Prepping 101: Things You Might Actually Need

Do you like being prepared?  

No, like really prepared, for like, an earthquake or a wildfire, not like these guys that are gearing up for a Mad Max-style apocalypse. 

Ya know, something that might actually happen?  Flood? Hurricane? Flat tire on a dark country road with no cell service?

Clown attack?

Well, would you like to be?

See, I like being prepared but I don’t have the time, energy, or money to be one of those guys with a bunker full of MREs and ammo. 

What I do have, is a desire to be ready for like, a hurricane that finally decides my hometown needs to be relocated a few dozen miles inland.  Or maybe a wildfire like what much of the West Coast dealt with this year.

california wildfire
This is much more likely, and should be much scarier than any of your survivalist fantasies.

Ideally, I think you should have maybe three days of supplies for each person in your family stashed somewhere you can get to in a hurry if need be.  This isn’t going to do much in case of Soviet invasion/zombie apocalypse/alien invasion, but it could be the difference between making it out of a bad situation, and not.  Or at least ending up on the news having to be rescued.

So, what do you really need to have stashed away?  I’m glad you asked.

Start with the Basics: The Rule of Threes

The rule of threes is a pretty simple survival concept.  In general, a healthy individual can go three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food.  

This doesn’t account for things like exertion, environmental conditions, or other health issues you may have, but they’re a good place to start, and they’re in priority order too.

easy button
Almost idiot proof. Almost.


First, air.  Are you a scuba diver or perhaps an astronaut?  No?  Okay, air probably isn’t too much of an issue for you then.

The exceptions to this would be if you live in or are traveling through parts of the world with dangerous smog levels, or if you’re in an area that’s prone to wildfires.  In this case, a respirator might not be a bad thing to have on hand.

No, a surgical mask is not a respirator, by the way.  These are great to have in a trauma kit, or just a general first aid kit, but they won’t save you from dangerous particulate in the air.

For that, I’d recommend a good respirator like the one below.

3M Respirator

3M Respirator

Prices accurate at time of writing

With the right filter, this thing can protect you from most common particulates and nasty things you’re likely to come across in the air.  Fortunately, it’s pretty cheap and you can use it for a host of other things like spray-painting, sanding or cutting wood, and other household tasks that might otherwise expose you to dangerous stuff in the air.


In a “Oh God, when is the power coming back on, it’s been a whole week” situation, water is going to be your main concern.  In general, you’re probably fine with a few gallon jugs or a case of water bottles stashed in the garage for a rainy day, but the old rule of thumb is one gallon of water, per person, per day.  

So, for a family of four, twelve gallons of water should last you through a weekend following an earthquake or fire, or even a hurricane.

hurricane flooding
Water water, everywhere, better have at least a gallon to drink.

Now, every single one of you living in the Bay area who just started cussing me out because you barely have room for 12 extra ounces of water in your studio apartment, let alone a large fish tank’s worth, don’t worry.

If you can’t stockpile water, the next best thing, and something you should have on hand anyway, is a cheap way to make non-potable water drinkable.

Unless you’re in the desert with no hope of rescue, a water filter is going to be a much more space and weight efficient option than carrying multiple liters of water around in your car, or having gallons and gallons stashed around your home.

For me, I like a nice gravity filter like this one.

Better Than a LifeStraw
Sawyer Gravity Flow Water Filter

Sawyer Gravity Flow Water Filter

Prices accurate at time of writing

 Its made by Sawyer and weighs about 2oz, so its easy to stash somewhere.

This is the same one that I take hiking/camping, or when I’m somewhere with a questionable water supply like Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, and most of Florida.

Just kidding Florida, I know this thing doesn’t filter meth and bath salts out of the water supply.

Beyond filters, having a way to make fire to boil water is essential, and also makes the food part coming up a lot easier (or at least a lot more pleasant, no one likes cold canned food).

The fire part is pretty straightforward: put a freaking Bic cigarette lighter in your kit.  I have these things stashed everywhere.  I also have a firestarter that I keep on my keys, just in case, but it’s mostly there to give me a bright orange thing on my keys to make them easier to find.

exotac survival firestarter
Its also handy for stabbing yourself in the thigh occasionally.

As far as a vessel to actually boil water in, you have some options.  I like a nice Titanium Snowpeak mug.  They’re light, great for camping (especially if you pair them with a nice Aeropress coffeemaker) and you can tuck them away until you need them.

There are also a number of great folding pots out there like this Alpine Stowaway pot that you can easily store in a bag, and most of them are big enough for a mug, lighter, eating utensils, and various other items to get you going.  Many of them can even fit a camp stove like the timeless MSR Dragonfly that can really keep you going when the lights go out.

The Dragonfly in particular is cool in that you can use the various jets to burn everything from kerosene and white gas, to unleaded auto gas and jet fuel, making it perfect if you need to scavenge a bit to keep it going in a rough situation, or in a country that has infrastructure issues.  It also has a field-maintainable jet that lets you clean it without any special tools.


Food is a dicey subject when it comes to prepping and this kind of stuff.  Basically, you need to decide what kind of food you want to stock up on, and for what reason.

Personally, I camp and hike a lot, so I have a bunch of freeze dried food like Mountain House and some Wise Food stuff that you can order in ridiculous amounts of bulk.  I just cycle through stuff as I go hiking and I try to keep about a week’s worth of meals in the pantry for myself and my fiance.

For a larger family, or someone who doesn’t camp, really all you need to do is just buy more of whatever non-perishables you already buy, assuming you don’t buy all fresh food.  Beans, soup, corn, and other canned goods are nice, rice and dried beans keep for literal years, and things like quinoa, dried fruit, and dehydrated potatoes also keep a really long time.  

The easiest thing to do is just work this stuff into a weekly dinner rotation and keep a week’s worth of meals or so in the pantry.  You don’t need six months worth of food in America, not really.  If things in your area haven’t turned around in a month or two, you need to just freakin’ leave.  Grab your rifle, and go hunt a deer.

If things are so bad that you need six months worth of canned food, canned food isn’t going to be your biggest problem.  Surviving a nuclear apocalypse is beyond the scope of this, or any single article.  We’re trying to get you through the end of the week.  

Of course, it’s hard to carry a week’s worth of food in a backpack, that’s why even hardcore through-hikers who spend 7 months on the trail have to stop every so often in towns to resupply.  

canned food
Canned food will outlast you in a survival situation.

For a “Oh God, we have to evacuate” scenario where you’re on foot, six to ten freeze dried meals should be more than enough in a backpack.  You should know where you’re headed in the event of something catastrophic, and you can decide from yourself how much food you need to make it there, which brings me to my next big point.

Have a Personalized Plan

So, you know the basics.  Great.  In most situations, that’ll give you enough to make it through provided you have some basic essentials.  

To really make it out in style though, you need to have a plan in place.  Know who and what you’re taking in case of evacuation, have a way to secure your valuables, have a copy of all your important documents especially proof of residency that you’ll need to return home in the event that there is a police or military presence to prevent looting.

You’ll also want to have any medications you or your family members may need, as well as basic first aid kits and maybe a trauma bag with Quick Clot and a tourniquet.  Learn more in Building Your Own Range Med Kit.

I know a lady who keeps one of these in their purse. She’s a cardiac surgeon, I figure she knows her shit.

And learn to use all this stuff.  Take it out.  Test it.  Learn how to effectively use a tourniquet, and yes, you need a real tourniquet.  There are two different types, but I’m not going to tell you what they are or how to use them.  Google it.  It’s something everyone should know how to do.  If you carry nothing else, carry a freaking tourniquet.  So many times, it’s the difference between making it to the hospital and dying en route to the hospital.

Beyond first aid, and knowing where you’re going, know what issues you’re most likely to face.  If you’re in Kansas, maybe worry more about tornadoes more than hurricanes.  The West Coast is one giant disaster showcase with earthquake and wildfire threats constantly, and a volcano that wants to kill the world.  

yellowstone park
Its gorgeous, majestic, and wants to kill you and everyone you love.  The mountain, not the buffalo, just to clarify, although don’t mess with a buffalo either without a very big gun.

Be ready for more stuff out there.  

If you’re in Florida, you’ve got hurricanes and meth heads to deal with, plan accordingly.  

LA, Boston, Cleveland, Miami, know when your basketball teams are in the playoffs, because riots may follow.  That’s only mostly a joke.

Know both the local and state-level responses to these incidents, and what’s most likely to cause you problems.

Also, plan for reality.  I have a buddy who’s an EMT.  He went, as many of his colleagues did, to help with some of the hurricane damaged areas in Texas.  He told me a story about a rescue operation to save a guy that camped out on his roof.  Guy called in for rescue, said he had a leg wound but he was fine.  “Take your time, I’m prepared”.

famous last words
When its time to leave, go ahead and leave.

They found him dead, holding a $3000 AR-15. He bled out from a wound to his femoral artery that he got climbing onto his roof.  Sliced himself open on a gutter.

A full-size rifle is not the first thing you should be grabbing, folks.   Learn from the mistakes of others.  I like the Walking Dead too, but it’s not realistic.  You’re a lot more likely to die from infection, blood loss, dehydration, and general lack of preparation than you are from not having 10,000 rounds of ammo and a chest-rig full of extra mags.

Parting Shots

And that really sums up what I have to say here.  Plan for reality.  What are you most likely to have to deal with in your area?  Running around with a rifle in an evacuation is going to cause you a lot more problems than it’ll solve (and the Molon Labe sticker on your truck is just an invitation to loot it first).  

A survival situation is going to be a lot more IDPA than 3-Gun, is what I’m saying.  A concealed handgun is about all you need, gun wise.  What’s going to make or break you is food, water, first-aid (and the knowledge to use it effectively) and a plan to seek shelter in a safe area.  If you have that, that’s all you really need.

There you have it, survival prep according to some asshole on the internet.  Remember, nothing I say here is going to help you more than just having a plan, and knowing how to use what you have.  I am also but one voice in a sea of voices talking about stuff.  I like to think I know what I’m talking about, and my advice is based on practical experience and situations you might actually encounter.  If this info helped you, or you think I got something wrong, let me know in the comments below.

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4 Comments on "Prepping 101: Things You Might Actually Need"

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Nice to see a plain common sense article, thanks.

Eric Hung

Thanks Jim!!


Link to the fire starter??

Eric Hung

Thanks for catching that…added my favorite magnesium firestarter.