“Be prepared” is a pretty broad order. Prepared for what? How prepared are we talking about, here? If you are new to prepping and readiness as a component in your lifestyle, one of your first actions will probably be to take stock and compare yourself and your stash of supplies to veteran preppers or friends.
What you find may discourage you.
When you find out your buddy or mentor has months and months worth of food, water, medical supplies, tools, weapons and more it is easy to get discouraged before you even begin. This is a mistake.
No matter where you are and how much or little you have to work with you can take steps right now, today, to improve your situation over the masses who don’t care or cannot be bothered to do the same.
Your next trip to the grocery can yield extra provision to add to your emergency supply. The next time you have a couple hours of spare time you can scout rural routes out of town, or get in some practice on any number of skills.
Even so, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and bewildered staring down all the possible disasters that may occur and all the varied skills to learn and supplies to gather.
Don’t fret over that: below I have provided a handy checklist for what I think are think are the most essential supplies to stock and steps to implement if you are starting from zero or close to zero.
This article will not be detailed step-by-step guide on any one skill, discussion over what foods have the best calorie-to-shelf-life ratio or the absolute best way to store water. All of that has been discussed in detail with expert input here and elsewhere.
What the list will be is your jump-start to taking simple, positive action that will give the you of today better survival odds in a crisis over the you of yesterday.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
This list by necessity is very basic, and I am not claiming to cover every contingency or even a specific common threat in your area.
I have weighted this list in general order of importance to let you hit the important things first and go from there, but depending on your locale and situation some elements may be more important or less. This is a guide; use your head and common sense.
Additionally, some people may want to prioritize skills over supplies, the idea being if you have the skills you can make or find everything else. I will not derail the discussion by delving too far into that, but the fact is having what you need on hand will always save you labor and time.
A truly skilled individual can sustain themselves with rudimentary or even no tools in very austere conditions, and there is no substitute for that kind of mastery, but no “lone survivor” who is honest would choose to go without provision or tools when the chips are down and they had a choice.
Remember that consumables, no matter what they are and no matter how well preserved, will not last indefinitely. Food, water, medicine, gasoline, it will all eventually spoil. To avert this, you should use the items in your stash for everyday life by rotating your supply.
The first item to go into the stash is the first item to be used up, and then when you head out shopping or running errands you replace the used quantity in the stash.
So after eating a can of chili out of your emergency stash, for instance, you would replace the can with another one bought at the grocery. The next oldest can of chili would be the one you draw next time you need chili, and so on. This is known as “rotating” your supplies.
Remember: you don’t have to turn your life upside down to accommodate your newfound call to preparation, but you should make room for acquiring supplies and building skills, and whatever you do remember it is a lifestyle change.
The Checklist – Essential Supplies and Provisions
If you haven’t lifted a finger to prepare for a crisis, start here. All of this is easy to obtain and inexpensive. After you acquire this core kit, you’ll increase quantity and add more esoteric items later.
Potable Water Supply –Your basic supply should be a gallon per day, that will cover drinking and basic sanitation. That is per person, and is a baseline. Hotter climates necessitate more, and some people just need more water.
Your next trip out to the grocery, grab at least a 3 day supply. You should have no less than a week’s worth of water on hand for all family members. Get extra if you are storing a lot of food that requires water to prepare.
The type of container is up to you. Some people like the larger gallon plus sized containers in order to ease storage somewhat, while others like individually sealed bottles to ensure it is ready to carry easily.
It is a good idea to keep a few heavy-duty reusable water bottles for stashing in your pack.
Food Supply- Non-perishable, calorie-dense food is the rule of the day. Variety is fine so long as it will keep for extended periods. Here you can go with either dry staples, like beans, pasta rice and flour, or canned or foil-pouched foods, like meats, veggies, fruits and stews or soups
Canned and pouched items are also conveniently ready to eat after opening (don’t forget a few can openers). Consider adding drink mixes like electrolyte powder or Kool-Aid for energy and some variety.
Freeze-dried survival meals and dishes are another space-saving, convenient option, but require a significant amount of water to prepare and can be expensive.
MREs are quite popular, extremely calorie dense, come in secure packaging, and have a host of nice pack-ins like sauces, spices and candy, but are expensive, bulky and a steady diet of them will cause serious constipation.
Don’t rule out either; just make sure you have good reasons for choosing them.
For survival purposes, think calories, not meals per day. An adult will require between 2,000 and 2,400 calories a day nominally, and more if they are active. Children require less, but the effects of malnutrition and starvation hit them harder. You can live for quite a while on reduced calories to make your stores go further, but your activity levels in the aftermath depending on what is required of you may dictate high calorie consumption. Plan accordingly before you hit “rationing” levels of supply.
Basic Dining Utensils- A stash of disposable plates, cups, napkins and cutlery will help reduce water usage and maintain cleanliness. Keep a set of reusable camping style cutlery and mess kits around in case you run out of the former. You might want to keep a small set of steel pots or bowls with your stash to ensure you have suitable vessels for meal prep.
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Medical Kit- Your first-aid supplies should be able to treat common injuries and minor trauma. Get band-aids, compression bandages, plenty of gauze and gauze pads of all sizes, (get hemostatic gauze if you can spring for it), burn cream, a few tourniquets, medical tape, moleskin, antiseptic, slings, butterfly bandages and liquid stitch.
You absolutely must stockpile any necessary medications you take on a regular basis no matter what they are. Talk with your doctor and explain to him what you are doing so he can get you a scrip for the required quantity.
Also include plenty of meds for pain, inflammation, allergy attack, indigestion and nausea. Don’t forget to rotate your meds! Beyond that, you possess at least rudimentary medical skill to treat anything worse than a skinned knee or minor laceration. More on that later.
Emergency Radio- Even a very severe disaster is unlikely to obliterate communications grids entirely. Pickup one of the hand-cranked or battery-powered emergency radios so you will always be able to passively receive information so long as authorities are transmitting. Some nicer models include a flashlight or even USB charging ports. So long as you have the muscle, it will have power.
Light- Assume power will be out for the duration of a crisis. Flashlights and lanterns are the order of the day. Headlamps are a great and often underutilized tool allowing you to work or navigate without holding a flashlight between your teeth.
Buy the best flashlight models you can afford, and focus on a blend of output and runtime. Variable mode and output lights are more complicated to use, but their power-saving features and different color LED’s may be worthwhile.
Lights are useful for signaling anytime there is low or no light, and powerful ones can be easily seen for miles, so don’t skimp on output.
Some lights are crank powered like our emergency radio above and having at least one of those is not a bad idea.
Alternate light sources are candles, which are cheap but present a fire hazard, or chemlights, which are completely safe and heatless, but also have utility for marking, safety and signaling.
Redundancy is a good idea, but emphasize flashlights and headlamps. Both require…
Batteries- Your primary battery-gobblers will be the above flashlights and battery-powered lanterns. Make sure you have plenty of each type you need for all your lights.
You can make your life easy by limiting your battery consumption on lights to two types of cell; perhaps one kind for flashlights and headlamps, and one for lanterns. Or you might have one type for low-output utility lights, and another, perhaps CR123 cells for your high-output work and weapon lights.
Don’t forget to make a list of any other kind you might need; a spare car battery, perhaps, or ones for a GPS or to power a charging pack for other electronic devices.
Think it through. Also, do not skimp on quality batteries! They are not made equal; better brands will typically have more juice and longer shelf lives.
Alkaline batteries lose a significant amount of power over time, so rotate these like anything else. Lithium batteries have much longer shelf lives than alkaline but are significantly more expensive.
Sanitation Supplies- You definitely don’t want to overlook this! You don’t need to have everything you take for granted on a daily basis, but you need to take care of the basics. Most obviously get plenty of toilet paper, wet wipes and feminine products for cleanliness.
Get more TP than you think you’ll need; trust me, the first time you have to use improvised material or technique to clean your rear, you’ll remember me, and women need more than men do at any rate. You may yet have to switch to pinecones, but let’s forestall that as much as we can, eh?
Add several packs of heavy duty contractor bags, and a toilet media like kitty litter, sawdust or plenty of old newspaper for control of human waste. Get several five gallon buckets with sealing lids.
Using the above in logical order in conjunction with some board or an old chair and you can make an effective, comfortable indoor or outdoor toilet.
For basic hygiene requirements, get toothpaste, simple toothbrushes sealed in their wrappers, wet wipes, some basic soap or body wash, and body powder. Razors are not a bad idea. Everyone will likely be a little stinkier than usual, but lack of cleanliness invites disease. Plus taking care of yourself is a good morale booster.
Tool Kit- You don’t need to go crazy here, but having tools at hand can make all the difference on improving your situation: from breaking in or out of buildings to making repairs and digging latrines or fire pits, the right tools will make for light work. Emphasize manual tools that do not require electricity, only muscle.
At a minimum, a good framing hammer, hand saw or hacksaw, medium prybar, axe, shovel, vise grips, screwdrivers, fixed blade general purpose knife, small mechanics kit with wrenches, can of all-purpose lube, sturdy cordage (paracord or accessory line) and duct tape. Ensure you have an adequate wrench or similar tool that can shut off water and gas valves in and around your home.
Include a few boxes of variously sized nails and screws and you are ready for impromptu construction, extrication or repair. Add tarps and plastic sheeting and you have the ability to create water proof enclosures or seal openings against movement of air. A multi-tool or Swiss Army knife is incredibly handy to keep on you or when you are traveling and do not want to pack the kitchen sink.
Obviously the more makes and types of tools you have the better off you’ll be, so if you already have a collection, great! Don’t go overboard on purchasing tools at the expense of other vital items, though.
Dust Masks or Respirators- Depending on the crisis, air quality may be severely deteriorated. Prevent the worst of the gunk from entering your lungs by investing in quality fitted N95 or N99 respirators and cartridges or disposable dust masks rated for fine particulate and organic vapors.
These are not proper gas masks, as use and selection of protective equipment in preparation for airborne chemical or biological threats is another conversation entirely.
Respirators will though protect you against airborne matter that can cause near- or long-term health issues, or at the least is very debilitating.
Be sure you understand what your mask will and will not protect you against and don’t take any foolish risks with cartridges of questionable utility.
Maps- Local and regional level road atlases and topographic maps. If you need to move or travel for any reason, things may not be as clear as they once were, or you might necessarily be forced to move across unfamiliar terrain or roadways.
Even if you are a long-time local, don’t trust to memory, no matter how intricate. Paper remembers, the mind may forget.
Manuals and Guides- General readiness, survival and first-aid manuals, as well as general knowledge reference manuals. Make them compact if at all possible so they can go with you if you have to go mobile or evacuate.
You should be doing your homework and putting in practice ahead of the fateful day, not counting on whipping out your manual in the middle of a crisis, but knowing how to best deal with any given situation is too good to pass up.
In lieu of first-hand experience, a good set of instructions can help carry the day. I really like the Pocket Ref guides for general knowledge and skills, as they are tiny and positively packed with useful info.
That does it for the bare essentials. The next list will cover items you definitely want to incorporate to your readiness plan as soon as you have the essentials locked down.
The Checklist – Additional Equipment and Supplies
Weapons- Specifically guns and ammunition. Handgun, rifle or shotgun, you had better be trained and know how to use it before you need it. All have advantages and disadvantages. Generally, Pistols are packable, rifles are powerful and precise, and shotguns are powerful and versatile.
Of the three, pistols are the hardest to shoot well quickly and accurately, but are easily carried and concealed. Rifles are powerful and enjoy great range. Shotguns are crushingly potent at close range and are great all-purpose hunting arms, but typically have strong recoil and their ammo is bulky and heavy in quantity.
You must have more than a few magazines or shots worth of ammo for any firearm you are going to depend on for a protracted crisis. Additional options for weapons are things like large “riot-cans” of pepper spray, knives, machetes, axes, fists and feet.
Medieval or primitive weapons like swords, spears and bows require a great deal of training and practice to use effectively, and while they do not have a dependency on ammunition, your time and effort is likely better spent learning gun and hand-to-hand skills. If you are already proficient with such weapons, more power to you.
Trauma Kit- Items to treat serious trauma and injuries. Nasal airways, occlusive dressings, decompression needles, IV lines and solution, splints, suture kit etc.
You must have appropriate skills to utilize these items without causing more harm. If you lack those skills, there is a chance that someone in your group or a good Samaritan might, and having these things on hand may make the difference between life and death.
Documents and IDs– Create copies of all important documents, things like deeds, titles, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, social security cards, diplomas, degrees, and such to keep either in a sealed, weather protected case or on an encrypted flash drive. Keep it secret and safe! That would be a major blow to your personal security if compromised.
These will be priceless once the situation is calming down, rubble is being swept away and (hopefully) things are getting back to something approaching normal.
Clothing and Footwear- Appropriate to your locale and weather. Aside from being able to dress to the environment and weather conditions, you should consider practical utilitarian clothing that will help you succeed.
Tough, breathable, flexible, quick-drying clothing paired with gloves and sturdy boots or hiking shoes will help you negotiate dangerous man-made or natural environments and give you a degree of protection against incidental scrapes, pokes and slices.
You must consider additional garments and footwear appropriate to the local climate especially if you live in areas of deep cold. Hypothermia is a major killer, and frostbite is severely debilitating and can easily lead to death in austere or destabilized conditions. Socks, underwear, outerwear and the like must be capable.
Sleeping Bags and Bedding- Blankets and sleeping bags are likewise a good idea for cold areas, or for anyone who may wind up bugging out. Don’t assume that just because you live in a temperate area that you don’t need to worry about staying warm, or that you can just build a fire in case you do get cold.
Water Purification Supplies- If you run out of potable water, you’ll need the capability to make suspect or compromised water safe, or safer, to drink. Filters and chemicals can remove or destroy nearly all of the contaminants and germs that can make you sick or kill you.
You must know what your purification solution is capable of, and what it is not. Some will not be able to remove germs or chemicals, and will require second-stage treatment to make the water source drinkable.
One item you must have is jug or two of plain, unscented, regular bleach and an eye-dropper for precise measurement. Adding one part bleach to nine parts water makes a great disinfectant, but more importantly you can add 16 drops of bleach to a gallon of water to kill germs in an emergency.
It has other obvious uses for hygiene, and is too cheap to not have handy for such an occasion. Just keep in mind that bleach has a short shelf life, not the first thing you’d want to stockpile. Get more than one water filter, such as the ones made by Sawyer or Berkey.
Fire Extinguisher- Fires are major hazards in the most idyllic of times, but we aren’t preparing for idyllic times.
Your increased reliance on fire for light and cooking will correspondingly increase your chances of needing one of these to put out one that has turned on you and is threatening to immolate your shelter and supplies.
Get good sized models for your home, barn and bug out location that is ABC rated: that rating means it can put out almost any type of common fire.
Cash and Gold/Silver- Cash speaks, and only the direst of calamities will see people forsake the almighty greenback. Assume you will not be able to get any at all, anywhere, after the balloon goes up.
Have a good wad hidden away in your stash for a rainy day, and forget about it until it is needed. Don’t raid it for any reason; treat it like the life-saving utility it is.
A quantity of gold or silver may be a contentious inclusion for some people, but like cash, things will have to be dire indeed before both lose their appeal to humanity.
A handful of gold or silver can be converted into just about anything of equivalent value, anywhere, in a hurry and gold especially can secure you a favor that you otherwise may not be able to get.
Portable or Camp Stove and Fuel- A small, efficient stove for cooking and boiling water is invaluable and generally offers more convenience than doing either over an open fire unless you have a fireplace in home or a fire pit outside.
Fuel types vary, but you may choose to rely on one that has small, self contained fuel cans or cylinders, or a pop-up model that is multi-fuel, relying on gas, alcohol, wood or charcoal.
While small, they do add bulk and take up space, but the time and effort savings over building a fire and gathering wood make them worthwhile for preppers on the move or those without much experience building cooking fires.
The Checklist – Skills
All the gear in the world will not do you any good if you do not have the knowledge and experience to use it effectively! Westerners, Americans especially, have long been enamored with the idea of “buying” skill; relying on their latest gadget or technological marvel to see them through. That will not cut it when the chips are down.
You may feel helpless if you have not been an outdoorsy or rugged person for most of your life, but the most essential lifesaving and survival skills and concepts are easily learned, if not mastered.
Below is a list of several core skill sets you should make a point to get trained on and practice when you can. In all but the smallest towns there will be someone who has something to teach you about all of them.
Basic First Aid and Trauma- You cannot count on EMT’s, paramedics, or doctors being able to render aid if you or someone in your group is injured.
Take the time to learn CPR, basic wound care, trauma care for major lacerations and penetrating wounds, and how to manage hypo- and hyperthermia.
All your nice medical gear you bought up above won’t help you if you cannot employ it correctly and safely.
Starting a fire- Now, I’m not talking about practicing the bow drill or hand drill methods for hours on end. You need to be able to start a fire at any time, in any conditions. Lighters, ferro rods and magnesium fire starters are your best friends.
Land Navigation and Escape Routes- Learn how to navigate and orient yourself using just a map and compass, either over road or raw land. GPS is a great tool, and should not be ignored, but you should not bet the farm on it.
Before you do anything, though, you should take the time to establish at least two secondary shelters or fallback points (bug-out locations) and pre-drive or hike a few different approaches to them.
This will build familiarity and confidence if you ever have to retreat there in a live event.
Keep your eyes open and pay attention when you are scouting: take note of any feature that may turn into a bottleneck or become impassable in different scenarios, things like a bridge washing out, trees falling, nearby chemical hazards and such.
Self-Defense- Learn to use your fists, feet and weapons to good effect. Weapons, firearms in particular, can be more hazardous to you and yours than an attacker if you are not trained and practiced in their use.
You do not need to master a bunch of different disciplines or types, but you should be a capable hand-to-hand fighter and competent with a gun.
Austere Living Techniques- Everything gets harder when modern conveniences, luxuries really, disappear. Avoid feeling overwhelmed and helpless by practicing self-reliance and making do with less, now.
Learn how to build cooking and camp fires, maintain hygiene, dispose of waste, control your body temperature and create what you need. This is not just for “bush life,” and will prove valuable when the electricity and gas is cut off.
Even if you are prepping greenhorn, you can make great strides in your level of readiness quickly and inexpensively by taking care of basics first and then branching out into more intricate preps and plans.
Using this checklist as a guide, you won’t believe what you have accomplished in just a few weeks.
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.