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Editor’s Note: This resource has been revised and updated for 2019.
The longer you have been prepping, the more you realize how easy it is to get sidetracked and to prep for things, that in the big picture, are of a relatively low priority. It is no wonder that articles on prepper mistakes and lessons learned are so popular.
It is has been a couple of years since I wrote about some of the mistakes and goofs we all make while prepping. Since then, a lot of things have changed. For one, the mainstream media has caught on to “three-day kit” mania which means more and more families are now ready for short-term disasters. On the other hand, threats from wacko foreign leaders have escalated to the point where terrorist-driven EMPs, pandemics, and outright wars have become more of a possibility, if not a probability. Talk about two very different sides of the same coin!
With the wisdom gained from living as a prepper for the last seven years, here are fifty common and uncommon prepper mistakes we can learn from.
Learn from these 50 Commonly Made Prepping Mistakes
Before starting, I should point out that I struggled with the ordering of these items. Although there is always a strong interest in supplies, gear, and food storage, it is planning coupled with a survival mindset that will see you through the prepping process For that reason, I am starting with those particular topics.
The other thing I want to point out is that there is a bit of redundancy to the solution and resolution of some the listed prepper mistakes. It stands to reason that a mistake doing one thing will overlap with something else, and so, for the purpose of this article, I felt it was important to maintain those small redundancies. Now that I think about that, isn’t that the prepper way?
With all that said, let me warn you that this is a long list. Grab a cup of your favorite something, and learn from these common or not-so-common prepper mistakes.
1. Failure to perform a risk analysis and prepping for the most likely disruptive events first
When first getting started, it is easy to go off willy-nilly preparing for all sorts of calamities. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks, pandemics, nuclear melt-downs, civil disobedience; you name it and the call to prepare will be out there. I can guarantee that this will drive you crazy!
I recommend that the very first step you take when prepping is to evaluate the most likely risks specific to your geographical area and your personal domestic situation. Most, if not all, city, county and state governments will have emergency management websites that will help you sort through the most likely disasters to occur in your area. Take advantage of these public resources.
Don’t stop there. Take a hard look at demographics. Are you in a city where gangs, mobs or terrorist attacks are likely? Do you live in a remote area where the failure of transportation systems or the lack of fuel will cut you off from supplies arriving from the rest of the world? Is your employment situation tenuous requiring that you build up some cash reserves to get you by just in case the job goes away?
Clearly, at the beginning, some choices will need to be made regarding the best use of your prepping budget. Just remember that food, water and first aid supplies should be at the top of everyone’s list. After that, assess the most likely risks and plan accordingly.
For ideas, take a look at 12 Months of Prepping: One Month at a Time. Here you will find links to articles that take you though the process of gathering what you need in terms of supplies, gear, tasks, and skills to set you on a positive path of preparedness. It may not seem like a lot, but at the end of the year you will will be better prepared than 95% of your neighbors.
2. 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, they are stored on my Backdoor Survival Lifeline flash drive which includes the full archive of BDS articles on my survival key ring.
A good time to go through the process of updating documents is during 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.
3. Failure to provide instructions for those that are left behind
Over and over again, I learn of situations where hunderds if not thousands of dollars of unopened tins of freeze dried food is sold at estate sales. The heirs did not have a clue that mom was a prepper and so they got rid of the stored food and all of the prepping gear for pennies on the dollar.
If something were to happen to you, would the remaining family members know what to do with your preps? Would they even know what they are and why you have them? Todd Sepulveda, the editor of Prepper Website, has written an open letter to youyr love ones that you should read, modify as needed, and keep with your important documents.
Additional Reading: A Preparedness Gift That Costs You Nothing
The Survival Mindset
4. Prepping for doomsday and ignoring the short-term
It was quite common in 2010 to plan for doomsday to the exclusion of everything else. While we all need to plan for long term catastrophic, or disruptive events, the reality is that day to day short-term calamities can and will occur so you better be ready for those as well.
A bunker or survival retreat in the middle of nowhere is nice to have but not to the exclusion of having skills and supplies you will need while hunkering down following a short term disruption caused by a natural disaster or other disruptive event.
5. Underestimating other humans as a threat
In a perfect world, we would all get along and go about our business in a mild-mannered way, not bothering anyone or causing others harm. Alas, as humans this has never been the case. From biblical times forward, man has opposed man. There have been and still are warriors, armies, soldiers and dictators, enemies and foes.
As mass shootings have revealed, mental illness or drugs can make good people go bad. Add the uncertainly and chaos created by an unstable society and the potential for human threat becomes a major cause for concern.
Whether you embrace firearms or shun them, you still need a way to defend yourself, your family and your property. Consider pepper sprays, martial arts, and other defensive mechanisms in addition to traditional firearms. It is foolhardy to believe that having some means of defense is not needed because “there is no one out to get you”. Don’t be naive in this regard!
Desperate people are dangerous people. And the lack of food, water and supplies will turn ordinary people into desperate people in a heartbeat.
Addtional Reading: Lessons Learned from the Heroes of Las Vegas and What to Do If You Are In the Middle of An Active Shooting
6. Disregarding the role of comfort when it comes to being prepared
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.
Additional Reading: 16 Items To Help You Hunker Down in Comfort
7. 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.
8. Relying only on yourself and ignoring like-minded members of your community
When I first started prepping, I did not mention my new little “hobby” to anyone. You know, OPSEC and all that. But about a year into it, I realized that I could not do it all on my own. There were things I was having trouble grasping and I needed help. As I tip toed around the edges of my community, I found some like minded people and much to my surprise, I found that I had skills and knowledge that they lacked.
The mutual exchange of skills and knowledge ensued along with some informal agreements to team up if circumstances required us to be on our own for any period of time. This included teaming up for shelter and food as well as defense.
The importance of having a peer group of like minded comrades in my own community was strengthened as I read R. P. Ruggiero’s Brushfire Plague and continued as I explored other truer than life survival stories,.
How you decide to expand your community contacts is up to you but be advised that when it comes to survival 1 + 1 will definitely add up to more than 2.
Additional Reading: Survival Buzz: Eight Lessons Learned from Survival Fiction
9. Just because someone else does something does not mean that you should do it to
There is an unspoken rule of the road in boating: just because the other guy is doing it does not mean he is right or knows what he is doing. Personally I have been there and done that and nearly ended up on the rocks.
The same rule applies to prepping.
As someone who reads a lot on the internet, you have likely come across many authorities with “expert” advice on one topic or another. This is where the gray matter between your ears becomes the most important tool in your box of prepper skills. Think it through before you unilaterally apply someone’s expertise to your own situation. Let me repeat: this includes advice and suggestions from this website!
Go back to the beginning and do a risk analysis. Examine your budget; can you afford it? What are your living conditions? What is the likelihood that a hurricane (or earthquake or wildfire) will threaten your home? Are you physically up to the task of bugging out on foot?
Every step along the way you should be asking yourself these questions and more. You are unique. Recognize and embrace the fact that with preparedness, one size does not fit all.
10. Falling victim to prepper procrastination
You have read the best books out there and spent the wee hours of the night reading every website you can find that teaches and preaches preparedness. You should be ready to embark upon your preparedness journey but remain a lurker.
There is no other way to say it but this: just start. Select one small task or one small project and see it through to completion. Take some baby steps and spend an hour, perhaps two, and get something done. The results will be worth it.
Additional Reading: Learning to Overcome Prepper Procrastination.
11. Obsessing about being behind the curveball
Read this carefully then read it again. You will never be done.
There will always be stock to rotate, supplies to purchase, and skills to learn. Being worried and obsessed about getting every thing done at once will only increase your stress during an already stressful period in life.
Get over it!
12. Feeling smug in thinking your prepping journey is over
I have been prepping for over seven 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.
13. Forgetting that there is a life beyond prepping
Of all of the prepper mistakes, this is perhaps the most difficult to overcome.
For many, the call of prepping becomes a full-time avocation. Living and breathing preparedness becomes the norm, disrupting work and family activities as well as the personal quiet time we all need to recharge our internal batteries. Sleep becomes elusive as you fret about being ready. You live in a perpetual state of stress.
Hopefully, this has not and will not happen to you. Trust me, though, it does happen and at one time this happened to me.
Above all, remember that regardless of what you think about the future, you still have one precious life to live. You can not stop the clock of time so unless you feel an imminent danger, continue to live your life as normally and joyfully as possible. Attend family celebrations and continue to take vacations. Have fun and learn to play.
Isn’t life itself the reason you are prepping to survive in the first place?
Supplies and Gear
14. Creating a 3 Day Kit and ignoring the long-term
Putting together a three-day kit and calling it quits is a recipe for failure and a ticket to Camp FEMA or some other shelter.
Let’s be real. 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.
Additional Reading: 15 Tips to Keep You Comfortable During a Power Outage
15. Stocking up on prepper gadgets that are cute but hardly useful during a real disaster
A lot of junk is being pitched to preppers. I am embarrassed to say that in the early days, I pitched this stuff as well. These days, I stay away from such things as credit-card knives, match-light fire starters, and keychain survival kits.
I do however, stock up on inexpensive, pocket-sized flashlights, mini-survival kits of varying types in compact tins, and multi-tasking tools and household products. It is the gadgets I never heard of and didn’t think I needed until I read about them that I avoid.
16. Having the latest in survival gear but not knowing how to use it
This is more common than you might think. How many of you have a closet that represents a survivalists dream? Emergency radios, compasses, propane stoves and lanterns, tactical knives, firearms, cross-bows, hand tools, solar kits and more lie idle and unused and untested in more homes than you might think.
Every single one of these items needs to be put through its paces two or three times a year at a minimum. Not only do you need to know how to use your gear, but you need to ensure that your gear is in good working order. Blades need to be sharpened, batteries need to be charged and skills need to be refreshed.
It is human nature to acquire stuff we want simply because we want it. Don’t let that happen with your prepping gear. Buy it used or new, then use it not just once, but periodically throughout the year. The very best preps are those you can incorporate into day to day life.
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.
17. Not knowing what you have because you don’t have an inventory
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.
18. Blowing your budget on gear instead of on food, water, and medical supplies
Shopping for new gadgets, gizmos, and gear is both fun and addictive. Who wouldn’t want the latest $150 tactical flashlight or that set of high tech night goggles to use in spotting bad buys before they see you.
Purchasing survival gear is a necessary part of the prepping process but it should not be done to the exclusion of food, water, and medical supplies. The exception to this rule is water purification and fire-making tools both of which can be acquired for very little cost. For example, consider pool shock for water treatment plus a magnesium fire tool and dryer lint for fire-making.
Over and over again, I learn of families that have thousands of dollars invested in gear, including an arsenal of firearms and ammo, but have less than thirty days worth of food. Not only that, the food they have is poorly packaged and is therefore subject to spoilage or an infestation of pests.
When developing a preparedness budget, pay close attention to the day to day needs you will incur following a disaster or disruptive event. Doesn’t it make sense to take care of those needs first? The gear will come in time so ensure that you are not gear rich but food poor.
Make a concerted effort to avoid impulse purchases and you will be fine.
19. 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.
20. Forgetting about those with special needs
Think about special situations in your household that will need to be addressed in a survival situation. This may include children, pets, or someone with physcal or mental challenges, and the elderly. As you go about your daily routine in normal times, take note of the things you will need to stockpile for these special family members.
For example, have you considered the need for feminine products? What about canes, walkers, and manually operated wheelchairs? Pets need food, crates, and toys to keep them occupied while the rest of family members are recovering from chaos. It will be impossible to cover every contingency but be aware of what those needs are now then prioritize those that you deem most important.
Addtional Reading: How to Prep for Feminine Hygiene Needs and Survival Basics: Be Prepared For Pet Emergencies
21. Failure to practice self-defense
There is far more to self defense than owning a bunch of firearms and a copious supply of ammo. Have you practiced situational awareness? Do you know what to do if a stranger comes to your door asking for food?
And about the guns and ammo – when is the last time you visited the range for some target practice?
22. Buying gear and supplies while ignoring the need to develop skills
Buying stuff is easy. You save your money, select your merchandise and go to your local outdoor emporium and make a purchase.
On the other hand, learning new skills or practicing old ones takes time, patience and bit of study. Do you know how to start a fire without matches or a butane lighter? Do you know how to take advantage of natures bounty by knowing how to fish or hunt? And what about growing your own food? Could you do it if you had to?
Developing skills to become self-sufficient are every bit as important as having a closet full of the best gear money can by. Remember that.
Additional Reading: 46 Pioneer Skills for the Modern Homesteader and 5 Uncommon Skills That Will Be Useful After the SHTF
Survival Health and Medicine
23. 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.
Additional Reading: Best Practices for Dealing with Wounds in a Survival Situation
24. Tossing expired prescription drugs because the pharmacy tells you to do so
If the stuff hits the fan, pharmacies will be closed or, if they are open, supplies will be meager. A three year old bottle of pain medication is going to be better than nothing as long as you use common sense when dosing. The same thing applies to antibiotics and other medications.
Learn what you can now about alternatives to traditional medications such as herbs and essential oils, then brush up what you need to know about fish antibiotics for survival situations. Don’t be the person who says, after the fact, “who knew?”.
Addtional Reading: What You Need to Know About Expired Prescription Drugs and Why Store Fish Antibiotics For Survival
25. Failure to plan for human waste
No one wants to get sick, let alone contract a disease that may go untreated due to the lack of available medical facilities or medical personnel. One of the best ways to avoid sickness is to maintain good hygeine and to properly dispose of human waste. This is not as easy as it sounds because traditional waste systems may be inoperable due to the lack of water and or ruptured sewer lines.
Planning for this contengy does not have to be complicated. Super strong hefty bags, five gallon buckets, and kitty litter can be used on a temporary basis if needed. The point is not to omit this important prep.
Bugging Out – or Not
26. Preparing mostly to bug out rather than bugging in
We all talk about having a bug-out-bag and without question, having your most basic survival items in a pack that you can grab and go if you need to get out of dodge in a hurry is important. But beyond that, over and over I see people acquire all sorts of gear for surviving on the run – perhaps in the woods or bush at a remote location.
I know that in my own case and also with the majority of the readers on Backdoor Survival, hunkering down and bugging in will always be preferred to taking off into the unknown with our stuff. For many, the choice to bug in has to do with family, health concerns or financial considerations. That, plus the availability of stored supplies makes bugging in – or staying at home – the choice when a disaster strikes.
At the end of the day, take care of your bugging in needs first and foremost. Plan for outdoor cooking facilities (perhaps an existing charcoal grill?), supplemental lighting stored water, and a portable generator now. Later, down the road, you can expand your supplies to include the essentials for truly bugging out.
Let me be clear. You do need to have a contingency plan for evacuation purposes but do not ignore your hunker down at home bug in plan. Unless your home is not safe, plan to shelter in place at home rather than take your chances in the wilderness or at Camp FEMA.
Additional Reading: 11 Things To Do When You Must Hunker Down in Place
27. Failure to evacuate at just the right time
When the storm of the century is heading your way, know that it is time to evacuate. Load up your vehicle and go. As much as you feel that you are better off in your own home, if the authorities tell you to leave – and even if they do not – get out of harm’s way as a precautionary measure. Do so while you still have the ability to load up your vehicle with supplies and fill the tank with gas.
Sticking around when there is at least a 50% chance of a disaster occurring (hurricane, flood, landslides, tsunami, wildfire) is just plain silly. Part of your planning should be to determine the trigger point for evacuation as well as identification of an evacuation site and a route to get there. Better yet, plan multiple alternate routes as well.
28. Not having an evacuation route planned out in advance
Right. I just said that you should plan to hunker down at home and bug in. That said, there is still a possibility that you will have to leave in order to ensure your safety.
Be ready with at least two routes out of dodge including one route by foot or bicycle. In addition, map these routes on paper and just in your head or on your smart phone. Mudslides, downed trees, and even mobs of thugs may impeded your way. Be ready.
Additional Reading: Finding Your Way Back Home Without a Map and Compass
Water and Water Storage
29. Using a Berkey day to day but never testing the filters
I consider the Berkey to be the gold standard of water filtrations systems. A Berkey is on the expensive side as are the Black Berkey filters. Doesn’t it make sense to keep it in tip-top shape?
You should test your filters using the red food dye test at least twice a year. Failures do happen but oten they are easily fixed by re-priming the filters and or resetting the washers. Don’t wait until there is a water event before testing your Berkeys. This is important.
Additional Reading: How to Make a Water Filter Last Longer and Maintaining Black Berkey Filters
30. Storing pool shock but not learning how to use it
Using pool shock to clean up bad water is not difficult but you do need to be mindful of proportions to water and safety considerations. Read this article then practice making up a batch of clean, safe, drinking water using pool shock. And for heaven’s sake, get yourself a few pairs of safety goggles!
Additional Reading: How to Use Pool Shock to Purify Water
Food and Food Storage
31. Storing food items you don’t enjoy
Number one on the list is do not store food you don’t like and will not eat no matter what.
We have all done it: purchased an item when it is on sale because it was a great deal. If you won’t eat it now, what makes you think you will eat it later? Spending money and using your precious storage space on food you will not eat is just silly.
All that being said, if desperate, you will likely eat anything. Still, we are talking about preps you are putting in place in advance and not a scrounging effort after the fact when the pantry is bare. For example, paying a bit extra for some premium canned meats can mean a huge quality of life boost down the road.
32. Lacking the knowledge to properly store your food supplies
There are six enemies of food storage: Temperature, Moisture, Oxygen, Light, Pests and Time.
Okay, some might say there is a seventh enemy: namely the two legged type that gets into the tastier items and eats them without telling anyone. That I cannot help you with.
Seriously though, storing food for the long term, meaning five years or longer, does take some care. Brush up on the basics of food storage and set up an active rotation program. You don’t necessarily have to store food for 10 years or longer but what you do store, even for a year or two, should be protected to the best of your ability.
One thing to keep in mind that except for the problem with pests, most food will still be edible even if it is not stored at optimal temperatures in a moisture and oxygen-free environment. Learn proper storage methods to ensure maximum taste and nutrition.
There are many food-storage articles on this website. Simply yype “food storage” into the search box at the upper right hand side of the page. In addition, consider “Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage” as an all in one resource available in both e-book and print form.
33. Not rotating out of date food items
Label everything with the date of purchase. Sharpie pens were created for this purpose. However you choose to keep track, rotate your stored food items the best you can without getting paranoid about it. Many of the “use by” and “best by” dates on canned and packaged goods are put there by the manufacturer but relate more to taste and texture than actual spoilage. See the next item.
34. Throwing out packaged and canned foods because they have passed their use-by date
During my recent move, it broke my heart to throw out hundreds of cans of perfectly good, commercially canned meats, fruits and vegetables because no one would take them because they were past their “use by” date. Read this three times out loud: Use dates on commercially canned goods are mostly a myth!
However you keep track of your food inventory, rotate your stored food items the best you can without getting paranoid about it. Many of the “use by” and “best by” dates on canned and packaged goods are put there by the manufacturer but relate more to taste and texture than actual spoilage.
Let common sense plus your eyes and nose be the judge. If the outside of a can is dented, rusted, or shows signs of leakage, toss it. If you open it and it smells off (or even if you THINK is smells off), dump it. Just be mindful that you will want to secure and dump bad food in such a way that children or curious pets can not get to it.
Additional Reading: How Long Does Canned Food Really Last and What You Need to Know About Eating Expired Food
35.Storing everything in the same place
Think about it. If everything is stored in your basement and the basement is flooded, you are going to have a problem. I know, you are thinking that everything is packaged in moisture proof packaging, right? If you have 3 feet of water in your basement, that will not matter since you will not be able to get to it.
Canned goods should be on a shelf off the floor, and mason jars filled with home canned items need to be secured to their shelf with a bracket or cordage. The last thing you want is for your precious food jars to fall to the ground and shatter during in an earthquake, hurricane, or other disruptive event.
These are just a few of the scenarios that cause your food storage to be inaccessible or unusable. Think about the disaster risks where your live and plan your storage locations accordingly.
36. You don’t know how to cook it
Remember when I wrote about wheat in Why You Should Store Wheat for Survival? For heaven’s sake, do not purchase wheat if you do not know how to use it. Of course, it would not hurt to learn about wheat. Freshly ground, it makes a heavenly loaf of bread the only problem being that it is so good you may eat too much and gain 50 pounds which would be another problem entirely.
If you are new to wheat, consider reading John Hill’s book, How to Live on Wheat. To this day, I refer to it frequently.
But wheat is not the only survival basic that may be unfamiliar. Beans of all types, as well rice, are two food storage staples. Learn to cook these items now, so you have an arsenal of recipes ready to go when and if the time comes. Both beans and rice are inexpensive and work well with a variety of condiments making them ideal additions to the survival food pantry.
Additional Reading: How to Make a Survival Casserole and 8 Reasons Old Cookbooks Are Important
37. Storing a lot of basic foods but omitting comfort foods
This happens to me all the time. In my quest to eat healthy 100% of the time, I sometimes go for weeks eating basic, blandish food. By that I mean no fresh fruit, no cookies, and no Kettle Chips.
Eat well, and eat healthy but be sure to allow for a splurge once in a while, too.
38. Failure to include freeze-dried meals as part of your food storage strategy
Yes, freeze dried food is pricey. With some care, however, you can find pouches, tins, and buckets on sale. The advantage of freeze dried food, and meal pouches especially, is they are lightweight and therefore transporatable. They are quick to prepare and require no planning or thinking. Add hot to boiling water, stir, let sit for a short time, and eat.
Freeze dried meals will get you through the initial stages of a disaster or disruptive event, giving you plenty of time to think through longer term meal planning in a survival situation.
There is one important aspect of planning your freeze dried food storage: try some sample meals before you invest in a six month or one year supply of one particular brand. I have my own preferences that you are welcome to use as a guideline (check out Mountain House or Legacy Foods) but there are others. Also keep in mind that some kits are chock full of sugary drinks and other fillers. Yes, you will need some beverages but they should not comprise 40% of your daily caloric intake.
Additonal Reading: The Big Deal About Freeze Dried Food
39. Improper storage temperatures
Temperature and mostly heat, is one of the enemies of food storage and yet it may be something you may not think of.
Keep in mind is that temperature fluctuations can be as bad as a sustained high temperature. I don’t claim to know the science but what I have found is that food stored at a constant 80 degrees will hold better than food stored at 30 in the winter and 90 in the summer. Anecdotally, this is especially true of canned goods I have stored in my home.
Additional Reading: Survival Basics: The Six Enemies of Food Storage
40. Not storing liquids to reconstitute your dried items
Have you ever tried to cook rice without water or broth? How about pasta? As much as I feel freeze-dried foods have their place, the liquid in canned fruits and vegetables will provide you an additional source of hydration. In addition, the drained liquid can be used to re-hydrate freeze-dried foods.
41. Not planning alternate fuel sources for cooking
This should be a no brainer. When the power goes out, you will need a fire, grill or portable stove. Rocket stoves and even propane stoves are inexpensive. Just keep in mind that you will also need fuel for your stoves, whether it comes from sources you gather (such as biomass) or from purchases of propane, charcoal or wood.
42. No condiments or spices to wake up the taste buds
Salt, pepper, some chili powder, mustard, sugar, honey – the list is endless. These items do not need to cost a lot nor do they need to take up an extraordinary amount of space. When push comes to shove, however, your eating experience will be greatly enhanced by having a variety of flavor enhancers on hand to enliven the taste of your stored food stuffs.
43. Not storing a variety of items
I confess that I can go for days eating the same meal of baked potatoes over and over again. That said, most people need and want variety. This is especially true for children, the elderly and the infirm who may already be picky eaters. Plus, you need a variety of foods items in order to get a full complement of nutritional value from your meals.
44. Storing food in inappropriate or unmanageable packages
Your mileage may vary, but I prefer to package food in small, manageable sizes. In my own household, items stored for the long term (beans, rice, lentils, cereals, dog food etc.) have been stored in 1 gallon Mylar bags and not the larger, 5 gallon size.
take four or five of these small bags and put them in a bucket or Rubbermaid bin so that I can pull them out for use one at a time. For me this is more practical since there are only two in my family. Plus, if there is a short term emergency, I can pull out what I need without having to repackage the whole megila.
Another best practice is to store a variety of foods in a single bucket. So, for example, instead of creating a bucket filled with a single food type, create a bucket that include a variety of foods plus appropriate condiments. If you are ever forced to use your food storage, you can pull a single bucket with everything you need to get by instead of riffling through a dozen or more buckets to gather what you need for meal-preparation.
As a bonus, if you are forced to evacuation, your DIY meal bucket will be ready to go.
Additional Reading: Survival Basics: Using Mylar Bags for Food Storage and Best Practices for Using Mylar Bags
45. Improper storage containers
This applies to a lot of things. Here is an example: do not store you rice in a bucket that previously held pickles without pre-packaging the rice in a Mylar bag. Pickle-flavored rice may taste good if you are pregnant but practically no one else will appreciate this exotic dish!
Seriously, though, make sure your food storage containers did not hold toxic chemicals in a prior life and make sure your containers are moisture and pest-proof.
46. Purchasing a kit without evaluating the contents
This is another lesson I learned the hard way. Before purchasing a kit of any type, look at the contents and decide how many of the items will be truly useful. If there are items you don’t want, can you give them away to someone else? Also look at the total cost. Is the kit still a good value even though you will not use everything?
This also applies to bulk sized products at Costco, Sam’s or other warehouse type stores. In many cases, I will purchase a giant sized package knowing that a third will not get used. Even so, the purchase is a good value. But do not assume this. Sometimes it is better to pay more per ounce for a smaller size.
47. Being totally dependent on food storage for all of your meals
Regardless of how robust your food pantry, it is prudent to consider other sources of food. If you have adequate light conditions, you can supplement your stored food with fresh vegetables from your garden. At the very least, you can grow some herbs that will not only provide nutrition, but will also have medicinal qualities.
In addition to a garden, large or small, learn about the local resources that may be available by foraging, fishing, and hunting. Most areas have some sort of local bounty, whether berries, trout, deer, or even the common dandelion. Learn about them know and practice all of the ancillary skills needed to safely turn them into edible fare.
- Best Staples for a Survival Garden
- 3 Late Fall Foraging Plants
- Fall Foraging: Wild Edible Plants of Autumn
48. Worrying about a 25 or 30-year shelf life when you are 70 years old!
I am being a tad bit cynical and facetious here but really, if your lifespan is 20 years, don’t worry too much about 30 year items. Sure, you can give them away, donate them, or use them in less than 30 years but the point is, don’t stress if the items you store away have only a 5 or 10 year shelf life.
Remember to store a variety of foods and food groups. It is better to have a mix of items with varying shelf lives than to get hung up on extremely long storage life.
49. Relying only on home canned goods
This may shock you but did you know that most authorities put a shelf life of one to two years max on home-canned goods? This is especially true of meats.
Now I readily admit that I am not an expert in this area but my good friend Daisy Luther is. She has written a book on canning for preppers but beyond that, read what she has to say in the comments to the article Prepper Book Festival: The Preppers Canning Guide.
50. Don’t become a hoarder
As with everything in life, don’t take prepping to the excess. Hoarding is not the same as prepping and the accumulation of useless or marginally useful items can take up every spare corner of your home or apartment. Although it is wise to keep extra on hand for barter purposes. be realistic about your ability to prep for the long term while maintaining a clutter free home enviroment.
Additional Reading: Why Bargain Stockpiling is Not Emergency Food Storage
The Final Word
There was a time when I was a prepping newbie and even now, seven plus years later, I have more to do and more to learn. In my heart of hearts, however, I still feel like a beginner and so I empathize with those that are just getting started. They may be moms and dads, seniors like myself, or enlightened millennials. That said, these days I feel fortunate that I have come so far with my prepping activities. Moving beyond obsession, the prepping way of life is now a part of my core. It is “what I do” as well as being a hobby and a passion.
There is one thing that all preppers, whether just starting out or seasoned, have in common. We all want to be able to take care of ourselves and our needs during the best of times and worse of times. We want skills, knowledge, and enough food, water, and medical supplies to keep moving forward and to survive regardless of dire circumstances.
Some of us may prep a little and others may prep a lot. Along the way, we may make some of the mistakes I have listed above, and most assuredly there will be others. At the end of the day, however, we all want to live a life filled with growth, opportunity and the ability to take care of oneself physically, mentally and spiritually. To me, that is what prepping is all about, mistakes and all.
82 Responses to “Prepper Mistakes: 50 Mistakes Made By Preppers and What to Do About Them”
My primary concern is shelf life.
Niiiice list! Like Linda S, I need to deal with the documents. My kids all know I prep, but they don’t really know anything about what I HAVE. I’ll have to take care of that, too. I definitely need to stop prepping in spurts and make it a regular part of my life. I do think about it a lot, but…
Excellent article! Even those of us that have been prepping for a while need these little “refresher courses”. For instance, I need to gather up important documents (again) & send copies to my daughter & encourage her to do the same.
Excellent Post, Gaye!.
I would like to add, buying too much of something at one time. I have lots of water and food stored. Toothpaste, soap, qtips and such. How much medical and bandaid? NONE. Make a list most definitely. But include stuff you HAVEN’T BOUGHT yet. Checkmark items you have with the amounts. Also I have 3 non bullet weapons and have a 4th on the way. A regular size crossbow (with a broad head it will penetrate any class of body armor) A pistol crossbow which is actually more powerful than the large one, but you can’t get broad head for them. They will however penetrate 3/4 pressed plywood particle board. Good for human threat or rabbit get. A wrist rocket slingshot with “hunting” rubbers and I’m waiting on a new item called a “Pocket Shot”. It’s a new type of slingshot that self centers the ammo. You can fire almost twice the ammo in the same amount of time. All 4 will be valuable to be quiet during the first month. After the hordes have been thinned, noise from a gun will bring less attention.
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)
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.
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 •
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.
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”).
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.” – //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,
Rice has a shelf life in years, not months.
I check mine once a year–good now for 7 yrs with no additives, just D for insects.
DE for insects.