SHTF Survival: The First 72 Hours After SHTF

When it comes to SHTF survival, it’s sometimes a numbers game. And for preppers and survivalists, numbers can dictate whether you survive or not.

One magic number that preppers and survivalists live by? 72.

And when we say 72, we usually say this in relation to the first 72 hours after SHTF. You know, that window of opportunity after disaster strikes? If you haven’t heard of it, then this is the article for you.

Here’s all you need to know about those first 72 hours:

Why the First 72 Hours Are Important for SHTF Survival

For first responders, these 72 hours are crucial to saving lives. Anything past those hours and the chances for survival become slim in an emergency. Once they’ve passed that mark, rescue operations usually become recovery operations.

If it’s that important to first responders, imagine how much more crucial those 72 hours are for you.

To put it in perspective, here are some of the things that are likely to happen during that time frame, right after disaster strikes or SHTF:

Injuries can worsen

If you get injured when SHTF and the world has gone to the bats, a functioning medical clinic will be the last thing you’ll see. It’s going to be pure chaos and more likely than not, you won’t be getting medical attention right away. If you’ve got a serious injury, things could go from worse to worst in the first 24 hours for you.

Supplies and food might run out

a variety of nuts

Depending on how severe the situation is, things might come to a standstill when disaster strikes and SHTF. Fully stocked supermarkets will be a thing of the past as people will flock to these places and fight for anything and everything. In 72 hours, you better believe that supermarkets and even small mom-and-pop stores will be cleared of all the essentials.

Looting and mayhem

To add to supplies and food running out, panic might set in, and people might start to loot stores and even homes. It’s going to be mayhem as people do their best to survive in whatever way they can.

Slow government response

If your local grocery store can’t organize itself when SHTF, what more the local government? They’ll be scrambling around to keep everything in control, but you best expect the government will have a slow response. On the off chance that the government is actually well prepared for cases like this, expect that they’ll be responding to the most dire cases first.

So here, you can get a brief snippet of what could go down and how it could affect you. Now after the initial 72 hours, there are two things that can happen: one, the situation improves or, two, the situation gets worse.

When disaster and natural calamities strike is something we can’t control. And that can be frustrating for many. But it’s not all bad news because there is one thing we can control on our end — how we respond to it.

How We Can Better Prepare for Post SHTF Survival

Since we can control how we respond to the situations around us, we can then definitely prepare for how we handle it.

We can divide prepping for the first 72 in two parts, namely MONTHS before the 72 hours, and DAYS or HOURS before the 72 hours.

Prepping Months Before Disaster Strikes

If you’re a seasoned prepper or you’ve been dabbling in prepping and survival for a little while now, then congratulations. You’re pretty much 95% prepped for SHTF survival.

Here’s a checklist of things you can prep months before disasters strike:

Related: A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Prepping

Now, everything above is what we highly recommend you tackle first. Once you’re done with those, you can consider other prepping aspects like turning your car into a bug out vehicle (BOV) or if you want to look into getting non-lethal weapons for your safety.

Prepping Hours Before Disaster Strikes

But how about if a disaster is just around the corner? A few days away or even just a few hours? Even if you’ve prepared months ahead of time, staying on your toes is essential. Here’s what you can do just hours before disaster strikes and the first 72 hits:

  • Turn on the radio or TV to listen to the news and get info about the situation.
  • Quickly assess if staying at home is a safe option or if it’s better to bug out and weather the storm at your BOL.
  • Secure your home if you plan to stay at home and hold out there.
  • Check your supplies and do a quick inventory of things.
  • Fill up tubs and containers with water.
  • Charge your emergency lights, necessary devices, and batteries.
  • Secure your 72-hour bag—keep it at the ready in case you need to evacuate.

Remember, these are our recommendations. But if you feel like you still have time to do more and prep some more, then go ahead! We set down the foundations, and you build on top of it how you see fit.

Your 72-Hour Bug Out Bag

Now that we know what to do months before and hours before disaster strikes, it’s time we touch on the last point we mentioned for prepping for the first 72 hours of post SHTF survival—your 72-hour bug out bag (BOB).

In the world of prepping, there are different types of bags for various survival situations. The 72-hour bug out bag is a straightforward one, clearly defined in the name. Whatever you need to survive the first 72 hours after SHTF, you put into a reliable and sturdy backpack.

So what do you put in your 72-hour BOB? Well, to make things simple, we’ve divvied it up into ten supply categories:


72 hours might not seem like a long time, but if you’re going 72 hours without eating, buddy, it’s gonna be a long time. So setting aside emergency food and putting it into your 72-hour bug out bag is a wise choice. Go for meals that are easy to prepare and don’t need much effort. Make sure you also have the utensils necessary to prep your meal.


A top priority and a non-negotiable item for SHTF survival is water. If you want to be adequately hydrated, the bare minimum amount of water you can have per day is 1 liter.

But, of course, it’ll also depend a lot on the weather conditions you are in. For a 72-hour bag, doubling the amount and going for 6 liters of fresh drinking water minimum is a safe bet. Along with that, make sure you have at least 2 to 3 water purification methods packed in your bag just in case.


shelter is a key component of SHTF survival

Being protected from the rain, cold, and heat is an essential thing that many folks overlook. So shelter options are something to think about. For a 72-hour bug out bag, opt for a tarp and a good old sleeping bag — shelter items that can be easily packed and taken down. A tarp also has a lot of different shelter configurations for you to choose from.


Another category overlooked by many? Packing in some clothes. We’re not talking about packing a luggage bag fit for a vacation in Cabo, no. Instead, think more about the essentials like a change of underwear, a light rain jacket, wool socks, waterproof boots, and the like. Don’t fret — many of these clothing items you can wear just before you head out.

First Aid

Whether it’s a basic first aid kit or the ultimate first aid kit, having medical needs in your pack is important. You can also make your own first aid kit, but opt for a premade one if that’s too much for you.


When plunged in the dark, a handy light source will be your savior. Pack at least 2-3 light sources in your 72-hour bug out bag. A tactical flashlight should definitely be one of these. Of course, you can also go with candles, a headlamp, and glow sticks.

Fire and Heat

Fire has a lot of purposes, such as keeping you warm, heating food, and signaling for help. It’s the most important survival skill to have, and having the means to start a fire is going to be a must. Luckily, you won’t need to carry much to start a fire. A pack of waterproof matches in your gear will do. You can include a ferro rod fire starter in there, too.


For comms, you can’t rely solely on a cellphone. What will happen if there’s an EMP attack? You can’t exactly conjure up a Faraday cage in seconds. So when brainstorming your SHTF plan, don’t forget to consider other tools you can use for communications.

Packing radios for comms is one way to look at it. Even an AM/FM radio will help you stay in the loop with the latest updates. Walkie-talkies and hand-crank radios are also a safe bet.


When we say tools, we’re not talking about a hammer and some screwdrivers. We’re talking about tools that will help you out in the wild. For example, a multitool might be solid gear to put in your pack. The number of tools it has will come in handy. With that, packing in a separate survival, camp, or bushcraft knife would also be a wise decision. Your self-defense items can also fall under this category.

Important Documents and Items

Remember to pack identification cards, some cash, and your important documents. You can keep all that secured in a waterproof envelope tucked away in a safe part of your bag.

Final Thoughts

The biggest reason why we all prep is so that we aren’t caught unawares when SHTF. The last thing we want is to be caught with our pants down.

And if long-term post SHTF survival is the goal, making it through the first 72 hours will tell you if you’re prepared enough for it.

Anything else you wanna know about SHTF survival? Let us know in the comments!

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