Preparing for an emergency can be daunting and complicated, and there are many factors to consider in making a successful preparedness plan. Knowing where to go to find answers is often difficult. There is lots of information available, but it’s often hard to know what is best for you and your family.

You may come from a Vienna sausage and potted meat kind of household or you may go totally vegan. Either way, having supplies stored could be critical in an emergency. But before you load the first thing into your bug-out bag or cellar, before starting to get ready, you need to make some important decisions.

Are dried or canned foods best? Will food from gardens last through a prolonged crisis and remain safe? How can water be purified? What is the best way to stay warm? What lighting equipment is safe to use inside and will last a long time if fuel and batteries aren’t available? If we run a generator, how do we keep the fuel from breaking down when it is stored?

Shelter In Place Essentials

Water purification
A water purification unit.


All supplies should be for a minimum of two weeks and be easily accessible in case of fire, tornados or other emergencies that require fast action. Here’s what you need to have close at hand to outlast any emergency.

  • Personal necessities (medications, spare glasses, etc.)
  • First-aid kit (antihistamines, pain relievers, other medications, etc.)
  • Filled water containers in several sizes
  • A water source and a water purification unit
  • Food (MREs, dried food, bulk food, energy bars, etc.)
  • Can opener
  • Soap, toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags
  • Duct tape
  • Sewing kit and safety pins
  • Bleach, disinfectants
  • Hand-cranked radio
  • Lights and extra batteries
  • Generator and stabilized fuel
  • Matches
  • Stockpiled propane, wood or other fuel
  • Basic gardening and household tools
  • Chainsaw and gasoline
  • Fishing gear
  • Firearms for hunting and protection
  • Traps and snares
  • Deck of cards

Get Prepped

Each family’s needs and answers are different. Locating useful information on making the right choices can be found at your preparedness store. In our area, and on the internet, an excellent choice is Survive USA ( in Calico Rock, Arkansas. The folks who run businesses like this one are frequently experts on survival equipment and have been solving these problems for a long time. The biggest advantage is that most stores allow you to see and compare a good cross-section of what is available in one location.

“When I first moved to the Ozarks, I didn’t know anything,” said Shirley Wunderlich, co-partner in the store. “When we set up Survive USA, I was a city girl with no clue about the bad things that could happen in an emergency. My job for the store was going to involve doing the books from home. Now I’m here almost every day of the week, and I learn more every day.”

Shirley gained her education the hard way. For three days after the ice storm of 2008, she was trapped at home with no heat or electricity with her husband and dog. A neighbor finally took them in until power was restored. After that near-disaster, Shirley realized how important it was for people to get prepared, but finding information was difficult, so the idea of Survive USA was born. But turning the idea into reality proved to be a challenge.

“Putting together everything we have in Survive USA wasn’t like setting up a convenience store,” she explained. “We had to contact several hundred vendors individually, find out what they offered and then get the best assortment of items for our store.”

Even after three years of operation the store is still getting new equipment, foods and information resources. They attend trade shows around the country, go to seminars and are always on the lookout for items that will benefit their customers.

“We get two kinds of customers,” Shirley said. “The folks who are newer at prepping are overwhelmed. They have no clue of what they need to survive an emergency, or how to set up a plan. Then there are the more experienced preppers who have their basic kits and supplies organized and can do more things for themselves. The advanced customers are often looking for specialized supplies for putting their own preparedness packs together. They are more interested in things like Mylar bags, heirloom seeds, buckets with sealing lids and bulk food.”

In a preparedness store, the customer can compare several products side by side. One brand of dehydrated food might not have enough nutritional ingredients, unhealthy ingredients or too many calories, but that type of information isn’t easy to find out. It is the same with saws, water purifiers and many other items. Studying and finding what is right for your family isn’t always simple, but these stores make planning and purchasing easier.

Many stores also hold classes taught by knowledgeable specialists. These programs allow preppers to learn new skills like canning, gardening, open fire cooking or trapping.

There are also a huge number of books that can give a prepared family new ideas. Shirley particularly likes, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It by James Wesley Rawles, The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery and Surviving the Economic Collapse by Fernando Aguirre.

The final benefit is having people who can answer your questions. This is especially useful since most folks who run preparedness stores have been involved in these problems for a long time. The decisions they’ve made and the items they carry are chosen with lots of thought.

BUG-OUT 101: What To Carry

Fire starters.
Fire starters.

You bug-out bag should be packed and ready so it can be grabbed in seconds and loaded in your vehicle. Any list of essential items will have to be adapted to your family situation, the weather and your location. Most survival bags are set up with supplies for a week. This list isn’t everything you will need, but it will provide some thinking points and a starting place for planning and packing.

Family Documents

  • Drivers license, birth certificate, passport or some form of identification
  • Social Security numbers (should have these memorized)
  • Health information on each person (drugs taken, allergies, etc.)
  • Medications for each individual
  • Cash

Survival Aids

  • Survival guide
  • Map book of the United States and detailed maps of your area
  • Compass, whistle, signaling mirror
  • Cablesaw, knife, multi-tool, sharpener
  • Emergency (space) blanket and sleeping bags
  • Fire-starter kit including: matches in waterproof container, firestarter, candles
  • Safety pins and sewing kit
  • Paracord (100+ feet)
  • Trash bags, duct tape, paper towels, toilet paper
  • Flashlights, radio and additional batteries
  • Traps and snares
  • Firearms

Clothing (For Each Person)

  • Two pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, hat, bandana
  • Additional pair of walking shoes
  • Comfortable change of clothing
  • Rain jacket

Emergency Food

  • Two canteens of water
  • Water purification equipment
  • Mess kit for each person (cooking pan, plate and silverware)
  • Aluminum foil and zip-seal bags
  • Energy bars and dehydrated food for a week for each person
  • Can opener, knives
  • Cooking/heat source
  • First-aid kit (including bandages, scissors, gauze, disinfectant, gloves, pain relievers, etc)

Better Bug-Out

Billy Bennett has just about everything necessary to live for weeks, if not months, in a bug-out bag in his truck. As a Marine, and in the other jobs he’s held, being prepared for emergencies was part of getting the job done.

“I use a MOLLE tactical backpack that I bought as military surplus,” Billy said. “The backpack is easy to carry and has enough pockets to hold everything necessary to be away from civilization for a long time.”

These backpacks come in a variety of sizes, are relatively lightweight and have a number of pockets. They are also durable and can be easily waterproofed using Atsko Silicone Water-Guard. Billy has one of the largest ones and it is stuffed to the top flap.

“The pack I have has a lot of pockets in a variety of sizes,” Billy said. “This makes it easy to organize. Each pocket is numbered, then I have a book that goes in the top of the bag that tells me where to look for every item. Many of the storage units unfasten from the main frame of the pack so they can be carried and used separately.”

One bag holds his first-aid kit, hand warmers, zip ties and fire-starting equipment. Another section is devoted to dried and packaged meals. Fish hooks, line, snares and hunting equipment are in their own bag. Items that are regularly used like canteens and his Ka-Bar Marine knife are fastened on the top of the pack so it can be grabbed in seconds. This organization and preparation makes it easy and quick to find what is needed without having to dig through the entire pack.

Because of his attention to detail and his contents book, Billy can quickly locate almost anything he needs. He is very careful to replace any items that go out of date or that are used in daily life.

“It’s too easy, and ultimately dangerous, to raid the bag for minor emergencies,” Billy said. “Taking a pair of socks out of clothing in the bag or bandages out of the first-aid kit can leave you without essential items. I also do a regular check to make sure our prescriptions and the drugs in the bag are in date, that nothing has mildewed or gone bad and that mice haven’t chewed up the toilet paper.”

Billy’s wife, Kathy, has a smaller bag in her car. “In an emergency, Kathy and I can be on the road in few minutes,” Billy said. “Sometimes a few minutes are all it takes to make the difference between survival and death.”

This article was originally published in the AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN ™ 2015 issue #174. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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