If you’re a dedicated prepper, you’ve already got your bug-out bag, coronavirus prepping and pandemic prepping sorted out, with shelves full of rice and beans and bottles of water and gasoline. But for the rest of us, those trying to keep living our fairly normal lives while stuck at home, the stuff that can help us stay happier and more comfortable through the coming fall and winter months looks a little bit different. My focus has been on staying healthy, happy and engaged while shopping less and minimizing contact with others, and I’ve found some great gear that helps do all that in several different ways.
I’ve been writing on gear for more than two decades, from cooking tools to travel necessities to exercise equipment to outdoor sports and wilderness gear, but since March I’ve been trying stuff mainly for use at home – and finding a surprising amount of crossover. For instance, in just about every outdoor pursuit, a good knife is invaluable and frequently comes in very handy, so I’ve always carried a top-quality folding blade, what is known in the industry as “everyday carry” (EDC) model. Well, it turned out that this slim folder stuck near permanently into my front pants pocket has gotten even more use since March, when the spread of COVID kept many of us at home, mainly because of the sheer number of boxes that now arrive. As more people rely on Amazon.com and other delivery services to make the formerly in-person shopping experience contactless and at home, the number of things we have to open and then break down for recycling have grown dramatically, and the same Benchmade knife I’ve been using for hiking now gets used almost every single day (I previously wrote here about the best food delivery options to keep eating well during the pandemic without leaving home).
So to be clear, I am not an expert survivalist, and this is not a bunker stocking tutorial, but rather a handful of somewhat random items I already had or have bought or tried since the coronavirus pandemic began that in different ways can make your stay at home or work from home (WFH) life better. Face masks are another crucial safety item that look like they will be life necessities for at least the coming months, and whether you are getting on a plane or going to the supermarket, you might as well have the best mask you can get, and some are much better than others, even at the same low prices. I recently did a guide to the best, newest and most comfortable filtered mask options I’ve found, and I’ve been trying a lot of masks.
Even before the pandemic I had a HEPA air purifier, because indoor pollutants, while unseen, can be appreciably higher than outdoor ones and arise from a variety of causes. But now I have four purifiers throughout my house, and for the same reason why people look for HEPA level filtration (high-efficiency particulate air) in face masks, why not have it for all the air you breathe? While there’s no conclusive proof that they will help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, expert opinion seems to be leaning that way. When Consumer Reports studied the issue and checked in with infectious disease experts, the conclusion was that purifiers likely helped in some specific circumstances, such as having an infected person in your household, and that HEPA air purifiers were recommended by the CDC for hospital use and to reduce viral concentrations during SARS, which has borne many similarities to the current epidemic. Air filtration has already been shown to likely reduce the spread of other diseases including the flu – flu season is coming fast – and has recently been cited as one of the reasons why the COVID infection rate on airplanes has remained so low. In any case, it can’t hurt, and with more people staying home, the average house is getting a heavier indoor load of cooking and cleaning with more people inside. Good purifiers also remove unwanted odors, bacteria, and mold from household air.
I previously had a Dyson unit, but the filters are expensive and needed to be replaced more often than I expected, the units themselves are quite pricy, and they come in a limited range of sizes. After researching available models, I chose to go with Sharp for variety of reasons, including the fact that they have long been a leader in consumer electronics products with a good track record. Sharp makes a range of different volume True HEPA air purifiers for different size rooms, as well as models adding a humidifier option, great for winter use. Because HEPA has been misused in marketing with terms “HEPA-style,” “99% HEPA,” “HEPA-type” or similar, all of which simply mean not HEPA, quality manufacturers like Sharp have started to use “True HEPA” to mean actually meeting the legal standard, which is the ability to remove a minimum of 99.97% of airborne particles 0.3 micrometers in diameter. Sharp also adds a second-stage carbon-based filter to remove common household odors including smoke, cooking and pet odors. But because HEPA is a passive cleaning method that only treats air passing through the filter, Sharp triples up with its trademarked Plasmacluster Ion technology, which actively disperses ions that neutralize and pull apart airborne pollutants, further reducing pollutants in your air. Sharp’s Plasmacutter tech has been used in 80 million products worldwide, from cars to refrigerators, and the company claims studies have proven it effective at reducing viruses including MS2 (Influenza viral stimulant) and bacteria, including E-Coli. Sharp uses an extra-long life filter rated for two years, which I have had no issue with, and all models are Energy Star certified, a nice bonus that is environmentally responsible and saves you money on electric bills. The Sharp True HEPA Air Purifier with Plasmacutter Ion Technology comes in sizes for small to extra large rooms ($221-$335).
Indoor Garden: This spring, as people sought to minimize trips to the supermarkets, there was a huge surge in purchases of small indoor hydroponic growers like Aero Garden, and I bought one. But while these are handy for having fresh herbs on hand, they cannot adequately supply the amount of lettuce and greens you would need to significantly reduce shopping for fresh salad ingredients, which is sort of the whole point. So, this summer I upgraded to a vertical indoor growing system from Rise Gardens, which best straddles the niche between turnkey home gardens for those of us with no experience and serious indoor growing. The Rise Garden takes up more space, but it is designed in bookcase freestanding style, sharp enough to fit home décor, with one, two and three tier models that pack a lot growing power per square foot. Some people do two units side by side for a neat linear room divider look, and you can even grow some flowers to brighten up your indoor living. But most importantly, it is extremely well engineered, including supporting technology like the app, and works great. I had a salad entirely harvested from my Rise Garden last night, the night before, and will again tonight, without really making a dent in the plants I have going – planted about a month ago. If you get a Rise tomorrow, you can be eating fresh lettuce in early December. With Rise you have even grow cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers and eggplant indoors, something the small tabletop models can’t really rival. Each level holds about 16 plants, and units are cleverly asymmetrically designed so on multi-tier ones there is one level with more clearance for growing taller items like tomatoes.
Rise is much more sophisticated home system, a take on the suddenly popular urban vertical farming. It uses a pump to continuously circulate nutrient rich water and comes with a special waterproof handheld sensor probe that can measure Ph levels, temperature and more. Once a week you insert this probe into the water, and along with the app on your smartphone – which know exactly what plants you have chosen and where they are in the garden – it computes the amount of nutrients you need to add (from easily measured squeeze bottles). It has Wi-Fi, monitors the water level continuously for replenishment from plant absorption and evaporation, automates the lighting based on your plants, and even tells you when they are ideal for harvesting. More than just a garden, Rise is a complete high-tech indoor growing system, and it works great. Of course, the added capacity and complexity means it takes up more room, takes longer to assemble, and because you can hear the water circulating and the (bright) grow lights stay on up to 18 hours a day, it is ideally located out of sight, like the basement or garage. But I have mine in my home office and have gotten used to the zen garden-like water background noise, like having an aquarium. If you want any semblance of vegetable self-sufficiency this coming winter, you cannot beat Rise. You get more bang for your buck and floor space with a two or three level system than a single shelf, and models run $549-$949.