If you are reading this article, chances are you have made the decision to start living a life of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility. Congratulations!
While sometimes derided as paranoia or doomsday prophesying, prepping is really just a modern resurgence of specialty skills that would simply be called life skills a few generations ago. Even so, knowing where to start on your journey to preparation can be bewildering, even stressful for the newcomer.
You can learn this stuff one of two ways: the fun way, which is also the hard way, and is called Experience, or you can learn from the distilled experience of all of those that have come before you.
While not a perfect substitute for experience and nothing else is for that matter, you can get a good head start from where you are as a green prepper that’s as vulnerable as a fawn in a ravine. You’ll have plenty to get and many skills to refine before you can call yourself “ready.”
Like every other pursuit in life, it is always the fundamentals that make the most difference, and prepping as a lifestyle is no difference. Your most essential material preps are also your most basic, and can be acquired almost anywhere.
t is easy to get sidetracked by how much you have to do or how far you have to go, but luckily the place and time to get started is right where you are now.
Today’s article will cover a list of 15 survival items you should get before you get anything else as a newbie prepper.
As a new prepper, it is easy to fall into one of two traps as you take your first steps into this new venture. The first is getting sidetracked by the notion of stocking up for some crazy “high-order” type disaster, one that requires a lot of specialist gear and other toys.
Think something like a nuclear war or global ice age, things like that. I’m not saying those events won’t or can’t happen, but should they your chances of survival will be largely dependent on either luck or having tons of specialist training and materials to go with it.
The second trap is missing the forest for the trees. As a brand-new novice prepper, there is just so much to know and get and learn! It can be downright intimidating, and the threat of analysis paralysis is very real.
You look at one or two how-to guides or Top 10 lists (cough) and next thing you know your start date is weeks behind you and you haven’t taken step one.
Both traps are understandable and more importantly avoidable. The cure for both, at least in the short term, is to simply focus all your energies on the most essential, elemental, fundamental preps.
What does that mean precisely? It means you determine the disasters or other calamitous events most likely to befall you where you live and prepare for those to the exclusion of any fantastical, lethal TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It) events.
Think things like floods, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, rolling blackouts, civil unrest and so on. Even events as common as a single-car accident may become a serious emergency if you are involved in it.
Think about it: these disasters of this kind occur all over the country in great numbers every single year. Your chances of being affected by or caught up in one is pretty good (especially for flooding), and downright huge compared to some apocalyptic event. These “ho-hum” happenings cost many lives and billions and billions in damage each and every year.
It is these disasters that you should be properly worried about, but also preparing for, and the items we will get to later on in our list will form the core of a survival stash that will be useful dealing with almost all of them in one way or another.
Constants of Survival
You may think that surviving a given situation requires specialist knowledge and equipment depending on what the circumstances are, right? Not so fast, partner. In actuality, all survival situations require that you only hang on to a few essential things: oxygen, food for fuel, water to stay hydrated and a core temperature right around 98.2 degrees. Everything else is just a bonus.
Okay, so I kind of tricked you there in the opening paragraph of this section, but that is an important concept you should start ingraining: those are the essential requirements to sustain life, and all of your preparations be they skill or gear, are in support of keeping all of those requirements met- literally life support.
Another essential is security, meaning the ability to keep away or drive off threats, but in most situations physical security is not your most pressing need.
People have always needed those four things. Your ancestors did, and their ancestors before them did. They are endemic to the human condition. Even though they are all critical in the strictest possible sense of the word, they are not equals: you can last weeks without food, or days without water, but only a few minutes without air.
Your core temperature, too hot or too cold, can kill you in hours depending on the severity of conditions.
How you meet these requirements is totally up to you, and there are many ways to do it so long as they get met. Knowing how to integrate all of your possible solutions and material preps into a cohesive body of knowledge that ensures you are able to meet them is the biggest challenge in prepping.
You can store hundreds of gallons of water in your home to slake your thirst, but how much of it can you carry should you need to evacuate? Not much. After that bottle or three of water is drunk, how then do you come up with water? You had better have a plan A, B and C…
Death from exposure is highly prevalent all across the U.S. in all kinds of situations, from post-disaster survival to getting lost on a day hike with the sun setting, fast.
Shelter seems like the least of your concerns when holed up in your house, but what happens if a blizzard freezes your town solid, knocks out power and sees temperatures plunge many digits below zero? You had better know how to keep warm in such a situation.
Take breathing for instance. Air is the most taken for granted resource there is, even more than precious, precious water. If the very air you breathe becomes contaminated, what will you do to procure fresh air, or clean the contaminants from it?
This is not just important in the event of something like a chemical or biological attack: all kinds of disasters, from fires to earthquakes to chemical plant accidents can see all kinds of particulates and harmful material thrown into the air in dangerous quantities. It does not have to be something immediately deadly to be dangerous; asphyxiation is a serious threat on its own.
Minimal Effort, Maximum Effect
All of the above threat examples have effective, clear counters to the danger they pose. The smart prepper will not rely on just one in case circumstances or accident should see their perfect plan and tool rendered useless. Instead, the smart prepper will rely on two or more effective, overlapping and interlocking defense and solutions to any given problem.
That being said, 80% of the time you “one-and-done” preps will be just the ticket, and so for now let’s leave the more advanced an in-depth prepping for another session. We need to get you kitted out with the basics, just like I said earlier!
Concerning your skills, or more accurately lack of skills, for some of you, you will hopefully be glad to see reading the list of items immediately following this section that most of them require no specialist skills to employ. Some do, but most do not.
Like any good American, you can rejoice in the fact you have a gadget to make up for any deficiency! Ok, I’m being a little silly, but it’s true; many of these preps do not require special effort on your part.
This is not to say you should not practice with and become familiar with them! You should, so that you do not falter or panic in an emergency and start fumbling like a juggler with mittens on.
Stress affects people in weird ways, but one of the most prevalent ways is cloudy thinking, racing thoughts and reduced coordination. Don’t trust that you’ll be at your best when the time comes to break out your supplies. Assume you will be stressed. Practicing with your gear is the best inoculation against that.
All of the items on this list are helpful is just about any disaster you can think of, because they all work toward keeping you supplied with the most essential human needs we discussed earlier. That’s why they form the core of your survival stash. I have included notes on specific use or special skills (if required) with each item.
1.) Water Supply
Water is second only to air in importance for survival, and one that you will consume quickly in any emergency. Clean water is necessary for more than hydration, though that is its most critical use.
Clean water is also vital for cooking and personal hygiene tasks, and that is why you will need far more of it than you think! The rule of thumb is one gallon on hand per person, per day, and you want a minimum of three days worth on hand at all times, but more is definitely better.
There are all kinds of things you can do to store water or make unclean sources of water clean for drinking, but for right now you will get ahead of the game if you simply start stocking up on water in the usual plastic bottles or the larger plastic jugs.
Add a case/jug or two for your next few grocery trips and you’ll be set in no time for little cost! If you are worried about plastics leaching compounds into your drinking water over time simply “rotate” your supply by drawing from it for daily use then replacing it with fresh. Remember: first in, first out!
Your body needs fuel in the form of calories to function, and we get calories from food, though most of us have a ready store of calories around our middles already! While that spare tire will keep you alive, a lack of incoming nourishment will result in reduced mental and physical capacity.
You’ll need both to make it through a disaster, as you’ll need to think sharp and do work no matter what happens. Food is also important for maintaining morale with any fellow survivors. Rumbling tummies mean tempers will be growling right behind them!
You have lots and lots of options for food; all that is necessary is to ensure it is calorie dense and shelf-stable so you aren’t worried about spoilage all the time.
Remember that some meals require water or other cooking to prepare, so account for that depending on what you get. Also include in this section a good supply of disposable cutlery, plates and the like. You can save water and hassle right now by planning to eat and toss the dishes.
Consider dehydrated camping or survival meals in packs or buckets, canned and foil-pouched meats and things, MREs and other similar staples. Make sure you keep an eye on expiration dates, and rotate religiously!
3.) Sturdy Clothes
Seasonally appropriate clothes that will let you get work done. You must assume that what you are wearing will at some point become filthy, or even contaminated with blood, sewage and the like. Running around in your PJ’s or a nice business suit is not going to do you any favors in the aftermath with all its hazards. You want tough clothes that will allow you to tackle whatever needs doing while offering you protection from hazards and some protection from the weather, hot or cold.
Make sure your set includes shirt, pants, several pairs of socks and underwear, sturdy boots or shoes, gloves and some kind of hat. Include any other specialist wear like coat and the like depending on your local climate.
Even if you are dressed for the occasion when it happens, if it goes on long enough you’ll need to change into a clean set so you can wash the other. Make sure you have them with your kit: there is no way of knowing if your usual wardrobe will be intact or accessible.
4.) Hygiene Kit
Staying clean will keep you happy and healthy, and this is definitely true when surviving. Some hardcore types eschew this piece of kit as a luxury or nicety that is not worth your time or space, but I disagree. Diseases of all sorts love an unwashed, dirty body, and minor aggravations can turn into outbreaks of serious, dangerous illness in close quarters.
Your body is the most important piece of equipment you have; why wouldn’t you take care of it?! Besides keeping clean with a usual routine, even if it is abbreviated and limited to every other day or every couple of days, you will always need to use the bathroom, so being able to deal with that and get clean after is crucial for maintaining health. Plus, frankly, keeping clean is a huge morale boost.
Your kit should include your daily care supplies like toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, body powder and the like. Your bathroom kit should include plenty of TP, wet wipes, feminine care items and a heavy-duty, sealing bucket or other container that you can line with thick contractor bags. Also make sure you have some type of loose, absorbent media for odor and liquid control. Kitty litter and sawdust are two options.
5.) First Aid Supplies
Injuries will abound during and after a disaster. Knowing how to cope with them is up to you, because you will not be able to count on the timely arrival of overextended emergency personnel in the immediate and even intermediate aftermath
It seems daunting, but you must be willing to get the training, tools and experience to be your own EMT. This is one of those categories where the equipment does no good without the training to apply it. So get some!
Your first-aid kit must be able to treat minor and major injuries. Minor injury supplies are things like band-aids, antibiotic creams, skin adhesive, moleskin, minor burn care and things like that along with a supply of over-the-counter drugs for aches, pains, nausea, diarrhea and so forth.
Serious injury supplies include rolled and pad gauze, ace wraps, blood-clotting sponges or packets, pressure dressings, tourniquets and more. This part of the kit also includes serious medicines like wide-spectrum antibiotics and pain-killers. You’ll need to talk to your doc about those.
Make sure you know CPR and the basics of first-aid including self-care for sprains, broken bones and the like. You must get trained for more serious injuries to stand a chance of treating them! There will be no time for improvisation!
6.) Lighting – Flashlights, Lanterns and Headlamps
No matter what kind of disaster strikes, you can count on power going away and lights being off for however long it is off. You will probably be dealing with serious darkness the kind of which you are unlikely to have experienced before. Trying to do anything in the darkness is dangerous and foolish, so make sure you have ways to light things up!
Flashlights, lanterns and headlamps are your go-to winners here. All have their own pros and cons, but the important thing is that all are reliable and very safe compared to candles. Flashlights are very convenient and portable, good for a variety of tasks to include signaling.
Lanterns are power-efficient area lighting, and also good for boosting morale with their steady, soft glow. Headlamps, long the backpacker’s choice, are ideal for any kind of work or movement in the dark when you need your hands free, and also have the advantage of aiming where you look.
You can make use of all of them. Whichever you decide on, learn your illumination tool’s runtime and make sure you keep plenty of batteries on hand to feed them. Any units that have dimmer switches to allow you to dial down the light to just the right amount that you need are ideal for preppers.
7.) Tarps and Cord
A good multipurpose item if there ever was one, your common, garden-variety tarp can help you through a jam in all kinds of ways. A tarp can serve as a shelter, from heat, cold, rain and wind, a ground covering, a privacy screen, a patch for a leaky roof, and even a signaling device or billboard. A clean tarp also makes a great high capacity water basin.
Any tarp you should consider should have a couple of features. It must, must have grommets, tough ones, to allow you to hang, attach and otherwise rig it up with you cord to do what you need to do. It must also be completely waterproof; no drippy canvas! Lastly it should ideally be of a very visible color to contrast with your surrounding environment and make signaling or writing a message on it easier.
Don’t be afraid to spend on a quality tarp- this is not something you are just covering the woodpile or your lawnmower with.
8.) Emergency Radio
Phones and other gadgets are great tools and useful- when they work! To stay abreast of all developments and notifications from authorities, use a specialty NOAA emergency radio. Most of these utilize a hand-crank dynamo to let you generate electricity so long as your muscles hold out, and many feature such nice features as a built-in light and even USB ports for keeping devices charged, though it takes an awfully lot of cranking to charge one fully.
You can miss out on crucial emergency info if you are going to rely on phones and internet. Radio is old-school compared to our newer communications systems, but it is resilient and highly redundant, and so gets our vote for disaster readiness. Make sure you know how to tune your radio and what channels to tune it to prior to needing to actually use it.
A set of basic hand tools is good to keep handy for disaster readiness. Dealing with the aftermath of a major disaster may see you wrecking, building or repairing things in order to evacuate or just make sure your needs are met.
Stick with hand, not power tools for your kit, as electricity may be entirely unavailable or a premium commodity for the duration of your event.
A good tool kit will include a few screwdrivers of various types, a crescent wrench and a few open ended wrenches in common sizes, an axe, a heavy framing hammer, nails, screws, a handsaw, a prybar or crowbar, vise grips, a utility knife with plenty of blades and wire cutters. Nothing crazy like a full mechanic’s chest or anything, just the basics!
A kit like that will let you improvise what you need for shelter and security as well as demolish most things that are in your way. With a little muscle and creativity you’ll be all set!
10.) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Disasters are messy, dirty, nasty and will result in all kinds of hazards to your frail, squishy body. Make sure you protect your vulnerable parts with the right gear. A good pair of safety glasses should be kept on hand to protect your eyes from debris and any large particulates in the air.
Or maybe you are hammering away trying to free or make something and need to prevent flying chips of whatever you are hammering from embedding in your eye.
You should also invest in a set of good dust masks. Airborne particulate is hazardous in the short term and the long term, and you definitely don’t want to be breathing in any of the crap floating on the breeze.
Events like pandemics will also make you happy you have coverings for your mucous membranes and other soft tissues of your face, which are always major vulnerabilities when germs are concerned.
11.) Fire Extinguisher
Fire is a major hazard by itself, and can also pop up in the wake of all kinds of other disasters. Downed or broken electrical lines, smashed and leaky fuel tanks and other combustibles will be ready to touch off after they are rocked by some natural or man-made disaster, and you may also need to deal with the occasional Molotov cocktail thrown by rioters.
A large ABC-rated fire extinguisher will put out most fires before they grow beyond control assuming you reach it in time. An ABC fire extinguisher is rated to put out pretty much every kind of common fire save flammable metals, and if you are dealing with that you are in a really bad way already.
Make sure you service at prescribed intervals any fire extinguisher you get, and it is worth getting some training on how best to use one. Also be sure that any unit you select is not so heavy that you cannot maneuver with it easily.
12.) Maps, Local and Regional
In the event you need to evacuate after a disaster, you will likely be traversing a landscape that has been rendered unrecognizable by destruction. Fire, floodwaters and the moonscape effect rendered by high winds can see you confused as to which way to go. This is no time for getting lost!
Internet based services will likely be down, and potentially satellite based GPS as well, so I would not put all my eggs in that particular basket if I were you. Get a set of maps instead. You’ll want a map of your town or city, as well as a map of the surrounding region, and I’d include a current road atlas as well in case you need to go by vehicle.
Maps are great, but not much force without a compass unless you can rely on landmarks. A lensatic or field compass will provide you with precise orientation in case you have almost nothing to navigate off of. If all the road signs are blown down or underwater, knowing exactly which direction you need to go to reach your destination is critical.
If you want something more rudimentary you can use a simple hand or button compass for N-E-S-W direction finding. You don’t need to be a Boy Scout or overlander to get life-saving utility from a compass. Make sure any one you do wind up purchasing has glow-in-the-dark indicators so you can use it at night in a pinch.
It is a bitter pill, but disasters will not just bring out the best in your fellow man. For every 10 people that rise to the occasion to help their neighbors and community, you will have one or two who take the opportunity to prey on others. There may also be others in the wake of a truly awful disaster that are just desperate, and willing to resort to force to take what you have.
It is ugly to consider, but you must be willing to protect yourself and others from the criminals and the deranged. Guns and knives are obvious contenders here, but also consider things like pepper sprays in larger bottles with better range and implements like the classic baseball bat, axes, hatchets and so forth.
If you are serious about defending yourself with any weapon you must get training to use it effectively.
15.) Backup Document Package
If a disaster sees you made into a refugee, or your house and all your records simply wind up as casualties, you will be glad you have a handy file containing copies of all the really, really important stuff.
Files and docs you should include in this package are driver’s licenses, passports, titles, deeds, birth certificates, banking information, credit card/debit card numbers, and anything else that can help prove that you are you and prove what’s yours.
You have two ways to do this: hard copies and electronic storage. For the former, make high-quality copies of the docs and either laminate them, or keep in them in weatherproof page protectors. Keep this handy, but hidden: this is handing the keys of the kingdom to an identity thief should they acquire it.
For electronic storage, scan all docs, label them and store them on a flash drive with your kit. Make sure you encrypt and password-protect it so the information won’t get into the wrong hands should you lose it.
While there is much to learn and do for new preppers, you can get a big head-start on things by focusing on the basics.
The essential preps you see above should be your number one priorities for acquisition before you tackle anything else, as these items will be vital in nearly nay disaster situation you may be imperiled by. Buy smart, train smart, and you won’t be a new prepper for long!
Like what you read?
Then you're gonna love my free PDF, 20 common survival items, 20 uncommon survival uses for each. That's 400 total uses for these innocent little items!
Just enter your primary e-mail below to get your link. This will also subscribe you to my newsletter so you stay up-to-date with everything: new articles, ebooks, products and more!
By entering your email, you agree to subscribe to the Modern Survival Online newsletter. We will not spam you.