If you’re just now making your way into prepping as a lifestyle choice and a smart investment in your continued survival, chances are this isn’t the first relevant article you’ve come across on the internet.
Even dipping your toe into the ocean of prepper lore available on the web can be a dizzying and intimidating experience. There’s so much to learn, so much to do!
I remember when I first started me had a bout of honest-to-goodness analysis paralysis: what do you prepare for first when there is so much that can kill you if you fail to prepare for it?
The path of personal readiness is winding, and long. It is very easy to get distracted, to get derailed by details and lured off the path into the thickets of the woods. What do you start learning first? What do you start stocking up on first?
There’s one surefire way to prevent this and that is relying on a guide for your first steps in your first moves. As a beginner in anything, a good guide, produced by the experience of those who have trod the path before will save you countless hours of wasted effort, frustration and more importantly it will set you up for success in your future endeavors.
And prepping as with anything it is all about the basics. The basics make the most difference, the most often. They may not be particularly cool, and they might not be particularly exciting, but I can assure you they are priceless in an emergency.
Lucky for you you’ve come to the right place. In this article I’ll tell you about 15 critical survival items you should get when you start out prepping.
Focusing on the Fundamentals
There are two common mistakes I see new preppers make. They are both snares for the unwary and the inexperienced, and it is forgivable if you should fall into them assuming you’re a newbie.
The first trap is the one I mentioned above. Starting out, you’re overwhelmed with new sensory input, with new information and seemingly a million things to compare and analyze before making a decision. It’s more than shocking, it can be intimidating!
For the vast majority of people, when you reach that info-upload sensory limitation you’re brain usually shuts down. It’s easier to put it off, to do nothing, or “do more research” than to take action to actually become better prepared.
Next thing you know, you’re months or even a year down the line and you’re no more prepared than when you started out that your resolution to get more prepared!
The other trap is becoming enthralled with what I call “fantasy prepping”. Chances are you already know what I’m talking about if you’ve been tooling around on the internet, or watching the Discovery Channel.
Why it is so many preppers aren’t preparing for something mundane like a tornado, or hurricane or riot?
The ones that get media attention are always getting ready for a magnetic pole reversal, a gamma ray burst, a sudden solar expansion, and the dead rising from their graves or some other farfetched, truly apocalyptic scenario.
And every one of the people preparing for these storybook events are engaged in the most intricate, niche kinds of training, accumulation of specialized gear and stockpiling of supplies that will, almost assuredly, do nothing except sit on a shelf and be hauled out to show friends and family. Of course, maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe the joke will be on me if one of these events does actually take place. But I will stand by my assertion that, if they do, a person’s survival is going to be predicated on lottery-winning good luck or Providence alone.
As a new prepper, you don’t want to fall into either of these traps. They’re both certainly avoidable as long as you don’t get lured into chasing the “shiny object”.
Really Prepping for Real Disasters
What do I mean by a “real” disaster? Simple. A real disaster is one that is more likely to happen where you live, or is even common where you live, compared to other events. This could take the form of a natural or a man-made disaster.
Trust me, even something as everyday as a tornado or a wildfire will seem apocalyptic enough if it happens to you. Think about things like blackouts, major civil unrest, chemical spills, blizzards, floods, tornadoes, mudslides and hurricanes.
It could be a major coordinated terrorist event like an attack on our power grid or water supply.
When you reframe survival in the context of common events like that, it should become much more real to you, much more pressing. Disasters like these and others happen all over our country and the world every single day.
Disasters just like these inflict billions upon billions of dollars in damage every year globally. Altogether they cost thousands upon thousands of people their lives.
While they may still be comparatively rare and you could go through your whole life blissfully unprepared and unworried about them all the way to the day you die, your chances of being involved in any of them are far higher than any “end of the world as we know it” level catastrophe.
In short, it is the common, mundane and what some would call boring disasters that you really should be watching out and preparing for. All items we feature on our list below will form your survival core help get you ready to survive any or all of them.
When you think about survival requirements, you may think about reams of books on all kinds of topics. You might think about shelves and trunks packed full of gear for every eventuality.
You’re probably thinking about some hidden hideaway in the side of a mountain with a bunker fully stocked with everything you’ll need to wait out the end of the world. To be honest, all that would be pretty nice to have. But you’re putting the cart ahead of the horse.
All you need to survive, truly survive, is the following: you need air to breathe that is clean enough to support life. You’ll need water to keep your body hydrated.
You’ll need food to fuel it. And the last thing you need is to keep the core temperature of your body warm enough to support life, and that sweet-spot temperature is 98.6 degrees.
That’s it. That’s all that’s required. Everything else is just gravy. Now, admittedly, you might be miserable and alive, but you’ll be alive if you can meet all those requirements in a timely fashion to satisfy them.
That’s the other part of it: those are real needs. Not wants, needs. You get the time you get to satisfy them and no more. Fail to meet the deadline and you die.
While all are mandatory, they are not all as pressing. you can survive for weeks, even a couple of months without food, a few days without water, a few hours of being way too hot or way too cold and only a few precious minutes without oxygen.
Get Better Prepared for Less Effort
The great thing about all the items on the list below is it they will help you become even better prepared comparatively less effort. Again, everything on it is there because it supports your most essential survival requirements.
It doesn’t matter what kind of situation you’re facing, from an everyday emergency like a car accident drum major regional catastrophe like a severe hurricane. Your survival requirements are the same in all of them.
Even better, very few of the preps on this list require any specialized training or years of experience to employ. Most of them are usable as they are with no special skills and very minimal training and practice in their use.
This is especially good for beginners because all you’ll have is what you have and who you are when disaster strikes, as the saying goes.
Right now you probably don’t have years or decades of experience to call on. Yes, ideally it would be best if you can head out in the woods or whatever your local environment is and find food and find water and all you need is yourself and your own two feet and hands.
But if that doesn’t describe you it sure would be nice to just have some clean water to drink and food to fill your belly with.
A list of the most critical survival items for starting preppers is just below, and I expand on each entry with my thoughts as well as tips or any special requirements for making use of them.
The 16 Critical Items You Should Get to Survive Doomsday
Water is one of the most critical survival assets that you can stock as a prepper. However much you have on hand, expect to go through it quickly in a crisis.
You need clean water not just for drinking but also for much-needed hygiene and cooking tasks. This is part of the reason you’ll see comments from survivalists recommending you get so much per day for an adult.
That rule of thumb is 1 gallon, per person, per day and FEMA recommends you have at least a three-day supply for everyone in the house.
Water is one of those items where enough is good, but more is better… so long as you don’t have to carry it!
They’re all kinds of way to make found and questionable water sources clean and safe to drink, as well as ways to store truly huge amounts of water that won’t fit in your pantry, but for now, for our purposes just focus on stocking up on bottled water.
Next time you head out for a grocery run to the store for any reason; grab a case a bottle of water to set aside for emergencies. Alternatively, you can get the big one liter, two liter or gallon size jugs of water.
You needn’t worry about bottled water going bad over time so long as the seals are intact, but if you’re the kind of person who worries about that or perhaps harmful compounds leaching into the water itself from its storage container, there’s something you can do.
You can rotate your supply by drawing a case for daily use from the oldest case in your supplies and then replacing that with a new case the next time you go to the store.
As your body needs moisture to survive in the form of water so too does it need fuel and that fuel takes the form of food. It’s true that what body fat you have will keep you alive if you have no incoming calories for your body to burn, but a lack of food will degrade both your physical and mental capabilities.
Also, not for nothing, some people really do get hangry! Moving or working on an empty stomach make some folks downright surly and intolerable.
So for the sake of your energy, morale and mental acuity make sure you store enough food to provide the calories you’ll need in a disaster.
There are dozens of options for the keeping of emergency rations and we won’t get into specifics here as that is handled elsewhere on this site, but you should worry about the basics: high calorie, low preparation, long life, and shelf stable.
High calorie because you don’t want your calories to take up lots of room on the shelf. The more nutrition and calories your food item packs in the better.
You want low prep food because both water and fuel for cooking may be in short supply as well. Long life because you don’t want to be replacing the entirety of your survival rations every couple of months.
And lastly you want your survival food to be shelf-stable so it does not rely refrigeration or anything else to keep fresh and safe to eat.
Popular options in this category include dehydrated emergency meals, any food that is in a can or foil pouch, the old prepper standby MREs and other similar food items.
Once more, don’t forget to keep an eye on your food’s sell-by date so you can rotate or discard any that are heading into the Questionable Zone.
You should also stock up on picnic supplies: paper plates, disposable utensils, heavy-duty trash bags, paper towels and some more items to cut down on the need to do dishes for sanitation and mealtime. It has the bonus fact of saving water.
3. Medical Kit
You can be sure that any kind of disaster, great or small, will produce injury in no short supply. Also trust me when I say that the typical emergency first responders- police, fire department and paramedics- will be overburdened in the wake of anything more severe than a car wreck.
To account for this you’ll need to become your own first-responder. It might sound crazy if you’re a beginner, but you can learn life-saving medical skills the same as anything else.
This is one of the entries on our list where the supplies will do very little good if you don’t have the training to back it up.
You should know how to treat minor injuries, everything from scrapes, small cuts, splinters and burns to major injuries and trauma, things like lacerations, penetrating wounds, severe burns, broken bones and more.
Starting out, learn the basics of CPR, basic first aid, treatment of sprains, broken bones, extremity hemorrhaging and so forth.
Considering that an injury can take many forms, your medical kit must be able to take care of all kinds of injuries accordingly. your basic first aid kit include things like band-aids, antibiotic cream, antiseptic swabs, liquid stitch, blister and bug bite relief supplies, ace wraps and so forth along with over the counter medicines for pain, allergy, diarrhea, nausea and so on.
Your major medical kit, or trauma kit, must be able to handle the big stuff. this will include a small mountain of rolled and pad gauze, hemostatic agents, pressure dressings, chest seals, nasal airways, tourniquets and, if your doctor is amicable to the idea, an emergency supply of wide spectrum antibiotics and real painkillers.
Remember! It will be way too late to learn when you or someone else is laying there bleeding an emergency. It would be a shame for you to have all the supplies and not know what you’re doing with them.
4. Fire Extinguishers
Fires in the United States are a multi-billion-dollar a year problem, and worse cost many hundreds of people their lives. Fires are also common accompaniment to all kinds of disasters, man-made or otherwise.
Beyond that, with wildfire seasons growing worse every year around the world you should definitely learn how to escape a house fire, and drill your plan with your family or roommates until it is second nature.
But you must also not neglect keeping on-hand a capable, large fire extinguisher or three that can put out a blaze before it turns into an inferno.
When choosing a fire extinguisher, look for one that is ABC rated. This means it will put out most types of fires that you might encounter in a residential setting.
As long as you aren’t up against a flammable metal, a truly rare occurrence in the home, you’ll be able to tackle it with one of these fire extinguishers.
Make sure your fire extinguisher is the largest you can readily handle, so you have plenty of firefighting agents on tap to get work done with.
Also make sure you remember to have your fire extinguisher serviced at the prescribed intervals by the manufacturer.
Fire extinguishers can go bad over time, losing pressure and malfunctioning if they aren’t serviced.
With a few of these placed strategically throughout your home there is a very good chance you’ll be able to stop a fire before it spreads and endangers not only your entire home and its contents, but your family’s very lives.
5. Flashlights and Headlamps
Almost any disaster worthy of the name will knock out power when it happens, either right at the start, or after it passes. How long the power stays off is dependent on all kinds of factors, ones we won’t get into right now, but you should plan on being without power for at least three days.
If the damage is widespread in your local area or even regionally you could be dealing with profound darkness for an extended period! But life goes on, and so you must keep on living and that means you’ll need a way to light things up.
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Headlamps do all of that and are also hands-free, crucial for when you need to use your hands for other things. If you need to move or work after dark, you want a flashlight or headlamp.
Lanterns are an alternate choice, but their greater size and typically more power-hungry nature means they should be reserved for home and vehicle use.
All of the above are also useful for signaling and long-distance communication using Morse code. No matter which kind you choose, try to get ones that offer a good balance between runtime, output and durability.
Also, flashlights and headlamps go with batteries like peanut butter goes with jelly, so make sure you have plenty on hand to feed them. You can give yourself a leg up right now by choosing lights and lamps that use common batteries, or perhaps two different kinds to make stocking them easier.
6. Hygiene Items
It’s surprising to me, but something you’ll see regularly overlooked on prepper lists is hygiene items.
Maybe it’s because some people don’t see it as truly essential, or they think short-term and they won’t be worried about keeping clean over a single, long and grueling week before society goes back to normal.
Respectfully, I disagree with these people. Going dirty and nasty won’t just result a loss of social graces at first, but it can quickly spiral out of control to serious medical conditions and even communicable diseases.
Skin infections and germs will run rampant across unwashed, filthy bodies, making life hell for your fellow survivors and yourself in close quarters. It may even see an outbreak of pestilence that will lay you all low or even kill you.
And, not for nothing, keeping clean, at least reasonably clean under the circumstances, is a huge morale booster that will help keep everyone on the same team and positive.
Your hygiene kit is comprised of the things you’re probably already thinking of: deodorant, soap, foot powder toothbrush, toothpaste, baby wipes, toilet paper any feminine specific items that may be required.
Also ensure you get a 5 gallon bucket with a gasketed, sealing lid and some mega-duty can liners for human waste control. Also consider keeping handy a bag of kitty litter, hamster shavings or collected sawdust to control moisture and odor.
7. Seasonal and Weather-Appropriate Clothing
You need spare clothes on hand that will help you stay warm or cool as appropriate to your region and you’re expected weather conditions.
Remember, assume that power will be out and you will not be able to rely on traditional heating or cooling apparatus. Temperatures may fall precipitously at night, and if you get wet you’ll be losing body heat even faster. Plan accordingly.
You also want clothing it will let you get work done. There will be much to do and stay on top of in the aftermath of disaster, and you’ll need to be ready. The clothing should be sturdy, quick-drying and durable while still allowing you good freedom of movement.
You want an extra set or two of shirts, pants, underwear, socks, good boots and some type of hat or head covering. Also include coats or similar specialized articles of clothing as season and climate dictate.
And don’t assume you’re exempt from this item just because you’re expecting short-term disasters.
Even in a short-term disaster, if you are getting nasty enough, e.g. blood, mud and other bodily fluids you’ll definitely need a set ready to change into you should not assume you’ll have access to your usual wardrobe. Make sure these clothes go with and stay in your survival kit!
8. Protective Gear
This is sort of a rider to number 7 above. Any disaster will create a gargantuan mess and generate all kinds of hazards to go along with it. You should protect the most important tool you have, your body, by armoring it with protective gear.
First among these pieces of gear is a good pair of gloves to protect your hands the variety of sharp edges and points that they will now be exposed to in the aftermath.
Wrap-around safety glasses are useful almost all the time, equally as good at protecting your eyes from airborne debris caused by the disaster or generated by you hammering and banging on something you’re trying to fix.
You should also get a set of dust masks, either disposable or reusable, to accompany the safety glasses. Airborne dust, mold and other particulates are usually plentiful after disaster, especially one where fires break out. You definitely don’t want to be breathing that stuff in, and your lungs will thank you for keeping it out.
It might sound strange if you’re not in the search-and-rescue business, but consider investing in a good bump helmet. Damaged, unstable structures are the rule in the wake of a major natural disaster.
If you are digging yourself out or digging to rescue someone who’s trapped you’ll face significant risks from loose debris and building material. Keep your cranium intact with a sturdy, affordable helmet.
You may not think a humble, common, garden-variety tarp would be a disaster preparedness item but you’d be wrong! Tarps are disaster preparedness superstars and can help you in all kinds of situations.
They can be used as a ground cover, hung up as a privacy screen, as a patch for a roof with an unfortunate hole in it, they can be made into all kinds of shelters, windscreens, signaling devices for airborne searchers, and even as high capacity water storage solutions (assuming they don’t have holes in them)!
Any tarp worth consideration for disaster prep must have a couple of features. Most relevant are heavy duty grommets, ones tough enough that will allow you to hang stretch and bend your tarp however you need it. Your tarps also are completely waterproof to afford you the most capability in any situation.
Lastly, consider a tarp that has a camouflage side and a high visibility signaling side in fluorescent orange or green. This will give you the most options for either staying hidden or getting attention as the situation dictates. A high contrast colored side will also allow you to write on it for messaging.
Tarps are always useful, but it’s really easy to spend way too little on a tarp for it to be a good one. Treat this purchase as the investment in preparation it is and spend more to get a strong, high-quality tarp that will last.
A small set of basic hand tools is a great thing to have in the aftermath of disaster. Considering you may need to break in or break out of buildings, build, repair and improvise along with all kinds of other handyman tasks you’ll need the tools to do it.
In this role, hand tools are where it’s at, not power tools. Remember that you may have no electricity for the duration; Getting into off-grid power supplies is another conversation. But one thing you’ll have in abundance, hopefully, is muscle power!
Your tool kit should include a heavy-duty carpenter’s hammer, a medium to large pry bar, a hatchet or axe, a sledgehammer, a variety of wrenches, vise grips, a utility knife with plenty of blades, wire cutters, screwdrivers and a good, all-purpose hand saw.
Consider adding in a small set of mechanic’s sockets and drives. Throw in a variety of fasteners but nails, screws, nuts and bolts and you’ll be able to take care of all the basics.
This toolkit may become essential for repairing your own habitation damaged in a disaster, or improvising a smaller one that will still provide shelter and a modicum of security.
11. Self-Defense Weapons
It is a sad thing to consider but you’ll be facing more threats during and in the aftermath of a disaster than what the disaster itself provides. Chances are your fellow man will not be on his best behavior.
While the majority of people are good or at least decent there are always handfuls that will take advantage of the chaos or give in to desperation and turn on their fellow man. There are also a wicked few that will use the event as an excuse to do evil deeds for the sheer, bloodthirsty joy of it.
You must be willing, and able, to protect yourself and the people you care about. The obvious choices for self-defense are firearms, as they alone provide the repeatable power, accuracy and range to help ensure a good outcome, but they require considerable training in to become proficient.
Knives are another good option, and commonly available but they have the disadvantage of requiring you to come to arm’s length of your attacker to use them. Improvised weapons may include things like hammers, axes and hatchets, heavy lengths of pipe or other clubs like baseball bats and so on.
Also worth consideration is common pepper spray. Pepper spray is highly effective under most circumstances and will afford you a little bit of range so you don’t have to get close enough to your attacker to touch them, or let them touch you.
You can rely on pepper spray to knock the stuffing out of someone who is tagged with it, but it is not lethal, and if it does not drive your attacker off when they come around you may have a bigger problem.
If you’re serious about self-defense, invest in proper weapons and seek training in their use. Doing anything less is gambling with your life should you need it.
12. Emergency Radio
An emergency radio is a reliable way to stay on top of a developing situation during and after a disaster. It will provide you with notifications from authorities, situation and weather developments and, what’s more, an NOAA weather radio should remain functional when cell phones and the internet stop working.
Even better, these handy gadgets often utilize built-in hand crank power generation systems don’t keep them powered up so long as you can keep cranking them in order to charge an on-board battery.
Some radios are old school, but the most modern versions of these emergency radios are decidedly not and may feature other accessories built-in like flashlights, and even USB charging plugs that will allow you, so long as your muscle and willpower holds out, to keep your phones, GPSes and other modern accoutrement gassed up with energy.
Make sure you know how your radio operates before you need it, and also keep a list of local radio stations that are helpful, or useful, with the radio or written down on the back of the case. Know how to tune it, and know how to find a good signal with its old-fashioned antenna.
13. Maps and Compass
If the situation turned so dire that you need to evacuate, you’ll definitely want maps. during your evacuation you’ll probably be moving through a town or region that looks very little like the one you remember as it has probably been destroyed or severely damaged by the disaster that has sent you scurrying.
That will be the time to rely on something that can’t run out of batteries, and is not dependent on a fragile infotech ecosystem to operate. I’m talking about, of course, the ever useful map and compass.
Together, with a little skill in reading them, you’ll be able to find your way even when the landscape has been scoured of every street and highway sign.
Yes, GPS devices are wonderful when they work! One thing you can always depend on though is analog technology. Get the GPS if you want, and learn how to use it, but don’t have all your hopes hanging on it.
Pair it with a set of maps that are specific to your city and region as well as a good road atlas and you’ll be all set to move if you’re forced to.
14. Personal Papers Package
Something new Preppers don’t consider is that a disaster may topple the social infrastructure we rely on to access our resources, both personal and governmental.
If you, your town, your safe deposit box and your house are all annihilated by disaster, how will you prove that you are who you say you are, and you own what you say you own?
For disaster relief aid or just navigating an insurance claim, you’ll need to prove you are who you say you are. That means you’ll need electronic or hard copies of all of your important papers and documents.
You should be thinking about the obvious things like your driver’s licenses, passports, deeds, titles, banking information, credit card and debit card numbers, birth certificates and so forth. Basically anything they can prove or corroborate that you are who you say you are.
The great decision you’ll have to make is deciding on how you’ll store this info. You have two essential choices: you can keep a file with paper copies of all this information, or you can keep an electronic file on a flash drive.
Specifically only on a flash drive, not in cloud storage or anything else since you’ll no longer own that info and you’ll be extremely vulnerable to anyone who breaches it and gains access to it.
If you decide to go to paper file route scan all of your needed documents and then have them laminated or put them in the sealing page protectors.
You need to keep this paper file close to your disaster survival kit, but well hidden: remember, anyone who gains access to this file will basically have the “keys to the kingdom” as far as your identity is concerned and your life is about to get a whole lot harder if they’re malicious.
An electronic file is a somewhat more elegant solution, but will depend on you having access to a working computer down the line. Simply scan all of your documents, convert them to the file format of your choice and then load them onto your flash drive.
Make sure you encrypt all the files and password-protect the flash drive to keep your info safe should you lose the flash drive or it be stolen.
15. Fire-Starting Kit
Any survival situation may see you turned out of house and home, left to fend for yourself while the elements assail you. Remember what I said earlier about a lower body temperature being highly lethal, potentially killing you in as quickly as a few hours?
This is why you want a fire starting kit. Even in mild, temperate climates temperatures can plunge by tens of degrees at night if you have the misfortune of being wet and outside when that happens you’ll be losing body heat at a precipitous rate.
Beyond just keeping warm, fire will also provide light, a way to boil water, a way to cook food and a signal that can be seen from land or air it quite a distance, day or night. A fire can help you dry out and keep warm and that makes it among the most, literally, elemental of survival tools.
Your fire starting kit should not consist of the box of grill matches somewhere within the rubble of your house.
Smart preppers will have multiple ways to start a fire on demand, typically taking the form of lighters, a flint-and-steel duo and specialty weatherproof matches known as storm matches, or survival matches.
If you haven’t learned by now, the old maxim of “two is one and one is none” applies when it comes to survival. Make sure you have a small, easy to access fire-starting kit no matter where you live and what kind of trouble you’re expecting.
16. Sturdy Backpack
Last but not least, you’ll need a place to keep everything. Whether you’re assembling a bug out bag, an INCH bag, or a go-bag, do not skimp out on the quality of the backpack.
Get one with MOLLE webbing so it allows you to attach additional pouches and gear to it.
New preppers have an awful lot to learn and an awful lot to do on the road to readiness and self-sufficiency. By focusing on the most important basics first, you can start your journey two steps ahead.
Don’t be distracted by theoretical problems, specialist gear and niche skills. Focus on the fundamentals and you’ll be a prepping all star in no time!
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.