Prepping for beginners: the sensible guide. Information to help you know what to prep for, items to prep, what your priorities should be, & more.
Prepping? Isn’t that for crazy people who are worried about zombies and alien attacks?
Nope. Prepping includes everyday people worried about natural disasters or even something as common as a financial emergency.
The reason I’ve decided to start this prepping series is because being prepared is an essential part of being a good homemaker. In the old days, pantries were stocked all the time. People lived off the grid (because there wasn’t a grid), had their own source of fresh water, and knew survival skills. Today’s world is a LOT different. We’re dependent on the grid. Most of us rely on the taps or bottled water. And most of us have few survival skills.
When I first started prepping it was because of a book I had read. While I have a degree in history and am well-versed in how easily society can collapse in various ways, I never thought of it as something that applied to today. Then I read about the scenario of an EMP. And how quickly everything can collapse.
I looked around my house. And realized a blunt fact. I would be one of the dead. That’s when I decided to start prepping.
It started with research. A lot of the prepping stuff was written by former military special ops (or people who wished they were) and included survival information for getting dropped in the desert with only the supplies in your backpack. They were talking about a cabin in the woods, a specially modified vehicle, and hundreds of guns.
That wasn’t helpful for ME.
I just wanted some sane, sensible information on how a everyday person could start to prepare. After two years of sifting through information and prepping, I decided to share this guide on how to start prepping for beginners.
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Prepping: What Is It?
The technical dictionary definition is “the action or process of preparing something, or preparing for something”.
Oddly enough (and slightly funny), Google provides a second definition for North America. “The practice of making active preparations for a possible catastrophic disaster or emergency, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies.”
As you start researching, remember that prepping is different for everyone. There is no ONE right way to prep. We all live in different situations. We all have different skills, areas of weaknesses and strengths. So don’t get overwhelmed if you read a post saying you have to have an item. Just because they need it doesn’t mean you do.
Prepping is focusing on improving your supplies, abilities, and skills to survive emergency situations, no matter how mundane. That means having an emergency fund for when the car breaks down. (We’ll cover finances below).
When you first start prepping, you’re likely going to be overwhelmed. There are so many resources out there. And so many people making money selling products.
So take a deep breath. And repeat after me: “Start small. Build from there.” This guide is NOT going to be planning for the TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it). It’s going to be a guide for prepping basics- how to START prepping for beginners.
Know Your Scenarios
The absolute first thing you need to decide is what disaster you’re preparing for. This is a vital step in prepping for beginners. And one that often gets overlooked. Prepping for evacuating from a hurricane looks a lot a lot different than staying home to avoid a viral outbreak or civil unrest.
The prepping community is kind of divided into two. Not arguing entities, just a difference in what they prep for.
There is a group of preppers who prepare for TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it), such as nuclear war, asteroid impact, something of global consequence in which society breaks down.
Then there are those who prepare specifically for situations that might impact them, but don’t go to the extent of planning on societal breakdown. (Which could happen…I’m a history major and can tell you that civilizations can collapse and people die).
Here are two resources that will help you check your area and see what you should be prepared for.
- The first is a series of maps that outline common disaster scenarios. Check out “Maps: US Disaster Scenarios.”
- The second is a detailed map of US Natural Hazards. Zoom in, click on your country, and a little box will pop up showing what is and isn’t a risk in your area.
- For those living outside of the US, your country should have similar maps. A quick Google search should find them.
Here are a list of situations you might want to prepare for:
- Unexpected financial hardship- sounds boring, but is the most likely scenario many will face
- Unexpected health hardship, which will likely affect your finances too
- Wild Fires
- Severe Snowstorms
- Electric Grid Down
- Crime/Violence/Civil Unrest
- Total Economic Collapse
- Cyber Attack
- Conventional War/ Terrorist Attack
No matter what the scenario, a huge chuck of preparedness steps, methods, and items to have will be the same. That’s why I’m not doing a different prep section for each scenario.
This article follows the general formula of worrying about these things (in order of priority): shelter, water, food, medical supplies, security.
Without shelter to survive, you’re not going to need the rest. Without water to survive, it doesn’t matter if you have food. Etc.
Basic Tips: prepping for Beginners
First, I’m going to run over some basic tips and mistakes that new preppers make. Then we’ll get into actual action steps you can take and items you need to gather.
- Start small. Don’t prep for TEOTWAWKI at the beginning.
- Don’t let all the possible scenarios overwhelm you.
- Don’t blow all your savings on prepping material.
- Know what you’re buying and why.
- Don’t buy off-the-shelf kits. Most of them are not worth buying and are filled with cheap products.
- You can’t predict exactly what will happen. So don’t make assumptions on what you would/wouldn’t need.
- Don’t just buy gear, put your pack together, and consider it done. You need to know how to use the gear that you’ve compiled.
- Know “The Rule of 3’s”: You can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter in bad conditions, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. (Remember this, we’re going to build upon it!)
- Two is one, and one is none. This is a survival rule that tells you to have two ways of doing everything. You don’t want to just one thing (such as a Survival Filter Straw) and have it not work. Then you’re without water. And won’t survive long.
- Have just one or two locations for your items. Don’t use the camping gear from your bug-out-bag and then leave it in the garage or scattered around. Dedicate a space, such as a spare bedroom closet, for prepping gear.
The Foundations: What to do Today
There are two prepping actions people can do today (that are almost free) but most often get skipped. Prepping for beginners requires looking at these two things.
The most likely disruptions you’ll face in life are medical issues and financial issues. I know, it’s not as dramatic as an asteroid. But it’s a much higher likelihood. For that reason, I’m including them first.
The first is getting your financials in shape to weather a disaster. Almost HALF of Americans say they have ZERO in savings. Total, nearly 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 stashed away (source).
That means that something even relatively simple- the car breaking down- puts a person in danger of a downward spiral in finances. And the further someone gets in the hole, the harder it is to climb their way out.
I have a Free Budgeting Binder to get you started.
I also have an entire book on Personal Money Management: How to Go From Debt to Wealth. It’s packed full of worksheets. I don’t just give you the information, I give you the tools to apply it to your life. (hint, hint: if you subscribe to the free budgeting binder first, you get a discount on the book).
The second is taking care of your physical and mental health. I can’t lecture much on this. I’m overweight and JUST started working out again. Being in good physical health is the number 1 way to prep, especially when prepping for beginners. It’s almost free (healthy food costs money, but you can workout for free).
You are much more likely to survive a disaster if you’re already in good health. It makes it easier to move if you have to bug out (not to mention that if you’re strong, you can carry more survival gear). Gray Wolf Survival has a great article on the many reasons to be in shape. It also goes into how your physical health can affect your mental health and attitude during a survival situation.
Bugging In: 2 Weeks
In prepping for beginners, the first thing I recommend is to be prepared for at least two weeks of bugging in. For staying at home during an emergency, having two weeks of supplies is vital. In a real disaster, emergency systems and responders can be quickly overwhelmed. You want to be able to survive on your own…not be needing rescue and using resources that could be used elsewhere.
As I mentioned earlier, you should keep the rule of 3’s in mind. You can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter in bad conditions, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.
For shelter (and heat), it depends on where you live in a bugging in situation. I live in Southeast Georgia. Even in winter, we could survive without heat. Especially since we have sleeping bags that are rated for extreme cold, a gas stove to make hot food & water, blankets, and those little hot hand warmers.
If you live in a colder area, and you need to prepare for snowstorms, your preps will look a little different. You might have a plan for moving the entire family to one room, sealing the doors, and putting towels over the windows to prevent heat loss. You might also consider a generator or propane powered heater. Make sure you practice good safety when using those items! And make sure you know how to use them BEFORE you need them.
Those two different scenarios emphasize the importance of knowing what you’re preparing for.
If you’re in a bad financial situation, prepping for beginners requires focusing on the basics- water storage, food, a medical kit. If you live in a cold area and are preparing for snowstorms, maybe add a good sleeping bag to the list.
Water is one of the easiest things to store. You can use a clean jug, fill with tap water, label with date, and store in a cool, dark place (such as the closet of a spare bedroom). Switch out the water every 6 months. The general rule is 1 gallon of water per person per day.
However, you also need a way to filter water in case the emergency lasts longer than expected. There are TONS of water filtration and purification systems. Note, you don’t need all of these. These are just what I recommend in the various types of filter/purification:
- Straw: I have two of these- one for husband, one for me. But if push came to shove, we could share one (remember, two is one and one is none). The straw works best when attached to an external water source, so the link I shared includes the bags for holding water. The end of the straw also should screw into some water bottles.
- Water bottle filter: I don’t have one of these. But reviews mention that this is a good system for a bug-out-bag. Though, of course, you can also use it at home.
- Pumps (Katadyn Hiker & Survivor Pro): Again, I don’t have this (it’s on the list for my bug-out-bag). You use arm-power (instead of sucking with your mouth as with straw and water bottle filters) to filter the water. Which makes it much easier to use. However, ease of use results in greater space requirements (not a problem with bugging in).
- Gravity Kits– I have this! This is pricey, but is worth the money. It removes viruses, pathogenic bacteria, heavy metals, and pharmaceutical drugs. The advantage of gravity kits is that they require the least effort (gravity does the work of pushing the water through the filter). It also has the capacity of 6,000 gallons of water. You could be stuck in your home for weeks and as long as you have rainwater (or a pond, river, water pooled in a parking lot, etc.), you’re not going to run out of the most vital substance you need.
After shelter and water, you need to worry about food. While we don’t NEED food for approximately 3 weeks, we would become weak, irritable, and prone to illness without it. Luckily, food is one area in which it’s easy to prepare.
For those on a tight budget, the easiest way to start prepping is by starting to buy two instead of one of some products while at the store. Let’s say you’re making spaghetti for dinner. Grab two boxes of noodles and two jars of sauce. Put one noodle and one sauce away in your food storage. Use the other for dinner. The same with shelf-stable foods and other foods that only require boiling water.
How I do it. I use my pantry for my food storage. After we moved, I made one trip to stock up for 2 weeks to a month of shelf-stable foods: rice, beans, pasta, pasta sauce, canned vegetables, canned meats/fish, and canned fruit. My spices are always stocked (spices are how you’re going to add flavor to all this food), including taco seasoning packs. (One simple survival meal: beans, rice, vegetables, taco seasoning pack. Only requires boiling water).
I make my menu plan and grocery list weekly and shop like normal. Then I put the new product in the back and move the old products forward to be used first. For example, let’s say I buy a box of spaghetti. I don’t use the box I just bought. I use the older box in the pantry and store the new box.
Of course, you can also buy survival meal kits if you have the money. They are designed for different amounts of people (1, 2, 4, etc.), lengths of time (3 days, 1 week, 1 month, etc.), and meal type (breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all). This is one item that’s hard to find on Amazon. And I haven’t reviewed them. So I suggest doing some research on your own if you want to go this way.
One last thing to keep in mind with food storage: even the hardiest food has an expiration date. Check your food stores on a regular basis. Use up that which is about to expire and replace it with fresh food.
- Medical Kit (I’ll be doing an entire post in the future just on medical kits)
- Fire-making method: lighters, matches, ferro rod & firestick
- Lights- flashlights, candles, lanterns
- Hygiene items- wet wipes, hand sanitizer
- Power- spare batteries, solar powered charger
- Tools- axe, shovel, work gloves, zip ties, duct tape, etc.
- Self-defense (security)- this can range from making your doors harder to break open to having weapons.
Bugging Out: 72 Hours
Most bug out bags are designed with the idea of keeping you alive for the next 72 hours until you can get to a place of safety and resources. In prepping for beginners, one of the first things many sites recommend is a bug-out-bag. I put the bugging in scenario first because that’s going to be the reality for a lot of us. And not everyone can bug-out.
There are hundreds of different lists online about what bag to use, what needs to be in a bug-out bag, etc. I have never had to bug-out. In fact, I haven’t even had a chance to go camping and use most of the gear in my bug-out bag. For that reason, I’m leaving that one to the experts- not a fellow beginner like me.
Related to having a bug out bag is knowing how and where you’re going to evacuate to. If you live in hurricane country, you know how fast the hurricane evacuation routes can get clogged. Have paper copies of maps in case the cellular network goes down or is overloaded.
Get HOme Bags
Whew! Getting tired yet. Sorry, we still have a little ways to go.
Next is a “get home bag”. It’s a smaller pack you keep near you when you leave the house that will get you home in case of emergency. Because home is where the bulk of your emergency supplies are at, including your bug out bag.
For example, my get-home bag includes a pair of walking shoes and socks. I normally wear heels or sandals, neither of which are feasible for hiking several miles home. I also include some cash, water, and water starters.
If you have a vehicle, it’s a good idea to have basic gear for the car in there. What you need will depend upon your area. For example, we haven’t had snow in my area for over 100 years. So having windshield scraper and stuff to get out of the snow would be pointless. But having jumper cables, spare tire, and tools to change the tire make sense for everyone.
Skills and Knowledge
All the gear in the world can’t replace skills and knowledge. This is one thing that a lot of prepping for beginners guides miss.
Here are a few resources I recommend:
- The Prepared website has videos with various skills you need
- The SAS Survival Handbook
- Bushcraft 101
- Encyclopedia of Country Living (I can’t recommend this ENOUGH!)
At a minimum, you need to know basic first aid, how to use the gear you have (including how to cook your food supplies), how to light a fire, and basic self-defense.
WRAPPING IT UP
I know. That was a LOT of information. Take a deep breath. You can’t do everything at once. Read through the post and decide on your priorities. Even prepping for beginners can seem overwhelming.
Keep in mind the rule of 3’s:
Shelter (especially for sheltering in place) doesn’t require a lot of additional prep.
Water is easy, even if you can’t buy filter/purification systems.
Food can slowly be stocked up.
A medical kit (and the know-how on how to use it) are important.
Build from there and don’t get overwhelmed! Getting prepared isn’t a one-and-done thing. It’s something you build on for years.