattail roots have to be soaked in changes of water to remove excess amounts of starch, but do you have to do that with greenbriar roots, too? Do I peel acorns before cold soaking them, or do I just crush them up a bit, soak them, then peel them?

When you start researching homesteading and survival skills, you are going to learn a lot. You’re also going to forget half of what you learn. You will forget whole parts occasionally, but mostly you will forget parts of the information. You may, for example, remember that pokeweed is edible, but you’ll poison yourself if you forget that it has to be cooked a special way to render it safe. Missing bits of information can be crucial!

That’s why I have a survival binder. It’s where I dump all of the information that I’ve accumulated so that if I ever get into a survival situation, I won’t have to remember everything; I’ll have the binder to review and consult. As I learn new information through experience or an exchange with a neighbor, I can add to the binder.

Now, you may ask yourself why you can’t buy a survival book or two and be done with it? Survival books aren’t a bad thing to have. We have everything from How to Stay Alive in the Woods to the Foxfire books 1-10. But if you’re looking for specific information on a topic, do you want to search through a dozen books to glean all the information available (and waste time reading duplicate stuff), or do you want to find it all in one spot? There’s also the problem that books tend to be general whereas you’re going to need some specifics for your situation. For instance, I have a book on wild edibles, but a lot of the stuff in it is found in places around a large river or lake–which we aren’t near. In other cases, the plants don’t grow in our region at all. But in my survival binder I have a long list of wild plants that I know for a fact grow in my yard or nearby. I also have lots of recipes that actually use them (something that’s very hard to find in a book!).

Paper or Plastic?

What do I mean by “binder?” Is it a digital file or a physical binder?

Ideally, it’s both. I have been using OneNote to organize all my info and I’m nearing completion; I’m not finding a lot of information now that I don’t already have. My goal is to finish it up by next month and then start the process of printing it. (A monumental task in and of itself; last I checked, it was over 800 pages long.) Then I’m going to hole-punch it and stick it into an actual binder (with divider tabs, of course).

As I find new info, I can add it to my OneNote binder and print a copy for my physical binder.

The benefit to having a digital copy is that you can always have it with you on a cloud drive or thumb drive and it’s very easy to search it for a specific term. It can also be shared with family and friends. The benefit of having a physical copy is that in the event of power failure, you still have access to it.

One thing to keep in mind, though: unless you have access to unlimited color printing, keep pictures to a minimum. I don’t have a lot of pictures outside the section on edible plants and only the plant ones need to be printed in color; everything else can be printed in black and white to save money.


Everyone’s survival binder is going to have different information in it. I have information on raising chickens, rabbits, and goats, but if you have a house with a postage stamp for a yard, or you live in an apartment, you’re not going to need information on raising livestock. However, you probably want information on things like bugging out, caching supplies, surviving riots, etc.

The medicinal section is another place that will have a lot of customization. Some medicines will be universal, such as antivirals, antibacterials, anti-diarrheals, treatments for cuts, stings, and bites, vitamin supplements, pain and fever relievers, etc. Every family needs to have those things. But you will also need to have something lined up to replace long-term OTC or prescription medicine if it becomes unavailable. If someone is a Type 2 diabetic, for instance, there are some plants that can help control blood sugar. They’re not going to be as effective as prescription meds, but they’re better than nothing in a survival situation.


The hardest part of building a survival binder is getting it started. What all should you put in it? How should you organize it? Finding the information is actually the easy part; once you get started, you’ll be down every rabbit hole on the internet, finding all kinds of fascinating and useful information.

Here’s a run down of what’s in my binder. The bold parts represent tabs. Everything below them is a page or a subpage.


  1. Survival – This is mainly geared to temporary survival
    1. Caching – Hiding things to access in an emergency
    2. Communication – What to do when you have no cell phones
    3. Defense – Guarding your homestead
      1. Camouflage – For hunting or hiding
      2. Riots – How to escape them
    4. Fire – How to make it and keep it going
    5. Knots – How to tie them
    6. Mental Survival – Keeping yourself, family, and companions sane; leadership
      1. Conversation Starters – Things to talk about other than disaster; also a good way to get to know new people
      2. Games – Passing time without electricity
    7. Navigation – How to use a compass to and how to walk in a straight line
    8. Reading People – How to tell when people are lying to you
    9. Shelters – Temporary wilderness shelters for all weather and terrains
    10. Telling Time without a Clock – Gauging the passage of time by the sun and stars
    11. Trading – How to trade with people without getting robbed
    12. Survival Bags – What you need in your bug out or belt bag
    13. Universal Edibility Test – How to test unknown plants for safety
    14. When You See It Coming – Last minute things you can do to prepare for a looming disaster
  2. Water
    1. Needs – How much water you need for drinking, cooking, hygiene, and watering livestock and gardens
    2. Collection – How to get drinkable water when there’s no water source nearby
    3. Purification – How to make water safe for drinking
    4. Storage – How to store water safely
    5. Transportation – Ways to transport water when you have no bottles
    6. Well-Drilling – How to drill a well by hand using PVC pipe
  3. Hunting
    1. Fishing – Making equipment, using traps, finding bait, and best times to fish
    2. Dangerous Animals – What to do when encountering bears, cougars, wolves, and moose
    3. Preparation – Tree stands, baiting fields, and deer spray
    4. Snares – How to make and set
    5. Tanning – How to preserve hides/fur, make leather, etc.
    6. Tracking – Which tracks belong to which animal
  4. Plants
    1. Companion Planting – What’s good to plant together and which plants shouldn’t be near each other
    2. Composting – Believe it or not, there’s an art to disposing of plant matter
    3. Container Gardening – How to grow virtually anything in a bucket or pot
    4. Dog-Proofing – For when your (our) dog wants to destroy the garden
    5. Edible Wild Plants – A long list of everything edible or medicinal in my immediate vicinity
    6. Fertilizing – Which fertilizers are needed for which plants and how to make them naturally
    7. Forcing – Making things grow or bloom out of season
    8. Greenhouses – How to make and operate them
    9. Hardening Off – How to transfer indoor plants outside
    10. Harvesting – A list of plants and how to know they they’re ripe and ready for harvesting
    11. How Much to Grow – A (frightening) list of how much you need to grow and put up to feed a family for a year
    12. Identifying Plants – Scientific classification of leaves and flower parts (necessary to ensure identification of edible wild plants)
    13. Insects – Organic insecticides and other ways to control pests on plants
    14. Plant Health – How to tell what’s wrong with your plant
    15. Planting Guide – When to plant in my region
    16. Planting by the Signs – Old-time folk belief that moon and astrological phases affect plants (when you’re depending on your garden for your survival, you’ll try anything to help your plants survive and produce)
    17. Seeds & Seedlings – How to start seeds, determine germination rates, root cuttings, sterilizing dirt, etc.
    18. Straw Bale Gardening – How to plant a garden in a straw bale
    19. Trees – Care of trees, planting seedlings
  5. Food
    1. General Cooking – Includes some measurements and ingredient substitutions
      1. Baking Bread – How to make bread from scratch
        1. Baking Powder – How to make it and use it
        2. Wild Yeast – How to make sourdough bread
      2. Cooking on a Wood Stove
        1. Firing up a Wood Stove
        2. Testing Oven Temps w/o a Thermometer
      3. Dutch Oven Cooking – Approximate temp in the “oven” based on the number of coals
      4. Rendering Lard & Tallow
      5. Cooking Tough Meat
    2. Recipes – Recipes for every wild edible I can find, plus a few for odd things like roasted melon seeds and watermelon rind pickles
    3. Food Storage – Make it last
      1. Dehydration
      2. Canning Butter
      3. Canning Produce
      4. Canning Meat
      5. Freezing
      6. Potted Meat
      7. Root Cellar Storage
      8. Smoking Meats
      9. Water Crocking
    4. Pet Food – You’ll be making this at home when the kibble runs out
      1. Cat Food Recipes
      2. Dog Food Recipes
    5. Wild Meat – Information on “rabbit starvation”
      1. Birds – How to hand, pluck, and butcher
      2. Edible Insects – List of edible insects, how to prepare them, and how to farm them
      3. Rabbits – How to butcher
      4. Possums – How to cook
      5. Snakes – How to butcher and cook
      6. Squirrels – How to butcher and cook
  6. Farm – This is mainly about raising livestock
    1. Fencing – How to make different types of fencing
    2. Chickens – Care and maintenance of chickens, breeding, egg collection, etc.
      1. Butchering – Slaughtering and processing
        1. Cone of Silence – How to build a chicken-slaughtering cone
      2. Candler – How to tell if an egg is fertile
    3. Goats – Care and maintenance of milk goats
      1. Milk Processing – Pasteurization
      2. Udder Care
    4. Medical – Generic pet/livestock care
      1. Flea Collars – Essential oils that will repel fleas and ticks
    5. Ponds – How to build and maintain
    6. Rabbits – Care and maintenance
    7. Weather – How to tell the weather by cloud formation, humidity, and barometric pressure (you know, how weathermen used to tell the weather before they got computer modeling, which seems to be less accurate)
    8. Wood – Preserving wood without paint, proper storage of a woodpile
  7. Health – This is for when things are really bad and you have no access to medical care and have to self-treat
    1. Antibiotics – How to use livestock antibiotics and what illnesses they treat
    2. First Aid & CPR
      1. Airborne Debris – How to keep from inhaling it
      2. Animal bites
      3. Eye Care
      4. Rehydration & Nourishment – Homemade gatorade recipes
      5. Sick Room – How to isolate someone with an infectious disease
      6. Triage – How to prioritize the injured in a mass-casualty event
    3. Medical Reference – This covers how to make certain things and the purpose of certain classes of medicines
      1. Astringents
      2. Body Oils & Salves & Baths
      3. Compress & Poultice
      4. Decoction
      5. Diuretics
      6. Glycerin
      7. Infusion
      8. Tincture
    4. Natural Remedies – A list of wild and cultivated medicinal plants, what issues they treat, and how to use them
    5. Nutrition & Vitamins – What’s needed for survival and where to find it
    6. Skin & Scalp – Different treatments for skin issues
  8. Living – This section is on how to make or repair things around your home or for personal use
    1. Adhesives & Glue – How to make glue from various substances
    2. Baskets & Totes – How to knit, crochet, braid, and weave a variety of containers
    3. Batteries – How to make low-power batteries from household ingredients
    4. Bedding – Mattress alternatives
    5. Brushes – Making free throw-away project brushes
    6. Cleaning Products – Homemade cleaning products
      1. Laundry – Homemade laundry detergent
    7. Compass – How to make a crude compass
    8. Essential Oils – How to make them (necessary for cleaning products and some medicines)
    9. Ladder – How to make a bush ladder
    10. Mud Bricks/”Cement” – Necessary for building buildings, fences, etc.
    11. Paper & Ink – Homemade writing materials (you know I need these!)
    12. Personal Hygiene – Homemade alternatives
      1. Dental
      2. Deodorant
      3. Feminine/Baby Hygiene
      4. Insect Repellent
      5. Soap/Shampoo
      6. Sunblock
    13. Pottery – How to tell if clay is usable; how to fire
    14. Roofing – Recycled materials to use on roofs
    15. Rope & Cordage – How to make your own rope
    16. Sewing – How to make your own needles and thread
    17. Tarps – How to make a waterproof oil tarp
    18. Trailers & Carts – Homemade tow trailers and hand carts
  9. Energy & Appliances – Electricity-free appliance alternatives and solar power-related info
    1. Air Conditioner Alternatives
    2. Dehydrators – How to make outdoor and solar dehydrators
    3. Dehumidifers
    4. Energy Consumption Rates – Allows you to calculate how much solar power you need
    5. Faraday Cages (& EMPs) – How to protect electronics from a natural or weaponized EMP
    6. Kearny Fallout Meter (seriously, a homemade radiation detector; directions also in Japanese because they were sent to families in Japan after Fukishima)
    7. Heaters
    8. Hot Water Heating
    9. No-Energy Climate Control – How to organize your living space to stay warmer or cooler
    10. Pumps – How to build a hand pump
    11. Refrigeration – Zeer pots, evaporative coolers, and solar refrigerators
    12. Stoves & Ovens – Rocket stoves and solar and cob ovens
    13. Washing & Drying


il_214x170-917072389_hdypOddly enough, a “survival binder” is not even a new concept. Beginning as far back as the Renaissance, people began writing inspirational quotes, measurement tables, and other info that they wanted to keep handy in what was known as “commonplace books.” By the 1800’s, information was flowing so freely and scientific discoveries were being released so frequently, people–especially housewives–began collecting clippings or transcribing useful information from newspapers and magazines. A young woman might build herself a book of recipes collected from family members and magazines, fashion pictures or patterns for things she might want to make, medicinal remedies and first aid treatments, and anything else she might think was useful for running her household and raising a family.

That is, essentially, what a survival binder is: how to take care of yourself and your family during hard times. (Or, as they thought of it during the 1800’s: every day life.)

OneNote is the tool that I find most handy for organizing my info (and you can get it for free; you just need a computer that runs Windows 7 or newer), but nothing says that you can’t use something else. I started out using Word, which, I have to say, is really awful for organizing info once you get above 50 pages or so. But it and Publisher or even a scrapbooking program can work reasonably well if, instead of putting the entire book in one document, you break it up. Each of my sections could be its own document, or, if you have a lot of information, it may be that you want the sections as folders and the pages as documents within each folder. Having it scattered in multiple documents is not quite as handy as OneNote, but if that’s all you have to work with, work with it. The first rule of survival is learning to adapt.

Of course, you can eschew the digital format all together and have only a physical binder. If you subscribe to any type of survival, wilderness, camping, or gardening magazine, pull it apart (or make copies) and put it into your binder, too. (It’s much easier to find information if you have it integrated into your organizational system than having to read through all the magazines to find it again.) If you see good info in a newspaper article, cut it out and tape it to a page. Make it a survival scrapbook if you want to. Add your own pictures, press flowers or plants to use as examples, etc.

Just make the binder your own. It exists to help you and your family through hard times, so whatever you think will help should go into your binder so you can reference it later.

Ode to OneNote

OneNote was brought to my attention when we upgraded our MS Office Suite and a department at work created an “eBook” in OneNote that contains all of the information that their department needs to share with the rest of the company. I had never heard of OneNote before this.

I’m not used to being caught unawares like that–I’m pretty well-versed in Microsoft’s full suite of Office products–so I had to immediately check out the eBook and poke around my own copy of the software. Intrigued by what I saw, I got on (we have a subscription at work) and watched a basic overview of how to use it.

Sweet Moses in the bulrushes! Where have you been all my life!?

What is OneNote?

81nia28xsOL._SL1500_So, the concept is basic enough. Imagine a 3-ring binder with divider tabs. You may have multiple binders: one for recipes, one for craft ideas, one for class handouts from school, etc.

If you have a recipe binder, you might have divider tabs for appetizers, meats, vegetables, desserts, drinks, etc., and behind each of those tabs you will have recipes–probably one per page. You may even group those together still further so that all of your chicken recipes are together, all of your beef recipes are in a subsection, and so forth.

Now, take that binder and put it into digital form and you have OneNote.

What Can You Use It For?

Obviously if you keep any kind of notebook–like for school or recipes–it can be converted to OneNote. If you do research for your writing, you can use it for that, too.

I’m currently setting up an eBook to hold all of my medieval research. Too often I find myself remembering a picture with a certain feature in it, but I don’t know the name of the picture (if, indeed, it even has one) and I can’t find it again. Even if I saved a copy to my computer, I might have to open a lot of pictures until I find the one that has the feature that I’m looking for. Plus, there’s no good way to attach a lot of  bibliographic information (name of the picture, what manuscript it came from, what museum it’s in, the website where I found it, etc.) to the picture.

OneNote solves that problem. Now I can put a metric buttload* of medieval pictures in OneNote and organize them and add picture information and other notes. I can even add quotes from books that I know I will use frequently or think that I will need to use in the future.  When I need to put together a research paper, I have all the information I need in one place and it will just be a matter of copying and pasting it into Word and writing the thesis portion.

OneNote 1

Why not use Pinterest?

I like Pinterest and use it, but there comes a point when you have a lot of pictures on it and no way to organize them. It ends up being no different than having a lot of pictures on your computer and you have to slowly scroll through them to pick out all the pictures that contain what you’re looking for (women’s socks, for instance, or images of knives). On OneNote, I can dump all of my sock pictures on one page labeled “Socks & Hosen.” If a picture contains more than one interesting feature, I can paste a copy of it on other pages. And any text I add to the page (describing the picture, for instance) is searchable.

OneNote 2

What can you put into it?

OneNote holds just about every kind of media that you can think of.

At work, I have a lot of .pdf files that I’ve created which are full of information. I wanted to make those files available to other people in the company. So I made an eBook, made pages for each property, and dropped all the applicable files onto each property’s page.

In addition to .pdf files, you can do Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc. In fact, I’m not sure if there’s a file that you can’t put on there. (Of course, if you don’t have the software on your computer to open it, you can’t access it.)

You can also embed information directly on the page. You can simply copy text from a Word document, Excel file, etc. and paste it directly into OneNote. Or you can insert a “File Printout” which will basically turn whatever file you select into a picture and embed it on the page. (This option makes the text uneditable; if you want to edit your text or spreadsheet in OneNote, copy and paste it in.)

Pictures can also be dragged and dropped or copied and pasted into OneNote and resized.

You can set pages to have lines, like notebook paper, or grids, like graph paper. Then you can use the drawing tools to draw freehand or with basic shapes. (This option would be best used on a device that allows you to draw with a pen tool.) So, if you like to draw diagrams, it can accommodate that.


I haven’t used it, but it also has a feature that allows you to record audio or video live and embed it directly into the page. (Not sure if it just shows up as a file, or if it actually embeds a player directly on the page.) So, if you’re a student and you take your laptop with you to class, you can record the lecture directly into OneNote. And while that’s recording, you can type or draw your notes right on the same page. And, if I remember my Lynda video correctly, OneNote also notices when you make notes and links those notes to the time index on the recording. So, if you click on a section of your notes, it will automatically take you to the portion of the recording that was happening when you made those notes. (Which is obviously the coolest thing ever.)

Why not just use a shared drive to exchange files?

You can do that and you certainly should do that if all you want to do is swap some files back and forth. But if you have files that need explanation or you want to tie one or more files together (e.g. a project that has multiple files that need to be kept together or in a certain order, or files that have tutorials that explain how to use them, etc.), OneNote makes it easy to keep like things together and to add text and other media.

For instance, if you do a lot of brochures for your company, you might have a tab for each geographic region and a page for each location within that region. On each page, you may have a selection of the pictures that you typically use for that location, copyright/licensing information for each picture, and maybe the files of all the previous brochures.

Yes, you could keep all of that information in individual files on a drive on your computer or network, but instead of having to open all the pictures individually, then open a separate file with the copyright info, you can keep it all together on one page in OneNote.

If you are a property manager, you might have a page for each property you have. And on each page you can have one or more pictures of the property, current tenant information, leasing information, tax information, preferred vendors (i.e. electrician, plumber, pest control, etc.), leads for new tenants or interested investors, etc. If your tenants tear the place up, you don’t have to dig through all the files on your computer (because, let’s face it, most people aren’t terribly organized in that regard) to find the pictures you took before they moved in. It will be right there in OneNote for you. You might even have subpages for each tenant with before and after pictures so you can document who was a good tenant and who you won’t let back in on a bet.

And, if you want to make a brochure to showcase your property, you can just drag and drop the bits of content over to Publisher where you can turn it into a polished presentation. But even if you don’t have time (or the skills) for that, you can print part or all of your OneNote eBook or turn it into a .pdf to email to someone as-is.


OneNote can handle mixed media (e.g. text and a picture and a file all on the same page), but it’s not terribly pretty. You can’t manipulate mixed media to the extent that you can on Publisher or even Word. When you insert a picture or even a file into a text box, the text will be top and bottom only; there is no way to make the text flow around the picture as you are accustomed to seeing on blogs or in magazines. You can justify the picture left, center, or right, but that’s it. In order to make my pages pretty, I put the picture on the page by itself and then use one or more text boxes beside and under it to make my text appear to flow around it. (In other words, I do manually what it should do automatically.)

Also, the only thing you can do to a picture is resize it. You can’t even crop it in OneNote, much less flip it, brighten or darken it or change the hue. If you have a picture that needs some basic photo editing like that, you should do it in Windows Live Photo Gallery (or equivalent), or just paste the picture into a blank Word document, adjust it, then copy it again and paste it into OneNote.

You Mentioned Sharing . . .

If you put OneNote on a shared network drive or on a cloud drive (personally, I use Dropbox; at work, we use Microsoft’s cloud), you can share it with anyone who also has access to that drive.

Here’s the way it works:

You build a OneNote eBook on your computer and tell it to save to your cloud drive. (And once you’ve told it where to save, it will save automatically from there on out. No having to remember to save frequently, no losing your info if your computer crashes on you in the middle of something.) But, in reality, OneNote actually saves a copy on your computer and on your cloud drive. Which means you can continue to work in OneNote, even if you aren’t currently connected to your drive (think working on a laptop when you don’t have wi-fi access to the cloud).

Let’s say you have a partner that you’re collaborating with. (In my case, my medieval research eBook may end up being a joint effort between me and my husband, with both of us working on it from our personal computers and the end result saved on my cloud drive.) Your partner has access to your cloud and also has OneNote on his computer. All you have to do is go into OneNote and “share” it with him. OneNote will send that person an email with a link to the eBook that allows him to open it. When he opens it for the first time, it will download from the cloud onto his computer. He can then work on it offline, too. Whenever either of you reconnect to the cloud, OneNote will automatically sync the working copies with the master copy on the cloud. If you both make changes at the same time while offline and then sync, OneNote will attempt to merge the different changes or, worst case scenario, it will make duplicate tabs or pages–one containing each person’s changes–and you can manually merge the information.

It also has a “track changes” type of feature that shows you who changed the eBook since you last looked at it and when, which is really handy if you have multiple people collaborating and you want to keep up with what’s changing without reading all the material every time.

But what if I don’t want people to be able to edit it?

When you share your eBook with people, it will have an option to make them an editor (default) or you can change it so they have view only rights. As many people as you want (within reason, obviously) can edit and as many as you want can view it. For our eBook at work, there are only three people who can edit it, but several hundred who can view it.

And even though the view-only people can’t edit the book, they can still track changes and see what’s been added since they last accessed it and who made those changes and when.

Of course, you can change the editing/viewing rights of anyone later.

Also, you can password protect sections (tabs) so that only the people with the password can access that area.


Here’s what you see if you click on a password protected tab.

What About Mobile Applications?

OneNote does have an app that allows you to use it from a phone or tablet. I wouldn’t suggest trying to update or alter it from a phone, because you’re just not going to be able to work on such a small screen, but it will allow you to access it if you need to refer to it.

I don’t have a smartphone, so I haven’t personally tried using it, but a co-worker has used our eBook on her phone. Her only complaint is that it doesn’t want to automatically sync; she has to do it manually every time she wants to look at it to make sure that she’s seeing the latest version. But other than that, she has no problems using it.

So How Expensive Is It?

If you already have the latest version of MS Office (2013), you should already have OneNote on your computer. Just go to your Start button, open the list of programs, and open the MS Office 2013 file to see what programs you have installed. If you don’t see it there, it could be that someone left it out of the original Office installation; check your Office CD to see if installing it is an option.

For the rest of you . . . it’s free to download. There is one catch (of course): you must have Windows 7 or newer; it will not download on a Vista machine. (Ax me how I know.)

Free OneNote download!

So, what are you waiting for? Get a copy and start organizing your stuff!

* A metric buttload is 108 litres. Just so you know.