Popular media portrays survival preppers as the crazy families hiding out in the woods. They’re hoarding supplies and waiting for the end of the world or the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. In reality, these families are creating caches of supplies so they’re ready for anything.
And at the beginning of 2020, during the great toilet paper shortage, these folks were secure in knowing that they had all the hygiene supplies they needed while the rest of the world went mad. That’s just one of many benefits to being properly prepared.
Whether you’re an experienced prepper or someone who is just starting on their journey, here are 20 things every survival prepper needs to have on hand:
1. Water Purification Tools
Water is essential for survival, we all know that. Likewise, I’m sure you know that one can survive for weeks without food, but after three days, you’ll be dying of thirst — literally. You’ll need, on average, a gallon of water for each person in your household for each day that you’re without utilities. That means for a family of four, a three-day emergency will necessitate 12 gallons of water. If you want to have enough for two weeks, you’ll need room for 56 gallons of water.
[Editor’s note: One gallon per person per day is a bare minimum considering that it’s used for drinking, cooking, personal hygiene, cleaning dishes… for pets and maybe unexpected guests. Stockpile more water!]
You’ll also want to stock up on water purification supplies. Purification tablets and filters will help you make any natural water sources and rainwater safe to drink without taking up a ton of space, but the best choice would be a gravity water filter (see the end of this post for the best options).
2. Survival Books
Learning survival skills is an essential part of being prepared, but unless you’ve borrowed a brain from a nearby android, it will be nearly impossible to remember everything you’ll need to survive. Start stocking up on books that can refresh your memory when you need a reminder for a skill you haven’t used in a while.
You don’t have to spend a ton of money on new books. Head to sites like Thriftbooks and hunt down used copies that you can pick up for a few dollars apiece.
[Editor’s note: I’ve got several survival books here, including books on bug out, DIY survival, food storage, and more.]
3. First-Aid Kit
When you can’t go to the doctor, something as simple as a cut or the flu can be deadly. Having a fully stocked first-aid kit — and the knowledge to use it — can prevent nasty infections and keep you alive in a survival situation.
You can opt for a pre-made first-aid kit or, better yet, you can build your own. Ensure that you have everything you could possibly need, especially if you can’t take a trip to your local pharmacy to restock if you need something. Band-aids, antiseptic, burn ointment, sting treatments — the list goes on. You might think you’ll never need some of the things in your kit, but it’s always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. And, of course, remember to replace or replenish these items periodically.
4. Toilet Paper
Did the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 teach you nothing? In the amusing words of Chuck from Supernatural, “You horde toilet paper like it’s gold, because it is.” Include a variety of hygiene supplies besides toilet paper in your cache, including toothpaste, hand soaps, shampoo, and so on.
Hygiene products are more than just a convenience. Keeping yourself clean prevents infections and can be beneficial for your mental health as well. If you’ve gone a couple of days without a shower — on a camping trip or whatever — you know how much better you feel after finally getting clean. Multiply that by an apocalypse scenario when morale is already low, and you’ll see why hygiene supplies are so important.
We live in a world steeped in electrical devices. Cell phones, lamps, refrigerators and everything in-between all need power to keep them running. In a survival scenario, one of the first things to fail will likely be the power infrastructure, leaving you in the dark with a household full of devices you can no longer use. Having a generator, even if it’s only big enough to power the basics, can keep things functioning when the world around you grinds to a halt.
Look for a portable generator. They’re smaller and won’t generate as much energy as larger models, but they can still create upwards of 9,700 watts of power, which is more than sufficient for most household appliances and tools.
[Editor’s note: I’m not a huge fan of generators, especially when there are lesser expensive options. But I’m sometimes wrong too.]
6. Fuel Supplies
You can break this item up into three categories — vehicle, generator and cooking and heating fuel. You’ll need to stock up on all three because you generally won’t be able to get them if things hit the fan and infrastructure collapses. Yes, vehicle and generator fuel can overlap, depending on each machine’s needs. If you don’t want to store both gasoline and diesel, consider investing in vehicles and generators that use the same type of fuel.
Cooking and heating fuel might look like wood for your fireplace, pellets for your furnace, fuel oil, propane or some combination of these. Your exact needs will vary depending on what your home setup looks like, but you will need to make sure you have plenty of fuel available or the means to replenish your supply without making a trip to the store, if at all possible.
Grocery stores aren’t the only businesses that will shut down in a lengthy survival situation. You’ll need the tools and skills to perform basic repairs on your home and vehicle.
Start stocking up on tools you might need. Doing this can be expensive if you try to buy the entire shop at once, so start by picking up one or two things at a time. You can make nearly anything with sockets, wrenches, ratchets, screwdrivers and other hand tools.
8. Dish Soap
You can stock up on paper plates and plastic flatware, or you can buy dish soap and reduce waste by washing your dishes. Specifically, purchase blue Dawn soap. It’s very efficient for washing dishes, but it has many other applications in a survival situation. It’s gentle enough for cleaning everything — that’s why it’s the first choice of rescue organizations for cleaning crude oil off of rescue animals. You can also mix it with water and use it to kill pests in your garden or use it to clean your body in a pinch if you don’t have any other soap.
If the lights go out, your house will get incredibly dark fairly quickly. And since you don’t want to waste your generator on lighting, stock up on batteries and devices like flashlights and battery-powered lanterns so you’re not truly left in the dark. Forget candles… they’re a potential fire hazard.
Some sites might tell you to store your batteries in the freezer, but this isn’t necessary. Standard alkaline batteries will last for 5-10 years at room temperature without losing their charge. Lithium batteries can last up to 15 years in the same conditions.
10. Duct Tape
Duct tape is good for everything. People joke that it’s like the Force — it’s got a light side, a dark side and holds the universe together. Use it to patch a leaky bucket, build a boat, bandage a bleeding wound in a pinch. Those are just the applications that popped up off the tops of my head.
Duct tape is one of the first things that will disappear if people go into emergency mode, so start stocking up today. As long as you store it at room temperature, it will essentially last forever. Keep some around, and you’ll always find new uses for it.
[Editor’s note: I actually discuss 18 uses for duct tape in my free book: 144 Survival Uses for 10 Common Items. I also explain how to use aluminum foil, lip balm, and trash bags for your survival too. I’ll bet you’ll uncover something you didn’t know.]
Paracord is a material that’s become a bit of a fashion statement over the last few years. Just search “paracord survival bracelets,” and you’ll find thousands of items for purchase. Some companies will even replace your paracord bracelet for free if you have to unweave it to use it in a survival situation.
With that in mind, paracord is another fantastic tool with numerous applications. In addition to tying things up, you can use it to climb. Cut the end and pull out the individual strands for fishing line or thin snares. If you get bored, you can even turn it into a fashionable belt. It’s one of those things that won’t expire or fall apart, and you’ll always have some paracord around whenever you need some. Besides, it’s a perfect complement to duct tape.
Do you really want to try to face the end of the world sober? Okay, we’re kidding — a little, anyway. Drinking yourself into a stupor in a survival situation isn’t a great idea, but keeping alcohol around is useful for multiple reasons. High-proof grain alcohol like moonshine or Everclear has applications as a cleaning solvent, wound cleaner or sterilizer for non-porous surfaces.
You can use unflavored alcohol like vodka to make medicinal tinctures or food items like vanilla extract. And yes, you can get totally sloshed and face the apocalypse three sheets to the wind, but we’d suggest saving it for other applications.
13. OTC Medications
In a survival situation, taking a trip to the pharmacy or grocery store isn’t an option. That means you’ll need to stock up on all necessities, including over-the-counter medications that you might need if someone in your household gets injured or sick. Make sure you’re buying the basics like pain relievers — Tylenol, aspirin, ibuprofen — fever reducers, anti-diarrhea and laxatives, burn cream, antihistamines, cold and flu medication as well as other essential over-the-counter medications.
Also consider stocking up on things like multivitamins and supplements as well. They could help keep you healthy if you have problems maintaining a healthy diet.
14. Solar Panels and Chargers
As we’ve said a few times, power will be essential if the world ends. Generators are one option, but if you live in an area that gets a lot of sunshine, gasoline or diesel generators aren’t the only way to create the energy you’ll need. Consider investing in a solar panel or two or portable solar chargers for your devices.
In a “the end of the world as we know it” scenario, solar chargers and panels are more sustainable than fuel-powered generators. If you’re preparing for the inevitable collapse of society or going entirely off the grid, solar power will be one of your best options long term.
This suggestion might sound off-the-wall, but Vaseline — or off-brand petroleum jelly — is one of the most versatile things to have in your emergency supplies. You can use it for its intended purpose as a lip balm, but it’s good for so much more than that. In the wilderness, a thin layer of Vaseline can protect your skin from windburn. In the home, you can use it for pest removal or rust prevention.
If you cover a cotton ball in Vaseline, you’ve created a very effective firestarter. In a pinch, you can even use a container of it as a makeshift candle for light. The possibilities are endless.
In a crisis, bleach is one of the first things that disappears off the shelves. People buy it up because it has numerous applications. Yes, you can use it to wash your clothes, but it is also useful for sanitizing surfaces — a valuable application as we’re living amid a viral pandemic.
If you have natural water sources, you can also use bleach to purify the water, making it safe to drink. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you should add eight drops of 6% bleach or six drops of 8.25% for each gallon of water you’re trying to purify. Do it right, and it won’t taste any different from the chlorine your city usually uses to treat drinking water.
[Editor’s note: Bleach does lose its effectiveness over time as well as in extreme temperatures. Clorox recommends replacing any bottle of bleach yearly, regardless of being opened or not. FYI, a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water makes a decent household cleaner too.]
17. Plenty of Food
Most authorities recommend two weeks of food stored in your home in case of an emergency. Some preppers who have lived through disaster scenarios think the number should be closer to 30 days or longer, which I tend to agree with. Spend the time gathering a cache of foodstuffs and learning how to manage everything for long-term storage. Modern foods aren’t designed for truly long-term storage, so even your dry goods like flour, pasta and rice will need to get repackaged and stored properly.
Make sure you’re rotating your supplies frequently as well. When you buy new canned or dried goods, replace what you have in storage and use the old stuff first. Be mindful of pests in your area. Some products, like freeze-dried meals, can last up to three decades if you keep them sealed, but their Mylar packaging won’t stand up to the teeth of a determined rat that makes its way into your supply cache.
18. Lysol and Other Disinfectants
Right now, we’re living in the middle of a global pandemic. When it first reached U.S. shores in February and March of 2020, people panicked and items like bleach, Clorox wipes and Lysol flew off the shelves. In this writer’s little corner of nowhere, we didn’t see Lysol on the shelves again until late June!
If viral pandemics become more common, having a stock of Lysol and other disinfectants won’t just be convenient — it could mean the difference between staying healthy and not. Lysol doesn’t have an expiration date, though the brand doesn’t guarantee its effectiveness after two years. If you see it on the shelves, stock up now before it disappears again.
19. Manual Can Opener
Having all of those canned goods in your food stash doesn’t do you any good if you’re relying on an electric can opener and the power goes out. Sure, you can bash your cans open with a rock or use concrete to file the bottoms off, but that is honestly way more trouble than it’s worth.
Invest in a few manual can openers. If you want to go really old-school, head to your local army surplus store and pick up some P38s. They’re small and lightweight, you can attach them to keychains and they’ll open any modern can with a bit of elbow grease, but they don’t last forever.
20. Weapons for Self-Defense
If the world seemingly ends, you won’t want to be without weapons for self-defense. While you might feel powerful carrying around a Katana sword like Micchone in The Walking Dead, keep in mind that everyone and their brother are stocking up on guns and ammo to protect themselves and their families during the end of the world – you probably should too.
We’re not knocking melee weapons — just make sure they’re not the only thing you have on hand. After all, you really don’t want to bring a knife to a gunfight. And, although it should go without saying, you really do need to learn to use firearms safely and effectively – train, train, train!
21. Practice Your Skills
Knowledge is great, that’s what books and websites like this are for, but there’s a difference between knowing how to do something and actually having done it. For instance, knowing how to shoot a handgun by watching videos or reading in a book just isn’t the same as getting out to the range and doing it. The same can be said for almost any survival-related skill, from gardening and canning to building a rocket stove or water filter. Practice makes perfect and getting it wrong when you need these skills the most is the wrong time to find out. Please take the time now to learn what it is you’re still missing in your survival skill set.
Creating Your Supply Cache
Creating an emergency supply cache won’t happen overnight. Start accumulating supplies slowly, without panic or hoarding, and you’ll have plenty of food, water and other necessities if things go pear-shaped.
[Note: This was a guest post.]