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For this post, we are going to go back to the beginning. This is for those of you that are just starting out with prepping or thinking about what you need to do to put back for emergencies. A lot of you have been prepping for years, but you still may want to read this post and then add what I have missed in the comments! There are plenty of you that have been prepping far longer than I have been alive even if it wasn’t called prepping.
#1 Consider your water supply
Everyone should have a good water filter. In fact, everyone should have two. I recommend getting a bag style gravity filter like the Hydro Blu I reviewed last Fall. A Sawyer Mini with a squeeze bag for each person in the household would be ideal. This way everyone has a way to have potable water. I do have to say that in areas where water sources are super limited you can get water from just a trickle with a pump style filter like the Survivor Filter or MSR Sweetwater.
For more water filter information be sure to read “Ultimate Guide To The Best Survival Water Filters.”
A supply of food for emergencies is not as easy as it once was due to all the dietary restrictions and allergies. This takes some planning. I like that companies like Valley Food Storage have different sections on their site for various diets. They are very clear about what products contain. Of course, a lot of their foods are just a single ingredient so you can use them to cook and meet dietary restrictions. Valley is just an example I am familiar with, but you can see what I mean about how not getting a lot of premade entrees may be easiest if you have to stick to a certain diet. I cannot digest wheat or uncultured dairy products, so a lot of the Mac and Cheese and other prepper entrees are off limits to me, but I can buy a bunch of corn or rice macaroni and some dried cheese powder and make my version.
I talked a little bit about making meals with common prepper foods in my post “Best Prepper Recipe Ideas: What To Do With Stockpiled Food.”
It is smart to have at least a few weeks of food at all times. I actually think you need more like 6 months, but I realize that is an overwhelming number when you are first getting started prepping or if you live in a small space. At the same time, you can get food buckets for under $200 that are the size of a 7-gallon bucket that will last a single person for a month. Of course buckets in that price range are not going to be suitable for restricted diets.
#3 Warmth and shelter
If you live in a place with chilly or cold winters, then you need to consider how to keep warm if your first source of heat goes out. When the electricity goes out a lot of people are without heat. Some oil heaters have electric ignitions that are required to get any heat at all.
Some may be able to get away with bundling up in good winter clothing if temperatures are not too cold.
You want to avoid pipes freezing too if possible. There are a lot of heaters out there that can be helpful. Here are a few posts that may be useful to you when exploring back up heat sources like wood or kerosene.
We use wood to heat a lot in the winter here. It is nice to have central electric heat in case we need to be away on a rare occasion or when the temperatures dip into the teens outside. Wood doesn’t make sense for everyone though, Fuel can be challenging to store in limited spaces too. Electric heaters that plugin are useful if a boiler is broken or you run out of oil, but the power is still on.
Many doctors will write prescriptions for many medications that allow for a 90 day supply or more. There are some that are restricted of course. Getting the required medications may be challenging during any major disruption. Natural disasters can stress the medical system.
A medical kit is something you can put together a little at a time. I always recommend getting a good base kit and then adding some key items to it. It is very hard to find an economically priced complete medical kit. Benadryl Allergy Pills in Liquid Gel Format, blood stop powder, and a sufficient quantity of medical tape is often what I find lacking the most.
For more in-depth info on medical kits, take a look at these posts.
There is a lot to think about when it comes to medical kits. You have to consider your region too. If snakes are a big problem, you are going to want to add a snake bite kit to your medical bag. If you can get an Epi-Pen, then go for it because those are one of the things so lacking for everyone due to the restrictions of having to get a prescription. It used to be possible to get epinephrine in the mail that was for animals but if someone is dying of anaphylactic shock I would take my chances and inject the animal grade epinephrine. It would be worth it to at least try.
Everyone needs some means of defending themselves and their families. There are a lot of options to explore. Some of you may have objections to some weapons, but there is probably something else that meets your needs. I also think it is wise to have more than one means of defense.
Firearms are often the choice a lot make, but there are knives, bludgeons, and beyond.
The post-Best Non-Lethal Weapons may be a good introduction to those that are really just trying to explore some defense options.
#6 A Way To Cook
Unless you plan very carefully you are going to need a way to cook. It doesn’t have to be much. A rocket stove and wood are fine for some people. A small gas burner style stove is recommended. The one 1b propane tanks are very easy to find and dispose of. They are easier for people in small spaces to store too. We bought a single burner stove for under $30 that can support a lot of weight. You do have to be careful how much weight you put directly on some smaller stove eyes. I like the style we have because you can use it inside.
The Camp Chef Gas Stove and Oven I reviewed is a very easy and inexpensive replacement for when the power is out. I really like having an oven. Solar ovens are something I am curious about but have never used. I want to try it sometime in the summer next year if I can manage to get one.
Your garbage is going to have to go somewhere. You might at least want to consider how you would handle garbage if you had to stay in place for more than a week. Some people generate more garbage than others because of all the packaging involved with various convenient foods. We don’t have that much garbage from our household because we don’t eat that way. Also, my household is just two people.
There is a big difference in the sanitation needs of a family of 4-6 people. Baking Soda is a good thing to buy in large bags. It can do a lot to absorb odors if needed and can be used for a lot of cleaning tasks.
Rinsing and crushing cans and bottles can reduce the space required and avoid a lot fo the smells.
Of course, long-term emergencies may mean you have to put your garbage somewhere you normally would not. People used to bury trash, and I suppose if you had to it is possible, but I would use that as a last resort. Any paper can be burned if you have a barrel or anything else to burn it in.
How you handle your trash in town versus out in the country is going to vary. If you have an outbuilding that you can use this is often the best solution until you can dispose of it properly. Keeping it contain also prevents animals from throwing it around.
Chances are you are bathing more than you need to. Wet wipes are great for refreshing. If you are concerned about oily hair, then keep a spray can of dry shampoo around. Hand Sanitizer is great occasionally but if you use it all the time it is not the best for you. For an emergency sure but not every day.
Toothbrushes and toothpaste to last a month are not expensive to put back and something that you need regardless of any emergency.
#9 Fun and entertainment
Here are a few ideas for prepping entertainment.
An e-reader full of books and a method of recharging it. A small solar charger like you use for a cell phone should work just fine.
Emergency radio. A lot of these can double as a power bank and charger for small devices, so they are good to use in combination with an e-reader. Tablets are much higher drain devices so you will be able to maintain battery levels easier with an e-reader.
Music. Some of the radios allow for Mp3 input which means you can have access to your collection!
I have found myself using physical books more because I can often get the hardcover used for less than the ebook. New releases are an exception to this of course. I can donate them to the library book sale after I am done with them. Since one of the places I buy them from is a charity, they make money for charity twice. This way I keep a small shelf of books on hand since I have a small house but I rotate them out, so I have fresh things to read. This is just my crazy method for having a nice selection of books without taking up a whole room.
Some may like cards or board games. The age of your children, of course, needs to be considered, so they are not bored.
You can go a long time without doing laundry if you have socks and underwear, so those are some inexpensive things to stock up on. They don’t have to be premium. I pick up 3 packs of made in USA Cotton Socks at the grocery store for about $4. They are perfectly functional. For around $12 and tax, I am set on socks for nine days. Not too bad.
Consider basic clothing that is versatile for everyone. An adult’s t-shirt can be a child’s nightgown. The inexpensive cotton Hanes shirts are great for that.
For a more in-depth clothing post, you might want to take a look at “Best Clothing To Have On Hand For SHTF.”
#11 Don’t think you have to do all the things on the list at once!
People have a lot of things going on in their lives. Between all the work, school, and family obligations, adding another big project can seem like stretching yourself too thin. The thing about prepping is that it can easily be a series of small steps in the right direction that will yield some major results! It takes time to learn new skills, but you also have to spend some money to get prepared. Set aside what you can and your preps will grow.
Adding preps a little more slowly could also make it easier to get better gear. If you try to buy a lot of different things at once, then you might get items that are not as high of quality due to your budget. When done over time you can stretch out the expenses.
Instead of buying a $20 rain suit and $30 worth of cheap gear you buy a $50 rain suit that will actually hold up and then buy some other preps over time, you might be a lot better off and equipped for the long term.
At the same time if you have an extra $10 and are at the store buying groceries then consider throwing in an extra 10 lbs of flour or a few packs of lighters. There are some preps that are less expensive.
#12 Do your research before buying major gear and preps and get quality!
Beginners sometimes do not know much about what brand is better especially for their unique needs. Taking the time to plan out your gear and preps reduces the chances that you will get things that are not really right for you or simply doesn’t hold up. Reviews of products are pretty popular on any prepping site for a very good reason.
There are a lot of products out there to choose from, especially since more people are realizing the importance of being more prepared for any type of disruptive event. As a result, there is so much cheap and shoddily made gear out there. I actually hate to think how many people have gear that is just not going to hold up.
It can be very easy for some producers to get away with shoddy merchandise because so many people buy gear and it just goes straight into their preps. This means that if it is shoddy, the person is not going to know it until they actually really need it. Don’t put your life or that of your family in danger to save a few dollars.
For an offline resource that covers reviews for prepper gear, be sure to check out Backdoor Survival Lifeline.
#13 Consider taking some classes or joining a local preparedness group
I am not a member of any particular non-Facebook groups myself nor have I taken any classes after college but that doesn’t mean you might not want to or benefit from it.
Some preppers don’t want any unnecessary people knowing they are a prepper. I get that and respect it. I have been writing for homesteading magazines for awhile so by the time the term “prepper” was mainstream and being used to categorize anyone that did as much as can food; it was not really something I could hide or cover up. Also, a lot of people are just going to make assumptions based on your place if they can drive by. If you got solar panels that can be enough for people to think “you are that type.”
That being said, if you are a beginner, there is probably a lot you can learn by joining the right group. Sometimes these groups will even have formal classes and bring in outside instructors. Prepper conferences are often well attended. Carolina Readiness Supply is the local “prepper store,” and they put in a Heritage Life Skills Conference for 3 days in April.
You pay a fee, and then some of the classes have materials fees just to cover the extra supplies needed for some classes. I have not attended myself but it is popular, and there is a lot of opportunities to network and explore different gear and supplies.
Community colleges and centers are other places that have classes and workshops. This will vary a lot depending on your area.
Of course, there is a lot you can do online. With Youtube and online classes, there is ample opportunity to learn. Our local library offers a lot of electronic resources. They added something called Universal Class. There are 500 different classes you can take at no cost, and you can do it on your own schedule! Anyone with a library card here can access and take classes. Ask your library about it, or you can pay $189 per year to take all the classes you want if you set up a private account. There are classes on everything from essential oils to canning and knitting!
For an offline solution, you can get our searchable library archive, Lifeline, which has over 14,000 pages of useful information designed specifically for the prepping community.
#14 Practice skills and test out gear
Reading and watching how to use something or do something is a great start but you need to actually use it yourself. Even if you are just setting up a new tent in the yard, that is still practicing and learning your gear, and it is very important.
The first time you have to do something, it is best to try it during calmer times. Setting up a new tent when you have rain just over the hill and coming towards you fast is going to be more stressful than if you have the confidence of knowing you have done it before.
Firestarters are a piece of gear that I have realized require quite a bit of practice! You certainly don’t want to be struggling with that during a survival situation!
Remember that you don’t have to hit the bush for a week although that is good practice too! Just get out somewhere and make sure you know how to use what you have. If two friends practice together, it can be easier for both to stick to their plan of practicing.
#15 Avoid discouragement. Learning takes time, and you will make mistakes and do things you think are really dumb later
It is rare for anyone to get something totally right the first time they do it. There are always little things. This is called being human too. You are not going to be able to excel at any prepping related skill without practice and the determination to get past the beginner stage. Matt and I moved up here over a decade ago so we have plenty of examples of things we can look back on and say “wow I should have done it this way.”
We both do this at times, but the other day I told him “We both have to stop doing this and realize that we were 24 years old and were learning”. I think we have both stopped looking at things in this way as much because we both realize that over the years you can say that about anything just about. You are not the same person after gaining knowledge but to get there you have to be willing to make some mistakes, or there is a chance you won’t have the courage to do anything at all. Fear of failure or of regretting something later causes a lot of people to just never go after what they really want in life.
Best wishes to all the new preppers and for you old hands, thanks for sharing your stories and advice in the comments of all the Backdoor Survival posts. You may not realize how many people read those and learn!
What other pieces of advice do you have for beginning preppers?
Samantha Biggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org