Prepping Basics: Here’s What You Need to Know

Are you interested in preparedness but unsure where to start? In this article, we’ll go over the prepping basics that are essential. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you start out planning for epic long-term disasters reminiscent of the Mad Max movies, but the reality is, it doesn’t need to be like that.

Let’s start with a prepping definition from the Oxford dictionary:

The practice of making active preparations for a possible catastrophic disaster or emergency, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies.

While Oxford gives you the general idea, the true definition of prepping isn’t that extreme. It’s a mindset of thinking ahead and trying to avoid catastrophes or emergencies in the first place, and also being ready for events that only affect you personally: your car breaks down and you have to walk home, your spouse loses his or her job, or you have to provide first aid for a family member. All of these events, while less dramatic than Oxford’s definition, will be easier to handle if you are prepared.

You are far more likely to use practical prepping items like a water filter or some extra food than a gas mask and a full-body biohazard suit.

The M4S Prepping Basics

There are more details in this article, but let’s take a quick peek at the basics of preparedness.

The basics of prepping over five core areas. Those areas are Mindset, Situational Awareness, Survival, Safety, and Self (M4S)


Mindset is the first and most important aspect of practical prepping. Mindset determines how much or little bias you examine your personal environment through. It also sets your motivation level for preparing. Mindset sets the tenor and tone of whether people prep or not and how they go about it. And, it’s our mindset which determines how we face adversity.

A brain with gears

Situational Awareness

So, what is situational awareness? Situational awareness is your next most important prep. It’s the prepping basic that determines whether you notice what’s happening around us. Situational awareness also determines how you perceive what’s happening around you. Situational awareness is the first rung in the survival rule of threes.

Less than .3 seconds without situational awareness can cost you. Take your eyes or mind off the road while driving and see what happens? Stop paying attention for a third of a second as disaster approaches, and you may not see it in time to avoid it. Stay alert! Stay alive!

Your perception of what is happening around you is based on how we interpret a situation’s objective reality. Do you unconsciously bend reality based upon personal bias, cultural perspective, and past experiences?

The bottom line is that your chances of survival increase as you become more aware of what is truly happening around you. So, get out there and practice some situational awareness!


Now that you know what’s going on around you, your ability to survive. Other than your personal values, there isn’t much that matters more than your survival. The fact is, we are on our way out. However, in most cases delaying that as long as possible is a really good thing.

How do you survive? you survive by accomplishing several things. First, you survive by being situational aware so as to avoid life-impacting problems. Keeping with the survival rule of threes, we next need to make sure we keep oxygen going to our brain.

That’s because, if the oxygen going to your brain doesn’t get there in sufficient quantities to keep your brain alive, you’re done for. Likewise, if oxygen doesn’t get to a loved one’s brain for three minutes they can be done as well.

So, what can stop the brain from getting the oxygen it needs? First, massive trauma can stop the brain from getting the oxygen it needs. If your grape gets popped from a fall on the sidewalk, you could be done. Perhaps it’s a shotgun blast to the unarmored chest. Either way, the brain is done because it was your time and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

Survival: Emergency Bleeding Control

Second, people die in the first three minutes because they bleed out. That means a person who suffers a severe arterial bleed can die in two to three minutes. The person dies because the oxygen-carrying blood carries the oxygen out onto the ground instead of the brain where it’s needed. Therefore, everyone must understand how to stop life-threatening bleeding. So, get out there and look for a Stop the Bleed course or other bleeding control training.

Survival: Cardio Pulmonary Respiration (CPR)

The next way a person can perish in three minutes is by the heart not doing its job of getting blood to the brain. So, once you’ve plugged any leaks, it’s time to make sure we’re circulating the oxygen in the system. In other words, if the heart isn’t working, we need to do the work for it. The point is that the brain needs oxygen to survive, and if we don’t make that happen, we DRT (pronounced Dirt), dead right there.

Survival: Shelter

Next on the survival rule of threes is to make sure you can survive the elements. That means you need to have a way to protect yourself from extreme heat and cold. If not, especially in the case of extreme cold, you can perish in just a few hours. So, understanding your options when it comes to protecting yourself from the elements is super important.

Shelter doesn’t just encompass the roof over your head. It also includes staying warm and dry in the winter, and cool enough to avoid heat illness in the summer. This means shelter is your home, your climate control system (both on and off grid), clothing appropriate for the seasons, and the prepper skills to create a shelter if you’re caught away from home during an emergency.

Survival: Water and Sleep

Once you protect yourself from the elements, you’ll have some time before your next survival rule of threes benchmark kicks in. That important grave marker, which is kind of like a mile marker for death, is water. Typically, in ideal conditions, you can go three-plus days without water. However, while death may happen three days into a bout of dehydration, you will begin losing effectiveness much earlier. So, know how much water you need a day and how to make that water happen.

Along with situational awareness, sleep is another factor of the survival rule of threes that many people miss. After talking about sleeping tactics isn’t glamorous. However, after three days without sleep, hallucinations and extreme loss of concentration and effectiveness set in. So, plan on getting sleep! If not, fate may help you to sleep forever.

When thinking about water, focus on storing water. Then move on to figuring out where you might acquire it and how you intend to purify it so it’s safe for drinking.

Survival: Food

The next relatively immediate need you should consider taking care of is the need for food. When it comes to the survival rule of threes, you can go three weeks, sometimes longer without food. However, after a few days of no food, the going isn’t pretty. You will quickly lose your energy, become ineffective, and worst of all, you’ll be hangry in the apocalypse and that’s no fun! So, plan on having a way to feed yourself and you’ll have another of the prepping basics covered.

When it comes to long-term disasters, knowing how to store food is crucial. Storing food doesn’t necessarily mean filling a room up to the ceiling with those long-term food storage buckets. (Although having some of them is a great idea.) Start out by adding a few non-perishable items each time you go to the store, like canned goods, rice, pasta, and beans. Think about what your family enjoys eating and try to figure out ways to provide those foods in a shelf-stable way.

As well, consider how you’ll cook the food if the power is out. Will you use a camp stove, a biomass stove, a campfire, or an outdoor grill? Perhaps you have other ideas. Whatever you choose, be certain to stock up plenty of fuel for it.

A first-aid kit is a vital key to basic preparedness


Next, once you have your survival under control and you’re reasonably sure you’re going to make it, it’s time to focus on our safety. Safety, follows survival because these needs are not likely to present a life or death problem in the next few days.

Safety: Health

This encompasses dealing with pre-existing conditions, illnesses that may crop up, and injuries that require first aid. If you or a family member has a health condition that necessitates daily medication, try to get as far ahead on those meds as possible so that if you can’t get it from the pharmacy for a couple of months, you’ll be able to hold out. Having a variety of over-the-counter medications available can help you treat symptoms such as nausea, congestion, and coughs. As well, having a first aid kit and knowing how to use it is an important preparation. If you need a refresher, the American Red Cross offers First Aid and CPR classes across the country. Another important class you can often find for free is called Stop the Bleed.

Safety: Sanitation

Sanitation and hygiene are very important to prevent illness in the first place. In fact, this category is one of the most important prepping basics. You need a plan for what to do with human waste when the toilet won’t flush and a plan for keeping clean without running water. As well, water purification is often listed with sanitation on preparedness lists such as these. That’s because contaminated water is one of the most frequent causes of illness and even death after a disaster.

Safety: Security

Security relates to your home and shelter, yourself, and the people in your family or group. It’s a good idea to do a risk assessment to see where you might be able to reduce the likelihood of violence or property crime. There are many different prepper skills that can help keep you and your loved ones safer such as marksmanship, archery, self-defense, and martial arts.

Information sources that don't require electricity are essential.


Communications can be both outbound and inbound. If you and your family aren’t all together when an emergency occurs, you need to have a communication plan. Remember that during a power outage, you may also lose cell phone service. Some of this can be resolved by simply having a plan of where you’ll meet and how you’ll get there. Inbound communication is also important. You need to know what’s going on during an emergency. This is where something like a battery-powered or an NOAA hand-crank radio comes in handy. Don’t rely solely on the internet or your cell phone for communications.


Last but not least is energy. Energy comes in all sorts of forms when the power goes out. You may decide you need a generator. If so, be sure to store enough fuel to run it for the duration of common emergencies where you live. Other sources of energy are batteries for flashlights, solar power, fuel for cooking, and power bank chargers for phones and devices.


Finally, once you have all of your safety needs met, it’s time to focus on yourself. Do you have personal needs, goals, and desires you’d like to make happen? Well, this is the self-actualization part of Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs. So, get to doing for yourself, because if you’ve made it this far in a disaster, you’ve done a fabulous job with all of the prepping basics!

mazlows hierarchy of needs

This Will Help You Build a Foundation

The prepper basics discussed in this article will help you build a foundation to see you through most emergencies that you will face. You’ll also want to learn prepper skills like food preservation, gardening, building, and repair. Make sure that you prep in balance. You don’t want to end up in the middle of an emergency with tons of food but no way to cook it.

If you are a more experienced prepper, what prepper basics do you recommend for those new to prepping? If you are a newbie, do you have any questions about the information in this article? Let’s discuss it in the comments section.

Stay safe!
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