The Sane Prepper Mantra: Common sense rules for prepping

Since getting prepared makes sense, how you get prepared should make sense too! Unfortunately, a lot of people trying to get better prepared end up confused or they follow bad advice from junky blogs and social media. After years of experience personally prepping and teaching others, we created the Sane Prepper Rules to help keep things rational and valuable. We use it when writing articles for you, and you should use it when making your personal decisions.

Last Updated: January 8, 2018
Clarified some of the examples illustrating how the sane prepper rules guide very common mistakes seen among preppers in social media.

Part of why we started The Prepared is that, in our own prepping, we found that much of the advice you find online is either dangerously incorrect or causes more confusion and complication than necessary.

This bad advice leads to countless hours, wasted money, and too much anxiety and frustration. Or worse — you end up less prepared because things got too complicated.

Prepping should be:

  • Responsible. It is smart and normal to get ready for emergencies.
  • Valuable. The whole point is to actually benefit from prepping if you should ever need it.
  • Easy. Don’t waste hundreds of hours digging through incorrect and confusing content.
  • Affordable. Almost any budget can cover the basics of prepping.
  • Comforting. Have the peace of mind that you and your family are ready.
  • Fun. It’s challenging and fun to figure out how to become a more self-sufficient person. It’s like Boy/Girl Scouts for adults.

The Sane Prepper Rules:

  • You can’t predict what is going to happen. There are just too many variables. Don’t get tunnel vision or caught up in whatever people are freaking out about on social media.
  • Data and reason should always win over opinion and impractical ideas.
  • Follow the 80-20 rule to focus on the right things and get the most value.
  • It’s impossible to be 100% prepared for 100% of scenarios.
  • Great preps are a mix of gear, supplies, skills, practice, planning, community, and you.
  • For gear or skills to be useful they must be as simple, practical, and reliable as possible. That means good preps are always ready and double dipping is bad.
  • Don’t try to memorize lists and instructions. Focus on learning high leverage concepts and buying high leverage gear so you can think on the fly and adapt.
  • Every budget level can prepare, but you get what you pay for. When it comes to saving your life it’s better to “buy once, cry once.”
  • Be proud that you’re taking steps to be responsible and self-sufficient. Share that prepping responsibility with your family, friends, and neighbors.
  • Prepping should not dominate your life or make it worse. Spend a reasonable amount of time, money, and energy.

Common example of how the Sane Prepper Framework guides almost every basic decision

When thinking about the definitive list of what should be in your bug out bag, an extremely common and dangerous mistake people make is packing too much weight into a bag that’s too large and obvious.

We see people who’ve loaded 50, 60, 80, or even 100 pounds of gear into bug out bags larger than 60 liters (for reference, the largest airplane carry-on is about 45-50 liters) with all kinds of “tacti-cool” military patches and camo.

Your prep must be practical and usable, otherwise it’s almost worse than having nothing at all. Have you ever actually walked five miles with a huge 65-pound pack and limited water? Ask any soldier… it sucks.

Because we know that gear has to be reliable in order to be useful, and that in a crisis our human brains don’t work very well and we have to make things simple, it’s important that a bug out bag is always packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. You can’t be fumbling around trying to collect your gear or remember where you put it when every second counts.

You cannot predict what will happen, when, where you will be, who will be with you, if it’s summer or winter, day or night, if you’ll be injured, if the roads will be usable, and so on.

Some people will defend their heavy bug out bag by saying “well my plan is to just put it in the car and drive to my bug out location, duh!”

Can we borrow your crystal ball, please?

Then they’ll argue: “Who cares if it’s too heavy? If I end up on foot, I’ll just remove some of the weight.”

What if you don’t have the time and have to run away quickly?

Sloppy planning ahead of time means you might’ve bought two different products to do two different things instead of one product that does both. So, which do you throw out? Or maybe you filled your bag with heavy canned soup instead of proper food because you didn’t like the flavors.

Your bug out bag should be durable and blend in. Saving $70 by buying the cheap knockoff bag isn’t worth the risk of your only bag falling apart in the field. You also don’t want to walk around with a military camo bag that screams “hey, I’ve got supplies!” or one that’s bright orange and hard to hide.

You can’t predict what will happen

Too many preppers create narrow plans or overly invest in specific gear while ignoring glaring holes in their plans. What’s the point of being super prepared for a massive solar flare if you can’t handle a simple hurricane?

The most you should do in this regard is be thoughtful about where you live and what is more likely to happen around you.

Live in San Francisco? Then you should consider earthquake scenarios and maybe do some customizing in your prep once you’ve covered the 80-20 basics. Live in the deep country? You’re less likely to have emergency government services but more capable of finding fresh water.

You cannot predict what is going to happen, when, where you’ll be, or any of the circumstances. You might be grocery shopping in a snow storm or naked in a spa with a mud mask. Maybe you’re on a summer family vacation or on a winter ski trip. Daytime, nighttime, alone, with strangers, on a bus, drunk, your car is at the repair shop, or you’re at home with a broken leg. Who knows?

Another common mistake is about lengths of time. This is why we feel the more commonly marketed “72 hour bags” are flawed. Or why we disagree with preps that separate their bug out bags purely by time, where one bag has food but no ability to cook or hunt while another bag only has cooking and hunting tools but no quick food to eat.

The danger is that if you’re predicting you’ll only need a bag to support you for 72 hours, you’ll make different decisions about what to include (like food) and would be less prepared for longer situations.

It’s helpful to think about time but don’t be constrained by it. In future posts, you’ll see data breaking down the averages of how many days people needed to survive in various scenarios like nasty storms and civil breakdown.

Preps should be as simple, practical, and usable as possible

Our caveman brains function differently in a crisis. Some things get better, like our senses and ability to run. But other things get worse, like our memory or making rational decisions at the time we need those skills the most.

For those reasons and others (like not knowing what will happen), it’s important that your preps be practical and usable. In other words, the less you have to remember or figure out on the spot, the better things will go.

If your 10-year-old child had to use a piece of your gear even though they’ve never seen it before, would they be able to? What if they needed to hook up the generator? What if your arm is injured – are you able to apply that field tourniquet with one hand?

Common sense prepping rules for beginners
via North American Rescue, one of our favorite medical supply vendors

These practicality and usability considerations affect a lot of our product reviews and guides on The Prepared. Not just in terms of picking one product over another, but sometimes we avoid a skill or item altogether because it’s just too impractical for most people without specific training.

Decompression needles and esophageal tubes are a great example. They’re included in standard military IFAKs (Individual First Aid Kits), and soldiers get some training in their use. But for most people these tools are impractical enough and could cause harm if used wrongly, so we generally don’t recommend them.

Great preps are always ready

Our brain can only remember so much. This is why Steve Jobs would only ever cover three main points during his famous presentations. Add a high-adrenaline, fast-moving emergency to the mix and you have a recipe for not thinking clearly.

For that reason, and since we can’t predict what will happen, it’s important that your preps are always ready. This is easier said than done. Life gets in the way — maybe you started updating the batteries in your emergency kit but then forgot to finish and the pieces are now spread around.

Most people are working within a budget and almost everyone hates wasting money. So a common situation in prepping is something like “I want to have a bug out bag, but I already have a backpack for traveling, so I’ll just use that bag in case something goes wrong and I need to bug out.”

In most cases that kind of thinking will do you more harm than good. In the bug out scenario, even if the travel backpack is appropriate for bugging out, part of the value of a BOB is having it packed and ready to go, without worrying about where you left an item or where the bag is hidden.

Assuming you’ll have the presence of mind and enough time to put your BOB together at the very moment you need it is dangerous thinking.

Being practical, there of course may be times when it’s OK (or even good) to double dip. If you’re going out for a day hike and want to bring your water bottle with built in filtration, that’s fine. Grab it on the way out and put it right back in your BOB when you get home. There’s the added bonus of testing your gear so you know that it works, how it works, if it’s expiring soon, remembering where it is, etc. But the key is to be smart and disciplined about it.

Focus on high leverage building blocks

High leverage means that with a little bit of effort you get a lot of reward. It also means things that are easy to remember and use, or a simple product that does lots of things.

There are tons of clickbait webpages for preppers with titles like “18 ways you can use zip ties after SHTF” or “here’s how to you can build a wind generator with old bicycle parts.”

The wrong thing to do is try and remember those 18 ways to use a zip tie. If SHTF five years from now, you’re not going to be sitting on a log thinking “what was that 14th way to use the zip tie?”

The right thing to do is either skip the post entirely, or if you do read it, try to take one thing away from it that you can absorb into the back of your brain.

Maybe the real value is learning that zip ties are actually really strong and versatile, so they should be something you have in your gear and think about when solving problems ranging from how to handcuff someone to how to hang up a deer for skinning.

We do our part at The Prepared by putting extra time into crafting content that teaches those building blocks. It’s quick and easier (and cheaper) to just spit out lists of things that don’t actually teach.

Use the 80-20 Rule to your benefit

The 80-20 “Pareto” Rule is famous for very good reasons. This rule appears in places like nature, human society, and economics with a spooky level of frequency and accuracy. For example, 20% of people determine 80% of politics, or 20% of readers post 80% of the comments.

The 80-20 rule is a great framework for prepping. With a little bit of work you can get the majority of possible value. Simply having two weeks of supplies in your home and a bug out bag means you are better prepared to handle emergencies than 80% of the population.

To go from 80% prepared to 90% prepared takes a lot more work. You’ll be investing in solar power and water filtration for your home, years worth of supplies, classes on emergency field medicine, and so on. All of this is very worthwhile (and fun!), but it takes disproportionately more time and money.

It’s impossible to cover all your corners. You’ll always be able to imagine a scenario you aren’t fully prepared for, but you’ll lose your mind (and wallet) trying to be 100% done.

Don’t get caught up in micro-optimizing. As you Google around the prepper world, you’ll read 1,000 different opinions and end up more confused than when you started. The 80-20 framework helps you find the “good enough” answer, especially if you want to find it quickly.

For example, there’s a never-ending argument about which caliber ammo is best for a pistol in prepping. The “good enough” 80-20 answer is that .22 LR is too weak and .45 is too unwieldy and isn’t worth sacrificing capacity. Which leaves 9mm and .40 calibers.

To get beyond the 80-20 and choose between the 9 and 40, we start to dig into decades of field data from the FBI, ballistics gel tests, etc. (Which we are doing for a future post and we believe the answer is 9mm.)

As you go deeper into prepper land, keep in mind that just because people are debating something doesn’t mean it’s actually a valid debate. When we see people debating something, whether it’s about prepping or climate change, our brains assume it’s a relevant and reasonable debate (“oh, this must still be an important and undecided issue!”) But it usually isn’t. Or the debate only matters to the 1% of people who are well beyond their 80-20 and need something to nitpick over.

Great preps are a mix of gear, supplies, skills, planning, community, and you

There are cliché stereotypes like “liberal preppers don’t have gear but know a lot about canning food” and “conservative preppers have lots of guns but don’t know how to give medical aid.”

Frankly, there’s some truth behind those stereotypes. Preppers can usually be divided into two camps. Those who rely on gear but have few skills versus those who have skills but dislike gear.

The correct answer is somewhere in-between. Overly depending on one element is inherently flawed because you are trying to predict the future by assuming that one thing is the “right” thing.

Gear is important. Skills are important. Physical and mental fitness is important. The ability to survive alone and help a community is important.

If you have a huge armory but don’t know how to cook raw food, you’re in trouble. If you have the best urban garden but can’t defend yourself against those who will take your food, you’re in trouble.

Invest in the best quality you can

We strongly believe the average person should spend more money on being prepared. In fact, we tried but failed to find solid data about how much average people are spending on prepping, today – which reinforces our personal experience that the answer is $0.

Budget is an understandable issue for many people. But the good news is that almost every budget level can prepare, especially to cover those 80-20 basics like two weeks of home supplies.

One of the toughest things we face when making recommendations is balancing quality versus cost.

Prepping is one of those areas where it’s very true that you get what you pay for. When it comes to things that will save your and your family’s lives, we think it’s better to “buy once, cry once” rather than trying to pinch pennies.

The difference between a $500 rifle and a $1,500 rifle could be that the higher quality one lasts for 10 years more than the cheaper one and won’t jam up in the field when you need it most. Since we’re planning for a wide range of scenarios and you may need that gun for the full eight seasons of The Walking Dead a long time, it’s better to invest in quality that lasts.

Whenever we can, we try to make our main recommendation and a backup “budget pick.” But sometimes we don’t include the budget pick if the budget options are such junk that you’d be wasting your money.

A good example is hand-held ham radios. The right pick for most people is about $65, and the “budget” ones that will fall apart are $20-$30. It’s not worth saving the $35 to get the junky one.

We personally tested one of the highest rated “budget” emergency radios available on Amazon. It has five stars because people buy it, try it once, it works, and they give a positive review. But we tested it after it sat on our shelf for three years and it was totally dead and unrepairable – thankfully we found out before we truly needed it.

Sometimes the opposite is true. For example, some of the common cooking gear we buy for our personal camping is the cheaper option at $20 rather than $80, because we want to really get it out in the field, beat it up, test it, learn it, and then replace it.

How much should you spend?

If you’re brand new to prepping, you should expect to spend a minimum of $800-$1,000 for yourself. A family of four could spend at least $2,500. Once you’ve spent that money, those basics would only cost about $50 per year to maintain.

It’s ALWAYS better to start preparing now, even if you only have $20. Buy the first thing, save up, repeat.

You don’t have to spend all that money at once. We explain the steps to get started prepping, including the order of priority. So you can buy the most important thing for $40, then save up, buy the second thing, repeat. It is always better to get started now, even if you only have $20.

If you’re debating whether it’s worth the money, step back and think about the money you spend on things like car insurance or homeowner’s insurance. Why spend $1,000 a year on flood insurance but not $1,000 on making sure your family survives the flood?

As you get more seriously into prepping, we think 1-2% of your income is a reasonable amount to spend per year as an insurance policy for your home and life. Obviously some things like getting your home off the power grid are large, upfront investments that pay off over 30 years.

Share your prep with loved ones and hide it from strangers

There’s an outdated belief that you have to be totally anonymous and hide your prepping from everyone.

We dig deeper into the historical reasons for this in our article on why you should share your prepping with your friends and recruit them to join your prepper group. Some of the main reasons are social stigma and “operational security.” Basically, you don’t want random starving people showing up at your doorstep in a crisis.

But we include some amount of “operational security” as part of the Sane Prepper Framework because the thinking has evolved and it influences many of our decisions.

You saw the earlier example about bug out bags and why obviously military looking bags or brightly colored bags were bad choices. If things are so bad that you only have one bag to support your life, you want it to blend in so you don’t attract attackers and can hide it when needed.

On the other hand, there are many examples where there is strength in numbers. Even if you ignore the selfless “love thy neighbor” social good aspect of prepping and are thinking purely selfishly (which is OK!), you benefit from bringing more people into your inner circle.

For example, your neighbors probably see you carrying a gun bag in and out of your car when you go to the shooting range. They see the solar panels on your roof and the garden in your yard. Through talking with you about daily stuff or things like politics, they can tell you’re a thoughtful person who understands the state of the world and “has their act together.”

So when SHTF, they’re probably going to come knocking on your door even if they had no idea you have a basement bunker with ten years of supplies.

You can make your own prep better by reducing the likelihood that people around you are going to screw up your plans or take away your supplies. Or you can help each other in case one of your things breaks.

The benefits of encouraging those close to you to prepare are much bigger than the risk that they exploit you in a crisis because you told them about prepping.

Data should (almost) always beat opinion

This might seem obvious, but it is sorely lacking in the traditional prepper crowd.

There’s a reason why the same questions and debates keep coming up again and again, and why there are 3.8 million google results for “best bug out bag.”

As prepping became a thing and people started their personal blogs and YouTube channels, it was mostly personal advice. “Here’s what I put in my bag, so you should too!” Which is a fine place to start, but it created so much noise that you just don’t know what the right answer is.

We’ve seen popular bloggers suggest things like canned soup for your bug out bag. Which is an awful, awful idea. But people read it, assume it’s correct, and move on.

The Prepared was founded on the value that we make recommendations based on the best research, data, experience, and expert advice possible. Some people say we’re obsessed, but we just want to find the right answers and share them with you.

Whether here or around the web, keep your scientist hat on and challenge what you read. Including us! If you disagree, question, or think we missed something, we always want to hear from you.

Prepping should not dominate your life or make it worse

The prepping community is a passionate and engaged bunch, which is part of why it’s really fun.

But there’s a common problem with so much passion – sometimes people get so sucked into preparedness that it can dominate their life and money, or they let the fear grow so much that they stop enjoying the life they have today.

There is a balance between enjoying life today versus preparing for when things fall apart.

We were once asked, “by getting prepared, aren’t you admitting defeat at a time when we most need great people to lean in and help solve these problems before they happen?” An excellent question, but preparedness and problem-solving aren’t mutually exclusive.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. You can and should still do what you can to improve your world, but also hedging your bets with a backup plan is not hypocritical. It’s smart.

Spend a reasonable amount of time, money, and energy on prepping. The Prepared tries to help you by publishing fewer, higher impact articles. Not the normal daily blog spam you find elsewhere. Our articles are up to 10 times longer than an average blog post but will save you a lot of time in the long run.

Not sure why you should get prepared?

Here’s one list of major reasons everyone should prepare and the evidence supporting them.

Ready to get started?

Check out our beginners 101 guide to prepping.

You can submit private feedback to