Results are easy, you just need to start somewhere; Preferably sooner than later!
My original intent of this post was to give a list of events that one might find themselves in and point towards items and knowledge that would be useful to weather those events; The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that scenarios are not that important and preparing for one condition will make you ready for most of them. That condition is…
Living without Grid Power!
If you can do this, you have 90% of all scenarios covered. It’s the one common denominator you will find in most emergencies, so if your gear and preps are aimed towards handling life without electricity you will be a hundred times more prepared than “Joe Average” who takes cheap electricity for granted and has no alternate plan.
No matter what the scenario, you will need the basics listed below to get through them comfortably. I’ve started with minimal items and expanded to better / long-term choices.
Make sure you have the minimums in ALL areas first before investing in better options for a specific area.
LEVELS OF PREPAREDNESS
Minimal: is geared towards getting you through a week off-grid. Many Winter storms will last several days and can go up to a week’s time in the worst of times.
Better: is what will make a week or so relatively comfortable.
Best: is what will make you self-sufficient for a year or better and is the ultimate goal.
THINGS TO PREPARE FOR WITHOUT POWER
How do you plan to stay warm when that heat-pump in your house has no electricity? You need to have an off-grid way of staying warm.
In dead of Winter in the Pacific Northwest (where I live) it can get a little cold at night. It was 29F last night and will remain just above freezing for the rest of the day. That’s mild for many locations in the USA however, if you live in Florida, you can skip this part.
Minimum: Sleeping bags / heavy wool blankets for all in the family and guests as a minimum layer of warmth at night.
It will be cold and uncomfortable in that house at 32F, but you won’t die of exposure if you have good bags to get you through the nights.
I highly recommend the Marine Corps Sleep System that is good for -60F and can still be found used for about $120.00 delivered. With its Gortex bivy this system will keep you warm and dry even in a downpour outside and its layered use of bags allows for four-season use. If push comes to shove you can share one bag with a loved one and both be a little uncomfortable in low temps but not suffer too badly. In the Winter, this system rides in the back of my vehicle.
Better: Living in an ice box is very sapping of ones energy and demoralizing. If you have the ability to even huddle around a heat source, it will prove it’s value morale wise in short order. A tent heater like the Big Buddy with a few 5lb propane tanks (don’t forget the adapter hose) will take the chill off at least one room in the house and boost morale greatly.
Be sure to have a cross flow of fresh air when using inside a building as a house is not porous like a tent. Consider a carbon monoxide detector also for the house if you don’t have one. The Big Buddy has one also, but I would not trust my life to it, use cross ventilation!
Best: Of course the best method is to not rely on electricity to warm your house period. That means a wood stove. The best purchase I made in my new home was to replace the existing fireplace insert with an efficient wood stove. It burns from November to March each year now, and consumes about 4 cords of wood during that time to heat our 1500 sq ft home. You can’t beat the warmth of wood heat!
One of the selling points of my current property was that several thousand acres of trees backs up to my property. In SHTF, that’s unlimited fuel. In normal times, the 9 acres I own have over 4 acres of Oaks and Doug Fir to supply the fire.
Be ready for processing all that wood, it takes time and effort. If you do not have property that you can fall trees on, you will need to buy in bulk and have at least a Winter’s worth split and stacked.
When the power goes out, the water pressure drops. Toilets flush once and then you have a dilemma on your hands. Gravity systems will allow you to use the toilet for a while just dumping a gal of water into the bowl, but many cities rely on remote pumping stations so eventually this will “backfire” if you know what I mean. 🙂 Of course this requires storing water for this method.
Minimal: 5 gal bucket toilet found at most sportsman’s / camping stores. They often come with special bags for waste and are a good short term method if you are on city sewer.
Better: Septic system and stored water for flushing.
Best: Septic system and hand powered or solar well pump and holding tank that can gravity feed house.
Minimal: 72 hours worth of stored drinking water. (3 gals per person)
Better: Non-potable source with means to purify. Requires living by a clean year round water source, and having quality filtration (Lifesaver Jerrycan) available or wood heat for boiling for extended periods of SHTF.
Best: Good well on your property and a hand or solar pump to get it to the surface, preferably a holding tank (1200 gal+) so you can store a large quantity.
I mention portable foods as the minimal because you likely have some food in the cupboards that will get you through a few days, the average family has about a 1-2 weeks worth in their house at any given time, but having something that you can “grab and go” is important because staying in place may not be a choice.
Minimal: Mountain Home freeze dried food. Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s), Lifeboat energy bars. Be sure to eat and replenish thess every 5 years at the latest, they don’t last forever and excessive temps will destroy all but the lifeboat food, so keep it out of the vehicles.
Better: Stocked pantry. A well stocked pantry should hold you over for 1-3 months on it’s own. When you are not constantly running to the store every week, you learn to buy in bulk for pantry items when they are on sale and save big dollars here.
Best: Long term food. Rice, Dried Beans, Grains, Lentils, Honey, etc. See my Storage Food Spreadsheet for ideas.
Of course 100 lbs of wheat berries does you no good if you don’t have a manual grinder and know how to make sourdough bread which is the staple of storage food.
Learning to cook with just your storage food is fun and a crucial piece of knowledge that can only be learned via experience. Do it now while it’s easy and fun, not when your life depends on it. Cultivating sourdough starter is harder than it looks until you find a system that works for your area.
Wheat berries without knowledge on how to make food out of them is like having an AR15 and not knowing how to shoot it. Someone can come along later and show you how, but until then, there is a steep learning curve ahead of you.
The middle of a crisis is not the time to learn a new skill.
Cooking without electricity or natural gas for that matter is something you need to prepare for. Many scenarios will prevent gas stoves in the house from being usable.
Minimal: Propane burner stove / Bar-B-Ques will get you through short term periods. A two burner camp stove and some stored fuel will last a good week or more. Meats will need to be cooked in the first few days that the fridge / freezer is without power.
Better: Rocket stove, campfire. Campfires are horrendously inefficient, but Rocket Stoves are just the opposite. Google them up if you are unaware of their potential.
Best: Wood stove & Solar oven. In the Summer, heating the house to cook beans really sucks, but a quality solar oven will almost replace a normal oven’s abilities and leaves the house cool in the Summer. In Winter, the heat is being use for warmth and costs nothing to put a pot of beans on tip of the wood stove.
Bread can also be made in the coals or in a metal bread box on top of the stove as a makeshift oven.
Practice these skills now BEFORE you need them.
I won’t harp of this area although it’s dear to my heart as an instructor. I’ve found that there are those who want to be proficient in arms and there are those that want a false sense of security by having a gun around.
Training and learning what you don’t know is the deciding factor on people becoming proficient or remaining in their ignorance. Get some training and continue to train.
If you are not at the skill level of at least a “Sharpshooter” in IDPA or a “C-Class” IPSC/USPSA Shooter, you are ill prepared to handle any real threats with a handgun.
Minimal: Handgun 9mm. Preferably double stack and reliable. Glock / S&W M&P, SIG, KAHR in that order for me. Buy once, cry once.
Better: Shotgun / Carbine. A pump shotgun (Remington 870 / Mossberg 590) is the best weapon for fast-moving dangerous game 25 yards and in. When the dog starts barking at bears in the front yard, the SBS 870 with 00 buck and Slugs in the carrier is what I grab over the carbines.
For two legged dangerous critters though, the AR15 is king and extends your lethal range out to 600 yards with a 4X scope.
Best: Carbine w/training. A quality carbine with full load out is the end goal for defensive weapons. Protection doesn’t just include guns, but perimeter detection, shooting positions, range determination skills, interlocking sectors of fire, and a whole lot more that can fill book after book.
For SHTF scenarios that would require that kind of protection and how to implement it, I refer you to a two good books on the matter to get you started.
by Paul G Markel
by David Kobler et al.
- Forging the Hero (The “Why” of Collapse)
- Failure of Civility (hard to find book on the “How” to build a community in SHTF)
ILLUMINATING THE DARK
Minimum: Having a supply of decent LED flashlights for everyone or better yet, headlamps, is a game changer. When power is out, things get really dark and you will want to see into it. You will be eating up batteries much faster than you are use to, so be sure to have several changes worth for each light.
Candles, the age-old backup… got some? Check out the plumber’s candles at your local hardware / farm store. For $1.00 ea. they last up to 8 hours. That’s over a month’s supply of light and moderate heat for less than a $20.00 investment and they don’t fail. A flashlight won’t light a fire for you and when matches are like gold, a candle is the way to go.
Better: Self-sustained lighting system. I can’t recommend the Zebra Lights enough when it comes to a head lamp. With some rechargeable Eneloop AA batteries and a small solar charger like the Power Film USB + AA Foldable Solar Panel you have lights for years to come.
Of course there are many more facets to this lighting dilemma when you consider tactical lighting for weapons systems, IR lighting for off-grid surveillance systems, etc. but that’s another post.
Best: Oil Lamps. When you consider the best way to live without electricity, always go back to 1800 and see how they did it. Oil lamps are a dime a dozen in thrift stores these days and even the cheap replica ones will work. Stock up on good clean burning oil and wicks and you are set for a good amount of time. In a pinch lesser quality oil and home made cotton wicks will work, but both are fairly cheap now, just put a bottle away when ever you see one in the farm store or make a reoccurring Amazon order to keep stock piling oil.
Rendering medical aide in a SHTF scenario is not a pretty sight. If you are seriously injured in a long term grid-down scenario, you will likely die.
All medicine today is geared towards patching and pushing you up the “care chain” until you reach a level high enough to find very specialized professionals and equipment to fix you. That’s not available in SHTF, even temporary SHTF like Katrina’s that overload Hospitals.
Preventative measures like proper PPE (gloves, ankle support boots, safety glasses, etc) and getting ahead of colds before they become pneumonia are critical to good health without the support of EMS.
Like the free-flowing electrical grid, Americans take for granted the ER room and readily available medical care. Start thinking what you can do on your own and get the gear & books but more importantly, get the training.
A great source for such information is from : Joseph Alton M.D.
Minimal: Basic first-aide kit, with triangle bandages, cold presses, burn ointment, etc.
Better: Advanced kit, CPR cert, Lifesaver training, sutures/staples, advanced ABC gear. Blow-Out kit for major trauma.
Best: Advanced kit & Training, supply of alt medicines like: essential oils, colloidal silver, vitamins, antibiotics (fish, get DR. Alton’s books), supply of prescription drugs (good luck stockpiling anything past a 30 day surplus!), etc.
Train yourself up to EMT-B level if you get the chance, and look for Nurses and Doctors as a top priority if forming a Mutual Assistance Group (MAG).
The greatest tool in medicine is knowledge, gear will not make up for lack of knowledge in this area.
Minimal: Cheap two-way radios. FRS/GMRS “hunting radios” are in most peoples gear already and work for “line of sight” communications just fine.
They often have AA battery packs and don’t require 120vac to charge a proprietary battery pack. Make sure you have a good supply of batteries as a short term solution.
Better: Cheap HAM radios. With a little bit of google-fu, you can learn to setup a cheap <$50.00 radio that will work even better than the "blister pack" FRS/GMRS radios or Marine radios many hunters use these days.
Best: Become a HAM Operator, if you do you won’t need me to tell you what to use. If you do need some help as an aspiring HAM, then look around the website, there are many ideas about communications off-grid from local “tactical” comms to HF Regional NVIS, to HF National comms.