By some estimates,* 3 million Americans consider themselves “preppers,” and Joel Skousen estimates that for every one prepping, ten are thinking about it. If you’re one of those ten, you need to avoid these common mistakes I’ve seen new preppers make (and admittedly some of which I’ve made myself).
(*The estimates I have are based on what I consider to be reliable information. Trade groups have conducted research to determine the market influence of the self-described “active prepper” demographic. I have not seen these proprietary reports, but I have spoken with individuals who wish to remain anonymous and who claim to have first-hand knowledge of them.)
1. Obsessing About Doomsday
If a nuclear strike is your primary concern where you live, move. With that exception, the first step in preparing for emergencies is not to quit your job, sell the house, and move to Utah. The first thing you need to do is prepare for likely emergencies. It does you no good to sell the house and move into an off-grid, radiation-shielded bunker if you don’t even know how much food to store in it, how to filter your water, or how to escape your rat hole if it’s ever compromised. I’m not saying you’ll never need a fallout shelter; I’m saying power outages happen every year and sometimes last several days or weeks, and nuclear attacks are a little more rare.
Assess the risks in your area and be ready for them. The most common risk is interruption of public utilities by any number of natural causes, so prepare to eat, drink, shelter yourself, and administer first aid for at least two weeks before you start digging that fallout shelter.
2. Relying on Gadgets Instead of Skills
Tools are useful, but only if you know how to use them. I do product reviews, so I have a lot of gear lying around, most of which adds some measure of convenience, but very little of it is truly essential. Skills, on the other hand, are definitely essential. For example, I have several types of compact camp stoves that use available fuels like twigs and pine cones to boil a quart or so of water in just a few minutes. Are they handy? You bet. But before you buy any of them, know how to do without them, and spend that money getting your food and water stock up to par.
As another example, I have water bottles with an integrated filter so I can dip water out of a roadside ditch and safely drink it. But before I ever owned one of those, I knew how to make a filter with moss, grass, a shirt sleeve, and homemade charcoal.
3. Obsessing About “Bugging Out”
If you live in the urban jungle and a hurricane or Nor’Easter is bearing down, you might be wise to leave well ahead of time. But what if you can’t? What if your family is scattered around town, and by the time they all get home the escape routes are hopelessly snarled? You can’t risk running out of gas on the highway, so you decide you’re better off remaining at the house. If that’s the case, it had better be ready for you to “bug in.”
4. Not Having an Evacuation Plan
This is the flip side of the previous point — you might live in a relatively secure rural location and your primary strategy is to hunker down in the event of some sort of disaster. You’re ready to bug in until the second coming. That’s great, but what if you have to leave? What if you’re overrun with mobs from the city? What if your place burns? What if it’s confiscated? Your primary location might be compromised any number of ways, so you need a contingency plan for that. It might be a hunting cabin in the next state, or the “old home place” your grandparents passed down, or maybe an arrangement with a friend or family member where you mutually serve each other as a secondary safe retreat. Whatever the case, you need someplace to go and some way to get there, all of which are worked out in advance. Don’t try to set this up while the hurricane is bearing down.
5. Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
The previous point illustrates a principle that should apply in all aspects of preparation — contingency planning. You need plan A and plan B. Don’t store all your food in one room — it might burn, get flooded, or get stolen. Same with your guns, water, money, clothes, tools…. Don’t plan just one evacuation route. Don’t have just one flashlight. Make sure your car has a spare tire, a small gas can, and a siphon hose.
Now apply this principle to everything you do by way of emergency preparation.
6. Not Having a Support and Communications Network
This comes from yet another obsession; this one about OPSEC, or Operational Security, which is being extremely secretive about your emergency planning. By all means, be wise about sharing your plans, but no man is an island — you need a support and communications network. Our grandparents called this network “community,” and the people who constituted it were known as “neighbors,” but people hardly know their neighbors anymore. Everybody’s watching TV or playing Black Ops (I can’t tell you how much goofy advice I get from people who’ve only ever handled a First Person Shooter gun). Dependency on the state destroys community (and society in general); we need to rebuild community again.
But back to the point: Yes, you need to be smart about how much and whom you tell, but when unreliable government services go down (they’re always the first thing to go), your neighbors will suddenly be very valuable again — unless they didn’t prepare, in which case they could suddenly become your most immediate threat.
The network is not completely incompatible with operational security. Everybody knows I prep, and a good many people know some of my stock locations, but almost no one knows even half of them, or what is there. So go ahead, develop mutually beneficial relationships and help everyone get ready. When your neighbor preps, it doesn’t just help him; it helps you too. And vice versa.
7. Failing to Practice
Would you build a car and sell it without test-driving it? No. Would you serve a soup without tasting it? Of course not. So don’t put your family at the mercy of an emergency plan that has never seen a drill. The day your house burns is not the day to learn how to escape a burning house; the day you have to evacuate is not the day to chart your route; and the day the blizzard strikes is not the day to stock up on food and water.
And Here Are a Few More Typical Prepper Mistakes
- Failing to Make Preparation a Part of Everyday Routine. It’s easy to integrate basic readiness into your everyday routine. Buy meat by the case and trim it yourself, and use the trimmings somehow. Ditch the lighter fluid and figure out some other way to light that charcoal grill. In fact, make your own charcoal. Check the first aid kit in your car. Change the spare tire, just for practice. Learn a new knot. Plant a garden and tend it… then harvest it! Those skills and the mindset undergirding them have been lost, but you can regain them and teach them to the next generation.
- Leaving Your EDC Behind. It’s called an “everyday carry” kit because you’re supposed to carry it everyday. If it’s too bulky and inconvenient, trim it back or alter your carry method. Consider my recommended “pocket EDC” method.
- Obsession With Prepping. Let’s be clear; a healthy, happy family is more important than extending your food stock another month. Everything in the family begins with the husband-wife relationship. Make sure that’s solid above all else, and everything else will fall into place.
Our grandparents didn’t have a name for “prepping;” they just called it “living.” My grandparents never ate a chicken they hadn’t raised themselves. They had a garden and “put up” food every year. They mended clothes. They made scarves out of worn out sweaters.
It’s not practical to completely alter your way of life and return to the way your grandparents lived (back then, 90% of the population was rural; now 90% is urban or suburban). But you don’t have to do that in order to be ready for emergencies. The only thing that has to change fundamentally is this: You need to regain a certain degree of self-reliance and reliance on reliable resources. Your family can’t count on FEMA; they have to count on you. Don’t disappoint them.