Preparing for disasters isn’t just a good idea; it could be essential to survival.
Hurricanes, ice storms, power grid attacks, EMPs, homeland invasions—the list of potential reasons you would want to prep goes on and on, but you can do something about it. You can be prepared for come-what-may, and keep your family safe through it all.
Take a look around at the way the world is. Of course you want to start prepping, who wouldn’t?
In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of prepping, the reasons behind it, and how to gauge small scale and high profile disasters and situations that you would need to bug out for (I’ll also explain what “bug out” means).
This is all about prepping for beginners; people who are just looking at prepping after the rocky roads we’ve seen in 2020. I’m going to teach you everything I know about getting started.
What is Prepping?
Preparing for disaster to strike, and knowing how to conduct yourself in a level-headed manner when and if it does occur.
Prepping takes every type of disaster, manmade or natural, and gives you a way to defend yourself against all the uncertainties that will arise from these problems.
In prepping, we constantly use an acronym SHTF, which stands for when shit hits the fan. This simple acronym is the quickest way to summarize what prepping is all about. The fan gets dirty, and you’ve got to clean it up.
There’s a disaster, so how are you going to get out of it? Where are you going to go? How are you going to eat, drink water, and sleep when you have to flee your home? How will you defend your family?
I could go on and on, but there are numerous questions that you have to ask yourself. Prepping is the solution to every panic-driven thought during a worst-case scenario.
Why do People Prep?
To survive. Nobody wants to die in a disaster. Those who decide to prep have the foresight to know that the life we lead right now could be pulled out from under our feet tomorrow morning, and they accept this possibility.
Some people naturally prepare for everything they can because they don’t like uncertainty in any form.
People who prep indirectly follow a famous quote from Epictetus, which states “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” You can’t change what happens, but you can change how you respond to it.
When SHTF, it’s up to you to be able to say “I accept this happened, and this is what I’m going to do about it.” There’s a lot of anxiety that encircles the idea of a natural disaster wiping out your home, or a homeland invasion, EMP, and basically any other disaster that comes to mind.
The number one thing you can do to combat that anxiety is to go through every scenario in your head, have a contingency plan in place in case that catastrophe actually happens, and revel in the knowledge that you’ll be as well-off as possible.
People prep because they don’t want to be caught with their pants down when it matters the most.
Disasters generally refer to natural disasters that are completely out of your control. Flooding, hurricanes, anything that can be labeled by an insurance agency as an act of God basically counts as a disaster.
One tornado that destroys a few homes could be a small disaster, but a storm surge that leaves 10,000 people with nowhere to sleep is when it’s on a massive scale.
People prepare for these disasters because it can secure a part of your future. If you’re not worried about where your next meal is coming from or if you’ll have clean clothes to change into, it frees your mind up to think about other important issues, such as getting out of the way.
If all you have to your name is what’s in your home and you don’t have a contingency plan, you may hunker down and then regret that decision later on.
Preparing puts you in the mindset of. “I will make the situation as okay as it can be, even if it changes my life.” It leaves you in a better place when facing the unknown than if you didn’t prep.
Emergencies are usually man-made or specifically affect people instead of the environment. Nobody calls a hurricane a natural emergency, they call it a natural disaster. We don’t call massive civil unrest a state of disaster, we call it a state of emergency.
Those distinctions are important, because as you go through all of the different things that you could have to prep for, you want to know what materials and supplies are required for each.
You might have a different bug out bag for civil unrest versus fleeing your home that’s in the path of a wildfire.
Emergencies are wildcards. A natural disaster will always come to an end, no matter what. You might be able to return home, your neighbors might be able to get back to normal; life will restabilize.
But with an emergency, it could last for a single night, or it could be indefinite for the immediate future. That sounds like exactly the kind of thing you would want to be ready for.
Recent Examples of Disasters and Emergencies
Can we just cite all of 2020 as a disaster?
Joking aside, the global pandemic that is COVID-19 has taken nearly all the stigma away from preppers. We’re often looked at as doomsday nuts, mocked on television shows, and referred to as paranoid conspiracy theorists.
Well, nobody is saying that anymore. COVID-19 has proven to see shortages of toilet paper, food, medical supplies, masks, and preparation gear such as 25-year MRE food tubs and things of that nature.
Prepping may not always be a 100% perfect solution, but it’s still a response to a problem that would otherwise yield a 0% success rate.
When you have no plan in store, you’re destined to fail. Other recent disasters that really showcase just how important prepping is include the George Floyd riots of 2020, the California wildfires, hurricane Irma, West Virginia floods, and Washington state mudflow.
Did it Pay Off to Prep for These?
In case you haven’t noticed, you don’t hear a lot of preppers talking to newscasters or reporting that they bugged out and returned home at a later date.
We’re a pretty private group of people who don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves (partially due to the years of stigmas against preppers).
From scouring the internet on various forums and social media platforms, we’ve found people discussing times they had to bug out, and what it was like when they eventually made it home.
Some newscasters during the 2020 riots showed homes that were boarded up, but that clearly hadn’t been evacuated (signs of hunkering down). Yes, it pays off to be prepared.
Types of Disasters You Should Prep for
Disasters and emergencies are different, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Disasters include an act of God taking the wheel and causing major damage. Think of hurricane Katrina, the California wildfires, things of that nature.
Blackouts are common enough, and usually have a very short window before the power is back on.
Think along these lines when you picture small disasters. If you can hunker down without a rainstorm tearing your roof off, it’s something you should be prepared for, but not a major disaster.
Use small scale disasters to your advantage. Acclimate your family to the results of small disasters (without compromising safety and health of course) so that they may be better prepared when a medium scale or grand disaster strikes.
For a small scale disaster, you can usually stay at home and use stockpiled supplies until it blows over.
Snow storms, ice storms, and mudslides – these would be medium scale natural disasters.
An ice storm can pummel a roof and knock out power for a week or more depending on the storm and climate, or your power could just be out for a half-hour until the utility companies can get out there. It’s all dependent on the scale of the disaster.
But just like many weather-based medium scale disasters, you can plan ahead for this one.
Other medium scale disasters include avalanches, storm surges, and nor’easters. Many can be anticipated, some can’t, but they normally don’t affect hundreds of thousands of people in an instant.
Category 5 hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires: these all claim lives every single time they strike, despite us knowing about most of them ahead of time. Why?
People don’t prep the way they’re supposed to.
When you go into a supermarket when a hurricane is three days out, everything is gone. People panic buy, but folks like you and I are already prepared.
Large scale disasters can sow temporary panic, but rarely escalate to civil unrest. Large scale disasters may force you to flee, but unlike emergencies, you’ll be able to return home after not too long.
Types of Emergencies You Should Prepare for
There’s no telling what emergency is going to strike, which is why you should be prepared for them all.
Emergencies differ from disasters, because a disaster will be a force of nature; a flood, hurricane, nor’easter, ice storm, and all of the above. Emergencies are often man-made and come with a different set of protocol to follow.
Let me ask you this: do you know what scale of emergency you are allowed to panic over?
I’ll give you a minute.
The correct answer is none. Small or large, you need to maintain a level head at all times. Small disasters can still pose a serious threat if you aren’t careful.
Prepping doesn’t just have to be about end-of-the-world situations, either: plenty of us prepare for car breakdowns, in-home medical emergencies where getting to a hospital might take too long, or a house fire.
These events can be life-changing depending on how severe they are, but they have a small impact: you and your immediate party.
Floods come with weather reports; they don’t just happen at a moment’s notice unless a dam erupts and the levies can’t maintain the flow.
Up to category 3 hurricanes can be sustained if you have the right supplies and high ground. There are a lot of medium scale disasters that make the average person run for the hills, but you can withstand them depending on how prepared you are.
This is where the scale tips. Some medium scale emergencies require you to bug out. Hit the road, head into the mountains, start a new life until things settle down, but more often than not a medium scale emergency will last for less than two weeks and you’ll be able to return home.
Medium scale disasters also include financial strife. This comes down to budgeting and financing more than anything else if you want to survive it, but a good example of massive financial strife would be the 2008 housing market crash.
This is where preppers really shine: preparing for the big catastrophes. Terrorist attacks, dirty bombs, EMPs, power grid attacks and failures, category 5 hurricanes, school shootings, and more. If it makes national headlines and isn’t the weather, it’s a large scale emergency.
Emergencies in the large scale range could impact your life forever. They could change millions of lives forever. The closest we’ve seen to a serious large scale event recently would be the riots of 2020 and the billions of dollars in damage that they caused.
Basic Prepping Gear
Basic gear is the bare minimum that you should have to escape and survive disastrous situations. If you have these, you’ll be prepared to at least get out of harm’s way and survive in the woods if the need arises.
Bug Out Bag
This isn’t just some simple item that you pick up – this is a culmination of all your prepper knowledge, all your tool knowledge, etcetera.
Your bug out bag is like a living testament to your ability to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Having a prepping plan without a bug out bag is like having a map with no compass.
Your bug out bag will contain essentials. It will be designed to weigh as little as possible, while having as much utility as they can fit inside of it. The goal of a bug out bag is to have what you need to survive in the middle of nowhere.
We have an entire guide on bug out bags and what they should contain.
Your first step in prepping is to do your own research on individual essentials, find the ones that work for you (and your budget), and assemble your own bug out bag. Consider this to be the first prerequisite to becoming a full-fledged prepper.
Survival gear will be included in your bug out bag. These could be in the form of all-in-one survival kits, which have their utility, or they could be a collection of individual items that you assemble into one set of survival equipment.
If it doesn’t help you survive, it’s not survival gear. A knife can be used to clean fish to help you eat; that’s a survival tool. A hatchet will help you make shelter out of freshly-chopped branches; that’s a survival tool.
While some other items may be registered as essential, whether it’s fresh clothes or a deck of cards so you don’t go mental with boredom, they’re not technically survival gear.
If it can’t help you hunt, maneuver, navigate, or assist any other survival skill, it falls into another category of gear. Survival gear takes precedence over everything else that you bring with you.
This can be a tricky category, because your survival vehicle will depend on the disaster or emergency.
Having an older truck in the detached garage that you can use to flee during a flood? That’s awesome. Having a loud truck that sounds like a freight train rolls through every time you drive it?
That one might not be so good for stealth.
Part of survival is staying out of sight and out of mind. In civil unrest, riots, and other disasters that sow human panic, we want to avoid becoming a target. In a SHTF situation, a target is anyone who is more prepared than you. Anyone who has gear, food, supplies, and essentials.
During widespread panic, people will look at you with envious eyes. You want to stay hidden.
Survival vehicles such as ATVs offer decent stealth while still being able to outrun others, and are quiet enough to not alert much attention when you return to your makeshift home in the woods.
Be choosy with your survival vehicle. You can only walk so far on foot, so get something that offers you excellent mobility without being too obvious. Rioters aren’t going to choose to hunt down a cyclist over a Hummer drive, you know what I mean?
Advanced Prepping Gear
Apart from the basics that we’ve just discussed, there are some more advanced pieces of gear that you should acquire.
Bugging out may mean dashing off into the woods with a bag on your back, and living off the land for as long as possible. Some of these pieces of prepping gear prepare you for that.
Long Term Survival Gear
Gravity-fed water filtration systems, manual tools, tarps for long-term shelters, warm clothes for when winter comes. Long term survival gear refers to just about anything that you can use now and later, or items that have specific seasonal use.
Nobody wants to stay in the wilderness for a full year, but if that does become a reality, you want to be ready for every seasonal change that comes your way.
Pack an ultralight tent, or have the know how to make your own shelter in whatever area you decide to bug out in.
Shelter is undeniably important, so be sure to choose something with moderate levels of insulation, built out of materials that will be able to withstand months to years of use.
Small and large, gather them all. You need to be able to hunt, to defend yourself, and be intimidating enough to tell people “I don’t want to mess with them.” The goal is not to seek out a problem, but rather prevent one before it happens.
You never want to be caught in a SHTF situation without some way to defend yourself. While knives also count as packing arms, you should also have firearms available as well.
Stockpiling Food and Supplies
Canned food, fermented food, basically anything on this list that we’ve outlined.
Stockpiling food is going to be extremely important if you’re hunkering down, or if you have a large survival vehicle that you can take with you to bug out to a secondary location, whether that’s a secluded cabin or a camping spot in the woods.
This is absolutely a skill, because you need to rotate food out (the rule of FIFO), plan ahead nutrient-dense meals ahead of time, and then actually get enough money to buy everything you need without the expiration dates being years apart.
Skills You Should Consider as a Prepper
If you’re truly in it to win it, then you need to develop a specific set of skills that will help you survive in the most adverse situations.
Pandemic, invasion, EMP, power grid attack – whatever it is, you need to leave the world behind and be able to survive on your own. These skills will help you reach back into the vault of that caveman DNA we all share and fight for survival as effectively as possible.
The most basic and necessary survival skill: hunting. Foraging is useful, but you’re not going to live off of wild radishes and berries your whole life. You need protein, fat, foods of substance to survive properly and not lose essential weight and muscle mass.
Hunting is geographic and seasonal. Depending on where you are and what the temperature is outside, you’re going to run into different options for prey.
Hunting is a basic skill, but you should refine its primary focuses to the area you live in or will be bugging out in. The same goes for foraging and identifying plants.
Basic Tool Usage
If you can’t handle a knife, how can you handle yourself in the wild?
Understanding your basic outfit of tools is going to be instrumental to your survival every single way you look at it.
Now is the time to get acquainted with your tools before you actually need to use them in the wild.
Basic tools include the essentials in your survival kit, but also pertain to primitive weapons and tools that you may have to make in survival situations. It’s important to know how to use them effectively to both mitigate tool damage, and to be as efficient in your survival as possible.
Meal Rotation and Rationing
Eating the same thing every single day has its ups and downs. On the one hand, it’s consistent and you know what you’re expecting.
On the other hand, survival food isn’t exactly designed to be gourmet, so if you’re making food based off the lay of the land, it could affect morale after a while. We like variety in our diets, and not having that could be a mood killer.
Nobody said you had to be in a good mood while surviving off of berries and heirloom vegetables, so you need to know how to ration out the foods you do enjoy, and rotate other meals so that you can incorporate that variety.
As a suggestion, you should make some survival-based meals at home and get used to eating them. That way you’ll always know what flavors to expect and you won’t be met with palate shock.
If you don’t even know how to plant seeds, it’s going to be a rough time.
Weeding, planting, watering, and identifying when crops are dying versus when they’re flourishing – these are all important things to know. If you’re displaced for the foreseeable future, planting a garden should be one of your first priorities.
You can purchase seed packs designed for preppers that include tons of heirloom vegetable seeds.
You could plant an entire farm, so long as you have the tools and know-how to maintain it. Seeds are so important for prepping that there is literally a world seed bank that can help replant the Earth if it comes down to it.
Basic Meal Preparation
Meal prep means taking the separate, stored ingredients you have brought with you or foraged, and actually putting them together to make something healthy and beneficial.
Out here you are not eating for flavor; you are eating for fuel. That being said, spices are a hybrid of both. Bring packaged spices with you to make your survival-esque foods taste better, just be sure to ration them out like we talked about earlier.
Basic meal prep is easy enough to master. You can practice by making your own at-home prepper meals with inspiration from guides like these. Understanding how to use foraged ingredients and hunted goods together has a small skill ceiling.
Bushcraft is also referred to as wilderness skills. They simply mean surviving in the wilderness by using minimal tools, your environment to your advantage, and creating things out of whatever is around (like a DIY bow and arrow).
Building shelter, creating tools out of what’s around, and having an eye for what materials you can use will all suit you well in any survival situation.
Bushcraft is a still you need to hone just like anything else, and until you put in those 10,000 hours, you will encounter skill ceilings that you find difficult to push through.
It All Depends on the Length of Time and Scale of Disaster
The trickiest part about preparing for disasters is not knowing how long they’re going to last.
There’s no way to say, “A flash flood will only impact the area I live in for three days,” because you don’t know. Whether it’s a natural disaster or man-made, you have to prepare for it lasting as long as possible.
In our guide on building your first bug out bag, we talk at length about having multiple bags ready. One for short-term disasters, one for medium-term, and the last one to help you survive indefinitely when a disaster has no end in sight.
Without simplifying the process too much, anyone can read a bug out bag list, buy the things that go in it, and assume they’re prepared. The time and scale of the disaster will put you to the test.
You need to know how to use your tools, pick lightweight ones over heavy dedicated tools, how to forage, hunt, fish – every skill that could help you survive will come out during long, catastrophic disasters.
Prepared for Anything and Everything
You have to prepare for the worst, especially in today’s day and age. Record-breaking natural disasters, an ever-lowering air quality and climate change, not to mention all the craziness of riots and political turmoil make the current world a very scary one to live in.
But now you know how to get started. You know how to prepare and protect yourself, and you’re going to do a fantastic job with it.
I have tons of resources on this site that I’m always adding to, so be sure to check out any guides that you need and get answers to your questions right here on Preppers Now.