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How to Start Prepping for Beginners

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How to start prepping? Where to start prepping? What to prep? These are all weighty questions. Ones that can be daunting and scary.

how to start prepping

Realizing that the world isn’t as safe as it appears can be chilling. Understanding that your family could be weeks without food.

Recognizing that inaction can place family members in jeopardy. You have already started to address this fear.

As a result, you sought us out and found this article. You have chosen to take control of your future and put your family into safer hands. Let’s get you started prepping!

Introduction to SHTF

sh*t hits the fan

Let’s start with what “SHTF” actually stands for.

  • Sh*t
  • Hits
  • The
  • Fan

As in “when the SHTF,” you need to learn how to survive.

What is Emergency Prepping?

empty shelves

That’s a good question and an even better place to start. An emergency is any event that overwhelms your current ability to manage it. This may be as big as a nuclear war or as small as a job loss.

Millions of people around the world have taken the responsibility to put away food, secure their water supply, save money, and create a bug out plan, all to lessen the blow of such an event.

They also cultivate skills useful for managing troubling times, such as trauma first aid, self-defense, and foraging.

It doesn’t take a bunker to survive a job loss. Mostly, it takes forethought and effort. Forethought to have the gear and the effort to gain the skills, and to have plans in place.

That’s emergency prepping.

Why Should I Get Started?

We’ve all seen the trends over the past few years. Political, social, and natural. We feel like we are on a spinning top that has lost its momentum.

Everything is swinging wildly before it finally topples over.

Now is the time to get started on your prepper’s journey. If you wait, food is only going to get scarcer. Money will buy less. People will become more irrational. Most of all, you will have less time to learn what you need to know.

The truth is, many people around you are already prep. They may not talk about it due to the recent unfair portrayal in the media. They keep quiet because of the irrational image Hollywood presents of survivalists. Trust me, though, we are out there, and we are here to help.

Your average prepper simply wants to protect their family when times get tough. That’s it; that’s all.

Many don’t have a bunker filled with guns and ammo. Most don’t have an underground bunker. They have extra food for their bug out bag, water, a backup location to relocate to, and a plan.

And they quietly go about their daily lives. Just like you.

SHTFPreparedness is the #1 Resource for Survival

Here at, we pride ourselves on being the #1 resource for the exchange of prepping information. Our staff pulls from generations of knowledge and prepares it in a way that is accurate and enjoyable to read.

Readers seek out our articles daily. They learn and grow from the information exchanged via each post. For example, we have over 1,000 articles available that cover all of the most important survival topics.

Expert knowledge in food, bug out bags and survival kits, water, shelter, security, gear, and more are all found within our pages.

You can follow our Facebook page along with over 1.2 million other preppers, join 3,000 friends on our Facebook Group, and have over 335,000 fans on Pinterest!

You’ve come to the right place to not only get started, but also to grow, hone, and perfect your own skills!

SHTF Prepping Basics

emergency kit checklist

Quick Start Tips and Common Mistakes

You’ve taken the first step and I know you’re eager to get started.

Let’s begin with several guidelines to follow and pitfalls to avoid. These common mistakes will cost you time and money. With a bit of a guiding hand, you will head down the right path of preparedness, securing the future for you and your loved ones.

green checkmarkStart With a Plan


Like much in life, you will thrive if you have direction. Haphazardly acquiring gear and buying food out of panic wastes your money. It has the potential to fill your closet with meals you won’t eat and tools you will never use.

Creating a plan and carefully mapping out your preparedness strategy primarily focuses your effort and most importantly, it smartens your wallet.

green checkmarkGo Slow and Make Steady Progress


Next, remember prepping is a marathon, not a sprint.

Once your plan is developed, stick with it. You don’t need to be done overnight. You just need to be a little more prepared every day. This not only steadily grows your skills, gear, and food. Above all, it also helps avoid burnout.

green checkmarkChoose and Store Long Term Food Wisely


A key to survival is long term food storage. Beans, rice, oatmeal, pasta, and wheat form the foundation of your prepper pantry.

As you begin your prepper journey, experiment with as many recipes as possible. Also, research the best way to store your long-term foods.

Don’t buy now and experiment later. Try a little first, then stack it high and deep.

green checkmarkBecome Medically Prepared


Next, get medical training. If the worst comes to pass, you will be your only first responder. The ability to handle medical situations is a must.

You’re not expected to become certified as a paramedic or a surgeon. You just need to know how to handle the aftermath of an accident and have the proper equipment.

Your emergency supply should include the means to handle everything from natural remedies to dental issues to cuts and scrapes, to orthopedic injuries. Know the initial treatment steps and how not to make the situation worse. Acquire the knowledge for injury aftercare.

green checkmarkDon’t Be Left Out in the Cold, Have a BOB and a BOL


Finally, your Bug Out Bag (BOB) is your friend. This is one tool that will get you through the first critical days of a disaster.

Your Bug Out Location (BOL) can be any destination that gets you away from danger. In other words, this can be a neighbor’s house (if yours burns down), a hotel in the next county (during a regional natural disaster), or an off-grid prepper paradise.

Your bug out bag or bug out location does not need to be expensive or elaborate. They just need to get you “off the X” and safe.

Decide What You Are Prepping For

Every person must decide for themselves what to prepare for. We are all unique and have different threats on the horizon.

Start with what preppers call a threat matrix. This is a simple list from the most probable to least probable but most disruptive threats in your life.

For most, job loss, illness, and minor power outages rank at the top of the list. We will all lose our job. If we’re lucky, it’s called retirement.

For instance, we all lose power for a day or so. These are not world-ending events, but they are all inconvenient. They can be made easy with a little forethought.

Many of the items on your threat matrix will be larger in scope. These are the ones that have the potential to disrupt thousands or millions of lives. These are equally unique to you and your situation.

For instance, where you live determines the natural disasters on the list. Likewise, your interpretation of local, national, and world events guides the social threats you see in your future.

Do you live in a rural or urban area? What locations to avoid when the SHTF. Your location guides the social threats you must plan for.

Pull out your pen and paper and start on your list. Document which threats are closest to the horizon. Prepare for these. Once you can confidently manage these, start on the larger threats.

How to Start Prepping: 7 Steps

Prepping does not need to be complicated and stressful. Quite the contrary, it can be orderly and easy.

We have distilled the path to basic preparedness down to 7 easy steps. These steps get ready to thrive during most short-term disruptions. They prepare you for disasters that take a month or two to recover from.

Look back to your threat matrix. 90% of the events on it will impact you for less than 60 days. If you have the ability to manage these, you are covered for most of what life can throw at you.

1. Pack a Bug Out Bag

got my bug out bag ready!

The first step is to prepare and pack a bug out bag. Your bug out bag will get you from wherever you are to a place of improved safety.

Ideally, the best bug out bag for you should be comfortable and equipped with the most applicable supplies for your environment. It must contain the basics for food, water, shelter, and security. The details are impacted by your environment.

If you are in a rural area, you must pack extra clothes and layers that will cover cold and hot temperatures. You may also carry less water as streams and brooks may be abundant. Therefore, exchange extra water storage for water filtration.

An urban bug out bag will depend on water storage, as filtering an urban puddle is out of the question. You may also pack elements of urban camouflage.

Those who appear homeless are invisible in more ways than one. These are just a few of the choices that will make your bug out bag unique to you.

Do not build a bug out bag in haste. If you do, you will end up with a bag of useless items and look like the guy in the image above! Also, don’t expect your bag to be perfect the first time.

Bug out bags evolve as we do. Check over your bag at the change of seasons. Replace the clothes with season-appropriate ones.

Replace any food on the verge of expiration and make sure that all gear is in good working order. Finally, remove any gear that is no longer necessary due to the new skills that you have mastered.

Pack a bug out bag and keep it up-to-date!

2. Decide on a Sustainable Water Source

Secondly, identify a water source. The “Rule of Threes” states that after three days without water, life is in jeopardy. Dehydration, even in mild cases, can decrease your ability to function or leave you debilitated.

These are bad situations for survival. To combat this, you need a sustainable source of water for yourself and your family.

long term water storage

You can store water, but at the recommended 1 gallon per person per day, it adds up quickly. For even the shortest emergencies, this can be an unwieldy amount of water. The 1-gallon rule is the absolute minimum.

You should plan on 5 gallons of water per person per day. That is, if you wish to drink, cook, clean dishes, and tend to personal hygiene. While you need a water storage plan, it is better to have a dependable water source.

A sustainable source includes running water (river, stream, or brook), larger bodies of water (lake or pond), and hand-dug wells. For sources of water in urban areas, you will need to be more creative and practice water foraging.

All water must be considered unsafe until it is purified or sanitized. At the very least, have fuel and tools on hand for boiling water. This process kills any bacteria that can infect you.

Additionally, modern technology has resulted in several compact and high-quality filters. Do your research and add several to your gear. They are cheap insurance against crippling gastrointestinal infections.

3. Build a Food Supply

canned food stockpile

After water, food is next within the rule of threes. Three weeks without food and your life is in jeopardy. Some of us will last a little less, some a lot longer.

The key to food for preppers is storage time. While a cupboard full of canned goods and loose rice is nice. You will need food that you can put away for decades. You don’t know when you will need it, so it’s best to fill a pantry with food that will last.

The best long-term storage foods are the prepper basics: rice, beans, oats, wheat, and pasta. A large portion of the world lives on little more than beans and rice.

You can too. Each of these items is cheap when bought in bulk. Properly stored, they last for decades. This is perfect for the majority of your calories.

You must also balance your pantry, both in variety and nutrition. Fighting food fatigue (having the same meal over and over) can lead to frustration and an eventual refusal to eat. Therefore, add other items to your pantry for the sake of your sanity and health.

Try our recipe for canned meatballs!

Canned goods last well beyond the printed “Best By” date. Each week, buy more than you need and put the newest on the back of the shelf. Always cook from cans in the front. This is called copy canning and is a great way to rotate your stocks.

Storing variety not only provides you with meal options, it also balances out your nutrition.

The next storage option is freeze-dried food. Purchased as whole meals (lasagna, beef stroganoff) or as individual components (eggs, vegetables, fruits) freeze-dried is a great way to add variety. Likewise, freeze-dried foods last decades.

4. Gather Your Prepping Gear and Tools

Survival kit

Fourth, gather your gear. Preppers love gear. As a beginner, this is a greenfield for you.

Check out our list of free emergency preparedness gear!

Look at your threat matrix and decide what gear will add comfort and ensure survival for each of your threats.

Start with the basics, including hygiene, health, and communications. Toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, medical supplies, and a few hand-held radios top your list of gear.

Specifically, urban preppers should include a silcock key (used for opening water spigots), a gas shutoff wrench, and security-oriented gear.

Cobra Products PST154 4-Way Sillcock KeyCobra Products 4-Way Sillcock KeyCobra Products PST154 4-Way Sillcock Key

In contrast, rural survivor tools may include hand tools for gardening and construction as well as hunting, fishing, and trapping supplies. You may also wish to add a separate get home bag (GHB).

Rural preppers often have longer commutes and therefore have special needs to manage a walking commute after an emergency. They may even include elements of wilderness survival if the quickest path home is off-road.

5. Plan for Homesteading and Gardening

The first time you hear about a person buying or using "rock dust" it's very confusing.

Next, become more self-sufficient. The path to preparedness includes a measure of self-sufficiency and independence. Homesteading is the ultimate approach to survival. On a homestead, you can grow, raise, and make most of your personal needs.

Food management on the homestead includes gardening, hunting, gathering, and preservation.

Specifically, you must be able to store food during the abundant season of the harvest. In the same vein, canning and other preservations skills ensure a variety of food year-round.

The most extreme events on the threat matrix include the failure of our electrical grid. Whether it be a cyber-attack, EMP, or simply an overload.

The failure of the grid even affects remote homesteaders. Energy independence options are abundant these days with available solar, wind, and hydro plans.

You can also extend your comfort, for example, with more uncommon methods such as harvesting heat from a compost pile.

6. Unique Considerations for Your Situation

US nuclear strike map

Every prepper is unique, as their family, job situation, and geographic location all combine to form a complete picture of their needs. Let’s take a quick look at a few special cases.

Natural Disaster Preparedness

Each region of the country has its own weather patterns. Mother Nature can be the most awesome force on the planet when angered.

For example, blizzards, ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and earthquakes all spread devastation. No matter where you live, there is potential for disruption or a natural disaster.

Specifically, each disaster requires an independent approach. From cold-weather gear required for snowstorms, power outage gear for ice storms to an underground shelter for a tornado, we discuss them all.

Review your situation and subsequently read up on the best survival skills for natural disasters in your area.

Prepping on a Low Budget

Prepping is not an all-or-nothing venture. You can make steady progress even on the most modest budget.

By shopping for sales, sticking with low-cost options, and being patient, you can advance your preparedness without putting a dent in your budget.

That is to say, make smart choices of what you buy and when you buy and you will stretch your prepping dollar.

7. Get Involved in the Prepper Community

Above all, realize that you are not alone on your prepping journey. The survival community is as varied as it is large.

There are numerous groups that you can tap into for information. There are bound to be several that will match your style and interests.

The SHTFPreparedness community is a great start! Our Facebook Group is a great resource to mingle with other like-minded individuals.

Our Pinterest page is a great starting point if you aren’t sure what you are looking for. If you are looking for the most information, head on over to our Facebook page.

Beyond our resources, you can follow podcasts, forums, and other blogs (only after you have exhausted this one, of course!).

Podcasts are great as you can download the audio and listen while you are otherwise occupied. Listening during your commute, while you mow the grass, or even while puttering around the house are all great times to listen and learn.

Finally, online forums are a wealth of personal experience. Whether you prefer to just lurk (read-only) or get actively involved, forums are the perfect platform to exchange lessons learned with other preppers.

Start Prepping!

To be honest, prepping can be daunting. Where to start? What gear should I get? What needs to go into my bug out bag? Facing events such as EMP, cyberattacks, and complete grid failure can be terrifying.

There is a lot to be concerned with; however, looked at from the proper perspective, prepping is a manageable challenge.

Take the right steps, and you will soon find yourself moving from a beginner prepper to an experienced prepper.

One that has taken personal responsibility for their family’s well-being and security. Soon you will face any challenge and honestly say, “Yes, I can handle that!”

So get started with your threat matrix and prepper plans, and start filling up your pantry. A more secure future awaits.

How to Start Prepping Guide: Step 1: Pack a Bug Out Bag. Step 2: Find water. Step 3: Collect food. Step 4: ...