“Prepping” gets a bit of a bad rap. Most people imagine conspiracy theorists stocking canned Campbell’s soup in their bunkers. However, the truth is that most of us have already started prepping for minor emergencies. How to start prepping for more serious scenarios can get overwhelming, so having a step-by-step prepper guide is helpful.
If you have a savings account or band-aids, you’ve already started preparing for life’s little disasters. Preparing for a natural disaster or major man-made event is the same concept but more involved.
Our team has a diverse range of experts with over 30 years of combined experience. This includes Jason, our founder, Blake, a veteran, and Jennifer, a nurse. I also have extensive experience in emergency preparedness and have practiced these concepts at home. Unlike much of the prepping debate you’ll find online today, our concepts are highly practical and tested in the real world.
I’m not going to ask you to dig a huge hole in your backyard for a bunker.
I’ve broken down prepping into seven simple steps. Starting at the top and working down will have you prepared for the majority of the emergencies you will encounter.
Keep reading to get started.
How to Start Prepping – Know What You’re Prepping For and Why
You cannot prepare for every detail of an emergency. It just isn’t possible. Luckily, the odds of you experiencing all of the emergencies and disasters possible are relatively low. You just need to figure out what disasters are most likely in your area.
In reality, this process is pretty straightforward. You probably know if you live in a hurricane-prone area or if tornados are more common in your area. Did you buy flood insurance? Then you should probably prepare for a flood in other ways, too. If you’re in an arid climate, you should absolutely plan for wildfires.
Of course, then there are the disasters that affect you no matter where you live – civil unrest, recessions, pandemics, etc. In most cases, these are “bugging in” disasters. If you lose your job, you won’t be bugging out into the woods. (At the same time, if there is a wildfire, you aren’t going to hunkering down at home.)
However, losing a job or living through a recession are some of the most likely disasters the average person will experience. Sadly, they aren’t the most “fun” to consider, so they often get glossed over in prepping guides.
If you aren’t prepared for financial hardships (personal or global), then you aren’t prepared.
While these exact things you’re preparing for will affect your decisions and gear purchases, the basics will remain the same. You’ll need shelter, water, and food no matter what disaster you’re heading into.
As we discussed in our Prepping Tips guide, it all starts with a plan.
Action Tip: Make a list of the top five disasters and emergencies you’ll most likely experience. Don’t forget to include personal emergencies, like layoffs and serious illness. Keep these in mind while you read.
Prepping starts with meeting the basic needs of survival. We can use our Survival Rule of 3 Guide to help us prioritize where we need to start.
In most emergencies, we recommend that you stay at home unless an evacuation order has been issued or your safety is compromised at home. Typically, home is a much safer place to stay during an emergency – not out on the highway or in the woods somewhere.
Many people go straight to food as the first thing to stock up on. While being hungry has big effects on our mental well being, there are other needs that should come first.
Ideally, you should be able to survive in your home for at least two weeks without any help from the outside world. Assume water and electricity aren’t being delivered and that 911 is unavailable (or exceptionally slow). Preparing for power outages should be at the top of your list.
To accomplish this, you’ll need some important gear and training. However, you don’t have to do everything at once.
Go through each step below in order of priority. I like to train and purchase gear as my budget allows. The most important thing is to not skip ahead and neglect a priority.
1 – First-Aid
During wide spread emergencies, 911 services may become overwhelmed or unavailable. This means that even minor illnesses or injuries can become life-threatening. It is important to be prepared to treat minor illnesses at home and to know how to keep someone with a serious injury alive until emergency services arrive.
Purchase a quality first aid kit for your home. It should include basic items as well as items to stop severe bleeding. Consider stocking up on necessary medications and other medical supplies specific to your family.
Review these guides for help with finding the best first aid kit for you:
The Best First Aid Kit for Home (coming soon)
2 – Shelter and Warmth
The next priority is shelter and warmth. Since you will be hunkering down at home, overall shelter should be covered.
Hypothermia is exceptionally dangerous, but so is heat stroke. Heat waves kill many people each year, including in developed areas. Often, heat waves knock out power grids and leave people without a source of staying cool, as this report shows during the recent heat wave in California.
In extreme heat, if your home does not have good ventilation, it is usually better be outside in a shaded area. If you do not have a safe area outside, it is likely better to move to a shelter or evacuate all together.
In very cold weather, being prepared ahead of time to stay warm should be a priority. Fireplaces and stoves in a home are one of the best solutions here. Wood burning stoves are truly self sufficient, while gas fireplaces are more convenient.
In addition to a heat source, I recommend a few camping wool blankets. Since these are intended to be used outdoors in the winter time, they work just as well indoors when I don’t have power. Sleeping bags are good as well, but I find blankets to be more flexible especially for families.
I also recommend a waterproof camping tarp. This is multiuse item that can be used for everything from sealing broken windows to collecting rain water. Tarps are inexpensive, so there is little reason not to have one.
Next, I recommend a survival fire kit. You can use fire for a range of purposes, from cooking to keeping warm. It’s really a survival essential. While you probably have items around your home, it is best to have a dedicated kit that you know will work when you need it.
Review these guides to make sure you have shelter and warmth covered.
The Best Backup Heaters (coming soon)
3 – Water Storage and Purification
After first aid and shelter are covered, water is the next priority.
In order to survive for 2 weeks, you should have at least 15 gallons of potable water per person stored, which will provide you with about one gallon per day. Ultimately, 2 gallons per person per day is desirable for not only drinking but hygiene and cooking as well.
Storing water is easy to do and just makes sense. We thoroughly tested the best water storage container, and included a guide for how to store water long term as well. While a large container makes sense for some, the size of the Scepter water container is practical for most people.
If you don’t have enough water stored, you need a way to purify it. Our guide on how to boil water without electricity has multiple ways to boil water to purify it (and for cooking as well.)
Our guide on the best water filters and purifiers also gives you the best options if you are on the move and a good water to filter water at home.
Review these guides to make sure you have water storage and purification covered.
4 – Food Storage and Preparation
After you have water storage taken care of, focus on food.
We recommend stocking up on at least 23,000 calories per person, which is around 1,500 calories a day for two weeks. However, I really recommend aiming for 2,000 calories per person per day, which would be around 28,000 calories for two weeks.
Our guide on the best survival foods details a wide range of shelf stable food that is the best to store for emergencies.
There are also pre made survival foods kits that are easy to purchase and only take water to prepare them. See our Nutrient Survival review and our Heaven’s Harvest review for options and find a 10% discount code for our readers.
We also have a guide on strategies for how to build up your food storage system. While two weeks is the minimum, having a 3-month food storage system makes a lot of sense.
Cooking during an emergency doesn’t mean you have to eat strange “survival foods” like hard tack or pemmican. We developed some survival recipes based on the survival foods we store that are easy and tasty as well.
Finally, you need a way to cook. Our guide on the best emergency stoves list our favorite options.
Check out these guides to make sure you have your food storage and prep covered.
Action Tip: Focusing on the priorities we outlined above, use our guides to determine the best options for you and your family.
Additional Prepping Considerations
I read a lot about emergency preparedness and prepping. It seems like every guide I read gives me a list of stuff I need to buy that is a mile long. Instead of giving you 100 links to stuff you don’t need, we list what is the most important (no, you do not need a drone.)
Here are primary items that you should consider in addition to the basics we covered above.
Emergencies often happen at night, so a light source is a must have. I recommend having headlamps, flashlights, and lanterns. Make sure you have a backup power source for each.
Store different options in different places so that you can access them quickly, no matter where you are. Finding a backup light source somewhere in a closet is challenging in the dark!
- Best Budget Headlamp – Energizer LED Headlamps
- Best Headlamp – Petzl Tactikka Core Headlamp
- Flashlight – Olight Marauder 2 Flashlight
- Lantern – Hybridlight Atlas 600 Lantern
2 – Clean Air
At a minimum keep a supply of N95 masks available for your family, they can help you escape a house fire or drive away from a wildfire. For complete protection consider purchasing a full face respirator, or gas mask.
For tips and the practicality of a full respirator, see our gas mask guide. Also see our full gas mask review for our top picks and an exclusive 25% off discount code.
3 – Hygiene
In an emergency situation, hygiene tends to become less important. However, this shouldn’t be the case, as good hygiene can prevent illness. It’s an easy step to keep everyone in tip-top shape.
Invest in an emergency supply of wet wipes, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products for home. If you don’t have running water, sanitation could become an issue if you don’t have plenty of water stored up, not to mention showers will be limited.
- Wet Wipes – Combat Wipes Active Outdoor Wet Wipes
4 – Communication
In the vast number of emergencies, communication will remain somewhat available. In extreme cases, cell service could be limited or non existent. Information is key, and emergency broadcasts will be sent out over the NOAA weather radio frequencies. A modern hand crank weather radio is much more useful than the battery powered models.
5 – Fuel and Power
Keeping your vehicle fueled up is easy and goes a long way in case an evacuation order is issued. Once my tank gets between 1/2 and 3/4 full, I like to top it off at the earliest chance I get.
At home, if you use a freezer as part of your food storage or if you have medical equipment, a generator is essential. Instead of investing in an entire home generator, small emergency generators and power stations are lower cost and very effective. You can also take them with you in an evacuation.
Even if you don’t have a critical need, keeping batteries on hand is a good idea. You can buy them in bulk to save money.
6 – Tools
In an emergency, you never know when you’ll need to fix or cut something. A multitool is one of the most compact and versatile tools available. Even if you have a lot of tools at home, they are very convenient.
Also consider putting together a basic tool kit of work gloves, zip ties, duct tape, and paracord too. These may not seem “essential,” but they can make your life a lot easier in an emergency.
- Guide to the Best Survival Multitool
- Work Gloves – Mechanix Wear Leather Work Gloves
- Zip Ties – 12″ Heavy Duty Zip Ties
- Duct Tape – Gorilla Tape Mini 1″ Duct Tape
- Paracord – Paracord Planet 550 Paracord
7 – Cash
Keep a stash of cash (as much as you can reasonably afford). In an emergency, you may be unable to pay for things with your usual bank card. Of course, you can start with a relatively small stash and add to it as you go.
8 – Documents
It’s important to keep physical and digital copies of vital documents like deeds, titles, insurance policies, maps, social security cards, and birth certificates. Whenever possible, have several USB drives stored in different places with these documents.
Each month, I also recommend printing out or saving a physical statement of your financial records. Things like bank accounts and retirement savings. If there is a widespread emergency, these could come in very handy when things get back to normal.
Action Tip: Start researching and making a list of emergency gear you need. Purchase the most important items first, but don’t go crazy, this is not a list of toys.
Home and Self-Defense
I’d like to assume the best of people in an emergency. However, I can’t deny that looting absolutely happens after most disasters and should be part of any disaster plan. Periods of civil unrest are likely to see even higher amounts of looting and violent crime.
Most prepping guides either leave this out entirely or say you need to stock pile huge piles of ammunition.
The reality and the practicality is neither of these.
Consider reinforcing your doors to at least slow down a home intruder. Also review our full home defense guide (coming soon.)
Concealed carry or at least owning a home defense weapon of some sort is a great idea as well. Review our guides below for everything you need to know.
Home Defense Guide (coming soon)
Action Tip: If Concealed Carry is legal in your state, consider getting your permit (if required). Regardless, being familiar with and knowing how to use firearms is an essential skill for self reliance and preparedness.
Prepare a Bug Out Bag
Yes, in most situations, it is best to stay home. However, there are situations where you may need to leave as quickly as possible. It could be an mandatory evacuation or a wildfire just on the other side of the hill. Either way, your next step should be to prepare a bug out bag.
A bug out bag ensures that you have everything you need to hit the road at a moment’s notice, literally. You should be able to grab it and go. In most cases, you’ll want to have one for each member of your family, though children will need a smaller bag.
Your bug out bag can also provide extra supplies for you to use at home. This bag can provide you with extra water filtration, shelter supplies, and tools.
Store your go-bag in a safe, sheltered location that is also accessible. Think about where you might shelter during a tornado and put it there, if at all possible. (In the event of a tornado, your bug out bag can provide you with supplies like clothes and legal documents if everything else in your home is destroyed.)
Action Tip: Plan a bug out bag list for everyone in the family. Start purchasing at least one item from each category and expand from there.
Plan for Emergencies Away from Home
We’d all love it if emergencies occurred when we were at home and prepared. However, emergencies always seem to happen when we’re least prepared. Therefore, it’s important to plan for emergencies that may occur outside of the home, too.
These can include a car accident, active shooter, sudden earthquake, or even a family medical problem. Being prepared for civil unrest when you are away from home is very much a risk as well. Having a way to get home to your family (or simply stay alive) is essential.
In most cases, this includes preparing a get home bag, which stays in your vehicle or a similar location. It should include basic supplies like food and water for a day. Consider everything you might need to spend the night in your car, for instance.
That said, you may not always be able to run and grab your get home bag. Therefore, there are some items that you should have on you every day. I recommend an EDC first aid kit for treating life-threatening injuries, a self-defense weapon like a concealed carry firearm, and a survival multitool.
These three things will be able to get you out of most short-term emergency situations, like an active shooter or serious injury.
Action Tip: Research EDC gear to defend yourself against threats and treat life-threatening injuries. Put together a get home bag especially if you commute or travel alot.
Practice Your Emergency Preparedness
Do not make an emergency the first time you see any of your gear. I highly recommend practicing with every single piece of your home emergency kit, BOB, and EDC. The more you practice, the better you’ll be able to use everything in an emergency.
Of course, some pieces of your preparedness kit will require more practice than others. Everyone knows how to use a flashlight. However, your first aid kit is completely useless unless you’ve trained to use it.
That’s why I recommend taking a first aid course with an emphasis on trauma. Other survival skills, like starting a fire, can also be lifesaving. Review our survival guides below for skills you can learn.
Survival Skills for Emergency Preparedness
Action Tip: Mark out a date on your calendar to practice with the gear you’ve purchased. Include your family members, as well. Just going camping is a great place to start.
Don’t Forget Your Mind
Staying calm and making good decisions is half the battle of surviving a disaster. All your training and gear won’t do you any good if your mind becomes uncontrollable the second you get stressed.
Luckily, stoic principles can teach us a lot about controlling the mind and preparing for emergencies. Stoicism requires constant practice, so it’s important to begin now – before the emergency happens.
For instance, you can practice only focusing on what you can control. For example, in an emergency, instead of getting overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation, you can focus on finding solutions to overcome it. Similarly, in your daily life, you can stop worrying about other people’s opinions or someone’s poor driving habits and instead focus on the things that are within your control.
Don’t fixate on external circumstances, as they will change during an emergency. If you tie your happiness to a hot shower, you’ll be very disappointed when the power goes out.
I also recommend thinking through potential emergency scenarios in-depth. This practice helps you figure out what would help you prepare for that situation practically speaking, as well as lessen the shock of the event if it occurred.
Integrating mindfulness into your daily life and meditating regularly are practical ways to train the mind. Meditation doesn’t have to be fancy, long, or involved. I’ve meditated in five-minute bits with a baby in my lap.
Meditating when the situation or setting isn’t perfect is actually best. We rarely meet emergencies and hard moments in perfect situations or settings, after all.
Action Tip: Pick a single mindset practice to incorporate into your daily life. Choose a very specific time and place for your selected practice and then do it.
Emergencies Don’t Wait
It’s easy to think that you’ll start preparing next month or when you get that raise or once the baby is older. However, emergencies do not wait for us to become prepared. Even taking one small step and purchasing a single piece of emergency gear or learning a new skill is better than nothing.
Being 100% prepared would be exceptionally costly and it is not practical for everyone. Luckily, you don’t have to purchase everything, especially not now. Focus on the basics, like first-aid, shelter, water, and food first. Then you can expand your kit from there.
Bookmark this page and check back often, as we are always updating and adding new guides. Better yet, subscribe to our newsletter to get updates sent right to your inbox.
If you have any questions or if you would like to see any other topics on our site, feel free to contact us!