Whether you’re new to prepping or have been prepping for years, these are mistakes that could easily derail you from accomplishing your goals when getting ready for unforeseen events.
1. Failure to identify the most likely risks and prepping for those first
This is intentionally #1 on my list as it often dictates the direction your prepping will go. If I lived around the Gulf of Mexico, there’s a high probability I’ll face hurricanes eventually. If I lived in Oklahoma, I can expect tornadoes will eventually visit my area. Living in Southern California, earthquakes are fairly routine. See a common thread? When starting in prepping (or even for those that have been prepping for years), focus on what is most probable for your region and in life in general.
It’s easy to start preparing for things that are highly improbable (i.e. EMP blast) when much higher probable threats are a reality. It’s much easier if you’re like me to focus on getting gadgets and cool gear (see #3 below) for bugging out as opposed to focusing on obtaining the important items: stocking up on food, water and medical supplies. So get to know your region. Learn the challenges your region faces and focus on preparing for those things first.
And beyond preparing for naturally occurring catastrophes in your area, consider the reality of everyday things that can come up like loosing your job. Prepping is not preparing for improbable scenarios (i.e Yellowstone volcano eruption) but rather preparing for situations that can come up that with a little foresight, you can avoid a major catastrophe.
2. Lack of discipline and organization
Maybe just as important as #1 above is the ability to be organized and disciplined (yes, I put 2 skills into 1 point but they go hand-in-hand).
Once you start down the path of prepping, it’s easy to lose focus or get side tracked by trivial issues (see #1 above). You’ll need the ability to stay focused on what needs to be done. Motivation will get you excited enough to get so far before you get burnt out (see #12 below), but discipline forces you to focus on what is important and enables you to push distractions out of the path to achieving your goals (in this case getting prepared). What has helped me a great deal is to set aside a realistic amount of time each day. I typically try to dedicate 15 to 30 minutes each day to learn something new. In addition to time, the reality is that this lifestyle will require money. In our household we have a budget and I set aside a certain amount of money each month to buy the supplies needed. At the moment we are expanding our long-term food and water storage in our household. It’s easy to look at the “mountain” of requirements you’ll read about when getting into prepping, but if you can discipline yourself with realistic goals, you can move forward step by step in the process.
Discipline’s sister, organization, is as important as well. Without organization, you’ll be scattered and ineffective. You’ll be collecting gear and resources to help you survive a catastrophe but if not properly stored or rotated, these items will be rendered useless. If you have stocked up on food and water storage and tossed them in the back of the closet, you’ll likely find out a in few years when you need them that they have spoiled and are no longer fit for consumption. In this scenario you could have properly rotated your supplies to prevent them from spoiling.
I’m not suggesting you become obsessive about your assets fixating on them every day, but with a few simple calendar reminders, you can set aside 10 minutes once every month to review your gear to make sure everything is where it needs to be and that your food and water inventories are all within their dates of expiration. Side note: when doing long term food and water storage, be sure to label them. I have 5 gallon water containers in the closets of my house and I have dates on the side of the containers to tell me when I filled them up including the expiration date.
3. Spending your entire budget on gear instead of on food, water, and medical supplies
Guilty as charged. This is definitely my biggest weakness. I love, love, love gear. I’m a gadgets guy. I get a rush from purchasing the newest Ka-bar knife or 2-way HAM radio or high end rifle optics. Just being honest here.
But storing food, water and medical supplies isn’t something I get excited about. I don’t get that same feeling as getting a new gadget when I think about storing beans or rice in a closet in mylar bags. But if your community was hit by a disaster, are you going to be able to feed your family on that new 5.11 Rush 72 hour bug out bag? Nope.
As pointed out in #1 above, focus first on what is most important and probable. While we all enjoy new gadgets and gear, these are not the most important thing to have in your preps.
4. Food and water storage deficiency
As stated in #3 above, getting long term food and water storage prepared is critical but is often pushed down the list on priorities. It’s easy to get caught up with guns and gadgets when prepping but yet this is easily the most important item to prep for.
I live in Southern California. Water is very scarce where I live, so when I first started prepping, getting a 3 days supply of water for myself and my family was the first order of business. If a disaster strikes here (earthquakes are our biggest threats), the infrastructure would likely collapse and water would be one of the first things to be in big demand (and the most scarce). So expanding our water storage is something we work on constantly. Maybe you live in an area where water is not scarce, but having the ability to contain or purify water is extremely important. The general rule of thumb is to store 1 gallon of water per person per day. That’s a very conservative number at best.
Having a backup inventory of food you already use on a daily basis is the first step for food storage. In our household we follow this approach when preparing food storage:
- Create a 3 day food backup of foods that can be eaten without cooking required. These are mostly canned food that we can rotate and throw into a box if we have to head out quickly.
- Create a backup supply of food we already use. We store these additional foods in a cool dark place in our house where we pull from the inventory when we need to use the food for meals we’re use to already eating. When we pull something, we have a clipboard where we can write was removed and for future shopping trips we simply replace these items. Using this approach, we can easily build a month or two backup to existing food we already eat. As pointed out in #9 below, proper food storage and rotation is critical to ensure these items do not go bad.
- Long term food storage. Beyond the one to two month backup supply, we have long term food storage that can last up to 20/25 years. These items have been meticulously stored in food containers to ensure we have long term backup food in the event our region doesn’t get back to “normal” with a month or two.
5. Preparing mostly to bug out rather than bugging in
The idea of heading for the hills and surviving in the wild with your trusty bug out bag gets preppers excited for some reason. I guess in this community we spend so much time expecting the worse to happen, teotwawki (the end of the world as we know it), that we fixate on heading out the door if something bad happens. While many people have experience camping out, the stress of being forced out of your home living in a refugee-like situation means there’s big problems and this is not going to be a pleasurable time. And guess what, if others are being forced out as well, resources you thought would be available in the wilderness will be used up quickly. Imagine a large population being driven to the hills. Thought you were going to live off the land hunting and foraging food in your local national park? Add a large group of people with the same plan and you’ll see the outdoors in your local area picked clean in no time.
Unless I absolutely have to leave my home, I plan to ride out whatever emergency is occurring as long as it is safe to stay in my house. Leaving my house is the absolute last option I would consider. But if I must, I would leave. With your home, you have a defensible space. You have gear and supplies. Heading out into the unknown adds a lot of variables to the equation quickly.
Also, remember that if you don’t leave way ahead of the rest of the crowd trying to flee, you’re going to be sitting in a lot of traffic with a solid possibility of going nowhere. In my area, we have a very dense population. If an evacuation were to occur, there’s going to be a lot of people going no where fast. By the time you realize it’s time to leave, it will probably be too late. Remember when the hurricane hit Houston, TX in 2005 and everyone realized they needed to leave? They ended up stuck in mass grid lock resulting in people abandoning cars as they ran out of gas. Life pro tip: keep your car’s gas tanks filled up at all times. I keep my vehicles filled up no less than 25% of the tank empty. If there’s a situation and we have to head out, I don’t want to be stuck in long lines trying to get fuel (or even worse, no fuel left at the gas stations).
6. Not having the skills necessary for sustainability
So you’ve got the gear. You have stored food and water. Good enough, right? Not quite. Unless you’ve stored up for a long time, you’re going to exhaust your resources eventually. Then what? Know how to plant a garden? Got chickens? Know how to hunt or fish? These are things you need to consider in your preps. Developing a long term sustainability model is admittedly the weakest area in my preps, but it’s the next area I plan on focusing on. For now I’m trying to build up a reserve of the primary things needed (food and water). I live in a typical tract home development but this doesn’t give me an excuse to not develop skills in this area. Remember, prepping is not just about amassing food and gear, but it’s about developing knowledge and skill sets. Learn simple things like creating snares (this is probably one of my favorite articles on the subject) and ways of finding food in nature around you. Our city offers a 1 day course on finding editable plants in nature which I plan on taking soon. Get to know your area…what you can grow and what you can use to survive off of in your natural surroundings. When the supplies run out, then what?
7. Storing all of your preps in the same place
Keeping things stored in different locations throughout your house and even in backup locations (think storage facilities or other places) gives you backup options. Part of your house may be damaged in an earthquake or hurricane or you may not be able to access your home at all. Do you have food or water stored in your vehicles?
Remember the phrase don’t store all your eggs in 1 basket? The meaning is simple. If you keep everything in one place, the odds of that prep being destroyed or stolen increases significantly.
8. Failure to help others out
It’s easier to stay to yourself and not work with others as there’s less risk of others knowing about your supplies. But in a situation in which catastrophe visits your area, having someone to help you could literally mean the difference between life and death. Don’t assume you’ll be able to do things on your own.
Where you may lack a skill, another person may have a skill you desperately need. Do you have military experience, medical skills, and hunting abilities? If so, you’re a rarity. More likely than not, you may not have any of these skill sets and having others around you that have strengths where you have weaknesses will help you stay alive. Hopefully you’ve developed a skill you can bring to the table if your community is hit by a disaster.
Find a talent you can develop. Read more below in #11.
9. Lacking the knowledge to properly store/rotate your food supplies
Having a backup supply of food is critical for long term survival. In our home, we started by storing the basic items that we go through on a regular basis and have a pantry where we pull (and replace) items we use on a monthly basis (oatmeal, rice, honey, peanut butter, etc.). Once we had about a month’s worth of food stored in our pantry, we then moved on to long term food storage.
Monitoring your food and rotating it in a consistent manner is important. Nothing is worse than investing in food and because of simple neglect, you forgot to rotate the food and it went bad. Simple things like moving food to the front of your pantry and putting the newer items in the back are easy steps you can observe.
Have food that is about to expire? Pull it and use or donate it to your local church or non-profit food pantry. Don’t neglect this important step only to find yourself in a situation where you really need these supplies only to find out through neglect your food supply has spoiled.
10. Having the gear but not knowing how to use it
Tools are great to have, but if you don’t know how to use them, they’re useless. How many people in their desire to learn how to become a prepper have obtained gear but never learned how to use it?
A few years back I purchased a firearm, took it to the range and fired a few rounds off. I have a background in basic firearm safety, but had no experience with the type of firearm I had just purchased. While I was confident I understood the basics of how to operate this weapon, that was about the extent of my ability with this newly purchased rifle. A few months later I had the opportunity to take a 3 day training course through a company that specializes in training novices like myself. After 3 days of one-on-one intensive training, 800 rounds of 9mm and 1800 rounds of 5.56, let’s just say I had the hang of my newly purchased rifle and pistol. I now am confident in dealing with gun jams, handling reloads quickly, and transitioning in between the 2 weapon systems quickly. Through studying under professionals, I realized how little I knew but left confident.
Know your gear and use it. Practice with it. If you don’t know how to use it, find someone that does or find a video on youtube. I was able to quickly find prepper groups in my local area that taught me a great deal about food, water and medical preps. I now not only have the right gear, but I know how to use it.
11. Buying stuff while ignoring the need to develop skills
As I mentioned above, I love getting gadgets. But imagine an earthquake hit your area and there’s no running water and the grocery store has been picked clean. That new “thing” you purchased will definitely be an asset, but have you developed some basic skills?
Here’s a simple list of things you can begin to do and learn to help improve your own chances of survival:
- Finding and purifying water
- How to start and maintain a fire
- Getting in shape
- Land navigation
- Building a shelter
- First aid
- Trapping and fishing
- Plant identification
12. Getting burnt out
This is a very common thing I see: people will get fired up about prepping, start snapping up gear and other items they feel they need and after awhile they just get overwhelmed and eventually burnt out. Here’s how I personally counter that from happening: by prioritizing and budgeting. For years when I was getting my finances in order, I used Dave Ramsey’s financial advice to pay off our debt and create a budget. He lays it out in a very easy to handle 7 step process. For me personally, I like to know I can do things in bite-sized chunks that are obtainable and doable. Our household has followed his plan and it has put us in a great place financially.
With prepping it’s important to understand this is a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve met many preppers who sprint fast and then get burnt out quickly. In our monthly budget we set aside $100/month for budgeting. If you had a list of priorities, it should go like this:
Pace yourself. You don’t have to get everything in order right away, but commit to the long haul and take little steps each month and in time you’ll be in a great position.