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Emergency Preparedness Checklist: Prepping for Beginners

Do you want to be better prepared for emergencies but aren’t sure where to start or if you’re doing it right? This “prepping for beginners” emergency preparedness checklist walks you through the three most important and basic steps.

When you’re done, you’ll be better prepared than 80% of Americans.

Whether you’re worried about things like a sudden layoff, car accidents, the power going out for a week, natural disasters, or long term economic and societal decline, it’s critical that you start getting prepared now — by definition, if you wait until you need it, it’s already too late.

The basic steps:

  1. Get your home ready for two weeks of self-reliance.
  2. Get ready to leave your home with only a moment’s notice.
  3. Be prepared when you’re away from home.
  4. Practice and plan.
  5. Share and recruit.

This guide will be updated over time.

The Prepared launched in August, 2017. We’re more like Wikipedia than a normal blog — our posts are updated over time. This page will change as we publish deeper reviews and field tests on the best products in each category.

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In the meantime, we make recommendations you can buy today that we’ve at least personally used and trusted in our combined 30+ years of prepping and 20+ years of teaching beginners.

Table of Contents

Background

There are many rational reasons why you should be better prepared for emergencies, yet everyone has their own unique motivations and circumstances.

The good news is that the prepping basics checklist is the same for 98% of people. It’s once you get past those essentials that things start to get customized or tricky — if you want to grow an indoor garden in your city studio, for example, or take your country home off the grid.

We created The Prepared because in our own personal journeys we found it way too hard to find the right answers without wasting time, money, and sanity.

Forums and Facebook groups are littered with the same fundamental questions asked over and over again, but they often get incomplete, conflicting, or even dangerous answers. Then we’d read a blog where they did some quick googling and cranked out a post just to get some traffic. Or we’d have to dig through crazy propaganda and extreme political opinions in the hopes of finding a right answer. It drove us mad — we just wanted the facts and straightforward answers!

It’s simple: Depending on what happens, you’ll either stay in your home, leave your home, or get back to your home. That’s the best framework to think about prepping. Making it needlessly complicated makes you less prepared.

Prepping can suck you in — answering one question or solving one problem often creates two more. There are countless places around the web with really bad advice or endless debates about things that don’t really matter, which trick you into thinking you’re missing something important.

Most of that is just noise you should ignore. There are solid, “correct” answers for the basics of prepping that apply in almost any situation.

When you’re feeling stuck, follow the Sane Prepper Mantra to keep things clear and rational. For example:

  1. You can’t predict what’s going to happen, so use the 80-20 rule to guide you.
  2. Preps must simple, practical, and usable – otherwise, they’re worthless.
  3. Great preps are a mix of gear, skills, planning, practice, community, and you.

Maslow’s hierarchy and the Pareto 80-20 rule

We talk a lot about the 80-20 rule (the “Pareto principle”) on The Prepared. For example, 20% of the total possible work gets you 80% prepared. To go from 80% to 100% prepared requires a lot more work and money. Another example is that you should prepare for the 80% of likely scenarios, not the unlikely ones like fascist zombies arriving on a radioactive alien asteroid.

Maslow’s hierarchy is a popular psychology principle that explains what humans need to survive, in order of importance.

Prepper checklist priorities prepping on a budget

The foundation is, obviously, essentials like air, water, and shelter. Once you’ve got those covered you can then think about the next layer, and so on. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, which means things like enjoying hobbies and “finding yourself.”

These frameworks make it easier to figure out the order of priorities and how to make decisions about the right gear, skills, and plans.

In a survival situation, it’s much better to have four meals that are boring than two of your favorite meals. If you don’t have water, it doesn’t matter if you are bored from lack of entertainment.

Believe it or not, we see people making those mistakes all the time. “I’d rather have chocolate and the Game of Thrones books in my bug out bag, because what’s the point of surviving if I can’t have candy and fun!”

Prepping on a budget

If you’re prepping on a tight budget, don’t worry. Because there is a clear order of importance in these checklists, you should always start with the first item before moving on.

Some of the very first things you should cover are water, food, and light for your home. It’s better to have those things than to have a compass or gun and no water.

Save up and buy the first item on the list. Practice with it while you save up again. Buy the second thing. Repeat.

Don’t double dip

You’ll notice that there’s a lot of overlap across the three areas (home, bug out bag, get home bag). Each section has medical kits, matches, knives, and so on. Sometimes they’re a little bit different (e.g. liquid candles for home and solid candles for car) and sometimes they’re identical.

Resist the temptation to double dip. For example, maybe you want to cut corners by buying one medical kit that you keep in your car trunk, and you think that if you ever needed to bug out, you’d grab it and put it in your backpack.

Bad idea. Real life gets in the way and you end up breaking the “great preps are always ready” rule because your gear is scattered or missing.

Another common example is your basic emergency water supply. Too many people make the serious mistake of depending on what’s sitting in their water heater or having the time to fill their bathtub. Because water is so important, it’s worth the few extra dollars to have dedicated potable water ready to go at all times.

In the end, it’s a good thing to have multiple tools or ways to accomplish something. Most preppers take a “two is one, one is none” approach with backups and redundancies. Following this guide is an efficient way to have those backups. Rather than having three med kits in your basement collecting dust, each one is serving a purpose at all times by being ready in your home, bug out bag, and get home bag.

Step 1: Get your home ready for two weeks of self-reliance

We start with the home because it’s where you spend most of your time and is usually the best place to make it through an emergency. Which is why governments give the standard “stay in your home!” advice during a crisis.

Example scenarios:

  • You have an unexpected big expense that blows your tight budget.
  • You suddenly lose your job and face a year of unemployment.
  • The electrical or water grid goes down for a few days.
  • A nasty hurricane floods your city for a week.
  • An epidemic is spreading and you’re quarantined to your home.
  • Civil order breaks down with mass unrest in the streets.
  • A nearby city is attacked by an enemy.
  • Total collapse (“Shit Hits The Fan”).

You must assume that some or all of the utility lines to your home will be down or inconsistent. So, you won’t be able to depend on electricity, water, cooking or heating gas, or communication.

Emergency services could be overloaded or inactive, so you won’t be able to count on getting help quickly.

Even in situations where that’s not the case, for these essentials it’s better to assume the worst.

For example, sudden unemployment doesn’t mean the electrical grid is down, but maybe you’ll want to save money on your electric bill. Maybe the grid goes down but you’ve got your own wood-fired heating and cooking or your own water well. That’s great, but it’s still better to have these standalone basics to reduce the risks.

72 hours vs 2 weeks

Until recently, emergency preparedness guides typically recommended having 72 hours worth of supplies. The Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.gov site currently says, “Being prepared means having your own food, water, and other supplies to last for at least 72 hours.”

They’re wrong. You should be prepared for at least two weeks.

Most survival experts use the two week rule. Some groups, like the Red Cross, have updated their suggestions — their site now says, “3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home.”

Our emergency systems, first responders, and community supplies can be quickly overwhelmed. The system just isn’t designed to handle sudden and widespread disasters.

Recent events like Hurricane Harvey, the Japanese Tsunami, and Haiti Earthquake are all examples.

In 2016 the US Navy, Coast Guard, and Washington state’s National Guard did a full-scale, nine-day drill to test how well they could respond to a massive earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. That area covers Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland through northern California.

“There is an urgent need for residents to prepare for two weeks.” — Robert Ezelle, director of Washington’s Emergency Management Division after their failed full-scale drill with the US Navy and Coast Guard.

The 83-page report comes to a lot of scary conclusions. The authors admit the systems are not ready, infrastructure would collapse, and they’d have a full-blown humanitarian crisis in ten days.

Politics and budgeting are making things worse over time, not better. It would take at least a week to properly coordinate outside resources brought in to help. For example, the military reports they need an average of eight days to mobilize a response inside the US border.

Robert Ezelle, director of the Washington Emergency Management Division, put it simply: “There is an urgent need for residents to prepare for two weeks.”

Home checklist summary:

  • Water: 15 gallons per person.
  • Food: non-perishable, long shelf life, easy to make or ready to eat.
  • Fire: storm proof matches, lighters, and a fire starter.
  • Light: candles, crank or battery powered flashlights or lanterns.
  • Heat: mostly from clothes and blankets, but also propane heaters and survival blankets.
  • First aid: must be more than just a “boo-boo kit,” should handle more serious injuries.
  • Medication: Tylenol, activated charcoal, digestive aids, prescriptions.
  • Hygiene: hand sanitizer, camp soap, baby wipes.
  • Communication: crank or solar powered NOAA radio, flares, whistle.
  • Cash: small bills, as much as you can afford to stash.
  • Documents: copy of deeds/titles, insurance policies, birth certificates, maps, etc.
  • Tools: work gloves, wrench for your gas lines, zip ties, duct tape, sewing kit, etc.
  • Self defense: depending on personal views, up to and including firearms and ammo.

Notice that this summary does not include a few things you commonly see in other emergency preparedness checklists. We assume you already have things like clothing, blankets, cooking utensils, feminine hygiene products, garbage bags, toilet paper, etc.

Sometimes other checklists mix the home supplies pieces with the bug out bag evacuation pieces. We split them up because they are distinctly different uses, it helps prevent double dipping, and reduces the chance gear is scattered and unprepared.

Water – see our full review on the best two week emergency water storage containers

The rule of thumb is 1 gallon per person per day. Thankfully, this is pretty easy to do. Five gallons of water takes up about 1 cubic foot (12x12x12 inches). You can easily store 15 gallons of water on the floor of a normal single-door closet.

Our Picks
Reliance Rhino 5.5 Gal Water Container
Two week home water storage:

Reliance Rhino 5.5 Gal Water Container

Our recommendation for most people. Toughest container in the middle tier price class. Somewhat stackable for short term storage. Comes with everything you need. Survived our drop and crush tests.
LCI USGI 5.2 Gal Military Water Can
Two week home water storage:

LCI USGI 5.2 Gal Military Water Can

The best overall portable water container we've ever tested. Built tough. Military tested features. Very large fill hole, secondary spout hole, screw top airflow vent. Nice spigot accessories. Also made by Scepter.

Check out the full review of the best emergency water storage containers and tips on how to store water. We recommend that you have the two weeks of water ready, sitting in their containers. Don’t depend on finding and filtering water or filling your bathtub for this two week period. It’s very likely you’ll have access to portable water filters and other methods because of your bug out bags, but think of those as a bonus backup.

Food

Survival food can be split into three groups: ready-to-eat items like a granola bar in a wrapper, self-heating kits like military MREs, or food that needs to be cooked in boiling water.

Quick Picks
Mountain House Classic Assortment Bucket
Complete meal kits:

Mountain House Classic Assortment Bucket

Just add boiling water and it cooks inside the pouch. Great flavors and long 30 year shelf life. Stored in a sealed bucket.
Augason Farms 1-Week Pantry Pack Tote
Complete meal kits:

Augason Farms 1-Week Pantry Pack Tote

82 servings including drinks like milk and full meals. 10 year shelf life. Stored in flat style tote. Cooks in pot with boiling water.

We recommend a mix of all three because:

  • With tasty stuff like granola bars, you have to have a lot of them to meet your calorie needs, which is impractical, and they expire more often. Think of these as tasty bonuses.
  • While very convenient, the self-heating MREs can be rough on your digestive system. The Army recently paid test subjects to eat only those kinds of meals for three weeks straight and the results were… uncomfortable.
  • Variety helps, psychologically.
  • These supplies just sit in your closet, so they don’t need to be super-efficient in terms of space and weight like they do in bug out bags.
Quick Pick
Coleman Bottle Top Propane Stove
Great cooking option:

Coleman Bottle Top Propane Stove

Easily holds an 8 inch pot. Adjustable heat. Easy to control and light. Includes a base that snaps onto the propane tank for added stability.

Even though you can’t depend on cooking with your normal kitchen appliances, being able to boil water is important. A basic and popular option is the propane powered camping stove. Even if you have a fireplace, it may not help; most home fireplaces don’t have an easy way to put a kettle or pot inside to boil water.

Most stores won’t ship these mini propane tanks through the mail. But your local Walmart, Target, REI, etc. will have them in-store. They are cheap at about $3 to $4 per bottle. One standard 16-ounce bottle will last for about two days of cooking. If you use them with the indoor heater listed below, plan on one bottle per day.

Fire: You want to have multiple ways to make fire. Stormproof matches and a fire starter are a must. Try this Titan Stormproof match bundle and Survival Spark magnesium fire starter with bonus compass and whistle.

Light: It’s fine to have battery-powered flashlights for your home — provided you have some extra batteries around. We love this Mag-Lite XL200 LED flashlight because it’s tough and has multiple modes including SOS and dimmer timer. It’s a good idea to have crank-powered flashlights as well. And make sure you have candles, like this pack of six 115-hour emergency candles.

Heat: Emergency blankets made out of a metallic Mylar material are small and handy, and can double as ground cover or tarps for shelter. We like this pack of six Mylatech XL blankets. For a great bonus option, we love this indoor heater that uses the same small propane tanks as the camping stoves. Avoid cheaper ones that aren’t safe for indoor use — two weeks after first publishing this guide, a neighboring tent in our campground caught on fire because of a cheap propane heater that tipped over while a family slept inside.

First aid: Many of the first aid kits you’ll find in Amazon searches aren’t good enough for survival scenarios (regardless of what their marketing says) because they’re meant for daily use or OSHA work compliance. Invest in a high-quality kit that includes supplies for more serious injuries like broken bones or deep, bleeding wounds. Frankly, we’ve never found an off-the-shelf kit we’re 100% happy with, but a great starter option is this Adventure Medical Fundamentals Kit.

Medication: In addition to aspirin and Tylenol, pick up some activated charcoal and digestive aids. They’ll help with the stress and unusual food.

Our Pick
Clean Trek Towels
Stay clean in a crisis:

Clean Trek Towels

Twelve thick and large 10 x 12 inch wipes that give a great whole-body clean. The most durable packaging we tested. Buy one for your home supplies and another for your bug out bag. Contains Aloe and Vitamin E. No MCI or alcohol. Made in the USA.

Hygiene: See our review of the best emergency shower and hygiene wipes. You should also pick up some concentrated camp soap and hand sanitizer gel to save on water. Don’t underestimate how important it is to clean yourself during a prolonged emergency.

Communication: Radio is still the best way to get emergency info. Unfortunately we’ve had a lot of bad experiences with the $20 to $70 “emergency radios” commonly available on Amazon. Poor reception, awful durability, bloated with unneeded features, etc. So we’re not going to make a recommendation until we’ve done a full product review, but if you’re looking anyway, Kaito and Eton are the two most common brands.

Tools: A good pair of work gloves in case you need to do things like move rubble. Sewing kits and multi-tools are surprisingly useful. Zip ties, duct tape, and safety pins are very helpful. If you have potentially dangerous things like a gas line or old water heater, make sure you have the right wrenches on hand to turn them off if needed.

Self defense. Depending on your personal views, you should have something at least as effective as pepper spray and a cheaper karambit style knife. Ideally, you would also have a firearm appropriate for home defense. We’ll go deeper into options in future posts.

Add any extras for your situation: For example, here’s our guide on prepping with food allergies and how to store EpiPens without power. Also consider special needs for pregnant women, small children, pets, people with disabilities or significant medical issues, etc. If you have poor eyesight, always have a pair of backup glasses and contacts in your emergency supplies.

Step 2: Bug Out Bags for every adult

A Bug Out Bag (BOB) is basically a backpack that is always packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. It contains a wide range of the basics you need to survive for at least a few days and ideally much longer.

Example scenarios:

  • You’re ordered to evacuate because of a storm.
  • You wake up to a raging wildfire near your home.
  • Your neighbor’s house is on fire and you run over to help.
  • An aggressor is coming to your home and you need to leave quickly.
  • Law and order is breaking down and you’re better off leaving the area.
  • A missile strike or terrorist attack happens nearby and you need to leave town.

Key points to keep in mind:

  • You don’t know what will happen.
  • You can’t cover every potential need.
  • Weight matters — a lot.
  • You might be on foot for a long time.
  • You might be in an evacuation or refugee center, out in nature, or squatting in buildings.
  • It might be summer or winter.
  • The weather might be insane.
  • You might be alone or with other people.
  • People around you will be panicked and possibly dangerous.
  • You might be or get injured.
  • You might be on your own for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, or longer.

Ignore all the different acronyms, like INCH and GOOD

Some in the prepping community make things more complicated than they should be. It’s not just a matter of wasting time and money — it actually makes you less prepared because the more complicated things are, and the more stuff you have to replace annually, the less likely it is that you’ll be properly prepared at all times.

You might see acronyms like INCH (I’m Never Coming Home again) or GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge). Or labels like “72 Hour Bags”.

Some people argue that you should have different bags dedicated to different scenarios, like one bag for “72 hour scenarios” and one for “forever scenarios”, or one for storms and another for zombies.

Ignore all of that noise. Remember one of the core tenets of the Sane Prepper Mantra: you cannot predict what will happen, when, where you’ll be, how long things will last, etc.

Keep it simple, always be ready, and use a priority bag system

Things must be simple and easy. You want to limit the number of important decisions you’ll have to make or things you’ll have to remember in a crisis. You should not have to remember where things are, put them together, worry about not having something important, or lose time while you do the work you should’ve done beforehand. You shouldn’t be thinking, “Well, wait, will I need the camping stove I have in the other bag?”

Survival experts strongly recommend having a bag that’s packed and ready to go at all times. You don’t want to depend on putting things together in a crisis. Part of the value is having the peace of mind from knowing that if you needed to leave and survive right now, you could.

You can have more than one bag. But think of them as a cascading priority order, not different bags for different scenarios.

The best system for most people is to have one bag that is your top-priority bag. If you had to leave the house with less than a minute’s warning, things are crazy, and you’re not sure what will happen once you leave, it’s the one thing you grab before you go.

We’ve seen bloggers advise people that a 100-pound bug out bag is a great idea because “it has all the stuff you’d want and you’ll just be driving to your bug out location anyway, so who cares how heavy it is!” That’s dangerously wrong for a lot of reasons.

You can have more than one bag. But think of them in a descending priority order — not different bags for different scenarios.

You’ve got your main #1 bag, your #2 bag, and so on. If a situation happens where you need to bug out, you can decide in real time how many bags to take. Maybe you stop after #1 or after #3.

Imagine a scenario where a crisis is happening but you don’t have to run out your door in minutes. You have a little bit of time to think calmly, load up your car, and drive away. You grab your #1 bag first, then your #2 bag, and so on until you either can’t take any more or you need to leave.

Maybe the roads are a mess and you have to abandon your car. So you grab your #1 bag first. If that’s all you could carry and you’ll be on foot, you are properly prepared. If someone else is with you, give them your #2 bag. And so on.

Don’t buy off-the-shelf kits

Ninety percent of the time they are garbage. At best, you’ll need to replace half the stuff inside and add more. In the end, you don’t save money anyway. The initial $50 price difference is not worth your life.

Bug out bag checklist summary:

  1. Backpack: the right pack matters, not too big, not too flashy, good hip support.
  2. Water: tools to make or store water, not lots of water itself.
  3. Food: many people carry too much of the wrong kind of food.
  4. Fire: stormproof matches, fire starters, and a lighter.
  5. Heat: survival blankets and an insulated outer layer.
  6. Shelter: tarp, possibly an ultralight hammock or tent.
  7. Light: battery- and crank-powered flashlights, candle.
  8. Communication: portable Ham radio, signal mirror, whistle, flares.
  9. Medical: first aid kit, medication, tourniquet, combat pads.
  10. Hygiene: camp soap, camp toilet paper, wipes, hand sanitizer.
  11. Navigation: laminated maps, compass, binoculars.
  12. Tools: field knife, multi-tool, cordage, zip ties, duct tape, safety pins.
  13. Self defense: gun, ammo, knives, nonlethals, depending on personal choice.
  14. Field guide: compact book with guides on various survival techniques.
  15. Documents: any important stuff like copies of birth certificate, medical records.
  16. Clothing: hat, sunglasses, socks, maybe a full set of climate-appropriate clothes.
  17. Misc: cash, small paper pad and pen, maybe a psychological comfort item.

Backpack

Check out the starter article on the best bug out bag backpack. We see a lot of mistakes when it comes to bag choice. It’s important that your bag isn’t too large. We recommend 45-50 liter bags for most people, which is about the size of the largest airplane carry-ons.

Quick Picks
5.11 Tactical Rush 72 Backpack
Best bug out bag for most people:

5.11 Tactical Rush 72 Backpack

Very tough water resistant 1050-denier nylon. Exterior MOLLE for attachments. Decent hip belt. Very well reviewed.
Kelty Redwing 44
Best bug out bag for most people:

Kelty Redwing 44

Comfortable. Rigid spine support, great hip belts, and lots of adjustments. Popular and well reviewed.

Water

Even though water is critical, it’s not practical to carry enough to last more than a day. One gallon of water weighs more than 8 pounds.

Quick Picks
Lifestraw Go Bottle with Integrated Filter
Water storage and cleaning:

Lifestraw Go Bottle with Integrated Filter

Save space with this rigid bottle and built in filter good for 265 days worth of water. BPA free. Can also buy a replacement filter to throw in your bag.
Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets
Water storage and cleaning:

Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets

Small, light, and decent shelf-life. Great backup option if you don't have your filter bottle. 100 tabs cleans 50 gallons.

We use a mixed approach. Our bags have one full-sized rigid water bottle that is always full and one empty collapsible canteen. We then depend on finding and purifying water as we go. There are a lot of water treatment options out there, but we prefer a primary water filter, a backup filter, and purification tablets.

If you live in an area where water’s scarce, like the American Southwest, this is one of the few things you’d want to customize right away by carrying more water in your bag. If you need to sacrifice weight, it’s always better to remove food to have more water. You can survive three weeks without food — but only three days without water.

Food

One of the most common newbie mistakes is packing too much food or the wrong kind of food. Food has an awful weight/space to benefit ratio.

Don’t pack perishable items like beef jerky — it’s very unlikely you’ll take the time to update your BOB food every two months. Don’t use unnecessarily bulky things like canned soup. Don’t waste space on “comfort food”.

Quick Picks
Datrex Emergency 3600 Calorie Blocks
Food without cooking:

Datrex Emergency 3600 Calorie Blocks

200 calories per bar and 3,600 calories per pack. All natural ingredients. Coconut flavor. 5 year shelf life.
Western Frontier MRE (Meals Ready to Eat)
Food without cooking:

Western Frontier MRE (Meals Ready to Eat)

One pouch with complete meal. No other boiling water or cooking needed. 27 flavors available. 1,250 calories per meal.

For most people’s #1 bug out bag, we recommend:

  1. One MRE (Meal Ready to Eat)
  2. One emergency calorie block
  3. Three packets of peanut butter
  4. Bonus: one energy bar or something similar

You’ll have to decide whether or not you want to have to cook your food. If you carry food that needs boiling water, like the popular Mountain House hiking pouches, you’ll have to either start a fire or carry an ultralight camping stove and butane tank. Which is fine (and what we do), but is a personal choice.

If you want to cook
REDCAMP Cookware and Burner Kit
Great ultralight cooking:

REDCAMP Cookware and Burner Kit

Awesome kit that includes two cups/pots with handles and an ultralight cooking stove that stores inside the pots. Uses small butane tank.
Jetboil Jetpower Fuel
Great ultralight cooking:

Jetboil Jetpower Fuel

Tiny fuel tank for the ultralight cooking set. The smaller tanks can fit inside the pots on the Redcamp set.

Fire: Same basic stuff as your home supplies. You want to have multiple ways to make fire. Try this Titan Stormproof match bundle and Survival Spark magnesium fire starter plus a normal butane lighter.

Heat: Survival blankets are a must. We like this pack of six Mylatech XL blankets because they’re green and can double as ponchos and tarps for a makeshift shelter or hiding in the woods. We love the Arc’teryx LEAF Atom LT Hoody because it’s super-lightweight and it scrunches up into a ball, yet has excellent insulation for almost any weather.

Shelter: You can make basic shelters with cordage and a tarp. Tarps are very useful in a range of situations. Try this Ozark Trail 8’x10’ camo and green tarp. We need to do more research before determining whether hammocks or tents are better for most people, so sign up for our email newsletter to stay updated if you’re interested in a more dedicated BOB shelter. In the meantime, we love these Kammock Roo hammocks that are about the size of a melon.

Light: For battery-powered flashlights, we use this LE LED headlamp. We like crank-powered flashlights that are more durable than the home supply versions, and have multiple modes and backup solar charging — like this Friendly Swede waterproof crank torch.

Communication: Our preferred portable radio is the BeoFeng BF-F8HP 8-watt dual-band two-way radio. You don’t need a Ham license to listen to local emergency services. We like this signal mirror instead of the cheap acrylic ones that scratch and fade quickly. Also, try these tiny whistles and signal flare kit.

Medical: This is a big topic and we’re working on a major guide. Know that most of the “emergency medical kits” you find on Amazon are junk, and doing it right will cost more than $50. For now, one of our favorite off-the-shelf kits is the North American Rescue Solo IFAK pouch.

Hygiene: Full review of the best field wipes for your bug out bag, plus camp soap, camp toilet paper, and hand sanitizer.

Navigation: Laminated folding maps (like this one for Miami) are very handy — you won’t be able to depend on your phone for Google Maps. We like Silva Ranger compasses and these tiny waterproof Bushnell binoculars.

Tools: A great field knife has 1,000 critical uses, so it’s worth the investment for a large, full tang, high-quality knife. We love the ESEE 5 survival knife because it’s built like a tank and even has a divot in the grip for starting a fire with sticks. For multi-tools, you can’t go wrong with Gerbers or Leathermans; we like this Leatherman OHT. At least 20 feet of quality 550 paracord is a must-have, like this Paracord Planet 7-strand.

Self defense: Full guide coming later, but we like these MTM ammo wallets and a backup knife like these Benchmade push daggers. If you are new to firearms, check out the total beginners guide to guns.

Field guide: It’s helpful to keep a pocket-sized, preferably laminated, survival book in your bag. There are a ton of options out there, but most are rehashes, second-hand accounts, or filled with needless pages about how to milk a cow in the dark. We like the SAS pocket survival guide.

Clothing: There’s a reason why characters in military movies refer to socks so often — they’re critically important and often overlooked. We love Darn Tough socks because they’re wool and a lot more durable than other brands like Smartwool. Grab a boonie hat, too; they’re easy to throw in your bag and provide better protection than most other options.

Step 3: Get Home Bags and Everyday Carry

Most people spend roughly 50% of their time away from home, and their daily patterns tend to be pretty consistent and predictable. You can use that to your advantage to be reasonably prepared when you’re away from home.

Example scenarios:

  • Your subway car looses power in between stations.
  • While driving home from work in rush-hour traffic, you witness a serious car accident. It might take emergency services 10 to 15 minutes to arrive.
  • You’re cornered by two muggers while walking home from your friend’s apartment at night.
  • A shooter attacks random people while you’re in the shopping mall.
  • An earthquake strikes while you’re at work. Your car is in the parking garage and you work in the city about 30 minutes away from your suburban home.
  • Kim Jong Un decides to interrupt your well-deserved spa day by sending an ICBM to the neighboring city.

You’ll cover these bases with two related but separate things: Get Home Bags (GHB) and Everyday Carry (EDC) items.

EDC are the few things you have on you at all times. EDC may be as simple as a good pocket knife or multi-tool, a small flashlight and compass on your keychain, a laminated info card in your wallet, Google Maps saved in “offline mode” on your phone, and possibly a concealed carry firearm.

Get Home Bags do exactly what the label says: It’s a pack with the gear you need to get home (or at least get somewhere safe) that you keep in the most logical place away from your house. It’s also a backup Bug Out Bag in case disaster strikes and you can’t make it home.

GHBs are not just a copy of what’s in the BOB you keep at home. Because this bag will be out in the world with you, you include special things in case you see something like a car accident. Or your local laws might prevent you from carrying a gun or certain types of knives.

If you rely on a car to get around or drive to work, keep the bag in your trunk. It doesn’t take up too much space and you can shove it back in the odd corners you never use anyway.

If you don’t use a car then perhaps you can keep a bag in your desk or locker at work. Some people even hide or bury it nearby.

If keeping a dedicated backpack somewhere just isn’t possible, then put as many of the core items as you can in whatever you usually have with you, like your purse, school pack, or work bag.

Everyday Carry Checklist Summary:

  1. Knife or multi-tool
  2. Light
  3. Fire
  4. Paracord
  5. Personal medication
  6. Laminated card in your purse or wallet with emergency info
  7. Bonus: concealed carry pistol or non-lethal options such as pepper spray

Knives and multi-tools

Some people carry both, but most choose one or the other. Multi-tools are nice for everyday utility like opening a bottle or fixing a screw on your sunglasses. There are tons of great options from popular brands like Leatherman and Gerber. But as in most things, the 80-20 rule applies here, and you’ll find that you won’t use most of the features in the extra-gadgety options and should avoid the unnecessary weight.

Despite the fact that multi-tools have knives, they are not good for self defense. Our preferred EDC defense knife is a karambit. Karambits are fighting blades originally from Southeast Asia that are held naturally in a fighting grip. When you hold it in a closed fist, the blade sticks out of the bottom of your fist, almost like an eagle’s talon.

Our favorite karambits are folded, but have a little hook that catches on your pants or coat pocket. As you pull it out of your pocket to defend yourself, the blade catches and opens, falling directly into your fighting hand.

If you don’t have pockets or you want something smaller you can lace to a boot or purse, we recommend fixed blades designed for puncturing. These are usually small and curved blades called daggers. They won’t win wars, but if you’re cornered, they are better than nothing.

Light: There are fancy options and lights integrated into pens and knives. We prefer a simple light attached to our keychain. The Prometheus Beta QRv2 is very sexy and built well, and has a quick release button to remove it from your keychain without the fuss. If you want a cheaper option, check out the Lumintop Mini Worm.

Fire: It’s fine if you want to carry a normal lighter. If you prefer to go the more durable or keychain route, we love the Exotac nanoStriker fire starter. It’s only a few inches long and as thick as a pen. The two halves unscrew, which you then use like a normal magnesium fire starter.

Paracord: It’s so handy that many preppers wear a bracelet made of braided paracord that can be pulled apart and used as a normal 20-foot line in an emergency. Some bracelets are just the paracord, others have tools like a compass or whistle built in. If you don’t want to wear it on your wrist, you can tie it to your purse or bag as an accessory. We don’t yet have a specific favorite here, so just shop around.

Get Home Bag Checklist Summary:

  1. Backpack: same as BOB, if not a little smaller.
  2. Water: same as BOB.
  3. Food: same as BOB, but skip the cookable food and butane stoves.
  4. Light: same, but don’t pack liquid emergency candles.
  5. Fire and heat: same.
  6. Medical kit: same, but include N95 or N100 face masks.
  7. Hygiene: same.
  8. Field knife: same.
  9. Multi-tool: same.
  10. Communication: same.
  11. Clothing: socks, hat, sunglasses, poncho or tarp, and water activated cooling towel / neck gaiter.
  12. Navigation: compass and laminated road maps covering your normal daily routine.
  13. Documents: same as BOB, plus car insurance and title. Laminated card with emergency contact info.
  14. Cash.
  15. Car-specific tools: depending on space — window-breaker and seatbelt-cuttersignal flare kit, jumper cables, wrenches, tire patch kit, foldable field shovel, mini fire extinguisher, kitty litter for winter traction.

Practice and plan!

Having gear is one thing, but survival experts know that a great prep is a mix of gear, skills, planning, practice, and you.

You should actually use each item you buy at least once. You don’t want to be trying something for the first time during an emergency. For example, having a window-breaker in your car is a good idea. But if someone is trapped in a car after an accident, you don’t want to be like this guy:

We’ll publish a full guide on the kinds of drills to do and how to plan with your family and children, but for now the principle is simple: Practice. Even if it’s just one afternoon a year.

Share and recruit!

Some people think they have to be super quiet about their prepping. But prepping is more effective — and more fun — when you share the responsibility with your friends, family, and neighbors.

  • Miguel Horowitz

    This is AWESOME! Thank you thank you. I was searching forever for a good prepper guide.

The Prepared