Updated: Oct 16
Getting started is a big step on the road to becoming more self-reliant and resilient. For some, prepping is a hobby. For many others, it’s a way of life. Exactly where to start can be confusing so I’m outlining how to start on your journey as a prepper. A word of caution, be highly suspicious of anyone who claims to know what’s coming next or insists that you immediately go out and spend thousands of dollars on portable generators, guns, and gas masks. No one knows what’s coming next and, as for buying equipment, we will get to that.
Everyone is different and our life circumstances are different so resist the temptation to compare your situation to that of others. Some people eat and use only national brands and avoid store brands and generics at all costs. Some people are opposites. There’s nothing wrong with either approach if it works for you. Don’t waste time debating the merits of either, keep it moving!
None of the items mentioned in this list must be purchased tomorrow. Identify your needs, carefully craft a plan of action, and systematically build your cache. You will need to modify your plans over time as you test them in actual emergencies. Cooking stoves, camping toilets and other camping gear can do double duty when the power goes out.
You first step should be to condict a thorough hazard analysis followed by a deep needs analysis.
The Hazard Analysis guides what you’re preparing for and how you prepare. Cast a critical eye to where you live. Do you live in Tornado Alley or, on the Gulf or Atlantic coasts and grapple with the aftereffects of hurricanes? Do you live on the West Coast and contend with earthquakes, wildland fires and mud slides? Wherever you live, research the known hazards in your area to include street crime and your proximity to railyards, abandoned buildings, bus stops and warehouses.
The Needs Analysis covers the nuts and bolts of how you live. Do you prepare five-course, gourmet meals for yourself nightly or do you support your local restaurants and gig workers by ordering takeout every other night? Are you accustomed to turning on every light in the house the second you walk in or do you rarely turn on the heat or A/C? Whatever you use or consume within the confines of our own home needs to be accounted for in your needs analysis.
Prescriptions and other regular use OTC, over the counter, medications as well as assistive devices such as eyeglasses/contact lenses; dentures and the associated accessories. Pain medications, allergy medications, anti-diarrheals, as well as something for colds and flu should all be included in your LTP, Long-Term Pantry. Add or subtract to this list to fit your specific needs.
Mobility items include, scooters, wheelchairs, walkers, canes and crutches.
Water and Liquids
Minimally, you’ll need to have one gallon, per person, per day. Many experts include water for hygiene and sanitation in this amount but I’m going to suggest that you reserve this solely for drinking. Sanitation and hygiene can be addressed in other ways, and we will get to those.
Fruit juices, soda, coffee/tea, whiskey should be present in your stores. Determine how much is consumed in a week/month and multiply by the number of people in the household. For example, if a family of 4 goes through a gallon of milk in a week, then the need would be for 4 gallons a month.
Sports drinks tend to be a bit heavy on sugar but, in moderation, they’re certainly worth having. Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration, so it’s critical that you replace the electrolytes you lose. Don’t forget to add powdered drink mixes to your LTP- Long Term Pantry.
Let me make this crystal-clear up front, buy the foods that you eat and know you would eat in a crisis. Saying that hunger will dictate your future actions is an absolute certainty; however, you should make choices based upon things you want and enjoy eating. It’s important that you take into consideration your respective cultural, religious and dietary concerns as well as personal preferences when building your long-term pantry. If your daily diet is impacted by lactose intolerance, tree nut allergies and no gluten, you’ll need to omit these items. Vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian? Cool, build your LTP around these items.
There are lots of outfits that sell dehydrated and freeze-dried foods in buckets that come as entire meals for a family of four. Experiment with them and if you like the taste of them, add them to your pantry. Foods targeted at campers and the RV set are fair game and make great additions to your pantry. Again, experiment to see if the family likes them. How many meals and snacks you eat a day must be accounted for, too. If you have a garden or are into canning, this works out well. Simply add those items to your pantry.
Toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue, napkins are but a few of the paper items that dominate our daily lives. How much toilet paper you need depends on the number of people in the household as well as the composition. How many women, children and elderly? The composition of your household will greatly affect how much toilet paper is used on a weekly and yearly basis. Some people prefer jumbo rolls while others prefer regular sized, one-ply rolls. Look at your situation and figure this one out. Napkins and paper towels are less critical, but you still want to have more than enough on hand. Don’t forget to allow for illnesses such as diarrhea that will temporarily increase your toilet paper usage. On every other trip for groceries, throw at least a pack of toilet paper in the cart and see how that adds up. Let everyone know the extra is for emergency use, not everyday use.
Diapers, feminine hygiene, adult diapers and bed pads, personal wipes and facial tissue are essentials. In a pinch, baby wipes can be used by adults for a variety of uses. Toothpaste; soap and body washes; deodorant; lotion; razors and shaving cream; shampoo and hair care products and so on. While you’re at it, don’t forget to include condoms. They, too, have myriad uses beyond the obvious. All these items should be present in your pantry.
Most new coolers keep foods frozen for several days. Coolers come in handy in a power outage. Rather than opening the fridge and freezer, hastening the warming process, place the items you intend to eat and drink in the cooler. When the power is out, you want to avoid opening the fridge and freezer. Doing so hastens the thawing process. Many new coolers come with ice packs that keep the contents frozen longer. Get yourself a couple of coolers.
Generators come in a variety of sizes from the size of a lunchbox to the size of a suitcase. Dual fuel generators run on propane or gasoline. Based upon your situation, get at least two generators. Aside from the obvious of keeping food safe, generators are required for medical devices such as CPAP and oxygen machines. You’re going to need several, but you can buy them over time. There’s no need to break the bank trying to buy everything all at once. Solar generators can be used inside while the gas-powered generators must be outside.
Generators allow you to cycle your refrigerator in that it’s supplied with power, when available. When not powered, fridges and freezers are passively cooled simply by keeping the doors closed.
Gas-powered generators run on, you guessed it, gas! Solar generators can be charged as the name implies, by the sun with solar panels; plugged into an outlet in the home or in the car's AC outlet. Be sure you know how to use them before the need arises and have fuel on hand for the gas-powered generators.
Keep your generators in a readily accessible place to avoid injury fumbling around in the dark trying to locate them.
Disaster and power outages are stressful for everyone, especially young children and the elderly. Toys: teddy bears, dolls, books, playing cards, and board games are a great way to occupy the mind and reduce stress.
Flashlights and Lanterns
Flashlights should be a staple in every home, car, and office. While you’re at it, throw a small one in your work backpack or briefcase. In the home, I like the idea of having a flashlight in every bedroom as well as the kitchen and bathroom(s). Plenty of options exist so you can spend a few dollars or over a hundred dollars.
As with flashlights, lanterns are another staple for every home. Again, I like the idea of every bedroom having a lantern as well as one for the kitchen and bathroom(s). Lanterns, too, can be priced at over a hundred dollars so you have plenty of options from which to choose.
I’m not a huge fan of candles due to the inherent danger; however, when used responsibly, they’re adequate sources of task-specific lighting. There’s the added benefit of the soft light being somewhat soothing. If you never leave them unattended, candles are a solid addition to any home emergency supply kit. Go for the 100-hour candles, though.
In Search & Rescue situations, a whistle can help first responders find you. They can also be used to signal for help or alert others to danger.
In addition to signaling your location, they can also be used to indicate things like the top of stairs and the path of a hallway.
Use this to receive situational updates and information on known safety risks.
First Aid Kits
You can really go overboard here but most store-bought kits are adequate. Look at your family size and dynamics: seasonal allergies, young kids, elderly parents and buy what meets your needs. Be sure to add Rubbing Alcohol, Hydrogen Peroxide, and Witch Hazel to the list. They all have multiple uses.
Whether used for protection from dust or as a barrier to infection, masks are a must-have item.
Batteries and Charging Cables
A dead cell phone is useless so make sure you have ready access to a phone charger. I recommend that you have at least three (3) chargers in your emergency kit. Third-party chargers are just as good as their more expensive proprietary counterparts.
An assortment of AA/ AAA/ C and D batteries should also be in your kit. Devices shouldn’t be stored with batteries in them. Should the battery go bad and leak, you risk damaging the device. The number and type of batteries you need is based upon how many battery-powered devices you have. Keep in mind that specialty devices likely require specialty batteries.
Before you go out and buy a set of tools just for your kit, take an inventory of what you already have. Minimally, you’ll want a wrench or pliers for shutting off utilities such as gas and water. Keep in mind that you should leave turning off utilities to the professionals at the utility company. A large crowbar and a good hammer are also worthwhile additions.
Whether you have a hamster, a prize-winning Labrador Retriever, or an alley cat, you must account for their needs. Medication, food, toys, and hygiene supplies are all required. Up-to-date veterinary records should also be at the ready.
Having an extra one or two on hand is a no-brainer. Electric can openers are useless without electricity so go the manual route.
Duct Tape has a myriad of uses and should be a staple in any home, garage and yes, emergency kit. From quick repairs to securing things to emergency first aid, duct tape is a must.
Whether covering a broken window or an impromptu privacy screen, tarps are another versatile item that comes in handy in times of crisis. They're available in various sizes and materials so their utility is high. Be daring and get a couple in different sizes and colors.
Bungee Cords and Paracord
Bungee cords and paracord are must-have items. They're relatively inexpensive, versatile, come in various lengths so there's no reason they shouldn't be in your kit.
Trash and Contractor's Bags
This might sound obvious but, you're going to need a healthy supply of trash bags. In the absence of services such as trash collection, the byproducts of our daily lives starts to pile up. Beyond simply being unsightly, improper waste storage and removal invites vermin and leads to outbreaks of disease. Minimally, get yourself the standard 13 gallon size generally used in the kitchen and the 33 and 55 gallon sizes used in many commerical and public spaces. Aside from the intended use of containing waste, trash bags can be used as barrier devices, much like tarps. You can even tape them together to form large sheets of plastic.
Contractor's bags are made of a heavier grade plastic and generally found on construction sites. Like trash bags, they're highly versatile and absolutely belong in your kit.
Visqueen, heavy duty plastic, is another often overlooked item that belongs in your kit. It comes in varying levels of thickness so you'd choose the thickness based upon your intended application. Due to its impermeability, it's an excellent barrier device. At the height of the pandemic, I visited the family in Florida. I was in a part of the house sealed off by a Visqueen barrier until my Covid-19 test results came back. You can seal off sections of your home or apartment with little more than push pins, double-sided tape and Visqueen. So yeah, add Visqueen to your kit.
5 Gallon Buckets
I'm going to risk redundance here and prattle on about the versatility of 5 gallon buckets. From storing food to clean up to a makeshift toilet, they're another essential item. Get some.
Paper and Pastic Tableware
Paper and disposable plastic plates, cups and bowls have come a long way. They're decorative, durable and time-saving! After a disaster, it might be wasteful using what water you have on washing dishes. It's easier to simply throw the used paper and plastic items into a trash bag and keep it moving.
This list is a starting point. Use it as a guide to get rolling and be creative. Take stock of what you already have and make two lists. The first list contains what you already have and the second list is what you need. Get yourself organized, then buy the things you need as you’re able to do so.