I often get e-mails from folks that have just found SurvivalBlog or that have just finished a copy of my my novel , that they received as a gift from a relative or a friend. Their response is surprisingly uniform: People feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what it takes to get a family prepared.
First, take a deep breath and relax. Just realizing that you need to get prepared has already put you ahead of 70% of your neighbors, who are sadly little more than clueless sheeple. If you accumulate a one-month food supply then elevates your preparedness into the 80th percentile of preparedness. And by the time you work your way up to a one year supply, you’ll be in the 98th percentile. It’s not very difficult, its not very expensive, and its not very time-consuming. Just do it one step at a time.
First Things First
Before you begin to prepare, pray. As a Christian, I put my trust in God’s guidance, providence, and protection. You can and should do the same. (See my Prayer page.)
Read my Precepts page, to see the basics of what it means to be a modern day rational survivalist.
Now you are ready to embark on an adventure that will result in not only greater logistical preparedness, but also in learning valuable skills that you can use throughout your life. These skills will build your self-confidence and when combined with acquiring the requisite tools, you’ll develop genuine self-reliance–regardless of the adversities that you might someday face. By being well-prepared and well-trained, you’ll also be in a position to share your skills and some of your extra supplies with less prudent relatives, neighbors, and friends. (Charity is is one of the bywords of SurvivalBlog.)
Start with a “List of Lists”
As I described in my novel , you should start your family preparedness stocking effort by first composing a List of Lists, then draft prioritized lists for each subject, on separate sheets of paper. (Or use our free spreadsheet if you are a techno-nerd like me.) Just be sure to print out a hard copy for use when the power grid goes down!) It is important to tailor your lists to suit your particular geography, climate, and population density as well as your peculiar needs and likes/dislikes. Someone setting up a retreat in a coastal area is likely to have a far different list than someone living in the Rockies.
Your List of Lists should include: (Sorry that this post is in outline form, but it would take a full length book to discus all of the following in great detail)
Food Storage List
Food Preparation List
First Aid /Minor Surgery List
Nuke Defense List
Biological Warfare Defense List
Hygiene List/Sanitation List
Tactical Living List
Survival Bookshelf List
Barter and Charity List
JWR’s Specific Recommendations For Developing Your Lists:
House downspout conversion sheet metal work and barrels. (BTW, this is another good reason to upgrade your retreat to a fireproof metal roof.)
Drawing water from open sources. Buy extra containers. Don’t buy big barrels, since five gallon food grade buckets are the largest size that most people can handle without back strain.
For transporting water if and when gas is too precious to waste, buy a couple of heavy duty two wheel garden carts–convert the wheels to foam filled “no flats” tires. (BTW, you will find lots of other uses for those carts around your retreat, such as hauling hay, firewood, manure, fertilizer, et cetera.)
Treating water. Buy plain Clorox hypochlorite bleach. A little goes a long way. Buy some extra half-gallon bottles for barter and charity. If you can afford it, buy a “Big Berkey” British Berkefeld ceramic water filter. (Available from and several other Internet vendors. Even if you have pure spring water at your retreat, you never know where you may end up, and a good filter could be a lifesaver.)
Food Storage List
Store the essentials, in quantity:
Salt: Salt is very important to store, both for preserving food and as a practical means to attract wild game. (It is noteworthy that in many locales, natural salt licks are off-limits to hunters, since hunting there is too easy and hence not considered sporting. That ought to tell you something.) I recommend that you store several times more salt than you think that you’ll ever need.
Unless you literally live next to a salt lick or salt marsh, I cannot overemphasize the importance of storing salt. The Memsahib and I formerly lived in the Upper Clearwater River Valley in Idaho. In that region, deer and elk would walk many, many miles to get to natural salt licks where they would congregate in large numbers. Salt is cheap and plentiful now, but in the event of TEOTWAWKI it will be a scarce and valuable commodity in most inland regions. Salt also has a virtually unlimited shelf life. Do some research on natural salt deposits near your intended retreat. That could be quite valuable knowledge in the event of TEOTWAWKI.
Lay in a supply of 10 pounds of salt per member of your family. (This figure may sound high, but again it includes extra for attracting wild game.) The portion for cooking and table salt should be iodized.
Rice:I prefer brown rice, even though its storage life is shorter that that of white rice. The combined weight should be about 30 pounds per adult, per year. Storage life is +/- 8 years.
Wheat (or substitute grains, for celiacs): Grain storage is a crucial aspect of family preparedness. Grain will soon no longer be cheap or plentiful, so stock up! Buy 220 pounds per adult, per year. (Part of this can be in the form of pasta.) Storage life is 30+ years. Buy plenty for your family and your livestock. I also recommend buying plenty of extra for barter and charity. You’ll soon be glad that you did.
I do not recommend storing flour, since it only keeps for two or three years. Whole wheat stores for 30+ years with 80% or more of its nutritional value. Buy whole grains and a hand wheat grinder.
Don’t overlook the easiest preparation method of all: soaked wheat berries. By simply soaking whole wheat for 24 to 36 hours, it plumps and softens. When then heated, wheat berries make a nutritious breakfast cereal.
Corn: Whole corn stores much longer than cracked corn or corn meal. (Grind your own.) Get 50 pounds per adult, per year. The storage life of whole corn is 8 to 12 years, but cracked or ground corn stores only 18 to 36 months
Oats: Lay in a supply of 20 pounds per adult, per year. The storage life of oats is 3 to 7 years, depending on variety and packing method.
Fats and Oils: I recommend storing primarily olive oil (frozen, in plastic bottles), mayonnaise, canned butter, and peanut butter. The combined weight of these should be about 96 pounds per adult, per year. (Four gallons is about 24 pounds.) The canned products must be continuously rotated, or else donated to charity bi-annually. The frozen oil should be rotated or else donated to charity once every four years.
Powdered Milk: Buy the nonfat variety. Store about 20 pounds per adult, per year. For the longest storage life, it is best to buy nitrogen packed dry milk from a storage food vendor. That type has a 5+ year shelf life.
Canned Fruit and Vegetables: It is most economical (and good practice) to can your own. As long as you rotate continuously, you should lay in a two year supply per family member.
Canned Meats: Again, you must rotate continuously, and don’t store more than you would use in two years. I like the DAK brand canned hams.
Sugars: I prefer honey (except of course for infants), but depending on your taste, you will also want to lay in a supply of sugar, molasses, sorghum, maple syrup, and various jams and jellies. The combined weight of these should be about 50 pounds per adult, per year.
Other important items for your food storage:
– Canning lids and rings—buy plenty of extras for barter.
– Sulfur for drying fruit.
– Vinegar-Buy a couple of cases of one-gallon bottles.
– Baking soda.
– Food storage (freezer and vacuum) bags.
– Aluminum foil (Buy lots! 101 uses, including making improvised solar ovens.)
– Deer bags.
Food Preparation List
Having more people under your roof will necessitate having an oversize skillet and a huge stew pot. BTW, you will want to buy several huge kettles, because odds are you will have to heat water on your wood stove for bathing, dish washing, and clothes washing. You will also need even more kettles, barrels, and 5 or 6 gallon PVC buckets–for water hauling, rendering, soap making, and dying. They will also make great barter or charity items. (To quote my mentor Dr. Gary North: “Nails: buy a barrel of them. Barrels: Buy a barrel of them!”)
Don’t overlook skinning knives, gut-buckets, gambrels, and meat saws.
(Make a separate personal list for each family member and individual expected to arrive at your retreat.)
Prescription and nonprescription medications.
Keep dentistry up to date.
Any elective surgery that you’ve been postponing
Work off that gut.
Stay in shape.
Back strength and health—particularly important, given the heavy manual tasks required for self-sufficiency.
Educate yourself on survival topics, and practice them. For example, even if you don’t presently live at your retreat, you should plant a vegetable garden every year. It is better to learn through experience and make mistakes now, when the loss of crop is an annoyance rather than a crucial event.
“Comfort” items to help get through high stress times. (Books, games, CDs, chocolates, etc.)
First Aid /Minor Surgery List
When tailoring this list, consider your neighborhood going for many months without power, extensive use of open flames, and sentries standing picket shifts exposed in the elements. Then consider axes, chainsaws and tractors being wielded by newbies, and a greater likelihood of gunshot wounds. With all of this, add the possibility of no access to doctors or high tech medical diagnostic equipment. Put a strong emphasis on burn treatment first aid supplies. Don’t overlook do-it-yourself dentistry! (Oil of cloves, temporary filling kit, extraction tools, et cetera.) Buy a full minor surgery outfit (inexpensive Pakistani stainless steel instruments), even if you don’t know how to use them all yet. You may have to learn, or you will have the opportunity to put them in the hands of someone experienced who needs them.) This is going to be a big list!
Chem/Nuke Defense List
Dosimeter and rate meter, and charger, radiac meter (hand held Geiger counter), rolls of sheet plastic (for isolating airflow to air filter inlets and for covering window frames in the event that windows are broken due to blast effects), duct tape, HEPA filters (ands spares) for your shelter. Potassium iodate (KI) tablets to prevent thyroid damage.(See my recent post on that subject.) Outdoor shower rig for just outside your shelter entrance.
Biological Warfare Defense List
Colloidal silver generator and spare supplies (distilled water and .999 fine silver rod.)
Natural antibiotics (Echinacea, Tea Tree oil, …)
One important item for your gardening list is the construction of a very tall deer-proof and rabbit-proof fence. Under current circumstances, a raid by deer on your garden is probably just an inconvenience. After the balloon goes up, it could mean the difference between eating well, and starvation.
Tools+ spares for barter/charity
Long-term storage non hybrid (open pollinated) seed. (Non-hybrid “heirloom” seed assortments tailors to different climate zones are available from
Herbs: Get started with medicinal herbs such as aloe vera (for burns), echinacea (purple cone flower), valerian, et cetera.
Sacks of powdered lime for the outhouse. Buy plenty!
TP in quantity (Stores well if kept dry and away from vermin and it is lightweight, but it is very bulky. This is a good item to store in the attic. See my novel about stocking up on used phone books for use as TP.
Soap in quantity (hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap, cleansers, etc.)
Bottled lye for soap making.
Toothpaste (or powder).
Fluoride rinse. (Unless you have health objections to the use of fluoride.)
Hoof rasp, hoof nippers, hoof pick, horse brushes, hand sheep shears, styptic, carding combs, goat milking stand, teat dip, udder wash, Bag Balm, elastrator and bands, SWOT fly repellent, nail clippers (various sizes), Copper-tox, leads, leashes, collars, halters, hay hooks, hay fork, manure shovel, feed buckets, bulk grain and C-O-B sweet feed (store in galvanized trash cans with tight fitting lids to keep the mice out), various tack and saddles, tack repair tools, et cetera. If your region has selenium deficient soil (ask your local Agricultural extension office) then be sure to get selenium-fortified salt blocks rather than plain white salt blocks–at least for those that you are going to set aside strictly for your livestock.
“Buckshot” Bruce Hemming has produced an excellent series of videos on trapping and making improvised traps. (He also sells traps and scents at very reasonable prices.)
Night vision gear, spares, maintenance, and battery charging
Salt. Post-TEOTWAWKI, don’t “go hunting.” That would be a waste of effort. Have the game come to you. Buy 20 or more salt blocks. They will also make very valuable barter items.
Sell your fly fishing gear (all but perhaps a few flies) and buy practical spin casting equipment.
Extra tackle may be useful for barter, but probably only in a very long term Crunch.
Buy some frog gigs if you have bullfrogs in your area. Buy some crawfish traps if you have crawfish in your area.
Learn how to rig trot lines and make fish traps for non-labor intensive fishing WTSHTF.
One proviso: In the event of a “grid down” situation, if you are the only family in the area with power, it could turn your house into a “come loot me” beacon at night. At the same time, your house lighting will ruin the night vision of your LP/OP pickets. Make plans and buy materials in advance for making blackout screens or fully opaque curtains for your windows.
When possible, buy nickel metal hydride batteries. (Unlike the older nickel cadmium technology, these have no adverse charge level “memory” effect.)
If your home has propane appliances, get a “tri-fuel” generator–with a carburetor that is selectable between gasoline, propane, and natural gas. If you heat your home with home heating oil, then get a diesel-burning generator. (And plan on getting at least one diesel burning pickup and/or tractor). In a pinch, you can run your diesel generator and diesel vehicles on home heating oil.
Kerosene lamps; plenty of extra wicks, mantles, and chimneys. (These will also make great barter items.)
Greater detail on do-it-yourself power will be included in my forthcoming blog posts.
Buy the biggest propane, home heating oil, gas, or diesel tanks that your local ordinances permit and that you can afford. Always keep them at least two-thirds full. For privacy concerns, ballistic impact concerns, and fire concerns, underground tanks are best if your local water table allows it. In any case, do not buy an aboveground fuel tank that would visible from any public road or navigable waterway. Buy plenty of extra fuel for barter. Don’t overlook buying plenty of kerosene. (For barter, you will want some in one or two gallon cans.) Stock up on firewood or coal. (See my previous blog posts.) Get the best quality chainsaw you can afford. I prefer Stihls and Husqvarnas. If you can afford it, buy two of the same model. Buy extra chains, critical spare parts, and plenty of two-cycle oil. (Two-cycle oil will be great for barter!) Get a pair of Kevlar chainsaw safety chaps. They are expensive but they might save yourself a trip to the emergency room. Always wear gloves, goggles, and ear-muffs. Wear a logger’s helmet when felling. Have someone who is well experienced teach you how to re-sharpen chains. BTW, don’t cut up your wood into rounds near any rocks or you will destroy a chain in a hurry.
Now that you have all of those flammables on hand (see the previous list) and the prospect of looters shooting tracer ammo or throwing Molotov cocktails at your house, think in terms of fire fighting from start to finish without the aid of a fire department. Even without looters to consider, you should be ready for uncontrolled brush or residential fires, as well as the greater fire risk associated with greenhorns who have just arrived at your retreat working with wood stoves and kerosene lamps!
Upgrade your retreat with a fireproof metal roof.
2” water line from your gravity-fed storage tank (to provide large water volume for firefighting)
Fire fighting rig with an adjustable stream/mist head.
Smoke and CO detectors.
Tactical Living List
Adjust your wardrobe buying toward sturdy earth-tone clothing. (Frequent your local thrift store and buy extras for retreat newcomers, charity, and barter.)
Dyes. Stock up on some boxes of green and brown cloth dye. Buy some extra for barter. With dye, you can turn most light colored clothes into semi-tactical clothing on short notice.
Two-inch wide burlap strip material in green and brown. This burlap is available in large spools from Gun Parts Corp. Even if you don’t have time now, stock up so that you can make camouflage ghillie suits post-TEOTWAWKI.
Save those wine corks! (Burned cork makes quick and cheap face camouflage.)
Cold weather and foul weather gear—buy plenty, since you will be doing more outdoor chores, hunting, and standing guard duty.
Don’t overlook ponchos and gaiters.
Synthetic double-bag (modular) sleeping bags for each person at the retreat, plus a couple of spares. The Flexible Temperature Range Sleep System (FTRSS) made by Wiggy’s of Grand Junction, Colorado is highly recommended.
Night vision gear + IR floodlights for your retreat house
Subdued flashlights and penlights.
Noise, light, and litter discipline. (More on this in future posts–or perhaps a reader would like to send a brief article on this subject)
Security-General: Locks, intrusion detection/alarm systems, exterior obstacles (fences, gates, 5/8” diameter (or larger) locking road cables, rosebush plantings, “decorative” ponds (moats), ballistic protection (personal and residential), anti-vehicular ditches/berms, anti-vehicular concrete “planter boxes”, razor wire, etc.)
Starlight electronic light amplification scopes are critical tools for retreat security.
A Starlight scope (or goggles, or a monocular) literally amplifies low ambient light by up to 100,000 times, turning nighttime darkness into daylight–albeit a green and fuzzy view. Starlight light amplification technology was first developed during the Vietnam War. Late issue Third Generation (also called or “Third Gen” or “Gen 3”) starlight scopes can cost up to $3,500 each. Rebuilt first gen (early 1970s technology scopes can often be had for as little as $500. Russian-made monoculars (with lousy optics) can be had for under $100. One Russian model that uses a piezoelectric generator instead of batteries is the best of this low-cost breed. These are best used as backups (in case your expensive American made scopes fail. They should not be purchased for use as your primary night vision devices unless you are on a very restrictive budget. (They are better than nothing.) Buy the best starlight scopes, goggles, and monoculars you can afford. They may be life-savers! If you can afford to buy only one, make it a weapon sight such as an AN/PVS-4, with a Gen 2 (or better) tube. Make sure to specify that that the tube is new or “low hours”, has a high “line pair” count, and minimal scintillation. It is important to buy your Starlight gear from a reputable dealer. The market is crowded with rip-off artists and scammers. One dealer that I trust, is Al Glanze (spoken “Glan-zee”) who runs in Silver City, Nevada. Note: In a subsequent blog posts I will discuss the relationship and implications to IR illuminators and tritium sights.
Range cards and sector sketches.
If you live in the boonies, piece together nine of the USGS 15-minute maps, with your retreat property on the center map. Mount that map on an oversize map board. Draw in the property lines and owner names of all of your surrounding neighbor’s parcels (in pencil) in at least a five mile radius. (Get boundary line and current owner name info from your County Recorder’s office.) Study and memorize both the terrain and the neighbors’ names. Make a phone number/e-mail list that corresponds to all of the names marked on the map, plus city and county office contact numbers for quick reference and tack it up right next to the map board. Cover the whole map sheet with a sheet of heavy-duty acetate, so you can mark it up just like a military commander’s map board. (This may sound a bit “over the top”, but remember, you are planning for the worst case. It will also help you get to know your neighbors: When you are introduced by name to one of them when in town, you will be able to say, “Oh, don’t you live about two miles up the road between the Jones place and the Smith’s ranch?” They will be impressed, and you will seem like an instant “old timer.”
Guns, ammunition, web gear, eye and ear protection, cleaning equipment, carrying cases, scopes, magazines, spare parts, gunsmithing tools, targets and target frames, et cetera. Each rifle and pistol should have at least six top quality (original military contract or original manufacturer) full capacity spare magazines. Note: Considerable detail on firearms and optics selection, training, use, and logistic support are covered in the SurvivalBlog archives and FAQs.
When selecting radios buy only models that will run on 12 volt DC power or rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery packs (that can be recharged from your retreat’s 12 VDC power system without having to use an inverter.)
As a secondary purchasing goal, buy spare radios of each type if you can afford them. Keep your spares in sealed metal boxes to protect them from EMP.
If you live in a far inland region, I recommend buying two or more 12 VDC marine band radios. These frequencies will probably not be monitored in your region, leaving you an essentially private band to use. (But never assume that any two-way radio communications are secure!)
Note: More detail on survival communications gear selection, training, use, security/cryptography measures, antennas, EMP protection, and logistical support will be covered in forthcoming blog posts.
Auto mechanics tools.
Bolt cutters–the indispensable “universal key.”
Emphasis on hand powered tools.
Hand or treadle powered grinding wheel.
Don’t forget to buy plenty of extra work gloves (in earth tone colors).
Systematically list the things that you use on a regular basis, or that you might need if the local hardware store were to ever disappear: wire of various gauges, duct tape, reinforced strapping tape, chain, nails, nuts and bolts, weather stripping, abrasives, twine, white glue, cyanoacrylate glue, et cetera.
You should probably have nearly every book on my Bookshelf page. For some, you will want to have two or three copies, such as Carla Emery’s “Encyclopedia of Country Living“. This is because these books are so valuable and indispensable that you won’t want to risk lending out your only copy.
Barter and Charity List
For your barter list, acquire primarily items that are durable, non-perishable, and either in small packages or that are easily divisible. Concentrate on the items that other people are likely to overlook or have in short supply. Some of my favorites are ammunition. [The late] Jeff Cooper referred to it as “ballistic wampum.” WTSHTF, ammo will be worth nearly its weight in silver. Store all of your ammo in military surplus ammo cans (with seals that are still soft) and it will store for decades. Stick to common calibers, get plenty of .22 LR (most high velocity hollow points) plus at least ten boxes of the local favorite deer hunting cartridge, even if you don’t own a rifle chambered for this cartridge. (Ask your local sporting goods shop about their top selling chamberings). Also buy at least ten boxes of the local police department’s standard pistol cartridge, again even if you don’t own a pistol chambered for this cartridge.
Salt (Buy lots of cattle blocks and 1 pound canisters of iodized table salt.)
(Stores indefinitely if kept dry.)
Two cycle engine oil (for chain saw gas mixing. Gas may still be available after a collapse, but two-cycle oil will probably be like liquid gold!)
Diesel antibacterial additive.
50-pound sacks of lime (for outhouses).
1 oz. bottles of military rifle bore cleaner and Break Free (or similar) lubricant.
Waterproof dufflebags in earth tone colors (whitewater rafting “dry bags”).
Semi-waterproof matches (from military rations.)
Military web gear (lots of folks will suddenly need pistol belts, holsters, magazine pouches, et cetera.)
Pre-1965 silver dimes.
1-gallon cans of kerosene.
Rolls of olive drab parachute cord.
Rolls of olive-drab duct tape.
Spools of monofilament fishing line.
Rolls of 10 mil “Visqueen”, sheet plastic (for replacing windows, isolating airspaces for nuke scenarios, etc.)
I also respect the opinion of one gentleman with whom I’ve corresponded, who recommended the following:
Strike anywhere matches. (Dip the heads in paraffin to make them waterproof.)
Cooking spices. (Do a web search for reasonably priced bulk spices.)
Rope & string.
Candle wax and wicking.
Lastly, any supplies necessary for operating a home-based business. Some that you might consider are: leather crafting, small appliance repair, gun repair, locksmithing, et cetera. Every family should have at least one home-based business (preferably two!) that they can depend on in the event of an economic collapse.
Stock up on additional items to dispense to refugees as charity.
Note: See the Barter Faire chapter in my novel for some lengthy lists of potential barter items.
Where to Buy
Many of the items on the preceding lists are available locally. Some of the more exotic items are available from SurvivalBlog’s advertisers. (They would appreciate your patronage. BTW, please mention SurvivalBlog when you contact them.)
If you want to stock up on a large quantity of food and supplies all at once at low cost, then download a copy of my inexpensive which focuses on buying storage food and household consumables at “Big Box” stores such as Sam’s Club and COSTCO. The course binder has several very useful appendices including one that details the shelf lives of various foods, depending on packaging.
Don’t Overlook Searching the Archives
Many of the questions that I get in e-mails are repetitious. Most of these questions are covered in my FAQs, especially . Read that first. Also be sure to take full advantage of the SurvivalBlog Archives. All of the more than 30,000 articles and letters posted since late 2005 are in a fully searchable database, that can be accessed with the “Search” window at the top of the right-hand bar on the SurvivalBlog main page. You can use “and” as a modifier, to get the right responses. For example, to find out how to use five gallon food grade plastic buckets and mylar liners to store grain at home, you could type in: “Bucket AND Mylar AND Wheat” in the Search box, and it would return this list of SurvivalBlog posts. Becuase of an unresolved database glitch, you might get an error on the first try, depending on your browser. Just try to run the same search again. That usually works.
This information is all in the Archives, and it is all free of charge (but copyrighted). Take advantage of it! (For those that want to be able to access the archives even if the Internet is not available, a CD-ROM is available.)
The TEOTWAWKI Weekend Experiment
As I often mention in my lectures and radio interviews, a great way to create truly commonsense preparedness lists is to take a three-day weekend TEOTWAWKI Weekend Experiment” with your family. When you come home from work on Friday evening, turn off your main circuit breaker, turn off your gas main (or propane tank), and shut your main water valve (or turn off your well pump.) Spend that weekend in primitive conditions. Practice using only your storage food, preparing it on a wood stove (or camping stove.)
A “TEOTWAWKI Weekend Experiment” will surprise you. Things that you take for granted will suddenly become labor intensive. False assumptions will be shattered. Your family will grow closer and more confident. Most importantly, some of the most thorough lists that you will ever make will be those written by candlelight.
The Ultimate in Preparedness–A Rural Retreat
The ultimate in family preparedness is having a well-stocked rural retreat with a plentiful water supply, located in a lightly-populated agricultural area that is well-removed from major population centers. Less than 1% of the population has a dedicated survival retreat. It is an expensive proposition, but it can be a practical alternative that can double as a vacation home or as a place to retire. (For any readers that have the flexibility, I recommend relocating and living at your retreat year-round.) Rural retreats have been discussed at length in SurvivalBlog. I have a lot of good general information on the criteria for selecting a retreat locale available for free access in my Recommended Retreat Areas web page. For even greater detail, see my nonfiction book .