Prepping Basics: How to Start Prepping in 2020

How to start prepping

The question is, what are you preparing for?

Whether you are new to prepping or are outright ready for the end of the world, there is nothing more important than having the basics of prepping mastered so that you can survive job loss, car breakdowns, a financial downturn or worse. In this post, we take a look at those prepping essentials so that you can start prepping to survive anything.

A lot of people ask me how to start prepping, and while it would be much easier to be able to summarize what they have to do in one single sentence, the best thing you can do, whether you are an experienced prepper or just starting out, is to think ‘what am I preparing for?‘ From there you start the easy, and sometimes fun, process of thinking like a prepper.

It’s okay if you can’t think of anything at the moment, there’s a lot going on in the world and it is much easier to just say you need to prepare. For me, I wasn’t really sure what I was preparing for when I started and the more that I learned and prepared for, the longer my list of worst-case scenarios grew. What I can say is the more that I prepare and learn survivalist methods, the more I feel capable of staying healthy and happy should anything ever happen.

When it comes down to it, being prepared is a lot better than not being ready at all, right? It’s what we teach kids that sign up to scouts. The first thing kids pledge when are sworn into a scout group is to ‘be prepared’. If kids were encouraged to keep thinking like that through to their adult lives, they would no doubt be preppers, as being prepared is essentially the motto of any strong prepper and survivalist.

From the wise words of a man I met in the military: prior preparation prevents poor performance‘. These are also known as the five P’s. So with that, let’s dig a little bit deeper into what prepping is, whether you are already prepping, and how to start prepping in five steps.

What is prepping?

Since I started prepping a long time ago, I have arrived at a simple explanation for what prepping is. For me, prepping is common sense on steroids. That definition is what I have approached my survival scenarios with, from home security, family safety, food security, water storage, sustainable power, to things such as travel, finance, self-defense, and everything in between.

As a more expanded meaning, I feel as though prepping is to be prepared in the case that, one day, I might need a backup plan. It’s my own and my family’s insurance plan, made by me, ran by me, and not managed by anyone else.

You might be wondering why I included that last part ‘made by me, ran by me’. It is because being able to take care and provide for yourself is one of the most important parts of prepping. I accountable for my own survival. Should the power go out, a disaster strikes, or I be caught in the midst of an economic downturn, I don’t want anyone being in charge of the things I need to stay alive except myself. That’s why skills such as gardening, sustainable practices, power generation and water sourcing are crucial to preppers.

In looking at those ideas of what prepping is, you might already be thinking you might be a bit of a prepper without even realizing it.

Are you already a prepper?

Prepping basics: how to start prepping

From what I have found, almost everyone is a prepper. If you are reading this and are thinking ‘I haven’t even started prepping, how can I be a prepper?’, think about these:

Do you:

  • Have a savings bank account?
  • Have home or personal insurance?
  • Have a first-aid kit in your car?
  • Have backup files on your computer?
  • Ever check the fuel before going to work?

If you answered yes to any of those, you have prepared for the worst and are off to a great start as a prepper. Just take a moment to think about why you might have these things, this is how preppers think. Rather than thinking ‘I need a savings account’ most preppers will think ‘If I lose my job one day I won’t be able to buy food, so how can I make sure I can buy food?’ as an answer to their own question, they start living more frugal, budget more, free themselves of debt and save money.

The same applies to having a hard copy of all of the files on your computer on a backup device. Most people think ‘I should keep my info safe just in case I need it one day’, whereas most preppers would think ‘how can I make sure I have all of my important documents saved if there ever was a virus on my computer, it got stolen, or was destroyed in a fire or flood?’. This is why thinking about what you are preparing for is so important, because, in all honesty, you will probably already know the answer once you write down the problem.

So let’s look at how we can really start prepping for life’s unexpected and unfortunate events, or those worst-case sh-t hits the fan scenarios that we like to call SHTF events.

How to start prepping

In The Prepping Guide, we have a large base of readers and writers that are well and truly prepared for the end of the world. They are seasoned preppers, survivalists, homesteaders and self-reliance experts. For all of us, every project and method of preparedness starts with that age-old question ‘what am I preparing for?’.

While there are so many events out there that you can prepare for, there are ‘kits’ in stores or online that claim to ‘prepare for them’. It might seem to be an attractive option to buy a natural disaster kit, that’s not the answer and definitely not something I would recommend. Instead, let’s take a look at what you need in your own personal circumstances by looking at what you need to survive.

As a blueprint, the best place to start prepping is to make sure you:

  1. Build a food supply
  2. Store water (safely)
  3. Make sure you are able to cook the food you’ve stored
  4. Implement an off-grid waste system (rubbish and toilet waste)
  5. Pack a bug out bag with a bug out plan

These five things are the very basics in prepping essentials. Of course, there are a lot of other things you can do such as develop an off-grid power source, a way to communicate, and personal safety methods, but for the most, these are the absolute basics you need to ensure you are still able to function in any situation.

So let’s go through those 5 simple steps to start prepping.

1. Build a food supply

Getting started with building an emergency food stockpile is very straightforward, just think about how much food your family needs for a two-week period and stock up on that. There are, however, a few things you might want to think of when considering the type of food you want to store.

First, you can not really predict when you are going to need that food. This is why a lot of preppers are obsessed about foods with a long shelf-life, because we can store those foods and when we need them, they are still good to eat. This means that a lot of fresh foods, foods that need refrigeration and foods that expire quickly are not ideal foods to stock up on. Instead, find foods that have a long shelf life and that last a long time. You also want to look into ways to increase the shelf life of your foods by using things such as storage preservatives, storage bags that limit moisture, and canning methods.

Second, a lot of preppers also diversify their stock with freeze-dried foods. Freeze-dried food brands have been popular with the survivalist market as the foods have long shelf-lives and a year’s supply be packaged away quite easily, and come with a diverse range of options. There are also food dehydrators which are a common item in prepper and homesteader households that allow you to make your own dehydrated foods. There are pros and cons to choosing one over the other.

Third, when it comes to a food supply, most preppers will branch out into sustainable food generation methods as well as having an emergency supply of food. This means growing your own food. We have seen in past economic downturns that growing your own food has a huge impact on your food sources and is also a renewable food source for friends and neighbors, should there be a common food drought.

How much food should you store? It’s quite simple. As a start, try to stockpile two weeks (14 days) of food. To find out how much food exactly, find out your daily calorie consumption. This is done by taking your weight in pounds (lbs) and multiplying it by 15. You will then have your total daily calorie consumption. I need 2500 calories for someone of my height, weight and age. I would further break this down as a normal daily food intake would consist of 45% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 25% fat. This works out to 281g of carbohydrates, 187g of protein and 69g of fat.

To help you figure out how much food you would need for your own measurements, here is a calculator for daily calorie intakes, and one to work out how much carbohydrate, protein, and fat you should consume per day. Most food products have their ingredients on the back of the label, broken down into carbs, protein, and fat. If you are growing your own products, use a free smartphone app such as MyFitnessPal to find out the exact amount of nutrients in each vegetable, type of meat, fruit and other foods you are able to make.

2. Store enough water (the right way)

Storing water, like food, is easy. First, you need to know how much water you need. The average person needs one gallon per day, that is including hygiene and washing use.

There are various containers to store water in, such as smaller kitchen-suitable options to much larger rain tank-size options. When it comes to storing water for a family of three for 14 days, you need to consider using various options as bottled water is going to take up a lot of space and will be a useless expense if there are more sustainable and beneficial options out there. In an emergency, you will need bottled water for if you have to evacuate an area entirely, this is why diversity in your preparations is crucial, as having all of your eggs (water) in one basket can be risky.

The two important things to remember when working out a water supply is to first, make sure you store water safely. This is because water is susceptible to mold and bacteria will grow in your stored water, so you need to ensure your water is sterile with either water purifying tablets or bleach. Here is a guide to storing water with different treatments. The second point is that, much like food, you should have a renewable source of water. More likely than anything, this will be the taps led from urban waterworks, however, if they fail, your water will not be purified. Water that is collected from any source should be filtered before it is consumed, and there are options to do that, both for personal water filters and kitchen benchtop family water filters.

3. Make sure you are able to cook the food you’ve stored

Off-grid cooking

I have spoken with preppers who have survived through an economic collapse and while I would consider them expert survivalists, they say their one downfall was not being able to run an effective kitchen off-the-grid. This means not having to rely on outside factors to cook food, boil water and make delicious end-of-the-world dishes.

For an off-grid kitchen, you need to find various ways to ensure that you are able to perform the functions of a ktichen without having to rely on something you have not obtained, grown or gather yourself. Simply put, if you have electric hotplates, you’re not going ot be able to cook anything when the power goes out, if you rely on gas, you are not going to be able to cook for very long if you have ran out of gas and the company has gone bust due to a financial downturn.

The ultimate solution to this is to make an outdoor kitchen, or just in the backyard, where you can build or purchase a woodfired oven or wood stove cooker. Innovations like this allow you to cook meat that you might have hunted, cook the chicken or quail you have farmed, and boil water you might have collected in rain tanks to purify it. If you don’t have the liberty of creating something sustainable to cook your food, store an extra gas tank that is made specifically for cooking food.

Another method is to consider generating your own cooking gas. Having your own biogas generator can have the benefit of being a way to generate gas, and a great fertilizer for your garden as it produces a great byproduct full of nutrients for plants.

4. Implement an off-grid waste system (rubbish and toilet waste)

When South Africa’s Cape Town was approaching an absolute dire water crisis, the city was shutting off the taps at certain times and placing fines on anyone that used too much water during the hours that pumps were working. It was during this time that there were a lot of issues with how to deal with human toilet waste.

Human waste in a natural disaster, such as some of the huge flooding issues we have seen in America, presents a big problem in homes, as toilets stop flushing due to water being shut off and plastic bottles and ration packs can create more rubbish than you expect. You need to develop a system to deal with that otherwise any further prepping will be pointless. Most underground bunker designers and architects say this is one of the biggest issues that they face, as a week’s worth of human waste, let alone a month or a year, is already a huge task.

There are a number of systems you can have in place to deal with waste. The first is to address the smelly task of human waste. If the water was shut off in your home, how would you use the toilet? For Cape Town, many residents used some of their stockpiled water supply to flush one the ‘number two’ contents, running with the slogan ‘if it’s brown, flush it down’.

Also, don’t forget, there is nothing like nice, clean, soft toilet paper. Stock up on it.

5. Have bug out plans and a bug out bag

how to be a prepper

No, it’s not a type of fly spray. Bug out is a term originating from the military where soldiers would pack only their necessary contents (gun, ammo, water and a small amount of food) when a position was about to be overrun and move to a designated area in a rush. The same applies to the survivalist bug out, except there’s no enemy (hopefully) about to take your home.

Bugging out is when an evacuation of an area happens, or when you know something is about to go wrong, whether it be a flood warning, tornado warning, wildfire, public riots, or you live in a conflict area and you know you have to get out as quickly as possible.

There are two important parts of bugging out when you start prepping, and that is, having a bug out plan and having a bug out bag. In an emergency, if you were isolated in your home due to flooding or storms, ideally you would be able to survive out of the contents of your bug out bag for three days (average). This means that you would have those survival necessities such as a small amount of food, enough water, first-aid kit, a sleeping bag, toilet paper, and some other survival essentials. Of course, carrying all of this, especially if roads are blocked and the only way to get to your destination is by foot, means you need a suitable bug out bag.

Bug out plans are important in any case as they identify a set of go-to actions for yourself and your loved ones, this might mean a certain location should you have to leave home, such as a friend’s place or family in another area. And it would involve various routes to get there. More of these plans are in our bug out plan post. The purpose of having a pre-prepared bug out bag is so that should something happen, you can pick it up and leave straight away, without having to run around the house picking up various goods and items.

How to prepare for when the sh-t hits the fan

So you have those five prepping basics I mentioned down pat? You’ve got your food ready, your water bottled, your wood stove roaring, an off-grid toilet and your bug out plans are sorted. But what on earth is this SHTF (sh-t hits the fan) prepping about?

I am no fortune teller, and I definitely don’t profess to believe the end of the world is coming any time soon, but hey, if you are ready for it and something smaller happens then at least you have all of your bases covered right? When it comes to people thinking of end-of-world scenarios, the first thing that comes to mind for most is either an economic collapse, or a nuclear fallout, post-apocalyptic mayhem, and a societal collapse. It’s at this point where I would be happy to be bunkered down in one of those luxury bunkers.

Of course, that is an extreme worst-case scenario, and I don’t think I am not alone if I say I don’t want that to happen.

Government departments, emergency services, military, community agencies, and companies have contingency plans for if these worst-case scenario events occur, and so should you. Their plans focus on mitigating losses. Your plans are ensuring the survival of your family and friends and loved ones.

For preppers and survivalists, this is the main concern. This is where the idea of post-apocalyptic survival comes from and is the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI). Oddly enough, prepping for this type of event is already happening. There are already companies offering plush underground bunker apartments where financially fortunate families can hunker down in nuclear fallout bunkers with enough weapons and ammunition to wage a small war when the SHTF. If this is the insurance plan you want to ensure your survival then it is certainly available right now.

If you are thinking that a nuclear war is the only bad thing that can happen in this world, you are wrong. Here is a brief list of SHTF events that can also happen.

  • Artificial Intelligence: we all know about this one. The biggest and most concerning issue here is automation.
  • Financial Collapse: we’ve had this before, riots, looters, resources, and power go. Happening in Venezuela.
  • Biotechnology: viruses, biological warfare, bioterrorism
  • Cyber-attack: destruction of power grids, Internet of Things, stock market collapse
  • Global Warming: loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-production, starvation. Change to water supplies.
  • Warfare: biochemical weapons
  • Overpopulation: food and resource shortages
  • Global pandemic: wild pathogens and spread of disease or infections.
  • Ecosystem viruses: naturally occurring organisms to affect global food security
  • Natural disasters or out-of-space events such as impacts.

I would say that if one of these has happened, the SHTF. This would be a social breakdown where fundamental things in life collapse, resources run dry and public stress takes over. Food stores have run empty before, especially when warnings of serious weather events come into play. We have seen resources grow more expensive during recessions and generally, this is when the looters and scavengers come out to do their dirty work.

When you effectively start prepping well for circumstances like this, you will have enough food to survive the event, whether it be for three months or longer, clean drinking water or a method to provide it, a form of self-defense if necessary and a place to remain hidden.

For some, the plan is a luxurious family house in an underpopulated part of the world, an underground fallout bunker or a well-thought-out backpack with bug out supplies. Whatever it may be, if the sh-t does hit the fan, you and your loved ones are safe.

No prepper ever wishes for a worst-case event to occur. But if it happens, they’re ready to survive. What could be more important than that?

But what if you don’t have any supplies and haven’t prepared, what is the worst that will happen?

If you don’t start prepping, how else would you eat?

People that don't prepare

If you don’t prepare that’s okay, that’s your individual choice. But there are a number of historically convincing arguments, form the Great Depression, to natural disasters, and wartorn areas. In all of those scenarios, there have been people with food and water and people without food and water. Even more recently in Venezuela, the situation escalated to the point where either people were dying of hunger, or looting the communities that grew their own food.

Let’s face it, when the push comes to shove you are accountable for your own survival, no matter what happens. This might sound like a law of the wilderness and it is, as civil services have provided us with the comfort of emergency rescue services and other departments to help us out. But for the most, why not take care of yourself rather than being a burden on them?

When it comes to your survival, there is a magical Survival Rule of 3 that stipulates that you will on live for:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

After that, most people will look for Wi-Fi to find out what else they need. In an event where you are surviving the extremes, you probably won’t have an internet connection. There is also a difference to note between prepping and survival when it comes to these three necessities. In prepping basics, food is generally something you would either store, such as long-lasting food stocks or grow, such as organic farming and even indoor botanic productions. A survivalist approach would look at a more on-foot in-the-wild scenario where you have to hunt, gather and loot for food. The same applies to water and shelter.

Any practical prepper will build up a knowledge of survival skills as well as prepping skills as there is always an element of survival in any good prepping plan. The challenge of prepping is being prepared for a broad range of things to happen. If you were only to prepare yourself to defend a family home and fight off possible invaders, what if the worst-case scenario of an economic collapse hit next year? You cannot fight and survive a financial collapse with guns and ammunition.

While there is a basic preparedness plan for the broad range of things that could happen, there is one thing that many preppers have in the back of their mind that they prepare for, and no, it’s not a zombie apocalypse like what the movies would like to think. It’s an economic collapse.

Prepping for an economic collapse?

How to start prepping for an economic collapse

If you ask a lot of preppers what it is they are prepping for, the majority will answer an economic collapse. Why? It has happened before and is will happen again. There are a number of countries that were once proud and financially strong nations that have since been crippled due to inflation, a debt-ridden economy and a loss of all social order.

When a financial collapse happens, food runs in short supply, waterworks are not maintained, the power goes out, crime rates go up and medicine supplies are non-existent. This is what a post-collapse environment looks like and it’s not nice to think about. For many realistic preppers though, this is the worst-case scenario and a possible fear for many.

And if you think financial prepping sounds like a conspiracy term, you’re wrong. Some of the world’s most powerful tech CEOs are financial preppers. There is a rise in silicon valley investors and millionaires carrying out their own bug out plans for a world recession. The steps many CEOs, investors and entrepreneurs have taken involve bug out family homes in underpopulated countries, distribution of finances for safety and enough prepping essential supplies for their family to live happily for at least twelve months. In a global recession, a bug out hideaway would be a priceless asset. Not only is it an escape from any social chaos that may occur in built-up areas, but it also allows yours and your family’s life to continue on through that event.

Remember how I mentioned in the start that when you start prepping, also consider the sustainability of your food supply? A financial collapse does not just last two weeks or even a year, it can last for several years, in which you would have surely ran out of stockpiled food by then. Because of the longevity of this type of SHTF event, homesteading practices have a strong foundation in prepper and survivalist skills as they provide the skills to grow and farm your own food.

When it comes to prepping for a financial collapse, no stockpile will help in the long-run as it is a long-term game of survival. Instead, to prepare for an economic collapse you should be learning urban farming and gardening skills, homesteading practices, sustainable power methods and have a community of others to work with.

In the end, don’t stress, just be prepared and enjoy

At the end of this, you are no doubt very eager to find out more about how to start prepping and survivalist skills. If you are, keep the plan that we mentioned of the 5 things you need to start prepping and work your way off on each of those that I mentioned.

Here they are again:

  1. Build a food supply
  2. Store water (safely)
  3. Make sure you are able to cook the food you’ve stored
  4. Implement an off-grid waste system (rubbish and toilet waste)
  5. Pack a bug out bag with a bug out plan

If you are working on your way to completing this prepper list then great, that’s the perfect way to start prepping. Once you have more of an idea as to what you are preparing for, and you have organized yourself a sufficient food and water supply, you can use this list again to expand on your preparations and follow some of the other suggestions I made such as picking up some gardening skills, or looking at renewable sources of water and off-grid cooking methods.

If you have read all of this thinking this is too hard, look at it from the aspect of that 10-year-old child living by the scout’s motto “be prepared”. They learn the prepping basics they need to survive and so can you.

So now the question is not whether you want to be a prepper, but how prepared you will be?

What is prepping?
What is prepping?
SHTF prepping
How to prepare for everything
How to start prepping


  1. Kevin Ryan


    I got my partner to read this and your section on ‘Are you already a prepper?’ had her converted. She’s a sticker for all of those things!

  2. Jeremy


    Hey Ben, I just wanted to say thanks for writing something so well put together and easy to follow. I started with this guide a few months ago as I am an Australian prepper and it’s not very common here for people to talk about prepping, let alone to even know what it is. So cheers!

Let me know your thoughts on this topic!