No matter how big the disaster, smaller preps are usually better

One of the first real-world lessons I learned in preparedness came from volunteering in shelters after Hurricane Katrina: smaller gear is generally better because it’s important to think about concealment.

So when I started seriously prepping back in 2008, I started with the small stuff, first — stuff I could conceal on my body in a pocket, shoe, or inside my waistband, or that I could slip deep into an inner pocket in a pack.

Now that I’ve been around the survival scene in the years since, I can’t help but look at people carrying stuff like a full-sized bolt cutter, Bowie knife, or rifle on the outside of their bug out bag and wonder if they’ve considered how to hide that gear when needed.

You might:

  • be in a cramped shelter where people are stealing each other’s supplies to get by
  • need to hide something from the Red Cross of FEMA worker, eg. when getting on an evac bus or being processed into shelter
  • want to avoid triggering or escalating people simply through outward displays of ‘weapons’ or other gear
  • be able to hide the important stuff during a mugging
  • want to keep a general “gray man” vibe so people think you’re just as unprepared as they are

In my personal experiences since Katrina, and in interviews with survivors, a common pattern is clear: there are plenty of emergencies where you won’t be able to depend on privacy or the understanding of people around you.

Even if you’re prepping for some massive, civilization-ending catastrophe, you still have to keep social factors foremost in your mind and be able to manage other people’s perception of you. Because no matter what happens, the odds are close to zero that there will be so few people left that you can ignore all social considerations and plan to run around looking like a wasteland marauder. (A 75% die-off would leave us with over two billion people in the world, or about as many as were around during the Boardwalk Empire era.)

There are so many preps that I’d rather others just not know about — maybe they’d be intimidated by them, or would want to steal them, or they just wouldn’t be permitted wherever I’m staying. So when I’m thinking through bug-out preps for myself and my family, in many cases I’m not just thinking about pack weight, but also about overall concealability.

We consider this advice when doing gear reviews. Knives are a common area where people go too large, for example, when a solid 4-5″ knife will do just as well as a less-concealable one. That’s part of why the Fallkniven F1 is one of the best survival knives.

Here are a few tips to help you keep your preps away from prying eyes:

  • Buy the small version of critical preps when all else is equal. Rather than carrying a big water filter, for example, our main pick can fit in most pant pockets.
  • Dress in layers to maximize your concealment options.
  • Prefer mid-layer garments with plenty of pockets — pants, shorts, and light jackets, especially.
  • Consider a travel security belt or pouch designed to keep cash and valuables hidden on your person.
  • Get to know the nooks and crannies in your go-bags, looking for non-obvious areas to hide stuff.

The Prepared