You know what they say: by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of Americans are gearing up to do just that. According to the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a majority of Americans— a whopping 60%, in fact— are not prepared for a disaster at all.
It doesn’t matter if you’re concerned about losing power in your home during a summer storm or are worried that Doomsday is coming, it’s vital that you begin prepping. When SHTF, do you want to flounder like 60% of the population? Yeah, didn’t think so.
In this complete beginner’s guide to prepping, you’ll find everything you need to know to get started, so suit up and read on:
Prepping: What It Is, Why It’s Important, And Are Preppers Really Nutjobs?
In a nutshell, “prepping” is all about planning and training for an emergency that you could one day find yourself in. It’s a broad term that covers a wide array of people, needs, and skills. It could be as simple as putting a shovel and de-icing agent in your car for winter, or as extensive as building an underground bunker in your backyard in case of a nuclear emergency.
Prepping is critical because it improves your ability to survive when SHTF. Without the right survival mindset, skills, and, gear, getting through a disaster—and thriving after it—will be near-impossible.
Unfortunately, preppers face a lot of stigma in modern society. They’re often considered “fear-mongers,” “doomsday obsessed,” or our personal favorite—“nutjobs who wear tinfoil hats.”
But you know better than that.
The truth is, preppers are just average folks who want to be ready if and when an emergency situation comes. They’re people who acknowledge that the world is unpredictable and that it’s better to be one step ahead rather than one step behind.
Scenarios to Consider When Prepping
Efficiency is part and parcel of being a prepper. Start by considering what situations you would find yourself in and would need to prep for. Consider factors like:
- Geography, Climate, and Weather Patterns – Where do you live? Is it an urban or rural area? What’s the weather like? Do you receive a lot of rain, snow, or heat?
- Natural Disasters – Do you experience extremes in your weather patterns? Are natural disasters like floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms, and earthquakes common where you live?
- Power Outages – Do you lose power during storms? If so, how do you cook and stay warm? Do you have alternative sources of energy when the power goes out?
- Economic Distress – If you lost your job tomorrow, would you be able to provide for your family? Are you prepared for an economic collapse? Do you have plans to be self-sufficient?
- Technology Collapse – What would happen if the grid went down? Could you still pay for items without using a credit or debit card? How would you communicate with friends and family? Do you know what an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack is and are you prepared for it?
So, how does one jumpstart their prepper journey? Unfortunately, there’s no boot camp on how to become a MacGyver overnight, but you can definitely start by planning.
Go through your daily activities and think about everything that you do. Then, think about the worst-case scenario. Which ones do you need to be prepared for? To determine that, you can use the 80/20 Rule.
Here’s how it works:
The 80/20 Rule states that “80% of results will come from just 20% of the action.” For example, you might own 10 tactical flashlights, but you use just your favorite two because those units get the most jobs done. Or, when shopping for groceries, you might go to the same aisles every time because that’s where you can find most of the stuff that you need.
The same principle applies to prepping. While you might want to be prepared for everything, it’s wiser to start off by considering the most likely scenarios first. This can include common occurrences such as flash flooding or being laid off from your job, but won’t include a zombie apocalypse or a nuclear fallout (at least not yet).
Using the 80/20 Rule, 20% of your resources should leave you 80% prepared for these common scenarios. You can go for 100% preparedness, but that would mean spending the remaining 80% of your resources.
In the long run, you can definitely consider increasing your preparation to protect yourself against 100% of possible scenarios. But for now, as a beginner, we recommend that you focus on the 80% of situations that are most likely to happen.
Basics to Consider
Before you dive into the deep end of the proverbial prepping swimming pool, there are a few basics that you should look into. Keeping these principles in mind will save you from floundering and will allow you to develop effective prepping strategies.
Prepare For At Least Two Weeks at Home
According to Ready.gov, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s preparation site, you should have enough supplies to last for at least 72 hours.
Is that a good baseline if you’ve never prepped before? Sure.
Should you pack that much when you’re bugging out and carrying all your supplies on your back? You bet.
But is it enough for a real-world scenario where you’re hunkering down or bugging in? Not quite. In fact, it barely scratches the surface.
Many organizations, including the Red Cross, have come around to the idea that you should have at least two weeks’ worth of supplies in your home. After Washington’s National Guard and other military branches conducted an earthquake drill in the Northwest, experts found that preparation systems were inadequate and there was an urgent need for citizens to have at least two weeks’ worth of supplies in their homes.
So, when beginning to prep, stockpile at least two weeks of supplies at home. Then slowly build it up to a month’s worth of supplies, then to a 3-month stockpile, and so on.
If you don’t use all of your supplies in an emergency, that’s okay. It’s better to be over-prepared with essentials like food, water, and fuel than to be underprepared. Later in the piece, we’ll touch more on the items you’ll want to include in your disaster kit.
Prepare for Three Days on the Road
Depending on the severity of the situation, you may need to jump in your car and bug out at a moment’s notice. There are a few things to consider here. First off, you should have a bug out vehicle (BOV) at the ready. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need to evacuate but can’t find a car.
Make sure that you have access to a vehicle large enough for your entire family. Don’t have a Batmobile that can accommodate everyone? Coordinate with neighbors who do. Again, it’s better to have this plan in place with your neighbors beforehand, rather than trying to scramble at the last minute.
When compiling items for your car, truck, or van, you should have at least 72 hours’ worth of supplies.
Make sure to pack a separate car kit along with other essentials like food, water, and clothing. Don’t forget to include a couple of gallons of extra fuel, while you’re at it, too. Remember, if a natural disaster occurs, there’s no telling where the nearest gas station may be. And, even if you find one, the lines will likely be long and the prices through the roof. It’s always better to be ready with fuel when taking a vehicle.
To know more about bugging out and preparing a BOV for evacuation, check out this comprehensive article.
Have Your Finances in Order
One of the most overlooked aspects of prepping is money. When the grids go down, those credit and debit cards will be good for nothing. That’s why it’s crucial that you prepare a “rainy day” or emergency fund…in cold hard cash.
To save up for an emergency fund, start by looking at your expenses for the past couple of months. Sort them into two categories: “necessary” and “unnecessary.” Food and water, for example, are basic needs and are necessary for survival. You can live without that subscription service and cable, so dump them into the “unnecessary” pile.
Once you know how much you spend on “necessary” expenses each month, multiply this number by six. Your goal should be to have an emergency fund large enough to support you and your family for at least six months.
It’s also better that you begin building a rainy-day fund instead of racking up debt while purchasing extravagant items that are unnecessary for beginner preppers, like a bomb shelter or a rigged-out SUV.
This emergency fund will not only see you through a disaster, but it’s also useful in case you find yourself unemployed. Remember the 2008 Great Financial Crisis? The economy collapsed without warning and thousands of people lost their jobs. You don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck or worry about what will happen if you were to get laid off, so make sure to have an emergency fund ready.
You also have to keep your finances in mind when buying supplies. Remember the 80/20 rule: 20% of your budget and resources should cover the scenarios that are 80% most likely to occur. Using this strategy means it’s entirely possible for you to start prepping, even if you’re on a tight budget.
Lastly, come up with a plan for your stockpile. Keep an inventory and make sure to rotate your supplies as needed. Need more help in creating a prepper pantry? Check out this in-depth guide.
Come up With a Plan
Even if you stockpile the right materials, your prepping efforts won’t save your ass if you don’t have a plan in place. Where will you store your supplies? How will you communicate if the grids go down? Where will you go if you’re in the direct path of a natural disaster? What roads will you use in case of evacuation?
Sit down and come up with an action plan. Try to envision a couple of different scenarios and alternatives to them.
Say there’s a Category 3 hurricane coming and you are forced to evacuate your home. You immediately grab your bug out bag and hit the road. However, because of the storm, the GPS on your phone no longer works, and the primary highway out of town is clogged with other people trying to flee. Where will you go? What roads will you use to get out of dodge? What are your contingencies in case your initial plan falls through?
Another thing to consider is whether you’ll coordinate and share your plan with neighbors or not.
Some people believe in strength in numbers and prefer to coordinate survival efforts. This is great if you live in a tight-knit community with neighbors who share the same mindset. However, don’t go telling everyone about your survival stockpile and preps…unless you want them to loot your stash.
If you wish to work together with your neighbors, you have to make sure that each member of the community carries his or her weight. Each individual or family should be responsible for gathering their own supplies. You don’t want neighbors mooching off your stuff.
Practice Your Escape Plan
Once you’ve come up with your plan of action, discuss it with your family members. Got young kids? Make sure that they understand each step of the plan. You should also take the time to go through your plan and practice it by doing dry runs.
Drive around your area and look for at least three routes to your safe location. Go hiking with your bug out bag and test out its weight, fit, and the supplies you’ll include. This way, your survival plan can go off without a hitch. Since preparation is your primary goal, it’s better that you get the kinks out of the way early.
Items You’ll Need to Stockpile
The other critical part of prepping is stockpiling items. No matter if you’re staying at home, traveling by car, or traveling by foot, space will be limited. It’s essential that you only take the items that are critical to your survival.
Every prepper must have a go bag with all these essentials, stored in an easily accessible location. This way, you know precisely where it is and can grab it in a matter of seconds.
Below, you’ll find the essentials that you’ll want to begin accumulating as part of your kit. Remember that you’ll want to have at least two weeks’ worth of these supplies if you plan on hunkering down at home, and at least 72 hours’ worth of these supplies if you are bugging out.
- Water – Your body is made up of more than 60% water. Go three days without water and you’ll bite the dust. Ideally, you should store one to two gallons of water per person per day. That’s roughly around 14 to 28 gallons of water per person in a span of 2 weeks. Think it’s too much? Think again. You’ll be using this for both drinking, eating, and hygiene, so it’s not overkill.
- Food – Fresh food will obviously spoil, especially if you don’t have electricity to run your fridge or if you’re going on the road. That being said, you’ll want to store sealed and non-perishable food items. Try to find food items that have a long shelf life and that you can make or eat quickly without using too many resources. You can even look for food that you can eat straight out of the packaging without having to heat or cook it. You can consider Meals Ready to Eat (MRE), or if you despise the taste of MREs, store some delicious freeze-dried food that you can reconstitute with a bit of water.
- Fire – Fire serves many uses and is essential in a survival situation. Matches and lighters are easy to use and carry, but they can get wet or you can run out of fuel. As a contingency, consider bringing some firesteels and homemade firestarters.
- Heat – Fire can provide heat, but not if you’re indoors or in a car. For these scenarios, consider storing gear like survival space blankets, propane heaters, sleeping bags, and wool blankets. They’re especially useful during winter storms or blackouts.
- Gas – Whether you’re going on the road or staying at home, you should have gas on hand. Gas at home could be useful when running a generator.
- Medication – Taking meds? Make sure that you have an extra month’s worth or so on hand. Your doctor may not over-prescribe your medication, so keep it in a safe and accessible location, especially if it’s vital to your health. Also consider storing over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, cold medicine, and digestive aids.
- First Aid – Your first aid kit should not merely be a kit with band-aids and antiseptic. You should be able to treat serious injuries with the tools in your first aid kit. Make sure that your kit also has an instant ice pack in case you need to reduce swelling caused by sprains, strains, and other similar injuries.
- Hygiene – Just because you’re facing a disaster doesn’t mean you have to be a slob. Cleanliness and sanitation will keep you away from communicable diseases rampant when SHTF, so make sure you carry items like hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and soap. Don’t forget to pack wipes, toilet paper, and some trash bags for good measure.
- Communication – During a natural disaster or emergency, sources of power are one of the first things to go. Stock up on battery- or solar-operated two-way radios. Also carry a crank or solar-powered NOAA radio, which can keep you informed about what’s going on in the outside world. Lastly, take a whistle or a signal mirror in case you need to signal for help and rescue.
- Flashlight – Tactical flashlights are specifically designed to produce high lumen outputs that can reach long distances or illuminate large areas. You can use it to light your way, send out distress signals, scan an area for perps, or even for self-defense when needed.
- Batteries – You’ll want to have enough power to last you for a couple of weeks. Make sure that you have backup batteries for your devices. Solar energy is beneficial, but don’t rely on it. If you’re stuck inside, like during a snowstorm, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have access to UV light.
- Personal Documents – Keep original copies of vital documents in a fire-proof safe. You can also make copies of these documents and keep them in a water-proof plastic envelope in your bug out bag. Important documents include birth certificates, passports, titles and deeds, and insurance policies. Keep laminated photos of family members in case you get separated.
- Cash – If you need to depart your home, there’s no guarantee that credit card machines will work. There’s also the itty-bitty fact that there are no ATMs in the wilderness. Lastly, you may come across someone who has an item that you desperately need, so make sure that you carry at least a few hundred dollars, with plenty of small bills as well.
- Cooking Supplies – You may not have a lot of room for cooking and eating supplies, but you should at least consider including a small camp pot and a set of utensils. The pot could be useful in case you need to boil water and cook food. If you have space, a small rocket stove or a portable wood-burning camp stove would go a long way.
- Tools – Try to think of gear and supplies that serve more than one purpose. Rope, duct tape, and zip ties are all incredibly versatile, so make sure that you have enough of those on hand. A knife is essential for almost any task. Multitools can also provide you with access to numerous devices without taking up much space, so don’t forget to bring one. Lastly, you’ll want to have a small ax and a sturdy pair of gloves to help you navigate through rough terrain or chop firewood.
- Self-defense and protection – Carry pepper spray. It’s small, easy to use, non-fatal but can cause significant distress to bad guys. You can also use your tactical flashlight to stun attackers. Of course, you might also want to carry a handgun as well. Make sure that you’re trained on how to use the gun and that you bring extra ammo with you.
Skills You’ll Want to Learn
You’ll have many tools in your prepper’s kit, but if you don’t know how to use these tools, they’re virtually useless. In a survival situation, you won’t have time to teach yourself how these tools work, so it’s important that you know how to use them like a pro.
But don’t just stop there.
Take the time to master the necessary survival skills first before looking to expand your knowledge. Remember, the more you know, the less you need.
You can go years without experiencing an emergency situation, so make sure to keep your skillset sharp by practicing regularly, too.
Consider learning and mastering the following skills:
- First Aid -- First aid skills are indispensable in a survival situation. You should know the basics, such as CPR, and the Heimlich Maneuver. You’ll also want to learn things like how to stop bleeding, how to clean a wound, how to close an injury, and finally, how to bandage a wound.
- Navigating Without GPS – People depend on GPS way too much. Learn how to do without and go the old school way by knowing how to read a compass and a map. Natural navigation using heavenly bodies like the sun and constellations can help you get your bearings, too.
- Building a Fire – Fire is one of the most critical survival tools. Starting one—and keeping it going—is actually easier said than done. Although you’ll have matches and lighters in your prepper kit, you should learn various other ways to start a fire, especially when conditions are less than ideal.
- Building Shelter – You should not take shelter for granted in an emergency. Tents are great, but they’re likely too heavy to carry. Tarps are lighter and more versatile, so you might want to try your hand at building different tarp shelter configurations instead. Survival and bushcraft shelters can also be built from resources that you can find in the environment, so make sure to practice your skills in making these shelters as well.
- Water Purification – During emergencies, you can’t trust the water you’re drinking is clean. Just because it’s clear doesn’t mean it’s safe to drink. You should learn how to purify and disinfect water so that it’s safe for consumption and cooking.
- How to Tie Knots – There are dozens of different types of knots available, each with a different purpose. You should learn about the various knots that you could use, and when they would be most effective.
- Finding Food – Much like water, you should not take food for granted either. You should know which types of wild plants in your area are safe to eat and which are not. Additionally, you may want to learn how to catch, field dress, cook, and store wild fish and game. If you dry and preserve wild game correctly, you could provide yourself with a food source that lasts for months.
If you’ve never prepped for an emergency before, now is the perfect time to get started. Don’t wait for a disaster to strike before you take action.
Prepping involves dedication, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Take it one step at a time. As we outlined, start prepping by going through your daily activities and considering the area in which you live. Then, dedicate 20% of your budget to cover the 80% most likely scenarios. Over time, you can continue prepping by learning new skills and acquiring useful gear to help you survive.
We hope that you found this complete beginner’s guide useful. Now, what are you waiting for? Get up from your seat and start prepping!