Being overtaken by events that you have absolutely no control over and no way to influence can cause a chunk of ice to form in the pit of your stomach. That feeling of powerlessness is indelible, and often leaves a lasting impression on people that experience it.
This is rarely more true than when facing disasters and other paradigm-shifting events that completely turn your day-to-day existence on its head, and seemingly all at once.
When events of this type happen to people who have no prior frame of reference and have no experience or training for dealing with them, many will see the error of their ways. They understand, perfectly, that when the chips are really down on the table there is no one coming to save them, there is no cavalry.
They will have only themselves, their wits and their will to survive. Understanding this truth will get many to start taking true personal readiness and self-sufficiency seriously for the first time in their lives.
There is only one small problem. There is so much to learn, so much to prepare for, to know and to do that an overwhelming sense of futility is often right behind the realization, and being overwhelmed they do nothing instead, resigned to their fate with the feeble prayer that nothing like that will ever happen to them again.
This is not the way. Instead of leaving you to roll the dice, I will provide today a guide for getting prepared fast, starting from zero.
Table of Contents
The Way to Begin is Always with the Fundamentals
If you are one of the people I described in the opening above, then congratulations. You have made the decision and the subsequent commitment to change your life and by proximity alone the lives of the people around you for the better.
But if you are coming into prepping completely cold, with no previous frame of reference, and knowing only that you don’t know anything, figuring out where to get started can be a challenge in and of itself.
If you have happened upon this article and it is not the first one that you have encountered in your search for knowledge, you have probably realize by now, but it is an easy thing to get distracted by dramatic and theatrical if highly improbable events, “shiny object syndrome” and other pitfalls that are certain to hamper your progress as a beginning prepper.
You’ll find no shortage of articles advising you on how best to prepare for Civil War, cosmic cataclysms and other apocalyptic events that we hope we will only have to witness on the big screen.
You will find countless reviews and lists detailing all kinds of equipment purchases, everything from the latest in state-of-the-art backpacks to intricate plans and even kits for building your own end of the world bunker. Some of this information is useful and presented in a sincere way. But much of it is not.
What you should do instead is focus on the threats and disasters that are not world-ending calamities, but are instead common, everyday threats.
These “vanilla” disasters are certainly less dramatic, but can be no less deadly or traumatic to experience.
I am talking about natural disasters of all kinds and man-made catastrophes. You should be thinking about things like:
- Civil Unrest
- Economic Downturn/Collapse
- Terrorist Attacks
All of these events, no matter how frightening and dangerous, can be dealt with if you know what to do and act quickly and intelligently.
As it turns out if you can be prepared for these comparatively small incidents, you will be going a long way towards being prepared for “the Big Ones” the real-deal SHTF events that, no matter what you do and how prepared you are, have a significant chance of killing you outright, events like:
- Civil War
- Nuclear Conflict
- Gamma Ray Bursts
- Major Asteroid/Meteor/Comet Impacts
- Zombie Uprisings (I kid, I kid).
If you lose sight of the trees for the forest, it is a lone, falling tree that will certainly kill you.
In the next sections I will provide you with specific guidance to direct your energy and reduce indecision during your critical growth phase as a new adherent to the lifestyle of personal readiness, and also provide you with lists of specific skills, acquisitions and other preps you can implement now, today, and also in the coming days to speed you on your way.
How to Start Prepping Fast – Step-by-Step
Become a Generalist Prepper, Not a Specialist Prepper
Starting out on your prepping journey you should endeavor to be a jack-of-all-trades. I am not advocating that you half-ass anything. No, far from it. What I am advocating is that you become confident and competent in many crucial skills before you start specializing in one or two.
I would recommend that you gather a modest amount of as many types of critical supplies for a short term event as you can before you start stockpiling for the long haul. Stated another way, we should go wide before we go deep.
My opinion closely matches more-or-less that of other disaster preparedness agencies including FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security.
Most people surviving typical disasters will not require more than a three-day supply of any given provision before relief can be expected or they can be rescued.
Obviously, sometimes you will need less and sometimes you will need more, but this is generally a good baseline to strive for starting out.
The same goes for your skillsets. You have an awful lot to learn and practice starting out, and if you convince yourself that you must attain mastery in one before moving on to the next this will leave you more vulnerable, not less, since you will have gaps in your survival skills while you dig deeper and deeper into one of them.
Survival will always favor the generalist over the specialist.
Do not be dismayed: It is far easier to achieve broad, general competency in any skill compared to real expertise or mastery of a single one. The road might seem more winding, but the traveling will be kinder!
The equation is simple in that you always see diminishing returns on your efforts as you go farther and farther down the road to knowing everything there is to know about any subject.
When it comes to splitting hairs, it is an easy thing to split a log, and still comparatively easy to split a rock. It is plenty hard to split a hair but it is a gravely difficult thing to split an atom.
Build a 72-Hour Survival Stash
Building a simple and achievable 72-hour stash of survival supplies is a fundamental part of prepping, and will form the core of all your material preps moving forward.
If you have the money to spare you can easily get all of these items on your next trip out to the grocery store, with maybe one additional stop.
If you don’t have that much cash to throw around in your piggy bank, all you need to do is begin building the stash.
Just start, don’t wait until you can plunk down the cash in one shot; you buy an extra item here and an extra item there specifically for the purpose of putting in this untouchable survival kit, and before you know it you’ll have every single item checked off the list.
But where do you go from here? The easiest follow-on step is just to get more of what you already have in order to extend your survival time beyond 72 hours.
From three days try to get to a week’s worth of supplies, then 2 weeks, then a month, and so on and so forth.
By the time you get to a legitimate two-week stash, you will have learned enough to start branching out into more situationally specific preps that you might want to consider.
Quick disclosure: If you visit a link in this article and then you buy something, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. You can read my full disclosure here.
- Water – You want bottled or jugged water that is ready to drink. Shoot for a minimum of 1 gallon per person in your household, per day. This will cover hydration as well as basic hygiene and cooking. If you live in a very hot environment you will need more.
- Food – You can go quite a long time and still survive without food, but a deficit of calories will begin to affect your energy levels and your mind in very short order. Keeping at least a modest amount of calories coming in will enable you to put in the work that you need to put in an order to survive, and also keep you thinking quickly and clearly. A dependable baseline for adults is about 2000 calories a day, but this can be trimmed back with no ill effects for some time. You should choose shelf-stable foods in cans or pouches that require minimal or no preparation.
- Lighting – You want a good stock of flashlights or electric lanterns to provide illumination when the power invariably fails during any disaster. Make sure you have a good supply of batteries to feed them. The smart play is to make sure your lights offer a good balance of brightness and runtime, and that they all take the same batteries. You might depend on oil or other liquid fuel lanterns, but these have significant dangers associated with their use. Choose carefully.
- Fire Extinguisher – In America alone billions of dollars of damage and loss are caused due to structural fires every year, and they’re one of the most common and persistent threats no matter where you live. You can give yourself a fighting chance of surviving a house fire or even saving your home if you have a high-quality, large ABC-rated fire extinguisher or two strategically placed in your home. More is always better, so don’t skimp on quantity or quality here.
- Map and Compass – Many disasters can completely obliterate typical landmarks, street and highway signs and other typical navigational aids. Your GPS will probably work fine but it might not, and in that case nothing will beat a good road atlas, set of regional maps and a handy compass for ensuring that you and yours can get to where you need to go after a disaster strikes.
- Additional Clothing – You should have a few spare sets of clothing included for each member of your family as part of your survival kit. You want season and climate appropriate gear that is protective, quick-drying and will not hinder your movements. Also include hats, gloves, extra socks and extra underwear. The clothes you are wearing when disaster strikes will definitely be getting filthy if they aren’t damaged by the events, so having some clothes ready to change into will be of great help.
- Blankets, Sleeping Bags, etc. – Even if you live in a temperate climate, nighttime temperatures without the benefit of heating or other climate control systems can drop to dangerously low levels, and you must be prepared to shelter inside or outside and keep your core body temperature up. Exposure is one of the single biggest killers on Earth in the context of an emergency, so you have to be prepared for dealing with it.
- Important Docs Package – Keep a flash drive or a paper file full of copies of all of your most important documents, things like driver’s licenses, passports, deeds and titles, account information and so on. Take great pains to encrypt or otherwise protect this info so in case it goes missing or get stolen you have not completely handed your entire identity to someone who might hurt you.
- Emergency Radio – When the power is out that means you likely will not be able to access TV or Internet in order to get updates on the developing situation during and after a disaster. Pick up an inexpensive and crank or battery-powered emergency radio that can tune in to government-specified channels in order to pick up emergency broadcasts and stay informed.
- Hygiene Items – Don’t neglect taking care of yourself during an extended disaster situation. Staying clean will help keep you from getting sick and will also keep your morale high. Stick with the simple stuff here, things like a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, deodorant and foot or body powder. Remember that water might be sharply limited, so a clean 5-gallon bucket and some rags for taking “hobo baths” is a good idea.
- Tarps – You can never tell when you will need a good tarp. For making an improvised shelter or just a clean ground cover, tarps definitely come in handy. They also work well for covering holes in your roof, and catching rainwater for drinking or bathing. Make sure the tarps you have are waterproof, have heavy duty grommets, and that you also have suitable cordage for securing them.
Again, you can easily assemble all of the above in an afternoon so long as you have a little bit of cash to spare.
It might not seem like much, and there are always things that you could certainly stand to have in the middle of a disaster or more specialized items that can greatly improve your situation, but just those few things are very important, and are indeed the core of your survival supplies.
If you can accumulate just that little bit, you’ll be way ahead of the game compared to people who have not prepared at all.
Learn Medical Skills
A common refrain you will hear in the context of discussing skills that will keep you and yours alive is that you must be willing to become your own first-responder.
The reason for this is quite simple: when you need help right this second help will only be minutes or hours away. This is true anytime, but it is especially true in times of crisis or in the aftermath of a disaster.
Our first responders, as hard-working and noble as they are, cannot be everywhere at once and they’re always outnumbered. Any event that leads to a mass number of casualties and spreads the chaos attendant with such things will see them taxed to the absolute limits.
The only way to ensure you do not fall victim to this predictable outcome is to become competent at administering first-aid and basic trauma care yourself. Before you do anything else, consider how often people get hurt, and in how many ways.
One of the most common, ubiquitous and grisly emergencies that people can expect to get into themselves or come upon is a common car accident.
You’re also extremely likely to be hurt inside your own home, everything from a slip-and-fall, kitchen accident, mishap involving power tools or tumble off a ladder awaits the unwary.
If this sounds intimidating, don’t be. Anyone can learn these skills. Most medical professionals are not supermen; they just set about diligently learning and practicing, same as anyone who wants to learn anything. You should start at the beginning by learning:
- Heimlich Maneuver
- Treatment for Heat Exhaustion/Heatstroke
- Treatment for Frostnip/Frostbite/Hypothermia
- Intervention for Heart Attack, Stroke and Seizure
- Animal/Insect Stings, Bites and Anaphylactic Reactions
- Simple Wound Dressing – Bumps, Scraps, Cuts, Minor Burns
After you have the basics under your belt move on to dealing with real trauma. Learn how to treat or at least stabilize:
- Broken Bones
- Head and Neck Injuries
- Major Lacerations
- Penetrating Injuries
- Chemical Poisoning
- Major Burns
You might be surprised to find out how simple any of these interventions are.
Make no mistake you have to know what you are doing and apply the correct solution to the problem or you risk making things worse, but many fire departments and other organizations in your area are probably putting on medical classes for civilians in your area that make a great first step on the road to prepping.
Also make sure you have the right supplies close at hand, both at home and when you are on the go, for dealing with any of the above injuries and conditions. You don’t need much, but having the right supplies will go a long way towards ensuring that your intervention is successful.
Learn and Practice Your Shelter-in-Place and Escape Plans
This is where the rubber will usually meet the road when disaster strikes. Do you know what you’re going to do in any given situation? If you are sitting there scratching your chin right now, you aren’t ready.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing you will figure it out or come up with a plan as the situation dictates. You need to have a plan already in place and be practicing it periodically so that your response is second nature when it actually occurs and the clock is ticking. Learn the following when you are starting out:
- What disasters are most likely to occur in your area?
- How much notice or warning, if any, can you typically expect?
- Is it best to shelter in place or evacuate ahead of these disasters?
- Do you have means to sustain yourself after you flee or stay in place?
- Come up with at least one backup plan for each event.
For some disasters, your best response could be sheltering in place. For others you might be best advised to escape and get as far away as you can, while you can.
Some disasters might allow you to escape if you have enough notice, but are dangerous enough that if you get caught unawares, or don’t have enough time to get away you just have to hunker down and ride it out.
Every kind of disaster has a sort of prescription for responding to it. You should endeavor to learn the steps and the various procedures for the most common disasters that are likely to occur in your area.
You want to set yourself up for success so that you can get safe as quickly as possible with a minimum amount of second-guessing and fumbling around.
If this means evacuation, do you know what the best evac routes are and where you are going, to say nothing of where you will stay once you get there?
Do you have alternatives to those routes and the backup plans for where you will stay if the primary plans come to ruin?
If you are sheltering in place are there any steps you need to take ahead of the onset of the disaster proper that will increase your chances of survival, like nailing plywood over windows or sealing doorways and vents with plastic sheeting?
Once you’ve had time to learn and go over these steps before you commit them to memory, it is then time to practice them until you cannot get them wrong.
Beef Up Your Home’s Security
Home invasion is terrifying and shockingly common, where assailants barge into your home using maximum speed and violence of action with the goal of overwhelming and subduing the occupants with it, allowing them to go about their business, whatever it is, unimpeded.
It is a sad thing to say that the majority of American homes including apartments are dreadfully easy to break into.
You can remedy this with a few simple, inexpensive steps in just an afternoon, and in a week’s time with some diligent effort you can turn your home from a loot box into a veritable fortress by doing the following:
- Upgrade Door and Window Screws, Hinges, Hardware
- Use or Install Anti-Kick Devices
- Consider Installing Camera and Alarm System
Most home invaders will enter a home via a door, and will sometimes accomplish entry through a window. Either is easy to force open, assuming that they do not find them unlocked; make sure you keep all windows and doors locked at all times!
After that, you can harden your home against forced entry by upgrading the screws for your door and window hardware. Most locksets and door hinges come with thin, short and wimpy screws.
The better quality these screws are, meaning the tougher material, the thicker and the longer they are, the better they will resist forced entry from kicking or ramming.
Even if the invaders are determined and eventually overcome this reinforced hardware through persistence, the ruckus and racket they are raising will buy you time to mount an effective defense.
You should also consider the installation of anti-kick hardware on all exterior doors. One of the best and the most popular is the Door Devil. The old-fashioned door bars or rods are another option worth exploring, especially the variety that slots securely into an in-floor hardpoint.
Either of these devices will help transfer the force of a kick or ram off of the door hardware and into the structure of the home itself, greatly increasing the door’s resistance to forced entry.
Lastly, you should consider installation of a home security system along with networked cameras and work toward one if you cannot afford to obtain one in the near future.
The ability to see what is going on outside your house (and especially outside exterior doors without exposing yourself to take a look) is invaluable.
There are many systems to choose from, from the less expensive DIY auctions that you can control with a smart device to traditional hardwired systems with full-time monitoring. Both types of system have their perks and flaws.
Make Daily Carry Habitual
Almost everyone carries a certain amount of junk with them when they leave the house to go to work, run errands or do anything else.
What you might not carry with you though are a few general-purpose tools we can greatly raise your level of readiness did you encounter emergencies great or small.
The so-called EDC movement or lifestyle has become something of a trend in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
EDC stands for “everyday carry”, and specifically refers to, when used as a descriptor, small tools and various supplies that serve a helpful purpose no matter what kind of situation you are in or as a hedge against getting caught flat-footed and helpless in an emergency situation.
You don’t have to be an unreformable tinkerer or buyer of tchotchkes to make EDC carry a useful and valuable part of your life.
If you do nothing else but carry pepper spray, a good folding pocket knife, a cell phone and perhaps an ultra compact first-aid kit, you’ll be drastically more prepared than 90% of people you cross on the street.
Many preppers choose to make carry of a firearm a part of their lives in order to be prepared for violence against themselves or their loved ones. Any gun along with spare ammunition that you carry would certainly qualify as EDC kit.
Ultimately, EDC items can be anything you want, so long as they are chosen with care and serve a purpose or serve as a preventative measure for possible problems.
You don’t have to carry a ton of stuff everywhere you go, but perhaps you want to; there’s no reason why you can’t have a significant amount of gear with you on or about your person inside a purse, a backpack or just in your pockets and strapped on your body.
The most important thing to remember is that EDC gear should work for you.
Getting a jump start on prepping is not particularly difficult, it is mostly a matter of knowing where to start and what to focus on.
The biggest challenge is not getting distracted by the vast ocean of information that is available and at your fingertips.
As with most things, the place that you should begin is with the fundamentals, since the fundamentals will evolve into advanced techniques in due time.
Read over the guide above, understand what is needed and then you can get started on this very day improving your personal readiness.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.