There are a lot of lists out there on items that you should have in your preps. These include items for barter and items to have on hand even if you don’t know how to use them, “just in case” someone else might know how to use them. I think stocking items like this will tie up money and storage space that can be much better used for items that you can and will use in daily life or if the world goes to hell in a handbasket. Having all sorts of great HAM radio gear costs a ton of money to buy and can take up quite a bit of space. Being a licensed radio operator, I can assure you that just having the equipment will do you no good whatsoever. There is a significant learning curve on using HAM to make contact with other operators. Unless you are practicing these skill already, you won’t have the ability to use this gear when you need it. I encourage everyone to become proficient in communications, but I’ll never recommend that someone buy radio gear “just in case” For the price of a good transceiver and antenna you can put back a ton of beans. Literally a TON of beans. In my opinion, barter items are in the same boat. If you overstock ammo with some trade in mind, that’s not too bad because you can use that ammo yourself if there is no need to barter. I hear a lot of people that store liquor for barter, but they don’t drink at all. I like a good drink, so I know exactly how expensive liquor can be. Don’t get me wrong, if you drink it’s all good to store some of your favorite beverage. It will store indefinitely and I can think of nothing better than facing the end of the world with a nice Bourbon to take the edge off. However, I’m not going to tie up hundreds of dollars to store a luxury item before additional food or medical supplies. Now that I have my rant out of the way, we’ll look at some items that you can feel confident about storing without worrying about overstocking. Of course, I’m a proponent of “Store what you eat, eat what you store”, so rotating these items shouldn’t be a major problem. You should only be limited by the amount of space you have available to you. This list isn’t meant to be completely inclusive, so use your judgment on what would serve you and your family. Also, note that the list is not in any particular order, so don’t feel the need to add any items in order of appearance.
Water – You can never have too much, but it is bulky. Have a way to purify water from outside sources!
Rice – White rice stores a really long time. Wild and Brown rice have a much shorter life span.
Beans of all types
Canned meats – only store these if you are willing to eat them!
Powdered milk – You’ll need to learn to cook with this, so practice now.
Home canned goods.
Dehydrated foods – These take up very little space and store for a long time.
Freeze dried foods – These are a little pricey, but can’t be beat for shelf life.
Dried eggs – Check out the OvaEasy brand. They are amazing!
Powdered drink mixes
MREs – Try before you stock up. They are calorie dense, but some people despise the foods within.
Soap – Bar and liquid
Shampoo and Conditioner
Over the counter medications
Batteries – all sizes and types used in your household
Cordage – stock a variety of sizes and types
Ammunition – This is also a great hedge against inflation since the price only seems to go up!
Gasoline – Gas must be treated to increase shelf life, so plan for this if you have long term in mind
Kerosene or lamp oil
Seeds – Heirloom varieties ensure a supply of seeds from the garden year after year
Currency – None of us can ever have too much money!
Canning lids and rings
Like I said earlier, this isn’t a complete list, nor is it in any particular order. Each person or family’s needs will vary a little bit, so each of us will need to evaluate what should be in our preps. If I have any glaring oversights, please feel free to leave a comment so we can build this list up on items that we can never have too much of.
A lot of natural disasters can be area specific. Folks in Minnesota really don’t need to prepare for hurricanes and folks down in southern Florida don’t really worry about being snowed in. Each of us should look at the possible natural disasters for our area and do our best to be ready in case one strikes. But there is one disaster that doesn’t care if you are in New England or the southern Great Plains. Thunderstorms can develop anywhere in the country, or world for that matter. Sure, some places they are more frequent, but anyone can experience the damaging winds, flooding, and lightning strikes from a thunderstorm. The area I call home is notorious for violent thunderstorms, so much so that we just consider them a normal part of life. Spring and summer are the seasons where they show up most frequently, but we’ve had some pretty significant storms in the dead of winter. We won’t go in to great details on the meteorology behind storm formation since this article is geared to being prepared to cope with the effects of a thunderstorm. The National Weather Service has great information on thunderstorms and their formation, so I’ll post a couple of links at the end of the article.
Thunderstorms come in a couple of varieties and vary in intensity based on a lot of complex variables. There are some necessary ingredients for a thunderstorm to get going. These are humidity, instability, and lift. Lift is one of the most important parts of storm formation since the stronger the lift the more intense the storm. There are lots of causes of lift, but the most common is a frontal system. Cold fronts are notorious for spawning storms if the other conditions exist. As a cold front moves across an area all that cold dry air interacts with warmer humid air and forces it up. We’re all familiar with those radar images of a long line of thunderstorms moving over a wide area. Occasionally these systems can be very powerful producing hail, heavy rain, and powerful winds. Tornadoes in these systems can pose a threat as well.
The next type of system to look at are the infamous Supercell thunderstorms. These aren’t as common as frontal systems which is good for us. These thunderstorms can turn ugly in a hurry. I’ve personally seen, chased, and spotted these types of storms and I’ve seen hail the size of softballs, straight line winds of 100 miles per hour and tornadoes. One of the biggest problems with this type of storm is that they can develop very fast, which doesn’t give us much time to prepare for them. When your local meteorologist is predicting conditions favorable for the formation of Supercell storms, you should start paying attention to what’s going on. You might not have much warning to take shelter.
The best course of action is to be prepared before you get word that a storm is on top of you. You don’t want to be the one in a panic when the weather radio starts broadcasting a severe thunderstorm warning or a tornado warning for your area. Of course, having plenty of warning is nice but it isn’t always possible. I’m a firm believer in having a plan in place before anything can go wrong. One of the most important parts of having a plan is being able to get important information in time to act on it. Thunderstorms are a great way to have a power loss, so getting information can be affected when the power goes out. Having a battery powered NOAA weather radio is a must. With a battery powered radio, you’ll never be without the information you need to react to any developing weather situation. Be sure that radio has good batteries and know where spares are. The last thing you want is to hear the name of your county then silence because the batteries died. I’ve covered being prepared for a power outage here, so check that out since it applies quite well to storm induced power outages. The next step is to have a predetermined place in your house to take shelter if you need to. The best place is an interior room, hall, closet closest to the center of the structure and as far from windows as possible. If you have a basement, that’s probably the best place to be. If your house is two story, a closet under the stairwell is pretty good. Stairwells are usually close to the center of the house and are pretty strongly built. If your house doesn’t have features mentioned, a bathtub with a mattress or heavy blanket can can provide additional protection. Analyzing this beforehand will let you have the area prepared to shelter in case of a severe storm. If possible, stage a blackout kit and a weather radio in this location. By doing this, you can eliminate running around to locate what you need when you should be getting to cover.
Getting Caught Outside
One of the scariest experiences you can have is getting caught out and about during a violent storm. Many years ago, a storm producing softball and grapefruit size hail moved rapidly over Fort Worth, Texas. Unfortunately, it moved right over a big outdoor public event called Mayfest. 10,000 people were caught out in the open as the storm moved over. A lot of people scrambled to shelter in vehicles, but with hail that size windshields and windows were shattered. Over 90 people were injured by the hail. 16 people were killed in this storm, mostly from drowning in flood waters. It’s actually amazing that more people weren’t killed or injured in this storm. The biggest lesson this event teaches is to have a plan in the back of your mind if you are out and about with the threat of severe weather. If you are in your vehicle, get to a safe place and park. Try to get in a sturdy building if you have time. If not, staying in your vehicle is the safest bet. It will provide some shelter from rain, wind, and hail. If there is a lot of lighting, try not to touch any metal surfaces inside the vehicle. Hail and windblown debris can shatter windows, so if you can you should cover up with a blanket or coat.
After the Storm
Once the storm has passed, it’s usually safe to get out and survey any damage. A lot of folks like to drive around an look around the neighborhood or town. There is still a silent danger lurking after the storm has passed. Storms produce a lot of rain, which results in a lot of run-off. This water will flow into creeks and flood control channels pretty quickly. Those rolling waters kill more people than just about any other weather event each year. You’ll do well to keep yourself and your children away from any rushing water. If you are driving, NEVER cross running water. A few inches of running water can sweep a vehicle away. As the National Weather Service says, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” It would really suck to survive a violent storm then end up failing at survival because of flood waters.
My friend Brian Burns is an incredible songwriter that put out an album several years back called “Heavy Weather”. It isn’t a survival topic by any means, but the album certainly relates to the topic at hand. The title track is my theme song when I’m out chasing thunderstorms. You can support independent artists and check it out here.
There comes a time when people look around and start to see through the complacency that most of the population is guilty of. With that first realization that things might not always go as planned comes a little bit of panic. All of a sudden you feel inadequately equipped to take care of yourself and your family. If you let the unease or panic influence your decisions, you’ll start spinning your wheels or even worse, you’ll spend a bunch of time and money in ways that don’t offer much benefit. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there with a case of MREs in a closet somewhere that don’t feel any better about their situation. Then there are folks that do what modern people do when they don’t know something, hit Google and start reading. The are tons of great resources on being prepared, but there is a lot of chaff to sort through. I visited hundreds of website, blogs, and online stores before I started getting relevant information. I haven’t found many sources for a new “prepper” to get information on where to start, so that prompted me to put one together. I’m sure there are things I’ll miss, and some folks will think my priorities might be a little off. I’ll take that risk to do my best to help someone new get started without feeling overwhelmed. We’d all like to have a zombie proof compound in the Rockies and provide for all of our own needs, but that’s not a realistic short term goal for most of us. Starting small and working up is the only way to approach being prepared. If you start big and plan for massive global disaster, you’ll always feel inadequate and burnout will set in pretty quickly. Starting small in your own home will give you a feeling of security and give you a base to build on. By starting small, you won’t prepare for any one specific disaster. There are a lot of ways that things can go wrong in life. It’s best to have basic levels of preparedness that will cover a lot of bases. I’ll approach this as a step-by-step plan. This might evolve into an easy to follow checklist with some input from others in the survival community.
Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of gaining that warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing you are better prepared than most to weather the storms life might throw at us. We all have basic needs to meet to maintain our basic survival like air, water, food, and shelter from the elements. Air is pretty easy; if we don’t have it we are toast within a couple of minutes. For simplicity, we’ll assume air will be available. Water is the next important need to meet. We can only go a couple of days without water before we expire so it needs to be taken seriously. Food rates really high on the list as well. We can go a few weeks without it, but those will be a few miserable weeks. Hunger leading into starvation is probably one of the worst ways to die. We’ll address these needs in our first step.
Step 1. Getting Our Homes in Order.
Being ready at home is as easy as having the things we need available to us every day. Water and food storage is the best place to start. Having a year of food and water put away is nice, but a giant step for any household. Start smaller and look at having a week or two of reserves. We live in a society that allows easy access to grocery stores and a seemingly endless supply of clean water from the tap. Everyone takes this for granted. If we need something, it’s a short trip to the store. Maybe we do this several times a week. At some point, there might be a situation where we can’t get to the store or delivery trucks can’t get to the store to restock. It doesn’t take a massive disaster to cause this. Maybe it’s something as common as a winter storm that makes driving unsafe for a few days. A lot of times, most people never have food to go more than a couple of days. If you have 2 weeks of reserves, you won’t even notice in your daily life. The easiest way to approach building this reserves to look in your pantry and determine what foods that you eat have a long shelf life. Once you have an idea, start buying one or two extra items when you grocery shop. It starts to add up quickly. It is easy to start looking at all sorts of stuff at the store to find the longest shelf life, but limit it to foods you like to eat. A case of SPAM doesn’t matter much if you hate the stuff. “Store what you eat and eat what you store” is a common saying in the survival community. If you like beans, then that makes a great item to have extra on hand. Pasta is another favorite that store well and a lot of people eat regularly. Keep in mind that you aren’t looking for large amounts that will last for years. This is stuff you like to eat, so you’ll be using it and replacing it when you go to the store. This way you have food reserves, but they are constantly being rotated as you prepare meals. Use the oldest first and put the new to the back of the pantry. Now you are not only storing a little extra food, you also have a rotation system in place to make sure you always have fresh food if you need to rely on your storage for any reason.
Storing water often gets overlooked because we have complete faith in our water supply systems. Every time we turn on the faucet, clean water comes out. Water is bulky and heavy, so why would we want to store it? Simply put, our water system can and has failed in the past. It might be a major catastrophe or something as simple as a water main break that interrupts service to a part of your town. If you’ve ever had this happen, you know how quickly grocery stores run out of bottled water. You can store bottled water in individual bottles or in larger containers if you would like. I do this myself, but I also have some regular tap water stored. Water from the tap is usually clean and very cheap. It can be stored in 2 liter soda bottles or in specific water storage containers. I use 7 gallon water containers with a spigot on the lid so it is easy to pour. I got mine in the camping section of a big box store for less than $10 a piece. How much you store is up to you and how much room you can spare, but a good rule of thumb is a gallon per person per day. It never hurts to have more stored for washing dishes and ourselves and flushing toilets. Now for a word of advice I learned the hard way… Don’t store water in milk jugs. The plastic they are made from is designed to be biodegradable and they will start to break down after a short period of time. Also, protect your water containers from freezing. Some are not durable enough to handle the expansion of freezing water and they can crack or rupture.
Step 2. Prepared on the Go.
There might be a time where we have to leave our home to escape a disaster. I’ve seen personally the effects of someone having to leave their house in a rush. In a panic mode, most people will not be thinking clearly and will forget crucial items or they will try to get too much and won’t end up getting much at all in the rush. This is where the often mentioned Bug Out Bag (BOB) comes into play. If you have to “bug out” in a hurry, you need a bag that is already put together that you can grab on the way out the door. like to keep mine in my vehicle, but it’s up to you so long as you can get to it quickly.
The basic concept of a BOB is a bag that can sustain you for 3 days. The contents should be able to meet your basic survival needs. Food and water is a must. Enough water for three days is heavy and hard to carry, so I have some water and a few means to source water wherever I might end up. Water filtration and purification means are important. Hiking water filters and purification tabs serve well. I also keep a 1oz bottle of bleach with me. One ounce of bleach will purify more what than you can imagine, like hundreds of gallons. I also have a means to prepare and eat the food I have in my bag. You will probably want a way to start a fire and shelter yourself case you have to spend the night outside. Having a change of clothes and extra socks and underwear will go a long way toward making a survival situation easier to bear. It would be easy for me to go into great detail on what the perfect BOB should contain, but a lot is personal choice and there are so many resources on the web that cover it better than I can. I’ll post links at the end of the article to help you get started. I’ve also covered overlooked items in a different article, which you can read about here.
Step 3. Your Vehicle.
I’ve already written an article covering vehicle preparedness that you can read here. A lot of people feel better about having their house and BOB ready, but overlook the vehicle. Most of us will take our vehicle if we need to get out quickly, so having what we need there is important. During the widespread evacuations of the Houston area preceding Hurricane Rita, countless motorists got stranded in the gridlock that resulted on every major road out. Most people weren’t prepared to evacuate, so they were at the mercy of others for help to get out of harm’s way and off the road. If you’ve read this far into the article, I’m assuming you don’t want to be one of these people any more.
Step 4. Defense.
In a perfect world, defense would just be limited to keeping the snakes and bears when away in the woods, but we don’t live in a perfect world. In fact, we live in a world where people will literally try to kill others over a sale item at a store the day after Thanksgiving. I’m a firm believer that in most cases the majority of people are good. They will help others and work together to make the world a better place. There are those that are out to hurt, kill, and steal, but I think they are the smallest percent of our population. BUT, when there is a disaster, people panic. When people panic, they do things they would normally never do. The mild mannered accountant might just shoot you in the face to take food if his children are starving. I’m not saying this to scare anyone, and I don’t believe it is the norm, but the threats are there. There are those that would do you harm, either out of malice or out of fear. All of your best preparations are useless if you cannot defend yourself when a wolf is at the door. I know some of my readers live in areas where gun ownership might be difficult or impossible. For most of us it is a right, and one that should be exercised. However, ownership is not enough. Training on the safe and proper use is a mandatory responsibility of all gun owners. Additional training on defensive uses are highly recommended. Most of us might never have to defend ourselves, but it is our responsibility to do so if the time comes. It is also our duty to do so in a means that is appropriate to the level of threat we are faced with. There are personal, societal, and legal ramifications with this subject that I am not qualified to comment on, so I’ll leave it up to each individual.
Step 5. Feel Better and Start Learning.
Once you have the basics of being prepared underway, you should start to feel a little better about where you are. Knowing that you are better prepared to face what life might throw at you is a liberating feeling. I know how I felt when I knew that something as simple as an ice storm wouldn’t make my life miserable. I’m not saying that having to face a disaster would be fun, but it’s a little less scary when you can rely on the steps you’ve taken so far. Most of us at this point begin to feel empowered. We know we can’t control the world around us, but we know we can take steps to handle a lot more than we could before. For me this was the catalyst to start exploring other ways to take back control. This was my first step in self reliance. Now I focus on learning skill and gaining knowledge that will help me as I strive for more freedom from dependency. Which steps you take next are up to you. For me it was learning ways to remove dependency. Growing a garden to provide my family with real, healthy food was a great step in that direction. I was lucky to grow up in a family that placed a lot of emphasis on providing for ourselves. We always had a garden. Now I’m looking at ways to do it better. Every skill you learn should have a benefit. In my life, learning simple things like how to preserve food or fix a vehicle has not only saved me a ton of money, it gives me a feeling that I am in better control of my life. It’s these little skills that tell me I can handle problems as they arise. There is a feeling of freedom there that I hope each and every reader at Surviving Modern Life will grab and make their own.
Links for the Bug Out Bag
Here is a good list, but leans toward being prepared for all out collapse.
This is a very thorough list.
One of the better articles I’ve seen on BOBs
FEMA has some thoughts on how to prepare.
Another great article on getting started can be found here.
We put a lot of thought in our preparations for emergency and disaster. A lot of us keep food on hand, have a flashlight handy, and know where our first aid kit is. Hopefully we feel ready to tackle any problems that life throws at us. Do we have that same feeling in our vehicle when we’re driving around or commuting to work? A basic car kit can go a long way toward gaining that same feeling of security.
I find myself in a position that’s different from what I’m used to. For years I’ve driven a big diesel pickup everywhere I go. If you know anything about diesel pickups, you know they can carry a lot of stuff. When I’m in my truck I feel comfortable to face situations ranging from having to overnight on the side of the road to heading into the woods and starting society over from scratch. You might think I’m joking, but I really do carry a LOT of stuff in my truck. I literally have the equipment and tools to do major motor work, hunt large game, build a log cabin, and communicate with the outside world by a host of different means. I even have solar battery charging capabilities. My truck truly is a rolling bugout location. The only downside… it’s not my daily driver any more. When I took a job 45 miles away, the price of fuel was draining my budget. I opted to buy a little used car that gets excellent mileage. I now spend 10 times less on fuel, but at the cost of that peace of mind I have in my truck. I’ve really started to put a lot of thought into what the perfect car kit for emergencies would be and I’m starting to put this kit together.
One of the most important aspects to consider is what you might need this kit to do and what situations you might face. Some of these will be unique to your circumstances, but some items will be universal to all vehicles. The first, and most likely scenario I prepare for is being stranded. There can be a few reasons why I might get stranded, but the result is the same. I might be there for a while, and want to make the best of the situation.
We know that we have basic needs in any survival situation. I could go as basic as possible and say that the most important is air, but unless you drive your car into a lake, that shouldn’t be a problem. Water, as basic as it sounds, is very important. The old standby advice is one gallon per person per day. Generally, we won’t need to store a lot of water since we aren’t planning on multiple days in the car. One gallon per person should be more than enough. I personally keep a few 20 ounce bottles of water in my little car. Having water in the car saved me from a major inconvenience just recently. I didn’t need the water to survive, but when my car decided to spring a leak in a hose I was able to repair the leak on the side of the road and top the radiator off with some of my storage water.
Another consideration is protection from the elements. It rarely gets really cold here in Texas, but we do see some cold winter weather. Cold isn’t really an issue when we can keep the car running and the heater on full blast, but if we can’t for some reason, that cold can become a serious problem. Every year when we get ice on the roads, there are people that skid off in the ditch and can’t get back on the road. And it seems to happen at night more often that not. Some will probably be waiting hours for help to come get them. In a situation like this, running out of gas can make for a very uncomfortable night. It might even be fatal. A simple solution would be a blanket of some sort. Wool blankets are pretty inexpensive and will help you stay warm in some pretty low temperatures. Emergency blankets work too, but they aren’t very comfortable and you have to cocoon into them for them to work well. If this breakdown is in the Summer here in Texas, there’s not much that can be done. It’s going to be hot. Be glad for that water!
After the initial stress of ending up in this predicament fades, you might start to get a little hungry. Some snack foods might come in handy to make the time go by a little easier. I know I certainly function better when I’m not focusing on an empty stomach. Any non perishable food will work for the vehicle, but you have to apply common sense. What works in the house for food storage might not work well in the vehicle. Temperature is one of the biggest concerns. Where I live and drive the most, temperatures can range from 5 degrees in my vehicle all the way up to close to 200 degrees in the truck or passenger cabin. Freezing or extreme heat can break glass containers, and the heat can certainly turn an aluminum or tin can into a food grenade (ask me how I know!) Plenty of options are available that will handle these temperatures. Cookies and crackers come to mind first. Beef jerky is another. I know these aren’t the healthiest choices, but we’re in a survival situation that hopefully won’t be lasting too long. Besides, you can go weeks without food before you die. These are here as a comfort item more than anything.
Now that we can make sure we aren’t going to be miserable or die from lacking basic needs, we can look at other items. Sanitation needs might want to be covered. If you are stranded on the side of the road away from everything when nature calls, a roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag is about to become your best friend. Keeping it in a ziplock bag will keep it clean and dry while it rides shotgun with you waiting for that moment of need. Some basic hygiene items tossed in might round out the package and come in handy even if you aren’t forced to stay in your car. There has been more than one occasion where I’ve stayed the night somewhere unexpectedly and having a few items in my car saved a trip to the store so I could brush my teeth and apply deodorant.
Once these needs are all met, lets figure out how to get ourselves out of the situation. Communication is key. Most all of us have cell phones these days, and they make life more convenient than ever when they work. Its a good idea to make sure you have a way to keep it charged in the car. A dead battery makes the smartest of phone as useful as a rock in no time. For most situations, a working phone will get word out and get help on the way. But in true prepper fashion, I like to have redundancy. CB radios and other two way radios can get word out in emergencies, and they don’t rely on the wireless network that cell phones depend on. Handheld CB radios can be had for almost nothing and make an excellent source for secondary communication. Remember, channel 9 on the CB band is for emergency use only. Channel 19 is known as the “trucker channel” and generally has a lot of traffic, especially near major highways. I go a step further and add HAM radio to my arsenal, but this isn’t practical for everyone. For one, its a licensed band, meaning you have to take a test and get your license to transmit. This rule doesn’t apply in an emergency. In a true emergency, you can use any band or frequency available to call for help. Make sure it is a real emergency (defined as threat to life or property).
Now on to the stuff every car should have before it ever gets on the road. A lot of these will seem obvious, but I’m shocked at the people that don’t have any of them. Make sure your vehicle has a spare tire. Make sure it’s aired up! Even if you aren’t much of a mechanic, you should keep a basic tool kit in your car. It will come in handy for minor repairs. If you can’t perform the repairs, that good Samaritan that stops to help might be able to if only he hadn’t forgotten his toolbox. You can fix that at least! We all forget to turn off the lights or we leave something plugged into the cigarette lighter. Then we have a dead battery. Its much easier to get someone to give you a jump start if you have your own jumper cables. Most people are willing to help their fellow man, but no one seems prepared to these days. If you want to go all out in being prepared, there are power packs available that allow you to jump start your own vehicle. Here are some examples. 12 volt air compressors can be had on the cheap and will save your bacon in case of a flat. I bought one in new condition at a flea market for $7 and its paid for itself a dozen times over. All of us understand the need for a good first aid kit. Have a better one in your car at all times. You never know when you might be the first to respond to an accident or need to use it for yourself. Having a good flashlight really comes into play if you are stranded after dark. Not being able to see might have you believe you are stuck when you really aren’t. It will also help with those minor repairs and avoiding that rattlesnake if you need to use that toilet paper.
I could continue this article for pages about other survival items you might need; like matches and lighters, signal mirrors, emergency whistles, etc. Those are items you will have to decide if they are worth keeping in you car. Look at your bug out bag and see if there are items that would serve you well if duplicated in your vehicle. I didn’t really cover much about vehicle safety in this article because I’m planning in covering that in a separate article in the near future. In the meantime, use your head and practice common sense around traffic and vehicles. Also, stay tuned for articles about vehicle self defense, and bugging out in your vehicle.