Emergency Essentials for SHTF

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OK, so you want to start prepping for a disaster but you don’t know where to start. You have a busy life and don’t really have time or build a one year food stockpile. Maybe you just think it’s too overwhelming and you want a slow start to prepping.

I’m glad you finally realized that things like extended power outages, heavy storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, house fires, flash floods, riots, war, or nuclear attacks can strike at any time and you need to keep yourself and your family prepared.

I’ve divided the emergency essentials into groups: food, water, shelter, communications, and so on. This will make it easy to spot any holes in your plan. Ideally you’ll want to check almost everything on the lists below. But keep in mind that some of these disasters may not apply to you (e.g. tornadoes). Still, it’s good to be aware of them in case you’re travelling to another part of the country (or the world) that has them.

Food and Water

One gallon of water per person per day – that’s the rule of thumb. Of course, you’ll need more for things like washing clothes and watering your garden so the more you stockpile, the better. Start with plastic water bottles, then increase the size of the containers you use as your prepping efforts expand. Also, keep in mind that children, women who are pregnant, and household members with various conditions, may need more than a gallon of water a day.

Bottom line: stock up as much as you can because you never know when you might need it. But don’t forget to leave space and a budget for the rest of the emergency essentials we’re about to cover.

Food. You’re gonna need at least 3 days’ worth of for your entire household, but 7 days supply would be even better. If you’re not looking to spend too much time and you don’t want the headaches of packing beans and rice inside Mylar bags, there are other options:

  • Canned food. You’re gonna have to rotate and replenish your cans once a year but canned food is something a lot of people eat every year and it tastes great.
  • Pre-packed survival food. Mountain House has some of the best emergency kits out there.
  • Snacks such as energy bars, Granola bars, Pringles, etc. Make sure you only get those with shelf life of at least 6 months (which is enough for our purposes, until you’re ready to start a true stockpile).
  • Nuts, seeds, dried fruit; There are lots of calories in all of these.
  • Pet food! Don’t forget Lucky, he wants to survive too, and continue to love and protect you.

Also, don’t forget to stockpile the things needed to open and consume those foods. The last thing you want is to have a lot of cans and no can opener.

First Aid

If you’re only looking for the essentials, your first-aid kit  that should have the following:

survival farm
  • Bandages! Lots and lots of them, of all shapes and sizes;
  • Alcohol wipes;
  • Trauma dressing;
  • Hand sanitizer;
  • CPR mask;
  • N 95 respirators (one for each family member);
  • A SAM splint;
  • Instant cold packs;
  • Ibuprofen;
  • Aspirin
  • Antibiotic cream;
  • Iodine tablets (in case of radiation)
  • Rubbing alcohol;
  • Benadryl

Shelter And Warmth

Who’s to say you’ll be safe inside your home during the next disaster? You might have to bug out from your home and any number of things can happen. You might have to bug out through the woods on foot. You might be able to drive off with your car, to a different state or you might be forced to spend the night inside. And let’s not forget that things like heavy storms can keep you inside your home for days or even weeks.


  • emergency blankets;
  • extra clothing (underwear, socks, t-shirts, sweater,s jackets, hats, bandanas etc.). Instead of throwing old clothes away, you might as well store them in your attic just in case.
  • a tarp
  • a poncho (to protect yourself from wind and rain);
  • a tent or a bivvy bag;
  • sleeping bag (to keep you warm)
  • hand and body warmers;
  • at least a couple of ways to start a fire: strike anywhere matches, a magnesium fire starter, and so on;

Staying Cool

Now that you prepared for winter and ice storms, you should also consider heat waves. High temperatures can be just as detrimental (if not deadly), so please consider air conditioners, fans, window reflectors, hats, cold pack kits and sunscreen.


The food from your freezer is what you’re gonna wanna eat first after it hits the fan, because it has the shortest shelf life (particularly if there’s a power outage and your fridge and freezer stop working).

As far as cooking is concerned, gas, butane, and propane stoves are also a good option as long as you do your cooking outside. Even the stoves that are advertised as “not needing any ventilation” should be used with care. They have their own ventilation built in and they do leak carbon monoxide, even if only in small quantities.

If you plan use stoves indoors, make sure you open your doors and windows to avoid CO build up! 

Either way and just to be safe, I strongly recommend you get a CO sensor. It’s only 10 bucks and could prevent a tragedy. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless and, around the year 2000, it was killing 500 Americans a year (not sure how much that is today, though).

Communications, Signaling and Navigation

  • an AM/FM radio with spare batteries
  • extra phones, chargers and batteries
  • even a few walkie-talkies for short range communications

In addition, consider these:

  • a signaling mirror (any kind of mirror will do);
  • a good compass
  • pen and paper


Since most of these disaster scenarios come with power outages, you’re gonna need several ways to see at night, using:

  • emergency flashlights
  • lamps
  • or candles

Of course, there are a lot more options than these. For instance, you can opt for a hand crank LED flashlight so you’re never completely dependent on batteries.

Family Members With Special Needs

The things we discussed so far are general but each household is different. When prepping for an emergency, you might want to consider:

  • medical conditions such as allergies, diabetes, asthma etc.
  • physical issues such as a loved one being in a wheel chair or smaller issues such as back and knee pains (which will hinder your bug-out efforts)
  • pregnant women
  • young children
  • and, yes, even pets!

Plans and Drills

A good plan can sometimes be worth more than all your preps put together. In case of emergency, you and your family need to know what to do, who to call, where to rally, and be able to make split second decisions (such as bugging in or out).

Once you have that plan put together, the next thing you need to do is to practice some drills so you make sure everyone knows what they have to do when it finally happens. Waiting until utter chaos rules the streets to test your survival knowledge is a common rookie mistake. One that you do NOT want to make because it can cost lives.

Other Emergency Items to Consider

I’m just gonna add here the things that, although important, didn’t quite fit into the other categories:
Always have cash (in case the ATM machines and credit cards won’t work).

Consider multi-purpose items. For example, you can get portable radios (such as Red Cross’s FRX3) that are battery operated as well as hand-crank, and also have flashlights and can charge your cell phone.

Speaking of multi-purpose items, I strongly advise to have you have these items that have a million and one uses each:

  • duct tape
  • Paracord
  • bleach
  • and Ziploc bags
  • a good multitool
  • a Swiss army knife

Have a bug out bag. Ok, so, at this point, you may not want to consider a B.O.B. because you think it’s a little too much but, really, such a bag will have a lot of the things we talked about in this article. The only difference is, they’ll all be in one place, ready to go.

Maps. It’s always good to have maps of the area you live. If you can get them laminated, that’s even better.

Keep power, gas and electric invoices on hand to have these companies’ phone numbers available in case of a gas leakage or other emergency. You may want to circle all of these phone numbers in red or, even better, make a list of all of them that you have in key places around the house. If you can get those cards laminated in plastic, even better.

Have an extra pair of reading glasses. Whether you’re on the road or stuck inside your home, you’re gonna need them like air.

Extra sets of keys to your house, your garage, your car etc. You never know how often you’re gonna lose the ones you use on a daily basis.

Copies of all your important papers. Again, if you can laminate them, that’d be great.

Consider insect repellents. You just never know.

Don’t forget entertainment. If you’re gonna spend days or even weeks inside your home, without electricity and the Internet, you and your family will easily get bored.

If you want some quick tips, consider:

  • board and card games
  • books
  • puzzles
  • …and a lot of condoms!

Final Word

I tried to keep this list short and focus on the essentials because I didn’t want to overwhelm you. Do you think there’s some other emergency essential that should be here? Let me know in a comment below.

Life Straw


  1. One item I never see included in a BOB or EDC is a quality finger nail clipper. I carry one always. I guarantee you that in vigorous, possibly hard situations, you are going to split a nail. This can be more than just an inconvenience in already bad times leaving you to fumble with the little scissors in a multi-tool or swiss army knife to painfully try to cut the busted nail. Do yourself a favor now and include one or more in your supplies. You will thank yourself later.

  2. Along with flash lights don’t forget solar lights. We take them camping all the time for night lights. Leave them outside all day and bring them in at night.

  3. We bought a 200 gal. stock tank and ran a gutter down spout to fill the tank. these tanks come in different shapes and sizes and can be easily hidden with shrubbery and/or lattice work. If this is done right no one will ever notice the tank.

  4. In a SHTF scenario you will need food for months not just three days. Look at the fire victims in California, unlike a SHTF event they still have the ability to buy food. If they had stores they were lost in the fire. I use a rental store room as a cache. This keeps friends and neighbors from knowing what I have and where it is. In a real event hungry people will kill you to get what you have if they can get at it and you can’t defend it.
    If you are bugging out you are on an evasion mission to avoid people who want your stuff; no fires and no flashlights. This is not a camping trip. They are a beacon to where you are and you have energy and probably food; confrontation.
    Long term scenarios are in several books that are very educational.
    Bugging-in in suburbia is not a good plan. Vigilante gangs looking for food…those who haven’t prepped…will be roving looking for any sign of life that they can exploit. Water will not be flowing, the guy with the stock tank has a good idea, using it exposes your position. Be careful. Again this is not a camping trip.
    Having a remote site is advisable, getting there may be an issue because of road blocks. Planning is essential.
    Rick MACVSOG Op-35 ’69-’71

  5. You forgot universal currency: pre-1965 90% silver US quarters, silver Eagles, gold coins.
    Also, barter items: ammunition, cigarettes, alcohol, batteries, etc.


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