Updated: Dec 23, 2021
I have been asked, several times actually, to brew up an all in 1 guide for the virgin prepper. In the past 2 years, with a pandemic, supply chain shock, food supplies becoming unstable, infrastructure and utilities becoming unstable, and civil unrest, a LOT of people have suddenly started asking the crazies in their life how to start prepping. What follows here is in no way, shape, or form an all inclusive how to (that would take an encyclopedia) but more of a primer to get the new prepper moving in the right direction. The most basic needs of a person are shelter, water, food, and security. The order can be a great subject of debate, and my preference is to bring all four of these categories up together.
Many people have heard of the "Rule of 3's" : A person can not survive for 3 minutes without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. While this is in some ways an oversimplification, it holds true enough to help prioritize our efforts. Shelter is a really simple topic if we're talking about bugging in (sheltering in one's home), and gets a little more complicated if we're discussing a bug out scenario. For the moment, assume you need to have some shelter that provides refuge from the local environment and a defensible position to keep looters and assailants from immediately accessing you and your supplies. Know up front if your survival is dependent on public utilities (water, electricity, gas, etc.) you're going to have a bit of a vulnerability I would advise you look into shoring up. At my home, I have helped mitigate some of these vulnerabilities with a backup generator, a solar charged battery backup, numerous smaller battery banks, propane tanks and a camp stove, a rainwater collection system....you get the point. I equipped my home, being my primary refuge, such that if we have a complete utility failure we have ways to sustain ourselves. If your plan is to bug out...I'll have to bully my cohost into writing a companion piece to this as that's more his end of the prepper spectrum.
Water is of vital importance, some would argue the most important. Outside of the obvious need for clean drinking water, and the disastrous consequences for NOT having it, water is important for hygiene and sanitation, an important cook ingredient, and the more extensive the disaster or event we're prepping for the greater the requirement will be for water to handle those varied needs. The general knowledge says a full grown adult needs a minimum one gallon of drinking water daily. In my experience overseas in desert environments, I can say if the weather is appropriate and if you're working hard you'll knock down 2-3 gallons a day. It's also worth pointing out if you have to wash hands or clothes, or flush out wounds, you're going to need even more. Having a non-potable bulk source helps to take the load off your potable water. Sources of drinking water can include bulk storage (IBC totes or smaller containers), a well (make sure you have a way to pump without power, or a backup power source, or both), or a freshwater source (if you're lucky enough to have a moving stream or river near your home, you're in good shape.) My personal strategy is a mix of bulk storage (recycled 2 liter coke bottles), a rainwater collection system, and a couple of water filtration systems of varying scale. It's worth me admitting, during Hurricane Ida, what I had planned for in terms of potable water for three people found itself woefully underprepared when we had five people come in from out of town to help us. Thankfully, we were able to use city water for non-potable needs, restricting our bulk water only for drinking....and coffee.
I'm of French/Cajun ancestry, so I take my food preps REALLY seriously. The internet prepper experts would have you believe preppers all eat MRE's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but the truth is I only have a couple cases. My wife and daughter are not going to tolerate that dietary choice too often, so my preps are a bit diversified. MRE's, and Mountain House largely cover my needs when I need something that can be packed and eaten with a minimum amount of external gear. I have a reasonably sized can rack with canned vegetables, a very well stocked pantry, several sealed buckets of dry goods, and a 7 cubic foot chest freezer of meat on top of the pantry and refrigerator. The general advice, and what I tell everyone, is you should largely be stocking what you actually eat. My preps are well equipped with beef and sausage, red beans and rice, lots of cheese, vegetables, all the sorts of things my family eats on a regular basis. That's why I only have a little bit of MRE's and freeze dried meals, it isn't a regular part of our diet. Do not make the mistake of heavily investing in food you don't eat, because it'll sit until it spoils. Also do not discount the emotional comfort in an emergency situation that can be found with a meal your tongue recognizes. Pack away a couple chocolate bars, or baking supplies, and you'll make a very happy family in a very dark time.
Security is the one area a lot of people would put at the front of this list, the justification being if you can't keep your preps you don't have preps. I won't take sides on that argument because honestly I agree with it to a degree, but I can tell you I've met a lot of people with enough guns and ammo to assault a small country that didn't have a week's worth of food in their homes. That sort of oversight is a completely folly, and one I would caution against. What I would posit is that to enhance your security you need enough weapons, and for goodness sakes the appropriate training, to secure your home and family against an attack. What sort of attack, against how many, those are variables you'll figure out by looking at your local area and figuring out what your likely to be threatened by. As a baseline, plan for a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle for each adult member of your household, three loaded magazines for each handgun and ten loaded magazines for each rifle, and a reasonable amount of excess ammo. Purchase enough ammo for training, I can not emphasize enough you will need it. While we're in the security realm, get some first aid training (trauma aid even better), and a reasonably well stocked medical bag. I have a couple of smaller kits in each vehicle, a blowout kit in my bedroom, and a literal entire cabinet full of gauze, coban, alcohol, splinting materials, and bandaids. If you think you might see it in an ER, you can purchase it yourself and keep it around the house.
This will probably end up turning into a series, so check back later, but after many requests to write some articles for the new preppers to give them a good primer, I'm finally getting off my butt and doing it. Prepping is a journey, not a destination. Whether you spend a hundred bucks every pay day or you drop a couple of grand right this second, you will find that eventually you'll scale back your preps, or move in different directions, but you never stop. There is no such thing as "prepared enough", there's only more prepared than we used to be and THAT is the important part. Don't get bogged down by looking at this far off goal, start today and work diligently and consistently. Cover your basics and prep for three days. Then prep for a week, then a month, then three months, and on and on. Most importantly, build your tribe and find the people you can lean on for advise and support. Develop the survival mindset, the grit you need to push through adversity. Whatever you do, please start prepping today before life deals us our next emergency.