Everyone involved in being prepared started with that “Uh oh” moment when they realized that there is no guarantee that the systems that make modern life possible will always be there. It’s the moment when we realize that this is actually a very complex and fragile system that is vulnerable to things that can bring everything to an abrupt halt, after which lives will depend on how prepared people are. Maybe it was learning about EMP or Grand Solar Minimum, or maybe it was nuclear saber rattling in the news, or maybe it was watching cities descending into chaos and anarchy, or maybe it was understanding the debt bubble and the precarious nature of our economic system. We’ve all been there.
If that’s where you are now, then this is the place to be. There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that, at the time of this update, you’re late. There is a real learning curve, and key items that you need are now often in very short supply. The good news is that you are far ahead of those who will not wake up until it truly is too late; that gives you a huge advantage over the vast majority of people. Now, act on that advantage.
This is a very brief guide to what you will need to get started and where to get it. It’s enough to cover the most basic needs as quickly as possible. Once you have that covered, then do some more careful planning to fine tune your preps to fit your own situation.
Everything shown here has been owned and used and recommended by at least one person in the Volusia County Prepping group.
Where appropriate, we’ll show you both a “High End Solution” for those wanting the best when it comes to keeping their family safe, and where the budget allows it, and a “Low Cost Solution” for those on a tight budget. Pick the one that best suits your needs – or something in the middle. Just pick one. Don’t get “analysis paralysis” – pick one, get it, then move to the next item. Prepping is about doing – not just reading about it.
Clean Drinking Water
High End Solution: Get a Berkey water purifier. Simple and reliable, it provides the quantity of pure, safe drinking water that will be needed. If you’re not sure which one to get, go with the Big Berkey. If space is a serious consideration, then the Travel Berkey may fit your needs, and if you have a large family, then the Royal Berkey may be the better choice.
The Travel Berkey uses two filters elements, while the others use either two or four filter elements. Each element has a total capacity of 3,000 gallons. If your budget allows for it, get four elements if your system will hold them. In addition to greater capacity, four elements will purify twice as fast as two elements.
Low Cost Solution: Get a Life Straw Family Filter.
You’ll also need good clean buckets to carry water and water storage containers to keep a short term supply of water in your home ready for immediate use. Be sure to clearly label them as Drinking Water to avoid contamination.
Storage food is truly a “no brainer”. You’re going to eat – it’s just a matter of buy it now and have it when you need it, or hope it’s available later.
Freeze dried food typically has a shelf life of 30 years (and probably a good bit longer if stored carefully), and requires only hot water to make a ready-to-eat hot meal. There are cheaper alternatives, but even the best freeze dried food typically has a per meal cost of about what a comparable meal at a fast food restaurant would be.
Mountain House is widely recognized as the Gold Standard of freeze dried food. Packed in #10 cans, they maintain their nutritional value, taste, and texture for a very long time. On the other hand, it should be noted that Wise brand freeze dried has done poorly in various evaluations.
Packaging – The longest storage life comes from food sealed in #10 cans. Mylar bag packaging gives a somewhat reduced storage life and is more susceptible to damage. On the other hand, there are many cases where Mylar bag packaging makes sense.
When you look at the cost of purchasing freeze dried storage food, understand that you are buying meals that have been prepared, fully cooked, and then freeze dried. Compare the price of those freeze dried meals with the per/meal price of going to a fast food restaurant to eat.
Mtn. House Beef Stroganoff = $3.36 per serving
Mtn. House Chicken Stew = $3.80 per serving
Mtn. House Beef Stew = $3.71 per serving
McDonald’s Big Mac = $3.99 (Sandwich ONLY)
You can eat your freeze dried food at any time. What’s the shelf life and nutritional value of that Big Mac?
NOTE: As of this update, long term storage food is either unavailable or has a lengthy back order. Your choices are now very limited. Our suggestion is that you check Amazon, BePrepared.com, The Ready Store to see what is currently available or on back-order.
High End Solution: Order a selection that suits your taste from The Ready Store. A good start would be the Mountain House 3 month supply or 6 month supply or one year supply. These are per person in your household. It’s not cheap, but with at least a 30-year shelf life (typically more, in real terms), you’re buying future meals no matter what happens – or doesn’t happen.
Low Cost Solution: Get a 30-Day Food Supply in a bucket. It’s average of 1,854 calories per day will get one person fed for a month.
Asking “How much storage food should I have?” is the wrong question. The answer is in how much room do you have and how much can you afford. If in doubt, try fasting for several days.
Pay attention to calories. You should plan on about 2,000 calories per day. Check and make sure that if you plan for 30 days, then you should have a total of about 60,000 calories per person for those 30 days.
Don’t be tempted by military MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat). These are intended for only very short term nutrition for soldiers in the field for a few days. Except for some very specific uses, such as a Get Home Bag, they are not a good choice for family preparedness.
Low Cost Basics Option: Use the Mormon food storage system. Note that the Mormon system is built around very basic foods that most of us are not used to preparing and eating. On the other hand, it is a well-proven system. It works, and it is about as cheap as it gets. Keep in mind that the amount of time, effort, and energy required to prepare will be significantly greater than a variety of canned food or freeze dried food. (BYU Dept. of Nutrition recommended food storage for one year)
Grocery Store Option: For many, this will be the best choice for various reasons. It involves simply buying larger quantities of what you normally eat. This requires a disciplined plan of marking dates, rotating stock, checking nutritional and calorie values, and record keeping. Consider combining this option with the Mormon system or other options. The advantages include a continued menu of what you normally eat, and a generally available supply at your local grocery store; for now. This is an option that anyone can start immediately.
Freeze dried meals require hot water, but the fuel required to heat water versus cooking a full meal (freeze dried is already cooked) is minimal – another advantage of freeze dried. If you have a propane grill, then just get a side burner for it if available.
High End Solution 1: Get a Camp Chef 2-burner propane stove with at least two full propane tanks.
Low Cost Solution 1: Get a Rocket Stove. It will burn wood, charcoal, and it does it very efficiently. This stove is actually more expensive than our High End Solution, but the fact that it doesn’t require propane tanks makes it the lowest cost solution.
Low Cost Solution 1a: Build a Rocket Stove. There are plenty of plans to be found on the web.
Low Cost Solution 2: Get an alcohol stove. These are about as simple as it gets. They burn Denatured Alcohol that you can buy in the paint section of any hardware store. There is nothing to break or clog. Excellent option for boiling water to reconstitute freeze dried meals.
Low Cost Solution 2a: Build an Alcohol Stove. Lots of plans on the web; in fact, there is almost a sub-hobby of folks devising different ways to make alcohol stoves.
Low Cost Solution 3: Make a solar oven. This article shows how to make two different types of solar ovens.
Get a good quality LED flashlight and a LED area light, and a good supply of batteries. There is a wide range to fit almost any budget. Most people already have a flashlight or two around the house. Is it bright enough to identify someone sneaking around your yard at night? If so, check that off your list. If not, get one with that capability.
Area light is a rather dim LED light with very long battery life, used to give functional area light inside the house. A good choice is the Rayovac Sportsman with an impressive run time of 90 hours on the low setting; it uses three D-cell batteries.
Don’t forget to have a good supply of batteries. If possible, get Lithium batteries – their longer shelf life and the fact that they will not leak and ruin what they are powering make them well worth the added cost.
Don’t waste money on candles. If you like them for ambiance and as scented candles, that’s great, but they are a poor choice for light. A good option is the Solar Air Lantern shown on our Hurricane Irma page.
When you really need those supplies, other people are going to need them too – especially those without the foresight to prepare. When people are hungry and scared, the thin veneer of civilization is torn away very quickly. You must be able to effectively defend the supplies that you and your family depend on. There is too much involved to adequately cover here, but it is one of the most basic parts of being prepared. Visit a local gun shop and be very candid with them about your needs and your abilities. Ask for guidance. They can point you in the right direction. This is not the place to pinch pennies – have a quality handgun for each adult in your group. If you are just getting started, you can’t go wrong with a quality .357 magnum revolver or the Smith & Wesson Shield. Make sure it’s something that you are comfortable with. Get some basic instruction (30 minutes will cover the basics), then practice, practice, practice. Don’t forget to buy plenty of ammunition for it and a good quality holster.
If your situation is such that owning a firearm is out of the question, then there are less-lethal options: a sturdy walking stick, collapsible baton, pepper spray, and even a powerful flashlight, will all make formidable weapons. None are anywhere near as effective as a gun, so go with what suits your situation.
First Aid / Medical
If you don’t already have first aid training, get some. Even if it’s just picking up a good first aid manual and reading it – learn first aid skills. In addition to the standard first aid kit that you can find in any drug store, get several Israeli bandages – the standard “go to” bandage for serious trauma.
Stacks of toilet paper has become almost a cliche for preparedness – there’s a good reason for that. It doesn’t go bad, it’s cheap and available for now, and life without it would be very unpleasant. Unlike some other items, it stores reasonably well in an attic. Get bulk packages of toilet paper. Get a lot of it.
At some point, toilet paper is going to run out, so what do you do then? Washing with water is a good alternative, and the Hygienna Solo is a good way to handle that task. Having one Hygienna Solo for each person you expect to have staying with you would be a good plan.
That covers the basics – and only the basics. Use this as a checklist to get started. This is a Quick Start Guide – not a Start to Finish Guide.
Now, take the next step: Buy a copy of Tactical Wisdom Baseline Training Manual (see our Review of this book for details).