This basic preparedness primer was originally published in September, 2020. It was intended to help people become more prepared for the uncertainty of an upcoming election. With the recent flooding in North Carolina and Tennessee I thought it would be a good time to re-post it, along with a substantial update. I added a couple thousand words to this very long article, including a brand new section on bug-out bags. I sincerely hope this article helps you become better prepared to deal with emergencies.
This article contains affiliate links.
Preparing for Acute Events
I have gotten several questions lately about my basic preparedness for the upcoming winter. We are using the election as a solid, line-in-the-sand for some of our preparedness objectives and honestly, it’s not a bad event horizon.
I did not plan to ever write a down-and-dirty primer on preparedness. Some of you may have noticed some seemingly oddball posts, like my post examining the charcoal grill as a survival cooking tool. My plan was to write a bunch of seemingly disconnected articles, then tie them all together in a huge, comprehensive article linking to all of those seemingly disparate topics.
However, I see the need for an article for those just getting started, or those wanting to quickly cover most of the bases “well enough” for a short-term, acute emergency. This certainly isn’t the only article of its kind and I recommending seeking a second opinion. Don’t be crippled by analysis paralysis, though. Take action and do something, even if it’s not perfect.
Keep in mind that knowledge is the ultimate preparedness item you can obtain and accumulate. I am constantly admonishing readers to seek training in a variety of topics. Seek training, read books, experiment, learn.
I really hate writing a one-piece article on how to be prepared. This is an immense topic, and I had planned to do in chunks, over several years. This is titled “Preparing for Acute Events” because preparing for long-term, “chronic” events is much more involved and won’t be solved in a few trips to the grocery store, the gun store, and a couple Amazon orders. The advice in this article is intended to get you through a serious, short-term event, and perhaps serve as an starter kit for longer-term preparedness.
Duration & Intensity
A good deal of “beginner” or basic preparedness advice focuses on preparing for three or so days. If that is all you can do, it is massively better than nothing. Along with what most Americans can scrounge from the backs of their fridges and cupboards that could probably be stretched for a couple more days in most households.
The three-day model is designed around holding out until help arrives. Again, that’s way better than nothing, but a disaster might be several times that in length, even if it is fairly high-intensity disaster. Once the calvary does arrive, they probably have a million other priorities. I recommend preparing to hunker down, without support or resupply for an absolute minimum of one week (seven days) and building up to two weeks.
Being able to look out the window and know you have all the preparations – physical, mental, emotional, and financial – to completely ‘lock it down’ for a set period is a really, really good feeling.
That should get you out of the woods for most Type II emergencies – at least long enough to resupply yourself. I think two weeks of self-sufficiency is an attainable goal for most Americans. Being able to look out the window and know you have all the preparations – physical, mental, emotional, and financial – to completely ‘lock it down’ for a set period is a really, really good feeling.
This post is divided into the following sections: Food, Water, Environment, Medications & First Aid, Hygiene, Safety, Security, Pets, Bugout Bags, and Non-Essentials. Without further ado, let’s begin.
Basic Preparedness: Food
This is probably what most people think of then they think of “preparedness” and it’s not wrong. It’s not the whole story, but it’s certainly not wrong. For long-term preparedness the focus shifts more toward producing your own food. If you are preparing solely for an acute emergency (which you should be doing, at a bare minimum) laying in a little bit of food and water is a really good idea. There are a number of ways you can go here.
Whatever you choose, you should have a self-sufficient way to prepare your food, if it requires cooking. Even it if doesn’t, you will probably want at least some hot food. I’ve started chipping away at some “survival cooking” articles but whatever you choose, figure it out now. It could be a grill, a JetBoil, a two-burner Coleman stove, or something else. It could be a combination of all the above. You also need plenty of fuel, and things like can non-electric openers. I’m not going to go much deeper than to say you probably need a way to cook – or at least heat – your food.
Food Storage Principles
You should probably have at least a small supply of food that requires no preparation, like canned food. In some instances you may not be able to start a fire or fire up a camp stove. Unless you have a really resilient method of cooking, you probably want to avoid things that require elaborate preparation. For most of these you will need a way to boil water. Even if your food is all ready-to-eat you will, at mimimum, desire a way to heat it. Cold food gets really unappetizing.
Items that can be stored without refrigeration are preferred. Remember, we are assuming disaster conditions and electricity is not a given. Let’s look at some food options.
Long-Term Storage Foods
Mountain House meals are a go-to prepper food. They are freeze-dried meals that are very lightweight, pretty tasty, and require nothing more than hot water to prepare. These aren’t a bad option, but unfortunately they’re relatively expensive. Also, if a buy a boxed set, like their 3-day meal kit, make sure to check the calories and ensure you’re actually getting to maintain your anticipated level of physical activity. This becomes even more important over longer terms, but it’s worth checking out even for a 7-day supply.
Military and watered-down civilian MREs are also an option…I guess. I don’t own a single one. Eating two MREs a day for six months kind of ruined my appetite for them. I am hesitant to brag about anything I’ve done, but I will say without hesitation I’ve eaten my fair share of MREs, all the way back to “Four Fingers of Death” days. (I once tossed one to a homeless man at a stop light. He picked it up and whipped it back at my car. Though I was pissed in the moment, upon reflection I understood and he earned a grudging respect from me.). There are plenty of strikes against them: they’re very expensive, bulky, heavy, extremely unhealthy, preservative and sodium-laden, and they taste like warm garbage. If you like MREs you probably haven’t eaten enough of them. I do not recommend MREs.
A huge downside to both of these options is expense. Freeze-dried meals and MREs are insanely expensive compared to normal foods. They’re also foreign and your family isn’t used to eating them. Let’s look at some other options.
My preferred method is called “copy canning” and is not my own idea. Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast is, as far as I know, the pioneer of this method (he describes it in this episode, along with plenty of other really solid information). Here’s what you do: you write down everything you eat for a week. Then when you go to the grocery store you start buying doubles of of the items you use. Used a box of instant oatmeal? But two next time you go to the grocery store. Used two boxes of mac ‘n cheese? Buy four this week. You used four cans of tuna? Buy eight next week.
You keep that up until you’ve doubled everything, giving you an extra week’s worth of food. You don’t have to double everything in one trip – you can space it out to make it more financially viable. This week buy the extra oatmeal. Next week buy the extra mac and cheese. The week after that, get a couple cans of the tuna. Slowly start chipping away at it and within a few weeks you will have added a week’s worth of food. Copy canning is low cost, and it helps you build a supply of food that you already eat.
The beauty here is that everything you accumulate is things are things you already eat. You’ll eat them in time, even if there is no emergency. And…if there is a mundane emergency like getting laid off your job (infinitely more plausible than an EMP) you have a supply of food to ease you through your loss of income. Like the best preparedness measures, it is a hedge against all hazards, not just a few implausible ones.
Dedicated Storage Goods
Copy canning is awesome but it can take some time. You may want to get a jump start with some inexpensive, durable dry goods. A small sum like $100 would go a long, long way for an individual, and would be an awesome head start for a family. It would also probably be massively healthier than MREs or other heavily processed, preserved food. Some dry goods that last a long time and don’t require a ton of prep that would be worth your time to consider are:
- White rice (usually around $0.50 – 0.75/pound),
- Dried beans (from $.50 to $1.00/pound, depending on the bean),
- Quick cook oats (usually around $1.50/pound),
- Peanut butter,
- Pasta and sauce,
- A can per day of vegetables,
- A can per day of fruit,
- Some canned meat (tuna, chicken)
Again, I wouldn’t invest a fortune in things you don’t eat. If you don’t eat canned meat, don’t waste your money on it. We eat a TON of rice, and we keep 100 – 120 pounds on hand. Even if we didn’t eat it, we’d only be out $50-60 for it, so it makes sense to keep some around. On the other hand, we don’t eat SPAM. We would have to get pretty hungry in an emergency before we started eating it, so it’s not worth our time or money to stockpile any of it.
As silly as it sounds, don’t forget a few comfort items. For us that’s coffee (and an Aeropress), honey, popcorn (the bags of kernels, not the microwave stuff) and s’mores stuff. We don’t eat a ton of s’mores but we have plenty of friends with kids, and that’s a fun diversion.
Basic Preparedness: Water
Food is useless without water. Your body will not process food without water. There is an awful lot I want to say about water and having sustainable sources of water. However, for this article we’ll leave it at this: a minimum of one gallon per person, per day. No, everyone is not going to drink a gallon per day. But between cooking, drinking, and hygiene you’ll want at least this amount. Don’t forget your pets, too. My three dogs combined drink at least a gallon of water per day, so we plan for three people.
The Simple Gallon Jug
Gallon jugs are a fantastic way to store water. These jugs cost about a dollar apiece at your local grocery store, just about anywhere in the country, on that forgotten water aisle. Gallon jugs store easily. You can shove a couple under your bathroom sink, into the back corners of your closet, under the bed… Trust me – you can find places to store gallons of water. Some people recommend filling 2-liter bottles. My only beef with that is that you first have to empty those bottles. If you drink enough soda for that to be meaningful, then by all means refill the bottles… but also think about cutting back on the soda.
I really like gallons rather than a single, larger container because the loss/damage of one isn’t a huge loss. Keep in mind there is some variation in quality of gallon jugs. Some are “milk-jug” type plastic that is a little less robust. I might spend just a bit more per jug and get ones that are a bit tougher.
Five-gallon containers – the kind in office water bubblers – aren’t bad either, if you’re going to have a lot of them. If you only need ten or so gallons, I’d still recommend individual gallon jugs. The five gallon jugs are hard to pour and you don’t want the loss of one to be the loss of a major percentage of your overall water. If you want to fill your own there are plenty of water storage containers out there, but remember to purify the water.
I would also have a few cases of bottled water. There are a few reason you might want a couple cases. First, they are very easily divisible. If you decide to give someone water, you already have a container. If you do need to bug out, you can grab bottles. You can also put these in your fridge and freezer to act as cold banks. My stand-up freezer door is full of bottled water. If the power goes out they will keep the freezer cold for a long time. And when it thaws…it’s just bottled water. Bottled water never truly expires and should be good for a long, long time.
Keep in mind alternate sources of water. Your water heater probably holds several gallons of water; mine holds 75. I don’t want that to be sole source that I have to go to every time the power goes out, but it’s nice to know it’s there. Also consider ice trays and the toilet tank, as well. If you are going to rely on your water heater as a source of water, make sure you know how to get water out of it now. YouTube might not be available when you really need water from your water heater. Don’t forget the backs of toilet tanks, the ice trays, etc.
Bathtub liners like the WaterBOB are nice. However, there is no guarantee you’ll get advance warning of an emergency and have the opportunity to fill the tub. If you do, great! We have a couple of these but don’t count on them as our sole source of water.
Ideally you’ll have some sort of way to collect and purify more water, but that’s a long-term topic, and a discussion for another day.
This is the category of things that covers your living arrangements. Though bug-out bags have long been designed around “heading for the hills” (this seems to maybe be going away) your house is usually the best place for you to stay in an emergency. Not always – there are always localized things like chemical spills, wildfires, house fires, or a bunch of other stuff that could force you out of your home. Generally speaking though, if you can stay in your home, you should.
Heating and Cooling
Your environment will be much more comfortable if you can heat and/or cool it, as dictated by your environment and time of year. Since this article is focused on election season, I’ll assume cold weather. If you live in a cold climate, I would recommend having some source of heat that is not dependent on electricity. Wood heat is our option of choice. In order to use wood-heat make sure you have plenty of wood, your heater is in good repair, and your chimney/flue is cleaned. If you have heat that is entirely gas-powered, you’re good to go provided you have your own gas tank…and maybe a spare.
If not, you’ll want to look at some sort of auxiliary heat source. I have had great luck with kerosene heaters. A gallon of fuel will go a long way toward heating a small room, especially if you close your house down and only heat a small, interior area. If you choose to go this route I also recommend a carbon monoxide detector and fire extinguisher. I’ll talk more about those items in the Safety section.
You will also want to ensure you have plenty of warm clothing and bedding. It is much easier and more efficient to heat people than it is to heat all the air in a place. I would also recommend against running auxiliary heaters when you are sleeping.
You will also want some source of light. I have written extensively about EDC flashlights and have reviewed a bunch of them. If you’ve followed any of my advice, you at least have a flashlight in your pocket. You probably want to add to that, though. Headlamps are great (and a shortcoming I have) because they allow you to see where you look.
You might also want some sort of are light, like a lantern. Ambient light is important when you’re just trying to function. We have several AA-powered lanterns and quite a few batteries to keep them powered. Here’s a really good one from Streamlight, or a 3-pack of halfway decent, Chinese ones. I have both. The cheaper ones definitely work, though without a diffuser on the lamp they are way harsher. They also seem a bit more fragile than the Streamlight lantern.
In addition to flashlights, headlamps, and lanterns, you will need batteries to keep them charged. I have tried to standardize everything to AA batteries so I can store one size for all my stuff (with the exception of gun sights and lights). Lithium AA batteries are a bit more expensive but pack more power, and last twice as long (an advertised 20 years) as alkaline batteries. You should also probably consider some rechargeable batteries and a solar pane with which to recharge them. In fact, you probably need batteries for a lot of stuff, so have a lot of them.
There are other lighting options, of course. We have several oil lamps and a couple gallons of oil. These are reserved for extreme situations. If we can do without using these, we will. The risk of additional open flame in the house is something we wish to avoid if possible.
I’ve written about it before but your home is your single biggest prep. You may want to consider some items to keep your home in good repair in the event of a disaster. At a minimum that probably means a way to tape up a broken window, and can include many, many other items. This will depend largely on your level of handiness, whether you own or rent, and the likely disasters in your area. Some good, basic items regardless of where you live are sheet plastic, Gorilla tape, and a heavy-duty tarp.
If you live in hurricane country or densely populated urban areas, you may want to have way to board up your windows. Personally, I prefer hardware cloth over plywood. It’s protects the window from thrown objects, is easier to store, easier to cut, and it still permits air and light to flow through the window. I’ll put it up much sooner and leave it up much longer than I will plywood, which I would be very hesitant to nail over my windows.
Preparing your home means a lot more than just buying stuff. If you live in wildfire country it also means clearing the land around your home of flammable material. You should keep your gutters and ditches cleaned out so water can flow off you house and property. I
Basic Preparedness: Medications & First Aid
In an acute or prolonged emergency, EMS may have very lengthy response times. If you are reading my blog you are likely prepared for extended LE response times. Are you equally prepared for a medical emergency? During the recent disasters in NC and TN entire communities were cut off from emergency services for several days. Are you really ready for that tether to 9-1-1 to be broken? There are four categories of medical supplies I would have on hand. I have tried to prioritize these in order of most- to least-likely, and this is probably how you should prioritize your purchases.
Ideally you should never fall below a 30-day supply of prescription medications, especially if your life depends upon that medication. I realize this is sometimes difficult to do. Some of your medications may have as short shelf life, require refrigeration, and and insurance companies probably don’t like filling extra ‘scripts. If at all possible, try to stockpile at least a month’s supply of in-date medication. If you have an Epi-Pen for an acute allergy consider purchasing an extra (or two). I realize that they are expensive, but if you have an allergic reaction with a delayed EMS response time they will keep you alive.
whether you wear glasses or contacts, you should have at least one extra pair of glasses. Glasses are preferred over contacts in most austere environment. Glasses are typically more durable than contacts. You can put glasses on when your hands are filthy, and if glasses get dirty or scratched, the still work. Heck, sometimes glasses can even be taped back together when broken. I don’t have contacts or glasses (yet?) but I would definitely want an extra pair if I did.
It is not a bad idea to have some over-the-counter medications available. At a minimum I would recommend having new, unopened containers of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loperamide (Immodium), pseudoepinephrine (Sudafed, available at the pharmacy counter), and hydrocortisone cream.
If you don’t have any first aid training, I would recommend remedying that immediately, if not sooner. A distant, distant second to live training would be a book. I’ve read several books on first aid this year. Without question my hands-down favorite is NOLS Wilderness Medicine by Todd Shimelpfenig. It’s not a substitute for training but it’s a great refresher/reference.
First aid kits can be divided into several categories. The first-line kit is the IFAK (individual first aid kit). This is the least well-stocked kit and is designed to keep you alive until you can reach a higher level of care. The IFAK has a ton of sex appeal but keep in mind it is super limited in scope. If you can’t afford an IFAK you can throw together a really capable basic first aid kit for a few dollars. For the cost of a single IFAK you could put together half a dozen of these kits and equip your whole family.
Moving a big step up from that would be a comprehensive home first aid kit. The stuff in your kit should be dependent on your level of training, but the underlying goal should be to keep someone alive and comfortable if access to definitive (or at least a higher level) of care is delayed by hours or days. I covered what is in my home first aid kit the other day. Don’t just run out and buy all the shit I have unless you know how to employ it.
Additionally, I would have some wound care supplies like an irrigation syringe and plenty of sterile bandages. I didn’t cover that in the first aid kit article, and it will likely be the topic of a second article at some point in the future.
Basic Preparedness: Hygiene
The COVID pandemic has taught us the importance of having plenty of soap and toilet paper on hand. There are a number of other hygiene products you should consider keeping on hand.
Soap and Cleaning Products
We keep plenty of hand soap and dish-washing soap on hand. We also keep a large bottle of hand sanitizer. Cleanliness is important. Cleanliness in an disaster, when your sewer system isn’t at its tip-top best is even more important. You will also want to have plenty of disinfecting cleaning spray. If you don’t want powerful chemicals, white vinegar is a pretty effective and very inexpensive cleaner. I would definitely recommend having some high-level disinfectant (like bleach) for cleaning certain things like toilets or your counter after handling raw chicken or pork.
Paper Towels and Toilet Paper
After COVID, this one is a no-brainer, right? You know you will use it every single day, so why not stock up? Same thing for paper towels. You don’t have to buy a pallet of paper to make it last a while. We’ve found that two 24-packs of toilet paper and 2 8-count packages of paper towels will last the two of us almost three months. We have also invested in a bunch of cloth napkins and cloth kitchen towels to help reduce our consumption of paper towels. An awesome alternative to toilet paper is baby wipes. Baby wipes can be a bit difficult to find right now, but I highly recommend tracking some down. They are much more versatile than toilet paper, and actually do a better job of cleaning you.
you’re going to want plenty of heavy-duty trash bags. This is especially true if you don’t have water because they will likely become your toilet. You’ll also want a good way to secure all the other trash you generate, so get a good supply of good, heavy-duty trash bags NOW. And speaking of…
Using the Bathroom
If you don’t know what you will use as a toilet during an emergency, find out NOW. There are several different options. Don’t wait until emergency is upon you to try and figure it out, or purchase what you think you’ll need. Figure it out now, and buy the necessary stuff now. If you don’t have running water, you’ll immediately have a bathroom problem.
The easy way to deal with this, at least in the short-term, is to have enough water to manually fill the back of the toilet tank; if the tank is full, the toilet will flush. Not to get back to water storage but… we store 50-ish gallons of water for drinking/cooking. In the event of power loss our water-heater would be tapped to fill toilet tanks. You can make this go a bit further by not flushing ever single time someone pees. If you live in a rural environment you may be able to move urination to an outdoor sport for all, and reserve the toilet for more substantial leavings.
Basic Preparedness: Safety
You should have the tools and knowledge to turn off your utilities including electricity, gas, and water. If a water line breaks you are going to create a huge inconvenience for yourself. If a gas line breaks you can potentially kill your entire family and destroy your home. Understand this stuff now and don’t just rely on calling the landlord or a handyman. In an emergency this will be your responsibility.
Fires are a huge hazard in natural (and man-made) disasters. Heat and/or open flames from heaters, fireplaces, candles, lamps/lanterns, camp stoves, etc. greatly increase the risk of fire. This is maybe the single biggest safety threat that you should be aware of in an emergency. There are a couple things you should consider here.
The first is a rehearsed exit plan. If a fire catches in your home, do you have a way to get out? What if you are confined to your bedroom (or any other room in your home)? Do you have a way to get out? If the answer is “no” you need to start thinking about that. You should make sure windows open, and upper-story bedroom windows have emergency escape ladders.
You should also seriously consider smoke detectors. Do you have enough to cover all the major areas in your home? Do they work? Are they any good? When was the last time you replaced their batteries? Also…did you know that there are two types of smoke detectors? One is a little cheaper and therefor more common…and one is better. This article from ITS tactical explains the difference between the two.
I mentioned it in the section on heating, but what about carbon monoxide detectors? If you’re using auxiliary heat sources, light sources, and methods of cooking, you’re probably generating some carbon monoxide. There’s a reason carbon monoxide poisonings rise after natural disasters. Make sure you have a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector, and the batteries to keep it running.
You should also have fire extinguishers. We have four in our home. The first is a large, 10-lb model in the living room near the fire place. Next we have a 5-pound extinguisher under the sink in kitchen, and another in the garage. We also have a small, aerosol extinguisher in a cabinet right beside the stove. Admittedly we’re on the heavy side of things compared to most home owners, but I do not want to lose my abode due to a house fire if I can help it. Don’t forget to maintain your fire extinguishers, either.
Depending on your situation it might not be necessary for you to have four fire extinguishers. No matter what your living situation you should have at least one. There are several types of extinguisher, but for general, in-home use stick with a versatile A-B-C type extinguisher.
Security is protection from human threats rather than environmental threats. I certainly recommend having some security measures in place. My idea of security measures doesn’t begin and end with guns, however.
Perimeter Security Measures
If you own a suppressor but have $9, off-brand deadbolts on your doors then let’s be honest with each other: that suppressor isn’t really because you care about security…it’s because you wanted a suppressor. I’m all for cool-guy stuff, but you should cover the low-cost, high-yield bases first. I’ve written about selecting deadbolts before, and I’ve written about high-security deadbolts. I realize locks aren’t “fun” items to buy, but they are very important. It’s probably worth spending less than the cost of an NFA tax stamp to put decent deadbolts on all of your doors.
You might also consider some other security measures like motion lights and cameras. These things won’t work when the power is out, but they will make your home a hard target every other day of the year. A worthwhile and inexpensive use of your time would be to clear concealment (especially in the form of overgrown shrubs) from around your house. The sky is pretty much the limit, all the way up to creating a safe room.
This is an unpopular sentiment but probably most important one here: I strongly recommending developing an “outer cordon” of people willing to let you know when something is amiss. If you do a good enough job they might even pitch in and help you out, or intervene on your behalf. This requires some work on your part, both to cultivate and maintain, but a little effort goes a long way. It’s not as simple as going to the hardware store and buying an item, unfortunately.
Getting to know your neighbors is not as Instagram-worthy as another AR pistol, but if you’re interested in genuine security it’s much more valuable.
I recommend baking some cookies, brewing some beer, cutting some flowers from your garden…something, and taking some to your neighbors. Start with all the houses you can see from your house and introduce yourself. If you’ve “known” them for years but don’t have a relationship – even if you hate them – just say you were thinking about them and wanted to do something for them. If it goes well, invite some people over for dinner or a drink. That alone will get you 75% of the way. Getting to know your neighbors is not as Instagram-worthy as another AR pistol, but if you’re interested in genuine security it’s much more valuable.
Firearms: Long Arms
You should also certainly consider firearms as part of your security plan. Again, if your plan begins and ends with guns, you probably need to reconsider. But should that last-resort-scenario materialize, you’ll probably want a gun. My recommendation would be one long gun (rifle or shotgun) and one handgun per capable and willing adult in your household. Rather than own two dozen guns, I’d rather own four or five that are high-quality and well-equipped with high-quality accessories.
For long guns I would recommend an AR-15 or a shotgun like the Remington 870, Mossberg 500/590, or Beretta 1301. I would equip my long gun with good sights, a weapon-mounted light of some sort, and a sling. I have covered the setup of a AR carbine in a three-part series (Part I, Part II, Part III), and the shotgun in a standalone article. If you are newer to firearms I recommend checking them out.
I also recommend a handgun for when carrying a long gun is impractical (read: 99.9% of the time). I haven’t gotten around to writing these articles yet, so I’m going to link you to a couple of other articles. The first is from Lucky Gunner Lounge and covers the “Best Handguns for New Shooters.” The other is from Active Response Training and is about choosing “Your First Gun.” I agree with much of what both of these articles say, but not necessarily everything.
Which should you buy first – long gun or handgun? Both have a number of advantages. It is much easier to have handgun on you at all times. A long gun, however, is so much easier to master. I think you should consider a handgun first, but ONLY if there is a realistic chance you’ll carry it in a high quality holster. If you’re like most “normal” concealed carriers I know (i.e. non-enthusiasts) you’re probably not going to carry very much.
Off the top of my head I can name several individuals who I personally know who let their permit expire without ever leaving the house with a gun on them. Even worse, these are also some of the people most likely to buy crap holsters, or leave a handgun in an accessible nightstand drawer, the center console of a car, or other dangerous places. For them a long-gun would almost certainly be a better choice – it’s just much easier to shoot a long gun well.
If you are new to firearms, be aware that they also require investment in some other things. You will want ammunition; at the time of this writing ammunition is difficult to find and expensive when you do. You will also want magazines, cleaning gear, and if your gun is a handgun, a high-quality holster. Importantly you will also want training. No offense but, “I’ve been around guns my whole life” too, and I still attend training pretty often.
I also highly recommend some non-firearm options. The middle of some calamitous event is not when I want to be hauled into jail (remember, there are no special “good guy” cops. If you shoot someone you might be treated very much like a bad guy until things are sorted out.). I recommend having some pepper spray on hand. I have written in detail about my opinions on pepper spray.
For defense in the home bear spray might be better than pepper spray. The canisters hold much more spray, the spray is generally a bit more potent, and it has much greater range. We currently own bear spray; although it’s primarily for hiking I wouldn’t hesitate to use it to defend my home if the need arose.
Basic Preparedness for Your Pets
Don’t forget your pets when it comes to all of this, too. Most of us are pretty attached to our pets. I’m a pretty practical guy, but I love my dogs. There are a few considerations here: food, health/meds, identification, and retention. Yes, getting this stuff takes effort, but if you aren’t willing to take care of your pets, maybe you should reconsider pet ownership.
Food and Water
You have to buy dog food anyway, so if you have the storage space you might as well stock up. We keep a minimum of 120 lbs of dog food on hand (that’s a minimum – we aim for twice that). That’s a 40-pound bag, per dog. With a little supplementation from our leftovers, some fresh eggs, and maybe some rice, that would keep the dogs fed for about a month.
In addition to dog food, also consider water. Our three, large dogs go through a combined gallon of water a day. This increases our water use estimates by 50%, so don’t forget to factor this in. This is especially important if you have livestock or large numbers of pets.
You should have your pets’ vaccination records. It is extremely important to have your pets vaccinated, and have easily-accessible proof of vaccination. This is especially true if you live in a large city or if you have a high likelihood of having to displace (bug out). I would have this stuff in a pet “go bag” where you can easily find it. Don’t forget to update it each your as your vaccinations are updated.
If your pet requires any specific medications, you will want to have a supply on hand. Our dogs get heartworm and flea/tick meds where we live, so we keep that on hand. If your pet requires daily medications you will definitely want to keep a good supply on hand.
You absolutely, 100% want to have a tag on your dog with his or her name, your contact info, and a rabies tag. This will let someone know at a glance that the dog is a pet and not just a stray. It will let the finder know the dog is well taken care of and vaccinated. And it will give even the casual individual a way to get in touch with you should your pet become separated from you somehow. I would also get your dog chipped. Collars break and come off. Tags can get broken off of collars. A microchip is a quick, easy way for vets to ID your pet and get in contact with you.
You absolutely, 100%, without question want to have a way to restrain and retain your pet(s). Even if your dog is a 100% indoor dog who never wears a collar, you should have a collar and leash available, know where it is, and know that it fits. If you have to leave with your let this will be a critical item. All three of our dogs wear choke-chains, 100% of the time. Choke-chains are inexpensive, minimalist when not in use, simple to use, and extremely strong.
We also keep leashes hung by the door. Though our dogs have a huge (3/4-acre) fenced yard, we also hike with them often. More importantly, if we have to leave our house in a hurry, we want to know instantly where the leashes are. If you have small animals (cats or small dogs) a kennel is probably a good idea.
Basic Preparedness: The Bugout Bag (B.O.B.)
Way, way too much emphasis is put on the “bugout bag” (or bug out bag, B.O.B.). This is where a lot of people begin their preparedness efforts. It’s not a terrible idea but it definitely shouldn’t be the first line of defense…at least for most people. If you have a safe, dry, comfortable home you shouldn’t get in a hurry to abandon it. It is usually much safer to stay where you are. Unfortunately it is no always possible to shelter-in-place.
Another prepper fallacy says, “I’ll never leave, no matter what!” That works great in theory…until a wildfire or flood is bearing down on your house. Absolutist statements like this leave no room for options, and options are good. Remember, every one of you has ancestors who “bugged out” from somewhere. During a recent emergency near my home I saw people fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. You owe yourself and your family to at least try not to end up empty-handed and completely at the mercy of strangers.
Bugout Bag Misconceptions
The most common problem I see with bugout bag is the idea of what it’s for. Though we are slowly coming around, the bugout bag has long been seen as a “head for the hills” bag. As such, it has been loaded with wilderness survival gear like snares, rifles, axes, and machetes. There’s nothing wrong with this, if indeed you head for the hills. The odds you will head for the hills are vanishingly small, though (translation: it’s not going to happen).
The Realistic Bugout Bag
Much more likely you will be headed to a friend/relative’s house, a hotel, or some other “normal” place outside the impacted area. I would prepare for that first. If you really want to make an end-of-the-world, “I’m Not Coming Home” (I.N.C.H) bag after that, go ahead. But prepare for the likely scenario first. Here is what I’d put in it:
- Change of clothes. You don’t have to buy brand-new stuff – use your older clothes or buy thrift-store stuff. A pair of long pants, a shirt, socks, underwear (probably not from the thrift store), a jacket, and maybe a pair of shoes.
- Hygiene basics: toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes at a minimum.
- Cash: The sky’s the limit. Ideally I’d recommend $1,000, mostly in 100s, with a couple hundred broken into 20s, 10s, 5s, and 1s. A thousand dollars will solve a LOT of problems, including providing food, fuel, a place to stay, car repairs, and more. Also consider a spares of your credit and/or debit cards.
- Identification: In the event your wallet is lost. Good substitutes include state-issued IDs (if you can get one in addition to your driver’s license), passport/passport card, or Global Entry card.
- Basic Tools: a flashlight, knife, and multi-tool.
That’s not the high-speed, low-drag list found in many B.O.B kits, but it’s probably much more useful. For a more detailed look of what I consider to be a realistic bag, check out my Realistic Bug-Out Bag article.
These are up to the individual. As most of us know, being stuck at home can be really boring. Having a few non-essentials can make it much more bearable. Here are a few things that you may want to have on hand if you’re hunkering down.
Tobacco and Alcohol
if you don’t already use alcohol or tobacco, don’t start because of a disaster. If you do smoke or dip I strongly recommend quitting. I know it’s possible because I’ve done it myself. Save the money you would spend on these substances for more useful stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in a preparedness article, but if you smoke or dip and can’t quit you will want to keep an appropriate amount of dip or cigarettes on hand. You may also want to throw in a box or two of nicotine patches in case you can’t smoke for some reason.
Though alcohol is a really harmful drug (I really wish we would stop saying, “drugs and alcohol” as if alcohol is somehow different than other drugs(and an extremely harmful one) I suppose I look a bit more favorably upon it. Perhaps this is due to my own, responsible consumption habits. We enjoy the occasional beer and keep a few six-packs of beer on hand. If you enjoy an occasional drink it might be a good idea to keep some extra on hand. Don’t overdo it. Don’t get drunk during an emergency. Wait until the immediate, life-threatening dangers have passed, and even then use alcohol only sparingly.
People got really bored during COVID quarantines, and that was with the benefit of endless TV and movie streaming and a boundless internet. You and your family will get very bored without electricity. This is doubly true if you have kids. Invest now now in something to do. Puzzles and board games take up a lot of time. If you don’t want to spend a ton of money, go to the local used book store and spend $20 on used books – fiction, non-fiction, whatever floats your boat. Put them on the shelf – now you have many, many hours of inexpensive, high-quality entertainment.
The Un-Fun Stuff
I’ve written about this stuff before and they are some of the important preparedness articles I have written. Unfortunately they are also the last popular. They aren’t about “stuff” – they’re about doing. Here they are:
Prepare Your Body
Exercise. Stop eating fast food and heavily processed food. Stop short-cutting your sleep. Make sure you’re up-to-date on your dental visits. Your body is your primary survival tool. Why have all the “stuff” if your body can’t go the distance?
Prepare Your Mind
Develop some discipline, learn some stuff, become mentally flexible, get uncomfortable being uncomfortable, learn something that isn’t right up your alley. A great way to do that is to commit to dry practicing every day for a year. That has been a life-changing practice for me. It has taught me to imagine time on a completely different scale. I have gained patience, and to have the discipline to get up day after day after day and do something that I don’t necessarily like doing.
Your body is your primary survival tool. Why have all the “stuff” if your body can’t go the distance?
Not to let the cat out of the bag, but I don’t love dry practicing. I see value in it. I get it – we all like doing the things we like doing and that’s great. We also sometimes need to do some things we don’t love doing. I’m not just using a catchphrase when I talk about “doing the work,” I’m being about as literal as I can be. That’s a bit of a sidetrack. The point is: do something that makes you a little uncomfortable. You’ll be a better, stronger person for it.
An excellent place to start preparing your mind is I’m reading Cody Lundin’s When All Hell Breaks Loose. I’m reading it now and it’s one of the best preparedness books I’ve ever read.
Prepare Your Finances
Get your financial house in order. Whatever disaster befalls us isn’t going to relieve you from paying off your debts, so banish that thought. Stop buying stuff you don’t need to impress people you don’t care about. Get out of debt. Stop paying an exorbitant car payment. Accumulate some cash on hand. Accumulate some money in the bank. It was very easy for us to quarantine with no debt, money in the bank, and income we could earn from home.
This sounds like a daunting list and if you’re going from nothing, maybe it is. It’s really not that difficult to accumulate this stuff, though.
First, start with the stuff you already have. My guess is that many of you have some of this stuff around the house already. Begin by taking an inventory. Inventory your pantry and get a firm grasp on what you already have at your disposal. Take a look at your water heater, how much water it holds, and figure out how to get that water out. Go through your drawers and find all your batteries. If you have flashlights, add those, too. Find the OTC and prescription medications you have on hand and consolidate them in a single place.
Next, move on to the easy, low-cost stuff. Water is really inexpensive (and extremely important!). It should be easy to check that box in just a couple grocery store trips (3 people, times 7 days equals 21 gallons of water, times $0.99 equals $20.79). Add just a few extra dollars of copy-canning items per week. It might not seem like it initially, but it will add up, and do so quickly. If you want to buy dedicated survival food, look how far $20/paycheck goes. There’s really no excuse not to have a couple weeks of provisions for you and your family.
Once you’ve taken care of the easy, inexpensive things, focus on the harder, more expensive items. Achieving basic preparedness takes a little time, a little energy, and a little money. But start now. Start when you can have a (relatively) leisurely pace. Remember when grocery store shelves were bare in March and April of 2020? Those days could come around again. Don’t wait until then to decide you need to prepare. Beat the rush.