Survival and Emergency Preparedness
In this Article
History has shown that nothing lasts forever. Calm periods have always without exception been punctuated by natural upheavals and man-made disruptions that turn things upside down. Our medical, police, and utility services can only handle things as they are during normal times. When stretched by circumstances, they fall short.
Therefore, we must prep. We can’t help others from a position of weakness, so we must be strong and well-equipped. Prepping reduces suffering and prolongs our ability to do good in this world.
Preparedness spans the scale from quick and easy to hardcore and all-consuming. You take a gamble in what level to go with. Too little and you might painfully regret it one day. Too much and you will have spent time, money, and sacrificed spiritual harmony out of proportion to the risk. But something is better than nothing, which is why I advocate that everyone at least have the basics.
Everyone must be ready to survive bare minimum one week without power, internet, cell service, food, water, gasoline, medical, fire, or police service. One month is a more reasonable goal and would cover the most probable natural disasters. One year would take some serious investment. One decade would require a luxe bunker or well-defended homestead. The sweet spot is around 2-3 months. It all depends on the dangers unique to your region, so plan accordingly.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take much time or effort to get the bare basics, and no skill or training is required for that level of preparedness. The simplest and cheapest anyone can do for short term disruptions (wildfire, hurricane, storms, power outage):
- several cases of bottled water
- canned and ready-to-eat foods with decent shelf life
- cash in small bills, enough for food, gas, and motel covering 2-3 days of travel
- extra toiletries and hygiene supplies, meds, and everyday household items
- low-cost LED headlamp with some extra batteries
- N95 or better dust mask and eye protection
- Papers, valuables, and road atlas gathered and ready
That’s good enough for up to a week and light enough to quickly load into your vehicle if necessary. You can get all these things in one day, put it away in your closet, and go on with your life.
For longer situations (weeks to months) these and more would be necessary, not only in terms of supplies but also skill and fitness.
Regarding supplies, basic needs in order of urgency: water, food, medical, shelter, energy/lighting, defense, and tools. Some suggestions with links to Amazon:
Portable water filter like the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System, cases of bottled water in clear containers, water purification tablets, collapsible water bags, 100 gallon water bag for bathtub or line your bathtub with a plastic drop cloth and fill if you know a disaster is about to happen.
If there is only one item to get, it is a high quality portable water filter (followed by a respirator mask, see below). While bottled water gets you through the initial phase, you simply can’t store or carry enough water to last you longer than that. Serious water storage, if one has the space, would involve 55 gallon drums or IBC totes.
Therefore, a water filter is essential regardless. I cannot stress this enough because water is the first and most essential thing to go after any disaster, and portable filters are so compact yet good for hundreds to thousands of gallons. That Sawyer water filter uses new technology that makes it 5x more affordable than previous filters, and you can even let gravity do the work by using two collapsible water bags (top for dirty water, bottom for clean) with an adapter. To collect rain water, you can use an angled tarp suspended by paracord to channel water into a large container, or get a rain barrel connected to a gutter spout.
Considering what people spend on car insurance, life insurance, health insurance, etc. it would be foolish to not have some emergency food stored.
Foods vary in shelf life. Short-life foods like energy bars, dried fruits and nuts, crackers and cereal require no preparation to eat and are quick and convenient, but only last 1-2 years. Medium shelf-life foods like canned and jarred products are better but heavy and still require rotating through them every 2-4 years. Long term foods like rice, pasta, beans, and freeze-dried or canned dry foods are either bland or expensive but can last 10-30 years. Ideally, you would have a mix of all three. Here are some options:
Mountain House freeze dried meal pouches or cans for long term food storage. The most costly option, but best in terms of shelf life (up to 30 years), weight, and taste. Compared to throwing out canned foods every few years that you didn’t manage to rotate through, it may save money in the long term. In terms of preparedness, it’s a better investment than gold and silver.
Alternatively or additionally, buy cases of canned dry foods from the Mormons. The most cost-effective long-term option. Mormons are required by their religion to be preppers and offer good value for these.
Rice is overall the cheapest bulk calorie source and can augment other stored foods. Grab 10lb, 20lb, or 50lb bags at the grocery store and seal them airtight. Dry beans, peas, pasta, and lentils are other bulk staple foods to consider adding. Asian grocery stores sell large bags of rice way cheaper than other places especially organic / health food stores. Just note that rice may contain weevil eggs that hatch in storage unless the rice is first frozen for 24 hours; put in zip lock bags and freeze for a day then let return to room temperature, make sure it’s dry, and store in sealed buckets or storage containers. Only instant and parboiled/converted rice doesn’t have this problem (since it’s pre-cooked before being dehydrated).
Bulk protein: cheapest/easiest is 5lb containers of whey protein. 2 year shelf life, so rotate through it as needed. Without enough protein your strength, immune system, and emotional well-being take a hit. Mountain House freeze-dried chicken and beef in #10 cans are also good if you can afford it. Powdered eggs likewise. Otherwise: canned meats like chicken, tuna, salmon, sardines, or peanut butter.
Rice and peanut butter are two bulk foods that can be supplemented by canned and jarred foods. Peanut butter from bulk discount outlet stores is one of the most affordable sources of calories, fat, and protein. Not the healthiest form of fat, and shelf life is about 3-5 years max, but for those on a budget prepping for emergencies coming within 3-5 years, it will keep you alive and has more to offer nutritionally than rice. You can also be in keto and survive off peanut butter for a while. (Vitamin C powder or a multivitamin would still be needed).
For short term (use within 1-2 years) : granola bars, protein bars, instant rice, instant mashed potatoes, oatmeal, Flora brand Italian toasts, saltine crackers, canned beans, canned or jarred fruits and vegetables, canned/pouched meat, powdered eggs, powdered milk, salt and honey, pasta and jarred pasta sauces, olive oil, canned butter, vitamins (especially Vitamin B and C, keep them fresh in the freezer if desired).
Military meal packs (MREs) are fine but only have a 2-3 year shelf life and are not always sold fresh. They’re more of a novel convenience.
Fats are really important. Fat deficiency leads to autoimmune and nervous system disorders. Freeze dried and dry canned goods tend to lack fat. But storing fats and oils is challenging due to spoilage, which is accelerated by light, heat, and oxygen. Unopened olive oil lasts 2 years at room temperature, maybe 5 years refrigerated. Coconut oil is good for 5 years and has antiviral properties, but lacks certain important fatty acids (linoleic and oleic). Canned butter lasts 10 years. A mix of these is recommended.
For cooking, most convenient for short term use: Esbit folding stove and fuel or Coleman propane stove. To use wood as fuel, which is great for long term if you’re on foot, a biofuel stove works but takes longer to light and smoke disallows indoor use.
For month+ emergency preparations, I generally recommend an alcohol stove and quart-sized canisters of denatured alcohol (found in the paint thinner section of hardware stores, and is also known as marine stove fuel) because you can stockpile gallons of fuel for months of smoke-free cooking; an ounce of alcohol boils 2 cups of water. The alcohol stove is an easy and cost-effective setup for home or in between travel-by-car. Propane canisters and stoves are fine too if you have the room for them.
Gardening, aquaponics, and homesteading offer a renewable food supply but take quite a bit of land, time, money, effort, and skills to get right. Disease, predators, or unfavorable weather can wipe out a harvest in short time. Preserving harvested food is another challenge. Security complicates things too, especially during the most dangerous phase of a grid-down situation when it’s wiser to stay inside. That’s why stored food and water are necessary regardless.
Or make your own kit: anti-bacterial ointment (most important), anti-fungal ointment, cortisone cream, anti-diarrheal, laxative, SAM splints for sprains and breaks, assorted band-aids, buffered aspirin, vaseline, rubbing alcohol, iodine liquid, medical tape, gauze rolls, elastic bandage wrap, wound dressing pads, butterfly sutures, superglue for cuts, burn gel or burn pad, moleskin for blisters, bandage scissors, tweezers, latex-free gloves, plastic syringe for wound washing, Bic lighter, sturdy drinking straws, Gold Bond medicated powder, scissors, digital thermometer. Additional anti-microbials: oregano oil and colloidal silver.
For dealing with deep gashes, stabbing wounds, or gunshot wounds, you would need a trauma kit. SOFTT Wide tourniquet, OLAES compression bandage, trauma scissors, nasophyringial airways, chest decompression needle, HALO chest seals. Some of these require medical training to use and are mostly meant to stabilize someone long enough to get to a hospital. Without a hospital, these will prolong life but not guarantee survival.
First aid and trauma kits cover two extremes. One is for minor issues, the other for catastrophic issues. If you want to be properly prepared, you’d also need to cover the realm between these two extremes, the realm of general medicine that’s familiar to doctors and nurses but not so much those outside the medical field. They understand the necessity and use of prescription-strength painkillers, antibiotics, IV fluids, and other specialized drugs and equipment. To get a basic grounding on that, including a list of what drugs to get (which can be bought online without a prescription if you look around), please read The Prepper’s Medical Handbook as it gives a more realistic picture of what’s required for general coverage than simple First Aid.
Energy / Lighting
Storms can knock out power for 2-3 days. Severe storms, 1-2 weeks especially in rural areas. Major hurricanes and tornadoes with widespread devastation, 1-3 months. The problem now is that due to the pandemic, supply chain shortages of transformers, breakers, and cables are hitting power companies hard. They can’t fix things as quickly as before, if at all. Other threats include cyber attack, oil crisis, credit crunch, or war with China that blocks shipping lanes from Asia. The future of centralized electric power is on thin ice. Brown-outs, black outs, and rolling black-outs will be more common.
For emergencies up to a week long, simply get a USB portable battery bank. The battery bank is charged via USB (hence solar panel, 12V car charger, computer, or home wall adapter) and can then provide power anywhere and anytime to recharge phones, tablets, radios, headlamps, batteries, etc. anything that can be charged via USB. The higher the capacity, the better. There are also much heavier duty portable battery banks like this portable power station and 100W solar panel, for running small AC powered devices like laptops, radios, lamps, etc.
USB devices can be charged by solar power. If you have two battery banks, you can charge one while using the other. The results of solar USB chargers may be disappointing, however, if you trust the advertised power rating (in watts) of the panel. Manufacturers test them at the most intense direct sunlight, if not lying outright. So the rule of thumb is to go overkill with the advertised watts. An iPad charges at 5V 2A which is 10 watts, but a solar panel rated at 10 watts will not be enough; 30-50 watts is more in line with what people imagine solar power should be for that application.
In terms of solar technology, there are different kinds of panels:
- Polycrystaline: Old tech, heavy, inefficient, but cheap. Terrible in cloudy conditions, needs direct full sunlight. Appearance: large flakes of varying shades of blue amid a grid of thin parallel lines. Sunlight to electricity conversion efficiency: 15%. Best for rooftop solar power on a budget.
- Monocrystaline: Similar to polycrystaline but efficiency is better at 20%. Still needs direct sunlight to function, and therefore not good for cloudy days. Appearance: uniformly dark blue-brown color, horizontal lines, in squares with rounded corners. What you’ll find in most consumer portable solar chargers.
- Amorphous/thin-film: Best option but most expensive and larger surface area. Lightweight, very thin and flexible, and absorbs more of the light spectrum for more power including cloudy conditions and partial shade. What the military uses. The best thin-film manufacturer is PowerFilm. Appearance: grid of small u-shaped dark rectangles.
Your best choice is a monocrystaline or amorphous/thin-film panel at 2×-3x the watts you think you need. Make sure to get something durable and reliable, as the cheaper ones tend to stop working after a couple months. To charge USB devices, on a budget look into portable mono panels like the Topsolar 60w. Otherwise, PowerFilm 30 Watt plus an Anker 12V-to-USB charger. That one can charge car batteries too, albeit slowly.
For lighting, headlamps keep your hands free and are superior to flashlights. Premium LED headlamp with 18650 batteries. And/or low cost LED headlamp and packs of alkaline or lithium AA/AAA batteries (lithium batteries don’t leak and keep longer in storage).
Whole-house solar panel systems, batteries and charge controllers are quite an investment and require professional consultation and installation.
Alternatively, you can get a generator that runs on gasoline, diesel, or propane. These are good for short term high power applications like running kitchen appliances or whole homes for a short wihle. But they are noisy, emit exhaust, and run out of fuel within days or weeks. Stored gasoline must have stabilizers added to last longer than six months (or a little longer if premium gasoline, which has lower water-absorbing ethanol in it). Diesel lasts longer and can be stored in 55 gallon drums. Propane fed from the gas line infrastructure will lose its pressure when the remote pump fails in a power outage, so must instead be stored in a large propane tank on site.
Besides a water filter, a respirator is the next most important hardware item. Unlike a simple N95 mask, these are silicone and make a complete seal around mouth and nose. There are many situations when you would need one: smoke from wildfire and structure fires, chemical spills, mold after a flood, volcanic eruptions, viral and bacterial outbreaks, nuclear fallout, chemical and biological weapons, tear gas, dust storms, and rotting bodies/garbage.
3M Respirator mask with 6001 Filter for smoke, dust, biological and chemical fumes or the 7093 Filter for smoke, dust, and biological particles (easier to breathe through, but doesn’t protect against chemicals or vapors).
For more protection, especially against viruses and bacteria, you must also wear safety goggles or swim goggles that form a seal. Or a full face mask, whether a 3M full mask or a military surplus gas mask that takes 40mm threaded filters, like the Scott M95 or similar.
Glock Field Knife. Strongest cheapest multi-use knife for sawing, prying, shaving, splitting wood, use as a spear head, and defense.
Mechanix gloves. Safety from cuts and scrapes, and good for tactical use too.
Bic Lighters. Easier to use than ferro rods. Good barter item too.
Repair gear like duck tape, hot glue sticks, epoxy putty, JB weld, plastic tarps or contractor trash bags, paracord/accessory cord, hand sewing needles and bonded nylon thread, sewing awl, zip ties small and large, ranger bands (bicycle inner tubes cut to rubber band size), tire repair kit, solder and electrical tape and hookup wire, hammer and nails long enough to board up a window.
Common sense items like clothing, backpacks, sunglasses, hats, socks, shoes etc.
A cheap AM/FM radio will help you stay informed when there’s no internet or cell service. If the government drops off supplies just two blocks away, without a radio you might never know it (that happened after Hurricane Andrew and people suffered just a block or two away from pallets of food and water).
Even better is an AM/FM/Shortwave radio with Single Sideband. With a shortwave radio you can listen to shortwave news stations from very far away. And with single-sideband (SSB) ability, you can hear HAM radio operators from hundreds and sometime thousands of miles away in the 20m, 40m and 80m bands. SSB drives up the price of the radio but it’s important to have if you can afford it, as HAM operators can report local conditions around the country, which you might not hear about any other way. Here’s a larger better radio with shortwave and SSB.
If cell phone networks go down, local communications can be done with simple GMRS Walkie Talkies (couple miles range, down to half a mile if buildings or hills are in the way). CB radios are also good for local comms but require 12V batteries and large antennas and are therefore better suited to home and vehicle use.
Another option for local comms are the low-cost UHF and VHF (ultra and very high frequency) HAM radios like the Baofengs. They are like walkie talkies but can send/receive on additional frequencies including the 2m and 70cm HAM bands, and receive FM radio as well. Baofengs require a HAM license to transmit on legally. If you stay on the FRS/GMRS, and MURS frequencies and use low power no one will know or care. These are meant for short range communication, or else for interacting with a local repeater tower that forwards your signal to another one far away but such towers can’t be relied on when the grid is down.
If you want encrypted radios for a local comms network, get a couple DMR radios. Just be warned that these take some effort to program correctly, their range isn’t as good (get a better antenna), and know that encryption is illegal. But the option exists if you need it. Without encryption, everyone in the area can eavesdrop on your conversation.
For long range regional or international communications (hundreds or thousands of miles), you would need an HF (high frequency) HAM transceiver with a suitable antenna for the given frequency band. That means Yaesu, ICOM, and Kenwood units capable of receiving and transmitting on the 20m, 40m, and 80m (a.k.a. 75m) bands. Example is the Yaesu FT-891. There’s a lot to that, especially with choosing and setting up the right antenna, the protocols to follow when speaking to other HAM operators, and again you need a license to transmit legally. But HAM radio is the only option for true grid-down long range communication.
Shelter / Hiking
Bugging out on foot into the woods is a bit of a fantasy. You’re more likely to be sleeping in cars, buildings, or your own home than in the wilderness. Wilderness is a last resort. Preparing for on-foot or woods survival requires a different approach focusing on minimalism and lightweight. Realistically, someone bugging out into their own property will cache goods there ahead of time. Otherwise you can only take what you can carry, and that severely limits how prepared you can be. Further, cold weather and questionable availability of food, not to mention running into hostile people, further reduce chances of survival in the wild.
Regardless, even if you don’t plan on bugging out on foot, it can’t hurt to have a sleeping bag appropriate to your climate since even at home or in cars, heat will not be available during utility or gas outages unless you have a well-maintained fireplace and plenty of firewood. Note that when sleeping bags say 15F they’re exaggerating and it’s really only good down to 35F. That’s truer for budget sleeping bags. Even so, two bags can be nested for colder conditions.
For warmer weather, a jungle blanket or jungle bag may be sufficient. For intermediate or colder weather, the Carinthia Defence 1 or Defence 4 are excellent. These are also good for winter power outages when it gets into the 30s inside the home. Of course you can use heavy blankets, but sleeping bags are easier to transport and use outside the home should the need arise.
Another essential item for everyone is an inflatable sleeping pad, which will conserve body heat and let you sleep comfortably in more places including the floors of buildings, hard soil and gravel, and cots that lack padding. They have different R ratings (thermal insulation) which matters if you’re using them in cold environments since the ground will suck body heat away if you don’t use a pad or if you use one with a low R rating. So in colder weather you’ll need an insulated pad with an R rating above 4.
If on a tight budget, look into buying military surplus goods like sleeping bags on eBay as you can get products equivalent to high dollar commercial items at 1/3rd the cost. Get back some of your tax dollars that way.
For outdoor shelter, a lightweight tent or tarp and a military thermal casualty blanket as a ground sheet suffices. And carrying all this requires a good backpack, like a hiking backpack in the 45-100 liter range. Remember to keep the total weight under 30% of your healthy bodyweight or you won’t be walking far.
Research hiking, mountaineering, bushcraft, and orienteering to get accustomed with the types of variables involved in traversing the land. If your main aim is to travel while avoiding people and ambushes, and you have the cash, then investing in a portable infrared thermal scope can be of value since in open air (i.e. not through glass) it lets you detect body heat signatures from hundreds of yards away even at night.
It helps to know the area: where you are, where you’re going, how to get there, and where strategic points are located like bridges, stores and hospitals, back roads, supply caches, nuclear plants and other danger areas.
In order of priority: map, compass, GPS.
GPS is convenient and precise but will be the first to fail. Dead batteries, extreme solar activity, attack on GPS satellites, or nuclear EMP (electromagnetic pulse) will make GPS useless. Then you’ll have to rely on map and compass. But while it’s still working, GPS is amazing.
Install the free maps.me smartphone app to have a road map that displays your location. In the app, download the databases for your state and surrounding states, for offline use. Then, even if internet and GPS go down, you still have a digital road map in your pocket. An old smartphone (even without a SIM card) can be repurposed for this. The free Commander Compass app is useful if you need a digital compass. There are also topographic map apps for the phone, or PDFs you can put on there, but in the wilderness you really should have paper maps.
For standalone GPS devices, the Foretrex 601 is as simple as it gets, to the point of being primitive, but it runs on two AAA batteries and can be strapped to your wrist. It doesn’t store detailed maps, so those are still needed on the side, but you can get GPS coordinates, mark locations, record your tracks, retrace your tracks, plan routes with waypoints, and follow those routes with distance, heading, and estimated time of arrival displayed on the screen. There are other handheld GPS devices that display color maps, but you might as well use a smartphone at that point, though unlike phones these GPS devices can’t be tracked so they’re more secure if you’re hiding from authorities.
For paper maps, start with a road atlas to keep in your vehicle, like the Rand McNally 2022 Atlas. Consider also getting a more detailed atlas just for your state, which shows topography, camping sites, and the more obscure back roads. Just driving, you don’t really need a compass but a simple one like the Brunton TruArc 3 can orient you when lost.
Many think a compass is just for finding north. But with a proper map and compass you can do so much more: measure distances, triangulate your position, read and plot GPS coordinates on the map, get the precise bearing between two points, design routes to your destinations, and navigate these routes by going from waypoint to waypoint by heading in a specific bearing for a specified distance.
To learn land navigation like this, first print or buy a detailed map of your area, one designed to work with a good compass. This is especially needed for navigating in the wilderness in the absence of buildings and streets.
For rural areas, use one of the Topographic Maps as the base layer and blend in the Shaded Relief map. In print settings, enable UTM coordinate grids at 1km spacing so that you can plot GPS points. Set the map scale at 1:24,000 or 1:25,000 to match the scale on your compass or UTM map tool. This allows you to measure distances on the map and plot/read GPS coordinates. Then generate the PDF to download and print, or order a 12”×18” double-sided synthetic paper map (which is tearproof and waterproof) through Caltopo for $10 with free shipping.
For urban areas, do likewise except use OpenStreetMap as the base layer and turn on the Structures option. Then all the streets and buildings will be there. At 1:24,000 or 1:25,000 scale expect the street names to be tiny and only barely legible. It’s passable if you need the wide area coverage, otherwise for greater legibility go with 1:12,000 scale and use 100m grid spacing. While UTM slot tool aren’t made for that scale, you can visually estimate a point coordinate down to 10m precision, or simply measure with a ruler and convert.
For compasses, get the Suunto MC-2 or Suunto M3 baseplate compass (the NH model if you’re north of the equator). The MC-2 has a mirror and sighting line to help you get more accurate readings of distant landmarks, which is important when triangulating your own position on a map. The M3 is less bulky and a little cheaper.
You might also come across the Cammenga 3H military lensatic compass in your browsing. It’s much more rugged, but compared to the Suunto it lacks an important declination adjustment used to compensate for the difference between true north and magnetic north. So the conversion has to be done in your head. Magnetic declination varies depending on your geographic location; find out yours. Having a compass with declination adjustment matters because mentally converting between magnetic degrees and true degrees can get mixed up under stress. Once adjusted on the Suunto, however, you’re then working in true degrees and that keeps things simple.
Just for road or city use, a street map or road atlas and basic compass is all you need. It’s in rural areas that land navigation becomes key. There are many useful videos on YouTube about land navigation topics like reading a topo map, using a baseplate or lensatic compass, finding your position, UTM grids with GPS coordinates, pace count and boxing, and more.
(In the unlikely event that the Earth’s magnetic field destabilizes, a compass becomes useless too. Then it’s down to map and the sky to guide you. And if there’s a physical pole shift and you’re somehow still alive, you’ll need to watch the sky and plot the stars to find the new pole star, the one all the other stars rotate around, which will point to the new north. Then measure its angle above horizon, which equals your latitude, and if it’s above 40° better start migrating to the new south since winters will get brutal).
Fitness, Knowledge, Teamwork
Gear aside, like in combat, physical fitness is of paramount importance when surviving on foot. The fitter you are, the longer and more swiftly you can move and thus evade danger. Such fitness would be centered around endurance and mobility under load, meaning resistance cardio, bodyweight exercises, and rucking moreso than aesthetic bodybuilding and heavy weight lifting. Physical fitness is also an asset toward disaster-related activities like clearing fallen trees, filling sandbags, boarding up windows, carrying food and water, and so on. Note that the greater your muscle mass, the higher your calorie and protein requirements, and the faster muscles will diminish if those requirements can’t be met.
Now, the less you can depend on the conveniences of a stable society to shelter and protect you, the more skills and knowledge you would need to remain well. So for a week long power outage where you just sit tight until services are restored, not much is required beyond some extra supplies as mentioned in the beginning of this note.
It takes more than just gear to survive on foot, make it through a drawn out economic collapse, or deal with marauders (best option there is to hide unless you have a team trained in military ambush and assault tactics). So beyond a certain point of direness, one would need a group of skilled individuals working as a team to do what one person alone cannot.
The difficulty and cost of prepping goes up exponentially with the expected length of the grid-down situation. Accept that you can’t prepare for every scenario. Draw the line where prudence becomes obsession and self-sabotage.
The best defense is avoiding trouble in the first place. That means hiding, being inconspicuous, and avoiding danger areas. For the home, installing a security system (with battery backup) and reinforcing your doors and windows can go a long way.
Martial arts skills are helpful but only get you so far. Weapons exist to buy you time and distance and are force multipliers. They level the playing field. Without either of these, you’ll have to depend on others for your physical safety, which puts their lives at risk and renders you incapable of defending someone under your care.
- gladius or machete
- pepper gel
- large, heavy, blinding flashlight
- baseball bat
- long screwdriver
- fire extinguisher
- bow, crossbow, or slingbow
- large wrench
- metal pipe
- padlock on a rope, belt, or chain
Obviously these vary in legality, visibility, deniability, range, and lethality so the best one(s) for you depends on your unique situation.
To determine what level to prepare, think about which threats you could plausibly face. From least severe (and common) to most severe (and less probable):
- Home invasion by a drunk or confused person.
- Home invasion by a burglar who would rather run than fight.
- Being confronted in the streets by a mugger or someone looking to pick a fight.
- Getting carjacked, or being on public transportation that gets hijacked.
- Being out in public when a lone shooter or team of armed terrorists open fire.
- Home invasion by several armed men.
- Gangs, paramilitary, or psychopathic marauders pillaging your neighborhood.
- Organized military forces conquering and occupying your region.
- Alien invasion (hey it could happen).
The first few examples can be handled with non-lethal weapons or competent martial arts. But beyond a certain point, however, you will need a lethal weapon preferably a firearm to stand a chance. The last three examples are on the extreme end and require military style weapons, tactics, and teams to handle. There are American civilians out there doing exactly that, because they can and feel they must.
So tactical prepping and training falls into two types: what you can do yourself (civilian personal self defense, home defense, and police style training) and what requires a competent team (military style small unit tactics). The latter is more effective, but way more resource-intensive. Below, I will cover essentials for both. Training matters even more, but that takes books, videos, and courses to learn, so this article will only provide some general tips there.
Firearms carry a legal risk and require safety, proficiency, and integrity to use responsibly and effectively; nevertheless they are tools that protect innocent life when when law enforcement is overwhelmed during a societal breakdown situation. If you follow basic safety rules and aren’t suicidal, the risk of being killed by your own weapon is far lower than the risk of being killed by not having one.
In the hands of good people, guns use force to stop violence. There’s nothing wrong with owning a gun if you’re spiritual person. It’s all about mindset and philosophy of use. The Shaolin monks and chivalric knights were spiritual but trained for battle with deadly weapons. Having high vibes can synchronistically shield you from trouble, but your vibes may falter from time to time, or maybe you find yourself stuck in a collective checkmate situation where things get precarious for everyone. Physical defenses and preparations come into play during these times.
Here are some options:
1) Pistol in 9mm. Pistols a.k.a. handguns are portable, concealable, and can be kept on you at all times, within limits of the law or willing risk. Compared to rifles they are inaccurate, underpowered, and only good for short range. It also takes more training to wield a handgun proficiently; high tight grip and steady trigger squeeze are essential. But, they are handy and can always be kept at the ready. Concealable: Glock 42 or M&P Shield 2.0. Budget: Canik TP9SF. Best: Glock 19 Gen 5 or Gen 3. While there may be more ergonomic pistols out there, the Glock 19 beats everything in durability and commonality of spare parts and aftermarket accessories.
2) AR15 style rifles. Advantages of the AR15 include precision, accuracy, range (out to 300-500 yards), ergonomics, maneuverability, modularity, and light weight compared to other rifles. They do everything except concealed carry. Downside is the high price ($1500-$4500) of a complete system with optics, lights, sling, magazines, and ammo. Budget: Springfield M&P 15 Sport II. Better: Springfield Saint, IWI Zion, or Sig M400 Tread. Best: Colt CR6920-EPR, FN 15 Tactical II, BCM RECCE-16 MCMR-LW, or Daniel Defense DDM4 V7. Other reliable brands include SOLGW and Sionics. Since complete rifles are hard to find in stock nowadays (and carry an extra federal tax) a cheaper and better option is to buy the upper and lower half separately. You can mix and match between brands. For example, BCM complete upper with a BCM or Aero complete lower. Overall, BCM offers the best balance of value, quality, reliability, and availability especially for the upper.
3) Pistol caliber carbines. These look like rifles but fire pistol ammunition. They are easier to shoot accurately versus handguns, and more powerful but nowhere near as much as rifles. And they are much easier to shoot accurately versus pistols. Compared to rifles they are cheaper, lighter, handier, often more compact, and not as loud or concussive. Thus they are ideal for indoor defense and use by smaller framed people. Some like the Kel-Tec or MPX can be folded to fit inconspicuously into a backpack. Downside of pistol caliber carbines is that their effective range is under 100 yards whereas rifles can easily reach 300-600 yards. Budget: Hi-Point 995 or Kel-Tec Sub 2000. Good: Ruger PC 9, Beretta CX4 Storm, CZ Scorpion EVO 3, or Freedom Ordnance FX-9. Best: CMMG Banshee 9mm.
These are all commonly recommended choices for their specified budget range and purpose. Note that ammo, upgrades, and accessories can together equal the cost of the firearm, so budget accordingly.
Get a quality weapon light to avoid misidentification at night. For pistol, Surefire X300 or Streamlight TLR-1. These work for rifles too, mounted upside down at the 12 o’clock position at the far end of the rail. There are newer possibly better lights out there, but in being newer you’ll have trouble finding holsters for that gun+light combo, that’s why I recommend the tried and true lights.
Otherwise for rifle you can get something tougher and lower profile like the Surefire M600 or a comparable one from Modlite or Cloud Defensive. If your rifle has a slim M-lok rail system, get an Arisaka mount to keep the light tucked in close to the rail. A cheaper rifle light is the Streamlight Protac Rail Mount just don’t use the remote tape switch that comes with it due to reliability issues.
Optics are for aiming. Examples include iron sights, red dots, prism sights, scopes, and low power variable optics (LPVOs). Since hitting where you aim is the purpose of shooting, the quality of the aiming system is critical. To do its job, an optic needs to be rugged, accurate, dependable, securely fastened, and properly zeroed (aligned to where the bullet will impact at the intended distance). So don’t cheap out on the optic.
The best brands are Trijicon and Aimpoint. These are combat grade. Below them are Steiner and Meprolight. Below those, budget options like Primary Arms, Vortex, and Holosun. And at the bottom, the “avoid at all cost” brands like NcStar, Bushnell, Barska, Sightmark, etc. which are passable only on BB and airsoft guns. Overall, can’t go wrong with Trijicon or Aimpoint. If on a tight budget, choose Primary Arms.
For carbines and rifles used within 100 yards (home defense, house-to-house, and neighborhood distances) get a red dot optic. Good options include the Aimpoint Pro, Aimpoint Micro T2 (with 1.57” mount), or the Primary Arms Micro Dot.
Red dots are intuitive and extremely fast to use (point and click) compared to iron sights, which are useless in dim lighting. Downside is that if the battery or electronics fail then you’d have no sighting system because the dot disappears. This is unlikely with a high quality red dot like an Aimpoint, but budget dots definitely need backup iron sights like the Magpul MBUS or MBUS Pro. If tight budget forces a choice, it’s better to forego the backup sights and spend that money on an Aimpoint Pro or Aimpoint Micro T2, which are both duty/combat grade.
If you have uncorrected astigmatism in your eye, a red dot will appear distorted. Look at a red traffic light in the distance at night and see how distorted it looks; that’s what you can expect with a red dot. You may find, however, that your astigmatism is mild enough that for 100 yards and under, the slight accuracy loss doesn’t matter.
Alternatively, there are 1x prism sights like the Primary Arms SLX-1x. These don’t have astigmatism issues and their reticle is etched into the glass; in case of battery or electronics failure you still have a black reticle to use. That makes them very robust for their price, much more than low cost red dots. But a red dot has better battery life and its brighter aiming point lets you more quickly and easily shoot with both eyes open versus the dimmer or black reticle of a prism sight.
Without magnification, however, spotting someone poking out behind cover beyond 100 yards is challenging, so a 1x optic is only really effective out to 100 yards. Beyond that, you may have trouble identifying the threat. So for mid to long range defense in open rural areas, or greater precision in urban areas, choose a low power magnified optic like the Trijicon 4x TA31 ACSS ACOG, Trijicon TR24, Steiner P4xi, or Primary Arms GLx 2X.
Why would you ever need to shoot past 100 yards? You may be sniped at from a distance, be forced to hunt for food, lay down carefully aimed (due to low ammo supply) suppressive fire on the enemy while your team mates flank them, or come upon a check point in the distance manned by possible marauders. Magnification buys you distance and hence safety.
Some of these (TA31 and GL2X) are fixed magnification, and some (TR24 and P4xi) let you dial the magnification between 1x and 4x. Keeping it on 1x lets you use it like a red dot for fast up close work. The downside is that variable magnification scopes are heavy, typically more than double the weight of the simpler fixed magnification sights, and their field of view at max magnification is narrower than a fixed magnification prism. With sufficient training, fixed magnification optics can be used like a 1x red dot at close range — especially the TA31, as it was designed for this — by allowing your brain to merge the glowing reticle seen by the shooting eye with the plain view seen by the other eye. Not everyone’s eye-brain system can pull that off, so a variable optic may be their only choice. A compromise is the GL2X where the 2X magnification is in the sweet spot between indoor and outdoor uses.
Once you have the sight, you need to zero it. Go to a gun range and set a target at your choice of zeroing distance. For a handgun, choose 15 or 25 yards. For red dots on rifles or pistol caliber carbines, 50 yards. For magnified optics, 100 yards. All optics (except fixed iron sights on handguns) have windage (side to side) and elevation (up down) controls. These are dials that rotate with audible clicks. Each click adjusts the point of impact by 1, 1/2, or 1/4 MOA depending on the model; check the instruction manual to be sure. MOA means “minute of angle” and corresponds to 1 inch at 100 yards, 1/2 inch at 50 yards, 1/4 inch at 25 yards, and so on. So if your shots are off 2 inches to the right at 50 yards, and the optic is 1/2 MOA per click, you need 8 clicks left.
Once your optic is zeroed, you can reliably put rounds where you aim. Note that bullets fly in a parabolic (curved) trajectory. The gun actually points up a little, and the bullet arcs upward a couple inches for about 100-125 yards and then back down. The optic, meanwhile, aims straight ahead at the target, and the goal of zeroing is to make that line of sight intersect the arcing bullet trajectory at the target distance. At very close distances, because the barrel is below the optic, the bullet will hit 1-2 inches bellow your point of aim and you have to account for that. At far distances (past 300 yards) the bullet will likewise impact lower due to dropping. Ballistics software like Strelok lets you precisely calculate all this. But you don’t have to worry about ballistics if shooting a handgun under 75 yards or a rifle under 200 yards, since the bullet rise or drop along that trajectory is no more than 1-2 inches and is therefore accurate enough for center-of-mass hits.
Ammunition and Magazines
AR15 ammo: 55gr or 62gr FMJ for general use, bulk storage, and training. Heavier 77gr rounds perform better for home defense, hunting, and distance shooting but cost twice as much. To avoid jams and gun blowing up, only get new brass-cased ammo, not remanufactured or steel case. Note that switching bullet type will change your zero; for example, if you zero with 55gr at 100 yards and then shoot 77gr, you may notice the latter impacting 2” lower or higher. That’s why it’s best to stick with one type of ammo for a given optic, unless you’re shooting close enough that it doesn’t matter.
AR15 magazines: Magpul Pmag M2 or M3, Okay Surefeed E2, or Lancer AWM. If you buy two of each, you can test which works best for your gun and then buy several dozen of just those. Pmags are the best overall. Recommended quantity: 10 minimum, 100 for serious prepping. To carry 3-6 of them, you’ll need a chest rig or a plate carrier and tactical belt outfitted with Esstac or Blue Force Gear mag pouches. Magazines can be loaded and stored indefinitely in waterproof ammo cans, around 28 per Fat-50 can. Ammo cans are robust enough to survive being buried for several years.
Pistol ammo: 124 grain hollow-point ammunition for defense such as Federal HST or Speer Gold Dot. Regular 115gr FMJ or 124gr FMJ will also do the job and penetrate a little deeper. Cost and availability problems post-COVID has created a “beggars can’t be choosers” situation so get whatever’s reliable that you can afford. Reliability matters most.
Pistol magazines: When lives are on the line, only use original factory magazines. For just training at the range, the cheaper Magpul GL9 are fine. Recommended quantity: 5 minimum, 25 for serious prepping. Standard pistol load out is 3 magazines: 1 in the gun and 2 on the belt. Therefore you don’t need as many pistol mags as rifle mags. For home defense, get a couple factory 33-round mags to supplement the 15-round mags that come with the Glock. The 33-rounds are a blessing considering how, statistically, in real life shootings only 1 in 10 rounds hits the intended target. With multiple moving threats, the advantage of higher capacity is clear.
To save ammo, you can get a pistol laser training cartridge and practice drawing and dry firing (pulling the trigger without firing a live round) in your home. For the AR15, they make similar and better systems like the Mantis Blackbeard.
On ammo quantity, only money and space are the limits. Absolute minimum is 200 rounds per pistol and 500 rounds per rifle, and that means little to no training with it just defense, hunting, and zeroing. More reasonable is 2k pistol and 5k rifle. Dedicated preppers have 5k per pistol and 10k per rifle, where 10k is the typical lifespan of a rifle barrel before accuracy degrades. Nowadays that’s a huge expense, but without ammo a gun is just an expensive hammer.
There’s a radical difference in ammo quantity needed for a home defense weapon that’s mostly kept in storage versus a war-fighting weapon used in small unit tactics. The latter, requiring “fire and maneuver” techniques, goes through ammo like water to suppress the enemy, at least 200-300 rounds per engagement, whereas a home defense shooting could be over with just a handful of rounds.
So aim to have at least the minimum, understanding that a time may come when you can’t buy ammo ever again.
Avoid shotguns unless you’re duck hunting or breaching doors. They’ll do the job for defense but aren’t optimal. They may be cheap but are just too long, heavy, lack range, only hold a few shells, have high recoil, are slow to reload, and the manual pump operated ones are difficult to run properly under stress. You also can’t do military “fire and maneuver” tactics with shotguns due to low capacity. That said, pump shotguns may be legal in places other firearms are not, so there are specific cases and places where they make sense.
Avoid the AK47. While good ones (Arsenal SLR-107) are on par with good AR15s (BCM, DD) in terms of overall accuracy and reliability, they are clunky, crude, and ammo weighs more so you can’t carry as many rounds. They also have a negative stigma due to gang and Communist associations. The bigger problem is that nowadays imports are dwindling, prices are going up, Russian ammo availability in the future is questionable [Edit: correct, as of 8/21 Russian ammo is now banned from import] and American-made AKs suffer from quality control problems. So for those living in America, a high quality AR15 is the superior choice for a self-defense rifle.
Avoid revolvers. Again, they do the job but there are better options. They have low ammo capacity, are slow to reload, and are not necessarily more reliable than a Glock. They mainly make sense for untrained people who lack the hand strength to rack the slide on a semi-auto, or criminals who don’t want to leave shell casings at the scene.
Electronic hearing protection amplifies ambient sounds while reducing loudness of gunfire, giving you much better awareness of your surroundings and letting you communicate more effectively. Even just used casually, they give you super hearing.
Safety and Training
Goes without saying that if you are at risk for theft, or have kids, or if kids ever so much as step a foot in your house, keep your firearms locked up in a safe place.
Educate yourself on safety procedures and take courses or watch videos to train correctly on firearm use until it becomes automatic, because only automatic motions can be relied upon in high stress situations. It takes a couple thousand correct repetitions to create automatic behaviors.
As far as courses go, pretty much any place within driving distance is fine for basic introductory skills. It’s when you go to intermediate and advanced skills that you have to be careful to avoid the deranged rambos with false credentials teaching you unrealistic and dangerous Hollywood techniques that don’t work in the real world. And if you can’t take courses, you’ll have to watch videos and choose wisely which ones to learn from. Either way, look for instructors with verified elite military backgrounds. Ones with only police backgrounds are fine for home and personal defense training, but beware that
Body armor is a form of physical insurance, like wearing a helmet on a motorcycle. Downsides are cost, reduced mobility, and alarm or suspicion in public if too visible.
Soft armor (level IIIa) is lightweight and protects against pistol and shotgun but not rifle. Soft armor weighs around 5 lbs for a vest and offers greater coverage of the torso, is somewhat concealable, and can be worn all day every day aside from being a bit hot. Being shot while wearing soft armor feels like getting hit with a hammer, so it may still momentarily incapacitate you. If budget is not an issue, consider the Crye LVS.
Hard armor (level III+ or IV) is really heavy and thick but stops AR and AK rounds as well. Hard armor weighs 10-15 lbs for a system that covers your front and back torso. Stick with ceramic, polymer, composite plates around 5lbs and under that are rated to stop the M855 round. Avoid steel armor; too heavy to be worth the cost at any price. The only situation where steel makes sense is if you need to outfit multiple people on a low budget and they won’t be carrying ammo or moving around much.
Plates are worn via a plate carrier vest sized appropriately to the plate size and shape. Plate width should approximate the distance between center of nipples, and should be worn high enough to reach the notch at the top of the sternum between the clavicles. Carriers with elastic in the cummerbund or side straps are preferred, as they allow for easier chest expansion when breathing. Some carriers have pockets in the cummerbund for side armor. Side plates are a good idea if you plan on being in vehicles more than on foot since your sides are exposed. Otherwise, side armor adds too much weight, so you have to be fit and strong to handle that if moving on foot a lot (like patrolling).
If you’re not fit, you won’t be able to maneuver with even just front and back plates; then the armor becomes a liability. By being slow, you increase chances of being shot everywhere else. The more bodyfat you have, the less you can carry armor. The threshold seems to be around 15% bodyfat, with 10% or less being nominal. So it’s not suitable for everyone. If you’re just standing or sitting or using it for short stints (think SWAT team or sentries) then the weight isn’t as big an issue, but any kind of running and hiking and infantry-style tactic will be made difficult with the extra weight.
If you’re thinking about getting night vision, know that these take time to put on your head so they’re not a reactive home-defense tool. They’re mainly an offensive tool if you’re attacking at night, or defensive if doing sentry duty at night, or a navigational tool if hiking at night (and driving too but that’s very risky). Being able to walk in near darkness, without a flashlight, lets you move at night when it’s safer.
A PVS14 monocular with a Gen 3 or Gen 3+ (not Gen 2 or Gen 1) tube inside is what you’ll need. Avoid the cheaper digital night vision devices, whose technology is not mature enough yet. A proper PVS14 is lighter and has 40-60 hour battery life from a single AA battery.
Keeping a monocular on your face requires a tactical bump helmet, like the kind from Ops Core or Team Wendy, or the lightweight and affordable Crye Night Cap with an aluminum shroud. You’d also need a Norotos RHNO II mount or better to attach the PVS to the helmet’s shroud, and optionally a counterweight to reduce neck strain.
To shoot a pistol under night vision use a TLR-VIR-II white/infrared laser weapon light. To shoot a rifle with night vision, cheapest quality option is an OTAL-C infrared laser with a Surefire M300V or M600V white/IR light.
On a rifle, you can get by without a laser by passively aiming through a quality red dot that has night vision setting, but you’ll need a high optic mount (1.57” or preferably higher) to make it work and it’s quite awkward overall. On a pistol, a red dot like the Trijicon RMR works quite well under night vision but a laser is still quicker to aim.
Tactical night vision is a tricky subject that requires research to make the wisest decisions, and then you’ll need training and at least 20-40 hours doing things in the dark to get comfortable with it. Night vision is expensive enough ($3000+) that many preppers simply forego it and make do with a good white weapon light.
Books like the SAS Survival Handbook that focus on bushcraft and short term survival in the woods are useful but not adequate for emergency preparedness since we’re more likely to be in our homes, offices, or vehicles than lost in the forest or stranded on a desert island. For the more immediate and likely disruptions, you’re better off with the natural disaster preparation advice from sites like ready.gov.
Economic collapse without complete societal collapse is the more realistic scenario that warrants serious foresight and preparation, for which you can cautiously read FerFal’s book The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse.
And if you’re concerned about the more tactical aspects of survival in the face of widespread violence and desperation, then study Max Velocity’s book Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival. The book covers subjects far beyond the scope of bushcraft or disaster preparation books, but things would have to get pretty dire to ever reach that point. If nothing else, the purpose of reading this book is to demystify Hollywood-programmed expectations of how force and violence is conducted in the real world.
Studying and applying this stuff can take its mental and spiritual toll, so be careful and weigh the risk of that versus the risk of not being prepared.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
1) You can only prepare for a limited set of scenarios. A point comes in your attempt to prepare for everything, where you’ve just thrown away your life, your destiny, your mission if you have one, all for the sake of surviving. Then you would be surviving for the sake of existing, not for the sake of living. Life would be meaningless and you just defeated your very purpose for coming here. Therefore, no amount of preparation warrants throwing your life away and heading into the hills, shutting yourself off from the world until doomsday comes. All preparations should be done in parallel with your regular life and not infringe upon it. If your main life is Plan A (nothing happens) then keep that open while you simultaneously have Plan B (S.H.T.F. = shit hits the fan, meaning a condition of survival amidst social chaos and civil breakdown).
2) Do not become obsessed, preoccupied, or emotionally lost in this. If you get some survival item, know how to use it and put it away until time for maintenance, training, and use. Don’t dress up in ninja gear like you have some kind of survivalism fetish, don’t be turning over heroic post-apocalyptic fantasies in your mind hours upon hours a day, and don’t keep gloating over your advantage over the other poor suckers who are asleep and unprepared. Reason being that holding onto an extreme survivalism mentality, beyond what’s needed to actually do it and be proficient at it, is highly detrimental to your spiritual balance. Have the knowledge and supplies, but be very cautious of aligning your heart and thought-train completely and exclusively with the mere idea of physical survivalism. Making it your life goal will kill your soul, and you need your soul and a spiritual connection to gain the synchronistic and intuitive protection needed to keep you safe in all scenarios, not just the ones you can physically prepare for.
3) To an extent, spiritual balance, good intuition (honed through past trial and error), and sharp awareness (observe and think several steps ahead) will get you farther than any physical survival dwelling or supplies. Why? Because then you can respond flexibly to whatever comes, as it comes. By spiritual balance I mean keeping a leash on your ego, your jealousies, contempt and hatred, desperate materialism, greed, and other base impulses… and instead, striving for equanimity, gratitude to the Creator, devotion to truth and beauty and fairness, and consideration for others. Then you acquire divine blessing that increases the luck factor in your life. In the midst of calamity you can get an intuitive or synchronistic helping hand.
Of course, spiritual versus physical preparation are not mutually exclusive; just avoid physical obsession that infringes on spiritual balance; that’s the most important thing I can say. Same goes for looking toward the future and getting apprehensive. Don’t lose hope or optimism, as you need these to carve out a pathway to heaven through times of hell.