11 Mistakes and Goofs That Every Prepper Should Avoid

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We have all done it – made a mistake with our preps that was either a stupid use of our time, a waste of our money, or both.  The good news is that with a couple of years of prepping experience behind you, you will begin to recognize those things that are worthwhile and those that are folly.

I say this from personal experience.  This year I have completely overhauled my bug out bag, started over with my pocket survival kit and EDC, and have shifted my focus on food storage from anything and everything, to a more select group of products that are good tasting and simple to prepare.

11 Mistakes & Goofs That Every Prepper Should Avoid | Backdoor Survival

And here is the big one: I recognize that while it is important to grow food, for some of us, growing enough to sustain ourselves is impossible due to space, climate, or other factors.  It is far more reasonable, for example, for some of us to focus on herbs and especially medicinal plants.

Fortunately, it is rare that any one person will make all of the mistakes in this list, but chances are you have made one or two.  Check them out; they are in no particular order.

11 Prepper Mistakes and Goofs

1.  Creating a 3 Day Kit and ignoring the long term

The government, the media, and the Red Cross have been promoting the 3-day kit for so long that it is safe to say that the term “3 day kit” is now common vernacular.  Not surprisingly, the 3-Day Kit has also become a marketing phenomena.

The good news is that the more that people jump onto the 3 day kit bandwagon, the better for the rest of us.  That is three days we will not have to reach out and help them.

On the other hand, something as simple as a winter power outage can last far longer than three days.  And a cyber-attack, pandemic, or earthquake?  Two weeks, a month,or even a year of emergency supplies would be much better.

2.  Not knowing how to use your gear

Who hasn’t been guilty of getting out that combination battery, wind-up, and solar emergency radio and forgetting to use it?  (There is a little doo-dad inside of mine that has to be switched over to change modes.)

Or how about the Sun Oven?  If it sits in the box and never gets used, how will you know how to place it in the sun to cook your food or boil your water when the sun is the only source of power you have.

Similarly, do you have copies of your gear manuals tucked away in case you need them?  Storing them on a laptop or flash drive is a great idea but only if you have some way to power your devices when the grid goes down.

3.  Failing to learn how to cook using food storage items

This is another way of saying “not knowing how to cook from scratch”.  Most of us store bulk foods to supplement our freeze dried food.  We would be broke if we didn’t.

Do you know how to cook rice and beans?  How about making a soup or stew without opening a single can?  As you plan your food storage, keep your habits in mind and if you don’t already scratch cook, at least learn the basics.

4.  Having a comprehensive first aid kit but not knowing basic first aid skills

Having a robust first aid kit (FAK) is a given as is having a supply of emergency medicines.  But what about knowing CPR?  Or cleaning and dressing an open wound that is bleeding profusely?

Many communities offer free or low cost classes on first aid.  Now might be a good time to check them out.

5.  Not keeping your set of emergency documents up to date

This is probably one of the most common mistakes and is one that I am guilty of.  It takes quite a bit of work to gather the documents, scan or copy them, and store them in your designated spot.  In my case it is on a flash drive on my survival key ring.

A good time to go through this process of updating might be the annual switch to daylight savings or whatever date you set aside to change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

While you are at it, think about storing current pictures of family members and pets as well.  You just never know when they will be needed to help locate loved ones following a disaster or disruptive event.

6.  Putting together plans to bug-out in the wilderness when, in fact, your bug-in plans are incomplete

I have been known to get on my soapbox over this one but come on!  Isn’t it plain old common sense to stay put in your own home if  you can?  That is where your food, water, and medical supplies are, along with emergency sanitation supplies, flashlights, clothing and almost everything else you might need.

Sure, do make a contingency plan for evacuation purposes but do not ignore your bug in plan.  Unless your home is not safe, plan to shelter in place at home rather than take your chances in the wilderness.

7.  Not inventorying your stuff!

You are walking around the local outdoor emporium and see a fantastic deal on tactical knives.  Great, you can never have too many knives.  Unless, of course, you are spending money on your 5th knife but do not have a portable lantern.

See what I mean?  You should keep a list of what you have and what you need so you do not accidentally spend money where you do not need to do so.

8.  Storing all of your preps in one location

This is tough for many especially if you only have one home and do not have close relatives or friends where you could stash some stuff.  Still, see if you can put together a suitcase or duffle bag with some emergency items and store them at your office or at someone else’s home.

Set up a barter: I will store yours if you will store mine.  That sort of thing.

If an alternate location is not practical, consider storing items at various locations around your home.  Not everything needs to be on shelves in the basement.  Spread things out so that if the basement gets flooded, you still have dry items in the upstairs bedroom.  Use your imagination and don’t forget to do the very best you can to package everything so it is resistant to moisture and pests.

9.  Feeling smug in thinking your prepping journey is over

I have been prepping for close to 6 years and believe me, there is still so much I want and need to do.  Let me re-phrase that a bit.  There is much that I want to refine and improve so I am better at this business of prepping.

The risks you prepared for last year may not be the same risks you would prepare for today.  You have done a personal risk assessment, right?  If not, think about doing so now.  While you are at it, be honest about your health, your finances, and your ability to get by for an extended period on your own.

Let me break it to you.  After doing a personal risk assessment, you will no longer feel smug.

10.  Throwing comfort to the wind

There is no reason you need to treat prepping as your own personal reality show.  In most cases, surviving with bare bone basics will not be necessary if you do a bit of advance planning.  As you set things aside, consider basic comfort items such as flannel sheets, grooming supplies, and chocolate.  Heck, even some M&Ms or hard candies will be unbelievably comforting following a disruptive event.

11.  Believing everything you read on the Internet

Check your sources and use common sense.  If something seems off, investigate before taking what you read at face value.  That includes what your read here on this site.  I do my best to be credible but honestly?  Sometimes even I make mistakes and have to backtrack based on new research and knowledge.

Use your head and you should be fine.

The Final Word

This list was compiled last month on my birthday.  I tend to get reflective on that day, and came up with this list as I was thinking through some of my own prepping mistakes and goofs.  After the fact, and after this article was mostly done, a light bulb went off.  Haven’t I covered this ground before?

The answer is not exactly but close.  If this is a topic that interests you, check out Are You Guilty of These Prepper Mistakes? and 14 Common Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs.

Have you made some of these mistakes?  Or have your mistakes been different?  One thing I have learned is that we all learn from the mistakes of others.  Curious minds want to know!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Bargain Bin:  Below, for your consideration, are items mentioned in this article plus a few of my personal favorites.

iRonsnow Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio, LED Flashlight, Smart Phone Charger & Power Bank: This $20 unit has it all in one portable package.  It can be also be powered using 3 AAA batteries.  This is a great value.

Kingston Digital DataTraveler Flash Drive: I much prefer these metalized flash drives because the ring will not break.  Been there, done that.  These flash/thumb drives have really come down in price and are great for storing important documents.

Sunferno Flintstone Portable Solar Panel with Rechargeable Battery Pack:  This sturdy solar power pack is lightweight and small enough to be used in an EDC kit.  I especially like that it has 2 USB ports.

Tac Force TF-705BK Tactical Assisted Opening Folding Knife 4.5-Inch Closed: This is a great knife that is currently priced at about $7 with free shipping.  Not only that, it is ranked as the #1 best seller at Amazon in both the camping and hunting knives categories.  The reviews raved about this knife so I bought one, used it, and and can recommend it.  See The Inexpensive Tac-Force Speedster Outdoor Knife.

Note:  the price can vary by color so if you are not particular, scroll through the colors and safe a couple of bucks.

Ultra Bright LED Lantern – Collapsible:  This nifty lantern uses 30 different LEDS and is powered by 3 AA batteries, including rechargeables.  Instead of a switch, you turn it on by extending the lantern from its collapsed condition.  With a lifetime warranty and over 1,350 close to perfect ratings, I can see why this is popular.  I love mine.

BIC Classic Lighters (12): A dozen full size BIC lighters at a bargain price with free shipping. Don’t forget to test them to ensure they work!

Lavender Essential Oil:  This is the Swiss army knife of essential oils. My favorite lavender oil is from Spark Naturals.  Enjoy a 10% discount with code BACKDOORSURVIVAL.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter:  Too large for a pocket kit but important to have with you is the Lifestraw Personal Water Filter.  At only 2 ounces (in weight), the LifeStraw is suitable for a backpack or bug out bag.  It is easy to use and requires no chemicals to remove a  minimum of 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria.  For more information, see my LifeStraw review.


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11 Mistakes and Goofs That Every Prepper Should Avoid — 26 Comments

  1. Another big mistake I see all of the time is people stocking up on vegetable, fruit and herb seeds and never trying to grow what they are storing. Having lots of seeds is great, but if you can’t grow anything, they are useless.

    I recommend that you grow a few each season, to A) make sure they will grow in your zone, and B) that you know what you are doing, how to take care of them etc.

    Gardening can be work, and will be very hard, if you do not know what you are doing. Add in the stress of a bad situation (think shtf), and it gets even harder.

    • “Having lots of seeds is great, but if you can’t grow anything, they are useless.”

      I wouldn’t go that far. Afterall, – you – might find them useful, and you might trade for them? Or, someone just like you, anyway. Or, someone just like you might help them grow? Or, some old person in a wheelchair or somethin’ who currently feels useless but knows How? Sheet like that.

      Otherwise, I agree with you lock, stock and barrel.

  2. Some great tips here. Thanks Gaye!
    While I keep almost all of my food in the basement, with only a small portion in the kitchen pantry, 98% of my basement food storage is in sealed cans, or in mylar bags stored in 5 gallon buckets. That way if my basement floods I can wash the cans with disinfecting solution (10% bleach solution) and relabel using markers. Upstairs I keep my emergency blankets since they aren’t impacted by summer heat where if I tried to store food in the bedrooms it would be at risk from summer temperatures. But as I write this I realize I need to move my water filter and water BOBs out of the basement and upstairs so they don’t get impacted by a flood. Thanks for making me think of this!
    Basic first aid gear I store on all levels of the house, so if I need something I don’t have to go running up or down stairs. And I keep small first aid kits in both cars. although no medications because of heat worries.
    For emergency documents, I scan them and upload them to my smartphone. That way I have instant access as long as my phone has power, and it’s pretty easy to recharge a phone from all sorts of power options: cars, computers, and small solar panel kits like the GoalZero or the Sunjack systems.

    • “That way if my basement floods I can wash the cans with disinfecting solution (10% bleach solution) and relabel using markers.”

      I like your positive attitude – but – To me, that sounds like a complete nightmare.

      Also, a thought I picked up from ericpeter’s blog: what if the flooding never stops? The second mate of that ship mentioned how sewer systems would backup during SHTF. ….Been thinking about that ever since I read it.
      A city near me has Massive problems when it rains. A simple rain. In my mind I’m compounding that and applying it to my city. …Whoa. I hope THAT never happens.
      A door in the bsmt never looked so good.

  3. Speaking of making mistakes here’s one of mine. One of the first things I ‘put back’ (as my Mom use to say in the fall before my Dad was out of work due to bad weather at the quarry), was a couple of extra bottles of vegetable oil. Well, other stuff got in front of them on the shelf and pretty soon they were 3 or 4 years old. Yes, they were rancid when I opened them. Taught me a good lesson on keeping track of what you have and using it before it goes bad. They are marked ‘not to eat’ and are now used to fuel some lanterns outside when we have cookouts.
    So if we ever have to depend on what we have on our shelves at home; we’d better know it is safe to eat. Date and rotate your food stuffs to keep them fresh.

    • I just rotated my canned foods and such over the holiday weekend. When you start getting busy it will get away from you. I was able to donate some goods coming up on best buy date to local pantry and of course we prepared some of these items in upcoming meals. I did have to pitch about 8 or 9 cans, so I am getting better at not loosing too much. The goal is not to loose anything! We try very hard to stay abreast of the expire dates and restocking the shelves as frequently as we can.

        • The cans I tossed were almost a year old and had been pushed behind something else. These were cream soups and I just don’t like to spend my free time hugging or sitting on the toilet. Everything else I will go over a bit depending on what it is. The article you have outlined above is a good read.

          • “The cans I tossed were almost a year old and had been pushed behind something else.”

            O.M.G. I’m sorry, you’re just not going to make it when SHTF.

            But, “These were cream soups and I just don’t like to spend my free time hugging or sitting on the toilet.”

            Those canned goods aren’t the reason, Honey.
            Not by a long shot.

            • I’m sorry but in good times I agree with Deborah. Clam chowder that is more than a year out of date gets tossed from my pantry because it’s better safe than sorry – at least in today’s environment of plenty. If the SHTF then I’ll sniff it, cook it and taste it carefully as long as the can hasn’t expanded which indicates decomposition or worse.
              No need to risk food poisoning now when it’s cheaper to throw out a can, then lose a day’s work because you’re sick. Of course if you’ve got an iron constitution, then you can make your own judgement as to how out of date is safe or dangerous.

      • Why would you donate food you wouldn’t eat?? Bad manners!!!
        Think hungry unemployed families have tougher stomachs?
        Reread Gaye’s comment about expired foods.

        • The dates were still good just coming close to date on can. I periodically donate some items to the food pantry in our area when a request is published in our paper. No food pantry will accept anything that is past date stamped on box or cans.

  4. Dear Gaye,


    Out here in tornado country one of the prep’s people forget is to have digging tools; full size shovels, pick, fire ax, sledge hammer, heavy duty pry bar and saws in their basements.

    Sure, you might be safe in the basement, but during post-disaster rescue ops we have found individuals, families and even multiple families trapped by rubble and no way to cut through or escape without outside help.

    God Bless and may the Christmas Season smile of you and yours and all your many followers!!!

    Orrin M. Knutson
    Peace Officer Retired
    Author, Survival 101 – How to Bug Out and Survive The first 72 Hours

    • Thank you for the kind words, Orrin. Evaluating and preparing for the risks inherent to your own area is sooooo important. Much more important than having a bug out retreat in the wilderness. In my opinion, of course.

  5. I keep several five gallon gas cans filled and ready for use. I don’t put any gas stabilizers in them, but I have stabilizers on hand. At the end of each quarter, I fill the cars with the gas from these cans, and go and get fresh. If the SHTF, and it looks like more time would be needed for the gas to keep, then and only then would I add the stabilizers to the gas.

    • RE: “then and only then would I add the stabilizers to the gas.”

      Yeah, I did something like that too, until this year. This year, I get to find out what happens when you use Summer blended gas in a snow-thrower.

      Anyway, another thought runnin’ round my brain as of late is a mistake Gaye’s friend did, “Yes, you can use oxygenators and all that stuff. I tried that and I ended up throwing out all the food. It was rancid. I processed $1,200.00 of food at a local church facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. I threw it out one year later. It was a volunteer church group that did not know how many oxygenators to put in each #10 can.” – http://foodstoragemoms.com/2015/11/dehydrating-food-for-long-term/

      I should write a song, a prepper song, “Brown lemons,… black tomatoes,… and burst cans”. I could call it, ‘Crunchy Rice’.

      Or, ‘Crunchy Rice, Better Than No Rice At All’. But that’s not got the same ring to it. Especially this time of year.

      • Myself I always use more absorbers than are recommended Most recommend 1500-2000 cc for a 5 gl bucket so I use about 3000 cc. Absorbers are cheap and I have way more rice and beans than I can eat or rotate stored so I don’t want to finally get into them and find them spoiled,

  6. All my can goods are stocked and stored on wire racks that roll cans from back to front as used. Thus front can is always oldest, and back can, where you add cans, the newest. I also use felt tip marker to show expire/use by date on boxed goods.

    • I need to organize my food in a similar manner. I started prepping about a year or so ago, but it took months of talk and giving my wife articles to read, but I finally got her on board with buying a couple of extra cans/items each time she went shopping. I now have an overflowing panty that is disorganized. I’m sure I have items approaching their “best buy” date. Part of my “problem” is the size of our pantry area…too easy to cram things in and forget about them or forget where they got placed. We have an adequate 3-month supply, but nothing yet for long-term storage…that seems hard to get figured out (what to store, where to store, quantity to store, “best” storage method, etc.).

      A few things I have figured out:
      1) magnesium + steel + ferrite striker bar are worthless to me. I’m better off storing BIC lighters and boxes of paper matches. My arthritic fingers cannot scrape that stuff off and I clumsily spill the tiny shavings. I have two and will likely barter them when the time comes.
      2) LED lanterns vary greatly in quality and endurance. I bought several brands and even though they claim the same lumens some are better and brighter than others. Some are flimsy and have broken and are now duct-taped. Others are poorly designed and have to be tipped away from your face to be used effectively. Most are made out of plastic and can’t withstand the “drop test”. I have used four varieties for camping and they all get used regularly. I won’t recommend a particular brand, but I do not recommend the Coleman (the one i bought is housed in a red plastic case).
      3) Fluorescent lanterns are better for general illumination than LED-types. Unfortunately, you can not often find replacement bulbs and, unfortunately, the cases are just as flimsy as the LED variety. If you set them down “gently” each time, they work.
      4) Ten-year D cells don’t always live up to their name. In a 16-pack, I typically find at least one that is below operating voltage. Now, before going to the trouble of loading 4 new cells into the lantern I use one of those cheap (red) multi-testers from Harbor Freight to ensure each battery indicates slightly above its rated 1.5 volts. In my experience, if any of the 4 batteries indicates 1.25 volts (or thereabouts) the lantern won’t turn on.

      We also store some food items at our summer retreat, but there I put all the items that expire in 2015, 2016, and 2017 in separate boxes. Since it is not a great amount of foodstuffs, and the boxes are relatively shallow, it isn’t hard to find something to eat (combining the “use first” with “use what is available”).

  7. I didn’t include Jerry’s comment about resetting Gold prices making Shanghai the central hub, but here’s a couple of interesting and amusing comments from usawatchdog I thought I’d pass along to hold you over until the News Flash gets up and going here:

    Mary Casey 11/30/2015 •

    Mr. Martenson made a comment about California earthquakes…..that only 3% of the population is prepared. I would have found that hard to believe until we experienced one of our worse ice storms this week. (Entire state declared a State of Emergency.)

    During this crisis, I have followed the local electric company’s FaceBook page and it is very disconcerting how unprepared people seem to have been. People wrote, “the electric company knew days in advance the ice was coming and THEY did not prepare.”……and, “I pay THEM to handle problems like this”…..and, “This is not the Stone Age, this should not happen”. All I could think of was Katrina and the New Orleans’ Superdome.

    I understand they are extremely frustrated, but I just wonder how the populous would respond to the type of “collapse” discussed on this website.

    I think the FaceBook comment, “the electric company knew days in advance the ice was coming and THEY did not prepare.” perfectly demonstrates Mr. Martenson’s approach…..”the ‘Crash Course’ was the problem definition….but, “the book, Prosper, is the solution space.” Some saw the ice storm coming, but seemingly did not prepare (mentally, physically or spiritually); expecting the electric company to make it somehow disappear…..(normalcy bias?)

    Btw….I did notice Mr. Martenson’s website offered information on emergency/disaster preparation…..most of it I’m sure most USAWATCHERDOGers already know, but it’s a good review.

    Yes, my electric was only out 4 hours; but my closest loved ones are among those who will be lucky to have power by this Thursday. And as prepared as I thought I was, I now know there is a lot more for me to do.

    (On the other hand, I saw many people helping others to remove trees, clean ice off cars, checking on each other and offering assistance.)

    Mike R 12/01/2015 •

    When somebody speaks of a ‘credit collapse’ , I don’t think anyone can possibly speculate or define what that possibly might be, or how much, or where, or really anything specific enough to be meaningful. The problem with this type of hysteria and hand-waving, is that without specific definitions, or possible implications, it leaves any listener up in the air, grasping at ghosts, and no real solution. So all it does is provoke anxiety, as you can’t possibly prepare for any potential threat or ‘enemy’ that you don’t know anything more about than someone’s vague notion. Further, Its impossible to prepare for every single scenario, that anyone can imagine, let alone even be possible for worst case, as no one has a clue what worst case is, or will be. If any reasonable business leader such as a CEO attempted to prepare for such vague notions as mentioned here, the CEO would be ruled insane, and the board would summarily fire him. Instead of doing this scene here, listening to what will almost assuredly turn out to be in hindsight, false prophets, and making your day a nightmare, why not live each day as if its your last, live in the moment, enjoy it and your time with your family, or work colleagues, and make the best of THAT MOMENT ? I’d be shocked if at least 75% of the listeners here, weren’t either seeing a shrink or taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications of some sort. Its not a knock, but seriously people, try taking a ‘chill pill’ (placebo and call it that) like a Vitamin C, or have yourself a glass of wine, at the end of the day.

    Greg Hunter 12/01/2015 •

    Mike R,
    To compare Martenson’s analysis with “hysteria and hand-waving” is link comparing a Vincent van Gogh painting to a page in a child’s coloring book.

  8. I could feel my face turning red as I read through the list. And at first I said, “OK, right after Christmas”…but in light of the news, today I’ve moved these items up to the top of my “to do” list. Thanks for the nudge.

  9. Hey Ms. Gaye,
    Happy belated birthday. I really enjoy your site. It is very obvious that you have and do put a great deal of work into this location.

    I was brought up as a poor country boy. Our family did all the old-fashioned methods of living. We heated with wood, canned food, did the garden and had a well, killed pigs/hogs, and had a cow for milk and butter. Oh yeah, we also had a two-seater for comfort and had that luxury until I graduated from high school. I still appreciate the information you try to get out to upper level folks. It takes me back in time.

    Yours in survival,

    Bobby Murray (ex Special Forces Nam vet)

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