Preppers and prepping are often misunderstood.
People talk about Doomsday. People talk about the end of the world. People talk about bunkers, and compounds, and from time to time they think of preppers as irrational, or even crazy.
And yet, people happily pay for health insurance. Life insurance. House, and car, and pet insurance.
Prepping 101: prepping is nothing more or less than a self-sufficient insurance policy against expected and unexpected emergencies.
Introduction: Why Be Prepared?
What sort of unknown emergencies is it prudent to prepare for? What makes prepping a practical precaution, rather than all the things people claim it is?
Nobody saw Covid-19 coming – a disease which depends on close contact to spread. Nobody ever sees wildfires coming – moments that flare out of control. Nobody sees power outages coming ahead of time.
Then there are things people can and do see coming.
The International Monetary Fund predicts that Covid and the global response to it will bring the worst economic situation since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The NOAA spends millions of dollars each year on tornado tracking and storm warning systems. NASA tracks storms on the Sun, which could cause electrical outages on Earth and damage to GPS satellites in space.
That’s all practical prepping on a national or even international level. All rational preparation and protection, in case the worst happens. Respected American Sociologist Robert K Merton even formulated a three-stage process by which things unexpectedly go wrong, called the Law Of Unintended Consequences.
Some things you can see coming. Some things you can’t. All the things most likely to rock your world can be prepared for.
So wanting some hard prepper info doesn’t make you irrational. It doesn’t make you strange, or weird, or alarmist. And it doesn’t mean you’re alone.
That’s why we’ve created this preppers guide to survival, to show you what to prep, and how to prep, for some of the most likely disasters you might encounter.
Nothing is ever going to be able to cover every eventuality. But if you follow our beginners guide to prepping, and check off the items on our prepper list, you should be ready for any disaster that comes your way, be it major or minor.
How To Get Started: Prepping For Beginners
Plan For Your Risks
Prepping is a lifestyle change for most people.
It involves a shift from reliance on external systems and a commercial mechanism to a reliance on the self and the family unit to knowledge and skills that make the commercial mechanism redundant.
Quick example: if your oven or your washer stops working suddenly, most people call an electrician or a plumber.
Survival prep involves thinking as though no electrician or plumber was available to get to you for an extended period. Could you fix the broken appliance yourself?
The same is true of other elements of day-to-day survival. If, suddenly, there was no Wal-Mart, or you couldn’t get to it, and your faucets ran dry – could you get water to keep you and your family hydrated?
Likewise, food – how long could you survive on what’s in your house right now if you couldn’t replenish your stock at a store? Do you have the skills to get fresh protein without a journey to the store?
It takes years of practice to advance your prepper survival skills, and to find out how to prep for your family.
Likewise, prepping only really works if it’s done consistently over time, rather than all at once, in anticipation of a catastrophe. We’ve seen the results of sudden panic time and again – from the runs on banks that triggered the Great Depression, to the panic-buying of essentials that stripped grocery store shelves in the early days of Covid.
Consistent, regular prepping is like a pension or an insurance policy – a little done regularly means you don’t feel the panic of a giant preparation once a catastrophe is visible on the horizon.
Practicality Vs. Doomsday Thinking
You’re never going to be able to prepare for every potential disaster.
Some of them are contradictory – prepping for flood is not the same as prepping for fire.
Some might be overlapping – flooding or tornadoes might lead to infrastructure collapse, either locally or nationally.
Flooding, fire, or infrastructure collapse might lead to power outages, and so on.
Relax. As much as possible, relax.
You can plan for disasters. You can prep for emergencies. But if you’re going to be effective at it, you have to approach it with logic, calm, and precision, rather than apocalyptic panic.
Survival preppers apply practical principles of predictive science to help them survive whatever comes. Doomsday preppers, by definition, are preparing for the end of the world – however they believe that will happen.
But you logically can’t survive the end of the world. If you survive, the world hasn’t ended.
You can survive beyond the point where human life as we’ve known it is viable, sure, but while you survive, you’re not surviving Doomsday. If you’re the last humans on Earth, Doomsday is the day you stop surviving.
This is the difference between rational, targeted survivalist preparation for particular disaster scenarios, and Doomsday prepping for as many disasters as possible.
But wait. If prepping is an insurance policy, wouldn’t it make sense to prep for every possibility? Rather than a survival prepping guide, focusing on just a handful of likely scenarios, why would a guide to Doomsday prepping for beginners, and a Doomsday survival checklist, be a bad idea?
That depends. Do you want to live in the here and now, insured by survivalist preparedness against the likely disasters you might face? Or do you want to be a Doomsday prepper 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, forever adding to your Doomsday prepping supplies at the expense of the here and now?
Sure, we could tell you how to start Doomsday prepping. In fact, survivalist preparation is the start of Doomsday prepping. But no-one can tell you how to stop.
A Doomsday prepper’s list would never end. It can’t, because Doomsday is the unwinnable scenario. Doomsday is the end of the world. By definition, Doomsday preparedness has to encompass everything that could bring about the end of the world.
That means a Doomsday survival kit list would have to include everything that could help you survive every possible end of the world. That’s a list that can’t ever end, and it’s a list that can’t ever succeed. As we’ve said, you can’t survive the end of the world – if you do, the world hasn’t ended.
That’s the philosophical difference between survival prepping (prepping to survive an emergency or a disaster) and Doomsday prepping (prepping to survive the end of the world).
Practical prediction can lead you to calmly prep for what has a high likelihood of coming down the track to meet you. Doomsday thinking leads to unending, unstoppable prepping from which there is no escape.
Are we just parsing words here? Possibly. Plenty of people who think of themselves as Doomsday preppers, and who have their doomsday prepper checklist handy, are doing exactly the same things as every survival prepper out there.
It’s just that if you’re planning on surviving here on Earth, you don’t actually have a doomsday checklist. What you actually have is a survival prepping checklist.
Practical prepping based on sound prediction can let you prep for future disasters, while you make the most of every day of non-disaster. To survive Doomsday, you would have to be talking about survival in the next life – and there are already plenty of books to teach you how to do that. By all means, study up.
The first step is to compile your prepping checklist of reasonable disasters it’s worth your time and effort to prepare for. This will guide your thinking on what you need to stockpile.
Your location, both absolute and relative, can give you a heads-up on the threats and events you should add to your prep checklist.
In terms of absolute location, you can break things down fairly easily.
California hillsides? Wildfires, earthquakes, possibly climate-based tidal events.
Tornado Alley? Twisters and subsequent infrastructure damage.
Northern states? Watch out for those winter storms…
And so on.
When it comes to relative geography, you need to do a little more research. How far are you from the nearest coastline? The nearest dam? The nearest nuclear power station? The nearest volcano? The nearest critical target city in the event of a sudden missile strike?
It’s also worth thinking laterally when you compile your prepper checklist. How difficult would it be to isolate you completely? If one major road got swept away by flooding, what impact would it have on your survival and prepping?
This is not just a matter of guesswork, though. The Washington Post has a very useful Natural Disaster Map full of prepper information to help you understand the most likely threats you face.
Once you know where you live and what the highest risks are, you have the underlying framework for an effective preppers checklist.
Next, look closer to home and you can refine your preppers list further.
What’s your domestic and community situation?
Do you have kids, older relatives, or neighbors to care for? Anyone with any medical conditions?
All of these are questions that give you additional data-points to add to your prepping framework.
Then look at your local geography. Do you live in a congested city, suburb, or country location? Are riots, crime, or looting likely in your area? If so, is your home protected and defendable?
It was Lenin who first said that any civilization is three meals away from anarchy, and while he was wrong-headed about a lot of things, in that, he had a point.
Denser population centers might evolve the original disaster quicker than rural areas. Looting is easier if you can just nip across the hall to steal your neighbor’s food.
Your answers to all these questions give you your final layer of data-points on the nature of what your survival needs to look like – and therefore, what your preppers survival list needs to look like.
Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs
Life is about solving a series of problems to meet a series of needs.
The principle was outlined in 1943 by psychologist Abraham Maslow, who divided human needs into five types. Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs looks like this:
- Self Actualization: achieving one’s full potential
2. Esteem Needs: prestige and feelings of accomplishment
3. Belongingness and love needs: intimate relationships, friendships
4. Safety Needs: security and safety
5. Physiological needs: water, food, shelter, rest
The hierarchy is organized the way it is because, in general terms, you gain more security and freedom to pursue higher goals once your lower, more basic needs have been met.
In our modern, civilized society, most people will already have the bottom three levels more or less accomplished. Most people grew up with the bottom two layers achieved because there’s government and commercial infrastructure invested in getting people the likes of domestic power at the flick of a switch.
Getting them water when they turn on a faucet. Getting them a push-button flush that takes their bodily waste away. Floors that don’t rot, roofs that don’t leak and walls that stand true against the weather, and anything else that tries to shake them.
Those are elements of the hierarchy we take for granted. If we have partners, family members, children, or friends, the chances are we take level 3 for granted too.
Most of us are working on our sense of accomplishment – what gets us out of bed in the morning – and our self-actualization, self-knowledge, and self-understanding. Even if we have to pay a therapist to help us to get there.
Disasters and catastrophes shake up the snow globe of our certainties. They shake us free of the social infrastructure that meets our physiological needs without us thinking about them.
They throw us right down to the bottom of the pyramid again. Disasters force us to answer the basic questions: how do I get food? How do I get water? How do I get rid of my waste without the system I’m used to? How do I cope with medical issues for myself and my family?
If and when disaster comes, that’s what prepping is insurance against. If you’re unprepared, you’ll have no answers to any of those questions – and your lives, and the lives of your family members – might depend on you having those answers.
Preppers will have those answers ready. They’ll have the tools, the talents, and the togetherness to rebuild their hierarchy of needs from the ground up, while the authorities put themselves and society back together.
Preppers take individual responsibility for their response to a crisis, and are prepared to deal with whatever comes their way.
How Long Should You Prep For?
Bottom line, you should prepare for as long as you believe it will take for society to reconnect – and then maybe half as long again to allow for delays and difficulties.
The recommended minimum time for prepping at home, or “bugging in” as it’s called, is two weeks, based on the time it would take to weather a major storm or attack.
So, you should prepare to bug in for anything from two weeks to forever. That’s not flippant, it’s a reflection of the unknowns in any disaster situation.
If the disaster is highly localized to your area, the national infrastructures will remain intact, and rescue, repair, and rebuilding efforts will kick in immediately, whipped along by the media. In that scenario, two weeks is probably ample time to prep for.
If the disaster is more widespread though, or hits more critical infrastructure, that timeline will stretch. If neither local nor national government can get to you, you have to survive on your own indefinitely. As a prepper, you should have the skills to do that.
The longer your survival mode goes on, the more likely it is to evolve too.
While in the immediate wake of the disaster, you’ll be highly occupied with securing the lower two tiers of the hierarchy of needs – food, water, shelter, warmth, security, safety – as time rolls on, more of the day-to-day stuff of life, like food and water, will be taken care of by systems you’ve put in place.
So really, the answer is anywhere from two weeks to forever.
In this beginners guide to prepping, we’ll mostly look at surviving the first two weeks of either bugging in (surviving at home) or bugging out (surviving outside the home), with a nod to how much longer and more difficult things may become if two weeks is not enough time to end the crisis.
The Beginners Preppers List
Step 1: Health And Money
Nobody can tell when the prepping mindset will kick in for them.
Whatever decade of their life they are in, it might hit suddenly and impose a need to change their lifestyles.
If you’re going to survive an emergency, it won’t be easy on your body.
In the event of an emergency, your life will be thrown into a physical crisis, so getting into the best physical shape you can before the disaster strikes is a good survival strategy.
Then there’s medication.
People with acute or chronic conditions need medication to maintain their health.
As a prepper, the first item on your survival prepping list should be ensuring you stockpile the meds that keep you and your family safe within the framework of modern civilization.
Stockpile medication a little bit at a time, building up your supply and rotating that supply when the medications get near their expiration date.
The same is true of glasses – when you get new glasses, get an extra pair of your prescription lenses, set in basic frames, so you have the most current version of your prescription available in an emergency.
And maintain your oral health as best you can, because poor dental health can lead to infection and disease if untreated – and it may well go untreated in an emergency.
When non-preppers imagine a prepping situation, they usually leap straight to a post-cash society, where barter and exchange are more effective than paper money or plastic credit. While that’s somewhat reasonable, it jumps the gun a little.
Don’t take all your money out of banks and investments and store it in a safe at home. That might well impact your credit rating in the here and now.
But if you’re going to stockpile other things to use for trade if the economy we know ceases to have any meaning, stockpiling a little folding cash can’t be a bad thing.
If nothing else, if you have to escape your home and bug out, having folding money to exchange for gas and food in the early days of your survival gives you a lot of bargaining power.
When you prep for a disaster, get the most out of every dollar you can, but don’t make false economies. Buy small amounts of higher-quality equipment, but do it regularly.
That way, you’ll build an impressive stockpile over time, all of it more likely to be of longer-term use to you than any amount of cheap gear.
Similarly, when stockpiling food, remember the insurance policy principle. A little, but regularly, will get you better results than a panic-driven bulk buy.
That said, embracing things like couponing and deal-finding apps to get basic prepping supplies can add significantly to your stockpile for a fraction of the usual cost.
Step 2: 14 Days of Self-Reliance
“Bugging in,” or surviving at home, is the route that most preppers will take when a disaster strikes.
The recommended minimum time for bugging in is two weeks, based on the time it would take to weather a major storm or attack.
Here, we’ll tell you everything you need to get this beginner prepping done.
If you’re a more experienced prepper looking for advanced information, check out our in-depth guide to bugging in.
Your food supply is critical to successful prepping.
After medications for your family, your initial survival food should be the first thing on your prepper supplies list.
Have at least two weeks’ worth of food on hand in your house at all times, and more if you want to be really prepared.
Food prepping 101: assume you have no power. That means your frozen and refrigerated foods will need to be cooked (on a non-mains heat source) and eaten first.
Experienced emergency preppers will tell you it’s not a great plan to prep by overstocking your freezer, because apart from mechanical failure in the freezer itself, it has a single point of failure, which is power.
Knock out the power and what you have is a cabinet of calories, thawing out and turning rancid before you can get to eat them.
When you write your prepping supplies list, non-perishable foods are the way to go.
Most preppers use canned foods as their basic prepping supplies. The reasons are obvious – canning is a process custom-designed to increase the shelf life of foods. It’s the prepper’s best friend in terms of variety of flavor.
You’re also going to want to lay in dry goods, like biscuits, packet noodles, dry pasta, rice, cereals, and powdered mixes like pre-mixed pancake mix.
You should stockpile flours, pulses, sugars, and syrups to add quick carbohydrates and sugars to your diet.
Remember, sugars, flours, rice, and pulses should be kept in thickly-sealed plastic or Tupperware containers, because left loose in your stores, they encourage rats, mice, and other vermin who might also be looking for a quick meal in radically new circumstances.
On top of all of this, add some freeze-dried foods. Like canned foods, these are designed to last – some freeze-dried food can last up to 30 years!
|Basic Prepper List: Foods To Stockpile|
|Seasonings – salt, pepper, dried herbs and spices|
|Sauces, honeys, syrups|
|Dry ingredients – flours, grain sugars|
|Dry carbohydrates and fats – pasta, rice pulses, beans, nuts|
|Canned goods – easy to stockpile, long-lasting|
And while prepping is about what you need, rather than what you want, in recent years, preppers have discovered a new friend in the protein bar.
While they won’t replace the protein in full meals, they will help keep up your calorie count throughout the day – and with some compatible specifically with vegetarian or vegan diets, they are an especially helpful part of the prepper diet for people who want to maintain that diet in emergency circumstances.
The likelihood of keeping fats like butter fresh in an emergency is slim, but bottled vegetable cooking oil is useful when building meals.
And again, keep them in sealed packages and jars, but also keep some seasonings in your larder – they transform food from a functional necessity into something that can also nourish the soul and the motivation to keep on bugging.
As with everything in prepping, a little and often approach is the way to go when stocking your prepper larder. Apart from anything else, that means your food will inch towards its expiration date periodically, rather than all at the same time.
The worst scenario in the prepper world is to have a stockpile of food when an emergency hits…and discover it all goes out of date tomorrow. That feels like the emergency is just laughing at you.
Naturally, when your food is nearing its expiration date, you should use it as your active larder for the week and replace it with new food.
That way, you don’t waste money, you acclimate to eating your survival food before it becomes survival food, and you get an idea whether or not you can entirely trust the stated expiration dates. Obviously, if the food has gone off, don’t eat it.
Remember, your larder is not just for you. You have to have a rough idea of how much – and of what – each person in your household or protection-bubble requires for two weeks.
Anything more you stockpile can be used to add to the diversity of meals and can also be potentially used for trade or barter with anyone you encounter during your bugging in.
This should be obvious, but the second-worst feeling in the prepper world is realizing you have a wealth of canned food…and no can opener.
Get several good quality manual can openers and find space for them in your pantry, along with at least one set of cutlery, one plate, and one bowl for everyone in your house. Add any pans you like and have space for, to give yourself a variety of cooking methods.
Likewise, it’s pointless stockpiling rice and flours if you have nothing to cook on. Have a portable stove and stockpile plenty of fuel to run it, otherwise you could go hungry in a room full of food.
|Preppers Supplies – Hardware|
|Fuel For Stove|
|Pots For Cooking|
|Bowl, Plate, Mug, Knife, Fork, Large Spoon, Small Spoon|
|Pan Scrubbers Or Brushes|
|Dish Washing Soap|
When you have your stockpile sorted, record the details of it in a prepper supplies checklist, including expiration dates, on a spreadsheet, and print it out. Put the print-outs on a clipboard just inside the door of your prepping larder, so you can update in longhand.
Be sure you store your larder somewhere cool and dry, and that all the food should be safely packaged so it’s watertight, airtight, and pest-proof.
If you want a simplified solution to prepper-ready food, there are pre-packaged kits that can help. For example, Augason Farms makes a 30-day food supply that has a shelf life of 25+ years and comes in a watertight, pest-proof canister.
|Prepping Supplies List – Example|
|Canned Tomatoes||20 cans||Expires 16th June||Expires 24th June||Expires 30th June|
|Dry Spaghetti||18 packets||Expires in 19 months||Expires in 32 months||Expires in 35 months|
|Sugar||5 small sacks||Expires September||Expires December||Expired Next March|
|White Flour||8 small sacks||Checked for pests 20th April – none found||Checked for pests 20th April – none found||Checked for pests 20th April – none found|
|Cooking Oil||8 large bottles||Expires in 2025||Expires in 2025||Expires in 2026|
Without food, you could technically survive for weeks, gradually releasing your body fat for consumption. This is a cunning biological trick humans have, called “slowly starving to death.”
Without clean water and enough of it, you’ll be dead in just days. Within 3 days, you’ll be dehydrated, with a fierce headache, nausea, exhaustion, and listlessness. And then, you’ll be dead. Again, this counts as an epic prepping fail.
How much water do you need? As a rule of thumb, you should have at least one gallon per person per day. You may need more if you live in a hot or dry area.
Keep in mind that this estimate doesn’t include water you’ll use for re-hydrating freeze-dried foods, and for washing anything from bowls and utensils to clothes and bodies, so make sure to plan on having extra water, beyond what you’ll need for hydration.
Naturally, the cheapest and easiest way to get water is to fill buckets, bottles, and jugs from the tap while you have a definite connection to the water infrastructure.
Then you stockpile it along with your food. You can certainly buy bottled water along with your food stockpiling too, but if you’re making the most of every prepping dollar, what you’re then doing is paying for a resource you already have access to, just for the convenience of it coming pre-bottled.
The greatest pain about stockpiling water is that it takes up an appalling amount of space to stockpile.
Say there are five of you in your prepper bubble. A gallon a day for drinking and hydration x5, for fourteen days, is 70 gallons. Add a gallon per day for all the other uses and you’re looking at 84 gallons.
Add one more gallon per day for thirsty people and contingencies, and before you know where you are, you’re finding stockpile space for 98 gallons of water alongside the food.
Finding the space for that much water is infuriating, but absolutely necessary. If you go out to the store and pay for it on top, it becomes actively annoying.
When storing water, make sure you use food-grade, BPA-free containers, as non-food-grade containers can contaminate your water with harmful bacteria.
The key part of storing water over the long term is to replace it frequently. You should dump out your water, clean your jugs, and refill them once a year to make sure that no bacteria can grow inside your supply.
This maintenance is an additional pain in the butt, but it’s important to make sure that you’re not relying on potentially contaminated water when you need to access your stores in an emergency.
It breaks down as: Pain in the butt vs possible bacterial illness, sickness, dehydration, and possibly death.
Who’s for a pain in the butt?
In addition to all your stockpiled water though, you should have a plan for how to get more water. You can scrimp and save and protect your water all you like, but think about it.
Every day beyond the 14 original days the emergency goes on, you need to add an extra 6 gallons minimum. On Day 16, you need another 6 gallons. On Day 17, another 6. And so on. That means you need a real-time addition to your stored water.
Depending on the area around your home, you can either use a rain barrel to collect rainwater, or you can find a creek to fill your jugs and bottles. You might even need to build a DIY solar still or evaporation trap to collect water in your yard.
This is where prepping becomes about more than the maintenance of a prep list and becomes something closer to a set of survival skills.
If you find a creek, collect rainwater or make your solar still, you can’t guarantee the water’s safe for your family to drink. That’s usually what you pay the water company for. That and the convenience of the water coming out of your taps and faucets.
Emergencies strip away the certainty of that infrastructure and leave us suddenly in the same position as millions of people in developing world countries right now. Job #1 – get water. Job #2 – make sure the water is safe.
Creeks carry giardia and other disease-causing bacteria at the best of times. After a flood or earthquake, you’ll have no idea what’s in your water, but you’re not going to want to bet your family’s life on it.
The best way to purify your water once you’ve got it is with a portable water filter. We like the Katadyn Hiker Pro, but any filtration system that eliminates bacteria and protozoa and that can be easily cleaned without tools will work for you.
You can also use household chemicals like bleach or iodine in a pinch, although this can leave a pretty unpalatable taste in your water.
The last best option for purifying water is to boil it. Boiling is extremely effective at killing bacteria, but it won’t remove impurities from dirty water that you collect from a flooded creek.
Boiling also requires a lot of fuel you can’t get back, and you’re better off saving that fuel for cooking your food supplies. And of course – remember to use a lid, or you’ll eventually end up with a dry pan, a lot of steam, and no useful water.
Bottom line: keep anything up to four reliable water filters with your stockpiled water. Two can be used simultaneously for speed of filtering in a hurry, and two can be kept as reserves in case they’re needed.
Did we mention that getting, storing, and filtering water was a pain in the butt?
We take it back. Waste management – now that can be a literal pain in the butt. Especially if you’re not taking in enough water.
The equation here is simple. In the event of some emergencies, you may be disconnected from safe, clean domestic water. That means you have to store water for drinking and washing, but it also means your toilets are going to stop working.
You’re still going to produce both liquid and solid waste as long as you’re able to eat and drink. You’re just not going to be able to dispose of it in a single powerful flush, as you’ve been used to.
Women are also going to continue to menstruate while their bodies get enough nutrients.
Let’s talk about waste.
First of all, stockpile as many products as you need to get you through the emergency period.
If we’re talking about just two weeks, this shouldn’t amount to much – even at double this time, one month’s toilet paper, one month’s sanitary protection, one month’s diapers for any babies in the house, one month’s disinfectant, one month’s baby wipes…around six months of disposable plastic bags.
What? Why so many?
Because you may well be involved in disposing of your own bodily waste, and allowing it to stack up somewhere, unseparated from people, is a very big problem indeed.
The problem isn’t just that human waste smells bad. It also causes disease and attracts flies. If you’re already dealing with an emergency situation, waste-based diseases and plagues of flies are things you can do without.
It’s important to keep waste completely separated from the rest of your shelter and, if you’re putting it outside, to make sure it can’t contaminate any of your potential water sources.
If you’re connected to a septic tank in the yard, your toilets will keep flushing. You just need to add water to the tank. You’ll need to stockpile extra water for this.
If the toilet doesn’t work at all, your life just got harder.
Before we even get to disposal, let’s talk collection.
There are a range of options. You can invest in full-on chemical toilets, which will allow you to simply collect the waste you produce within a removable pan for disposal – more or less like a sandbox for cats.
Then there’s the less dignified and less stable bucket toilet, and the ultimately unpleasant idea of lining your regular toilet with a disposable plastic bag, throwing in a cup or so of diluted bleach, filling the bag, and then taking it away with you for storage or disposal.
Everything becomes harder in an emergency that robs you of a reliable water supply. Having supplies next to the toilet though can make this part of a new routine fairly quickly – before you leave, set up the bag for the next person. That saves everyone having to go through the set-up process every time the need strikes.
When it comes to waste disposal, you’ll have to either bury your waste outside or bag it. If you bury your waste, make sure that you dig a hole that’s at least six inches deep and 200 feet from any water source, because incorrectly buried human waste can contaminate the water table.
If you’re bagging your waste, keep it in a garbage can or somewhere else it can’t run off into your yard or a creek if it rains.
You can’t control the weather. Disasters can happen at inconvenient points in the year. So, depending on where you live, you need to be prepared for extreme heat in the summer or extreme cold in the winter.
In the summertime, your only good option for keeping cool while remaining in your house is to power an air conditioner (or shelter down in the basement). You can use a small, quiet generator to run a window air conditioner.
If you have a standby generator, you might be able to power your normal whole-home AC system. Just keep in mind that generators can attract unwanted attention from looters if society starts to break down after a week or more without power.
In winter, you have more options. Stockpile enough blankets to keep everybody warm – and then a few extra for contingency and/or barter.
If you have a fireplace or wood-fired stove, make sure you have enough wood to get you through several weeks without power going into the winter months. This should be no trouble to collect in several loads and stockpile.
Alternatively or additionally, you can buy a portable propane or kerosene heater. Both propane and kerosene can be stored for decades without going bad, so these heaters are a good insurance policy against blackouts.
As always, it’s important that you stock up on fuel far in advance of when you could need it. Fuel, like wood, can be accumulated in advance and stored.
We’ve talked about stockpiling quantities of medication that you need to get you through an emergency situation. But in those situations, even small injuries can turn deadly, and you have to deal with whatever situations arise yourself.
So, it’s essential that your emergency cache includes a medical kit, and one that includes a lot more than simple Band-Aids.
We like the Doom and Bloom Deluxe Gunshot Trauma Kit because it includes everything preppers need to assess and stabilize major wounds. If you opt for another kit, make sure it has advanced trauma tools like a tourniquet, artificial airways, and clamps.
It’s also good to keep a basic manual of how to do important, life-saving things in an emergency environment somewhere near your medical kit, for rapid reference in a moment of need.
There are several on the market, but The Ultimate Survival Guide: Emergency Preparedness For ANY Disaster, by John Alton, MD, and The Prepper’s Medical Handbook, by William Forgey, MD are particularly appropriate. At least the latter of these books is available on the Kindle platform. We recommend getting the paperbacks, for obvious reasons.
Step 3: Evac Packs/Bug Out Bags
So far we’ve talked about what you need in your home to survive the recommended 14 days (or more) of “bugging in.”
Which supposes that you’ll be at home when disaster strikes.
While in a Covid, and even a post-Covid, world that might be more likely than it was before as working from home has become a much more widespread thing, it can’t be guaranteed.
And besides, in many disaster scenarios, there’s no way to safely remain in your home.
When that happens, it’s time to bug out.
Bugging out is essentially bugging in, but harder.
Going from standard civilization to bugging out takes a lot more planning than simply bugging in. Bugging in you can build for, plan for, practice, adapt to gradually over time. The scenario where you need to bug out means you need to do it in a hurry.
That means to do it effectively and calmly, you need to plan your “bug out bag” with intense care. You’re taking all the planning of a bug in experience, and reducing it to only the most portable, basic prepper kit.
For more advanced details on how to evacuate during an emergency, check out our complete guide to bugging out.
The key to bugging out is picking the right destinations. After all, the whole point of bugging out is to end up somewhere safer than where you started.
The complexity of bugging out lies in the fact that you need to plan multiple destinations for different scenarios. You might be able to go stay with your relatives in another state to escape a hurricane, but that wouldn’t be appropriate during a nationwide blackout.
It’s important to have specific bug out destinations in mind for each of the most region-likely disasters.
When choosing a destination, the main considerations should be the same as those for bugging in. Your destination should have access to enough food and water to last all of you for as long as you need.
You’ll also need shelter, although depending on the season and location you may be able to manage this with a simple tent.
Distance also comes into play. The further you have to go to get to your chosen bug out location, the harder the journey is going to be.
Chances are, lots of other people will be on the roads during a regional or national catastrophe, and key roads may be blocked or destroyed.
There probably won’t be any food or gas along the way, either. Decide where you’re going, what to take with you, and what to have ready at a moment’s notice. And always have a backup location that you can reach on a single tank of gas or less.
Almost every bug out plan relies on your car, so keep it ready. That means keeping the gas tank as full as possible. That way, you’ll have enough fuel to get to your bug out location when disaster strikes.
Keeping a spare gas can in your car or garage is also a good idea, especially if you live far from most of your primary bug out locations. The complicating factor with this plan – the reason why you wouldn’t just fill your trunk with gas cans – is that gasoline only lasts six months.
Which is extremely unhelpful when you’re bugging out from an emergency on the spur of the moment. That means any gasoline you stockpile needs to be cycled through relatively frequently.
Ensuring your car is ready to go during an emergency also means stocking it with everything you need for the roads between your home and your destination.
If your route calls for crossing a mountain range in winter, for example, you need to keep winter essentials in your car even if it’s warm and sunny around your house. Remember the insurance policy element of prepping.
Your car needs to be ready for the emergency it will face, not the sunny day that is today.
Time is crucial when you’re bugging out. Your bug out bag should be stocked and ready to go either already in your car or easily accessible at your home.
That way, when a disaster hits, you don’t need to waste precious time packing prepping supplies, or searching through your outdoor gear for items you need.
It’s the equivalent of the bag you pack ready to go to the hospital to have a baby. It’s just that in this case, the baby is the version of you and your family that escapes whatever disaster is about to hit your home.
So, what goes in your bug out bag? You can check out our full bug out bag list of essentials, but these are the basic items that should be on your prepper backpack checklist:
- Survival shelter
- Water filter
- Seasonal clothing
- Bowie knife
You’ll notice that some of these items, like your water filter and stove, are also part of your bug in cache. It’s a good idea to leave these supplies in your bug out bag so they’re ready to go. If you decide to bug in, you can grab them out of there.
It’s also worth creating more than one bug out bag, for that scenario when disaster strikes and you collect your family from somewhere other than home. If you have a locker at work, stash a bug out bag there.
If your parents are alive and local – leave a bug out bag in their garage too. This is just another form of insurance against unexpected events.
Food and water are major components of your bug out kit. Ideally, keep the most lightweight components of your bug in food cache, like freeze-dried foods, in your bug out bag too.
Plan on having about three days of food and water ready to go, assuming you’re able to get more at your destination.
Every member of your family should have their own bug out bag – including your kids and pets. That way, they can carry their own clothes, snacks, and individual survival supplies. If you get separated, this also ensures that each person has enough stuff to survive for at least one night.
Bug out bags are so important that we highly recommend packing your own and customizing them to your needs. But, if you want to simplify the process, there are premade bug out bags that you can buy.
You can even buy premade bags for your dog or cat, which are filled with all the supplies your pet needs to bug out with you.
Step 4: Practice And Stay Ready
Prepping is all about preparation.
You can stockpile for a long bug in, you can pre-pack your bug out bags and leave them at strategic points for pick-up in the event of an emergency.
But if you – and all your family – don’t know exactly what to do when disaster strikes, you immediately go from practical prediction to Doomsday thinking.
That’s not your fault – instinct will immediately make an adrenaline-fueled jump to the worst case or Doomsday scenario.
How do you fight the leap to Doomsday thinking, though?
Practice, practice, practice. If you don’t identify and fix gaping holes in your prepping plans ahead of time, all your work might be for nothing.
No, that’s not weird, or obsessive. That’s standard across every industry you could name – it’s just become so much a part of the furniture we’ve stopped noticing it.
Every office building has regular fire drills, so that in the event of a real emergency, people know what to do, and don’t hover at their desks, asking “Wait…is this for real?”
Every airplane ride you take makes you listen to the safety briefing so that in the event of a real emergency, you know what to do. Oxygen masks, fasten your own first, help others, emergency lighting, the exits are here, here and here…
Practicing your disaster prepping just means that when the moment comes, you and your family can skip over the panic and the adrenaline, and do the right thing in the moment.
Write your own drill for what to do in the event of the most likely emergencies. In fact, write several – a bugging in drill, and a few varieties of bugging out drill, where you’re all at different points and places.
And then, practice it, and practice it, and practice it, until it’s second nature. The instinct to panic will be your first nature. Override it by repeated practice, till knowing what to do in the moment of an emergency is an overlay of learned instinct that can lead you all to make good decisions and not waste time.
You can even use a text message to alert all your family for a surprise drill, to get close to the real sensation of an interrupted day. and run the drills regularly with your family. Make it fun whenever possible, to take the element of fear out of any such emergency drills.
Build in redundancy to your plans, your supplies, and your emergency drills. Even if you prep for the three most likely scenarios for your area, there’s every likelihood that some things will be different from what you plan.
Remember the law of unintended consequences, and make sure there’s fluidity and redundancy in your prepping list.
And just to make sure your whole family has that flexibility of learned instinct, maybe get one person to change part of the reality you’re dealing with – move the keys to the stockpile larder one time, say, or hide the spare tank of gasoline – so you’re never all sure of everything and it doesn’t become a dull, un-absorbed routine.
Step 5: Form A Troop
Part of the necessary mindset of preppers is a unanimity of purpose – everybody in the family or protection-bubble being a part of the prepping effort.
Forming a kind of ‘troop,’ where everyone has particular responsibilities and gets particular rewards that help them buy into the prepping process means no-one is overburdened with too many responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
It also means the family or bubble all commits to prepping as an activity that is demystified and stripped of the stress of its Doomsday connotations – it’s chores and housework, but everybody has their list of things to do, so it’s equal.
There can be a Keeper of the Stockpile List, a Checker of Water, a Firewood Monitor, or any other titles you like, to establish everyone’s involvement in the prepping process without at any point giving it a ‘weird’ tinge or over-regulating anyone’s lives.
It would even be an idea to have quick, fun, weekly meetings to exchange ‘Troop’ information – an update on expiry dates, a count of the non-perishables, an hour or so of family couponing, whatever works for you – to demystify the planning and make it just a thing that the family or the Troop does.
Then, as and when a disaster happens, the Troop members will be familiar with having a set of responsibilities vital to either bugging in or bugging out, and will be able to assume them easily, rather than having them feel like new disaster-specific burdens placed on their shoulders.
30 Must-Have Items You’ll Need For An Emergency
Every prepping family or group will have their own list of must-haves in an emergency. Many items on each list will look different to ours, but here is a quick run-down on some of the things we think are essential in the event of either bugging in or bugging out for the duration of an emergency.
1. Short Term Survival Food
Have a minimum of two weeks’ food for every person in your survival-bubble. Ideally, double that. We’ve given details of the best kind of survival food above.
2. Long Term Survival Food
You won’t know how long the disaster is going to last. Create a separate storage space for longer-lasting survival food and stockpile it.
3. Planting Seeds
Seeds are what can give you a future food source, potentially indefinitely.
4. Sprouting Seeds
While you’re working your way through your short term survival food, use sprouting seeds for an additional zing of vitamins and variety,
5. Earth and Compost
If you’re planting seeds in an indoor space while bugging in, having some earth and compost to set them in to get started will make a world of difference to your success.
6. Natural Light Lamps
These can have several purposes – they can help indoor plants to grow, and can lift the mood of the human preppers if bugging in should mean a lack of freedom to roam far or regularly outdoors.
7. Portable Solar Power Station
Most portable solar power stations these days have a dual-fuel capacity – you can charge them up via solar panels or by liquid fuel, and they can convert the energy into pure, usable electricity, to power everything from an RV battery to a refrigerator, while charging handheld electronics too.
8. Bottled Water
Whether you buy it from the store, or buy chemically safe bottles and fill them from the tap, any successful prepping operation involves lots of water, because it’s the human body’s prime requirement for survival.
The WaterBOB system allows you to fill a bathtub full of water, and have it purified to drinking water standards. For easy access water storage, it’s a prepper genius tool.
10. Rain Barrel
Make the most of what the skies can give you. It will have to be purified before drinking, but free water from rain if the taps don’t work can’t be overlooked.
11. Sawyer Mini Filtration System
The Sawyer mini filtration system is a compact, effective way of getting water clean and safe to drink.
12. Water Bottles
Extra water bottles are always a good idea, especially when you’re bugging out. Stainless steel bottles are better for preference.
13. First Aid Kit
We’ve recommended the Doom and Bloom Deluxe Gunshot Trauma Kit as your main bugging in medical kit, but you will also need bugging out portable first aid kits, a car kit, etc. You can pretty much never have too many first aid kits.
14. A First Aid Manual
We’ve recommended The Ultimate Survival Guide: Emergency Preparedness For ANY Disaster, by John Alton, MD, and The Prepper’s Medical Handbook, by William Forgey, MD as good go-to manuals.
15. An Oral Hygiene Kit
This is not about bad breath, though it has the benefit of tackling that too. But a toothbrush, toothpaste, clove oil, and a set of temporary dental fillings can help head off dental hygiene issues which, if untreated, can lead to severe dental health issues.
16. A Bucket Toilet
A large bucket, lined with a plastic bag and filled with kitty litter, so you can do what you need, close up each bag as you go, and safely store your waste until it can be disposed of
17. A Large Waste Storage Bin
A bin to store the plastic bagfuls of human waste. Make sure it can be firmly sealed.
18. A Set Of Gas Masks And Filters For The All The Family
You can never be sure what kind of disaster will hit. Having gas masks to hand and never needing them is better than needing them and never having them to hand.
19. At Least One Heat Source And Fuel
Ideally, something like a wood-burning stove is good for both heat and cooking and wood can be easily stockpiled.
20. Ferro Rods
You should ultimately have as many ways to light fires as possible. Matches, lighters, long-necked kitchen lighters, you name it, you should have it. Ferro rods are a particularly useful spark-starter because they don’t diminish noticeably over time and they don’t require additional fuel.
Assuming there’s a prolonged power outage, you’re going to need flashlights if you want to move around at night. Also, candles would be a useful backup.
22. A Tarp
A tarp is one of the most fundamentally useful things ever made for campers, hikers, survivalists, and preppers. You can use a tarp as everything from a rainproof poncho, to a tent, to a groundsheet, to a supplementary rain catcher, and more.
23. A Multi-Tool
Whether it’s a traditional Swiss Army knife or something newer and even more tool-packed like a Leatherman Wave, having a multi-tool, or several, lets you do a range of necessary things with something that fits in your pocket.
24. A Sillcock Key
If you want to access water pipes in residential or commercial buildings, you’ll need a Sillcock key. You can try and MacGuyver one of these, but it will take time and effort that is better spent on other survival work. Get a handful of Sillcock keys as part of your prepping, and you can make your life easier.
25. Tactical Backpacks
When building and equipping your bug out bag, you need a high-quality tactical backpack. That will give you space, separation, protection for everything that’s vital to your bugging out.
26. A SPAX Knife
Get yourself a SPAX knife as a different kind of multi-tool. It will allow you to access water from fire hydrants, and even shut off gas mains in the event of an earthquake. You never know when such things will be useful, and for the sake of a small, inexpensive tool, it’s a power you can have.
One of the simplest, most widely available, easy-to-stockpile substances that will kill infectious bacteria. Also useful in some variants of bucket toilets and as a deterrent to flies and other insects around a human waste store.
Separate from what you need in any of your First Aid kits, stockpile any medications for acute or chronic conditions in your family – they will literally keep you alive in an emergency, just as they do in the here and now.
Your diet is likely to dive off a cliff in terms of its nutritional content, simply because the amount of fresh produce you’ll be eating will be drastically reduced in the event of an emergency. Stockpile multivitamins to help boost your vitamin intake.
30. Sewing Kits
Things rip. Things tear. In an emergency, when your family members are removed from their normal lives and are involved in the hard work of survival, they tear more and they tear faster.
It’s entirely possible you won’t have access to stores in an emergency, so stockpile needles, threads, patches, and everything you need to repair things, rather than having to repurpose or throw them away.
Conclusion: Prepared And Ready To Go
Preparation to survive the disasters most likely to invade your life is not necessarily easy. It can be fun. It can be rational. We’ve given you ways to cover the basics you need to survive at least the first 14 days, and possibly significantly longer.
You can add, you can remove, you can and should personalize your prepping to meet the needs of your own most likely emergencies, your family, and your location. But if you follow this guide, you should be prepared and ready to go in the event of an emergency.