Lions and tigers and EMPs, Oh My! The quintessential survival scenario is an EMP. Power’s out! No pesky fallout to evade! No foreign invaders on our shores (yet!). It’s just me, my family, and a metric ton of ammo. And not a working cell phone in sight.
Who could ask for anything more?
Regardless of the glamor of an electronic Armageddon it’s pretty low on the threat matrix. Most of the threats in the crystal ball leave the majority of electronics in good working order.
With this in mind it is only prudent to have electronics as a part of your survival preps. Let’s look at the best electronics to add to your plan.
Table of Contents
It is true that an EMP or CME will damage the electrical grid. Worse yet, a Super-EMP weapon has the potential to take out small electronics. Your radios, flashlights, and computers will be an unequaled resource if you choose to protect them.
EMPs may be the end all be all prepper fantasy however it is a little far out on the threat matrix. There are many events that are much more probable. Minor power outages happen every day. Extended power outages of a week or more accompany nearly every storm, earthquake, and wild fire.
Most outages only affect a few households. Some are a little more serious. The Metcaf power station sniper attack could have affected thousands. A larger coordinated attack could have taken out a respectable portion of the united states.
Adding to our power anxiety is the threat of cyber-attack on the grid. CNN reported on DHS exercise “Aurora” where a simulated cyber-attack was utilized to disable and physically damage a generator.
It’s not much of a stretch to extend this exercise to actual action by any one of several state-sponsored cyber groups.
Electronics make our live easy. Today they store information, get us to our destination on time, and a million other things. In dark grid down times they can provide the same benefits to our lives.
Where every little advantage could be life or death, there is no reason to ignore them as a resource.
Building Your Kit
Like go bags, security, and Russian Nesting Dolls, your electronics kit should be built in layers. I’ll let you decide if you wish to have these items as a part of your current layers or within a new bag.
In order to organize the kit contents, I’ll list them by survival topic. Where appropriate, I’ll add comments on where I have them in my layered kits.
Light and Energy
Back in my scouting days I never took a flashlight. Flashlights were the first causality of my mantra. “If you didn’t bring it then you don’t need it.” Now that I’m a little older and my eyes are a little dimmer I carry one everywhere. Actually two.. I lied. Three.
I’ve had an OLight S1 Baton in my pocket for years. () I like to keep my EDC contents small, versatile and powerful. The reversable clip and magnetic base allows me attach it most anywhere I need. It’s even hands free when I need it.
Other lights include a fewfrom SureFire, Streamlight, and too many no names to count. They are in my pocket, workbag, go bag, and trunk bag.
One unique light I keep in my wallet and is a mini USB light. I usually have an external battery (see the next section) within reach. The combination of this little light and battery provide task lighting and room lighting.
If you’re into battery freedom then a hand cranked flashlight is for you. Spending a few minutes cranking the handle for a few minutes of light isn’t a bad deal. It’s even better if you need to keep children occupied.
There are enough flashlights on the market to find one that meet your needs and budget. Dig around and get a few for each layer of your electronics kits.
With any electronics in your kit you’ll need the ability to power them. Thankfully the days of cheap batteries with short lives are past us. Updated battery technology and standardization on 5V batteries makes managing portable power easier.
For any device that takes standard batteries I highly recommend lithium batteries. They are less prone to corroding and damaging your electronics.
For devices utilizing 5V USB power external batteries are a necessary resource. Anker is a quality name and has a variety of sizes. Batteries measure capacity in Amp Hours (Ah) or milli amp hours (mAh). The larger this number the more capacity.
Solar is also a good option. Know you aren’t going to charge a phone or a laptop quickly with a portable solar charger. A small foldable panel or a panel on an external battery will take several hours or even days to charge an external battery pack.
I relegate batteries to immediate use. There’s a set in my go bag for travel as well as at my office, car, and nightstand. I’ve standardized on CR123’s for light and 5V for most everything else. Further, I know standard runtimes for each device/battery pair. From this I pack and scale up/down accordingly.
I don’t use portable solar in any of my kits. I reserve solar for off grid use where I have more panels and more storage.
One final note, don’t neglect plug in USB chargers or “wall warts”. Have a few of theses as well as automotive plugin chargers on hand. Add to this a variety of cables and even a USB extension cable so that you can get the power from the wall to somewhere more comfortable.
When the music stops and there aren’t enough chairs, everyone outside of walking distance will be someone you used to know. Modern communication has shrunk the world. We often forget how large it really is. When the lights go out this will be one of the crushing realities of our new normal.
Electronic communication is the only way to bridge state, regional, and global distances.
Not sure about you but I haven’t turned my car radio in years. With all the other choices out there, AM/FM radio seems a little archaic. In times of crisis, the emergency broadcasting system will use terrestrial radio to get out information.
Most radio stations have backup systems to get them though moderate crises. This allows for information dissemination in the first few days. If the event doesn’t take out the grid then the information flow will continue. Don’t forget AMRRON Black Echo transmitters! The result is a lot of information that comes through your little AM/FM radio.
As a side note, some radios include a weather radio. If yours does not, you can get a weather radio that includes AM/FM capabilities.
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Venturing back into hand crank territory, there are many hand crank radios on the market. Most are emergency oriented and therefore have AM/FM, NOAA weather frequencies as well as a flashlight. Several even have shortwave and the ability to charge a USB device.
Keep a small radio in your BOB and with any supplies you plan to bug out with. Communications are the key! Be in a position to listen. Bonus time, keep a pair of ear buds with your radio. They dramatically reduce power consumption.
2m / 75cm HAM Radio
Gathering information from Government resources is step 1. Actively exchanging information is step 2. Enter in mobile communications.
If you are not HAM licensed, I recommend getting a set of blister pack radios. Be aware that the range reported on the packs is borderline criminal advertising. Expect significantly less range. Test them and know their true capabilities in your area.
If you have tested and received your HAM technician license then 2m and 75cm radios are the way to go. Higher wattage, better antennas, and a repeater network all work to your advantage. While still line of sight, they have the ability to reach out many miles.
Using repeaters allows you even further reach as well as a multitude of digital options.
Ham radio has undergone a resurgence in the past few years. Especially within prepper circles. This is mainly due to BaoFeng radios. They are inexpensive, reasonable quality, and have good functionality. A pair will to teach you 90% of what you learned for your Technicians license.
I prefer a small HAM handy-talkies to blister pack radios but have several of each. A little larger than a deck of cards they sit in the bottom of my go bag. One alongside a rollup J-Pole antenna and a spare battery keep me well connected.
HF HAM Radio
If you really want to reach out and communicate then it’s time to punch your HAM radio General ticket. Get into High Frequency (HF) comms!
I realize that most HF rigs are big. They are base stations with antenna tuners, power supplies and external microphones. Yet, mobile units like the Yeasu FT-818 give you the ability to really reach out in a small package.
If you want something a little smaller, look into MountainToppers. MountainToppers are a minimalist series of radios designed for low power communications (QRP). Fire this little radio up with a longwire (e.g. barbed wire fence) antenna with a tablet running FLDIGI and you have communications in spades!
If you don’t want to go to the expense associated with HF radios then a simpler option is a shortwave radio. Options from Tecsun, Crane, and others are a fraction of the price of a full HF rig.
I keep one with my bugout supplies and always take it to our backwoods cabin to practice my skills. With 100 feet of long-wire antenna I can listen in on AMRRON exercises, save weather maps offline, and get news from around the world.
We have the world at our fingertips. Want to know the best home remedy for a burn – search the internet. Want to know the proper ratio of bleach to water for purification – search the internet.
Without the internet we will have some significant challenges. To supplement the internet I recommend you build your personal library. As we are talking about electronics, we’ll skip the paperbacks.
Kindles and other similar options are fantastic tools. The amount of data that they can store as well as their battery life is astonishing.
As you build your paper library, build your electronic one. Amazon runs specials and gives away eBooks with regularity. For entertainment purposes Project Gutenberg has thousands of classic books for free. (http://www.gutenberg.org/)
Most eBook readers support PDFs. This makes available DOD field manuals, and any one of the millions of survival-oriented PDF available online. A great resource is the www.SurvivalBlog.com thumb drive.
My Kindle brand eBook reader is a part of my work and travel bag. I’ve logged may hours with it in airports, hotels, and train stations.
Survival Computer and Hard Drive
Computers are a blessing and a curse. Never have I felt anchored to something more useful. I’m on one all day at work, and then again, most evenings. Modern computers can store so much data that’d you’d be silly to ignore them.
Loaded with eBooks, reference materials, and movies they can store enough information to save a life and kill boredom. Beyond being a simple archive, they execute processes that cannot be accomplished via pen and pencil.
Once such example is HAM radio. When atmospheric conditions deny voice communications digital modes come to the rescue. FLDigi encodes and decodes PSK, MFSK, and simple CW making poor condition HF communications possible.
Don’t forget entertainment. A 128 GB drive can store over 200 hours of music. I have a 32GB partition dedicated to old radio theater. It has 1500 hours of Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Abbot and Costello.
Finally, if you run out of room on your hard drive get an external one. Terabyte drives are cheap these days. Given a little scrounging and copying time you could store enough entertainment to keep you busy for a lifetime.
I don’t carry a bulky laptop all the time. I do, however, have one prepped and ready. It goes with me on all overnight trips and to our cabin in the woods.
Cell Phones and GPS
Have there been any devices other than cell phones and GPSs that have granted independence to so many? These two tools are unrivaled in their ability to communicate with anyone at any time and the ability to navigate with assurance.
My last cellphone got retired when the power button no longer worked. For day to day use it was no longer convenient. That being said I still use it on a weekly basis. It’s limited in that it only connects via wireless. But… it still stores a great amount of information and still runs useful applications.
I use it when working out and mowing the lawn. If I bounce it off the treadmill or drop it in front of the lawnmower no great loss. In the meantime, it has a few hundred hours of music, my favorite moves, and several apps.
My primary phone is a part of my EDC. It goes with me everywhere. Loaded with more of the same it will remain to be a critical part of my survival gear.
Few things in the history of the world have been more influential than the cellphone. Text, voice, and video are the way we communicate now. As it is a part of my 9-5 job, I have more digital conversations with people around the world than I do with my neighbors. For that matter, I text my neighbor more than I talk to him.
Blessing or curse, that little box allows me to help my child with homework from halfway around the world.
Don’t underestimate the need to communicate. Be sure to have you phone loaded with several communication applications beyond texting. Wikr, Signal, Zello all have their place in a robust communications plan.
If you desire to go the extra step purchase a phone and a series of pre-paid cards. With these you have a ready-backup or burner. If you go the burner route, make sure that the burner and your normal phone are never on at the same time. Ever!
I hate cities. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I like trees more than most people. Because of this I have avoided urban areas for most of my life. They aren’t my forte. Enter the GPS.
In the past few years I have been able to tolerate going into the big city for one reason only. GPS! I can now set a destination, drive to and from fearing neither man nor construction.
Outside of the city I take great enjoyment in Geocaching. Like a treasure hunt, without the need for a paper map, geocaching uses a GPS to find a small parcel in the woods. It’s great fun and great practice for caching of another sort.
Be sure to load your GPS with regional high-resolution topo maps. Mark out any areas of “personal” interest.
There are a few last items in the prepper electronics kit junk drawer that I’d like to cover.
Yes, they still exist. In fact, next to my cell phone, my postage stamp sized MP3 player is one of my most valued possessions.
As mentioned above, I’m a fan of old radio plays. They are free, entertaining, and wholesome. No swearing, great writing, and relaxing to listen to. It’s my main form of entertainment when we head off grid and we want a little something in the background.
Load up gigabytes of data on a MicroSD card and you have days of entertainment. Tucked into a corner of your BOB, it will add an imperceptible amount weight.
Faraday Bag or Box
Simple to make and cheap to buy, faraday bags and cages deserve a spot in your electronics kit. I recommend having a bag or two as a part of your BOB in case you get the warning that things are about to go sideways NOW!
As an added benefit use one for digital security. Pop your phone (or someone else’s) into the bag to remove it from the grid.
One Extra – Drones
Ok, I’m a gadget guy. It’s no accident that I work in a high-tech field. Electronic goodies are fun! As we are talking electronics I have to talk about Drones.
I can think of a hundred reasons to have a drone. Perimeter security and convoy look-aheads, are at the top of the list. But as with most things, you don’t know the benefits until you have it in your hands.
Recent leaps in technology have resulted in several high functionality, low cost models hitting the market. Loaded with friendly features they are worth having in your kit. Use it on the way to your BOL or once you get there to maintain a secure perimeter.
And they’re fun too!
Being prepared for everything and anything is impossible. You simply can’t make or buy everything that you’ll need for the rest of your life. Therefore, you must prioritize.
Rank your purchases. Prioritize new skills to learn. Make your time and effort work for you in the most efficient way possible.
Putting off a purchase because you have other priorities at the moment is fine. Ignoring a skill or purchase because there is a 0.1% chance an EMP will make it useless is folly.
There are 99.9% of the other events on your survival matrix that will result in useable electronics. For this reason, they belong in your preps and as a part of any well-rounded survival plan.
I am continually learning. Over the last two decades I’ve expanded my skills in all preparedness areas. This includes hiking, orienteering, hunting, firearms, shooting sports, and trauma medicine. In pursuit of this, I’ve taken classes from GoRuck, SigArms, Dark Angel Medical, Steve Tarani, and Massad Ayoob.
Recently, I’ve been exploring off grid living with the quintessential cabin in the woods. The trout stream, abundant grouse, and feral apple trees make it our little corner of heaven.