Prepping is a unique hobby, but it’s similar to most other interests in one respect: Once you start scratching below the surface, you quickly see how much there is for you to learn, do, and acquire if you are really serious about plunging in. For the beginner, the steps toward mastery can seem brutally overwhelming, and this path can seem especially forbidding for people who are accustomed to our society’s quick-fix lifestyle. If you’re reading articles and message boards and feeling discouraged, here are four tips to keep in mind before giving up.
Slow and Steady
Remember: All of those experts with their encyclopedic gun knowledge and their storehouses that look like Sam’s Club were just like you at one point. They acquired their knowledge and products over a period of years. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to be ready for doomsday tomorrow; even you did have to, you couldn’t. Keep your eye on the “next step.” Learn to crawl. Learn to walk. Leave the flying for later.
Take Predictions With a Grain of Salt
You know how you’ll buy a new car and then immediately start seeing that car everywhere? Human beings see what they’re focused on, so it’s no surprise that people heavily involved in the prepper community tend to see disaster around every bend. Whether it’s Y2K, Ebola, or Zika, there are always people screaming about the imminent end of the world. Keep an eye on developing stories, but don’t start panicking until there’s a reason.
Follow Your Natural Interests
Frequently, people arrive in the prepper community through some semi-related channel. For instance, many gun hobbyists find their way into prepping through that natural overlap between firearms and survival. Naturally, they’ll tend to emphasize that aspect as they begin getting deeper into prepping. If you came in through gardening and self-sustainable living, you’ll probably be inclined to concentrate on that part. Use your strengths, follow your interests, and gradually expand your horizons as time goes on.
Set Small Goals and Ignore Big Ones
One of the most destructive myths in Western culture is that there is an “end point” for most of our goals and dreams. This is the way a lot of people approach musical instruments, for instance. They envision a certain amount of practice over a certain number of years that will provide them with a certain amount of skill. At that point, they’ll “be a guitar player,” or whatever. Try not to take this approach with prepping. Focus on small goals and ignore big ones like, “When I have this-and-that, I will be done.” Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for frustration.
The deeper you get into the prepper lifestyle, the more frustrated you’re bound to get with friends who don’t share your enthusiasm. This isn’t like your average hobby, after all; survivalists are all-too-aware of the illusion that is modern safety. Even in the absence of widespread catastrophe, individuals, families, and small communities are frequently thrown into disastrous situations. It’s only natural that you should want your loved ones to be prepared.
Alas, if you give your neighbor a 10-pound box of rice for Christmas, they’ll probably look at you like you’ve got a shiny horn growing in the middle of your forehead.
There are many prepper presents that aren’t quite so impractical, however. Many of them can be just as handy around the house as they would be in a chaos-ridden environment. Here are five good presents for people who aren’t into prepping.
A power outage is the kind of “disaster” that most Americans will experience more than once. Even if your friends never have to deal with a major grid collapse, they’ll see the benefits of a solar flashlight, which relies on rechargeable batteries that get their power from the sun. Most such flashlights can operate for several hours if charged up throughout the day.
Portable Water Filtration System
Companies like Lifestraw and others sell portable water filters that have proven to be a godsend for countries that have little access to the kind of clean water we take for granted in the U.S. If your friends are world travelers, they will immediately grasp the importance of this gift. At the very least, it will be a fun novelty present that most people will be tempted to try out on at least one questionable water source. For that reason, make sure the receiver understands the bacterial limitations – if any – of the filter you bought.
Seeds and/or Plants
Prepping and gardening have overlapping devotees, but the latter hobby is much more attractive to the average American than the former. If you know anyone who has been thinking about growing their own food, give them a headstart with a simple gift of seeds and/or starter plants. Any hobby that puts a person on the path to sustainability is one you can feel proud to have inspired.
Candles are extremely popular gifts, and most people don’t even think “survivalism” when they receive them. But candles can come in handy when the power goes out. They require no batteries (solar or otherwise), the good ones last a long time, and they give off a surprising amount of light. Pair them with a decent portable fire-starter and you’ll set someone on the path to prepping without them being aware of it!
Emergency Vehicle Kit
Unbeknownst to many, prepping isn’t just about laying the foundation for life in a post-apocalyptic wasteland; it’s also about preparing for those life-or-death situations that happen everyday to thousands of people. Even the biggest optimist in America should have an emergency vehicle kit in their trunk, just in case they find themselves confronted with a “minor” tragedy on the road.
If you’ve ever wandered off the beaten path while on a nature hike, you may be familiar with that ball of dread that appears in your belly when you can’t immediately find your way back to the trail. When you look around and see only a wall of indistinguishable trees on all sides, it doesn’t take long for terror to set in. You also probably know that feeling of relief that washes over you when you finally get back on course.
But what if you didn’t? What if you never found your way back to the path? What then?
If you ever find yourself lost in the woods, here are some steps you can take to survive until you find your way back to safety.
Contact Anyone You Can
First things first. If you get lost in the woods, chances are you weren’t dropped there by helicopter. You strayed from your group. You walked too far away from the trail. What’s important, then, is that you act fast. Don’t let your pride keep you from yelling for help, making an embarrassed call to your friends, or even dialing 911. If you act fast, you can stop a crisis before it begins.
Keep an Eye on the Sky
Assuming that you are truly lost and there is no hope of getting out of this predicament immediately, let the time of day determine your next steps. If it’s early and cool, you have time to hike and look for a way out of the woods. Short of having a compass, you can use the position of the sun to tell you which direction you’re moving in. If it’s hot or getting near dark, start looking for a place to camp instead. You don’t want to wander aimlessly through the woods without light.
Water is Your Top Priority
In the early hours, when you’re still trying to convince yourself that everything is going to be resolved quickly, you won’t want to confront long-term plans. That could prove to be a fatal delusion. You don’t want to wait until the cramps start before you start looking for water. Carefully ration out any water you have with you and begin looking intently for fresh sources. Boil any water you come across to avoid dangerous bacterial infections.
As with anything, your best tool in the face of adversity is preparation. Learn the difference between wild foods you can eat and those you cannot. Keep a survival kit with you whenever you go on even the shortest, safest nature hikes. Make a plan with your family or group about how to respond when someone gets lost. If nothing else, you’ll have peace of mind.
It’s all well and good to learn how to make it in an America that bears more resemblance to the days of the Indians than the days of the New York City Stock Exchange, but don’t get so caught up in survival purity that you ignore some of the best tools on the market. The best thing about prepping as a popular trend is that it has led to some extraordinary products. If you want to give yourself the best possible shot at survival, make these four products a priority.
A Personal Water Filter
Whether you’re surviving in the woods or roughing it without running water in your home, the time may come when you’re forced to drink from an unsanitary source. The problem isn’t impurities or dirt; the problem is deadly bacteria. Personal water filters like the one sold by Lifestraw can sterilize questionable water, making it one of the most important survival products out there. Buy one.
A Good Hunting Rifle
Not everyone is comfortable building an arsenal, but even committed pacifists should consider buying a good hunting rifle. If you live in an area without much wildlife to speak of, don’t let that discourage you from getting a gun. It may be that you will want to relocate when disaster strikes, and it may not be easy to buy firearms when that day comes. And obviously, the rifle can double as a weapon of self-defense if necessary.
If you think the old Swiss army knife is still the epitome of the multi-tool, you haven’t seen some of the amazing products they’ve come out with in recent years. These extraordinary tools look like something Q would show James Bond in the 1960s. Some of them have as many as 40 separate functions, suitable for thousands of possible scenarios. A good multi-tool is especially essential for anyone planning to survive in an urban landscape.
If you think there’s a chance you may have to survive in a wooded landscape, then make sure you have a tent or a tarp in your survival room. Building a shelter on the fly is a good skill set to have, but you’ll be better off if you don’t have to rely on leaves for your only protection from the elements. Tents are better than tarps, but anything is better than nothing.
How many would-be preppers are letting their income dictate whether or not they start taking the right steps toward self-sustained independence? The hidden beauty of prepping is that you can get started without spending a single dime. True, you’re not going to build an impressive survivalist fortress without coming off some dough, but every little bit counts. You can get started just by hanging on to some of the things you typically throw away.
Here are four things you should start collecting:
Next time you pour the contents of a soup can into a bowl, don’t be so hasty to throw out the can. Get rid of the jagged top, clean out the can, and put it away. With your old cans, you can rig up a makeshift alarm system across your lawn, put them to use in various forms of cooking, and utilize them as small storage containers.
You’re probably in the habit of throwing out those old bath towels that have been chewed to rags by years of bleaching. Next time you do a purge, save the ragged towels that embarrass you when company visits. They may not be good enough for the master bathroom, but they’re good enough for a survival situation. And hey, if that “situation” turns out to be nothing more serious than a flooding dishwasher, you’ll still be glad you don’t have to use the “good” towels.
Paper clips are cheap, plentiful, and disposable. But if you’re serious about prepping, you have to remember that you may have a finite supply of these versatile little tools. You may not need to organize reports in a SHTF scenario, but you can use paper clips to sew, fish, and even broaden the scope of your radio transmissions.
A lot of people keep a few old socks around in the garage; they make convenient rags for checking the oil as well as dusting the house. They can also be useful in a survival situation. Rags in general could be of great use, but socks in particular make excellent water filters. For sediment, mind you, not bacteria.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Take this as a starting point. Start looking at everything in your home through a different lens. You will find that you already own many things that will serve you well in a crisis.
Preppers tend to think of themselves as being part of a counter-culture movement, and many blogs and video channels are written with that club in mind. There’s very little attempt to reach the average American who thinks that all of this prepper stuff is the product of mass delusion.
That probably needs to change. This sense of “Well, I’ll be ready, so I’m not going to worry about everyone else” is foolish. The truth is that our communities and our country will be a better place after a catastrophe if more people are prepared for the worst. In a chaotic, desperate environment, a manageable crisis can soon become an unstoppable collapse. Even if you could survive in that world…would you want to?
With that in mind, we’re proposing these five skills for every American to learn, no matter how seriously they take the prospect of a major societal disaster. These skills are fun to learn, adaptable to the modern world, and…they just might come in handy one day.
You don’t have to be a prepper to recognize the value of a thorough education in first aid. Accidents happen, and they don’t always happen with a paramedic standing by. Supplement a basic understanding of first aid with a good course in CPR, and you’ll know what to do when calling 911 isn’t enough.
Hunting, Fishing, and Gathering
Evolutionarily speaking, we simply weren’t meant to live this way. The more our society moves away from nature, the more we see depression and despair across the nation. Our primal selves are crying out for something real in an artificial world. Learning to hunt, fish, and gather nutrition from the land can do wonders for your well-being, even if you never have to rely on the skills themselves.
Building a Fire
Even with the help of matches, building and tending a fire can be a frustrating experience for beginners. And that doesn’t even get into the thorny problem of building a fire without said matches. But the ability to build a fire can come in handy if you ever find yourself in a prolonged, no-electricity situation. Plus, if you ever want to go on Survivor…
As much as you might like to believe otherwise, you could be physically attacked by a hostile assailant before the day is through. Are you confident in your ability to fend off such an attack? Self-defense capabilities will be a necessity in a catastrophic scenario, but their importance shouldn’t be dismissed even in a nice “safe” society like ours. Even a few basic skills could mean the difference between survival and tragedy.
As a whole, our society is becoming way too dependent on technological crutches. One can easily imagine a nation of drivers utterly unable to find their destinations without GPS services. If you need your phone to guide you to the mailbox, make it a point to learn your city, learn how to read a paper map, and improve your ability to find your way around without Siri’s help.
Any prep is better than no prep at all, and there’s not a person on the planet who isn’t constantly making mistakes, so don’t expect to get everything right when preparing for a civilization-altering scenario. If such a scenario comes to pass, your neighbors will be wishing they’d made your mistakes.
That said, it’s best to correct errors along the way. And some of the most common errors preppers make are in the realm of food storage. Since this aspect of prepping can quickly become expensive and space-consuming, it’s worth staying on top of the process. You don’t want bad decisions and inefficiency to hold back your progress.
Here are five mistakes to watch out for.
Storing Unfamiliar Foods
All the wheat in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the slightest idea what to do with it. Your beans will be of little use if you aren’t sure how to cook them without a working stove. Make a habit of not just packing your pantry full of food, but also learning how to use that food in an emergency situation. Print out recipes, yes, but remember to practice as well. What’s difficult to make in a convenient kitchen will be nearly impossible under adverse conditions.
Poor Storage Facility
You don’t need a walk-in freezer to start prepping, but you do need to make sure that your storage facility is appropriate for the food you’re packing away. Few products will last long if the environment has wild temperature swings or excess humidity. Many preppers insist that food be kept in an air conditioned room to avoid moisture and heat. Additionally, make sure your containers are tightly sealed.
Storing Too Many Carbs
A diet consisting of little more than refined flour and rice will have you feeling drained and lethargic within days. Better than nothing, yes, but not nearly good enough. If you’re in the habit of stockpiling carbs, carbs, and more carbs, diversify your storage with some protein and fats. Canned meats and vegetables, dried dairy products and fruit, beans, and more can round out your survival nutrition needs.
Letting Food Expire
There are survival food products that can last several years, but you don’t want to get into the habit of testing their limits. Long before many of these foods go “bad,” they will lose much of their original flavor and even some of their nutritional potency. For that reason, a better approach is to habitually cook from your food storage pantry and replace what you use to keep the stock fresh.
Overlooking the Details
Just because you’re dining in a post-apocalyptic nightmare world doesn’t mean you have to put up with bland pasta. Spice up your storage pantry with extras and luxuries like condiments, salt, utensils, candy, and spices so your survival meals aren’t such a chore to eat. Keep some supplies like cooking oil and matches handy as well.
In a crisis environment, your vehicle’s importance cannot be overstated. When things go south, you’ll have to make a decision about whether to hunker down or get the hell out of dodge. In many instances, it could turn out to be the most important decision of your entire life. It’s not a decision you want your car to make for you.
But that’s what can happen if you neglect proper maintenance in times of plenty. Sure, if everything is hunky-dory for the next six months, you can keep procrastinating on that oil change. You can let your car sit there in the driveway until you “get around” to taking it into the shop. You can turn up the radio until you can’t hear that troubling rattle under the hood.
Then you get the news. A Cat 5 hurricane is bearing down on your city. The Dow Jones just lost 10,000 points. The power grid is malfunctioning. There’s an earthquake. There’s a flood. There’s a volcanic eruption. And now that you’re faced with that important, life-or-death decision, you realize that it’s already been made on your behalf. You’re staying put, like it or not.
That scenario may sound extreme, but it’s only one of countless situations where you may wish you’d kept your car or truck in good running order. If you’ve been letting your maintenance slip, here are some ways to get your vehicle prepped for an uncertain future.
You don’t need to have a mechanically-inclined bone in your body to do regular, weekly maintenance checks. Just type up a basic checklist, pick a day, and tick off the boxes one by one. You can easily do this in less than 10 minutes a week, and the piece of mind you buy is well worth the time. During these weekly checks, you can evaluate the battery, check the oil, check the windshield washer fluid, check the coolant, examine the spark plugs, check the air pressure in the tires, check the tread, and make sure all of your lights are working. Simple, basic, and invaluable.
No matter how vigorously you take care of your car, you never know when an emergency will strike. For that reason, you should have a plan for breakdowns. If that plan includes using your cell phone, consider adopting a backup plan for a scenario where it isn’t working. Keep a special kit in your car that includes an air compressor, a couple of fix-a-flat canisters, a spare tire, jumper cables, flashlights, and a gas can.
Know Your City
If you need to get out of town in a hurry, you probably won’t be the only one. If the main highways are clogged, do you know how to use the back roads? It might be a good idea to learn the ins and outs of your city and plot emergency routes you can use to avoid the worst of the congestion.
For many Americans, the idea of an apocalyptic disaster comes in the form of a single missed paycheck. How can families prepare for a true survival scenario when they are already hanging on by a thread?
Thankfully, survival prep does not require a substantial bank account. If you’re interested in securing your family from the threat of societal collapse – even a temporary one – then you needn’t let cash problems become an excuse to procrastinate. If you take the slow and steady approach, you can gradually build a respectable survival storehouse without compromising your ability to survive everyday life.
Here are four tips for frugal-minded preppers.
Don’t Wing It
“Slow and steady” should not be read as “Buy a huge jar of peanuts whenever the mood strikes.” A gradual, budget-minded approach to prepping requires pinpoint precision. A plan, in other words. Sit down, figure out how much money you can afford to spend on prepping each month (or week), and then prioritize purchases that will make the most impact.
Check Your Stock
Many fledgling survivalists are surprised when they realize how many useful items they already own. Some of the most important “prep gear” belongs to an inventory that you should have in your house even if you have no fear of a civilization-crippling event. Blankets, kitchen utensils, flashlights, batteries, potable water, medicine; these things should be stocked in every American household and they provide the foundation for every survivalist’s cache.
Buy Generic When Possible
If you’re in a situation where every penny counts, you’re probably already taking advantage of generic products. If you can’t bear to sacrifice the luxury of brand name toilet paper or breakfast cereal in your day-to-day life, though, you should still err on the side of “cheap” when building your reserves. In many areas, generic products are just as good as their brand-name counterparts while only costing you a fraction of the price. Don’t let labels put an unnecessary burden on your budget.
Be a Smart Shopper
While you shouldn’t “wing it” when it comes to slow-and-steady prepping, you shouldn’t box yourself into an inflexible plan either. For instance, don’t get so granular that you can’t take advantage of sales and specials. These can save you a fortune if you keep your ear to the ground. Look for coupons, sign up for mailing lists, Google for savings codes, and watch your local newspaper like a hawk. What costs $100 today might only cost half that a month from now.
For a lot of people, there couldn’t be two things more incompatible than prepping and organization. You start buying all of this long-lasting food, and it quickly gets out of control. And that’s why it makes so much sense to adopt a system. If it’s gotten to the point where you can’t even bear to look in your garage because it causes you to break out in an anxious sweat, it’s time to put some organizational techniques to work.
Know Your Expirations
We’ve all experienced that moment where we look at something in the pantry and we have no idea how long it’s been in there. The inevitable consequence? These foods get thrown away. It’s one thing to take this approach to your everyday food supply, but you can’t afford this kind of disorganization when it comes to your prepping supplies. Whenever you put something on the shelf, write down when you bought it and when you expect it to go bad.
Rotate Your Stock
Grocery store workers always pull the oldest items to the front before they put new items on the shelves behind them. Otherwise, you wind up selling the newest foods first while the old ones just sit back there and grow moldy. Take the rotation approach to your storage pantry if you often work your longterm food into your regular meals.
You’ll have enough to worry about in an emergency situation without trying to figure out which foods are in which containers. Save yourself the struggle and get in the habit of labeling everything you put away. Don’t trust your memory.
Keep an Inventory
This is an essential part of a good organizational strategy. One word of caution: don’t make your inventory list on the computer. We’re preparing for a world where there may be no power! Use a good old fashioned ledger and make sure you update it every time you add or subtract from your storeroom.
Use Unusual Spaces
Don’t get locked into using just one storage space. So what if you’ve run out of room in that one closet? If you’re really serious about surviving the apocalypse, you’re going to have to make a few sacrifices. And once you do, you may find that those sacrifices aren’t as arduous as you thought. Most of us have quite a bit of unused space in our homes. You can keep plastic boxes filled with food underneath furniture, in seldom-used rooms, out on the porch…just open your eyes and you’ll be surprised at the possibilities.
By staying organized, you’ll see that prepping doesn’t have to be this crazy thing that quickly spirals out of control. You can stay on top of it. Prepping is much easier when you know what you have, you know where it’s going to go, and you know how much space you still have available.
And hey, it may help convince your spouse that this lifestyle isn’t going to turn their world upside down. If you’re getting resistance over storing any more bags of rice, good organization can go a long way to easing your family’s concerns.