Webster defines an expert as a person “who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area” That being said, when it comes to preparedness, is anyone ever really an expert?
Let’s be realistic. Every prepper, myself included, was a novice at one time or another. Along our journey, we have consulted books, websites, blogs, and various government publications in our quest to learn abut preparedness in general and the prepper lifestyle in particular. Were any of the individual authors of these sources experts? Perhaps they were but if that were the case, why does our search continue?
Having chosen the prepper lifestyle, we continually find ourselves in search of that next best thing, whether it is a piece of gear, a new type of freeze dried food, a fabulous new prepping book or a masterful survival skill. No matter what it is, there always seems to be something out there to capture our attention.
While I do believe that is it worthwhile to be forward-thinking when it comes to prepping, I feel it is equally beneficial to reflect on past mistakes. Learning from prepper mistakes is an important part of the process and allows us to to move forward with a renewed sense of resolve to do it better “the next time”.
In this article I share some common and not so common prepper mistakes. I have made many of these myself, while others, through dumb luck or planning, have been avoided. Are you guilty of any of these prepper mistakes?
14 Common and Uncommon Prepper Mistakes
1. Failure to inventory stored food supplies
It is easy to amass a sizable supply of food in a short period of time. This is especially true if you tend to purchase a little bit extra each time you shop. Before you know it, you have a closet, pantry, a basement full of stuff but no clue as to what is inside.
Creating a master inventory is only half the battle. Adding to the list as new items are purchased and removing items from the list as they are rotated out takes diligence and perseverance. My own efforts in this area are embarrassingly poor.
My best advice in this regards is that if you are fairly new to prepping, don’t let this one slip by. Keep track of what you have from the get go and save yourself a lot of grief down the road.
2. Failure to perform a risk analysis and prepping for the most likely disruptive events first
When first getting started, it is easy to go off willy-nilly preparing for all sorts of calamities. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks, pandemics, nuclear melt-downs, civil disobedience; you name it and the call to prepare will be out there. I can guarantee that this will drive you crazy!
I recommend that the very first step you take when prepping is to evaluate the most likely risks specific to your geographical area and your personal domestic situation. Most, if not all, city, county and state governments will have emergency management websites that will help you sort through the most likely disasters to occur in your area. Take advantage of these public resources.
Don’t stop there. Take a hard look at demographics. Are you in a city where gangs, mobs or terrorist attacks are likely? Do you live in a remote area where the failure of transportations systems or the lack of fuel will cut off you off from supplies from the rest of the world? Is your employment situation tenuous requiring that you build up some cash reserves to get you by just in case the job goes away?
Clearly, at the beginning, some choices will need to be made regarding the best use of your prepping budget. Just remember that food, water and first aid supplies should be at the top of everyone’s list. After that, assess the most likely risks and plan accordingly.
For ideas, take a look at 12 Months of Prepping: One Month at a Time. Here you will find links to articles that take you though the process of gathering what you need in terms of supplies, gear, tasks, and skills to set you on a positive path of preparedness. It may not seem like a lot, but at the end of the year will will be better prepared than 95% of your neighbors.
3. Preparing mostly to bug out rather than bugging in
We all talk about having a bug-out-bag and without question, having your most basic survival items in a pack that you can grab and go if you need to get out of dodge in a hurry is important. But beyond that, over and over I see people acquire all sorts of gear for surviving on the run – perhaps in the woods or bush at a remote location.
I know that in my own case and also with the majority of the readers on Backdoor Survival, hunkering down and bugging in will always be preferred to taking off into the unknown with our stuff. For many, the choice to bug in has to do with family, health concerns or financial considerations. That, plus the availability of stored supplies makes bugging in – or staying at home – the choice when a disaster strikes.
At the end of the day, take care of your bugging in needs first and foremost. Plan for outdoor cooking facilities (perhaps an existing charcoal grill?), supplemental lighting (like this $20 Dorcy Wireless Motion LED Flood Lite), stored water, and a portable generator now. Later, down the road, you can expand your supplies to include the essentials for truly bugging out.
That said, pay attention to mistake number 4.
4. Failure to evacuate at just the right time
When the storm of the century is heading your way, know that it is time to evacuate. Load up your vehicle and go. As much as you feel that your are better off in your own home, if the authorities tell you to leave – and even if they do not – get out of harm’s way as a precautionary measure. Do so while you still have the ability to load up your vehicle with supplies and fill the tank with gas.
Sticking around when there is at least a 50% chance of a disaster occurring (hurricane, flood, landslides, tsunami,wildfire) is just plain silly. Remember mistake number 2, failure to evaluate the risks? Part of your planning should be to determine the trigger point for evacuation as well as identification of an evacuation site and a route to get there. Better yet, plan multiple alternate routes as well.
5. Having the gear but not knowing how to use it
This is more common than you might think. How many of you have a closet that represents a survivalists dream? Emergency radios, compasses, propane stoves and lanterns, tactical knives, firearms, cross-bows, hand tools, solar kits and more lie idle and unused and untested in more homes than you might think.
Every single one of these items needs to be put through its paces two or three times a year at a minimum. Not only do you need to know how to use your gear, but you need to ensure that your gear is in good working order. Blades need to be sharpened, batteries need to be charged and skills need to be refreshed.
6. Underestimating other humans as a threat
In a perfect world, we would all get along and go about our business in a mild-mannered way, not bothering anyone or causing others harm. Alas, as humans this has never been the case. From biblical times forward, man has opposed man. There have been and still are warriors, and armies, soldiers and dictators, enemies and foes.
As mass shootings have revealed, mental illness or drugs can make good people go bad. Add the uncertainly and chaos created by an unstable society and the potential for human threat becomes a major cause for concern.
Whether you embrace firearms or shun them, you still need a way to defend yourself, your family and your property. Consider pepper sprays, martial arts, and other defensive mechanisms in addition to traditional firearms. It is foolhardy to believe that having some means of defense is not needed because “there is no one out to get you”. Don’t be naive in this regard!
Desperate people are dangerous people. And the lack of food, water and supplies will turn ordinary people into desperate people in a heartbeat.
7. Spending your entire budget on gear instead of on food, water, and medical supplies
Shopping for new gadgets, gizmos, and gear is both fun and addictive. Who wouldn’t want the latest $150 tactical flashlight or that set of high tech night goggles to use in spotting bad buys before they see you.
Purchasing survival gear is a necessary part of the prepping process but it should not be done to the exclusion of food, water, and medical supplies. The exception to this rule is water purification and fire-making tools both of which can be acquired for very little cost. (Consider pool shock for water treatment plus a magnesium fire tool and dryer lint for fire-making.)
Over and over again, I learn of families that have thousands of dollars invested in gear, including an arsenal of firearms and ammo, but have less than thirty days worth of food. Not only that, the food they have is poorly packaged and is therefore subject to spoilage or an infestation of pests. (See mistake #8.)
When developing a preparedness budget, pay close attention to the day to day needs you will incur following a disaster or disruptive event. Doesn’t it make sense to take care of those needs first? The gear will come in time so ensure that you are not gear rich but food poor.
Make a concerted effort to avoid impulse purchases and you will be fine.
8. Lacking the knowledge to properly store your food supplies
There are six enemies of food storage: Temperature, Moisture, Oxygen, Light, Pests and Time.
Okay, some might say there is a seventh enemy: namely the two legged type that gets into the tastier items (such a cans of brownie mix) and eats them without telling anyone.
Seriously though, storing food for the long term, meaning five years or longer, does take some care. Brush up on the basics of food storage and set up an active rotation program. You don’t necessarily have to store food for 10 years or longer but what you do store, even for a year or two, should be protected to the best of your ability.
One thing to keep in mind that except for the problem with pests, most food will still be edible even if it is not stored at optimal temperatures in a moisture and oxygen-free environment. Learn proper storage methods to insure maximum taste and nutrition.
There are many food-storage articles on this website (such as this one, Food Storage Mistakes and Goofs) as well as others (type “food storage” in the search box at the upper right hand side of the page). In addition, consider “Prepper’s Guide to Food Storage” as an all in one resource available in both e-book and print form.
9. Buying gear and supplies while ignoring the need to develop skills
Buying stuff is easy. You save your money, select your merchandise and go to your local outdoor emporium or Amazon and make a purchase.
On the other hand, learning new skills (or practicing old ones) takes time, patience and bit of study. Do you know how to start a fire without matches or a butane lighter? Do you know how to take advantage of natures bounty by knowing how to fish or hunt? And what about growing your own food? Could you do it if you had to?
Developing skills to become self-sufficient are every bit as important as having a closet full of the best gear money can by. Remember that.
10. Relying only on yourself and ignoring like-minded members of your community
When I first started prepping, I did not mention my new little “hobby” to anyone. You know, OPSEC and all that. But about a year into it, I realized that I could not do it all on my own. There were things I was having trouble grasping and I needed help. As I tip toed around the edges of my community, I found some like minded people and much to my surprise, I found that I had skills and knowledge that they lacked.
The mutual exchange of skills and knowledge ensued along with some informal agreements to team up if circumstances required us to be on our own for any period of time. This included teaming up for shelter and food as well as defense.
The importance of having a peer group of like minded comrades in my own community was strengthened as I read R. P. Ruggiero’s Brushfire Plague and continues as I explore other truer than life survival stories,. How you decide to expand your community contacts is up to you but be advised that when it comes to survival 1 + 1 will definitely add up to more than 2.
11. Just because someone else does something does not mean that you should do it to
There is an unspoken rule of the road in boating: just because the other guy is doing it does not mean he is right or knows what he is doing. Personally I have been there and done that and nearly ended up on the rocks.
The same rule applies to prepping.
As someone who reads a lot on the internet, you have likely come across many authorities with “expert” advice on one topic or another. This is where the gray matter between your ears becomes the most important tool in your box of prepper skills. Think it through before you unilaterally apply someone’s expertise to your own situation. This is includes advice and suggestions from this website!
Go back to the beginning and do a risk analysis. Examine your budget; can you afford it? What are your living conditions? What is the likelihood that a hurricane (or earthquake or wildfire) will threaten your home? Are you physically up to the task of bugging out on foot?
Every step along the way you should be asking yourself these questions and more. You are unique. Recognize and embrace the fact that with preparedness, one size does not fit all.
12. Falling victim to prepper procrastination
You have read the best books out there and spent the wee hours of the night reading every website you can find that teaches and preaches preparedness. You should be ready to embark upon your preparedness journey but remain a lurker.
There is no other way to say it but this: just start. Select one small task or one small project and see it through to completion. Take some baby steps and spend an hour, perhaps two, and get something done. The results will be worth it.
Even if you are just an occasional victim of prepper procrastination, you should go back and read Learning to Overcome Prepper Procrastination.
13. Obsessing about behind the curve-ball
Read this carefully then read it again. You will never be done.
There will always be stock to rotate, supplies to purchase, and skills to learn. Being worried and obsessed about getting every thing done at once will only increase your stress during an already stressful period in life.
Get over it!
14. Forgetting that there is a life beyond prepping
Of all of the prepper mistakes, this is perhaps the most difficult to overcome.
For many, the call of prepare becomes a full-time avocation. Living and breathing preparedness becomes the norm, disrupting work and family activities as well as the personal quiet time we all need to recharge our internal batteries. Sleep becomes elusive as you fret about being ready. You live in a perpetual state of stress.
Hopefully, this has not and will not happen to you. Trust me, though, it does happen and at one time this happened to me.
Above all, remember that regardless of what you think about the future, you still have one precious life to live. You can not stop the clock of time so unless you feel an imminent danger, continue to live your life as normally and joyfully as possible. Attend family celebrations and continue to take vacations. Have fun and learn to play.
Isn’t life itself the reason you are prepping and surviving in the first place?
The Final Word
These days I feel fortunate that I have come so far with my prepping activities. Moving beyond obsession, the prepping way of life is now a part of my core. It is “what I do” as well as being a hobby and a passion.
Indeed, I have made some mistakes along the way and many of them are listed above. There will surely be others down the road but I know that will be okay since they will afford me an opportunity to learn and grow. At the end of the day, life is all about growth, opportunity and the ability to take care of oneself physically, mentally and spiritually. To me, that is what prepping is all about, mistakes and all.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!