Prepping Made Easy! How to Start Prepping (4-Step Guide)

A family going over the new prepping supplies while sitting in their living room.

Congratulations! Since you’re here, you’ve obviously taken the first and often most difficult step to becoming better prepared and more resilient. That first step is recognizing that we live in an unpredictable world. Like the millions of others who have come before you, you’re tired of the anxiety, worry, and concern that comes with our modern world. You want to be prepared but don’t know where to start and are wondering how to start prepping.

Well, that’s where I come in. I’m here to make it easy for you. Hi, I’m Brian Duff. In addition to being a lifelong prepper, I’m a former lifeguard, firefighter-paramedic, Army Ranger, and international security director. I’ve traveled the world keeping others safe in the most inhospitable locations and circumstances. Now, I’m doing that for you with this step-by-step guide.

This guide will remove the overwhelm and uncertainty of how to start prepping. It takes all the guesswork out by telling you exactly what you need to do. All that’s required of you is the few minutes it takes to read the information and a willingness to take action. Now, let’s get started prepping!

Step 1: Understanding Preparedness

To start with, you need to understand what preparedness is. I define preparedness as:

All the efforts taken to ensure survival, minimize unwanted struggle, and live your best possible life.

That’s it. Ultimately, the concept of preparedness is pretty simple. It’s everything you do to help you and your family members live your best possible lives. That’s why you’re here now: to be more resilient as you go through everyday life.

Being Prepared Does Not Make You a Prepper

Many people worry that becoming prepared will get them labeled as a prepper. There’s nothing further from the truth. Being preparedness-minded does not mean you’re a prepper. It simply means that you are taking some basic common-sense actions to protect your family and friends when it matters most.

Prepping is Empowering

Please know that people often feel anxious, concerned, or fearful when they first start preparing. If that’s you, don’t worry, you’re 100% normal. Fortunately, that will fade as you become better prepared.

That’s because being prepared to face life’s adversity is empowering. Knowing you’re ready with the basic supplies and the self-reliance know-how builds confidence while dissolving the worry that comes with not being prepared. You’re on the right track and in good hands.

Here’s a Motivating Article I Wrote on the True Meaning of Preparedness 

A family assembling their basic emergency kit

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, for which I may receive a small commission at no cost to you if you choose to purchase a product through a link on this page.

Step 2: Build Your Basic Emergency Kit

Many people place building their basic emergency kit farther down the how-to-start prepping list. However, I want to give you a quick preparedness win. I want you to know that you have the things you need to face a disaster should one happen.

I’m taking the guess work out of it. This is a list of the emergency supplies that you should have, regardless of where you live. They are universal to preparedness. I’ve set this up, so that, even if you’re starting with nothing, you’ll know exactly what you need and have the links to get it.

Most of the items have Amazon product links. That’s so you can easily access what you need and build your kit as you go through this. I’ve also made it easier for you, by adding the links to my Amazon storefront so that everything is in one spot.

1. Clothing

Our first line of defense against the environment is what we have on our bodies. Our clothes help protect us from the cuts, and abrasions that happen during a natural disaster and other emergencies. Likewise, they also protect us from the sun and wind, while helping maintain our core body temperature.

Change of Clothes (1 Set)

When it comes to clothing, start by packing a change of clothes. Focus on the clothes that you’d want to wear if you were forced to walk through bushes and over broken rubble and debris. As I am usually in shorts and flip-flops, this is an important starting point for my prepping kit.

Change of Clothes:

  • 1 – Pair Long Pants
  • 1 – Belt
  • 1 – Long Sleeve Work Shirt
  • 1 – Pair Sturdy Shoes/Boots (Broken In)

Hats (2)

Next, when it comes to our bodies, we can lose 45% of our heat through our heads. Therefore, I always pack two hats. The first is an a ball cap type of hat, to keep the sun out of my eyes. I actually go a bit farther and pack a ball cap that has a neck covering to keep my neck from getting sun burnt. A boonie cap accomplishes that as well. The second hat I always pack is a wool beanie cap, also referred to as a “watch cap.”

Hat Recommendations:

Long Sleeve SPF Shirt with Hood (1)

Because I’m usually in a t-shirt, I want more protective shirt. So, I pack a hooded, long-sleeved SPF shirt. They work great to keep the sun off my arms and head. And in the winter, they make a decent base layer to keep your body heat in.

Long-Sleeved Shirt Options:

Here’s a Helpful Article About Layering Clothes

Socks (3 Pairs)

Taking care of your feet is critical aspect of your survival skills. Add three pairs of socks to your kit. This allows you to wear one pair while another is drying out. The third pair is a dry backup in case your feet get wet before your second pair is done drying out.

Sock Options:

Scarf (1)

The final piece of clothing that I pack in my kit is a cotton scarf—often referred to as a shemagh. This large scarf has many uses, such as a sun covering, towel, water filter, and more.

Scarf (Shemagh) Options:

Check out this article for more information about shemaghs.

Military Style Rain Poncho (1)

Lastly, I always pack an army-style rain poncho in my kit. I love rain ponchos because they have multiple uses. Besides keeping you reasonably dry, they can work as a shelter or a bed and have a number of other uses. I’ll discuss that more in the section on Shelters.

Rain Poncho Options:

2. First Aid Kit (1)

Cuts, scrapes, and injuries go hand-in-hand with disasters. Therefore, having a first aid kit ready to go is vital when disaster strikes. The fastest, most convenient way to get your first aid supplies set is by purchasing a done-for-you kit. In addition to the basic first aid supplies, you should also add your family’s personal medications and copies of your prescriptions to your kit.

Moving past cuts, scrapes and non-life-threatening wounds are those medical problems that are life-threatening. Gaining that important knowledge and the confidence that comes with it is relatively simple. Attend a widely available First Aid and CPR classes and a half-day Stop the Bleed course.

Armed with the knowledge and survival skills gained in those courses, you’ll be ready to extend your preparedness by adding an emergency trauma kit to your basic first aid supplies.

First Aid Emergency Supplies:

Pro-Tip: Just because you may not have the expertise for using the more advance emergency medical supplies, doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Therefore, it’s a good idea to include the more advanced emergency trauma kit when your budget allows.

3. Shelter (1 System)

The goal of having shelter is to provide protection from the environment. That means keeping yourself warm and dry in the winter and cool and shaded in the summer. Likewise it means, protecting yourself form the wind, insects, and anything else that may cause you problems.

Read This Article for More Information on Emergency Shelters!

System 1: Tent & Sleeping Bag

The best functioning shelter system option, should a building or vehicle not be available, is a tent and sleeping bag that is rated for the conditions. It’s important to keep in mind that tents and sleeping bags can be both heavy and bulky to carry. Therefore, consider your situation and whether or not you have the ability to carry a tent and sleeping bag. If not, System 2, discussed below may be a better option.

Tent Options:

Sleeping Bag Options:

System 2: Improvised

If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of not having a shelter (building, vehicle, or an easy-to-pack tent) to sleep in, you’re going to need to create one. Fortunately, there’s a simple mantra to help you when it comes to creating a shelter. You want something to sleep under, something to sleep on, and something to sleep in.

Shelter: Something to Sleep Under (1)

Creating a field expedient starts with putting a roof over your head by creating something to sleep under. An inexpensive tarp works well for creating over head rain and sun protection. So too does the military style rain poncho that we discussed earlier.

Something to Sleep Under Options:

Shelter: Something to Sleep On (1)

The ground can suck the heat out of you. So, you’ll need something to insulate yourself from the ground. There are a couple of options for this. You can fill a bivvy sack with leaves, dried grass, etc., to create an impromptu insulation pad. Likewise, an extra tarp laid over a pile of leaves can also work as an insulator.

Something to Sleep On Options:

Shelter: Something to Sleep In (1)

Lastly, you need something to sleep in. Bivvy sacks are excellent purpose built options for wrapping you up and keeping your heat in. Another option is using an army poncho liner. Poncho liners are a light weight blanket than you can wrap around you. Likewise, they fasten to the inside of a rain poncho to make a field expedient sleeping bag.

For More Poncho Information, Here’s an Article I Wrote About Army Poncho Liners.

4. Drinking Water

Staying hydrated is a necessity. When it comes to drinking water, it’s good to plan for each adult to consume about one gallon (128oz) of water per day. The easiest way to meet your hydration needs is by stocking up on cases of store-bought water bottles. They’re fairly easy to store in a closet and move to your car. Plus, they don’t cost much, and as individual bottles, they’re easy to slide into a pack.

A typical bottle of store-bought water is 16.9oz, which is about eight bottles per gallon. In other words, a case of 24 water bottles should last the average adult three days. Seven days will require just over two cases for a single adult—three cases if you round up for safety’s sake.

Children require less water. For example, a ten-year-old requires about half a gallon (four 16oz bottles) per day. Therefore, a ten-year-old will need just over a case of water every seven days.

Bear in mind that these figures are for your average drinking water needs. The amount of required drinking water will fluctuate based on a person’s activity level, the air temperature, etc. Likewise, they do not include water for hygiene, cleaning, or anything else. If you feel you need additional water, be sure to take that into account.

Drinking Water Calculator

I’ve created this handy table to help you calculate how much water you need based on your individual situation.

The Mind4Survival Daily Water Consumption Calculator

Water Gathering, Purification, and Storage System

If you don’t have clean drinking water available, you’ll need the ability to gather, purify and store water. Due to the critical need to have drinking water on hand, I recommend this as a back up to any water you have on hand.

Drinking Water Container (1)

You will need one or more containers to gather and store water. The most cost-effective water container is the trusty, wide-mouth Nalgene bottle. Keep in mind that the typical 32-oz Nalgene bottle only holds one-quarter of an adult’s daily 128-oz drinking water needs. So, you may want to consider having more than one water container.

An option to increase your capability is to include a single-wall metal water bottle. Doing so increases the amount of water you have available. A single-wall metal container, as opposed to a double wall, also gives you the ability to purify your water by boiling it.

Container Options:

Pro-Tip: Add a sillcock key to your water gathering kit. A sillcock key is a tool for turning on a variety of water faucets.

Water Purification (1)

Just as important as gathering water is the need to purify it. As mentioned before, boiling water is a tried and true method of water purification. Similarly, the LifeStraw water filter is another easy-to-use and effective purification option. Simply fill your bottle, stick the LifeStraw in, and drink. They even allow you to drink straight from a puddle or other water source. The other basic option is water purification tablets. Just add the tablets to a quart of water, wait 30 minutes, and it’s ready to drink.

An essential point to remember is that water purification tablets kill the things in the water that make you sick. However, they don’t get rid of the crud that’s in the water. So, a helpful water purification tip is to use a t-shirt or other cloth (such as your shemagh) to pre-filter your water.

Water Purification Options:

Read This Article for More Information About Water Purification.

5. Food

Successfully dealing with stressful situations requires energy. The energy to power your body comes from calories. Without ingesting calories, you will lose energy, focus, and effectiveness. Therefore, planning for your nutritional needs is a must when building your kit.

Basic Emergency Food Prepping

2000 calories per day is the basic food prep guideline that many in the preparedness community follow. I suggest staring with the S.O.S. Rations Emergency 3600 Calorie Food Bar. These are what I pack in my emergency bags as the foundation of my emergency calorie needs. They don’t require any prep work to eat and have a five-year shelf life, making them ideal for any emergency situation.

Gluten Warning: The S.O.S. rations contain gluten. If you or a loved one is gluten-sensitive, consider meeting your caloric needs through other means.

Food Options:

Calorie Calculators

The S.O.S. Rations are an excellent start. However, some people want to be more exact with their nutritional planning. To help with that, I’ve created the tables below. These calculators give you the information needed to determine exactly what calories and macronutrients people need.

Additionally, I’ve also included low-carb calorie options in case you are prepping for someone who is carbohydrate-sensitive.

Pro-Tip: As you stock your emergency food storage, look for food items that have long shelf lives, require minimal preparation or cleanup, and are nutrient-dense.

Food: Daily Calorie Calculator for Men

Mind4Suvrival Daily Calorie Calculator

Food: Daily Calorie Calculator for Women

Mind4Survival Daily Calorie Calculator (Female)

6. Fire

After a man-made or natural disaster, starting a fire can be a lifesaver. A fire allows you to boil water, get warm when it’s cold, signal rescuers, heat food, etc.

Lighters and Stormproof Matches (1 each)

The easiest method of starting a fire is a standard Bic Lighter. While a Bic lighter can be used over and over again, they do struggle when it’s cold and wet. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a backup fire-starting option. One reliable and easy-to-use backup is Stormproof matches.

Lighter and Match Options:

Fire Starting Tinder (1)

If you have never started a fire, it may seem easy. However, it can be difficult. To help during those difficult-to-light-a-fire times, I recommend using having some of these fire starting tinder in your kit.

Fire Starting Tinder Options:

Pro-Tip: Add a candle to your fire-starting kit. It acts as both a flame extender to help get a difficult fire going and an additional source of light.

Read This Article for Information on Alternative Fire Starting Methods.

7. Electronics

Lights: Handheld and Headlamp (1 each)

You need to be able to see at night, so you will need a reliable flashlight. I like flashlights that have multiple power options. Some can work of various types of batteries, while others are both rechargeable or battery powered.

In addition to a hand-held flashlight, I always pack a headlamp. Whereas I can point the handheld flashlight wherever I need it, a headlamp provides hands-free illumination. My go-to headlamps are rechargeable, water resistant, and offer a red light option to preserve night vision.

Light options:

Pro-Tip: Glow sticks are great for keeping track of your children and pets at night. Simply bend the stick to activate it. Once ready, attach it to your kid’s belt or your pet’s collar.

Pro-Tip: Cell networks can become damaged and overwhelmed during disasters, making it difficult to place voice calls. Text messages, however, require less bandwidth. So, if you can’t get through with a voice call, use text messaging.

Radio (1)

Staying informed is critical during emergencies and survival scenarios. While cell phones are usually excellent, mobile networks can be unreliable during disasters. Therefore, I suggest including a radio in your emergency preparedness kit. Many radios can be bulky so choose one that best fits your situation.

Radio Options:

Pro-Tip: Cell networks can become damaged and overwhelmed during disasters, making it difficult to place voice calls. Text messages, however, require less bandwidth. So, if you can’t get through with a voice call, use text messaging.

Battery Bank (1)

Keeping our electronics powered up is essential. To do that, I use a portable battery bank. As long as I keep the battery bank charged, I’m guaranteed to be able to keep my phone, lights, and other important electronics up and running.

Battery Bank Options:

8. Navigation

It’s important to know which way you’re going. Because there are situations when your GPS may fail, a backup is necessary.

Compass (1)

The backup to the GPS is the tried and true compass. By getting out and enjoying nature with your compass, you can become good at always finding your way.

Compass Options:

My Go-To Compass: Suunto MC-2 Compass

Quality, Budget Friendly Option: Suunto A-10 Compass

Pro-Tip: Add a map of your area to your kit and practice using it. That way, you’ll always know where you’re at and where you’re headed.

Here’s my review of the Suunto MC-2 Compass:

9. Personal Hygiene Items

Staying clean during a disaster shouldn’t be overlooked. In addition to boosting morale, keeping clean as part of your disaster plan helps avoid illness and infection.

So, be sure to add a person hygiene kit consisting of a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, wet wipes, feminine hygiene products, chapstick, and sunblock.

10. Tools and Repair Items

Multi-Tool (1)

A multi-tool is an essential part of any disaster kit. A good multi-tool combines several tools into one compact, portable device, making it incredibly versatile and useful in various situations. Choose provides you with a knife, a saw, and a variety of other useful tools.

Multitool Options:

Cordage (100′)

Cordage is the fancy term for rope, cord, string, etc. It allows you to tie things down and lash things together. For example, cordage allows you to tie a tarp to a tree to make an improvised tent.

Cordage Options:

Heavy Duty Tape (15′)

Heavy-duty tape, typically referred to as “Duct Tape,” is the multi-tool of tape. This tape is great for securing items, patching holes, and making other emergency repairs.

Heavy Duty Tape Options:

Pro-Tip: To store your tape, wrap several wraps of heavy-duty tape around your Bic lighter. Additionally, Gorilla and Duct Tape work well as an improvised fire-starting tinder.

11. Cash

Having the ability to make purchases, especially if there’s a power outage, can be important. Perhaps ATMs are offline, along with credit card machines. Carrying some cash in smaller denominations, such as one’s fives, tens, and twenty’s, may prove useful.

12. Important Paperwork

Take the time to make copies of your important papers and needed information.

Paperwork considerations:

  • Identification: Drivers License, Passports, ID Cards
  • Emergency Contact Information: Friends Phone Numbers and Addresses
  • Other Papers: Anything You Feel is Important

13. Backpack, Bin, or Duffle Bag

Lastly, I recommend consolidating everything in a safe and easily accessible location. This can be in your home, vehicle, or other safe place. To help keep your emergency kit organized and easily transportable, I suggest putting as many of your items as possible into backpacks, bins, or duffle bags. That way, should the time come that you need your gear, you’ll have it ready to go.

Storage Options:

Seven Day Basic Survival Kit

Once you have all of these supplies on hand and ready to go, you’ll be prepared to face a wide variety of emergencies. Just so you know, stockpiling enough food and water for seven days will prepare you to face 99.9% of disasters. After all, even during large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, relief efforts were flowing in within a few days. And if you have at least two weeks of water and food stored, you’ll be better prepared than just about everyone.

Pro-Tip: Other than checking them to ensure their functionality and freshness and to top off your batteries, DO NOT use your emergency supplies for anything other than emergencies. These are your life-saving emergency supplies. If you or others take things out of your emergency supply, then odds are, you’ll be missing things when you need them most. Don’t do it!

A father conducting a family risk assessment

Step 3: Assess Your Risk

Now that you’ve got your kit of basic supplies, it’s time to examine your unique situation. That requires a candid assessment of your risk. This is often referred to as conducting a personal risk assessment. Understanding your risks will help you shape your overarching prepping strategy.

Determine What You Have to Protect

Start your risk assessment by determining everything you have to protect. Obviously, you have to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your supplies. What else do you need to protect?

Identify Potential Threats

Consider the problems most likely to occur in your area. Are they natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or fires? Perhaps they’re man-made threats such as power outages, civil unrest, crime, or something else?

Name Your Vulnerabilities

Our vulnerabilities show you where you can improve your preparedness. Basically, a vulnerability of one degree or another is an absence of preparedness to one degree or another. Vulnerabilities can be a lack of resources and supplies, systems and procedures, and knowledge and experience.

One way to determine your vulnerabilities is to ask yourself, “What if?” What if a disaster happens while the kids are in school? What if someone breaks into the house while you’re sleeping? What if you lose your job or source of income? What if supply chains stop working and food becomes scarce? What happens if a loved one breaks down while on a road trip? It’s the what-if questions in response to our risk assessment that help us form our emergency plan and direct our preparedness.

Read this article for more in-depth information on conducting risk assessments.

A mother and father creating a family emergency plan

Step 4: Take Action

Now that you know your risks and where your preparedness can be improved, it’s time to take action. Ultimately, as you take action and your preparedness increases, your risk decreases. That’s a great thing!


Start by planning the most effective ways to address your vulnerabilities. Whether that’s improving your core survival skills, upgrading your supplies and gear, or revising your emergency preparedness plan. As you plan, think about having backups to your plan.

For example, if you live in an area prone to wildfires, what’s your backup plan if the way you normally get home from work is blocked? Which way will you go if you’re alternate route home is blocked?

When planning, keep in mind that your goal is to increase your capability, which decreases your vulnerability. Because capability is made up of your mindset, knowledge, skill, and resources—anything you do to improve any of those factors decreases your vulnerability.

Doing what you’re doing right now, by learning more, is increasing your knowledge. Likewise, practicing a home fire drill or how to use some of the gear you bought for your emergency kit will increase your skill. Speaking of the gear in your kit, those are your resources, just as time and money are. And by recognizing the need for preparedness and approaching it in a positive manner, you’re improving your mindset.

Read This Article to Understand How to Plan for Contingenices!

Don’t Worry! You’ve Got This!

While on the topic of mindset, be mindful that this is often the time when people feel overwhelmed because they feel totally unprepared. As a result, they ineffectively spend a lot of money on their preparedness, running up credit cards and going into debt. Do not do that! Slow and steady wins the race.

Because you know your vulnerabilities and threats, you know your most significant personal risks. Therefore, look at the threat you’re most vulnerable to and plan how to address it. Save money, budget for it, and phase it in. The great thing about prepping is that a rising tide raises all boats. In other words, what you do to prepare for one risk will likely decrease your vulnerability to other risks.

For example, if you believe a job loss is your greatest risk, creating an emergency fund is a great idea to prepare for it. By increasing your savings account in case of a job loss, you now have a buffer against a vehicle problem. Since you live in a hurricane-prone area, having a vehicle that runs well is a key part of your plan. Therefore, your effort to address a job loss is, by default, making you more prepared to deal with a hurricane.


Now, start implementing the plans you’ve created to address your potential risks. When you have your emergency kit all together, take it out in the yard or go camping and try it out. Hang that tarp up. Pull out the map and go for a hike to practice with your compass. Take time to drive your alternate evacuation routes. Increase your short-term food storage. Talk with your family about what to do in an emergency. Watch YouTube videos and take classes on topics that you need to learn more about. Remember, taking action lowers your vulnerability.


As you decrease your vulnerabilities by improving your preparedness, you must constantly assess and reassess your efforts. In effect, this involves continuous learning about the relationship between your capabilities and vulnerabilities.

Are your plans effective? Ar the actions you’re taking working to lower your risk. Has the situation changed?

For example, you stocked up on water and adopted a new fur buddy. Do you have enough water stored to ensure Fido stays hydrated? Do you need to adjust your preps?

A new mall has made the route you typically use to pick up your kids from school a congested madhouse. Is there a better route?

Perhaps your greatest risk was a burglar breaking into your home. Now, due to your efforts, that’s no longer your greatest risk. What should you focus on now?

Once you assess that your situation has changed, it’s time to reassess your risk. Then, with your new risk profile, adjust your plans and actions accordingly.

The Bottom Line on How to Start Prepping

And that’s it. That’s how to start prepping in a nutshell.

I’m impressed. The fact that you made it to this point tells me you’re well on your self-reliant, prepping journey. That means you’re willing to be your own first responder. No matter what, you want to be ready to face any problems that arise with only a moment’s notice. That’s a great place to be.

Again, congratulations on taking the leap to ensure that you and your family always have the ability to live their best possible lives—regardless of the circumstances.

Do you have any questions or suggestions about how to start prepping? Please post them in the comments below.

Additional Resources

Stay safe,

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Prepping Made Easy! How to Start Prepping (4-Step Guide)

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Brian Duff

Brian's preparedness career began at sixteen and included professional roles as a lifeguard, firefighter, paramedic, Special Operations team leader with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, Diplomatic Protection Specialist, and international security director. He's managed medical clinics in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, provided high-threat diplomatic protection in Iraq and Pakistan, advised a rebel army in Africa, oversaw U.S. embassy security in Baghdad, and directed a premiere tactical medicine training facility. Brian is an expert in Security, Crisis Management, and Preparedness Mindset and hosts the Mind4Survival podcast. He holds a bachelor's degree in Security Management and an MBA in Information Technology Management.

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