20 Steps: The Ultimate Guide To Becoming A Prepper


No one really knows how many preppers exist in the world, but it is safe to say that there are more than three million in the United States alone.  Even though this sounds like a huge segment of the population, this is still only slightly more than 1% of the total US populace.

So, the bigger question is this: who is going to take care of the remaining 99% percent of the population when a major disruptive event occurs?

My guess is that most folks believe that the government will step in.  Yeah right; just like they did with Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.  We all know how well that worked out. The victims of Katrina waited days for aid while thousands were housed in the Superdome without supplies, and the victims of Sandy sat huddled in dark, stinking apartments, then stood in long lines for hours to get their allotted bottle of water and an MRE.

Here’s the cold, hard truth: the US Government is ill-equipped to take on a massive rescue operation. They have neither the manpower or the supplies to do so.

Plus, if the disruptive event is an economic collapse, you can bet that corporations will be bailed out long before the populace.  It happened in 2008 and 2009, and many of us have the retirement account statements to prove it.

It’s undisputed that disasters can happen – and often do. The only question is, how will you deal with it? Will you wait for someone to charge in and rescue you and your family? Or will you take the matter into your own hands and prepare so that you can be self-reliant, regardless of the crisis?

The idea of prepping can be overwhelming when you think about the vast amount of supplies that you don’t yet have, when you discover your home may not be the best location in which to ride out the storm, or when you realize that you really don’t have that many viable post-apocalyptic skills.

The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Prepper in 20 Easy Steps

Don’t despair. This is your ultimate guide to becoming a prepper, complete with some assessments to help you figure out where you’re at right now, and the steps you need to take to get to where you need to be. Best of all, this is a guide that doesn’t require you to drop $11,298.36 (aka big bucks) today to become prepared in one fell swoop. Many of these to-dos are absolutely free!

The Four Stages of Prepping

Before starting, let us first review the four stages of prepping that I first wrote about in 10 Simple Strategies for Becoming A Prepper.

From what I’ve noticed, the mix of readers on prepper-centric websites fall into four major camps. This is a progression of preparedness.  You may recognize yourself and others in these descriptions.

I do not mean to imply that any stage of prepping is a bad thing.  Not at all.  Rather, it is our duty to exercise our own free will to make preparedness decisions that bring sense to our unique situations.  There is no such thing as the one-size-fits-all Prepper.  You may reach a certain stage and feel very comfortable at that point. Not everyone can be a candidate for a reality show, nor does everyone want to do something like that.

The Prepper Wannabe

This is someone who wants to embrace preparedness but does not know where to start.  This person may also feel that he or she does not have adequate financial resources to prep.

The Prepper Newbie

This prepper has started to prepare but needs help in sorting through an overwhelming amount of advice and preparedness strategies both online and off. Whether it is simply handholding or education, the Prepper Newbies have started their journey but continue to seek knowledge and positive reinforcement to ensure they are on the right path.

The Dedicated Prepper

This is someone who has embraced the preparedness lifestyle with gusto.  These preppers have supplies, knowledge, and skills but are seeking to fine tune their preps with advanced strategies for survival healthcare, living off-grid, and coping with civil unrest.  They actively share their own personal experiences with others and offer tips and help other prepper-types learn and grow.  I consider myself to be a Dedicated Prepper.

The Diehard Prepper

This prepper is planning for a major apocalypse and devotes considerable time and energy to ensuring that he or she will prevail.  The Diehard Prepper may have a well-stocked bug out retreat where they can live out their days if the end of the world should come.  They may also be highly secretive and unwilling to share what they have and what they know for OPSEC reasons.

Being a Diehard Prepper has been somewhat glamorized by the entertainment media.  This serves to disillusion and discourage those who are unable to create this type of alternative life for themselves. But don’t despair! It’s important to understand that this is the absolute far end of the scale, and that this lifestyle isn’t necessary to weather the more ordinary storms that we are most likely to face.

Okay, so we now know that there are at least four types of Preppers. There are undoubtedly more, but for the sake of simplicity, let us leave it at that.

No matter where you are on this range, it’s a great place! Why? Because you’ve already taken the most important step: you realize that you need to become more prepared.  After accepting that uncomfortable reality, the rest is just adding the nuts and bolts.

20 Steps to Becoming a Prepper

This brings me to the topic for today, which is especially for people in the first two stages of preparedness: how to become a prepper.

1.  Take baby steps

Take a deep breath and get started.  Do not let your fear or lack of experience overwhelm you.  Step in to the mindset and just start.  There are lots of encouraging articles and blogs online (see Recommended Sites about half way down this page) in addition to this one to set you on your way.

And please, don’t let naysayers who are too lazy or too stupid tell you that it is not worth it.  Just zip you lips and carry on.

2.  Start out slowly

Don’t worry about the long term.  When you are getting started, plan for a 3-day emergency supply.  When you have more experience – and more confidence – you can expand to a 7-day, 30-day, or even an annual emergency supply.  But for now?  Go easy on yourself and give yourself permission to start modestly.

This means water (one to two gallons per person per day), non-perishable food items, some first aid supplies, packets of prescription medications, and, if you have pets, some pet food.

3.  Plan for a power outage

This goes hand-in-hand with #2. An extended power outage is an event that occurs hand-in-hand with many other disasters.

Pick up some extra flashlights (this Coastal HP1 is one of my favorites), batteries, candles and waterproof matches.  For starters, that is just dandy.  Later on, when you have the budget, you can purchase the more esoteric items such as an inverter or generator. Here’s some more advice about prepping for a power outage.

4. Determine the most likely natural event in your area

Every geographical area is predisposed to some type of emergency.

Do live in a hurricane zone?  Then that should be your focus.  The same thing applies to tornado, earthquake, flood, and wildfire areas.  Live in the city?  Perhaps you should prepare for gang violence and civil unrest.  You need only look at the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson to see the reality of that particular threat.

If you think you are immune, go back and read Disasters 101: A list for those that think it will never happen to them.  This might change your mind.

5.  Create an emergency contact list

When a natural disaster of other disruptive event occurs, you want to act on instinct.  Alas, human nature may set you on a tailspin instead.

Well in advance, prepare a list of emergency contacts for police, fire, doctors, hospitals, and, of course, family members and close friends.  Be sure to include telephone numbers, cell phone numbers, and email addresses.  There is no guarantee that any one method will work if the emergency is dire.

6.  Stockpile as much water as you can and learn to purify the rest

Store as much water as you can.  Look for hidden locations in your home where you can store either purchased water or water you have bottled yourself using plastic soda or juice jugs, Water Bricks, or something else.

Beyond that, find secondary sources of water that you can use in an emergency (like ponds, creeks, or lakes) and learn how to safely filter and purify raw water for drinking purposes. Learn the basics of water storage here.

7.  Gather important documents

Obtain copies of your drivers license, passport, marriage license, emergency contacts, and medical history and keep them somewhere handy so you can grab and go if you have to.

These documents will assist rescue workers and first responders in identification and in providing you with adequate medical care, if needed. It also would not hurt to include some pictures of yourself with family members.  I like to store this information on a flash drive along with other information such as survival manuals, home inventories and such.

Also, it could be important to have account information and insurance policies handy. Be sure to store those securely. You don’t want someone to have all the information they need to steal your identity.

8.  Develop a communications and transportation plan

If the SHTF and you are not at home, what then?  This is where a plan becomes important.

Make a plan that identifies how loved ones will connect with each other in the event there is a natural disaster or other crisis.  Come up with a meeting place, and if possible, run a drill or two so you become familiar with the process.

9.  Purchase beans and rice and learn how to cook them

Beans and rice are chock-full of  calories and, in the case of beans, extremely nutritious.  Stock up on dried beans and rice then learn how to cook them off grid, and outdoors over an open fire or rocket stove that you can build yourself.

For very little money and with very little skill, you will keep hungry bellies full when there is no other food to be had.

10.  Come up with secondary sanitation solutions

This is kind of a yucky topic, but of vital importance. In some situations, the infrastructure can fail so thoroughly that you no longer have running water or flushing toilets. In that situation, what will you do?

You can stock up on supplies for hand hygiene (this article has all the details – link to hand and surface hygiene article). You can also use kitty litter and a bucket to make a temporary toilet for the family. Daisy Luther explains how in this article called “What to Do When the Toilet Won’t Flush.”

11.  Work toward optimal physical fitness

Exercise regularly and stay in shape.  This does not mean that you have to be thin.  Rather, build up your stamina and strength so that you can perform manual labor for extended periods.

Hike, power walk, lift weights, bicycle; just pick something and stick with it so that you reduce body fat and build up muscle endurance and physical tolerance.

12.  Learn basic skills

This is my personal favorite because it involves having fun.  Learn to garden and grow some food.  Heck, anyone can learn to grow lettuce and potatoes! Start canning and learn to preserve what you grow!

Take up fishing or hunting.  Go camping and learn to build a fire and sleep outdoors.  Fire up the barbie and learn to bake bread, steam vegetables, and make pancakes on on open grill or fire.  The possibilities are endless plus, you can involve all members of your family while turning basic skill building in to a hobby.

13.  Get to know your neighbors

Get to know your neighbors, or, if you live in a remote area, the folks in the surrounding community.  These are the folks that will watch your back and help you out if the SHTF and you are really in trouble.  And likewise, you should be inclined to help them out if they are worse off than you following a disaster.

I am not talking about giving assistance or handouts to free loaders.  No, I mean offering a hand to your friendly clerk at the post office, or a teacher at your children’s school, or the neighbor down the road who offers you fresh eggs when his chickens are over-producing.

14.  Develop a community of like-minded preppers

Regardless of where you live or your family situation, become a community with others.  Even if your community consists of only two or three persons, these few people will serve as your support group and sounding board for the tactical decisions you will make when things get tough.  In addition, you need at least one other person to watch your back as you will watch theirs.

Additional Reading:  5 Important Considerations When Forming a Prepper Community

15.  Create a survival library

No one can remember every single detail about every single subject.  As practiced and skilled as you may be, there will always be a situation where you either forgot or just plain do not know.  Build up a survival library.  Binders full of paper are good but so are electronic readers and tablets that can easily be powered using inexpensive solar chargers.

Here are some great books to start out with:

  • SAS Survival Guide (This one is small and fits easily in a backpack) by John “Lofty” Wiseman

16.  Put together a basic bug out bag

Bugging in during a disruptive event is always preferable to bugging out.  (Bugging in is often referred to and “hunkering down”.  That said, if your home is no longer safe, you may be required to bug out.  This does not mean that you will have to flee to the woods.

Bugging out may as simple as retreating to a friend or relative’s home or as complicated as hiking in a storm to the nearest shelter twenty miles a way.  Regardless of where you bug out to, you are going to need some basics to help you get by.

A basic bug out bag that is light enough to carry when fully loaded, is something every member of the family should possess.  Here is the most recent incarnation of my own Bug Out Bag.

17.  Practice an evacuation plan

Sometimes a disaster occurs that causes your home to no longer be safe to live in. If this occurs for whatever reason, plan to leave.  Map out an evacuation route in advance.  Determine two or three different ways to physically exit your home and then two or three ways to find your way out of the immediate area.  At least one of the routes should avoid major streets and arterial locations.

Once you develop an evacuation plan, practice by traveling each route at least once annually. Don’t forget that events can  occur that would require you to leave on foot. Make arrangements for this possibility as well, and include the needs of your four-legged friends in your proposed course of action.

18. Plan for comfort foods and amusements

I have taken flak before on this and I will probably continue to be dissed forever on this subject.  But, when panic and fear set in, there is nothing like a bag of cookies, some mac and cheese from a box, a juicy paperback and, for kids of all ages, a snuggly teddy bear.

Add some coloring books and colored pencils, playing cards, board games, popcorn (which can be popped over an over fire), and a book of Sudoku and you are all set.   Well, maybe a bottle of whiskey or vodka would be good too.

The moral of the story is to pack away a few things in the survival pantry that will make you feel better in spite of the chaos around you. Here’s a list of goodies to get you started.

19. Learn the basics of first aid and survival medicine

Put together a comprehensive first aid kit that includes trauma supplies as well as protection gear to keep you safe in the sick room.  Acquire extra prescription medications as well as antibiotics and essential oils.  Learn about herbal medicine and keep a good book on survival medicine on hand as a reference.

20. Be prepared to defend your home, family and supplies

This is a very unpopular part of preparedness, and it is what causes others to look at us like we’re crazy. But, as unpleasant as it is, in a crisis people can be depended upon to behave badly. And the more desperate they become, the more dangerous they are to you, your family, and your supplies.

This article by Tess Pennington, The Anatomy of a Breakdown, explains the predictable patterns of social unrest.

After the Ferguson and Baltimore riots, Daisy Luther wrote an essay on why preppers must be armed. Here is a brief excerpt:

“The only person you can rely on to protect your family is yourself.

You can stockpile until you have a decade of supplies put back, but if you can’t defend it, you don’t actually own it. You only have it because no one has bothered taking it away from you yet.  You have what you have based on the goodwill of others, who are stronger, greater in number, and better armed.

You have to look at the psychology of this. People can justify pretty much anything when they or their children are starving. And I can understand that to a large degree – who could stand to watch their babies suffering?  But if someone can devolve to the above degree just to because everyone else is doing it, the chaos we saw above is only a tiny sample of what could come if people were truly hungry.

Take a long hard look at the threats you face during civil unrest, and develop one. Wherever you live, whatever your situation, you need to plan as though 911 does not exist. Whether riots are occurring in the streets or not, in the seconds during which the lives of your family hang in the balance, you are completely on your own.” (source)

It isn’t enough just to choose a weapon and put it in a drawer. You need to learn to use it, practice with it regularly, maintain it, and keep on hand extra ammunition for it. The lives of your family could one day depend on your comfort level and skill with your defense weapon of choice.

The Final Word

Each of these strategies has been listed with an all too brief explanation.  The reality is that each warrants a full-blown dialog as to why it is important as well as steps to put the strategy into action.

Starting any new project, large or small, can be daunting.  Unlike other projects, however, family preparedness and prepping can literally save your life if not your sanity. I have created a beginners roadmap for going forward as I develop each topic in detail in the Twelve Months of Prepping Series, complete with actionable steps that you can take to become a prepper of the highest order while doing so with grace, optimism, and hope.

Please don’t be overwhelmed. We travel this journey together.  Let us share the burden and learn from each other.  Together, we can become a community.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

Gaye Levy, also known as the Survival Woman, grew up and attended school in the Greater Seattle area. After spending many years as an executive in the software industry, she started a specialized accounting practice offering contract CFO work to emerging high tech and service industries. She has now abandoned city life and has moved to a serenely beautiful rural area on an island in NW Washington State. She lives and teaches the principles of a sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle through her website at BackdoorSurvival.com. At Backdoor Survival, Gaye speaks her mind and delivers her message of prepping with optimism and grace, regardless of the uncertain times and mayhem swirling around us.

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About The Author

Gaye Levy, also known as the Survival Woman, grew up and attended school in the Greater Seattle area. After spending many years as an executive in the software industry, she started a specialized accounting practice offering contract CFO work to emerging high tech and service industries. She has now abandoned city life and has moved to a serenely beautiful rural area on an island in NW Washington State. She lives and teaches the principles of a sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle through her website at BackdoorSurvival.com. At Backdoor Survival, Gaye speaks her mind and delivers her message of prepping with optimism and grace, regardless of the uncertain times and mayhem swirling around us.

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