When it comes to being prepared for what life can throw at you, there are no short cuts. There is also no one size fits all plan or strategy. The important thing is to get started. No one crosses everything off their preparedness checklist in one fell swoop. It takes time and money to get what you need and hone your survival skills. Although it may seem like others have it all together when you watch survival shows or read blogs, the truth is that they don’t. Even if they do have a high level of preparedness and skills, it is something that has happened over many years.
My husband Matt and I always make sure to have extra supplies on hand. In our mid-twenties, we decided to move to an overgrown piece of property that I inherited. It took several years of living in a tent and a camper to build our house and even longer to build our stockpile and skills to the level we are at today. It was hard and we were cold and uncomfortable at times, and we sometimes questioned our decision to do things the hard way by building a home and farm one $500 paycheck at a time. This was around the time the 2008 recession was having a huge impact on most of the United States. I lost my job and started trying to pick up work as a writer back when it was a lot harder to get a started.
My point is that you too can become prepared over time even if you don’t have a ton of money to throw at it all at once.
There is a lot of gear out there to spend money on and a lot of it is not necessarily what you need. This post is going to cover the gear and supplies that are the most useful in a TEOTWAWKI situation. For those who are new to the world of preparedness, TEOTWAWKI stands for “the end of the world as we know it.”
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Freeze-dried food is the most expensive survival food you can buy, but it is high quality. Dehydrated comes in second cost-wise, but it usually requires more cooking. This list gives you a few of the basics to get you started.
It’s important to plan enough calories for each person. Remember that during a SHTF situation there’s a good chance you’ll be doing more physical labor, walking more, or burning more calories simply to stay warm. Many survival food companies calculate a day’s worth of food as a mere 1,500 calories for a man. That is simply not enough unless the man is mostly sedentary. For women, it’s usually 1,200 calories. Unless you want to be on a thin ration and losing weight, I recommend planning your food storage so that each adult has at least 2,000 calories per day. If you want to be on the safe side, plan for 2,500 calories for a grown man. At worst you’ll have enough food to get by a bit longer, and at best you can maintain body condition and stay healthy.
MREs are popular in preparedness circles, but there is a lot of misinformation out there about them. Some civilian-made MREs contain very few calories. Even those that are sold as being made for the military only average 1,200−1,400 calories. Some people assume that a single MRE has 2,000−3,000 calories, but that is not the case. Although MREs have their place in a survival stockpile, you need to check the calorie count and ingredients before buying. There are no gluten-free MREs that I’m aware of, but there are vegetarian and kosher options if you seek them out.
Survival food companies that I recommend are listed below.
The food you have put back for emergencies does not all have to be expensive food that is packaged to last for 25 years. Think of your emergency food supply in terms of short, moderate, and very long term. One good example of an excellent short term food to put back is peanut butter. It may not last for more than a year or two in your pantry but you get a lot of protein and calories for your money.
Water is your first line of survival. Without clean water, nothing else on this list is going to matter for very long. When people ask what to buy first when they start on a preparedness path, I always answer, “a good gravity fed water filter.” I’ve used plenty of pump style filters, and they get tiresome. They are not suitable for families or people who have strength issues in their hands. Choose a versatile system such as the HydroBlu Versa Flo with a 10 L gravity bag. A Sawyer Mini system with a squeeze bag is a good choice for individual use and can be used in-line with gravity fed water pouches. CamelBaks are great for on-the-go hydration and you can easily add a water filter to the drinking tube.
Collapsible water containers and storage barrels are some of the least expensive choices for storage for both short- and long-term use.
Do not play into the hype and run out and buy a ton of bottled water! Having a few cases on hand might be nice, but no one has the storage space for years’ worth of drinking water. Standing in line for water or food is the last thing you want to be doing during a real SHTF situation.
Not everyone drinks caffeinated beverages, but they make excellent trade items and you may want to have them on hand for times when you need an energy boost. SHTF may mean not getting as much sleep as you would like and that can turn deadly. Green coffee beans keep longer than roasted beans. I recommend having some green on hand as well as some roasted. You can roast coffee in a frying pan if needed.
Herbal teas can be helpful for some common problems such as digestive issues. Tea is less expensive when bought in bulk, but individual bags are more convenient. A tea ball or a pot with a built-in strainer is needed for bulk teas.
A 50-lb bag of green coffee beans are enough for two adults to split a standard 8−10 cup pot each day for a year.
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Salt is something that is taken for granted, but it is necessary for life. People used to go to great lengths to get the salt they needed. Although most survival foods contain a lot of salt, most of the pantry staples that preppers put back have little or none. Iodized salt is good to have on hand for basic use, but you should also have some plain salt that can be used for things like food preservation. If you like fancy salts for seasoning foods, then by all means get some pink Himalayan salt.
If you are stocking up on basic foods and are not used to cooking from scratch, you’ll be shocked how many spices are needed to make food flavorful. Spices are far less expensive when bought in bulk. You can vacuum seal a pound of spices into smaller bags and open as needed. This prevents them from going stale and losing their unique flavor profile over time. You can find some popular spice blends in large quantities, but you can also just buy the basics and mix your own spice blends.
It’s not practical to put back a lot of premade condiments, you can put back some of the ingredients that are necessary to make sauces, such as juice concentrates, soy sauce, tomato powder, mustard powder, and more.
Condiments like ketchup take up a lot of storage space and have a limited shelf life. Learn how to make your own version using dry ingredients and shelf stable liquids such as vinegar and honey. A #10 can of Augason tomato powder has a 25 year shelf life and will stay good for over a year when opened. You can make a lot of sauces and condiments with that much tomato powder.
Clear liquor with an alcohol content of 40% or more is useful for many things besides drinking. You can make tinctures or use it as a sanitizer.
Other alcohol is good to have as well. Name brands in bottles of 750 mL or less make excellent trade items. Of course, if you like a drink now and then, you’ll want to have some around. Morale is important, and everyone has a vice.
Sweets were not always common. The modern world has enabled our easy access to sugar, and we’ve become accustomed to it. A bag or two of hard candy or a few pounds of cocoa powder to combine with your white sugar stash will seem like a real treat. Remember, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Plan accordingly.
There was a point where my husband looked at me and said that we simply did not have enough dog or cat food on hand to sustain our pets during an emergency. That led me to start budgeting for extra pet food to put back. Most people are not going to throw out their pets in a major situation. Pet food is cheaper than people food. If you don’t put back enough for your pets, then you may find yourself feeding them out of the family stockpile.
Remember that just because you have money for pet food doesn’t mean it will be available. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many have had a hard time finding pet food. I know of at least one millionaire who said they could not find it in their area. Although the pandemic was and continues to be serious on both the economic and public-health levels, it is not the major SHTF situation that people imagine could happen. People and pets have stayed fairly well fed. The next situation may not be that way.
Set up auto deliver via Amazon or Chewy if you want to add pet foods to your supply on a schedule based on your income.
Pet foods that are lower in fat and more processed keep better in long-term storage. Purina Dog Chow is not necessarily my first choice, but it is affordable and keeps well in plastic storage barrels for 6 months or longer. Adding some food grade diatomaceous earth to the top of the barrel will keep bugs away and help control internal parasites in dogs.
Even if you don’t cook that much now, you will have to during a long emergency. Even freeze-dried foods need some boiling water to taste like what you are used to. Cast-iron pans are great for a home kitchen. Stainless steel is lighter and a more realistic choice for those who can’t deal with the weight or expense of cast-iron cookware.
You need a way to prepare food, but you need to keep it simple. A mess kit provides compact and portable cooking options even if you have to leave home. Stanley makes some nice high quality mess kits and camp cookware sets for families and large groups. They are lightweight, strong, and easy to clean.
A family size kit and an individual kit for each person in your household is recommended. Medical supplies should be easy to access even if your group is in different locations throughout the day. I have found that most kits lack blood stop powder and major battle dressings. Blood stop powder comes in small tubes and larger packets. You can also get smaller bandages for less serious wounds that have blood stop powder on them already. Make sure to have extra tubes of antibiotic ointment on hand.
For a small individual kit for 1-2 people, I recommend the First Aid Only 299 piece kit to start out.
If you want a larger kit for your home, try the First Aid Only First Responder Kit.
I suggest liquid-gels because they take effect quicker than other styles of pills. In the case of an allergic reaction, minutes can make a huge difference. For allergic reactions, bite down on the Benadryl Liqui-Gel so that it gets into your system as quickly as possible.
Humans are pretty delicate. Clothing may seem plentiful now but think about going through a full year of typical weather conditions in your area. Remember that during a SHTF situation heating and cooling may not be what it was. You need to control your body temperature. No relying on the grid.
Belts are useful even if you don’t normally wear them because you might lose weight during a long emergency, even if you’re eating well. More work means better physical condition.
To stretch your clothing budget, buy out of season or check the sale sections on websites for “last year’s” styles or colors.
For a larger family, it may be helpful to choose items that more than one person can wear. Adult- or teen-sized t-shirts can be used as sleepwear for younger kids. Athletic socks fit a variety of sizes. Stretchy hats can work for almost anyone.
Keep in mind that you should have some clothing that is not made from cotton. When doing outdoor activities, wet cotton can contribute to hypothermia.
As a preparedness professional, it amazes me how many people simply do not own a pair of shoes that are appropriate for a day hike or 8 hours of manual labor. This is an easy gap in preps to fix. I often buy shoes and boots marked down. It is wise to keep an extra pair of quality boots on hand for when the situation calls for it. Military style boots and logging boots are what my husband and I use around the farm. Stick to brands that are known for ruggedness. Don’t buy fashionable brands that look tough but fail in the field.
I recently got in some range time with my AK-47 after adding new furniture and a scope.
I could have said gun, but I said guns for a reason. There is no gun that is optimal for all situations. Minimally, you need a handgun and a rifle that can double for combat and hunting. If you have the space and budget, I would add a shotgun to the mix. Gun laws vary by state and city. Buying a used gun can save money, but make sure the transfer is completed legally.
A gun is useless without ammo. Put back a few thousand rounds for your rifle, a few hundred for your handgun, and if you have a shotgun, I advise a few hundred rounds for that. There is a lot of debate about how much ammo to have. I suggested the bare minimum. Anything beyond that is up to you.
While people think of paper and pens as out of date, if SHTF, you need a way to document and communicate. Put back some of the basics. Notebooks, pens, and pencils are cheap when bought in bulk or purchased during back-to-school sales.
If you’ve never gone without electricity, count yourself lucky. Even a small amount of backup power is a welcome luxury during a SHTF situation. Although some people put together their own systems, there are affordable units that are ready to go. I use a Jackery 1000 Power Station. They are easy to use, lightweight, and durable. The Jackery solar panels are a bit steep, but other brands can make the setup more affordable. For a smaller power station, try the Jackery 500 or 240.
You can use a Jackery to keep yours tools charged up for use around your home, run medical equipment, provide lighting, and more.
If you purchase solar panels, ensure you have the necessary cables to connect them to your power station.
Gasoline powered generators are generally inexpensive, but they are loud and require gas that may be hard to get in a SHTF situation. You also can’t run them in an enclosed area. If you are trying to conceal your location, noise and exhaust can be a major issue.
Fire is a survival basic. You need more than one method to be on the safe side. I like playing with fire-starting methods too, but nothing beats a good disposable lighter when it comes to an inexpensive and reliable fire-starter. Put back matches, lighters, and a good ferro rod and striker and you’ll have the bases covered.
The best ferro rod and striker I have used is the Fire Fast. I had no problem getting a fire going. You can choose from three different sizes of rod and they are made in the USA by a small family-owned company.
A flat tire can be a real problem during a SHTF situation. Around our farm, we use our Kawasaki Mule for everything. It does things and goes places that our truck cannot. When it’s down for repairs, we notice the extra workload. Your needs will vary based on the type of wheeled vehicles and machines you have. No matter how careful you are, flats happen, and during a long emergency they may be more likely due to poor road maintenance and increased wear and tear on your tires.
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Regular blankets are nice, but you need a backup. A 12 pack of mylar emergency blankets and a few emergency bivvys can keep you and your family warm if things get really bad. Mylar can also be used for constructing solar ovens and other projects. A bivvy style emergency bag is lightweight and can be thrown in a bug out bag or vehicle without taking up the space that an equivalent sleeping bag would.
Sometimes a military grade gas mask is more than you need for a situation. An agricultural respirator with VOC cartridges and N-95 masks can work in times when less will do. It is a good idea to have a range of masks available. For nuclear and biological SHTF situations, check out the MIRA CM-6M. You can also buy cartridges to fit the MIRA that are appropriate for pandemic situations. These cartridges are lighter and less expensive than the standard NATO-threaded military grade cartridge. Respirators for agricultural and industrial applications can also be fitted with P-100 cartridges.
Cloth masks are better than nothing, but a good supply of N-95s reduces the odds of contamination due to inadequate cleaning and handling methods.
The Mira Safety CM-6 Gas Mask is featured in the upcoming Christopher Nolan film “Tenet”. From 2:28 onward in the trailer, you will see lots of shots of the Mira mask.
Of course, you need an initial power source to keep batteries topped up, but that is fairly inexpensive and easy to come by at the moment. AA and AAA batteries are the most common sizes. When choosing other gear, try to stick to gear that takes the most common sizes so that you can plan better.
You can get a really good flashlight for very little money. LED technology has made bright lights with long battery life possible. Have a good light for each member of your family and a few extras in case one or more fails. Smaller lights for personal use are essential, and consider a powerful flashlight for seeing farther away. I have an Olight Javelot that can easily light up areas ¼ mile away. The Javelot is great as your main super bright light.
Sitting in the dark for long periods is not fun, and it’s a major safety hazard. During a SHTF situation, cuts, falls, etc. could become life threatening due to the lack of access to medical care. It’s also likely that you’ll be doing more tasks by hand. Even just cooking for yourself means using a knife more. Lighting options are plentiful and many work well with small backup power centers. Lanterns that charge via USB and low-voltage string lights are good options. Some lanterns can even double as a USB power bank. If you want lights with their own charging mechanism, there are plenty of affordable options that can be charged via their own built-in solar panel or hand crank.
A radio can alert you to news, weather forecasts, and provide some entertainment. I like the Kaito brand emergency radios because they have a lot of extra features that are extremely useful in a grid down or SHTF scenario. The Kaito 600 has an SD card reader for listening to music and audio books, a reading light, a flashlight, Shortwave band reception, and digital tuning. You can also use it as a battery bank. In addition, it has a solar panel to help keep the battery topped up and a hand-crank charging option too. Of course, you can also keep a few lithium batteries on hand to swap out.
Tools are something that all too often get overlooked until they are needed. A good multitool is something that I consider a prepping essential. The Leatherman Wingman or Wave are excellent choices. Other worthwhile brands include Gerber and Victorinox.
Sometimes you just need a good blade. An everyday carry knife should fit comfortably in your hand. Pay attention to measurements when ordering if you have particularly large or small hands. High carbon content steel is easier to sharpen but will rust more readily, so if you live in or near corrosive environmental conditions such as salt water, consider a stainless steel blade and a good diamond sharpener to help keep a great edge.
Cooking from scratch requires a good set of knives. There may be times when you have an opportunity to add to your protein supply via hunting, fishing, trade, or farming. Butchering goes a lot faster when you have quality knives to get the job done. Over the years my husband and I have butchered a lot of our own meat. I am a big fan of Rada and Marttiini knives for kitchen and butcher duty. Dexter Russel and Mercer knives are some of the other brands we use when a large butcher knife is needed.
There are many styles of backpacks out there. I recommend a good day pack as well as a more serious backpack or tactical bag. Backpack needs vary based on the person and their physical abilities. Choose bags in earth tones to avoid colors that stand out. Interior pouches and small bags that you place in your larger bag can be color coded to make it easier to find things like a medical bag, but in general, you want bags that blend in with your environment.
I received a GoRuck for review over a year ago and I am impressed. The GoRuck G1 is made tough but if you want a top quality bag, you can’t beat them. The downside is the price but in this case, you really get what you pay for.
In a SHTF situation, people are more likely to find themselves in a combat situation. Even now, cities can be violent. This has led many to stock up on body armor for daily wear. Protection levels vary. To be very safe, you need Level IV plates. These are designed to stop bullets from an AR-15 or AK-47.
Although emergency mylar blankets and bivvys are great, wool and fleece have their place in a SHTF stockpile. If you’re on a budget, fleece makes sense. Fleece blankets are useful for many tasks, and they come in different weights. Wool is great too, but in some parts of the country, unless you plan on being outside in the cold a lot, it’s too warm most of the year. If you choose wool, it might be best to get multiple lightweight blankets that you can layer rather than the thickest one you can find.
From constructing temporary shelters to protecting supplies or temporarily patching a leaky roof, tarps are sure handy. You get what you pay for though. It’s nice to have a few cheap tarps, but you may want to dedicate some funds toward a few that are better quality.
Access survival equipment we’ve fully tested so we can recommend it to you.
I add this to the list with some hesitation. Carts and wheelbarrows are very handy if mechanized transport is not available. If you choose a wheelbarrow, I recommend one with two wheels for stability.
Even if you don’t plan on fishing, fishing gear can be used for many things. Fishing can add to your food supply, but you shouldn’t plan to rely solely on hunting or fishing for your calories. It’s just not reliable enough, and during a SHTF situation, game and fish can become scarce as everyone else decides to go out and get some cheap protein for the table.
Egg hooks and fishing line can be strung across entry points or anywhere you don’t want people to be able to get through. It’s a brutal but effective trap. Just don’t use it unless you really need to, and definitely avoid using it around kids and pets.
With these supplies, you can make do, if necessary. Lime controls flies and smells that come from latrines. It also speeds the breakdown of waste. It is only for use in actual outhouse and latrine situations. It is useless if you are in an apartment building or urban area where an outdoor pit is not possible.
If you have people in your home that are at or approaching reproductive age, remember to put back some condoms. Sex and reproduction don’t stop during a SHTF situation. Unplanned pregnancies when major medical care is limited or unavailable can be serious. A SHTF situation may mean making hard choices like putting off having a child even if you really want one.
When you watch post-apocalyptic or survival movies, it might seem that people stay really dirty. The truth is that it would be horrible for your health to stay dirty for a long time. Skin issues such as infections and disease thrive on dirty clothing and bedding.
Laundry can be line dried in the sun to finish the sanitation process if the grid is down.
If you want to make your own laundry soap powder, here is a link to my article explaining how.
Some people think that a long emergency will leave little time for boredom or downtime. That is not true. Selco Begovic survived the Balkan War in a town under siege, and he talks about how they still had to find something to take their mind off of things and have some downtime. Most people are going to be bugging in at a location. You have to allow some time, when possible, to do something you enjoy. Even if it just means reading a book on an e-reader or from your collection right before you go to bed. Kids and teens especially need something for entertainment. If you have some backup power, you can keep an e-reader or tablet charged. Small handheld video game units are very affordable.
What you do for entertainment could also be something that is useful for your overall survival in other ways. Knitting or sewing are some examples.
During a long emergency, the ability to make basic repairs and construct small things will be priceless. Having the right tools for the job could also mean that you have a skill to trade for items you might be lacking. Often, the person who gets the job is the one with the right tools and some basic skills.
A battery-powered tool kit can be kept charged with a small power center that is charged via a solar panel in a grid down situation.
Everyone should own an ax or hatchet. I have used the Gerber Gator for over a decade and it’s still going strong.
Synthetic fiber ropes and various sizes of chains are valuable additions to your stockpile. You never know when you’ll need to drag or hoist something. Although paracord can be used for many tasks, it’s thin and can cut into things. Chain doesn’t bounce back like rope if it is under tension and then suddenly released. Carabiners and quick links make connecting chains easy and maintains their overall strength.
Paracord is useful for small tasks and making things like keychains or survival bracelets. It can also provide fire-starting tinder or be used to hang a bear bag.
While raising your own food is not easy, having a supply of garden seeds suitable for your climate is a good idea. Pick out seeds that are open pollinated so that you can save them year after year. While raising all your own food is not realistic in most cases, every little bit that you can raise will help extend whatever food supply you have to start with.
Check out this article for the most complete bug out bag list out there!
Most of the disasters people experience in a lifetime last just a few days to several weeks. Preparing for longer events is something more people are doing but it can seem overwhelming to those just getting started in the world of preparedness. The most important thing is to do what you can to be prepared for the most likely events in your area. During a real TEOTWAWKI situation, everyone will eventually be struggling to adapt to the new reality.
Samantha is Ready To Go Survival's lead editor, a life-long outdoorswoman with a Bachelors in Environmental Studies. She learned the foundation of preparedness from her father who saw heavy combat in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. An avid outdoors woman and survivalist, her articles have appeared in various homesteading magazines such as GRIT, Back Home, Backwoods Home, and Countryside.