If the coronavirus has inspired you to become a prepper, you’re not alone. At long last, prepping has become mainstream due to runs on supplies, shortages, and stay-at-home orders throughout the country. More folks than ever before are seeing the wisdom of having extra food and household goods on hand. It can help you through not only disasters and pandemics, but also through personal financial problems.
But delve into most preparedness websites (including this one) and it can start to get overwhelming when you read articles about civil unrest, EMPs, and existential catastrophes. You’ll see articles about guns and outdoor survival and all sorts of things in which you have absolutely no interest.
And more than that, it’s kind of overwhelming. It can make you feel like, “Wow, I will never be able to have a bunker in Montana with 150,000 rounds of ammo. I don’t even know how to build a fire. Why even bother?”
Before we get started with the “how to’s” here are a few things you should know.
All of us started at the beginning.
It’s important to know that all of us started somewhere. We all had some event that awakened us to the need to be better prepared. (To learn how some readers were inspired to get started, go here.) We all had to learn the ins and outs, read the books, and acquire the stuff.
Most of us don’t have thousands of dollars to drop on buckets of food and secondary locations. We began by just getting a few extra things when we could.
It takes some time.
Getting well-prepared doesn’t happen overnight. Even if you have a budget that is relatively unlimited, you will find that it still takes time to figure out what you need, where to get it, and where to store it.
So if you can only afford a few extra things each week, that’s a fantastic place to start. Within a month, you may have an extra week’s food supply doing things that way. Within a year, you’ve got a 3-month supply.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a prepper’s stockpile.
You don’t have to be of a particular political or religious belief to be a prepper.
A lot of folks think that most preppers are well-to-do white, right-wing Christians. While a lot of preppers do have that in common, there are a lot who do not. We don’t all live on an acreage in the boondocks and raise everything we eat.
If you feel like you don’t fit into the mold, don’t worry because let me tell you a secret: there really is no mold. We have readers of this website from all different kinds of political and religious backgrounds. We have city dwellers and suburbanites. We have folks who live off the land and folks who buy most of their food from the grocery store. We have rich readers and poor readers. We have people coming here from many different countries with many different belief systems. The thing that unites us is that we want to be prepared.
We have people who are involved in prepping for a huge variety of reasons and we, the writers and editors of this site, sincerely welcome anyone who wants to become better prepared for emergencies.
You don’t have to be a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist to be a prepper.
A lot of folks have this mental image of some wild-eyed guy peering out of the bunker wearing a tinfoil helmet. I’ll grant you that a lot of preppers are mistrustful of the things we hear in the mainstream media. We don’t take things at face value.
But for every prepper who is certain that the New World Order is trying to take over and every event is a false flag, there are preppers who are extremely logical and scientific. There are preppers who are pro-vaccination and anti-vaccination and everything in between.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that we run the gamut. Don’t let the stereotypes scare you away.
Don’t stay someplace you’re treated badly.
In most of the preparedness world, you’ll be welcomed with open arms. But there are a few websites and forums where you find long-time preppers who are incredibly discouraging. If you run into this issue repeatedly, don’t continue hanging out there. Getting started on a big endeavor is overwhelming enough without people like that making you feel like crap.
Around here we like to help each other with advice and suggestions. Feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments section and you’ll probably get more than one answer from those who wish to share their knowledge.
We welcome you and we’re glad you’re here. Go here to sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss a thing.
Now, how do you get started prepping?
Pretty much all of us have recently had a crash course in preparedness with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have been sheltering in place in their homes for over a month now and have seen holes in their purchases. Some folks had the unfortunate experience of going out to stock up a little too late, only to find that the shelves were bare of essentials.
An enormous factor that makes just about every disaster worse is panic. When you wait until the last minute, you’re out there with all the other folks who waited until the last minute. Tensions are high and supplies are low. This can create an unsafe situation and can leave people without the things they need to face the event that has them rushing to the store in the first place.
The goal of prepping is to avoid all that.
When you’re prepped, sure, you really want to make one last run to the grocery store or Target, but if it came right down to it and you couldn’t, you’d still be okay. You still have the things on hand that your family needs to survive an event that lasts for a few hours all the way to a few months or even a few years. (And remember what I said above? It takes a while to get to that point.) The information below contains lots of links to articles, PDF guides, and books for topics you may wish to learn more about.
What are you prepping for?
There are all sorts of events people prep for, one of which, obviously, is a massive pandemic and quarantine. Outside of your general supplies, consider prepping for power outages next. Here’s a PDF guide that will help you get ready for blackouts. and here’s an article with some guidelines.
But there are many more things and some will be unique to your area. The Prepper’s Workbook may be helpful in figuring out exactly what’s the most likely for you. Here are some more regional things to prepare for these events are common in your area:
Focus on the things most pertinent to your area. Think about those most likely events and what generally occurs with them: power outages, property damage, a requirement for special shelter, a secondary disaster (like a flood that follows a hurricane, for example).
Who are you prepping for?
Think about all of the members of your family or any loved ones you might be providing shelter for during an emergency. Everyone will have unique needs and wishes. This is why checklists are a great guideline but they don’t encompass everything.
Think about these needs and stock up accordingly:
Medications (try to get a month ahead on necessary meds if you can, even if it means paying out of pocket)
Entertainment (what your 2-year-old finds fun and what your 14-year-old finds fun are very different)
Picky eaters (I recommend indulging picky eaters if you can – the middle of an emergency is not the time for stress-inducing arguments and familiar foods can help picky folks feel more in control)
Baby and toddler needs like diapers and wipes, as well as formula, and baby food if you use it
Pet supplies like food, kitty litter, carriers and leashes in case of evacuation, and any medication your pet takes
These are just a few examples of special needs. Spend a couple of days with a notebook and pen close at hand and write down every single thing anyone in your household uses, pets included.
Stock up on water.
Water is near and dear to my heart, so much so that I wrote a book on the topic. (You can find The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide HERE.) I always put water at the top of the list, because without it, you’ll be dead in 3 short days. The need for an emergency water supply isn’t always the result of a down grid disaster. Recently, we tapped into our emergency water when the well pump broke. Some places have had water emergencies when the municipal supply was contaminated by stuff like industrial spills or agricultural run-off. Floods and bad storms can also sometimes cause the water supply to be tainted.
Use containers you have RIGHT NOW and fill them with water from the tap. Put the lid on and stash them away. Don’t use milk jugs or juice jugs for drinking water, but you can use them for sanitation water in a pinch. If you can get your hands on some empty, clean 2-liter soda bottles, that will be perfect. We don’t drink soda, so we have some of the 1-gallon water bottles from the store.
Buy some filled 5-gallon jugs of purified water. How much you need should be based on the number of family members. The rule of thumb is 1 gallon per person, per day, but you may find you need a lot more than that when you add in pets and sanitation needs. You may be able to find these less expensively, already filled at the store. When I lived in Canada you could pick up a filled jug for less than $10, but California has all sorts of environmental rules that make these containers more expensive here. Another option is the 7-gallon Aquatainer that is designed for easy stacking. (Be sure to put this in a place where the floor can support the weight of a bunch of heavy water containers.)
Have a way to dispense the water from the jugs. We have a top-loading water dispenser for use in emergencies. These MUST be top loading because the bottom-loading ones require electricity to run the pump.)
Get a gravity-fed water filter. I use a Big Berkey, but it’s a hefty investment when you’re trying to get everything at once. If you can’t swing that, buy Jim Cobb’s Prepper’s Survival Hacks book. It has numerous DIY water filters that you can make without spending a fortune.
Emergency food comes in many different forms. The first thing you have to look at is cooking methods, which we discussed above. The food you choose needs to be able to be prepared using the method you have available now, not the one you plan to get in the future.
Another important note is that your emergency food supply should be nutritious. You won’t want to fill up on empty calories when you may be making greater demands of your body. Keep in mind food restrictions, too, because an emergency situation is bad enough without an allergic reaction or intolerance illness.
There are several different ways to create a food supply.
See what you have. Go through your kitchen cupboards and see what you already have that could be used in an emergency. Things like nut butters, crackers, and other no-cook snacks are great options. Canned foods that only require heating are good as well. Instant rice or noodles can be added to your emergency supply. Group these items together on a special shelf or in a Rubbermaid container so that they are available when you need them. Figure out how long your supply would last your family before you go and purchase more. Figure out what shelf-stable items you need to add to balance out your supply. (Perhaps dried or canned fruit and vegetables, canned meat, jerky, etc., would provide more nutrients and variety.)
Build a pantry. This is the best and least expensive way to build a pantry of familiar foods your family already enjoys. Make a list of what you need to feed your family for a month without a trip to the store, and without reliance on long cooking times. (This rules out beans and rice for most people.) Learn more about building a pantry that will see you through a variety of emergencies (including personal financial crises) in my book, Prepper’s Pantry. Also, check out The Prepper’s Book of Lists, a PDF guide you can print off and write on.
Emergency buckets. The very fastest way to create an instant food supply is emergency buckets of freeze-dried food, which require only the ability to boil water to prepare. One caveat: do not go with the cheapest thing you can find. Some of those taste absolutely terrible. As well, they’re loaded with unhealthy chemicals and sodium. If you normally eat very healthfully, then move to MSG-laden freeze-dried meals, you’re not going to feel well at all in an emergency. My very favorite brand of emergency food is Legacy Foods. Legacy has standard buckets of survival food, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and protein. The quality is very good and the meals are tasty when prepared. Keep in mind that these have to be purchased well before the emergency occurs because currently, almost every company is sold out and back-ordered for weeks.
A way to cook your food during a power outage
If the power goes out, how will you cook? You need the ability to boil water, at the very least. If you can boil water, then you can heat up canned food or prepare freeze-dried food in an emergency. Here are some secondary cooking methods, some of which you may already have.
Woodstove or fireplace. If you heat with wood, you’re a step ahead already, at least in the midst of a winter power outage. However, you won’t want to fire up the woodstove to cook in the summer, particularly since you may already be battling the heat without a fan or air conditioner.
Gas kitchen stove. Some kitchen stoves that use gas or propane can be used without electricity while others can’t. (If you’re replacing your stove, this is definitely a quality you’ll want to look for.)
Outdoor barbecue. If the weather allows, you can fire up your propane or charcoal barbecue during a power outage and cook your feast outdoors.
Rocket stove. There are all sorts of little emergency stoves out there which are designed to boil water quickly and without the use of a great deal of fuel. My favorites are the Volcano 3-way stove and the Kelly Kettle. You can also make an efficient stove. We made one that brought water to boil in less than 4 minutes.
Do not risk using emergency stoves designed for camping, indoors, unless the manufacturer specifically says that it can be used indoors. To do so is to risk fire, smoke damage, or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Another thing that can quickly become dire is personal sanitation. Depending on your situation, you may not have running water or flushing toilets. You need to stock up on supplies to make the best of these situations and keep family members healthy.
Baby wipes. You can never have enough baby wipes. Stock up on these for hand-washing after using the bathroom, before and after food prep, and before eating. They can also be used to wipe down surfaces. You can learn more about hand and surface hygiene when there is no running water HERE.
Cleaning supplies. You still have to keep your home reasonably clean when there is no running water to help prevent illness and disease. You can find some cleaning hacks HERE.
Personal waste plan. You have to have a plan to deal with personal waste when the toilet won’t flush. This article tells you how to make a human kitty litter toilet, a very inexpensive solution to the personal waste issue. Waste must be handled very carefully to avoid the spread of disease and illness.
Here are the items I recommend that you keep on hand for water emergencies:
Disposable disinfecting wipes
Super absorbent paper towels
Baby wipes (These can be used for handwashing and personal hygiene.
Your regular spray cleaner (Ours is vinegar and orange essential oil)
Kitty litter. This soaks up messes and helps to absorb odor. (If your toilet won’t flush because you’re on a city sewer system, it can also be used as a makeshift toilet. This serious concern and how to make this toilet is discussed here.)
If a power outage takes place in the winter, you may need a secondary source of heat.
Woodstove or fireplace
Propane heater (I recommend the Mr. Buddy brand – it’s safe to use indoors)
Natural gas fireplaces – the fan won’t work but you may be able to thoroughly heat one room with these as long as the gas works.
There are many more options. For a detailed discussion on staying warm during a power outage, check out this article.
Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house. Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.
Some lighting solutions are:
Garden stake solar lights
Kerosene lamp and fuel
Flashlights (don’t forget batteries)
Hand crank or solar lantern
Don’t forget matches or lighters
For more information on lighting, check out this article.
Tools and supplies
Some basic items will make your life much easier during an emergency. Here are some things that are essential in the event of a power outage:
Batteries in various sizes
Manual can opener
Basic tools: Pliers, screwdriver, wrench, hammer
If you’d like to expand on the basic supplies, a more detailed list of tools and hardware can be found HERE.
First Aid kit
It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency. Your kit should include basic wound care items like bandages, antibiotic ointments, and sprays. As well, if you use them, keep on hand a supply of basic over-the-counter medications, like pain relief capsules, cold medicine, cough syrup, anti-nausea pills, heartburn pills, and allergy medication.
If you want to put together a more advanced medical kit, you can find a list HERE.
As you continue along your preparedness journey, you’ll find that there are other items that are very important to you. For example, you’ll want to build a bug-out bag for possible evacuations.
Another book you might like is Be Ready for Anything. It’s a comprehensive guide that covers 12 different disasters and prepping basics in a thorough manner.
And don’t be surprised when this mindset creates within you the itch to be more self-reliant, which means you’ll be adding gardening tools, sewing supplies, woodworking tools, and other supplies to your stockpile.
You’ve got this!
I know this sounds like a LOT. But remember, you don’t have to do everything today. Break it down into manageable pieces. This gives you a broad overview.
You’re going to do some list-writing, so grab a notebook and pen.
Write a master list. Now, based on this article, go through and write a list of the things that you feel are important for your family’s preparedness plan. Include the things that you already have. Organize your list by checking off the things you have.
Organize the supplies that you have into “kits”. I have Rubbermaid tubs labeled with the contents for emergency purposes, sorted into kits for things like pandemic supplies, off-grid lighting, batteries and power supplies, etc.
Now write a minimalist list of the first things that you must have for survival. Don’t worry if you can’t get everything at once. Start off by covering all of the bases with a skeleton kit that will get you by. This list might include some food that doesn’t require cooking (thus eliminating the immediate need for a secondary cooking method), a way to keep warm, water, a kitty litter toilet, and some baby wipes.
Finally, write the big list. This is a list of the things mentioned in the article that you want to own. Make a copy of the list and keep it in your wallet so that if you happen by a thrift store or yard sale, you know what you need. As your budget allows, pick up one or two of these items per week. These may be higher ticket items so don’t worry if it takes you a while to get them. You’ve gotten the bare necessities, so these items will just add to your already sturdy foundation of preparedness.
Don’t panic. Start with your basics in each category and add to it as your time and budget allow.
I mentioned this earlier, but if you want more guidance to get started, here’s a PDF book to help you get prepped no matter where you live: The Prepper’s Workbook. It’s based on a course I used to offer but I think the workbook is a great way to do the exercises with a smaller time commitment and a lower price tag.
Most of all, welcome. We’re glad that you’ve joined us. You’re going to be ready the next time something like this rolls around without fighting the crowds for those last few rolls of toilet paper.