• Ken Perrotte

Preparation is Key for any Survival Scenario -- Having a Plan and Emergency Supplies is Essential

Updated: May 9


While September is officially declared “National Preparedness Month,” the entirety of 2020 might well have been declared “Prepare. Stock Up Year.” A key theme heard throughout much of the year was, “Get a gun.” Well, that and, “Try to find toilet paper.” One situation reflected panic buying associated with pandemic. The other mostly reflected preparation buying associated with politics, civil unrest and pandemic.


Fortunately, by the end of 2020, toilet paper was available in most stores. Guns, not so much, especially certain models popular for personal and home defense. Millions of newcomers bought their first guns in 2020. Licensed firearms dealers conducted a record number of background checks. Even when people found the gun they wanted, ammunition was scarce. Quality ammunition for the most popular calibers of both rifles and handguns was and is incredibly hard to find. Manufacturers have detailed their difficulties in supplying the demand. Millions of new gun owners mean millions of boxes of ammunition. The industry surge capacity just wasn’t there, especially during a pandemic. Plus, let’s face it, people have been stockpiling.


The summer of 2020 with cities aflame, storefronts boarded up and police stations attacked had law-abiding people worried. Election unrest built as the year ended, culminating with a protest in Washington and a breach of the U.S. Capitol’s security that turned deadly. Fold in continued concerns about a pandemic far from under control and people remain worried.


Preparing for Tough Times

Avid “outdoors people,” especially if they are prone to occasionally roughing it or trekking to parts of the world where timely aid for physical injury or illness is scarce, already have thought through much of this stuff and likely possess many items on any survival list. For example, one trip 15 years ago into the Canadian wilderness taught me the importance of keeping a supply of prescribed medications available, plus anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea compounds, as well as antihistamines and painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen.


I got sick with something like the flu and it was a long seven days. In planning for that trip, I anticipated the possibility of not having a ready supply of safe drinking water. There might also be a time when making an emergency fire was essential. So, in my pack I carried a magnesium fire-starter stick, an ample supply of water purification tablets and a LifeStraw water filtration straw. These straws are designed to let you drink from the filthiest puddle or pond, removing about 99.9% of bacteria, parasites, and other bad stuff.


My guide pulled drinking water straight from a fast-flowing creek heading into the powder-blue river near our tent camp. He happily drank without purifying it. I insisted on boiling the water before drinking. Too many critters exist in and around that water. Having safe drinking water is imperative. People can live weeks without food, but only three days without water.

I still carry those tablets and straws on backwoods trips and have since obtained a more robust purification unit that can be used either at home or thrown into the truck. This unit, the LifeSaver Jerrycan, has a 18.5-liter Jerrycan equipped with an activated carbon filter that instantly removes 99.99% of viruses, bacteria, cysts and parasites. It is designed for repeated use and for letting you take full advantage of water opportunities when you have them. You fill it with the cleanest water you can find than then pump it out through the filter. The filter is said to last across more than 5,000 gallons of water, or enough to serve a family of four for a little over three years. My Jerrycan costs about $285. It’s one of those long-term, just-in-case investments. This unit is also sold packaged in a kit with 20 activated carbon filters, a shower head attachment, and a maintenance pack equipped with a protective flush cap, gaskets, pump seal and silicone grease. With an extended shelf life of 10 years, the LifeSaver Family Emergency Preparedness Pack is an essential piece to your disaster preparedness kit. The MSRP is $399.95 for the expanded kit.

Life-Saving List

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster preparedness focus for the masses mainly considers naturally occurring, catastrophic events, such as hurricanes, fires, floods, etc. The suggestions at www.ready.gov are designed to help people survive three days before help arrives. We’ve all seen, though, how some situations – hurricane damage, ice storms, fires, floods, etc. - can last well longer than three days. Count on yourself and not some government response to get you through the roughest times.


The list below contains most of FEMA’s suggested items along with embellishments of my own:

  • Water (at least 1 gallon per day per person). Keep a supply of water treatment tablets or a water filtration bottle or kit. Tablets are light and easy to add to any survival kit. Aquapure and Potable Aqua have long been reliable brands. Many companies make miniature filtration units, filters that attach to straws, bottles or bags and are lightweight and easily packable. Carefully check reviews and assess quality. There are frequently tradeoffs in equipment weight and durability. This type of equipment failure in a survival situation is untenable. Buy extra filters.

  • Food (again, a minimum three-day supply of non-perishable food). If you stock up on canned goods, pay attention to expiration dates and rotate them into your regular meals as needed. Freeze-dried or otherwise long-shelf-life products such those by Mountain House, Omeals, or even military surplus or similar MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat). Many companies sell versions of MREs. Research prices, quality and shelf life.

  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert.

  • Flashlight (s). Have a couple – they are inexpensive. An LED headlamp is also good and can free your hands for work in the dark.

  • First aid kit. Pre-made kits come in all sizes, from lightweight packables weighing a few ounces to tacklebox-sized models. Adventure Medical Kits offers many options. Sometimes, though, you can save money and create a more useful and high-quality kit by assessing your potential needs and stocking accordingly. We’ve all seen kits advertising “120 pieces” with half of those pieces being cheap, tiny adhesive bandages. To counter major injuries with heavy bleeding, a wound-clotting dressing is also advisable. The Israeli Bandage Battle Dressing First Aid Compression Bandage, 6 Inch model is well-rated. Another good option is to keep a bandage or other wound-dressing option that has a Celox hemostatic blood clotting agent or something like QuikClot, also by Adventure Medical Kits. Other minimal items include nitrile or latex gloves, sterilizing and wound-cleansing agents, butterfly wound closures, bandages, gauze, medical tape, etc.

  • Extra batteries. Size depends on tools being powered. Buy quality, long-life batteries.

  • Whistle (to signal for help).

  • Dust mask or slightly better to help filter contaminated air. N95 rated masks were ideal, but good luck finding them for the foreseeable future.

A tarp, some rope, a hatchet and lighter -- shelter
  • Plastic sheeting and tarps (to shelter in place, patch damage and more). A staple gun tacker can also be useful. Get 5x8 or bigger heavy-duty tarps.

  • Duct tape – one full roll. Ensure it is in good condition. Replace with a fresh roll every couple years. Also consider having something like 3M’s Wrap and Repair Silicone Tape, which can be used to fix leaky hoses, busted pipes and more. It handles heat to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Garbage bags (heavy duty are best) and plastic ties. Myriad uses besides trash, including impromptu raingear, waterproof storage.

  • Moist towelettes, soap, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to clean surfaces. A couple gallons of bleach. Many cleaning agent concentrates are usually inexpensive.

  • Wrench, strong pliers, screwdrivers (to turn off utilities and do other chores).

  • One decent multi-tool device – a quality Leatherman, SOG or Gerber unit, perhaps.

  • Manual can opener.

  • Regional maps. You have to consider that most electronic devices and cellular communications could be damaged or destroyed. Most people are hooked up to machines that keep them alive – smartphones. Don’t count on smartphones or GPS when something really bad happens.

  • There is also a possibility that just electricity may be out. Having a couple, always-charged, portable power units with the appropriate charging cord for your device is always advisable; also available are small, solar-powered charging devices.

  • Prescription and nonprescription medications (especially nausea, anti-diarrhea, anti-inflammatory, antacids, hydrocortisone and antibiotic creams, etc.).

  • Dental care items. Toothbrushes, picks, floss, and even short-term repair items for reattaching loose crowns or lost fillings.

  • Eyeglasses, reading glasses (buy multiple cheap sets), contact lenses and solution.

  • Baby or toddler needs: formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream.

  • Pet food and extra water.

  • Cash. Small bills preferred. Nothing bigger than $20.

  • Important records such as copies of insurance policies, identification, bank account records. Ideally, have a digitized version on some sort of durable media. Carry any printed copies or originals in a completely waterproof, portable container.

  • Sleeping bag(s)/warm blanket(s) for each person. A thermal space blanket/bivvy is another lightweight means of preserving body heat and good for a packable kit.

  • One complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes and extra socks. A set of clothes on a hanger using a trash bag as a garment bag helps keep things clean and dry.

  • Matches in a waterproof container/or an additional fire-starting device. A box of book matches is inexpensive. Fire starters or windproof lighters, such as those made by Zippo, are also good – ensure a spare supply of butane.

  • Candles. A single candle in a protected, small setting can deliver enough heat to keep you alive in extreme cold conditions.

  • Personal hygiene items (men and women).

  • Disposable or easily handled cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils.

  • Heavy duty Ziplock freezer bags – gallon and quart sizes. These can store food, water, and anything that must be kept dry. Use them for pens, pencils and some writing paper, as well.


Bigger Items:

  • Fire extinguisher.

  • Portable generator with enough fuel to last 3-5 days. Use ethanol-free gasoline for any small engine. You don’t need to be dealing with clogged carburetors in a crisis. Keep a can of ether spray (starting fluid) just in case.

  • Chainsaw. Depending on size of your dwelling, cut a couple cords of wood. Ethanol-free gas. Have a good bow saw with spare blade for hand work if needed.

  • An axe or hatchet with sturdy sharpening device.

  • Firearms and ammo. Depending if you’re hunkering in place or going mobile in a vehicle or on foot. Some rifles break down easily and are packable and lightweight. Depending on the scenario, though, a .22LR might not be enough for much besides collecting small game for food. Owning and knowing how to use a handgun is prudent.

  • On-demand propane heaters and a propane-fired stove/grill with ample fuel supply.

  • A heavy duty, fire-resistant, water-resistant safe. To store valuables, firearms, important records, family keepsakes.

  • A larger cache of freeze-dried or other foods with long shelf life.

Additional items to consider

  • Some sort of scanner or other device that helps you monitor exactly what may be going on in your area.

  • If you think you may have to “go mobile” in your vehicle, having a more robust backup power supply such as that provided by the “Zeus” unit could be helpful. This 20,000 mAh unit will jump start vehicles, recharge tools, phones and even serve as a light.

  • Depending on the anticipated scenarios, preparation may also involve being able to patch and refill tires using Fix-a-Flat aerosol cans or manual air pumps, etc.

This list certainly isn’t all inclusive. Scenarios involving prolonged civil unrest have additional considerations beyond the utilitarian needs listed above. Myriad sites and organizations offer suggestions for coping and surviving during unsettled times. Most people choose to ignore or wish away such scenarios, but preparation is the key to survival. Make a survival and preparedness plan and evaluate it at least yearly, ensuring your supplies are still viable and safe.

heavy snow with icicles off roof
Winter can be cold and unforgiving when unprepared