When it comes to preparation, you will hardly find any two practitioners who are on the same level of readiness, or heck, even agree on what a given level looks like.
Differences in methodology, values, perception and other things can mean that ready-ready looks very, very different to any given individuals.
One person’s Doomsday may be another’s pleasure cruise. Skill-building and material preparation are two vitally important facets, but often treated as differing doctrines.
What’s more, there is no real governing body of preparation to publish bonafide standards: aside from repeated and codified information put out by government agencies (FEMA first among them) and proffered by what survival and readiness instructors as maintain a media presence or published content, it is largely a catch-as-catch-can process.
In an effort to help organize and direct the efforts of prepper’s I am compiling a list in this article that broadly classifies the various evolutions of preparation one may ascend on their path of progression.
It is nothing too academic, and I do not hope nor intend to set the world of survival on fire with this missive, but I trust that adherents new and veteran alike will find it useful and entertaining.
I do not have even the faintest hope that this list will be anything more than informative and, hopefully, a little illuminating. There are simply too many possible scenarios, unique situations and Catch-22’s to make a properly scientific declaration that a given person is “ready.”
One reader could have all the provision and tech in the world, but be woefully unfit and ill-prepared in the hard-skills department. Is she ready? Maybe, maybe not.
Another may be The One True Man of the Woods reborn, but his asceticism and strict minimalist lifestyle has seen him shun all modern tools and technology so he does not lose his “edge.” Is he ready? Hard to say.
Still another person may be the very best person on earth for dealing with the devastating and cataclysmic consequences of reversal of Earth’s gravitational field, no matter how mind-blowing small the chances of that happening are, but are so inured, so enthralled with this cosmically terrible scenario that they have failed to prepare for a car wreck, home invasion or indefinite term blackout. Is this person ready? Well, in their way, but I’d argue no.
The bottom line is that readiness is always in a state of flux. It’s holistic. You may be ready for anything, except that one thing. Want of a nail, and all. You may be supremely well-equipped, fit and trained, but simple, stupid, dumb luck could see you laid low or all your hard work in preparation go up in, literally, smoke. Now what?
I can tell you this, though, is that Heinlein was right on this front: specialization will usually give way to generalization, at least when the chips are down in a survival scenario. Maybe not in “normal” society, where everyone that is truly successful is as specialized as any insect, but it surely holds true in matters of readiness.
Think of it this way: you are and will be your own first responder. Not just “later.” Not just “then.” Now. You are your medic, firefighter, tracker, mechanic, cook, gunslinger, carpenter, plumber guide and more.
It is all up to you to get stuff done. Sure, right now you can opt to pay someone to do something for you, but even then it is up to you to see that happen. You are responsible. You. No one else.
The difference between now and later is that you will not have the luxury of being able to pay someone else to scratch your back and solve your problem. At least, not at the tap on a phone. So when that day arrives, all those skills we have outsourced, from navigation to wound care, will be put to a definite and severe test.
Priorities of Preparation
When that day arrives will you be able to handle it yourself, for your own best outcome, or for someone you love and are responsible for? Or will you falter, bobble, stumble and fail the test?
Experience may be the best teacher, but what that old adage fails to explain is that experience gives you the test first then the lesson. You have to be alive to get the lesson.
That test need not be spectacular to kill you, or maim you or a loved one horribly. Mundane, common occurrences can take on terrible and life-threatening implications with shocking and horrifying rapidity. From illness to accident to acts of God, there is no shortage of ways to die, and many of them seem at first unbelievably unlikely, silly, or borderline comedic.
You may be right, but that does not change what is, and it is the everyday affair gone wrong that, statistically, has the single greatest chance of killing you. So with that in mind, my personal hierarchy of readiness is based on countering the most likely threats to my person, whatever they may be.
No instance is too small or too boring for me to account for. I am sharing the following so you have some context for my thought-processes.
Since funds, energy and training time are all limited, you will not see me frippering away my time on small-unit CQB tactics, growing my own penicillin, hang-gliding for bugging out or other things which I classify as anywhere from “low-yield” skills to “fantasy hobby.”
I will instead focus on everyday first-aid and essential trauma skills, defensive and offensive driving, fast and accurate shooting of a pistol from concealment, and keeping in good shape so as to be more useful in any given emergency, and much harder to kill by violence.
My way is not “the” way, only a way, and other’s philosophies may be more palatable. I don’t care if someone uses the dead rising from their graves as the pretense for an all-around and comprehensive readiness plan with appropriate material and skill acquisition so long as those acquisitions are prioritized around the most likely and common threats first.
For instance, if you are buying a battle-grade long sword or training in use of medieval weapons before you buy yourself a pistol or take first-aid training, you are wrong, and simply pursuing your hobby with the worthy goal of preparedness as a pretense.
The Levels of Preparedness
So, with all that in mind, the following section will present my general ladder of readiness, from hopelessly-lost-in-condition-white neophyte to impossibly-prepared-salty-uberprepper.
While just a little humorous, these gradients represent very real strata when it comes to preparation for various disasters, crises and meltdowns.
As I alluded to in the beginning of the article, some folks think that being able to survive three days with no power equates to “prepared” while others consider anything less than 3 whole months of provisions and sustainment supplies for a true grid-down disaster “inadequate.”
Note that every level builds on the preceding one; I won’t be listing food every single time in an effort to make the list a little easier to read, for instance.
Additionally, I will add notes where appropriate to clarify what I think constitutes ready at a given level, as well as approximately how long you should be able to survive without aid with everyone getting full rations and basic care needs met.
One last thing, I am not deep-diving into any one element that you’ll see appear in the following categories, not in this article. The reason being there are already reams of literature, discussion and exposition pertaining to all of it found here on this site and elsewhere.
Level 0 – Unprepared, Unaware, Uninvolved
Survival Time: N/A – Dependent on Charity or Rescue
This is the default mode of most of the population, be it from ignorance, a sheltered existence or crushing naiveté. For these poor, smiling sods, bad things only ever happen to other people, other people being the rest of the population, i.e. all of us.
They spare no thought that help will not arrive instantaneously when summoned, and that is only in the unlikely event that an “emergency,” really more of a serious inconvenience, does occur, which it won’t because they never do. Not to them!
As far as supplies go, they have enough food to last until the next time they go to the grocery and with some stroke of providence might actually have a working flashlight and a spare pair of batteries. Guns or weapons are out of the question because “things like that don’t happen around here” and problems can always be resolved with sincere understanding.
For those of us who left this phase behind a long time ago, or mercifully were never here at all past childhood, because life, these folks are the equivalent of NPCs in a video game: they are there, but they don’t do anything except get in the way, need rescuing or serve as potential collateral damage numbers. What’s worse is we all know people like this, or may even have relatives like this.
In any group, they are The Load: a millstone that consumes considerable effort, resources and sanity simply keeping alive.No matter how much we fuss, cuss, cajole or extort, we cannot extricate their head from the titanic suction of the sand they have stuck it in.
All we can do is hope for the best and keep an eye on them until something happens to them which might snap them out of their ironclad delusion. If that does occur, and they survive, there is a modest chance they will level up into another category on this list.
Level 0 Equipage and Planning List:
- Flashlight, maybe
- Whatever food and water is in pantry and fridge
Level 1 – Basic Preparation
Survival Time: 3 Days to 1 Week
This level of preparation is common among many adults, though they don’t know it, or have not cohesively worked to attain a proper level of readiness.
This is the level of equipage and rudimentary skills you will see advocated by government agencies to be prepared for a common, short duration natural disaster or other modest emergency. The other preppers that fit into this category are simply the lazy and unmotivated.
Most folks in this category will have enough stable food on had to last 2 or 3 days, and might even have some set aside with a case of water for the purpose.
A small kit of equipment with lights, batteries, matches and a few tools is set somewhere for the occasion, but is maintained intermittently or in a lackluster fashion. In a pinch, they will be able to come up with tarps, cordage, some assorted meds and other rudimentary supplies for a short duration event.
Skills-wise, they will have a smattering of disparate skills, often related to their job or hobby, but nothing that could be considered a coherent set of survival-centric abilities.
They will not be particular keen on any major threat except the most common disasters in the area and the imminent arrival of their sister-in-law’s abysmal chicken casserole on holidays.
A person at this level in a group setting is The Average Joe: not as hopelessly dependent as our lost souls above, but they cannot be tasked with anything involved without supervision..
Level 1 Equipage and Planning List
- Food, 2,000 cals./day for each adult, 3 day to 1 week supply
- Disposable Cutlery, Plates, Cups
- Alternate Heating Solution for Cooking: Propane Grill, Camp Stove, etc.
- Water, sealed, 1 Gal./day for each adult for hygiene and drinking 3 day to 1 week supply
- First Aid Kit, small, for treatment of minor illness and injury (band-aids, bandages, antiseptic, compression wrap, various medicines for sickness, etc.)
- Hygiene Supplies: TP, Wipes, Soap, Shampoo, Hand Sanitizer
- Spare “Just in Case” clothing and footwear
- Blankets, Pillows, Perhaps Sleeping Bags
- Basic Fire Starting Supplies: Matches, Lighters
- Flashlights and spare batteries
Notes: The important thing is that folks in this level will not need rescuing immediately. Note that most people in this level will not be prepared for bugging out or truly going mobile. They are counting on proper evacuation or weathering whatever crisis happens to befall them in place at home for a short duration until normality returns.
Level 2 – Ready and Able
Survival Time: 1 week to 2 weeks+/-
Folks in this bracket have either been through an event before or take to the idea of self-sufficiency like a duck to water. They are aware of prepping as a lifestyle and believe in its practical and ethical merits.
People in this level will read up on best practices, procedures, techniques and overall strategies, and most importantly will set goals and plans for growth and obtaining desirable outcomes in an emergency.
At this level, preppers will have no less than a week of food and water for their group or family, a stash of lights, candles, spare batteries, chargers, clothes, some bedding, protective equipment and first-aid supplies. Most will have a weapon of some kind, and have practiced with it.
A BOB or Go-Bag will appear here, and they will care about keeping it packed and ready, though it might be very generalist in nature. They will be acutely aware of major threats in their area, and will start to practice and train for the “biggest” scariest outcome of those events.
Defensive and soft-skills are important to them or at least on their radar. Many will have a basic-first aid cert or equivalent skills. Most importantly, they are very aware of how much they don’t know, and are keen to learn more.
In our party, these folks are The Preppers Nextdoor: capable, motivated and prepared. We can expect them to come out OK so long as the trial is not too severe or too complex. Those who stay at this level do so out of mild ignorance of just how bad things can get, or they simply lack the commitment, time or resources to take their game to the next level.
Level 2 Equipage and Planning List
• Food, 2,000 cals./day for each adult, 1 to 2 week supply
• Water, sealed, 1 Gal./day for each adult for hygiene and drinking 1 to 2 week supply
• Supplemental Water Storage: BPA Free Potable Water Barrel, Bathtub Liner, Clean 5 Gal Buckets, etc.
• Tools: Plywood, Hammer, Nails, Screws, Saw, etc. for hasty repairs or extrication
• Tarps and Cordage
• NOAA Emergency Radio, Crank operated
• Defensive: gun with ammunition, 250rds min., or contact weapon, knife, bat, ax etc.
• Bug-Out Bag, Get-Home Bag or both, packed and maintained
• Headlamps w/ spare batteries
• Power Bank for cell phones with chargers
• Enhanced First Aid Kit
• Supply of All Prescription Medications
• Stash of Cash
• Back-up of All Important Documents: on flashdrive or in sealed, weatherized container.
Notes: People occupying this level are a definite step up from Level 1, and are taking their preparations seriously. Most importantly, they have identified a weakness in that a disaster may not kick off when they are at home with their stockpile, or even allow them to stay in their homes.
The presence of the BOB and the GHB is essential here, as these folks have begun to understand that when the SHTF, it will rarely if ever do so in a tidy manner. Also note the emphasis beginning to appear on redundant and backup items.
Level 3 – Serious About Surviving
Survival Time: 2 weeks to 1 month
Most of the readership will fall here. Level 3 readiness is broadly organized but intensely focused. Folks in this category will essentially be waiting on the starting gun to take off; they have considered all potential major threats they face on a daily basis as well as long-term potential ones and have committed to dedicated action in defense against it. Continual improvement, assessment and stress-testing are the hallmarks of this category.
Several weeks of food, a sizeable stash of water along with multiple redundant methods of collecting and purifying it, medicine, clothing, shelter equipment, tools of all kinds, guns, ammo and stored fuel for vehicles and generators will be de rigueur provision and with cause.
Preppers at this level will be serious about contingency planning in all aspects of their lives and will have prepared themselves and group/family members accordingly.
BOBs, vehicle kits, bug-out routes, rendezvous points and other such plans and practices will be implemented rigorously and practiced until they cannot be gotten wrong.
At holidays, these folks are the Cool Aunts and Uncles. They have the skills that make people think they were a soldier, cop or some other “exciting” profession: self-defense, navigation, austere living, driving, medical, hygiene and sanitation, threat avoidance, the works.
You will also usually see some more esoteric or intricate skills pop up here, even if only passingly; chemical or biological threat mitigation, nuclear threat defense, crisis management, etc. Anything from dog bites and car crashes to massive riots and severe weather they can handle.
In our survival posse, the people making up this category are The Tough Guys and Gals: determined, gritty, trained and equipped. Nothing short of sheer bad luck or overwhelming odds will stop or kill these people. Able to escape, avoid, confront or cobble together a solution to nearly any problem.
Level 3 Equipage and Planning List
- Food, 2,000 cals./day for each adult, 2 weeks to 1 month supply
- Water, sealed, 1 Gal./day for each adult for hygiene and drinking 2 weeks to 1 month supply
- Water Purification Equipment: Filters, chemical tablets or drops, etc.
- Tents, Bivys, and other self-contained shelter items
- Emergency Blankets
- Guns: Secondary firearm, plus ammo, min. 500rds.
- Solar Charging System for vital electronics
- Comprehensive First-Aid and Trauma Kit: Tourniquets, Hemostatic Gauze, Suture Kit, Chest Seals, Wide-Spectrum Antibiotics, Painkillers.
- Camo Netting
- EDC Kit: tiny trauma kit, folding knife or multitool, lighter/ferro rod, pistol (optional)
- Vehicle Repair Kit: Spare parts, belts, fluids, flat tire repair, etc. with appropriate tools to correct common breakages.
Notes: Preppers in this category are now broadly concerned about major disasters and everyday emergencies, and plan accordingly. The presence of an EDC kit as their go-everywhere first line of defense against a bad day is telling.
The possibility that they may need to truly bug out or at least abandon their home or town entirely is very real to them, and they have prepared accordingly, with items necessary for warmth and shelter from the elements, and continuous refinement of escape routes and alternate safe zones.
Vehicles will be kept in excellent condition, fueled and loaded with supplemental supplies. This serves as an escape vector or the means to get home accordingly.
Level 4 – The Dedicated Prepper
Survival Time: 2 months to 6 months
This level is where preparation is more or less a lifestyle. Folks in this category may have naturally arrived here after years or most of a lifetime spent in pursuit of personal preparedness consistently, or they simply feel the call and respond in kind. Some will be professionals for whom other careers and pursuits are too sterile, boring and devoid of meaning.
These guys and gals are not just ready, they are practically waiting. Months of food, water and fuel. Medicine, clothes, tools, batteries and weapons with cases and cases of ammo and maintenance supplies. Shelter and protective equipment for all but the most infeasible of threats.
A customized bug-out vehicle is likely. These people can turn their homes into fortresses, and have plans and equipment to deal with anything short of a direct hit from a nuke or EF5 tornado, and in that unlikely occurrence they will retreat to their custom shelter or pre-stocked and hidden secondary shelter at their bug-out location.
They know all the ways into and out of an area, including rural, unmarked and overland routes. If confronted with a curveball, they will shift gears smoothly without any glitches; they have already not only planned for just such an occasion, but rehearsed it. Cool, unflappable and utterly ready, these preppers are what we all aspire to be with enough time, practice and investment.
In the skills department, those who get to know them suspect they were either secret agents or commandos in a prior job; they will be able to heal, hurt, build, fix, escape or hide with equal aplomb, and know all the best times and seasons to reach out to the other side of the planet on their ham radio.
They will of course regale you with all this right after they build a warm, sturdy wikiup in the woods and cook you a mean meal from locally caught game and sourced plants, one you’d actually want to eat.
These are the Heroes of the group, and often the ones who will see through the less prepared or unlucky. Only true misfortune or the very, very worst of scenarios will phase them.
Level 4 Equipage and Planning List
- Food, 2,000 cals./day for each adult, 2 month to 6 month supply
- Water, sealed, 1 Gal./day for each adult for hygiene and drinking 2 month to 6 month supply
- Enough additional supplies listed previously to sustain group with add-ons.
- Overland Capable Bug-Out Vehicle
- Civilian Band or Ham radio setup
- Multiple Long Guns, Multiple Handguns, min. 1,000 rounds of ammo per.
- Multiple, redundant water purification and catchment methods.
- Supplemental Provisions: vitamins, prescription meds, alcohol, etc. for consumption or trading
- Hardened Home: Windows, doors reinforced or upgraded.
- Safe Room or Underground Shelter: suitable for disaster or defense against direct attack
- Owned Bug-Out Location, with suitable shelter
Notes: Compared to those who came before on this list, preppers in this level will show considerable emphasis on long-term, group centric sustainment and survival, the idea being that they and their closest people will be armed, equipped and fed to survive the onset of total societal breakdown, and will be able and willing to weather such an event in place or after escaping to their fallback location.
Note how they are able to fully equip group members with more than just food. The biggest thing that will set these folks apart is their commitment to their skillsets: they will be just as competent bushwhacking through the woods as treating gunshot wounds or keeping everyone warm outdoors on a cold night. Getting here takes a lot of work, often a lifetime. Consider this the black belt of prepping.
Level 5 – Prepping is Life
Survival Time: 1 year +
This level is only theoretically possible, as it is only seen on TV or talked about in water-cooler conversation. This prepper monarch will literally do nothing else but prepare for potential disaster in frightening and increasingly intricate detail. Whether from extraordinary wealth, or total commitment to their cause and lifestyle, these people will live, eat sleep and breathe readiness.
The material preparation these singular individuals will have at their disposal will rival the governments of some smaller nations: no less than a year, and probably years of food and water, stockades of ammo, medicine, weapons and every imaginable consumable and comestible, multiple vehicles including perhaps aircraft, enormous tracts of land (often with tapped wells and aquifers), multiple secondary and even tertiary fall-back locations at undisclosed places.
More vitally, these people will almost invariably have assembled around them a group of likeminded people, family or otherwise, who they plan to survive the Bad Days with.
While usually quirky and often eccentric, their knowledge of the local area, surrounding counties and greater region will be virtually encyclopedic, as will their repertoire of survival skills. They are the Yodas and Mr. Miyagis of prepping. They will have grown beyond such petty concerns as civil unrest and cataclysmic weather events.
Nothing short of true end-of-world or end-of-society grade events garners their interest. These people will be truly ready for nuclear war, major asteroid or meteor impacts, intense solar storms and other global or national-level threats.
They will know all essential survival skills as intimately as breathing. They will also have mastered or be in the process of mastering major recovery and rebuilding skills, the kind necessary for the continuation of civilization, or at least a semblance thereof. Things like mass-production farming, proper construction, metalworking and other such skill sets.
In any survival group, they are invariably The Savior, and in a historical context they will be the ones who help bring communities, or at least groups of other survivors, back from the brink of annihilation.
Level 5 Equipage and Planning List:
- Food, 2,000 cals./day for each adult,1 year supply +
- Water, sealed, 1 Gal./day for each adult for hygiene and drinking 1 year supply +
- Multiple dwellings on private land, with hardened bunker or shelter.
- Multiple fully equipped bug-out vehicles
- Extremely remote BOL: fully furnished, equipped and maintained, with onsite water and renewable power generation
- Complete material preparation: enormous stockpiles of everything above, plus equipment and provision for sustainment livestock or crops, long-term overhaul of vehicles, harvesting of lumber, minerals and more.
Notes: For most of us, this will only ever be a dream. Even with a lifetime of preparation the cost in both coin and manpower to build, supply and maintain a private retreat or compound for a large group of people will be far greater than what we can muster,
But for the extraordinarily motivated, very wealthy or exceptionally funded, a self-contained if small community, far, far beyond the reach of most other survivors will likely be the crown jewel in their life’s work.
Readiness is not a hard and fast label, a hat or merit badge you get to hang on your head or pin to your shirt once you have arbitrarily checked off a list of supplies and skills.
No, readiness is equal parts exercise in steady discipline and journey, one that you will never truly finish. On that path, though, you will grow and evolve from the equivalent of a helpless baby to a capable and confident survivor, ready and willing to tackle anything that comes your way.
Like a lot of things, you won’t feel those changes happening, but should you look back on where you started from your lofty perch attained a few years down the road and many hours of dedicated practice, you’ll be stunned to see how far you climbed the ladder of preparation.
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.