How to start prepping in 5 easy steps
I receive emails quite often from people who are new to prepping. A few says they have thought about it for a while, but haven’t really got started. I’m sure it can feel like a daunting and overwhelming process to the beginner. But it does not have to be.
Being prepared is really not hard if you approach it the right way. If you are brand new to prepping, or just aren’t sure where to begin, here are 5 easy steps to help get you started.
There are plenty of links throughout this article dealing with many various prepper topics. These are a great source of information, so please be sure to check them out.
#1 Begin with a Plan
Start off by sitting down and figuring out what your plans would be if you have an emergency or disaster. Making plans now will help you to not feel lost or overwhelmed should a catastrophe strike. Failing to plan is planning to fail. And hope is not a plan!
In the beginning, I would not plan for worst case scenario. Instead, start off with the more realistic and probable scenarios. (The more extreme the event, the less likely it is to occur.) These scenarios should be based upon your location, situation, and the conditions you are in or could realistically be in.
For example, if you live along the Gulf Coast, hurricanes are a realistic possibility. So having hurricane plans makes sense. I know states like Montana and Idaho are subject to winter storms. I live in “tornado alley”, and have planned accordingly. Many large metropolitan cities are seeing an increase of violence, and riots are now something (click the link for more details) that urban city dwellers might consider planning for.
Most emergencies don’t have to be regional or even local. Job loss, medical emergencies, house fire, car wrecks, etc are all things you should be prepared for that are specific to you and your family.
If you have liked minded family and friends that you want to include in your prepping, you should include them in your planning stages. They will most likely have knowledge and resources that they can use to help out in an emergency.
But make sure they are on the same page as you. If you have family members who do not understand prepping, or think that nothing will ever happen, here is a great article on how to handle it.
Plans should include scenarios that you plan on “riding out the storm” at home (bugging in), and plans for if you have to bug out. Click here for more details on both.
You should draw up plans for communicating with family/friends should SHTF. I’d also have a centralized rally point you all can meet in should disaster strike when you are away, should you be forced to bug out, or if evacuation from the disaster area is a good idea. I’d also have plans for more than one route should you need to leave.
Once you have plans in place for personal and local issues, then you might start focusing on regional issues. Are there chemical plants or nuclear reactors in your area? What about strategic areas like military bases or major bridges? Hydro dams or other major power structures? These could directly affect your area, your bug out route, etc.
Finally, begin looking at plans for a national disaster, and so on. Just take it one step at a time. And do not lock yourself into thinking you know what will happen, or prepping for only one or two scenarios. That is a recipe for disaster.
Stay current on the news and local events. Things can change in a moment’s notice. So knowing what is going on around you is crucial to making sure your plans are current and up to date.
Finally, keep in mind that you may have to revisit and maybe even change your plans from time to time. Conditions and factors can and do change over time. So should your plans. Do not be afraid to look for flaws or weaknesses in your plan. A favorite saying of mine is that it is better to sweat in training than to bleed in battle. It is always preferable to identify holes in your plans BEFORE you try to implement them in an emergency setting.
#2 Build a 3-5 day food/water supply
FEMA recommends that all families have at least 3 days’ worth of food and water stored for emergencies. That’s three days’ worth for EACH family member AND pet. (Click for more info on prepping with and for pets.)
If you want, you could purchase multiple MREs, or get long-term food storage like Valley Food Storage. (Click the link to read the review.) But if you are like a majority of us and on a budget, this may not be a feasible option. That’s ok. You can take your time and build you stock slowly.
When you go grocery shopping, buy a few extra cans of carrots. Or green beans, or tuna, or whatever it is you will eat. Check the expiration date to make sure it will last at least 12 months. Try to incorporate your extra food purchases into your daily consumption. (ie. first in, first out) That way it is easier to rotate and you don’t have to worry about it going bad.
Now every time you go grocery shopping, grab a few extra items above and beyond what you normally get. Over the next few weeks and months, you will find your little stockpile has grown. But let me give you a few tips:
- Buy food that your family will actually eat. That makes it easier to rotate your stock, and ensures that food does not go to waste. If your family hates Spam, having ten cans of it is a waste. No one will eat it so you can’t rotate it. Eventually it will reach its expiration date and go bad. That’s wasted time, effort, money, and space.
- Have several days’ worth of food that you don’t have to cook and is non-perishable. 3 days’ worth of frozen pizzas and burritos does you no good if you lack the ability to cook it or keep it fresh. (IE the grid is down.)
- Don’t buy dented or almost out of date canned good. You don’t want to have to worry about botulism 6 months from now if you find myself in an emergency situation.
- Have a decent manual can opener – I know this from personal experience!
In addition to buying a few extra food items, I would also buy a gallon of water in a plastic container. Maybe two. These are cheap, around 75 cents a gallon at Wal-Mart. Do this every time you grocery shop and over time your water supply will grow.
Do NOT reuse old milk or juice containers. Milk and many types of juices have proteins and sugars in them that will absorb into the plastic. This in turn can contaminate your water with bacteria. NO amount of soap or bleach will completely remove them from the plastic. So don’t use them, recycle them.
I write the month and year that I purchased the bottled water on the containers in permanent pen. I use the water every day, and make sure that my stock is never more than 9-12 months old. Your bottled water will last longer than that if stored properly. (Click the link for more details on long term water storage.) But for me, 9-12 months is my comfort level.
The rule for storing water is a gallon of water per person per day. Having some extra for pets, cooking, and cleaning as well. (Pets will drink more than you think.)
Also, direct sunlight and extreme temperatures can adversely affect your supplies long term. That’s something to consider when deciding where to store your supplies.
#3 Have some Emergency Gear/Supplies ready to go
In addition to food and water, you are going to need some other equipment and gear in your 3 to 5 day supply.
For example, you need to think about keeping your core body temperature at 98 degrees should you lose power or are stranded along the highway for example. So having extra blankets on hand in the winter, and ways to keep yourself cool in the summer is extremely important. This of course starts with your clothing. (Click the link for more details on clothing for preppers.)
There are other things you can do to help. Here are tips to keeping your home (and yourself) warm in the winter without power, and cool in the summer. Check out those links for ideas.
I would also keep the following items on hand for emergencies:
- Emergency radio. I have one requiring batteries and a second one that is powered by a hand crack. Knowledge is power, and knowing what is going on around you could save your life. An emergency AM/FM (with NOAA weather) radio keeps you in the loop. This one also has a flashlight and cell phone charger. Since it is hand cranked, no need to worry about batteries being dead!
- Extra medication/medicines. Many physicians will prescribe you extra medications that you take regularly if you ask. (Non-narcotic anyway). Always having at least 3-5 days’ worth of your medications on hand is a very wise move.
- A first aid kit – here is one for about $25 and weighs just a pound. Easy to carry and transport
- Extra sanitation items. Staying clean is a morale booster. Hand sanitizer and wipes helps keep you clean. Your stored water should be drinking, not showering. Women, two days into a crisis is a terrible time to realize you are out of feminine hygiene items. Also keep in mind…if you have no running water you most likely have no toilet. (How much toilet paper do you have right now?) If you have an infant…extra diapers and wipes. You get the picture.
- Garbage bags…..see above
- Board games, cards, and books. No electricity means no TV, Xbox, internet, or way to recharge your cell phones. What are you going to do when boredom sets in? Some entertainment items to help pass the time would be very beneficial. Here is a link to a site with the rules (how to play) dozens and dozens various card games
- Tools. A wrench might come in handy if you needed to turn off your gas or water for example
- Important documentation. (Click the link for more info) Things such as personal identification, insurance policies, bank account info, etc. Keep these in a waterproof, portable container
- Fire extinguisher – self explanatory
- Some extra cash. No electricity renders your bank card/credit card useless. Cash is always king
- Local maps. Main Street might be torn up right now. Having and knowing alternate routes is a wise move.
- Paper plates and plastic utensils. Again….save the water for drinking
Bug Out Bags/EDC
You have most likely heard about Bug Out Bags (BOB), Go bags, Get Home Bags (GHB), INCH bags (I’m Never Coming Home) etc. Any prepper out there will have at least one. If you need some ideas on how to get your bag started, here are some great articles on building different bags to help you begin that process.
- How I built a Go Bag for a Non-prepper
- How I built my ultimate 25 lb BOB
- Build a Vehicle Emergency Kit
I keep a Go bag in my truck. In it I have all the gear and supplies I need if I had to walk home, or if I had to walk to my Bug Out Location. I keep this bag in a plastic storage tub so that it stays clean and dry. I also have a Vehicle Kit in my truck as well.
If you are curious about items for EDC (Every Day Carry), click here to start learning more about it.
Self defense is something every prepper needs to seriously consider. I’m not one to preach “Doom and Gloom”, but the recent riots, terror attacks, etc have shown that you have to take this seriously. So to help get you started with self defense, here are 5 great articles about self defense:
- How to choose your first self defense firearm
- 7 Rules for carrying your EDC firearm
- Firearms for Preppers Part I – Self Defense/EDC
- Firearms for Preppers Part II – SHTF
- 5 Discreet weapons you can carry almost anywhere
Gathering equipment and supplies is only half the battle. You need to know how to use the equipment properly BEFORE disaster strikes. And you should check your gear from time to time to ensure it is still in good working order. Trust me, it sucks having a dead flashlight in the middle of a dark night.
#4 Loose lips sink ships!
I know for a lot of new preppers, when the “preparedness bug” first hits and they really begin prepping in earnest, many of them like to tell (or even brag) to others about what all they have accomplished. It is human nature.
But in this setting, keeping a tight lip about what all supplies, gear, equipment, etc you have stockpiled might not be a bad idea. In reality, it is wise move. It’s called OpSec. (Operational Security.)
If you do not know what OpSec is, the Department of Defense defines it as:
Operations Security, or OPSEC, is the process by which we protect unclassified information that can be used against us. OPSEC challenges us to look at ourselves through the eyes of an adversary (individuals, groups, countries, organizations). Essentially, anyone who can harm people, resources, or mission is an adversary.
OPSEC should be used to protect information, and thereby deny the adversary the ability to act. Nearly 90% of the information collected comes from “Open Sources”. Any information that can be obtained freely, without breaking the law, is Open Source. . It is social network sites, tweets, text messages, blogs, videos, photos, GPS mapping, newsletters, magazine or newspaper articles, your college thesis, or anything else that is publicly available.
It terms of being a prepper, if other folks who are not prepared when disaster strikes know that you have food, water, and supplies that they do not have, that could put you in an awkward position at the very least.
The video below is from Nat. Geo’s American Blackout movie. This is a fictional dramatization, but hopefully it gives you an idea of possible (and realistic) consequences of not practicing OpSec before or during a SHTF event.
Essentially, you need to keep your preps, plans, and supplies on a “Need to Know” basis. And trust me, outside of family and maybe a very close friend or two, everyone does NOT need to know. Otherwise, you could have a lot of folks showing up on your door step during a disaster…folks you did NOT plan or prep for. The ramifications of this could end in tragedy.
For more information on OpSec, be sure to check out these great articles:
#5 Set Realistic Goals
My grandmother always said the easiest way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and relax. You can’t start being prepared all at once. It is a process that will take time. So start by managing your expectations. You cannot go from newbie to completely “off-grid” overnight.
You might feel the need to rush this, but don’t. Do not blow your bank account or rack up huge amounts of credit card bills in an attempt to get everything at once. That will put you in a worse position than you are now.
Instead, make reasonable goals. For example, this month you might work on increasing your food and water stores. Next month, maybe you will budget in buying two extra wool blankets and an emergency radio. (Or whatever your budget will reasonably allow.) As I said, this is an ongoing process.
You can also make good use of your time. You could set a goal that for 15 to 20 minutes a day, you will read up on (or practice) a new survival skill. Maybe this week is first-aid. Next week might be fire building. The more skills and knowledge you have, the less gear and equipment you need. And knowledge weighs nothing in your bag!
Do not let this consume you either. You shouldn’t become so focused on prepping that you miss out on life. You should prep to live, not live to prep.
This article has been a general overview, and there is certainly a lot more to prepping than what is included here. But for a beginner, this is certainly the right way to start.
I have included a lot of different links to articles that really go into detail on all these topics. So be sure to utilize them to help you in your emergency preparations. Follow these tips, take it one day at a time, and remember that by starting now, you are more prepared than you were yesterday. And that could one day save you and your family from disaster.
Stay safe out there!
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