What is a prepper? Some crazy whack-a-doo that wears tinfoil on their head? …or someone who is truly prepared for an emergency? Let’s talk about it.
“I love reading your gardening stuff, but please don’t turn into one of those crazy, tin-foil-hat-wearing nut-jobs that think the world is ending!”
Fear not! I never waste tin foil on hats!
No, seriously… I’m a prepper. Chances are, to some extent, you are, too!
I can even prove it to you… and for those of you who are new to prepping, here’s your primer on how to be a prepper.
In order to figure out what a prepper is and how to be one, we first have to talk about what preparedness is… or rather, isn’t.
What does Preparedness mean?
What does preparedness mean to you? Some people think a handful of candles and a working flashlight are all they need to worry about. Others believe you need a bug out bag full of gear to be able to survive for a few days.
And of course, there are those people who build underground bunkers packed to the gills with food, water, guns and ammo.
Who’s right? Which one of those people should I be? How do I even get started?
I can say this much – being “prepared” is more than having a few extra boxes of cereal and a couple of gallons of water on hand.
How Do I Get Started Prepping?
Getting started as a prepper starts with some simple analysis.
Use Your Hindsight
The first step to take in any preparedness scenario is to think about emergency situations you have been in before. Have you ever been without power for a couple of days in the summer? How about in the winter?
I remember in 1993 there was a huge snow storm here in Georgia (yes, snow storm). It knocked out the power for about 4 days. Luckily, we had plenty of food, blankets, and a kerosene heater. We survived because we were prepared for such an event (even though we had never really thought about a snow storm hitting our area).
Looking back on that situation, I can easily think of a few more things we could have had that would have made those 4 days a lot more comfortable. Also, I would take into consideration the possibility of flood, tornadoes, and other natural disasters that could hit. Make yourself a list of things you would like to have in case of emergency and fill that list as time and money allow.
Analyze Your Disaster Potential
The first thing you need to do to get started prepping is to analyze your potential for disaster.
- What are the extreme natural disasters that could occur in your area? Tornadoes? Hurricanes? Floods? Earth quakes?
- Are you concerned that the economy is doing so badly it could collapse?
- Do you fear a war or terrorist attacks on U.S. soil?
- Do you feel it’s possible that a solar flare could cause an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would knock out the power grid?
- Are you worried that hackers could take down communications?
People worry, fear and are concerned for so many different issues that I could literally write thousands of words and not reach the end of the list. The question here is, what is your personal concern?
Stock Up on Survival Supplies
Once you have figured out what you’re prepping for, you can start writing your own prepper’s checklist to figure out what survival gear you need to stock up on. Food, water, and other gear have many different variations depending on the situation. We’ll cover that a little more in depth later in the article.
Learn New Skills
Even people who are doing the hardcore doomsday prepping aren’t just stocking up on stuff — they’re learning survival skills, too. Find a class to take! Prepper courses can be anything that will make you more self-sufficient and ready for disaster.
How to grow a garden and can your own food, self-defense and shooting classes, and primitive skills courses can be found anywhere online, and chances are some gives a few classes in a town near you.
If you’re good at learning by reading and practicing, expand your survival learning library. Books on bushcraft and wilderness survival, disaster preparedness, and food preservation and storage are a good place to start. Build yourself a whole library full of resource books and read them over and over again.
Get in Shape
Understand that you may have to bug-out one day. You might not have your car, and you may have to grab your bug-out bag and walk or hike to your bug-out location. If you’re overweight or just out of shape in general, I can assure you, carrying a 30 lb. bag full of gear on a long hike won’t be easy.
Tack the stress factor onto that, and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Get in shape now. (Please don’t take offense to this part — I’m out of shape, too, but I’ve resolved to do something about it while I can.)
Make a Bug-Out Plan
If disaster struck, and you needed to leave home right this minute, would you be ready? Think about what you would pack to go on a road trip for the weekend. Think about multiple routes from your house to a bug-out location (somewhere that would be safer than your home if you had to bug-out). Create a good bug-out plan for your family and practice it a few times a year so you’re ready if you have to put the plan into action for real.
What Do I Need to Be a Prepper?
Stock Up on What Matters
Although it may seem like a good idea to have a large stockpile of canned goods in your basement, that might not be as useful as you would think. People think about food the most, but they haven’t taken into consideration shelter or access to water. In a situation where “normal American life” can’t continue, figure out your most essential human needs and gather those items (or learn how to safely obtain them if you can’t gather them per se).
A Prepper’s Checklist
A list of survival gear (especially when it comes to food) is something you should work on as a family. Gather around the table, discuss what you like and don’t like, what you want to try, and what you think are the best options for your family. Each family’s list will be different.
Some people have family members with special needs, and they will need a lot of different things that the average family won’t even think about. Buying all of your gear is a long-term investment in your future.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the price. Set yourself a budget and buy it little by little.
Survival Gear List
These are the items you actually put into your bug-out bag. Everyone’s list differs slightly, but the core items are usually always the same. You can remember them by remembering Dave Canterbury’s 10 Cs of Survivability:
- Cutting tool – a good survival knife or pocket knife.
- Combustion – some sort of fire making implement like a disposable cigarette lighter or a ferro rod.
- Cover – can be something simple like a large tarp or even as high tech as an ultralight tent.
- Container – a stainless water bottle will not only allow you to gather and carry water, but you can purify it by fire, too.
- Cordage – typically paracord or bankline.
- Candle – describes any source of illumination like a glowstick, flashlight, or a headlamp.
- Cotton – specifically, some kind of material made from cotton like a bandana or shemagh (pronounced “schmog”) that can aid in fire starting or be used as medical dressing.
- Compass – I love this military style compass.
- Cargo tape – duct tape is the most common tape you see in bug-out bags; carry at least a few linear yards.
- Canvas needle – canvas needles are used to repair your gear in an emergency situation, and if you can magnetize one, it will act as a compass (see video)
A bug-out bag is also called a get home bag, go home bag, 72-hour bag, “Get Out Of Dodge” (G.O.O.D.) bag, battle bag, grab bag, “I’m Not Coming Home” (I.N.C.H.) bag, ruck sacks — there are many names. The purpose of a bug-out bag is to hold survival items that you may need if you have to leave your home in case of a SHTF (Sh*t Hits The Fan) emergency situation. Bug-out bags are typically backpack type bags, but they could be duffel bags, briefcases, or anything else that is sturdy and will hold what survival supplies you need it to hold.
This area will depend a lot on whether you’re bugging out or bugging in. If a TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) kind of event were to drive you from your home, and you had to bug out, you would definitely want lightweight food to carry with you. Freeze dried foods, dehydrated foods, and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are going to be the lightest and the easiest to carry with you in your bug out gear.
However, in all reality, bugging out is probably your last option. It is more likely that you will be bugging in until the last minute, which means you have a lot more options when it comes to your food storage.
Canned goods, whether store bought or canned at home in Mason jars, are most likely going to be the center of your emergency food. Frozen food is good, but if your power goes out, that food will thaw. Dehydrated food is probably the next solution if you’re looking to do it yourself. However, freeze dried foods typically have a longer shelf life than either canned or dehydrated foods.
The Prepper’s Pantry
With food storage, there are a few schools of thought about how long of a period you should be prepared. Some say have enough food and water for 30 days, others say 3 months, and others still say 12 months.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to say 30 days just to keep things from getting too overwhelming. After all, some of you may be totally new to prepping. We’re also going to assume you have a family of three for these figures below.
Here are some general ideas for your prepared pantry:
- Water – It is recommended you have at least 1 gallon of water per person per day. For a family of 3, that would be 90 gallons. These 55-gallon water storage kits are ideal and well worth the money. If those run out during an emergency situation, you need to know where to find water to refill the barrels, and how to purify water.
- Food – If you’re building your own inventory by canning, freezing and dehydrating, you should figure about a pound of food per person per meal, so you’re looking at (30 days x 3 meals x 1 lb. x 3 people) 270 lbs. of food. Alternatively, you could just get one of these buckets for each person.
- Disposable Dishes – If you’re in survival mode, you won’t want to keep wasting water washing dishes. I recommend getting a stockpile of heavy-duty paper plates that can be burnt when you’re finished with them. No wasting water, and no trash to pile up — win/win!
Prepared Pantry Equipment
- Dehydrator – Good for dehydrating fruits and veggies, making jerky, and making your own spices mixes by dehydrating fresh herbs. I used to have this Nesco model which I loved, but right now we’re working with an Open Country fixed temp dehydrator (similar to this Nesco model). One day I’d like to have one of these Excalibur models.
- Pressure Canner – You can use a good-sized pressure canner as a water bath canner and a pressure cooker, as well as pressure canning. We’ve got this 23-quart Presto model that does us just fine, though we’d love to have a second one.
- Vacuum Sealer – Oh my gosh, the list of things you can do with a vacuum sealer is… well, you can only seal things with it, honestly, but you can seal anything — frozen foods, dehydrated foods, things to put in your bug-out bag that you don’t want to get wet, and so much more. If you get one like we’ve got, you can actually get an attachment to vacuum seal Mason jars, too!
- Alternative Cooking Methods – Most people already have an outdoor grill, but this outdoor fireplace is great because you can burn charcoal or wood in it. It’s also a cool feature to have outside even before SHTF.
Form Your Own Prepper Network
Friends, family members and neighbors all make really good teammates in your prepper network. They are the people that can help you the most, and who know you the best. Form a plan with them for different scenarios. Take different classes with them, and practice your skills together.
If you’re really getting into the prepper spirit, you might even decide to do a survival weekend with them — go out into the woods with them and only 1 or 2 basic items each and see how long you all can survive without breaking into the survival stash of food in the car. It’s a great team-building exercise, and it really gets you familiar with everyone’s skill levels, and you can even assign tasks for each person to play toward their strengths.
Get to Know Your Neighbors
An important step to preparedness is to get to know your neighbors before you’re in an emergency situation. There is a benefit in banding together as a group in an emergency, but doing so after a disaster strikes is not the best time. Don’t approach neighbors with only preparedness plans in mind (you don’t want them to think you’re crazy), but doing so tactfully could give neighbors a strong network.
Finding others around you who would want to work together in an emergency could be enough to help those nearby as a whole if the time ever came.
Plan on a Group Scale
After finding neighbors interested in preparing, the next step is to establish a plan. Just like when you have an escape route plan, discuss who will be the most in need in the event of a disaster.
Identify the weakest people in the neighborhood who would need help, the people who are really struggling (handicapped, special needs, elderly). These people could vary depending on the situation. The elderly may be limited in a physical disaster, but during economic collapse, consider those who might be on food stamps and how to help them should that service ever be cut off.
Just get three to four families that you feel like you can connect with and figure out a plan for your area. Figure out the most likely disaster your area could experience (natural disasters and such) and plan accordingly.
Be Prepared for Everyday Emergencies
Being a prepper means being prepared for anything and everything — not just SHTF or TEOTWAWKI — every day emergencies, as well.
Vehicle preparedness is very important, especially if your work commute is long, or your family travels a lot. Be sure you have emergency supplies ready in your car at all times.
- Emergency roadside kit – An emergency roadside kit will make sure your car is visible on the side of the road and will have a few supplies for some basic auto repair. Include things like a small air compressor to inflate tires, heavy duty jumper cables in case your battery dies, and reflective triangles to mark your car so that on-coming traffic can see it.
- First aid kit – You can make your own first aid kit, or you can get a ready-made kit. Either way, make sure it has a little of everything in the kit — accidents sometimes happen when you try to repair your car in the best possible situation, but things can get really messy if you’re stranded on the side of the road.
- Get home bag – This is basically a bug-out bag geared to get you from your stranded car to civilization should you be stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Additional Reading: Build Your Own Vehicle First Aid Kit
Break-ins happen. No matter what you have, someone else wants it. The best way to ensure nobody gets it is to beef up your home security.
- Secure your doors – Install deadbolts on all external doors and use them. You might even use one of these single-sided deadbolts, so someone doesn’t try to pick the lock. For a little added security, a jam bar can be used against the doorknob.
- Secure your windows – You can use jam bars in the windows, too, or you can get these cool things that attach to the window frame to hold a window closed. Add some window security film to keep your windows from being shattered, too.
- Install a camera system – Even with added security, people may still try to break into your home. A camera security system will catch them in the act so you can aid police in catching the would-be burglars.
Additional Reading: Tips to Improve Your Home Security
Even the healthiest people sometimes have medical emergencies that need immediate attention. From deep cuts and lacerations to heart attack and stroke, know what to do and have some first-aid supplies ready!
- First aid kits – Multiple first aid kits in different locations of your home is advisable so one is always at hand. You’ll want a bigger, more inclusive kit than you keep in your car.
- Over the counter medications – Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and allergy relief medications should be the absolute minimum you should have at hand. This is an area that you need to put a lot of thought into.
- Basic first aid skills – Learn CPR, wound dressing and other basic first aid skills to ensure that if there is a medical emergency, you know what to do.
Additional Reading: How to Make Your Own DIY First Aid Kit
What is a Prepper?
It’s really a loaded question. If you ask any ten people “what is a prepper” you’ll likely get at least 8 totally different answers. As far as I am concerned, though, there are actually two answers to that question.
The easy answer — a prepper is someone who is preparing for the potential for future disasters — natural or man-made.
The more complicated answer — a prepper is someone who thinks outside the box about every situation in which they find themselves.
- Preppers use situational awareness to evaluate their surroundings no matter where they go.
- They have a plan — as well as a contingency plan — for every situation from what to do if they get a cold to how to survive if SHTF today.
- Preppers stock up on emergency supplies like long-term storable food and water, first aid and medical supplies, and sometimes even guns and ammunition.
- They learn every survival skill they can and often go out of their way to practice those skills on a regular basis.
Survival preparedness is something we all think about from time to time, but it is a subject that is usually at the forefront of any prepper’s daily thoughts. That’s not to say that survival prepping is all a prepper thinks about, but they’re always thinking about things in a different way.
Preppers aren’t always nutty like some of the folks you see on shows such as “Doomsday Preppers” — those folks are a breed all their own. However, as nutty as some of them are, a lot of their ideas are sound.
10 of the Best Prepper Websites on the Internet
This is a list of my 10 favorite prepper websites from around the web. There is a lot of good information stored on their pages, and I visit them often to learn new things and get inspiration.
In no certain order, they are:
- Graywolf Survival – Scott is a U.S. Army combat veteran. He’s been through the wringer and back, and he knows his stuff. He teaches you how to be better prepared with a very unique point of view.
- The Organic Prepper – Daisy writes a lot of different styles of articles. She covers preparedness, but also has some articles on politics, the economy and even some self-sufficiency stuff, too.
- Survival Sherpa – Todd is the definition of “woodsman”. This guy has some awesome how-to tutorials on setting up survival shelters, starting fire, and even carving utensils from wood.
- Prepared Housewives – Jamie has wonderful information about getting prepared, food storage, and some awesome recipes — some of which she cooked on the rocket stove she built!
- The Survival Mom – Lisa helps moms (and dads) learn how to prepare and equip their families for those critical moments when life hits you hard and there’s no time to figure out what to do.
- Apartment Prepper – Bernie teaches you the steps you can take now to become better prepared and self-sufficient while living in an apartment in a large city.
- Survivalist Prepper – Dave and his wife Lisa want to educate everyone about some of the very real scenarios that are possible in the world we live in today.
- Prepared Survivalist – Alan shares all sorts of amazing survival and preparedness related ideas and tips & tricks for you to pick up on and apply them on your own.
- Top Outdoor Survival – Forest and Shanna have a passion for all things rugged and outdoors and believe you should always be prepared!
- Survivopedia – Bob and his team of writers want to help people regain their peace of mind by becoming more self-reliant and self-sufficient in all aspects of life.
Your Turn to Answer: What is a prepper?
What kinds of prepping ideals do you think preppers need? What kinds of survival and preparedness skills and gear should a prepper have?
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Patrick & Jessie homestead in Middle Georgia with two of their four children and their three dogs. They love gardening, food preservation, and keeping their family prepared for any disaster that may come.