Getting started as a newbie prepper is an intimidating undertaking. You have made the choice to live life on your own terms as the one solely responsible for taking care of both yourself and the people that are important to you, no matter what happens.
That is quite the leap of faith when you think about it! But now the real work begins: once you really take ownership over all aspects of readiness in your life the sheer amount of things you have to prepare for, learn about and do is nothing short of bewildering.
Even if you don’t know where square one is when it comes to prepping, I will bet you know that approaching anything in a scatterbrain, haphazard way is no way to prepare at all.
Just like everything else in life, the place to begin is at the beginning and from there you take it one step at a time.
As it turns out, if you take care of the fundamentals almost everything else will take care of itself. Think of this as your new prepper jumpstart program!
In this article I’m going to cover six fundamental action items for prepping beginners, and ten things you should get for your survival stash before you do anything else.
Back to Basics!
If you have jumped into prepping with both feet, chances are this article is not the first one you have come across on the topic.
Chances are you have already noticed how easy it is to get off into the weeds with prepping, and by that I mean worried about truly cataclysmic events like world ending meteor impacts, zombie uprisings, gamma ray bursts and other apocalyptic if farfetched events.
Some folks that are preparing for these events are doing so with their tongues firmly in their cheeks.
Others are not, with their reasoning being if you are ready for the worst of all possible situations; you are by default prepared for all the lesser ones.
Maybe, or maybe not. At any rate, what I would advise any newbie prepper to do is the focus on the “small” scale, everyday and close-to-home disasters that are still no less capable of killing you or ruining your life.
I’m talking about typical natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, floods and so forth.
I’m also referencing man-made disasters that are no less hair-raising, things like terror attacks, major blackouts, serious societal unrest, rioting and so forth.
If we’re all being honest, you are far more likely, statistically, to fall victim to any one of the above common day-to-day disasters and emergencies then any dramatic, fantastic apocalyptic event.
Don’t let the drama and mystique of “big bang” prepping distract you from your objective: staying safe!
Cover As Many Bases As You Can for Minimal Effort
At this phase of your prepping journey, you should seek to cover as many “bases” of readiness as possible with as little effort invested as possible.
This is not a call to be lazy; far from it, I’m only advocating that you spend your time and energy on the basic skills that will be useful in a wide variety of potential disasters and emergencies.
Starting out, it is far better to be a prepping generalist than a specialist. A specialist plan relies on a very particular set of circumstances to be useful or to have any value at all.
A generalist’s plan is flexible, adaptable and while it might not be optimal, you will find that most of the time an 80% “good enough” response to a problem is more than adequate to deal with what you encounter almost all of the time.
This has the additional benefit of keeping your momentum high. You’ll be taking big, strong steps into the world of prepping, getting done the things you need to get done quickly and clearing your readiness checklist in big bites.
In comparatively little time, you’ll be far more ready than you were before you set out on this journey, and it won’t take you years or even months to do it!
Now, there are some parts of prepping you just can’t master overnight. Many classic survival skills require tons of practice and a big investment of time.
I’m not telling you you’re going to master them “with one weird trick” or any such hokum, because that would not be true.
But aside from the grind of practicing new skills, much of prepping is made up of lifestyle changes, nothing more than decisions to do things differently.
It is the giving up of older, bad habits and the adoption of new, good habits.
Then, of course, in the classic American tradition, the other part of preparation is having the right tools, the right gear and the right supplies to help you make it through the situation with life and limb intact.
Having the right stuff really does make a difference, as almost any of us can go out and get the things we need and then learn how to use them.
Think of it this way: if the situation at hand calls for a parachute, and you don’t have one, nothing else will do. There are some other situations besides freefall that require material solutions in the same way.
In the next section I’ll provide you with six things you must do to get ready as a new prepper before you do anything else.
6 Things You Should Do ASAP as a New Prepper
The following procedures and lifestyle changes will go a long way to getting you prepared for most conceivable disasters.
You’ll notice how they have a sort of synergistic effect with one another and no matter what situation you are facing, from a car wreck to a tornado, you’ll be better off if you implement them than if you don’t.
With one exception (which should be obvious) you can easily implement all of these action steps in a month. For real hard-chargers, you could get them all in gear in a week’s time.
Physical fitness is imperative for survival no matter what kind of situation you are facing. Strength, stamina and agility will often do more for your chances than a mountain of high-end survival gear.
In fact, all the gear in the world won’t be worth a hoot if you can’t carry someone who is injured up or down a few flights of stairs or sprint flat-out for a quarter mile to get away from danger.
Even mundane survival procedures like a bug-out on foot will require a considerable amount of physical fitness to carry off in good order.
Bugging out entails hauling your survival pack, called a bug-out bag or BOB, along a predetermined route to a safe place that you have scouted and designated for the purpose.
Your average bug out bag will easily weigh more than 25 pounds, and many weigh upwards of 50 pounds. If you weren’t training and practicing to efficiently move that kind of load at speed while on foot you’re cruising for an injury!
This is obviously the element of your beginning survival plan that you can’t just will into existence or buy over the counter.
You’ll have to put in the work and make the lifestyle changes to accomplish this one, but the return on investment is basically infinite.
If you were already in decent shape, adding in the exercise regimen to improve your strength and stamina won’t be that big of a deal.
But if you’re like most Americans who have a substantial “auxiliary fuel reserve” around your midsection, you’ve got some work to do.
The only advantage that thing will give you is a longer survival time during famine. All in all, a bad trade.
Survival situations will not suffer much in the way of excuses. This has nothing to do with vanity. You’ll either have the capability, or you won’t and if you don’t when you need it it will be way too late to implement it.
Learn First Aid
There is almost no end to the variety and kinds of injuries you can sustain in day-to-day life just from accident, to say nothing of natural disasters and man-made mayhem.
If you are completely dependent upon doctors, EMTs and other medical professionals to stop the leaking and put you back together, that is a major hole in your sphere of personal readiness.
You should take it upon yourself to learn at a minimum basic first aid, and preferably comprehensive first aid along with a little bit of trauma care.
Surviving a disaster, or even just an emergency situation like a car wreck, will seldom be pretty. Many of these events will extract a toll in flesh that is quite grisly and easily life-threatening.
You must also keep in mind that disasters will disrupt or overwhelm the typical emergency first responders we rely on for taking care of these sorts of things in kinder times.
The watchword for preppers is that you must become your own first responder if you want to ensure you have a good outcome.
That means you should learn CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and how to treat all kinds of bumps, scrapes and burns. You should know how to deal with hypothermia, heat stroke and various kinds of shock.
You should learn to recognize common medical ailments brought on by diabetes, seizure and mental illness.
That’s just for starters. Once you have the basics under your belt, you should move on to diagnosing and treating penetrating and lacerating injuries, blunt force trauma, head and neck injuries and other common but somewhat more traumatic wounds and injuries.
Think of it another way: if you carry a gun or a knife for self defense shouldn’t you know how to deal with wounds created by those implements if for no other reason than to help yourself if an accidental injury is inflicted by either one?
Statistically, you have more to fear from an accidental injury from either then from one inflicted on you in anger by another person.
Medical skills will do very little good without the right tools unless it is a minor injury.
And in the course of your training and education you’ll learn what you need to have with you in order to successfully intervene when someone else is injured or wounded.
Get those supplies, put them in a first aid kit and keep it with you, even if it is a small, pocket-sized minimalist rig.
Practice Your Bug-Out Plan
You’ll hear bugging out referenced often in the context of prepping. Bugging out, or to bug out, simply means you escape and evacuate ahead of an approaching disaster or in the aftermath of one if trying to live through the situation that it creates is untenable.
You can bug out by foot or by vehicle, but bugging out is always (ideally) accompanied by a bug-out bag, which is your combination supply chest, medicine cabinet, shelter and toolbox.
Just as important as having a bug-out bag is having a bug-out location, or BOL. You should have at least one and preferably multiple BOL’s so you have the literal “greener pastures” to retreat to during an emergency.
This could be an alternate residence, an empty parcel of land that you own or have access to intending to camp on if you want to rough it, a faraway friend’s or relative’s house.
You don’t necessarily want to go “anywhere but here” as you must have assurances that your destination is going to be safe enough to receive you, but you get the idea.
One big part of bugging out is planning your routes. You must assume that any disaster will clog roads and even footpaths with debris and destruction and other evacuees which can slow you down or trap you preventing your escape.
For this reason it is imperative that you have multiple routes committed to memory to reach any particular BOL with.
Once you have plotted and planned your routes, it is time to practice them so that, rain or shine, you can find your way to safety.
Create an EDC Kit
“EDC: is another concept you’ll hear discussed regularly and prepping circles. EDC stands for EveryDay Carry, and specifically refers to the common items that preppers will take with them when they leave the house and the act of carrying them.
This is usually stuff that will fit in their pockets and perhaps on their belts. These items are intended to help them get through their day and also be prepared for various emergencies large and small.
One prepper’s EDC kit might consist of nothing more than a lighter and a pocket knife. Another might consist of a pistol, spare ammunition, compact trauma kit, smartphone and more.
The sky really is the limit when it comes to assembling your own EDC kit, but you should take care that the items are useful, purpose-driven and able to fit your lifestyle; both your typical daily attire and your work or recreational habits.
Generally, you won’t be clicking on some big “Bat Belt” full of gadgets and calling that an EDC kit, though plenty of preppers do choose to expand their EDC kits through the use of luggage.
Small backpacks, messenger bags or purses are typically employed for the task.
Common EDC items are various forms of multi-tool or knife, often some first aid supplies, self-defense implements (lethal or non-lethal) and occasionally support items like backup power cells for batteries for electronics or ultra compact “just in case” survival kits for those that live in more remote areas.
Done well, thoughtfully chosen items can form your first line of defense against the unforeseen incidents and emergencies that sometimes happen, and do so in a way that ensures you are just another face in the crowd.
But most importantly of all, remember that they won’t work if you don’t carry them!
Your EDC kit must be as much a part of your daily comings and goings as your car keys and wallet, otherwise they might as well be on the moon.
Fortify Your Home
Most residences are frighteningly easy to break into and vulnerable to home invasion, which is an increasingly common.
In a home invasion the assailants plan to use violence of action to enter your home forcefully and rapidly before locating the occupants and subduing them.
This will allow them to go about their business, whatever that is, without fear of interference from you or police that will shortly be summoned.
By far the most common way that scumbags enter a home has either by kicking the front or back door or breaking in through a window that is left open.
You don’t have to turn your house into Fort Knox to drastically decrease the chances the bad guys will be able to enter your house unawares, or do so before you can rally to the defense.
Simple home hardening procedures include upgrading locksets on all exterior doors, replacing all hinges and screws with stronger, longer versions that are more resistant to kicking, and installing locks on all windows.
Anything that increases the time it takes for the bad guys to get in increases the chances that they will break off their attack.
It also correspondingly increases the amount of time you have to get ready to defend your home and family.
More advanced and slightly more in-depth home hardening options include the installation of alarm systems, either DIY or monitored, and the reshaping of your landscape to make your home look less appealing to potential invaders.
If you really want spice things up, you can plant thorny, entangling plants beneath each window and alongside entryway doors to make it harder for the bad guys to get in.
You can always do more when it comes to home security, but these simple steps are effective and completely within the reach of almost any homeowner.
Make a 72-Hour Survival Stockpile
Major agencies like FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security strongly recommended that all citizens have, at the minimum, a 72-hour survival kit on hand at all times.
This simple kit and the comparatively few items that it contains are more than enough to help you weather almost any major disaster that could befall you, and will form the core of any prepper’s survival stash.
Your 72-hour survival kit will cover all prerequisites for human survival, including shelter, food, water and more.
It might not seem like much, but when you consider that the average citizen doesn’t even have enough supplies in their home and pantry to last 24 hours in the aftermath of a major disaster, you can really see how unprepared most people are.
The good news is that this isn’t going to be you. The next section will cover all the things you need to gather for inclusion in your 72-hour survival kit, both type and quantity. In combination with the skills and procedures you have implemented above, this kit will complete your transformation from unprepared bystander to real prepper.
10 Items for Your 72 Hour Survival Kit
All of the items below that you should include in your survival kit will be helpful in pretty much any situation and any disaster you can think of.
That is because they are all beneficial for taking care of all survival prerequisites necessary to support human life.
No matter where you live and no matter who you are you can rely on these items to help get you through a survival situation.
1. Water Supply
For prolonged survival, very little is more important than water and clean, safe drinking water is always a premium commodity in any survival situation.
Disasters have a way of compromising public water supplies and contaminating them with all kinds of nasty stuff, meaning even if you have pressure you cannot just flip on the faucet in your sink or tub to get clean water.
And speaking of tubs, you’ll also need some water for bathing, not just drinking. Failing to keep clean is a fast track to all kinds of debilitating skin conditions which can turn into major infections.
You don’t get to get rid of bath time entirely just because you are roughing it in the aftermath of a disaster! Generally you want one gallon of water on hand per person that is in your group or family.
Mind you that is per day, so a 72-hour supply for a family of four would be 12 gallons of water. Also if you live in a very hot environment you will need more water than what is prescribed.
There are all kinds of ways to store mass quantities of water, but starting out it will probably be easiest for you if just buy the large gallon jugs of bottled water and stash them someplace cool and dark.
Start adding a couple of extra gallons each time you go to the grocery store and you’ll have your survival stash in no time!
Our bodies need fuel in order to function, and that fuel in our case is food.
It is true that most people can survive quite a while with absolutely no food since our body stores fat and will ultimately turn to consuming excess muscle in order to keep us alive.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have food on hand to keep your energy levels up and just as importantly your morale high.
The business of survival is usually tough stuff. If it isn’t tough, you’re camping, not surviving. They’ll be plenty to do in the wake of a major disaster, and keeping your energy level high will help make the work easier.
Also just as important, missed meals and decreasing energy levels will start to affect you mentally at a time when you need to be at your sharpest. Hence, keeping your calorie levels up is also important for good decision-making.
Your average adult needs anywhere from 2,000 to 2,200 calories a day at an average activity level for optimal function. You can ration this and get by on less for quite a while with very little ill effect except a grumbling tummy.
Note that if you are working extra hard or living a strenuous lifestyle while surviving you’ll need more calories than that otherwise you’ll start losing weight.
You have many options for storing food, but you generally want shelf-stable items that will last for a long time with very little care and will also be easy to prepare with no extra steps.
Canned foods are popular standbys, as are MREs, but some preppers have become taken with dehydrated survival meals that only require a little bit of boiling water to prepare.
These foods last a very long time and take up little space compared to the other options which is appealing, just make sure you budget some extra water and have a way to heat it if you want to go with this plan.
3. Hygiene Items
Keeping clean is not just the stuff of polite society.
True, chances are you won’t be enjoying your normal shower and shave routine in the aftermath of a disaster, but keeping your body and mouth clean is important for prolonged survival.
Don’t listen to snake-eater types that tell you to save money and space by forgoing your hygiene kit.
An unwashed body will begin to stink in very short order. Aside from driving your family or other group members crazy, that is a sure sign that bacteria are multiplying on and doing their business on your skin.
If it goes on too much longer after the stinky phase, you start to suffer from rashes, fungal outbreaks and a whole host of other nastiness.
These comparatively minor conditions can give way to serious infections, serious enough but they can interfere with your survival tasks.
A small, basic hygiene kit and a little bit of extra water can prevent all of this. Include the usual stuff like toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, foot and body powder, deodorant and so forth.
A big economy pack of wet wipes will be useful for staying fresh and also for doing your “business”. Also don’t forget to include female care items for any ladies in the family.
4. Blankets, Pillows, Sleeping Bags
Believe it or not it is exposure, not dehydration, which is often the thing that will kill you the fastest in a survival situation.
Any disaster worth the name will inflict serious damage on the local power infrastructure, knocking down power lines, destroying substations and potentially breaking gas mains.
That means you will not be able to rely on the air conditioner or your furnace for heating and cooling anymore for the duration.
Without these modern contrivances, most homes are poorly insulated and very difficult to temperature control.
You’ll need to be prepared for that eventuality, and also the possibility you’ll be driven from your home entirely.
If you have to sleep outdoors, you’ll need to ensure that you can stay warm and dry when temperatures fall, especially at night.
The best way to handle this is with a good supply of lightweight emergency blankets, insulated sleeping bags and compact hiking pillows. Indoors or out, these items will help you regulate your body temperature.
Don’t think you can just bundle up with extra clothing and be okay. You might need serious insulation to survive the cold nights!
5. Lighting – Flashlights, Lanterns, etc.
No matter what you are dealing with, darkness will likely be a constant companion in the aftermath of a disaster.
Remember what I said about public works infrastructure and utilities being some of the first and most consistent losses in all kinds of disasters.
Your need for light, though, will not diminish and that means you have to provide it yourself.
Flashlights are the obvious choice here, having the best possible blend of characteristics: safety, compact size, handy form factor, output, runtime and portability.
Many preppers choose to carry flashlights as part of their EDC kit, but whether you do or not you should have a good supply of them at your home, also.
Another viable choice is an electric lantern, which is superior to a flashlight when you just need to light up a room or work area and go hands-free.
While most lanterns use large cell batteries, they tend to be very power efficient compared to flashlights, and that means your power will go farther. Another choice is headlamps.
Headlamps share much in common with flashlights, but as the name suggests are worn around the head so you can aim the light while keeping both hands-free.
All of these are viable choices for personal lighting but no matter which one you pick and keep on hand make sure you have plenty of fresh batteries to accompany them. They won’t do much good if you can’t turn them on!
Sturdy tarps are another superstar prepping item that are used for all kinds of things in survival situations.
At their most basic, you can use a tarp as a ground cover or as a patch to keep water from coming in through a busted roof. Ultimately you can use tarps to rig up simple tents, lean-tos and other shelters.
You might even have to do this inside your own home in order to make a smaller space that is easier to heat so it will remain habitable.
Any tarps you add to your survival kit should be lightweight, completely water impermeable and strong, with heavy-duty grommets that can withstand a good load.
Make sure you also toss a hank of sturdy cord or light rope in so you can securely rig up your tarp for any purpose.
7. Fire Extinguisher
Hundreds of thousands of homes are lost to fires every single year, and aside from being a persistent threat even when no other emergency is present, fires are a common feature in the aftermath of a disaster.
You’ll need to be prepared to be your own fireman if you want to hopefully save your home, or if it cannot be saved, to clear yourself an easy escape route through the blaze.
Any fire extinguisher you buy for home use should be ABC rated and sizable so you have plenty of extinguishing agent to work with in case the fire is well underway by the time you can access the extinguisher.
Make sure your fire extinguisher is serviced regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommended interval, and it is located somewhere in the home that is not likely to catch on fire; it won’t do you any good if it burns up right along with the fire.
If one fire extinguisher is good, two is better and three is even better than that.
Make sure you have multiple fire extinguishers of equivalent grade scattered throughout your house, so no matter where you are when a fire starts you’ll always have one close at hand.
8. Emergency Radio
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A hand-cranked NOAA emergency radio will allow you to get updates on the situation at large even when all other forms of communication fail, since radio is one of the most robust telecommunication systems still in service today.
These compact units are very handy for general preparation since they do not rely on any external power supply; so long as you’ve got the muscle and tenacity to keep cranking the handle the internal dynamo will charge the onboard battery.
Even better, the most modern examples of these units feature built-in USB charging ports so you can use the radio’s onboard battery and dynamo to slowly trickle charge your other portable electronic devices.
Some even have built-in flashlights to give you a tertiary backup option to your usual flash lights that are battery powered.
Staying on top of the disaster’s effects along with organized relief and rescue efforts is important if you don’t want to over- or under-react to the situation at hand.
9. Maps and Compass
You might have to bug out at some point before or after disaster, and if that happens you’ll need to know where you are going.
No matter how well you know the local area you must keep in mind the natural and man-made disasters will be very chaotic situations, very confusing.
Not for nothing, many disasters can completely alter the landscape, scouring away the typical landmarks we use to navigate even when we are barely paying attention.
In either of those situations, a map will remember what your mind might forget.
A compass along with the map will help you find your heading and keep you moving in the right direction. Include in your kit a standard road atlas, a map of your town or city and the surrounding area, and a topographical map of your region.
10. Personal Docs Package
Disasters have a funny way of screwing up all kinds of databases, both electronic and physical.
If you are turned into temporary refugees from a disaster, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will take your word for it on things when it comes to your identity and other pertinent documents.
Your only defense against this is to have copies, electronic or paper, of all your important personal docs, things like your driver’s license, passport, deeds, titles, credit card info and more.
Obviously you’ll need to take steps to protect this information. If you keep paper copies, make sure they are weatherproof and hidden someplace completely inaccessible in order to be overlooked even if the item containing them is stolen.
Perhaps a better option for most contingencies is a flash drive loaded with electronic files that you keep encrypted and password protected.
Most disasters, as it turns out, will not result in the end of the world.
If your home and much of your town and surrounding area are destroyed in a disaster having all the documents that verify you are who you say you are, and own what you say you own at your fingertips will be invaluable.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and the road to prepping mastery begins with the foundational preps discussed in this article.
Through a combination of correct procedures, lifestyle changes and keeping close to hand some necessary survival supplies, you can be ready to face the most common disasters that threaten the lives of citizens every single day.
Learn them, apply them and you’ll go from prepping neophyte to hardcore survivor 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.